First past the post

Yesterday I was at a full-day karate intensive. After hours of exercises, the day ended with the class being split into three groups. We were told to learn the names in our group. Then we were informed we were going to have a relay race of sprints, army crawls, and crab-walks.

We were told to cheer our teammates on by name. Such is the power of groups and group competition (including the fear of letting your group down) that everyone involved threw themselves completely into this relay. Myself included. All my bruises from that day came from the race.

I mention this short story because I was impressed by the deft application of group psychology. How else could you ask a room of exhausted people to dig in deep and give everything they had left to give?

I also mention this because today is Canada’s federal election and polls and as I write this, the polls are still open. The power of party politics and partisanship is an overwhelming force. But it can also be manipulative. Like the relay race, it’s worth noticing that our politics are designed to be this way.

I haven’t written much about this election because frankly, I’m mad at all the parties. I’m mad at the Liberals for breaking their promise to end ‘first past the post’ and I’m mad at the NDP and Greens who refused to consider ranked ballots as a step towards electoral reform.

It’s very telling that politics is frequently framed as ‘a race.’

A day of Alexandrias

Years ago – I think I was in on a high school field trip to New York City – I stumbled upon and bought a calendar illustrated by Lynda Barry and another woman cartoonist, that resembled this one. It featured amazing illustrations such as Elvis With Ponytails and most days were annotated with astrological insights and ‘on this day’ birth dates of writers and musicians that Barry loved.

I’ve always wanted to make my own version of the Lynda Barry Experience Calendar and every year, I make a couple half-hearted attempt to collect ‘on this day’ facts for my future calendar. Today, as I was organizing my Google Drive, I stumbled upon a spreadsheet where I started to collect calendar-worthy facts. Before I put it in a directory, I thought I would add an entry for today.

This is how I discovered that today is a day of Alexandrias.

Today is the birthday of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She is 29 years old.

It is also the Feast Day of the Blessed Alexandrina of Balasar.

I don’t know whether AOC was named after the Blessed Alexandria. Curious, I looked her up and learned that the Blessed Alexandria was not a saint (I thought only saints had feast days) but is considered as something that is new to me: a victim soul.

The concept of the victim soul derives from the Roman Catholic teaching on redemptive suffering. Such a person is said to be one chosen by God to suffer more than most people during life, and who generously accepts the suffering, based on the example of Christ’s own Passion.

And how did the Alexandrina of Balasar suffer?

At 14 years old, in March 1918 an incident changed her life. Her former employer along with two other men tried to break into her room. To escape them, Alexandrina jumped 13 feet down from a window, barely surviving. Her spine was broken from the fall. Until age 19, Alexandrina was still able to “drag herself” to church where, hunched over, she would remain in prayer, to the great amazement of the parishioners. During the early years, Alexandrina asked the Blessed Mother for the grace of a cure. She suffered gradual paralysis that confined her to bed from 1925 onward. She remained bed-ridden for about 30 years.


It reminded me of this synopsis of Women Talking:

A group of Mennonite women suffer for years from mysterious midnight attacks, purportedly the work of demons come to punish them for their sins. Eventually, they discover the assaults are not the work of demons but of men—their own husbands, sons, and neighbors. While the men are held in a nearby city, working to make bail, the women gather in a hayloft to talk, and to decide what to do. They propose three options: do nothing, leave, or stay and fight. The book takes the form of notes from those meetings, taken by the only man they trust, August Epp. The format ventures towards tedium, but miraculously never gets there, and through August’s perspective manages to be both damning and dazzlingly hopeful. At one point, the old man whose hayloft they are squatting wanders over and demands to know what’s going on. “We’re only women talking,” replies one of the women. Indeed.

Do I have to tell you that her novel was an imaged response to real events?

Between 2005 and 2009 in an isolated Mennonite colony in Bolivia, women and girls (as young as 3) regularly woke up groggy and bruised, their sheets smeared with blood and semen. Some members of the conservative patriarchal community blamed demons; others attributed these reports to “wild female imagination.” In reality, nine men in the close-knit community had been breaking into houses every few nights, spraying the sleeping inhabitants with a drug designed to anesthetize cattle and raping them while they lay unconscious.

WOMEN TALKING By Jennifer Reese, New York Times, April 10, 2019

All the notable Victim souls listed on Wikipedia are all women.

It is as if the Church has co-opted women’s suffering.

Happy Alexandarias Day!