December 2020

Are We Living in a Simulation?
As 2020 comes to a close, and COVID-19 still wreaks havoc, some people might be questioning whether we are living in an advanced simulation.

As 2020 comes to a close, and COVID-19 still wreaks havoc, some people might be questioning whether we are living in an advanced simulation.

Living in 2020 has been an adventure. Some problems like climate change, wealth inequality, and systemic racism have traceable human causes. But others, like COVID-19, seem to come completely from left field. If you’re wondering if we’re living in a computer simulation, you’re not the only one. Scientists and philosophers have tackled this issue for centuries, trying to figure out whether our reality is truly “real.”

Questioning Reality for Centuries

“Humanity has always seemed to have a healthy distrust for the nature of reality,” says tech writer and designer Donovan Alexander. Zhuangzi, a Chinese philosopher who lived in the fourth century B.C.E., described a vivid dream of being a butterfly. When he awoke, he wasn’t sure if he was a human dreaming of being a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming about being human. Vedic philosophy talks about Maya, or the physical world as a super-immersive illusion. Then there’s French philosopher René Descartes, who said, “It is possible that I am dreaming right now and that all of my perceptions are false.”

The Basics of Simulation Theory

If you’ve ever seen any of “The Matrix” films, you’ve witnessed simulation theory. These works by the Wachowski sisters have contributed to the long tradition of questioning reality. Games like “The Sims 4” would have seemed like far-off dreams in 1990, but we play them now to pass the time or escape our pandemic reality. Simulation theory posits that we’re living in a super-advanced version of something like The Sims’ world. Proponents point to several probable pieces of evidence: subatomic particles behaving strangely, quarks that contain computer code, strange events such as the 2017 Oscars envelope mix-up, and the like.

But if we are indeed in a simulation, who’s running it? Vox writer Sean Illing mentions Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom, who proposed that advanced civilizations could create extraordinary simulated realities. In his 2019 book “The Simulation Hypothesis,” computer scientist Rizwan Virk speculated that we may be living in a simulation now and we’re remarkably close to creating simulated realities ourselves. Maybe the creators are humans living in a far-off future, recreating their past. Perhaps the programmers are extraterrestrials, incredibly advanced artificial intelligences, or a capricious omnipotent being like Star Trek’s Q.

The Skeptics Weigh In

We can’t prove we’re in a computer simulation, so it’s natural to find some skeptics. These aren’t garden-variety naysayers, however. Built In mentions Harvard University physicist Lisa Randall as a prominent opponent. The theory focuses mostly on humanity, which Randall finds suspect given the preoccupation with our species. Why would anyone running a high-level simulation bother with simulating humans, she asks, when there’s so much more interesting stuff in the cosmos?

There’s also the problem of data storage. Physicists Zohar Ringel and Dmitry Kovrizhi experimented with simulating quantum particles and discovered that it’s currently impossible to simulate an entire quantum computer. Doing so “would require a computer memory that would physically require more atoms than exist in the universe.”

Bigger Questions and Ethics

In the “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” episode “Far Beyond the Stars,” Captain Benjamin Sisko has a vivid vision of himself as Benny Russell, a writer in racially segregated 1950s America penning stories about Deep Space Nine. At the end of the episode, Sisko quips, “For all we know, at this very moment, somewhere far beyond all those distant stars, Benny Russell is dreaming of us.”

Even in simulated realities, our actions have consequences. As a Black person, the pain Sisko as Russell suffered from discrimination and police brutality was very real. Yet Russell fought for what he believed in: his vision of a future that included multiple cultures and genders. Just as those around him couldn’t imagine a Black starship captain, perhaps we can’t yet imagine what lies beyond our limitations.

Taking Extra Care of Your Family Pets During Quarantine
Read through these suggestions for making the most of the COVID-19 lockdown with your pets and making sure they get the love they deserve.

Read through these suggestions for making the most of the COVID-19 lockdown with your pets and making sure they get the love they deserve.

The COVID-19 pandemic might be taxing on human beings, but it is a unique situation for the furry members of the family as well. Cats and dogs are experiencing an unprecedented period of time during which owners are home all hours, which can bring about a mixture of excitement and confusion. Though you’re likely showing a bit of extra love and affection to your pets lately, there are specific ways you can encourage a calm, relaxed attitude when things are tense. Consider these tips and learn how you can best take care of your pets during lockdown.

Pets with a Ton of Energy

Is your dog running around the house more than usual? Have you noticed that the pup is more demanding of your attention throughout the day? Most of the time, dogs are conditioned to be chill during the day when owners are at work or taking care of errands. This is evident in the bursts of energy that a dog has when the family returns to the house. Of course, this is no longer the case for most households. With the family constantly present, a dog might not know how to react and need to suddenly work through these emotions.

While the simple solution to an overactive pup is a walk, you’re definitely not going to be able to keep up with the demands your dog is placing on you during this time. Instead, try to dedicate small chunks of time to play whenever possible. Helping your dog work through its excitement in a healthy, controlled way can limit the odds of the habit persisting throughout the entire lockdown.

A Cat With a Message

Cats are fickle creatures with seriously vindictive personality traits. If you offend a cat in a specific way, you can expect feline retribution. What’s worse, you might not realize what you did wrong. Since most cats are solitary ambush predators that don’t enjoy being in a crowd all day, your constant presence in the house might be seen as an affront. This can manifest in many ways, including a kitty who decides to forego the litter box in order to send you a specific message. Missing the litter box on purpose is a sign your cat is literally pissed.

Since you can’t talk this problem out with your cat and you can’t leave the house the way you usually would, you need to get creative with your approach. In most cases, the cat will decide to pee on items of personal significance to you. This can be shoes, a piece of clothing, or even furniture. To curb the habit, invest in a spray meant to deter cats from this action. When your cat gets a whiff of the spray, it will likely stop showing its frustration in this way.

The Loneliness Is Real

People need other people. Science shows that physical contact and emotional connection play an integral part in a person’s overall health. What most people don’t realize is that the same can be true for pets. Dogs in particular become accustomed to receiving attention from other humans during walks and outings. When this comes to a halt due to social distancing measures, the dog might feel or act depressed from this lack of contact. Showing your pup some extra love during moments when he or she seems bummed can help to distract from whatever lethargic feelings have come about.

While cats and dogs might be loving the added hours with the family, there are bound to be some bumps along the way. When you notice a peculiar habit developing with your pet, address the issue and come up with a sensible solution. Showing this level of love and attention to your furry pals can be a good way to make this difficult time easier on even the smallest members of your group.

One Deluge or Many? Examining Cultural Flood Stories

Did a great flood once cover our entire planet? Some creationists apply literal interpretations to the Genesis flood story. They point to various geological features and deluge myths all over the world as evidence backing their assertions. The scientific community at large dismisses these claims, but why do so many flood stories exist? Both science and folklore may hold the answers to this question.

Flood Myths Around the World

Professor David R. Montgomery quickly mentions some deluge myths in an article for The Conversation. Tales from cultures around the Pacific Ocean describe catastrophic flooding from huge waves that suddenly rise from the sea. The Mapuche people of Chile tell of a tsunami caused by two giant snakes battling to see who could raise the waters higher. Yet stories in other parts of the world have slightly different details. Scandinavian myths depict Odin and his brothers slaying the frost giant Ymir, which unleashes a great flood upon the land. Time writer Ishaan Tharoor discusses Gilgamesh’s famous flood narrative, which may predate the Genesis version. In both tales, the deluge results from immense thunderstorms with lots of rain.

Most myths depict massive flooding that threatens humanity’s extinction. One notable exception, known as “Great Yu controls the waters,” comes from Chinese folklore. Repeated flooding impacted China’s lowlands for over two generations, forcing people from their homes. After years of failed attempts by his father Gun, Yu solves the problem by creating multiple channels that carry floodwaters to the sea. Thanks to his success, Yu becomes China’s emperor and founds its first dynasty.

Evidence for Global Flooding?

How old is our planet? The answer you’ll hear depends on who you ask. Radiometric dating of zircon crystals from Australia’s Jack Hills revealed that they’re 4.4 billion years old. However, Young Earth creationists insist that Earth is less than 10,000 years old. They derive their beliefs from both a literal interpretation of the Bible and the works of Anglican archbishop James Ussher, who claimed in 1650 that God created the earth in 2002 B.C.E.

Published in 1961, “The Genesis Flood” helped launch the modern creationism movement. It’s also an early example of flood geology, which attempts to prove the Genesis flood narrative with geological evidence. David R. Montgomery points out two of its ideological inconsistencies in another piece for The Conversation. Multilayered rock strata show many cycles of erosion, deposition, and burial. A single universal flood cannot explain these physical characteristics. The Genesis story also claims that Noah saved every living thing, but 99% of species found in the fossil record are extinct.

Geological Findings Point to Many Floods

If science doesn’t support the idea of a global flood, then what does it tell us? Geomythology examines the connections between folklore and natural events such as earthquakes and floods. In 2016, Chinese researchers found geological and archaeological evidence of catastrophic flooding in the country’s lowlands. The Washington Post’s Sarah Kaplan explains that this evidence dates the flooding to around 1900 B.C.E. This date closely matches the great flood myths and Emperor Yu’s lifetime.

Slate’s Andrew Lawler mentions archeologist Jennifer Pournelle’s discovery of significant climate changes in Mesopotamia about 6,000 years ago. Satellite images, geomorphological charts, and mud core samples revealed rapidly rising sea levels that covered vast expanses of land. Melting glaciers may have caused outburst flooding during prehistoric times, especially in areas like Northern Europe and the Mediterranean.

Reconciling Myth and Science

Humans are naturally attracted to mysteries. We’re curious beings who seek answers, so it is no surprise that flood myths invite speculation and investigation. While geology doesn’t prove the existence of a single worldwide deluge, it does reveal several smaller floods caused by changes in our climate. Geology also confirms that our myths contain some kernels of truth and the power of stories to preserve memory.

Handling Fights With Your Significant Other
Relationships are far from easy. Getting through difficult periods of strife is all about learning the right way to handle fights.

Relationships are far from easy. Getting through difficult periods of strife is all about learning the right way to handle fights.

Relationships are far from easy. While some might be simpler for you to manage than others, all of the connections you share with friends and family members need to be tended to every now and again. One of the most important bonds you share in life is with your significant other. Fights can disrupt the normal routine of a couple and sour plenty of experiences before the issue is resolved. Getting through difficult periods of strife is all about learning the right way to handle a fight.

There are several actions you should avoid when arguing with your partner. Consider these tips and discover how you can keep your fights to a minimum and civil all the while.

Respect Is Everything

Showing proper respect to your significant other is important when you want your relationship to stay healthy. Of course, this is not always easy. When you are in the middle of fights, you may not remember how crucial respect can be. The worst thing you can do is willingly and consciously show disrespect during a fight. Remember that every person has a different way of handling stress and coping with an argument. Respect your partner’s process, and it will be easier to find a resolution.

The Stakes Aren’t That High

Fighting has a way of making everything seem extreme. When you’ve been with your partner for long enough, you start to argue over the dumbest topics. Sometimes, you may even have the same point of view but are arguing anyway. When tensions are high, many people assume the stakes are also high. This creates an “all or nothing” mentality that can destroy your relationship by making it seem like any little fight is a cause for throwing your relationship away. Luckily, taking a step back before reacting can help you gain some perspective on the matter.

Let Go of Fights

Nothing is worse in a fight than when your significant other slings something at you from the past. Though plenty of couples “keep score” and hold to past transgressions, this is a very unhealthy habit. Throwing something at your partner from the past means those wounds were never healed. It is important to address topics that bother you as soon as possible, or else you may end up in a situation where you are constantly fighting over the same things.

Learn To Listen

A big mistake couples make frequently during fights is to fail to hear what the other is saying. When you both have a lot to get off your chests, you both need to hear each other. If you only argue your point of view and wait for your turn to speak, then you won’t be able to resolve any of the issues being brought up. Listening is a skill many people lack, so do your best to focus and put your emotions to the side as you do.

Find a Resolution

You may also find that many of your fights feel like they are going in circles. This is because plenty of couples constantly go back to the root of what caused the argument. While it is important to address the cause, you need to move past this and focus more on the resolution. How will you move forward, and what changes will each of you make? Thinking about the resolution will help you avoid an endless cycle of arguing the same points.

Relationships require a lot of work. No matter how strong the bond you share with your partner might be, you are going to argue now and again. What matters is how you move through the conflict. Take time to learn sensible ways of handling your fights, and see how you can use each disagreement as a way to strengthen your union for the future.

Avatar: The Journey of a Fascinating Loan Word
When someone says the word “avatar,” you may already hold a specific meaning in your head, but it communicates a vital concept developed in Hinduism.

When someone says the word “avatar,” you may already hold a specific meaning in your head, but it communicates a vital concept developed in Hinduism.

When someone says the word “avatar,” what images come to your mind? You may think of a picture that represents you in social media and other online spaces. Perhaps James Cameron’s 2009 film comes to mind. It’s easy to forget the word’s original religious origins, but it communicates a vital concept developed in Hinduism over thousands of years. To understand the journey of this simple word, we need to look at its roots and how it entered the English language.

Avatar: A Linguistic Trip Through History

Look up “avatar” in any dictionary and you’ll see words like “incarnation” and “manifestation.” While they convey some idea of its meaning, we need to look to its deeper roots. The Online Etymology Dictionary states that it comes from two Sanskrit roots: “ava,” which translates as “off” or “down,” and “tarati,” a verb that means “to cross over.”

The word “avatar” or the original Sanskrit “avatara” aren’t used as nouns in classic Vedic texts or the Upanishads. That doesn’t happen until about the 3rd century CE when the first Puranic stories were recorded in written form. In that literature, “avatar” denotes the physical appearance of a deity.

Vishnu and His Many Forms

Just as Christianity contains many denominations, Hinduism is full of philosophical diversity. Vaishnavism is one of its four major traditions, and its devotees believe that Vishnu is the supreme deity of the universe. He’s called the Preserver because he protects and maintains cosmic order. In classical Hindu art, he’s usually depicted with blue skin and four arms. Wearing a garland around his neck, he holds a conch, a lotus flower, a mace, and the Sudarshana Chakra–a spinning disk-like weapon.

Georgetown University’s Berkley Center explains that avatars are a huge part of Vaishnavism. While Vishnu may have assumed an infinite number of avatars, most believers focus on 10 primary incarnations. The first three were animals: Matsya the fish, Kurma the tortoise, and Varaha the boar. The fourth, Narasimha, was half-human and half-lion. The remaining six appear as humans: Vamana, Parashurama, Rama, Krishna, Buddha, and Kalki.

Vishnu assumes an avatar when the cosmic order is threatened and humans need his help. Krishna is the most famous, with heroic exploits that include slaying demons and protecting a village from a massive flood. Kalki, the final avatar, has not yet appeared. Various texts predict that he will arrive on a white horse with a fiery sword to end the Kali Yuga, the darkest age in history.

From Religion to the Virtual World

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary dates the first known English use of “avatar” to 1784. Sir William Jones, an 18th-century philologist, used it when discussing Vishnu’s 10 manifestations in the Asiatick Researches journal. English writers such as Lord Byron began to use this new loan word, and that’s when it took on new meaning. Like Vishnu appearing in the physical world, “avatar” also signified a concrete form of an abstract idea.

From there, it wasn’t much of a leap to the computing world. Inspired by its religious significance, game developer Richard Garriott named his 1985 release “Ultima 4: Quest of the Avatar.” Through a series of quests, players would become Avatars embodying one of eight virtues. Online networks borrowed the term, representing physical users in virtual spaces.

Borrowed Words, Transformed Meanings

Language is alive. It lived on the tongues of our ancestors in southern Africa around 200,000 years ago, and since then, it’s grown and branched into thousands of distinct versions. Human linguistic diversity would not be possible without the ability of language to change. Loan words are just one way that language evolves, but they are a testament to the powers of human connection and cultural sharing.

Thanatology: The Science of Death and Dying

Thanatology, the study of death, may help unpack our reactions as well as cultural and spiritual practices surrounding dying and grieving.

Are you afraid of death? How do you cope when a loved one dies? You may go to friends and family for solace, journal about your feelings, focus on other matters, or look to your religious beliefs for answers. These are common coping strategies in the face of death, but there’s often more lurking beneath the surface. Thanatology, the study of death and its psychological impacts, may help unpack our reactions as well as cultural and spiritual practices surrounding dying and grieving.

A Quick Overview of Thanatology

Oxford Dictionary defines thanatology as “the scientific study of death and the practices associated with it.” It is appropriately named after Thanatos, the Greek personification of death. The Encyclopedia of Death and Dying explains that Russian scientist Elie Metchnikoff stressed the importance of studying dying in the early 20th century. Yet it wasn’t until after World War II that anyone followed his suggestions. Some of the first texts include 1959’s “The Meaning of Death,” edited by Herman Feifel, and “The Psychology of Death,” published in 1972 by Robert Kastenbaum and Ruth Aisenberg.

Thanatology is an interdisciplinary field relying on science, medicine, psychology, and sociology, but it also draws from disciplines such as theological studies, history, economics, law enforcement, and philosophy. Its scope of interest covers how death impacts individuals, family groups, and societies. Besides the death event itself, thanatologists also examine the needs of terminally ill individuals and their families.

Religious Beliefs and the Death System

When a loved one dies, we rely on a collection of individuals and institutions to help. In 1977, Robert Kastenbaum coined the term “death system” for this interconnected matrix of people and groups. Depending on the society, the death system can include everything from hospitals to clergy. The Encyclopedia of Death and Dying breaks down its various functions:

  • Predicting and warning about death
  • Caring for dying individuals
  • Creating funerary customs and practices
  • Consolation for living family members
  • Making sense of death
  • Determining any morals and ethics of killing

Many of religion’s primary functions exist in relation to the death system. It attempts to explain what happens after we die, then suggests beliefs and practices for attaining the best afterlife outcomes. These ideas usually reflect what each society considers fair, just, and moral.

One great example of how a death system and culture interface comes from ancient Egypt. This society believed in immortality and viewed the world in terms of “ma’at,” a guiding principle that stressed truth, order, harmony, balance, and morality. While one’s good deeds or sins may have differed slightly according to class or profession, everyone was expected to deal honorably, honestly, and kindly with others. The Ancient History Encyclopedia explains that Kemetic people expected their hearts to be weighed against the Feather of Truth. Egypt’s Great Pyramids, elaborate funerary customs, religious hierarchy, and cultural beliefs supported its death system in hopes that the deceased would fare well in the afterlife.

Thanatology in Canada

While thanatology can look at wider cultural institutions and constructs, many study the field today to provide practical help to others. Courses and study programs are offered at King’s University College and Centennial College, with continuing education options becoming more prevalent. Career applications for thanatology often include bereavement counseling, palliative care, social work, and counseling and support for terminally ill people.

For much of human history, religion and culture have often been interconnected. A society’s attitudes toward death, funerary rituals, and religious practices can reflect quite a bit about its values. These may seem like disparate components on their own, but thanatology attempts to bring them together and view them as a systematic whole. When it comes to our faiths and spiritual beliefs, a deeper examination helps us comprehend how they may provide comfort or prepare us for our own mortality.

Living on Breath Alone: Breakthrough Beliefs or Deadly Doctrines?

Like most organisms on our planet, humans need food and water to survive. We’d die without them within a matter of days, but people calling themselves “Breatharians” insist that they live only on oxygen and an invisible life force. New self-styled gurus continue to surface and promote this ideology. To understand how and why Breatharians invest in such a risky belief system, it’s worth taking a look at their controversial ideas.

A Brief History of Breatharianism

Sometimes referred to as Inedia, Breatharianism’s basic premise is to survive only on air and the universe’s energy. Proponents believe that it is possible, if not ideal, to transition from consuming food and liquids to an existence free of these substances. The life force that’s supposed to sustain them takes on a variety of names, depending on who’s selling the concept. Most call it “prana,” the Sanskrit word for breath, but some use the Chinese term “chi.”

Just as the concept of religious fasting has older roots, anecdotes about spiritual masters subsisting on breath alone aren’t new. The 17th century Rosicrucian text “Comte de Gabalis” mentions Paracelsus, a Swiss occultist who asserts that he survived on “solar quintessence.” Prahlad Jani, an Indian mystic, confounded researchers in 2010 with statements that he didn’t need to eat or drink. GQ’s Breena Kerr lists more recent proponents, including Wiley Brooks, who appeared on the television show “That’s Incredible!” with similar claims. Later, an Australian woman calling herself Jasmuheen published the book “Living on Light” in which she promoted the same lifestyle. Tragically, five of her followers have died while attempting Breatharian practices.

A Resurgence of Popularity

Breatharianism would have remained in relative obscurity were it not for a series of sensationalist news articles in June 2017. As CNN’s Oliver Darcy reported, Californians Akahi Ricardo and Camila Castillo insisted they’d adhered to a mostly food-free regimen since 2008. The story was originally published by News Dog Media, a tabloid content agency based in the United Kingdom. It was eventually picked up by other outlets including Yahoo, The Daily Mail, and The Independent.

After the story gained notoriety, journalists and writers stepped up to debunk Breatharianism. Both Breena Keer and Patheos blogger David G. McAfee shared deep concerns about the health and safety of people attempting to go without food and water. Others pointed to a 1999 Australian television program in which Jasmuheen was housed in a hotel room and monitored 24 hours a day to confirm she didn’t consume food or water. This trial ended after four days because Jasmuheen exhibited slurred speech, dilated pupils, and 15 pounds of weight loss.

Yet despite the dangers, a small group of believers still try to undertake a Breatharian lifestyle. There are a few online communities such as Breatharianism Canada. Meanwhile, Ricardo and Castillo offer a “Breatharian challenge” course, which lasts eight days and is available for a regular price of $397. Wiley Brooks still operates the Breatharian Institute of America, and Jasmuheen continues to sell books and publish short instructional films on YouTube.

Some Skepticism Is Healthy

What accounts for such persistent faith in these deadly ideologies? Writing for Psychology Today Canada, Dr. Joe Pierre suggests an answer to this question. Improbable beliefs frequently possess a small grain of truth, such as limited fasting taken to extremes with Breatharianism. False claims can be dressed up with clever prose and spread widely online. Finally, confirmation bias can inhibit individuals from fact-checking content that supports their worldviews before accepting it as truth.

Forming beliefs and convictions is a natural human tendency. Balancing faith and reason is essential to this process. While ideas can lead to action, it’s important to make sure that we don’t cause harm to others or ourselves.

Steps to Leaving a Family Legacy
 Leaving something behind for your loved ones, like a family legacy, will not only help them in life but will help them down the road.

A family legacy is a great way to have loved ones remember you and all that you have done.

May was National Leave a Legacy month, a public awareness campaign that encourages people to leave a gift to a favorite charity when they die. The idea was to support a cause that was near and dear to your heart with money as a lasting family legacy, kind of a footprint to be remembered by those in your community.

Most people hope that their life matters. Maybe you don’t have the money to leave to a charity. A financial gift can do a lot, but according to Billy Graham, “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.” Although no one likes to consider their death, the best way to leave a legacy is to consider it now. Here are five things to think about when planning your legacy:

  1. What’s most important to you in your life?

Think about what you want to leave as your legacy. If your family were to think of you 10 years after you die, what would you want them to remember?

  1. Where did you find inspiration or transformation in your life’s journey?

Maybe you had a life-changing moment in a college class. Were you touched by cancer? What has made you who you are today?

  1. What blessings have you been given that you want to share with others?

These blessings could be tangible, for example, a set of chinaware given to you by your grandmother, or intangible, such as peace or kindness. If you have tangible items that your family doesn’t appreciate, think about who might use the objects. Check with local museums or charities.

  1. What causes are important to you?

Most people support at least one organization in some way. It could be a church or synagogue. Maybe you have a favorite 5K run you do each year. Your passion is your legacy.

  1. Who do you mentor?

Mentoring isn’t always a formal relationship. You can mentor people in your family, your church or your community just by being available. These relationships can last a lifetime, even after the period of mentorship is over. These people are your legacy.

Planning a Family Legacy

Your will is not a legacy, but it can be part of it. A written memorial can help your family know what you want after your death, but your legacy encompasses so much more. Whether you plan to leave a legacy or not, you will have a legacy. You may not ever think about how people will remember you, but they will remember who you were and what your passions were. You can’t really tell people how to think of you after you die, but you can leave ideas on how you want to be remembered.

Think about the people in your life who have passed on. Maybe you remember your grandpa smoking a pipe and telling stories. For some, it might be the smell of fresh apple pie coming from Aunt Mabel’s kitchen. Those are the legacies of your loved ones. It’s likely that Aunt Mabel never told you to remember her apple pie, but you did. Your children and grandchildren are likely to be the same way.

Those activities and character traits you pursue will be your legacy. What you’ve been dedicated to throughout your life is what you will be honored for. If you don’t like the legacy you are leaving, then it’s time to change your life. Maybe you will want to give money to a charity or leave a note to your family about something special to you. More importantly, think about relationships, faith and character. Are you living the way you want to be remembered?

Remembering Volunteers
When finding volunteers, make sure to keep all of your options open.

Volunteers can come in all shapes and sizes.

It was in 1943 that National Volunteer Week was first conceived to recognize the contribution women made to the war effort. Women worked just as hard as the men who were serving in the military but received no compensation for their efforts. After the war, the week declined in popularity until it was revived in the 1960s. Volunteer Canada delivers National Volunteer Week from April 23 to 29 to identify and recognize those volunteers who contribute to the community without a formal role or position.

The Value of Volunteers

While you may know that volunteering has a powerful impact on your community, you may not recognize specific benefits. Here are some of the ways volunteering works:

  • Promotes active participation in society
  • Gives everyone a voice in the community
  • Strengthens your community
  • Increases the ability to deliver services to those who are in need
  • Promotes general well-being and a sense of belonging
  • Connects people to the causes they care about
  • Offers duties to the volunteers

Statistics About Volunteering

Volunteer Canada reports that in 2013 Canadians gave close to two billion volunteer hours. That’s over 38 million full-time jobs for which organizations do not have to provide a salary.

Senior adults give, on average, about 223 hours each year. While this definitely benefits nonprofits, it also has a positive effect on seniors by reducing stress-related illnesses, increasing self-esteem and preventing isolation.

Volunteer Canada studies volunteers. In 2013, the organization found these characteristics of today’s volunteers:

  • They have goals of their own.
  • Volunteers want to see results.
  • Volunteers are self-directed and do not want to be micromanaged.
  • They have many different interests, and while they bring professional skills to the table, many volunteers want to use different skills when volunteering.

Choose To Be a Volunteer

It might be difficult to figure out where that time is coming from in your busy schedule. Consider this: When you are volunteering, you can really connect with people. It’s not simply busyness in which you feel like you’re just going in circles. Many employers have agreements with employees who want to give back to the community. Talk to your boss about finding time or support within your job.

You don’t have to volunteer with people to make a difference. Animal rescue organizations need help. Maybe you like books or nature? Find a group that supports something close to your heart, and ask to help. If you need help finding an organization, Volunteer Canada has many resources and can point you to local groups that match your needs.

Paula Speevak, President and CEO of Volunteer Canada, wrote, “In addition to honouring the 12.7 million Canadians who volunteer in non-profit organizations, during Canada’s 150th anniversary, let’s embrace all the wonderful ways people care. Care for each other and for the earth; from helping neighbours to mobilizing networks to raise awareness and funds for issues that matter to them.”

If you are part of an organization that uses volunteers, make sure to recognize their efforts, not only in April, but all year long. Remember how much more your group can do because you have volunteers who are making a difference.


Who Was Saint Elmo?
Saint Elmo's Fire was also a movie released in 1985.

Saint Elmo’s Fire is a phenomenon when a glowing ball of light occurs because of an electrical discharge in the atmosphere.

Pop culture often has references to objects or people of the past. You might have heard of the movie “Saint Elmo’s Fire,” a 1985 coming-of-age drama from the Brat Pack genre. Maybe you know that Saint Elmo is the patron saint of sailors. David Foster and John Parr composed and wrote the song “Saint Elmo’s Fire (Man in Motion)” for Canadian athlete Rick Hansen to use in his mission to raise awareness of spinal cord injuries. The song went on to be used for the movie of the same name.

Do you know what Saint Elmo’s fire is? It is a phenomenon in weather that sometimes appears on ships at sea during a thunderstorm. A glowing ball of light occurs because of an electrical discharge in the atmosphere. It typically happens at the top of a sharp or pointed object, like the tops of the sails at sea, but it can also occur on aircraft wings, chimneys and spires.

How Did the Phenomenon Come to Be Known as Saint Elmo’s Fire?

To understand the roots of St. Elmo’s Fire, you have to know about Erasmus of Formia, who was also called Elmo. No one knows what year Erasmus was born or died, but it’s thought that he passed away around 303 A.D. He was Bishop of Formium, Italy, during a time when the emperors persecuted Christians. Erasmus hid for a period of seven years before being counseled by an angel to return to his diocese.

On his return, Erasmus met soldiers who questioned him. When he admitted his faith, he was brought to the Eastern Roman Emperor Diocletian. Christians had been discriminated against in the Roman empire before this time, but Diocletian had Christians tortured and killed. He was tortured before being put in chains and placed in prison, but he escaped with the help of an angel.


Erasmus is said to have raised up the son of an important citizen in Lycia, which brought him to the attention of the Western Roman Emperor Maximian. Erasmus was again arrested for his faith. Maximian forced Erasmus to go to a temple of an idol, but when he got to the temple, a fire came. Erasmus was tortured in a barrel of protruding spikes. After his release, he was healed by an angel before experiencing more tortures, from which he was always healed. Finally, Maximian threw Erasmus into prison, expecting him to die of starvation, but Erasmus escaped.

Erasmus Still Preaching

Erasmus did not let the Roman Empire stop him from preaching. He went to Illyricum, which is modern day Croatia, and continued to convert people to Christianity. At his death, legend says that his intestines were wrapped around a windlass, the winch that lifts anchors or heavy weights. In one story, before Erasmus died, he is said to have continued preaching to sailors even after a lightning bolt struck beside him. He is widely associated with the sea due to these two legends.

About 25 years following Erasmus’ death, the Christian Emperor Constantine reversed the persecution of the Christians, returning confiscated property and making Christianity the preferred religion of the region. If Erasmus had lived in a later time, it’s possible that he would not have been a Christian martyr.

References to Saint Elmo

If you read “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” in high school or college, you might remember this reference:

“About, about, in reel and rout, The death fires danced at night; The water, like a witch’s oils, Burnt green and blue and white.”

In literature, St. Elmo’s fire is associated with a bad omen or divine judgment. The reference appears in “Moby-Dick,” “Slaughterhouse-Five” and “The Tempest.” The next time you hear an allusion to St. Elmo’s fire, you know more of the story and can appreciate its history.