Saturday, July 01, 2017

The Movers and the Moth

It was 2004 and I had gone back to England for two weeks to help my brother Robert move Mum from the two story home she was living in, to a perfect little ground floor flat in the same village.

Robert and I had a lifetime of gathered belongings to sort through and condense into a much smaller space, while Mum, blissfully unconcerned with all of this, patiently waited for the move.

I persuaded Robert that it might be a good idea, even though Mum's final quota of belongings was small, to get help in the form of a moving company.

We settled on movers called Mike and Al. Their advertisement in the phone book sounded so promising. "No job too large or too small," it boasted.

From the moment I made contact with "Mike" though, something in his voice gave a different impression to the enthusiastic advertisement. In fact, I wasn't sure that he really wanted to do this job, although he didn't come right out and say so.

When I pressed him for a quote, saying that we didn't really have a lot to move, he said, "That's what everybody says and when we get there it is a lot."

"Okay," I thought, "That's probably true, often," but it didn't seem like a very promising start to our moving relationship.

On moving day, they arrived. Each was driving a small, shiny, red moving van, one larger than the other, just like them.

Robert and I felt uncomfortably as if we were in the middle of a family argument as Mike and Al bickered with each other from the start, arguing over how items should be lifted or carried and how the move was to go.

Mum's antique china cabinet, which had belonged to Oma in Holland, had twin owls on each of two wooden spires. We asked Mike and Al to be especially careful with these. Inevitably one of the owls was broken off. It resides in a drawer of the china cabinet to this day.

Because the front door was open, a moth or butterfly fluttered in and when Mike spotted it, he said, "Is that a moth, or a butterfly? Only I've got a phobia about moths."

A phobia I could understand, although I did ask if he was really serious. But what, I wondered, was the difference between a moth and a butterfly when it came to a phobia about things fluttering?

At that point, Al came in and asked the same question about the thing on the wall. Apparently he had the same phobia.

And just in case that you ever need this piece of information, the answer was, "Moths fly at you in the face. Butterflies are frightened of you and fly away."

So good to know!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

A Word Makes a Difference

Sometimes one word can make a profound difference, as I found through reading the book: “Understanding the difficult words of Jesus—New Insights from a Hebraic perspective.” 

The authors, David Bivin and Roy Blizzard, Jr., believe that the first three gospels: Matthew, Mark and Luke; also known as the Synoptic gospels; were not originally written in Greek as was believed for centuries, but in Hebrew, which was then translated into Greek and then from Greek into English. 

A triad of languages involved in translation, create issues obvious to anyone who has tried using Google Translate, which seems to focus on words alone as opposed to the idiom it is translating. For example, I translated “raining cats and dogs” into Dutch, and got the result: "hondenweer," which literally means “dog weather” or “dogs again.” 

Bivin and Blizzard’s  theory that the first three gospels were originally written in Hebrew is based on relatively recent evidence revealed by the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, between 1947 and 1956, as well as by studying the writings of the early church fathers and the inscriptions on coins from the time of Jesus.

This was interesting, but understanding how one particular word should have been translated acted like a key to understanding other scriptures. It was all to do with a Hebrew verb that was poorly translated into Greek, and in the process confusing the tense.

I learned that in Hebrew, the verb “karav” means “to be at, to come up to and be with--to be where something or someone else is,” but this was translated into the Greek word “engiken” which means “about to appear” or “is almost here,” and is sometimes interpreted into English as “come near.” 

The original word “karav” was sometimes used to indicate intimate relations between people as it clearly does in this account in Genesis 20:1-6: Abraham, was worried that his safety would be at risk because of the desirability of his beautiful wife so he told her to say that she was his sister. Here is the text:  

20 Now Abraham journeyed from there toward the land of the [a]Negev, and [b]settled between Kadesh and Shur; then he sojourned in Gerar.Abraham said of Sarah his wife, “She is my sister.” So Abimelech king of Gerar sent and took Sarah. 
But God came to Abimelech in a dream of the night, and said to him, “Behold, you are a dead man because of the woman whom you have taken, for she is [c]married.” Now Abimelech had not come near her; and he said, “Lord, will You slay a nation, even though [d]blameless? Did he not himself say to me, ‘She is my sister’? And she herself said, ‘He is my brother.’ In the integrity of my heart and the innocence of my [e]hands I have done this.” Then God said to him in the dream, “Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also [f]kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her.

Why is this all so important and how and why does it make such a difference? Luke 10:1-11 New American Standard Bible (NASB) describes Jesus sending out 70 disciples ahead to the cities he planned to visit. Notice the instances where the words “come near” are used:
The Seventy Sent Out
10 Now after this the Lord appointed [a]seventy others, and sent them in pairs ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. And He was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no money belt, no [b]bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ If a [c]man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in [d]that house, eating and drinking [e]what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. Whatever city you enter and they receive you, eat what is set before you; and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’10 But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet we wipe off in protest against you; yet [f]be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’

Verses 9 & 11 use the phrase, “The Kingdom of God has come near to you,”  but translated back to the Hebrew “Karav” it should say, “It’s here! It has arrived!” That makes a profound difference.

Luke 17:20-21
New American Standard Bible (NASB)

20 Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with [a]signs to be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is [b]in your midst.”

 How was the kingdom of God present in this case? In the people sprinkled like salt and light amongst the crowd--Jesus and his followers.

We who know him, represent the Kingdom of God. We carry the kingdom where we go—light in the darkness of the world.
Everything about us should represent God’s rule and reign--his character: goodness, mercy, patience, gentleness, love, kindness, long-suffering, faithfulness, humility. Realizing this makes a difference. I am not just representing me but someone and something more important. I have to pause and consider this when I wake up on the wrong side of the bed in a grouchy mood.
Familiar verses have a deeper meaning.
Micah 6:8New American Standard Bible (NASB)
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love [a]kindness,
And to walk [b]humbly with your God?

In other words, God requires us to make manifest the values of the kingdom of God and of the heart of God. And this is why Jesus could say to us:
Matthew 5:48New American Standard Bible (NASB)

48 Therefore [a]you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

 It isn’t actually we who have to struggle to be perfect, but it happens as a result of our awareness that his kingdom has taken up residence in us.

2 Corinthians 4:7New American Standard Bible (NASB)
 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;

John 17:11New American Standard Bible (NASB)

11 I am no longer in the world; and yet they themselves are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are.

 When “the name” is referenced in the Bible, it talks of character. At a conference author Mark Buchanan said that he understood the commandment “you shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” (Exodus 20:7) to mean that the sin is to act in the name of God in a way that doesn’t represent his character; in other words to misrepresent God to the world.

When Jesus prayed, “Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which you have given Me, that they may be one even as we are,” it is to do with his “keeping us” in his character—upholding his kingdom as we represent him to the world.

   Galatians 5:22-23 speaks of the “fruit” of the Spirit.
New American Standard Bible (NASB)
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Fruit is the product of intimacy. Think of that word “karav” again, interpreted as to “come near,” but actually a synonym for an intimate encounter.

In John 3, Jesus has an encounter with a curious member of the ruling council of Pharisees.
John 3:1-6New American Standard Bible (NASB)
The New Birth
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these [a]signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born [b]again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Before there can be a spiritual birth, there must be an intimate encounter with someone, the Holy Spirit.
A couple of Sunday mornings ago, I was meditating on what I had just seen about the kingdom of God before church. An hour went by like short minutes as scripture after familiar scripture came alive in a new way.
That morning our pastor led us in the Lord’s prayer.
I listened to the words “Your kingdom come,” but instead of seeing them as a prayer for his kingdom to come in the future, I prayed them as in the present tense, “Your kingdom come--now—in me.”
The prayer ends, “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory.”
Not our power or glory—it is all his!
During our sharing time that morning I had asked for prayer for a man who had not been heard from for 5 days in Thunder Bay, the brother of a friend on a northern reserve.  The night before she had been distraught with worry and I said in a message to her on FB that we had no place to run but to Jesus. On my mind were the many First Nations people in Thunder Bay that have been found in the river. When I got home from church, I checked FB and saw that she had posted a one line prayer:
“Our Father who art in heaven.”
Another person added
“Hallowed be thy name”
Then someone else wrote
“Thy kingdom come”
Twice in one day, it felt like God confirmed what he was teaching me about the Kingdom of God.
My prayer that I wrote in my journal that morning before church was:
 “Today I am praying that God will make me usable and keep me in a state of usability.”
I could as easily have simply written, “Thy kingdom come.”
Hidden Treasure
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
A Costly Pearl
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls,46 and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.


An intimate encounter with the Holy Spirit—it can happen here and now. We just have to answer “yes”--and open the doors of our hearts.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Here!

I had the privilege of delivering the message at Green Valley Alliance Church today and because it was live-streamed I can post it here.

Tuesday, May 09, 2017

Flimflammery

It was a season of “lasts:” the last budget preparation at year-end; the last 1.1 with each of her direct reports; the last meeting of each of the many groups and committees of which she had been part for so many years--the last this—the last that. She had loved her job these many years, and she had wanted to finish well, had worked hard at leaving everything in perfect shape for her successor. She was dutiful, committed, loyal and hardworking, no one could say otherwise, but now, as she sat at her desk one morning when the finish line was in sight, suddenly she felt an unfamiliar stirring  within her, a sort of reckless abandonment that was as intriguing as it was terrifying.

She glanced at the clock hanging above her desk and realized that she had completely lost track of time while working to finish a project before leaving for another of those “last” meetings.  With a gasped, “Oh my goodness!” she quickly reigned in her thoughts, shut her laptop with a bang, and gathered her coat and briefcase.

It was her turn to bring the refreshments for the meeting with a group of her peers--agency executive directors. She had planned to stop on the way to pick these up. What happened next surprised her, but she seemed to be guided by a force outside herself.  She found herself stopping at the corner 7-11 store instead of the fancy little patisserie where she had planned on choosing a tasteful selection of elegant pastries. Inside the store she avidly surveyed the candy counter, sniffing the air fragrant with the scent of chocolate and other sugary concoctions. Her eyes lit up at the sight of the giant neon-coloured gumballs and Tootsie Rolls and she grabbed a large bag of each of these, leaving the store with a smile on her lips and a skip in her step.

At the meeting she arranged her loot on several elegant platters, if pouring out the clattering riot of garish gumballs and Tootsie Rolls could be called “arranging.” She placed the platters around the meeting table and enjoyed the gasps of surprise and titters of laughter as her colleagues arrived and sat down. As they helped themselves, she herself smothered the urge to giggle at the normally super-professional crowd struggling to hold the giant gumballs in their mouths as they attempted to chew them. A few dribbles escaped from mouths, while teeth and lips absorbed the cheap dye of the gumballs. Meanwhile those who had chosen the Tootsie Rolls fared no better as they tried hard to separate their jaws without losing expensive crowns or fillings. All dignity had fled the room.

“This is so--CHUMMY!”  She cried, smiling brightly at the sea of dismayed faces, but of course there were no verbal responses, only mute nods, because everyone’s mouths were quite busy enough without trying to speak. And if only everyone had kept their eyes on her, things might not have devolved further, but inevitably they looked around at one another, and that’s when the resulting explosive laughter projected gumballs and Tootsie Rolls—and of course, colourful drool, into the air at high velocity. There were sputtered apologies between dabbing at mouths and unsuccessful attempts at smothering the laughter, which exploded again the moment it died down. Tears ran down faces along with mascara, while some ran from the room doubled over, with a posture that indicated their urgent destination.

She yawned, her brain waking up, but not yet able to piece together threads such as time, or day, or place. She lifted her head from her desk, realizing where and when she had fallen asleep.  As she gathered her thoughts, the article she had been reading on her laptop reminded her--it had been lunchtime. The article had interested her, “A Short-timer,” she had read, “is a term for a person nearing the end of their military service or that period before retirement or when a contract or project is almost at an end and productivity decreases or is overwhelming.” Interesting, she mused, just before her eyes became irresistibly heavy and she succumbed to the compulsion to lay her head on the desk for just a few moments...

And this entire story is a piece of nonsense, in other words;
Flimflammery!

(Inspired by a writing prompt in Monica Wood's book: Pocket Muse 2: Endless Inspiration for Writers, which said: Work a little magic with the following words: gumballs  flimflammery  tootsie  short-timer  chummy )

Friday, May 05, 2017

The Air We Breathed

We know that each generation influences the next with its physical DNA, passing on predictors of appearance; health; gifts; interests and propensities. But there are other things less tangible that invisibly and strongly, guide the actions and attitudes of the next generation. It's almost as if it's the air we breathed.

I considered this recently as I went through the clothes in my cluttered clothes closet. I thought about my mother's clothes closet, which stands in my mind as a symbol of something about her, and about me. 

Firstly it was not a closet really, but a wardrobe. In England, where I grew up, we did not have bedroom closets but wooden wardrobes.
My parents had a 1950's, shiny, walnut veneer wardrobe, from which wafted the faint smell of moth balls. It had two sides, each with a curved door, ornately patterned metal handles, and locks that held keys, but were never locked. 

The top of the wardrobe held all sorts of things that had nowhere else to be stored, including a cardboard box that contained a photograph album with black and white photos of my mother's youth, and many envelopes containing loose photographs, which I loved to look through. 

Image result for brownie cameraMum's side of the wardrobe had some shelves and among other things her black Kodak Number 2 Brownie camera was kept there. At 11 years old my own love of photography developed and I was allowed to use this simple, sturdy camera that took great photos. I haven't stopped recording life in pictures since then. 

When it came to clothes though, there were not many in Mum's wardrobe. We were probably no poorer than other families in post-war England, but what little money there was, did not go towards clothes, except for school uniforms and sturdy, serviceable shoes, always bought with room to grow into. As a result, I can remember every non-essential item with clarity--a white dress splashed with a pattern of big deep pink roses, with a pink waistband that tied in a bow at the back--black patent leather shoes, and the white shoes with a bottle of whiting--that strong smelling liquid that you had to shake well and then apply with a sponge. New shoes spent at least their first night beside my bed being cherished in their pristine shoe boxes, ensconced between sheets of tissue paper, smelling "new" and wonderful!

My mother's items of clothing seemed to last many years. She had a suit that she wore only on special occasions, such as when we traveled to Holland to visit our maternal family. In it she looked even more beautiful than usual. It was of soft brownish fawn cloth with pin prick polka dots. The jacket shoulders were slightly padded, it had lapels and a fitted waist, and the skirt was flared. Below it in the wardrobe was a pair of high heeled brown suede open toed shoes, worn as rarely as the suit, and a handbag. Normally Mum simply used a series of practical canvas shopping bags to carry her wallet, Polo peppermints, clear plastic rain-hat, smaller shopping bags rolled up and secured with elastic bands, and handkerchiefs. 

When Mum got an office job, she suddenly needed clothes to wear to work and so she bought two outfits which she alternated. One skirt was of Black Watch tartan, with a cream blouse and green cardigan. The other pleated skirt was of a blue based tartan with a white blouse and blue cardigan. When I was 13, I was invited to a friend's 13th birthday party and having nothing to wear, borrowed Mum's blue outfit. I was tall for my age, and a little chunky--and must have been the least stylish teenager ever!

Other clothes landed in Mum's wardrobe from two more glamorous sources though. One of these was one of Mum's best friends, whom she'd met in the 1940's and with whom she remained steadfast friends all of her life--Auntie May. Auntie May lived in South Shields, near to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and spoke with a soft Geordie accent. Mum, with blue-gray eyes and abundant glossy, dark brown hair was a natural beauty. Auntie May had honey blond hair and was similarly gorgeous. She has had a life-long passion for clothes and would often pass on beautiful things to Mum--who still however wore the clothes she felt comfortable with, which she called her, "office clobber." "Clobber" is British slang for attire! When I grew older I would often find things of Auntie May's that I loved. This photo is of Mum with Auntie May. :)

The other source of lovely clothes was Tante Corrie, Mum's eldest sister, and more financially well off than we were. From Tante Corrie came really pretty things. I remember a flouncy grey flowered chiffon skirt that had an attached underskirt. We never actually wore it, but I loved to try it on and admire it occasionally.

Mum continued her thrifty, utilitarian approach to clothing all of her life. She put other things and people ahead of her own needs, and clothes were not her priority, ever. 

Maybe in reaction to this bare bones up-bringing, I had a bit of an obsession with clothes for much of my adult life and more than made up for any early scarcity. Now I find myself more closely in tune with Mum's approach, especially since I spend much of my life these days at home. 

We were in Mishkeegogamang, a First Nations reserve in North-Western Ontario last year when one of our friends there told me that the belief of the older members of their community is that goods coming in as donations or gifts to the reserve should go to the younger people. They won't take from them because they have all that they need and no longer need so much anyway. That freedom from perceived want and need, and their contentment, resonates with me across cultures and it reminds me of my own mum. 

Good air for the next generation to breathe.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Dairy Queen Debacle

I have discovered that the road to high drama or comedy often starts out as an innocuous trail of breadcrumbs.

Such was the case recently, when in the middle of cleaning her kitchen cupboards my friend Susan texted me with the wry declaration that she was married to a condiments hoarder.

“Dozens and dozens of packets of soy-sauce, ketchup, and sundry containers of salad dressing, vinegar, etc.,” she wrote. She thanked God for small mercies--at least Ron didn’t save the packets of salt and pepper, but she said that she could not suggest throwing any of the collection out.

Ron had said defensively that the last time the kids were over, he had given them all little ketchup packs to put on their French fries. 

“At that rate,” wrote Susan, “there’s no way we will be able to use them up before the end of the next decade! Then there are all the other little packets…And every time he gets takeout…there are MORE!”

“Oh, dear,” I texted back, adding that I had used up my own ketchup hoard by snipping the ends off the sachets and emptying them into my large ketchup bottle. Strangely, Susan didn't seem impressed by that.  

“Squeeze them into big bottles hey?” she  replied, “Ron suggested that, but I told him that was his job…that’s when he said I should throw them out.”

Ron’s hoard would have come in handy when Paul and I stopped to pick up supper from the Dairy Queen a few days later. He had been ill, and had lost his appetite for a couple of weeks, so I was relieved when he had the sudden urge for a DQ Crispy Chicken Salad with his favourite Honey Mustard dressing. Things began to unravel quickly when the server brought out the salad and told him that she was sorry, but they were out of Honey Mustard dressing. Paul was disappointed. The young server was poised with a cooked Crispy Chicken Salad, but without the Honey Mustard dressing, Paul did not want it. 

Childhood family dynamics made me a Rescuer of Awkward Moments and this one triggered me. I instantly remembered a leftover sachet of Honey Mustard Dressing that was waiting in the door of our fridge at home. Disappointment was unnecessary! All would be well.

As soon as the car stopped in our driveway, I rushed inside, an invisible red rescue cape flapping in the wind behind me. I skidded to a halt in front of the fridge, and flung open the door--but there was no dressing! In my own round of purging zeal, I had thrown it away. Next I ran to the pantry, where I was sure I had an unopened bottle of honey mustard dressing. I searched in vain before remembering it had gone the way of the sachet when I had noticed that the “Best Before” date was several years in the past.

Paul was eating his melting ice-cream first, but it was going fast. I felt like a contestant on a cooking show trying to beat the clock. I ransacked my cookbooks for recipes for Honey Mustard dressing—no luck. Undeterred, I ran upstairs and printed off the first honey mustard recipe I could find on the internet.

I gathered the ingredients quickly: Dijon mustard, honey, cider vinegar, salt and oil, and started measuring them out. The print on the recipe was small and I had to squint—my reading glasses weren’t handy but I didn’t want to waste time searching.

1 ¼ cups of Dijon mustard did seem like rather a lot, followed by 2 ¼ cups of honey and 3 ¼ cups of cider vinegar. I was just thankful that I had these things on hand in such quantity. I underestimated the size of bowl I would need and had to find a bigger one to transfer the mixture into. This must be a commercial recipe, I thought, but by now I was committed. 

Then I paused to take a calming breath and looked closely at the next ingredient. I saw to my dismay that what seemed at quick glance to read, “41½ teaspoons of salt,” was actually, step number 4--1½ teaspoons of salt, and that what seemed to be ever-increasing ingredient quantities were the result of my including the step numbers in the measurements. The last one would have been step 5. ¼ cup plus two tablespoons, of oil. The practice of thanking God for small mercies was heartily applied as I contemplated the amount of oil that would have swelled the growing concoction on my counter had I not pressed the pause button before adding that.

I pushed the overflowing bowl to one side and began again with the right amounts this time--and triumphantly carried in the hard-won dressing just as Paul was opening his chicken salad.

Afterwards I asked him how it was.

“Not the same,” he said—Paul is nothing if not truthful. He had no idea of the behind-the-scenes drama that had gone into its production.


I did briefly consider how I might rescue the original bowl of ingredients, but to do so would have meant adding 2 more cups of Dijon Mustard and another cup of honey to balance out the volume of cider vinegar--which was 13 times the correct amount of just a ¼ cup. There would have been enough dressing nobody really liked, to last a lifetime. You have to know when to cut your losses.

I’m trying to decide if the moral of this story is “haste makes waste” or “penny wise—pound foolish.” Maybe I should ask Ron.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Of Cupboards and Cornflake Boxes

I had spent Wednesday upstairs, emptying, cleaning and organizing cupboards, while from the kitchen below the distant whine of an electric screwdriver drifted up--new cupboard doors were being attached to our still sturdy, old cupboard frames.The bathroom cupboards were next to be renewed once the kitchen was finished.

Without thinking, I emptied the contents of a clear plastic jewelry organizer onto the bathroom counter-top, so that I could wash and dry it--and instantly the chains of four necklaces formed a pile that became tangled around each other and two red coral earrings. More haste, less speed, I thought, with a sigh.

I tried letting the chains loosely fall apart in my fingers, as much as they would without tugging. Mum had taught me how to do this when I was a child, and I remembered how no matter how tight the knot in a thread, or how hopelessly knotted a chain was, somehow, she was always able to undo it; just one of her special talents! I managed to disengage one of the earrings, but I didn't have the time right then to continue, and one of the chains had woven itself intractably around the remaining earring. It looked as though I would have to undo the chains before the earring could be freed. I laid the jumble on the lamp table beside my reading chair, to be worked on later.


The kitchen cupboards were finished by early afternoon, and looked beautiful. Instead of golden oak colonial, the doors were now a more modern dark chocolate brown, with simple, clean lines and elegant brushed silver T bar handles.


On my way up to bed in the evening, before turning out the lights, I paused to admire them one more time, and again, Mum came to mind. How she would have loved the new cupboards! She always longed for a nice home, but it was a dream that evaded her. Instead, she took great pleasure in ours. I felt a pang of sadness. I would have so much loved to share this joy with her. Instead, I whispered, "Aren't they beautiful Mum? I'm enjoying them for both of us."

Upstairs I sat down in my reading chair to check my phone for messages and then reached for the chains, intending to work on them a little longer before bed. To my surprise, the coral earring, which I had been sure was so firmly entangled, lay by the chains, but no longer attached.

Had I untangled it and forgotten? I was sure that I would have put it away with the matching earring in the jewelry organizer if I had. 

On Saturday, my brother Rob called from England and I told him about the new cupboards and how they'd made me think of Mum. 

He interrupted me before I could finish, "Belinda, you won't believe this, but in the middle of the week, I was thinking about Mum too. I was in my kitchen, and thought of how she was always filling out the contests on the Cornflakes boxes."

"Win Your Dream Home!" he said, "That's what the caption always said, and there would be a smiling housewife standing in front of a beautiful modern home, half brick and half white cladding. She always used to say, 'I don't want anything special, just reasonable.'"

I remembered that too, and could hardly wait to tell him the rest of my story--about the tangled chains--ending with the earring inexplicably lying apart from them. 

He laughed, "Oh, my Belinda--and the chains were in the shape of M-U-M," he embellished, "and there was a piping hot cup of tea on the table, just like Mum used to make." Now we were both laughing.

"How lucky we were to have Mum, and Mum's love. Not everybody has that," said Rob.


And, I thought, such love lasts forever.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Miscommunication

Words--they can be regretted; explained; justified; or apologized for, but never retrieved—and that’s the very thing we often long to do.

Once careless, hurtful words are expressed, like homing missiles, they find their mark with terrifying precision and devastation.  And there is no tenderer landing place than a human heart or soul.

A sure signal of the need for silence is anger. “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you’ll ever regret,” wrote Ambrose Bierce, a 19th century journalist, who ironically often stirred up a storm of hostile reaction through his writings. Perhaps he spoke from bitter experience. Unfortunately, anger is exactly when words tend to come--“fast and furious".

Some of the words I regret the most were spoken to my father. They were true, and it’s not hard to justify them, but they caused him pain. Three months afterwards he died. I would give much to take them back.

He was 81 and very deaf due to the effects of war and factory work--but unfortunately for me, could hear better over the phone. I had not long returned from a three week visit to England, where he lived in fraught relationship with my brother and mother. It had been a difficult visit in which it was hard to watch the dynamics, and I shocked myself with thoughts I could only admit to my brother. 

I said to him one day as we walked around a hardware store together, “I thought last night of how much easier life would be if Dad died. That's a terrible thing to think about isn't it?” He didn’t say a word. I didn’t expect him to—I think he understood that I needed to say the dark thought out loud to someone, as if doing so would exorcise it. 

I had tried to make Dad see how much he hurt my brother, when he focused on what he perceived to be his faults, which really weren't and if they were, were weak echoes of his own, but it had been hard to get through the barrier of a deafness that could have been eased if only he’d put the batteries in his hearing aid, and if there hadn’t been the alcoholic haze which he induced each day from mid-morning on.

I was deeply thankful for the inner-healing and different perspective that I found on that vacation through reading Philip Yancey’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, but when Dad said to me over the phone, “I wish we’d had more time to talk while you were here, darling, I had no grace.

I said, “Well, Dad, I was there for three weeks, but you were well oiled (British slang for drunk) for much of the time.”

He didn’t react, didn’t flame with anger--if he had, it might have eased my guilt, but instantly I felt that I had hurt him—I just wasn’t sure enough to apologize immediately. I hoped that I was wrong, that as many things did, my careless words had gone over his head. But I feared they hadn't. He was always so proud of me—his only daughter, so like him in many ways—and to him, vulnerable in his love, the wound went deep. I felt his distance in the weeks that followed.

When he was hospitalized a few months later, I flew back, and through our daily visits to the intensive care unit, surrounded by the constant doleful beeping of machinery,
I hope he knew that we loved him, no matter what. He could no longer speak to us because of the breathing tube in his throat, but in his weakness and helplessness, we saw a glimpse of the person he really was, and the father and husband he might have been, without the ghosts that he used alcohol to numb. 

In his final week of life, after I had returned to Canada, the life support apparatus was removed, and during that week, my dad's mind clear, he gave my brother the priceless gift of affection, in words and touch--his blessing—we’ve talked of those precious moments many times since.

It’s been 14 years since I spoke those words to Dad. I’ve learned since then to listen better to what lies behind words than to the words themselves. Now, I hear in his words a longing for intimacy, connection and communication, and across time and space, I say, late, but from my heart, “Me too, Dad…me too.” 

Thursday, January 05, 2017

The Ticking Clock

I've often felt out of step with our time-pressured, outcome-measuring society, and never more than now. 

I find myself at the end of cashier's lines, as the next person's items start piling up before I've packed and removed my bags. I feel slow as I put away my receipts, while quickly around me the world speeds on.

Today I went through a Tim Horton's drive-through and the Tim's card I had loaded with $20 the week before, registered no cash, due to some kind of issue that I will resolve, but in the meantime I needed to pay for the tea I had ordered. After only a few seconds of searching, since I carry and use little cash anymore, the cashier waved me through without having to pay. I have a feeling that had to do with the fact that I was holding up the line behind me. 

Later on I went to pick up some colour swatches from our local paint store as we are painting our kitchen and bathroom. I had a list of colour numbers, as I had done some homework on the store's website, and was doing fine in finding swatches I'd chosen. I had been there less than a minute, I am sure, when a middle-aged man approached me with an intense and intrusive gaze saying, "I can help you find what you're looking for a lot faster."

I politely declined his help, but he persisted, "If you just call out the numbers I can get them." 

Why? I thought to myself, but, "They are all right here," I said, gesturing towards the display in front of me, as if I needed to explain. Thankfully he backed away.

I left the store with my selection, wondering why the whole world seems to be in such a hurry. 

Workers these days in all kinds of industries seem to have quotas that are measured. The motions with which they work are studied and analysed because time equals money. You can see the subtle cues everywhere in the smooth methodical ways every process in commercial businesses run, which isn't completely a bad thing except maybe the underlying premise is.

Should money be the prime value driving our society? Care for the elderly, is carried out by workers who have only time to do essential care tasks but have no time to interact--no time to listen or converse for they are being watched and pressured to do more in less time. No wonder they find this stressful as they chose that field because they care for the people they work with on a human level. People need more than food and bathing in order to survive. We cannot forget this.

Years ago when I began working with people with disabilities, they taught me that rushing was counter-productive--and would often result in much more time spent than if I had been patient and supported someone at their own pace in the first place. One of the gifts in my continuing friendships with people with disabilities is the slower pace with which they regulate the world around them, to good effect.

After years of trying to do more in less time, my time related goals now include trying to be more "in the moment" and to do one thing at a time, rather than multi-tasking. 

Let's go counter-culture, be okay with slowing down--write a real letter or note to someone instead of an email; lose track of time with a friend; really listen to that voice at the end of the phone--and have patience with the world around you if things aren't going as fast as you'd like. 

Because...

Being rich is having money; being wealthy is having time. 
Margaret Bonnano