Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Heaven's Scent

On Mothers' Day, Lori and I went to Mount Royal Cemetery to 'visit' our Mums. Well, actually, I left Lori to chat with Connie, her Mum, while I made the rounds of several generations of our strong women ancestors. Auntie Eileen, first, then Gram's sister, Auntie (Jenny Spicer Press), and nearby, great-grandma Laura Mary Spicer. I wound my way back to Mum's grave, Gram's and Auntie Joyce's - as well as Connie's and lay on the grass gazing heavenwards - if heaven's up.

I don't know what I believe about heaven. Who knows anything for certain? But I was transported to a heavenly place as I wandered the cemetery - and as I lay on the grass - sweet scents of crabapple and cherry blossoms wafting on gentle breezes ... Sunlight shimmering on new leaves of giant maples. It was ....  well, sort of like "When Harry Meets Sally" - "I'll have some  of what she's having." Except I was silent. So who would have known I was in ecstasy?

For the past two weeks, I've been able to find lilies-of-the-valley in different places - when they'd gone past in one spot others were just coming out iomewhere else. White scented bells stand in a vase beside my bed, and I'm back in Gram's garden on Lafayette - or picking  some for Miss Pittman to place on her desk at William White .... so sweet - comforting - waking and going to sleep and waking again - to heaven's scent. When I returned to Montreal from Boston in 1983, the Donovans gave me a set of lily-of-the-valley powder and creams. I made the powder last until about a year ago - mmmm... And when Abbie Donovan was just a little tyke, we'd walk the Chestnut Hill neighbourhood where they lived and pick lilies-of-the-valley for her Mom. 

And now, a different scent - heaven's scent? - maybe. I smell like Dettol or something of the sort. I've just had my first disinfectant shower before my back surgery tomorrow morning. 4:30 am for the next one. Sandy's going to call me at 4:30 to make sure I'm awake so I can call Mary Klinck to make sure she's awake and ready to pick me up at 5:30. Stella's meeting me at the hsopital at 6. At the pool today, I told a friend I've made there that I'm having back surgery tomorrow. She asked me who my surgeon is. I said, "Dr. Maleki." She replied, "He's almost my cousin! I know him very well. He's head surgeon - a wonderful doctor, and you are really lucky to have him." Instant decrease in anxiety. Lori and Doris are going to be there after the surgery. Stella's going to call Jim and Sandi. Tracy and/or Ian are picking me up from the Neuro. Lori's staying over Friday night when I get home. Sandy's offering to come Saturday and Sunday for whatever I need. Doris helped me tidy and organize today.  Robin Lefebvre, a local notary I just discovered, re-did my will for me - though I don't intend  (hoping) to die yet, it's a relief to have that done. And on it goes.... prayers and good wishes and offers of help. A call from Wales. Surely friends are heaven's scent? And competent surgeons and kind notaries.

Tonight I received an e-mail from Gordon and Janis Leggett in Suffolk, England, telling me, in addition to an assurance of prayers, that Uncle Alf had had a heart attack on Saturday and died. Uncle Alf was 100 on Christmas Eve 2012. He was still active. Drove a four-wheel little vehicle about the countryside near their home, and his car to church. He was a master craftsman - exquisite workmanship in furniture, inlaid patterns ... a large garden ... and Auntie Alma (whose Mum was my Gram's first cousin on the Spicer side) at about 96 is still living in the house where she was born.  Uncle Alf and Auntie Alma have lived a Christian life of love and compassion and goodness. I'm so sad I won't see him again. And I'm so filled with joy to have known him. He touched my life with goodness, as have Auntie Alma, Janis and Gordon. And next time I'm over, I'll visit, and I'll stop by the wee country cemetery where his earthly remains will lie and I'll give thanks for a gentle, grace-full man. Heaven's scent comes in many forms. Thank you, Uncle Alf.

Now if I had any 'sense' - I'd get ready for bed and an early rise. And I pray that the pesky cats will decide to sleep tonight rather than maraud about the apartment at 11:00 like great gallummphing heffalumps . 

'Night, Bill. 'Night, Lou. 'Night, May - Sandi, my sister-in-law, back when we were very young and before we were related, used to tromp down the hall with her roomie at Macdonald College, to their room in Stewart Hall (women's residence!) at about 9:00pm - we had to be in our rooms and QUIET by 9:00 in 1964 - calling something like the above - from Prufrock or some other poem - "Night All - 'Night!" ... 

I'll be back next week if not before - with a sore back but one that is hopefully on the mend. Meanwhile, thanks all ... for being my friends and family. Heaven's scent.  :-)

Friday, 10 May 2013

Nathan, my favourite youngest great-nephew: THANK YOU

This has been a long time coming. For reasons to be explained, this had to percolate.

Life ... is full of questions. Sometimes we're alone ...  but mostly we have each other ...

with a lot of the same questions ... 

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting my family. :-) First in Grimsby, ON, Cousin Mike and Marilyn, her Mum, Ruthie (90+) and three senior dogs! Family can be defined any way we like - so I spent time with family (Sisters) at St. John's Convent in Toronto. :-) Then a week with Sandi and Jim (my big bro) and most of the greats. Nathan and Taylor stayed over for three days with their Grandma and Grandpa, so I got to see more of them than I ever have at one time. It was wonderful. And Holly and Cody, too... as there was an ice storm, and the Kevin and Monica Macgregors had no power.

Sandi, Jim, Taylor, Nathan, and I had been out for the evening, and were driving home in the van, when Nathan, my favourite youngest great-nephew, quietly posed a question into the darkness: "Is the world going to end because of global warming?" He's 11. He plays video games on his little whatever it is, thumbs going lickety-split (that word dates me, eh?). One of the games I was able to play - poorly, and with much laughter. Nathan is skilled! He began to play another game in which he killed critters like sharks off, and blood flowed. Yuck, thinks I. Later on I asked him why he liked that game, and he replied, "They're things that can hurt us." The world is full of things, real and imagined, that can hurt us. How do we protect and take care of ourselves? How, sometimes, do we survive?

Food for thought - and I've been pondering Nathan's question ever since. How brave of him to ask. It's the kind of question I suspect most of us harbour in the back (or front) of our minds. Anxiety in a form I don't think our generation lived - except maybe briefly during the Cuban Missile Crisis and our worry about fingers too trigger-happy and close to the red (I always imagined they were red) buttons of destruction. 

Today: More, and more destructive, tornadoes, tsunamis, and hurricanes. Water levels rising. Ice caps melting. Pollution, pollution, pollution. Today on CBC radio they were discussing the red and poisoned waters of China ... Millions starving in droughts in Africa. AIDS pandemic. Cancer. Inconceivable levels of abuse of children, past and present. Wars. Governments and corporations and churches high on power and greed. 

I'm glad I'm not growing up today, although today does, of course, have its joys as well as challenges that aren't experienced or perceived as life-threatening. We get so much information so terribly quickly it's overwhelming. And I don't mean that the bruised, battered, and wonderful Canadiens are out of the play-offs (sigh).  

We had our challenges and terrors growing up in the 50's. And back then, people didn't realize how we children were sometimes suffering ... psychology wasn't really on the radar. We didn't really have a clue how much other people were suffering, either. Our friends. Family. People 'out there' in the great big world ... 

If you are still reading, and not so depressed that you aren't going to continue - let me say I will inject a word of hope, but not yet. 

First ... Nathan's question touched me. Continues to touch me. When I got home to Montreal, I attended the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I'd already viewed the film, "We Were Children" (see previous blog entry for details) about the residential schools in Canada, set up by the government to 'deal with the Indian problem,' and run by the Churches. The abuse was beyond ... well ... beyond ... words. Sickening. Dis-grace-ful. EVIL. The loss of culture, traditions, language, innocence - sexually and otherwise, family support, protection and love ... 

I didn't want to go to church that Sunday. I cried first, and then got ready and went. It's my job to go. For our sermon, I asked if others in our little congregation had attended the TRC. Two did - a 91 year old and an 89 year old! I knew they would! I asked if they would like to share comments. Evelyn said, "... I was ashamed of our church, really ashamed of our church ... " Edith likewise, and it also reminded her of her internment in Japanese-Canadian camps during WWII. Again, unspeakable horrors. Where was the Church then? Well, they took over a Japanese-Canadian Anglican Church in Vancouver once the congregation had been sent off with the thousands of others, to the interior of BC to live in tar-paper shacks in fenced in prisons, effectively.  But I digress... 

The stories shared at the TRC made me ask myself - and our congregation - why are we able to address the issues of the residential schools - and OF COURSE - we should - when we refuse to address the historical abuse of boys and girls in our churches by clergy and lay people in the past? What will it take? We KNOW about it. We can hope no one takes us to court, and sit quietly waiting. We can say we can't do anything unless someone comes forward and goes to the police - lays charges. Or, we can, as some churches like the U.S. Presbyterians have done, set up a process whereby people can come forward, tell their stories, and be heard. It is a well-known fact that people are far less likely to sue if they are listened to and believed. Not in the corridors of power. In a safe space. And anyhow, if some find justice by suing the church, then so be it. 

I preached out of my despair and dis-illusionment. It's not a bad thing - dis-illusionment. To let go of illusions opens us, potentially, to new life. I didn't know what the message of hope could be that day, and had no intention of providing false, facile comfort. There was discussion - sharing ... and at the end, I asked how people were feeling and if they wanted to say anything. Madeleine asked poignantly, "What kind of a church am I leaving my grandchildren and great-grandchildren?" Ohhhh... I replied, "What a wonderful question. I think a glimmer of hope may be: we're part of a church that is just beginning to tell the truth. That's as far as I can go right now - but ... we have it on good authority, that the truth will set us free." 

The following week, we had a celebration of what church also is - JOY. Our little group, with some local musicians including our own Tom, put on a jazz/country/ concert and raised over $1,300 to help our Millie's sister get life-saving surgery in Cuba. The sermon was very different on Sunday. Both aspects are true - the Church as weak, caught up in power and secrets ... and the church as joy and celebration and self-giving.

We have also raised over $3,000 in the last two years for Apeti pou aprann - the food aid and food security program through our Primate's Fund (PWRDF) for school children in the Léogane mountains of Haïti. We average about 20 these days at church, and I am still the youth group at 66 - except when we have special services like the upcoming Jazz Mass at Pentecost. Dedicated people who love God and are committed to justice and sharing.

So, Nathan, I don't suppose you will be reading this. I want you to know, though, that you asked a question that we are all living with. We are all anxious about the world, about our safety. About our futures. What helps us get through and keep going? I think it's courageous youngsters like you who ask difficult, frightening questions. It's family and friends who hear us and encourage and love us. It's people we can share hard questions with - for me, that's also my church family. It's telling the truth about whatever troubles us. It's knowing that we are weird and wonderfully made - that we're all scared sometimes - and it's remembering that there's only one of each of us - and we're special! The world needs us! :-)

I love you forever and always, my favourite great nieces and nephews -  Nathan (mfy-g-nephew) and Taylor (mfy-g-niece) and Holly (mfo-g-niece) and Cody (mfmiddle-g-nephew) and Josh (mfo-g-nephew). It's so amazing to watch you growing up ... yes - sometimes going through challenging times - but you're GOOD!  AR

What kind of questions did you ask today?