Recently Added


December 30, 2014

Once upon a time, traveling across a desert, a circus train derailed, leaving the Bengal tiger’s cage door broken open. The tiger escaped, of course, and wandered off into the desert. In the chaotic aftermath of the crash, its disappearance was discovered only hours later and the tiger’s handlers were at a loss as to how they might conduct the search.

Coincidental with the discovery of this dilemma, three passersby approached, including a mathematician, specifically, one who specialized in geometry; a philosopher whose hobby horse was relativism; and Dick Cheney. Each promised an easy solution and was eager to help.

The circus manager first asked the geometer to speak. “Well,” said he, “it’s really quite simple. You just draw a line down the middle of the desert and search through one half. Then you draw another line, subdividing the remaining half, searching the first quarter… and so on.” The circus manager listened impatiently, considered the idea, then dismissed it, declaring, “This would take too long, and there’s no assurance that the tiger won’t cross one of the lines into an area already searched.”

The philosopher quickly stepped forward with his solution. “You already have a cage here on the train. All you need do is take this cage out into the desert and step inside. Once you close the door, in relative terms, you’ve captured the tiger.”

Annoyed, the manager turned last to the former Vice President, who just smiled and said, “All you need to do is catch a rabbit.” Puzzled, the circus manager scratched his head, and asked, “How does catching a rabbit bring our tiger back?” Cheney smiled again and shrugged his shoulders: “Trust me, after 30 minutes exposed to our new enhanced interrogation techniques, the rabbit will confess that, in fact, he is your tiger.”

I first heard this story some 35 years ago. The final entry at that time was from the head of the KGB, but this version seems a little more up-to-date. A shoe on the other foot sometimes pinches a little, doesn’t it?


Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Benjamin Franklin


Today’s entry is about caged thinking. I’ve told you that story only so I could tell you this one. My hope is to shine a light on my own weak, acculturated habits in caged thinking, rendering myself as my own prisoner.

And so…

I play hockey three times a week. Twice, it’s just a pickup game of shinny (no face-offs, no officials, no tally of goals at the end of the game). Friday nights, though, it’s a formal league game with pretty good competition. Twelve teams, 150 players aged 19 and over, though I know a couple of speedy 16 year olds who have slipped through a crack in the Zamboni entrance. All in all, a great bunch of people who don’t take it too seriously, with teams like Puck Danglers, Aeros, The Rippers, Here for the Beer (that’s a lie – they play to win), and Captain Morgan’s Return. Our team, perhaps reflecting the relative age of our contribution to the league, is called Mid Ice Crisis.

This is just my second year ever playing competitive hockey, but it’s turning out to be quite a motivator in the fitness department. Being, I believe, the oldest guy in the league, I’m not keen on being seen as the weak link. Time, as always, will judge.

In advance of our first game in early October, I received a group email from the team’s organizer. I noticed a new name on the roster, one Dennis Whiteye. “An interesting name,” I thought. I registered a tired caged thinking label in the corner of my mind and, to my credit, quickly dismissed it. “I hope he’s got game. After last season, we could use some game.” In the change room before that first game, I recognized him as the only one I didn’t recognize and approached to introduce myself. He’s a tall fellow (see below) with a pleasant manner and what I could only describe as a tired smile. By tired, I mean ‘lived in’. “There’s history in this face,” I thought, and continued dressing for the game.,Dennis.jpg

Within moments of the start of the game, it became clear that Dennis Whiteye has game. I watched from the bench as he took wide-sweeping turns into free spaces, his eyes constantly scanning the entire sheet of ice. Establishing himself immediately as a leader, he controlled the pace and direction of play. Both a scorer and a playmaker, he’s often also the one to interrupt an attack coming from the other team.

Fun to watch… even more fun to play with. Halfway through the season, we’re now line mates, and enjoy good on-ice chemistry. By this, I mean that when I have the puck heading down my wing, I listen for the words, “Kev, I’m here!” With that announcement, I just toss the puck someplace generally to my left and Dennis puts it in the net. In my advanced years, I find myself leading this league of kids in assists, and trail Dennis by just one point in the overall scoring race. That’s no coincidence. I know where my bread gets buttered and breathe a sigh of relief every week with his arrival at the arena.

After that first game, as after most games, the change room was your typical loud collection of exchanges, recounting successes, almost successes, and a few events involving ‘incidental contact’. Our league is full-equipment-but-no-contact. What does materialize in the physicality department is called ‘incidental contact.’ Hockey is a very fast game. Unplanned things do happen and collisions are one of those unplanned things… though in trademark apologetic Canadian fashion, we always shout out, “Excuse me! Sorry!” We figure, maybe, that a really loud “Excuse me!” will dissuade the official from calling a penalty.

So… the locker room banter continued as we each laboured to peel off our equipment, some assessing cut lips, creaky backs, or bruised tails.

Here’s the thing. In the midst of all this chaotic back and forth chatter, from a bench across the room, I heard this: “A man who disrespects a woman disrespects our Mother Earth.” I immediately stopped unlacing my skates and looked up to identify the source. It was Dennis. Remember – this is a men’s hockey locker room. Note to self: “Learn more about this fellow.”

Each week, my study of the man intrigued me more and more. I went downtown to meet Dennis at his place of work. After a brief tour, we walked through the market. This took a while since many people in the downtown core somehow know him. A nod here, a quick chat there, and eventually, we found ourselves enjoying lunch and more probing questions… well, let’s say I enjoyed it. Can’t speak for Dennis, though he was more than accommodating.

With thanks to Google, and a few stolen moments in conversation, here’s what I’ve learned.

Dennis is a First Nations member, an aboriginal, a Native Canadian, a North American Indian. And he’s okay with any of those labels.

Dual citizenship and a card that lets him travel across the border without question. Nice!

He’s also a husband, a father, a brother, and a son.

He’s a Naahii singer, a drummer, and a dancer (see below).

Dennis has travelled throughout Europe and North America performing in Pow Wows (celebration of life). He’s a volunteer Director of London Celebrates Canada and serves as Liaison Officer for local First Nations.

He appeared as a dancer in the 1999 Pierce Brosnan movie, Grey Owl.

Dennis coaches an Atom League hockey team (10 year-olds). He led our Mid Ice Crisis team through a practice session yesterday (our first, long overdue).

Kizhaay Anishinaabe Niin – I am a kind man. Dennis manages a pilot initiative (with its success, recently approved for a rollout across the province) counseling First Nations men with a history of abuse of women issues. Add homelessness and substance abuse to the mix and I feel my legs turning to lead. Again, I find myself confronting and dismissing a knee-jerk caged thinking reaction. Where does that come from, anyway?

As Dennis describes it, abuse of women is not a part of First Nations tradition. It’s learned through a loss and disruption of values, of balance, and of the centre. As a traditional native healer with Atlohsa (“Friends”), Dennis helps men to re-connect with the Ojibway Seven Grandfather Teachings as they strive to resume healthy relationships with women. In my life observation, everything seems to return to the same place. Culturally universal, it’s always values and character, discipline and habits. I’ve recently engaged a personal trainer whose first declaration of need was to focus on the core, to centre me, and to build strength from that core. Same thing for Dennis in his work. As imposing a task as my trainer faces with me as his subject, it’s nothing in comparison to what I imagine Dennis experiences every day.

When I asked Dennis what led him to this professional calling, he simply answered, “I hit rock bottom.” I don’t have the energy today for pursuit of that statement. Let’s just say that, now I understand something of his tired smile.

Dennis is a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal (see below).


I know what you’re thinking. Does this man sleep?

To the unenquiring eye, Dennis is just one of the guys. Who else, I wonder, is hiding in the corners of the locker room?

Pondering this new acquaintance, I ask myself assorted variations on the big why. Why are people as they are? Perhaps more importantly, why do I see people as I do, and not as they really are? Why do I see people through labels? Why don’t I stop and think and see people as individuals? Why don’t I take the time and make the effort to ask questions, to free myself from acculturated caged thinking (as in, placing myself in a cage)? Why do I so frequently decline opportunities presented to engage with people unlike me, people I don’t know, people whose life experiences can only make my life richer through the sharing?

Why do we so often fail to engage with people from different backgrounds, races, religions, and nations? Why can’t we see that refusal to have dialogue with ‘other’ people will take us to no happy place?

Life is a journey. For those who have fully embraced the journey, and all the responsibilities to serve others that come with it, and for those saintly creatures who choose to stand at their sides, it is at times a long and tortuous journey.

Not coincidentally, my new friend’s Anishinaabe name is Nee-Gon-ee, translated: leader, in front. Indeed!

Dennis, this one’s for you and Leslee. Lead on!

With much respect and best wishes for the New Year,

Kevin Graham

I welcome your feedback. Feel free to contact me by e-mail.

To help me avoid receiving a ton of spam, I’ll ask that you please replace the parenthetic content, and the parentheses, of course, with the @ sign. Thanks.

kevin(at sign)