Saturday, 3 May 2014

What's Your Sign?

These days, signs are sprouting up all around town, almost as thick as the dandelions and just as bright and cheerful. “Pack a lunch for the homeless” says one that’s tacked up on a post on the main street. “Be kind!” says another. And all along the estuary, the intertidal area that connects the Courtenay River to the ocean, about 10 child-made signs are tacked to telephone poles, urging us to work together to protect this precious and vulnerable piece of our environment. The last three signs show that these kids know their manners: "The fish and animals thank you"; "Mother Earth thanks you"; and "We thank you."

The signs remind me of the song “Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs” which was popularized by Canadian rock group Five Man Electrical Band in 1970. It was a protest song against the power of the Establishment, an anthem for the counter-cultural hippie movement, which sprouted numerous signs of its own to protest the powers that be. (You can listen to the song, which features a slide show of interesting signs, at

Young people of that day, and some older ones too, cared deeply about what was happening to their world, and they often marched with signs as a way of raising awareness of big issues: the war in Vietnam, feminism, racial equality, and  materialism to name just a few.

The sixties and seventies were turbulent eras which saw tremendous social change. It wasn’t just the signs that brought about changes however. St. Francis once said,  “It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless your preaching is your walking.” People who matched their words with actions worked hard, and we benefit from some of those changes today. (Not all the changes were good, of course, but that’s a story for another day.)

Today, it appears, a new generation of young folk are trying to raise awareness of  issues in a gentler, kinder way. Every Sunday, when we drive along the estuary to church, we’re reminded by those signs (placed there by our grandson’s class at Saltwater School, it turns out) of the need to care for our environment. Almost invariably it leads to a continuation of the conversation we’ve been having lately.

This conversation revolves around the question, “What should WE be doing?” The resident sweetie just celebrated another birthday. Birthdays are reminders – big time, at our age – of how the clock of life is ticking and running down. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. We won’t have a chance to rewind that clock either. Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock....

Are there still some tasks left to do that are marked with our names? In our younger years, we set out with great gusto to conquer the world, or at least establish careers, raise families, establish financial security for old age. We had our marching orders. But now, we’ve been cut loose. So what are we doing? Just putting in time till the last tick-tock? I don’t think so – I hope not!

I love this quote by Ray Bradbury from his book Fahrenheit 451: “Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.”

The signs along the estuary are good: our grandson’s class is urging us to follow our hearts and leave this world a better place for those who come after us. I hope the children are also walking their talk, putting actions to their words. And I hope we can walk alongside of them, working together for change.

We can’t change the whole world, but we can change one little thing, and then another, and another... Whatever it is that we think may be worth carrying a sign for – attitude changes, the homeless, the marginalized poor, the environment, clean water, politics, whatever it is that may have your name on it – we can post our own signs which the next generation can read in the things we left behind.

The clock is ticking. What's your sign?

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