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


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. 


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