Thursday, 24 December 2015

P. S. to Christmas and Depression

Somehow I wondered if I'd gone too far with that last blog. And then I wonder if I went far enough. It's not that I don't find joy at Christmas. But the joy emerges out of facing - living - the realities. And part of the struggle with the funeral of our friend was to allow people to be where they were. Not to try to offer hope in a God they don't - or many may not - believe in. Or, they may have other names for God. How to be true to being an Anglican priest albeit a rebel one ... whom he had said (unbeknownst to me) months ago that he wanted to do his service if he died ...  in a situation where the idea of God is anathema to some.  

So... God came into this world in all of its mess and suffering and despair and tragedies. God came because God knew what we needed. That includes respecting the diverse spaces different people are in theologically, emotionally, and in every way.

And how to put a word of hope into a situation of such profound grief? The only way I saw was to speak truth and to, in a small way, BE hope. Even if I didn't feel  hope. Because I certainly wasn't going to preach a message that would feel like abuse and be tossed angrily away.

Quiet hope. Advent. Waiting. A seed planted that perhaps one or more will come back to. The knowledge that they are heard and they are not alone.

Google Image

So many stories at this time of year hidden behind the masks of singing happily...

A young woman who went full term through a healthy pregnancy and her baby died at birth. May her heart and that of her husband be gently held by those who love them.

Cousins whose wee girl has been through two years of hell with cancer treatments - hanging in - a fighter - no clear answer in sight as to her future. She is loved.

Friends who are seriously ill and friends who reach out to them.

People in nursing homes with no one to visit them.

Others for whom this is the first Christmas without their spouse, parent, child... and we remember with them.

Refugees fleeing inhuman horrors - and refugees arriving and being welcomed in a new country :-)

Homeless and hungry people - and people at Mile End Mission and other organizations not just giving out Christmas baskets, but giving love and respect and understanding. 

Bombings, racism, earthquakes ... overwhelming... 

and Mr. Rogers mother told him:

Google image
I've found comfort theses past months attending almost daily Mass at a local RC Church late in the afternoon. Quiet. Peaceful. Not knowing what it is doing in my soul other than giving me strength to keep on keeping on, reminding me of how I was nourished in convent days by daily prayer and liturgies including daily mass. God is mystery. I'm listening and trying to respond - and it's out of this dailiness that a still small voice is heard of how best to minister. How best to live hope.

This is the world Jesus was born into. Because we need him. And people need us - to simply be. 

One old Roman Catholic priest who was a missionary in DRC for many years has a gentle, humble approach to faith. He suggested that we place whatever is troubling us into the manger - and that is the place Jesus will come. I'm thinking we'll do that tonight.

THE STABLE                     Sr. Mary Chrysostom, O.S.B.
The winds were scornful,
Passing by;
And gathering Angels
Wondered why
A burdened Mother
Did not mind
That only animals
Were kind.
For who in all the world
Could guess
That God would search out

Google image - Jesus Mafa art

Google image

God of light and hope; of stars and surprises: open our eyes to your glory and our hearts to your presence that we may respond with joy (and I add hope) to the angel song; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Christmas Blessing:  So may the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the perseverance of the magi, the obedience of Joseph and Mary, and the peace of the Christ child be yours this Christmas. And the blessing of God the one who created us, God the one who was born to redeem us, God the Holy Spirit who comforts and challenges us, be upon us and remain with us always.                       Amen.  

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Time to Talk: Christmas and Depression

Where to start? I love Advent - I'm never in a hurry to get to Christmas. I feel guilty - after all - it's about joy and celebration, isn't it? But somehow, I've always preferred Advent - deep, soft joy - in the midst of a night of waiting, longing, wondering ...
Found in Google images

I very recently presided at the funeral of a young person who took his own life. I woke up the morning of the service with an overpowering feeling, "I don't want to do this." Well, I didn't. And I began the homily at the funeral parlour by saying that - because none of us wanted to be there. Everyone knew what had happened. Everyone was overwhelmed with all of the emotions that accompany a sudden death - with a particular range that apply more to suicide. We were all living in a silent NNNOOO - so fierce a cry that it carries to the end of the universe. 

DEPRESSION:   Google image

So, I'm not breaking confidence somehow - at least I don't think I am. There was a room overflowing out into the hall with somewhere between 150 and 200 people - many in their 20's. All dressed in black. All grieving. All despairing. Some feeling guilty. Some willing to admit to anger - rage even. Many, maybe all, thinking in their secret depths what a waste of a life - a courageous, brilliant, kind, loving young man. And on it could go. Many without faith - or at least a traditional faith - and p'raps who, if they believe in God, hate this God that allowed such horror.

We live in unanswerable questions and must accept the unacceptable. NO! YES! Why? Why now? What could I have done or not done; said or not said? Reality: The person who takes his or her life makes a choice out of the depths of despair - and it is their choice. 

He was depressed. Very depressed. And this time of year, it is especially hard to admit to being depressed. After all, the Christmas carols begin at the end of October. Beautiful music piped in stores, on streets, on the radio that will end Christmas Day when those of us who celebrate the religious holiday are just beginning Christmas. 

The days are dark, so dark, and long. Joy (or what passes for joy, but may not be) and bouncy excitement and crazed shopping exhaust us - whether we're caught up in it all ourselves or aware of others in the whirlwind ... glitz and glamour and glazed looks. People are more likely to take their lives at holiday times. Perhaps because the noise and seeming happiness of those around them magnifies their sense of isolation and solitude. 

I reached out to one friend that morning who listened to my tears and fears,  sent me a few links, and offered to hold my hand from afar. This wasn't a church-y funeral... How to speak to hearts in a thousand pieces? Yet God was there. God of many names and above all the compassionate One.

A few thoughts:

We need to name the elephant in the room. To start talking. To speak truths. Our truths. Human truths. 

Grief is. It just IS. 

Mental illness is. Depression is. Suicide is.

GRIEF    Google Image from blog by Linda Vigen Phillips 

Buddha's first noble truth is suffering. 

Jesus says, "Blessed are they that mourn."  Urrgghh... sometimes I hate him. Need to remember that it wasn't facile, syrup. It is hard. Grief is hard. 

See the link below of Joanna Macy - in which she tells us we need to stop seeing suffering as the enemy - suffering is part of life. We don't need to like it obviously - but pain opens the heart.  I remind myself. 

The Wild Geese: Joanna Macy on befriending our despair  I hope the link works... 

Joanna Macy quotes a line from Mary Oliver's poem, Wild Geese: 

"Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine." 

And in the sharing, we can find hope - if not now, in time. Meantime, we break our isolation and take a step forward into remembering that we belong to each other. We are not alone. 

We never recover from grief. It will soften in time, but it doesn't go away. Maybe that's partly why I love Advent. It doesn't place expectations of jumping for joy on me. It allows me to wait and long and discover a deep spark of quiet joy while singing: 

"There's a voice in the wilderness crying, 
a call from the ways untrod: 
prepare in the desert a highway, 
a highway for our God!"  
Common Praise 106

The wilderness journey makes way for hope. And a re-connection with a community of truth-tellers and truth-seekers.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Proud to Be a Quebecer Today - New Gun Registry Promised

26 years ago late on the snowy-rainy dark afternoon of December 6, 1989 a gunman walked into the Ecole Polytechnique  at Université de Montréal and massacred 14 young women because they were women. Strong, bright, intelligent women - twelve of the fourteen studying engineering. 

Montreal lost any innocence it had that night. I was working on a master's in Etudes pastorales (pastoral studies) at the UdeM. When I got home from classes I found a frantic phone message from Jim, my brother, wondering where I was and if I was alright. I still hadn't heard of the tragedy ... but turning on the TV - there it was - chaos and the unspeakable... and I wish I could say unbelievable. The violence was, and is, only too real.

Part of the suicide note of the killer (I will not name him): 
"Would you note that if I commit suicide today it is not for economic reasons … but for political reasons," it read. "Because I have decided to send the feminists, who have always ruined my life, to their Maker … I have decided to put an end to those viragos."

Image from Ms blog

from Google images

Remember the women. Say their names. 

  • Geneviève Bergeron (born 1968), civil engineering student
  • Hélène Colgan (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Nathalie Croteau (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Barbara Daigneault (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Edward (born 1968), chemical engineering student
  • Maud Haviernick (born 1960), materials engineering student
  • Maryse Laganière (born 1964), budget clerk in the École Polytechnique's finance department
  • Maryse Leclair (born 1966), materials engineering student
  • Anne-Marie Lemay (born 1967), mechanical engineering student
  • Sonia Pelletier (born 1961), mechanical engineering student
  • Michèle Richard (born 1968), materials engineering student
  • Annie St-Arneault (born 1966), mechanical engineering student
  • Annie Turcotte (born 1969), materials engineering student
  • Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz (born 1958), nursing student

For years, Heidi Rathjen,  Suzanne Laplante-Edward (mother of one of the 14, Anne-Marie Edward), other survivors and family members of the victims fought for a national gun registry in Canada. All police forces supported it. We got it. Celebration short-lived.

from Wikipedia:
"In 1995, the Criminal Code was amended to include Bill C-68, the Firearms Act. It implemented a new central licensing system to replace the FAC system. It also required registration of all firearms and firearm licence holders; banned short-barreled and small calibre handguns ("grandfathering" in previous owners); and required a licence to buy ammunition. Most of the bills provisions came into force in 1998, and the registration of long guns became mandatory in 2003.[10]"

Along came a majority Conservative government in 2008, and Stephen Harper destroyed the registry. Stephen Harper is no longer our Prime Minister. Am I happy?  YES!

Quebec fought in the courts to have the Quebec data saved. Some of it may have survived. Today, our Quebec government announced it plans to pass a law requiring the registration of all non-restricted firearms. present in the gallery at the National Assembly in Quebec City: Heidi Rathjen, Nathalie Provost... and others.

Rejoice today - in deep sadness but with satisfaction that sometimes our governments know what is important and act on it. 

Our Quebec flag - from Google images
Thank you, Quebec

Thank you Mr Couillard (our Quebec premier in case you're from away) and the Liberals of Quebec - and all of you in Quebec City today who support this move. It is reported that all three parties stand with us on the gun registry initiative. Yes!!

Our Canadian parliament, as a result of the massacre, declared December 6th to be the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence against Women. 

from Google images

We remember and ...

Onwards, Canada - next we want the inquiry into the 1200+ missing and murdered Aboriginal women... 

Some links to powerful stories about December 6, 1989 and the ensuing years. Stories of courage and determination and the fight for equality and justice.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Breathe In Mercy

I never thought much about mercy. Compassion. Love.. Justice. Not mercy. Hmmm...

When I was at the convent long ago, we used to say (corporately) the Litany of the Holy Name. One of the Sisters used to lead it in such a way (no affect) that I gritted my teeth and wanted it to be over - feeling guilty, of course. The response to the petitions "Jesu, most wonderful" ... or "Jesu, Lover of the poor"  (I think) was, "Have mercy on us."  Over and over. I prefer "Jesus." At any rate, it was, I hate to admit as it may indicate a lack of something major - that the Litany of the Holy Name with its repetitive "Jesu, ... " was not one of my favourite prayers. 

Then there's the memory of St. Mark's, Longueuil, the choir - "Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us." I'm singing as I type. I love it. But never thought much about the mercy part in any depth - what it meant.

Mercy. I looked it up. 

Mercy: compassion or forgiveness shown toward someone whom it is within one's power to punish or harm.

The Biblical meaning from :  
Mercy is a concept integral to an understanding of God's dealings with humankind. In English translations of the Bible, it comes to expression in phrases such as "to be merciful, " "to have mercy on, " or "to show mercy toward." The corresponding term, "merciful, " describes a quality of God and one that God requires of his people. The noun denotes compassion and love, not just feelings or emotions, as expressed in tangible ways.

Several Hebrew and Greek terms lie behind the English term "mercy." The chief Hebrew term is hesed [d,s,j], God's covenant "lovingkindness." In both the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the LXX) and the New Testament, the term behind "mercy" is most often eleos [e[leo"] in one form or another, butoiktirmos/oiktiro [oijktirmov"/oijkteivrw] (compassion, pity, to show mercy) and splanchna/splagchnizomai [splagcNIVzomai] (to show mercy, to feel sympathy for) also play roles.
OK. So ... how is it I've missed the boat? Never too late ... I see a study beginning. Jesus lived mercy. It was/is a verb like love. And compassion - which I guess is close to mercy. 

I signed up to receive a daily email of Richard Rohr's Daily Meditation. It's wonderful.  Challenging, peace-giving. Spirituality, psychology and more... At the bottom of each of this week's meditations is: Gateway to Silence: Breathing in -- receiving mercy; breathing out -- letting go. 

Mercy. Pope Francis has called for the next year to be a year of mercy. The devastating violence in Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Nigeria, Kenya ... and on and on ... leaves us reeling. The millions of refugees. Calls for a ban on refugees entering our countries in the West in case one of them is a terrorist. Never mind that the KKK and others continue their hate crimes which fit the terrorist definition. 

In the sermon last Sunday - we kept St. Hilda's Day (of course) and tied this feisty, wise woman who struggled for balance in the Church (whether or not we think she was right to go for the Roman option)   - with the violence ... and I asked people how they were feeling. First there was silence. Then ... afraid... and on ... and there is a sense that we aren't safe.

Well, we aren't safe. I've spent much of my life looking for safety.  69 years into life in this realm, and I'm realizing on a deep level that living isn't a safe occupation. We can take precautions. But accidents happen. Illness. Bombs. No one can save us in the sense that we crave a sense of safety. So, what do we do?

We breathe in mercy. And then we act mercifully. Towards ourselves and towards others. Imagine if the world's people were breathing in mercy rather than hatred, division, revenge. 

We can't save the world; we can make a difference. We accept suffering (I don't say this lightly). Nor have I finished learning the lesson. Obviously. We all have our better moments and I imagine our moments of terror.

Don't you love Rumi?  Well, maybe not. This is hard. 

Mmm... very helpful these days. We all have turning points in our lives. Big things. Small things. Planned things. Surprises that catch us off guard. Times of growing up. Breakdowns and breakthroughs (if they are different from each other).

48 years ago today, November 20, 1967 I walked down the St. Margaret's Convent chapel aisle at Vespers and was received as a postulant in my little black dress. This story is told in another post. It was the beginning of a new life. A journey of letting go and opening up. Of moving away from home and family and beginning to grow up. Emphasis on 'beginning.' 

Then there was Haiti that turned my life inside out and upside down and both broke and transformed my heart. 

Then the breakdown that became breakthrough. And I eventually moved back home to Montreal and completed my studies - official studies that is. 

More breakthroughs as I finished a degree in child studies and education before going on to theology. Anxious. New. 

Patricia Delaney taught drama in education that first semester in 1983 I was back at Concordia. More life-changing moments. Freedom offered - or at least glimpses of what freedom could look like. Patricia asked us to move around our smallish class room like elephants. Everyone's elephant was the 'right way' to be an elephant. No external judges of the best elephant. Just be - be an elephant the way you imagine an elephant moving. WOW! Thank you, Patricia. 

Our present new bishop, Mary, told me when I was a theology student (c1989) that going shopping with parishioners is also ministry. More freedom. St. Paul's, Lachine - Alan who gave me the freedom to develop W.I.N.G.S. (Women Initiating New Growth Successfully) and other forms of creative ministry.

A year unemployed - Mum was dying... and then Mile End Community Mission - ahh - lots of freedom there... and opportunities to learn and live mercy.  St. CHL is our beloved little parish where we also dance and sing to a different Drummer (and jazz musician) and share the faith and grow together with a whole passle of children in Love in Motion. We might also call it mercy in motion.

And woven in-between and around and under and over - discovering freedom - there has, as in all of our lives, been suffering along with joy. Finding and/or creating a balance between holding and letting go. Learning mercy. Breathing mercy. When I knew not mercy, and was not merciful with myself, I was held in mercy.

And now, I say: Jesus most merciful. Have mercy upon us.

Breathe. Mercy. 

And - it's always a good idea to be ourselves - and to keep a sense of humour.

I hesitate to use this image ... it can seem facile.  So many are suffering beyond comprehension ... but for some of us at some moments, this may be right on. 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Breakdown to Breakthrough - A Journey

Images from Google images
In early July 1975, I was at the convent in Duxbury falling apart as it turned out. I used to lie under the poplar trees sometimes, gazing up at the sunlight playing with shadows, listening to the crinkly rustle as the leaves were tossed by breezes from Duxbury Bay, and I longed for the wind to carry me away to a place of peace where there was no chaos or pain. Only I didn't have words for my soul sinking into a place of horror. 

In August that year I was sent to St. Monica's Home in Roxbury to be in charge of the kitchen, replacing Sister Leslie Anne who was on holiday - planning meals, placing orders, and other food-related activities... Somehow, I functioned just above the Pit - enough to do the work - though again I had no idea what was happening to me. I did, however, arrange an appointment with a psychiatrist in Boston for September after my holidays - hoping he could fix me up before I returned to Haiti on October 15th. Right... a few visits and ... Wrong...

September 17. But who remembers? I do. I sat in JTM's office dully looking at the floor. His first words: "How long have you been depressed?" I looked up. There's a word for what is happening to me? If I'd been as well as I've become over the years - hard work by the way - I'd have answered, "Most of my life." But the Pit is a place of few words, little insight, and of clinging to a thread of survival. I was a breakdown waiting to happen most of my 29 years. It happened, however, when I had lived a life of prayer, self-discipline, and faith and had developed some tools to survive when I crashed. 

Thus began a journey into deep inner caves and through long tunnels - literal tunnels in hospital . A breakdown we called it then. From a present-day perspective, I call it a breakthrough. An offer of health.

It's been forty years this autumn since I 'fell apart.' 

I like to think of myself as a stained-glass window. I broke into many pieces that have been put back into something beautiful through hard work and with love and help along the way from my Sisters, family, friends, two therapists, and an angel of a Boston social worker - Janice Goldstein. And it weren't easy for them to accompany me. Understatement.

This month I'm making a pilgrimage to Boston. To visit my Sisters and friends. One woman in particular, Karen, whose friendship began November 21, 1975 and has lasted tough and strong all these years. And her 95 year old Mom who welcomed me into their Southie home when I needed extra love and support. 

Looking forward to long walks. Sea air. Giving thanks.

Sister (then Mother) Marjorie Raphael sent me a note in my 1971 Profession retreat (as a response to my anxiety) reminding me that seagulls simply ride the winds in storms ... an image I go back to often.

Sister Rosemary told me every time I saw her in later years before she died that she carried in her heart the powerful image of me sitting in habit on my hospital bed clutching my crucifix. And how she admired my courage. I also clung to Psalm 139 for comfort. 

I wasn't too keen on God in the early years while the pieces were shattering. My images and understanding of God needed to fall apart as well. God who will zap me if I step a centimetre out of line. God who takes innocent children's lives. God who will fix things like my parents' marriage if I just pray hard enough... God who wants me to be perfect. God who wants us to suffer. God who wants us to 'offer it up.' God who is never satisfied... 

Aaahhh.. God and I have come a fair distance since those days. I'm convinced that God loves balloons. That God wants us to have fun even - maybe especially - in church. And to use our motto at St. CHL - "We don't do perfect." None of that is to deny suffering. It happens; it's not required.

And on it goes. A life journey. It helps to remember we're not alone.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Baby Snapping Turtles, Loons, a Cuckoo Clock and JOY

Hmmm... Look at that cute little beastie. My cousin Dave would have a fit if he knew I'd wondered if turtles are reptiles. Well, below is a more detailed description...

  1. Turtles are classified as amniotes, along with other reptiles, birds, and mammals. Like other amniotes, turtles breathe air and do not lay eggs underwater, although many species live in or around water

Baby snapping turtle - photo from Google Images
Sandi and Jim, my sister-in-law and big bro live in the metropolis of Consecon, Prince Edward County, Ontario. You know - a stop sign or two, country roads and a fair bit of wildlife. Each spring regular turtles (large-size) and snapping turtles rise from the mud and marsh to dig holes at the side of the road or gravel path - not very deep - and lay a dozen or more leathery whitish eggs.  And come evening, most of the eggs are sadly munched, crunched, and slurped by coyotes, foxes, and/or raccoons, evidenced by the whitish-grey rubbery remnants near the nests the following day.

This one made it... as long as it didn't try to cross the road (Google image)

This year, a mama snapping turtle must have hidden her eggs more effectively than most. We found squashed baby turtles on the road.  :-( They must follow some ancient internal call to get - where? - to whatever was on the other side of a road that didn't exist eons ago? However, Sandi found one alive and placed it in the grasses. I found another on our return and, after a deep encounter (on my part) gazing into tiny black reptilian eyes, I gently tossed it into the brackish water below. Small splash. Rush to check and there it was - teeny thing swimming for all it was worth. YES! It didn't have to cross the road. It was going to make it - and p'raps grow into a massive snapping turtle.

In the summer of 1971, I worked as a Sister of St. Margaret at Trinity Mountain Camp in western Connecticut. One day I drove Jacqueline Smith, a counsellor, somewhere or other on mountain roads. We rounded a bend and we met mid-road a huge - as in nearly 3 foot wide grey-green shelled monster Snapping turtle. We certainly weren't going to drive over it, even if we could have done so. We couldn't get around it. So - car flashers on, I exited and picked up a very large stick to encourage movement. Right! I gently touched the rear end of said turtle and in a second (seriously - you thought turtles were slow?) it had swirled 180 degrees and grabbed that stick in its fearsome jaws. Good thing I hadn't used my foot!! 

Adult snapping turtle - we're talking mean ... (Google image)

Snapping turtles aren't high on my list of favourites beasties. Not exactly cuddly. Way, way below cats and slightly above tarantulas, scorpions, and rattlesnakes. Fascinating, though - the process of digging and egg-laying, the sadness that most become food for predatory creatures, the fact that a few survive and that we were in the right place at the right time to rescue two. The sheer power of the adult and the swiftness of movement. WOW!!

From Consecon, Lynda, Philip and I headed to an inn in Lake Placid for two nights. We sat in the Adirondack chairs, listened for the cry of a loon, and canoed both evenings on the still, dark waters of Mirror Lake. 

Our Adirondack chairs... the view ... Photo Philip Hawkins

Thursday, we took a boat  tour around Lake Placid and Mirror Lake.  Loons are fairly plentiful here considering that loons are territorial and don't share their space easily. Most dive at the hint of a boat approaching. There was one huge male loon who seemed to enjoy the attention, and paraded (paddled) about for everyone to ooohhh and aaahhh and take photos... What beautiful creatures! Their wild, haunting cry, as it says in the Canadian updated version of "All things bright and beautiful," cuts to the heart. 

Male Loon on Lake Placid - Photo Philip Hawkins

Turtles. Loons. Nature. Depths. Wisdom through the ages. Joy.

And speaking of joy.  :-)  Lynda's Dad, Ken, bought a cuckoo clock for her Mum on a business trip to Switzerland in the early 60's, not long before he died of a sudden heart attack. When the family moved back to the UK, the clock, of course, went with them. At some point, it stopped working. When Joan died last year, Lynda asked if I'd like it. Yes!! Oh, yes!! So, she and Philip found a clock maker in North Wales, had it fixed, and carried it carefully packed in their hand luggage on August 24th.

Near the top of my bucket list was - a cuckoo clock!! Philip installed it on my bedroom wall. It's the real thing. Chains to be pulled to wind it. A bird that sings on the hour and one cuckoo on the half-hour - plus four little musicians who play both times. Pure joy! I run to watch and listen as soon as I hear a peep/cheep/cuckoo. :-) 

My cuckoo clock :-)

JOY!!! (It can be turned off at night)

Things have been a little tense lately. At work. Truth-telling costs but not speaking costs more and differently. All's well... what a wonderful little community of faith we are.

And my car was hit by a fire truck on Thursday, August 27th. I wasn't hurt, but it certainly shocked me. The driver's window exploded into thousands of pieces. I kid you not. Ever look up from sitting position at the tire of a fire truck crushing your car? Saturday, I stepped on a piece of something in the hall, and discovered a piece of glass that must have been in my hair or clothes and survived going through the laundry. Firemen and police kept telling me, "But Madame, you're not hurt. It's just material." Yes. True. But, finally, I said to the police woman they sent over with the same message, "Have you ever been hit by a fire truck?!" She left.

So, life happens. I think there's another term - 'S**t" happens. So does joy. Friends happen. (More on that later as it deserves a blog of its own - a reunion of friends after 50 years.) 

And warm memories. Old photo to follow.

On the way home, we stopped at Schuyler Falls in Upper New York State. When we were children, we drove down for picnics. Potato salad and other Gram-made goodies. And Gram would sneak tiny plants with red berries and green, green moss home for her terrarium... 

Schuyler Falls picnic grounds. Photo Ros

Schuyler Falls Picnic grounds - so peaceful.  Photo Ros

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Of Mountain Shadowlights - and Tarantulas, Rattlesnakes, Black Widows :-)

Southern Okanagan Valley - beauty ...
I've told this story before. Back in 1971 when I was very young (24) and a recently first professed Sister of St. Margaret, I spent the summer working at Trinity Mountain Camp in western Connecticut. Word came via friend Phebe Jacobs (who had only surmised it - but it had a ring of truth) that I was going to minister in Haiti in the fall. Acckkk! For one thing, I had high anxiety about going away from home. And another: I am terrified of spiders (ok - so you're not terrified of anything?) - to be more precise though, they are technically not spiders, but who's being picky here? - I was terrified of meeting tarantulas on dark and stormy or not stormy nights. BIG! Hairy! Ugly! Bite! Hang out on door handles and under things...


Well, those of you who know me know I went to Haiti in spite of the fear - out of obedience - and LIFE changed. Life became real. I loved Haiti, the people I worked with, the people in general, the earthiness of life, the beauty, and the country in all it's tragedy, joys, and challenges. I am still terrified of tarantulas, and am thankful that Sister Anne Marie and Sister Joan who got up in the middle of the night (almost) to pray before heading out to their respective schools discovered a mama tarantula had given birth (or whatever tarantulas do) to hundreds of tiny babies that swarmed all over the chapel door opening into a courtyard.

And now - 2015. My childhood friend Cheryl lives in Okanagan Falls, BC - in the southern desert-y part of the valley. She and her husband Arthur visited us in Montreal in June. As I was planning to stay a few days with them after my PWRDF Sharing Bread workshop at Sorrento (up the road), I asked if they really had rattlesnakes. "Yes," says Cheryl, "and scorpions and black widow spiders." AAACCCKKK!  Be brave, Ros. You can do this. You may not sleep the entire time you're there, but be brave. 

Did I say that along with the rest of the world's adults, I'm pretty grown up but still working on it? 

So, July 11th, friend Kay drops me at Costco in Kelowna and Cheryl and Arthur pick me up. Check surreptitiously under car seats for little black spiders with red hourglass on their backs. Nope. Check around car for rattlesnakes when we alight at their home. Nope. Scorpions - well, they pretty well  hide out ... but be sure to shake out slippers in the night. I don't wear slippers. OK. Actually, in all the years Cheryl and Arthur have lived in the south Okanagan, they've only ever met one rattlesnake - 6 feet of snake - under their wood pile. One's enough - but better than lots. They've never seen a scorpion. And there were no black widows to be seen. 

When we stopped at the First Nations winery, I asked the woman at the counter about black widows - "They don't come into the house, right?" Her response: "Do you want me to say yes or no?"

 Nary a one - rattlesnake, scorpion, or spider... found a neat sign about rattlesnakes, though - and apparently the land is becoming so developed - housing and vineyards - there is concern that they are disappearing. 

Like what person in his or her right mind is going to pick up a rattlesnake or harass it??

Now you can all feel self-righteous that these little things wouldn't bother you - so - go for it :-) 

And surprise, surprise - my experience was beyond words. Let the photos speak for themselves. 

The Okanagan is so dry and brown and grey and grey-green and desert-y that I thought (preconceived notion) I couldn't possibly live there. I'm more of a tree-covered mountains, turquoise glacier-fed lakes, snow and/or ocean kind of person. And then - wait for it...  

It is exquisitely beautiful. Every few seconds the landscape changes - shadows, clouds, and sunlight play with each other putting on a spectacular show every moment of the day into evening on the raw mountainsides - covered with gorse or bare rock ... see photos. Haze from the forest fires added to the mystery. 

And then there were irrigated vineyards (apparently a drop of water a minute through black tubing) and still peach and cherry orchards... though orchards are fewer than in the past - competition from the US and other issues.

It just goes to show I shouldn't make up my mind about beauty or what I like and dislike a-forehand. I was still careful about where I put my feet and didn't reach into any dark corners without checking for eight-legged beasties.     ;-) But - it was awesome. 

And - the best peach I have ever had in my entire life - stood over the sink and let the sweet, sweet juice dribble down my chin, over my hands and up my arms. A glorious, heavenly mess. If there's no snow in heaven (whatever or wherever heaven is) at least I hope there are Okanagan peaches.