I’ve been thinking about Christmas or rather, about the power of the idea of Christmas. Not just the combination of a Christmas tree; how we decorate them, why we bring them indoors, where we place them or the gifts; why we give them, who gets them, how many we give, but of the coming together with ‘family’ or a reasonable facsimile for family when our biological equivalents aren’t with us. As parents, we all feel sad if our children are not in the same room with us on Christmas morning. There’s even that nostalgia of longing for those little ones they once were. Even after a lifetime of transitioning from being the recipient of Christmas to becoming the creators of Christmas, we hold to our ideas of what Christmas should be and are disappointed, depressed, or drunk when it isn’t.
There seems to be no other celebration in our lives that warrants the same devotion to the memories of tradition. Unlike birthdays with a cake and a present, there is the tree and the gifts, the decorating and the food, and the person of Santa Claus with his role in rewarding the ‘good’ ones and punishing the ‘naughty’ ones. I remember vividly the fear of actually receiving a ‘lump of coal’ in my stocking, even though I had no real experience with coal, let alone knew what a lump looked like. Funny how always the word ‘lump’ was combined with coal; ‘lump of coal’ not ‘chunk of coal’ or ‘rock of coal’ a description that made you think of scary things like Quasimodo, witches or goblins, or things that go bump in the night, purposefully meant to coerce good behaviour from any believing child. I had a vague notion of what a ‘switch’ was, having been on the receiving end of the Alder branch my father cut to administer his unique brand of discipline in the back seat of the Volkswagen. I doubt whether my parents actually considered putting a lump of coal and a switch at the bottom of my Christmas stocking, but rather liked the idea of the threat and using it to make me behave. Rather distorted when I think back.
Read “T’was The Night Before Christmas”, any controversy surrounding its origins notwithstanding, made anonymously public in 1823 and attributed fourteen years later to Clement Moore, for a description of Santa Claus as the “right jolly old elf” who lugged the presents in a sack and came down a chimney, and who was transported in this task by eight reindeer, all of whom he knew personally. These facts were impressed upon us at a very young age by my father who recited all fifty-six lines every year until it became what we embraced as our own Christmas tradition. No less part of Christmas than his quirky rendition of the line; “tore open the shutters and threw up the sash” as “tore open the shutters and threw up on the sash”. Every year we waited for him to make this ‘mistake’. Very much like his singing of the Christian hymn, “I Shall Wear a Golden Crown When I Get Home” which he sang as; “I Shall Wear a Golden Crown, If I Get Home.” Despite this, as children my sisters and I were not raised to believe that this jolly old elf was the bearer of our presents. There was never that gut wrenching moment when we discovered the lie, no school chum let the cat out of the bag to ruin everything. Instead, we knew our mother was really in charge of Christmas. It was rumored that as a girl, she herself had been devastated to learn the truth of Santa Claus and wished to spare her own children this disappointment. Instead of the whole thing hinging on one Christmas character, the myth was embraced as part of the traditions and we came to accept this willingly. Together with “Jesus is the reason for the season” and “Keep Christ in Christmas”, we sang in Christmas concerts at church and wrapped up the celebration like everyone else.
It is in thinking about Santa Claus that brings Christmas to my mind this year, so distinctly attired we would all recognize him if we met him, and the associated premise of receiving a gift only if you are on the nice list. The naughty are acknowledged, but no child would believe for a moment they would arrive at Christmas on the naughty list. “You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout, I’m telling you why…” Even if there had been a year of extraordinarily bad behaviour, somehow arriving at Christmas exempts us all from thinking the consequence would be a lump of coal. Children and adults alike catch the spirit of Christmas and for a season hope they’ll be excused, or forgiven.
Because Christmas is both a secular and religious observance, we spend our lives mixing the pleasures of retail therapy with “O Holy Night”, togetherness and good will toward men with the picture of Santa offering a thirst quenching Coca Cola, huge servings of abundance, with charity towards those less fortunate. We know we are capable of better and Christmas is the season that reminds us the good receive gifts. This is where we confuse the two faces of Christmas, holy and happy. Carrying on our Christmas traditions will make us happy. You will be happy if your children are in the same room with you on Christmas morning, opening up the presents you have worked hard all year to afford. You have expended great energy in decorating the tree, and the house and labored long over the meal all of you will share. You have given to those less fortunate. You have even attended the church service, or the candlelight ceremony that gives a religious nod to the holy part. It’s all so exhausting, especially when we do all that and yet we are not happy.
Religion has done Jesus a disservice I think, it has made Him out to be Santa Claus. Years of holiday advertising allows us to recognize Santa but Jesus has remained a baby in a barn and at Christmas, that’s how we celebrate Him. Jesus, like Santa becomes a benevolent creation with gifts to give to those who are good and we all believe we are good. There is no other time of year when this becomes more apparent than Christmas. We may not believe in the existence of Jesus, like Santa – but we still hope to be happy if we just uphold all our traditions and celebrate with everyone else. Even though as kids we knew there was no Santa, we still believed we would get presents. No. That’s not true. We didn’t just believe we would get presents, we knew we would because our mother was in charge of Christmas and we had faith she would create all that we came to believe was what Christmas should be.
Have you heard? You won’t see it until you believe it. We had faith. Somewhere between there and here religion tried diligently to convince me that if I was good, I would get gifts. This I know, is a myth of Santa proportion. The gifts have been given to me and they are already mine and there is no correlation between my goodness and the giving of gifts. Believing in myself is not required. In fact nothing is required of me. That is the essence of a gift. Even though I had no idea what coal looked like, I knew it wasn’t something a ‘good’ child received at Christmas. Instinctively I knew as well, that candy canes and chocolates were more to my liking. No one had to tell me the difference. I knew what a good gift was. James says “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”
I believe the real joy of Christmas is just accepting the gift. If you choose not to get past the layers of religion that has wrapped up and covered the simple giving of a gift, it matters little how well you celebrate Christmas or whether you celebrate at all.
We came upon Wayfinder through the same means we came to find all the other potential liveaboard sailboats – through Kijiji or Craigslist or the local used sailboat platforms on the internet. We traipsed through half a dozen local marinas, walking up and down the docks looking for “For Sale” signs, most of which had faded lettering, tiny print and were flapping in the wind. The recurring theme seemed to be the “once upon a dream” of owning a boat, turned into decaying hulks of long overlooked deterioration quietly stagnating at a berth no one ever visited. We viewed over six or seven boats, even accommodating one owner as volunteer crew in transporting his boat closer to home. We offered on one boat within the first two weeks, thinking this was the one. When the transaction failed, we were disappointed but continued to look at other options. We enlisted local expertise to offer opinions on where to exercise caution. We stepped into the world of marine mechanics and hull surveyors, accepted the knowledge of those who lived that world.
There were owners who tried valiantly to convince us theirs was truly an enviable prize while in the same breath, they asked us to recognize the work that needed to be done. “It’s a project for someone.” they’d say. The dichotomy of their pitch and the condition of their boat left us wondering whether there existed a boat that met our few requirements. We would be living aboard, so there needed to be a minimum of space, something beyond 35 feet. I’ve come to understand the relationship of the beam size to the width of a boat, so there needed to be something sufficiently wide so as to allow two people individual space. The transition from living in 1,200 square feet of space over two levels, in a home on land to a tiny house on water, would ask for patience and understanding and the list of requirements could not be extensive or expensive. We were content to keep our hopes and imagination relative to our budget. We were not simply switching from a house on land to a house on water. We were seeking a simpler, more self-sufficient lifestyle.
As the list of viewed boats grew, I realized I wasn’t interested in the slick and the sleek, but was drawn toward boats of a certain age. These boats set themselves apart by their appearance; long curved lines, wooden accents, teak decks, but this also meant cushions needed replacement, and equipment was worn. I realize now, most of them represented the kind of house I’ve always owned, one most would pass over as requiring too much investment – of time and money. Quickly we got to the part where the asking price reflected the distance between the potential value and the work required. Still, I was reminded of the brick behemoth I once called home. Over two levels with eleven foot ceilings, six marble fireplaces and a huge chunk of ancient subterranean mechanics pumping heat throughout, the only impression that remained with me after viewing was the four-windowed widow’s watch on the roof that overlooked the harbour and the history of the widow after whom it was named. The widow’s watch gave the woman, the wife, a vantage point from which to wait the safe return of her seafaring husband. I climbed the curving staircase accessing this tiny enclave (which was simply a four sided box on top the roof) and fell in love with the whole thing, renovations and all.
When the word ‘cottage’ is used to describe a sailboat, I question whether the owner thinks a serious prospect would take a second look. In fact, this advertised boat was a motorsailer and looked long enough to compete with the Titanic. There were rust stains streaking from the portholes and it was well and truly tired. Having nothing to lose, we asked if we could take a look. The boat was moored at Salt Spring Island.
Many marinas, many strolls on the docks gave us a fairly good idea of what it costs to park your boat at a marina. The marinas offer services of varying degrees usually electricity, waste disposal, laundry, mail services, a marine supply shop, sometimes a pub or restaurant. They line themselves up along the coast and to the untrained eye you might think all the boats in their entirety represent one marina. Far from this. The huge aluminum clad ‘houses’ are one class of boat owner and are lined up like little toy soldiers along quaintly numbered docks, their gleaming bright civic numbers and ‘in case of emergency’ information at the door. These usually belong to the more private types and discourage liveaboards. Alongside these sharing the same water, you find docks extended with hundreds of boats tied to them. These would be the community marinas, and there is usually a waiting list for ‘liveaboards’. At the come-one-come-all type of marina, you have options to stay a certain number of nights per month without committing to the month in its entirety and the charges are reasonable. It was our good fortune to find one of these at Maple Bay located in the Cowichan region on Vancouver Island, in the heart of the Gulf Islands. Our reconnaissance took us there with a local gentleman who was kind enough to offer his boat-buying advice. We enjoyed a cold one on a beautiful September afternoon.
When we arrived at Salt Spring we were reminiscing about our visit there two years ago. We had toured the docks then, longing after boats of various sizes. One boat in particular caught Paul’s attention. “Now there’s a beauty.” he had said. I followed his gaze and my first impression was the boat was in serious need of a paint job. Paul couldn’t resist the impulse to get a closer look and we turned our leaving around and walked back to the dock where Snowbird was tied. The owner happened to be on board effecting some type of repairs and was more than congenial in his feedback about the boat itself, about living on Salt Spring Island and about pointing us toward his other boat moored in Salt Spring Harbour. After snapping a view shots of the boat, we decided to try and find the other boat he owned and walked over in that direction. It was hard to pinpoint because the harbour was filled with boats. The only distinction he gave was that it was a fairly large boat and was moored, which means he sunk a giant weight attached to a rope and tied the boat a ways from the actual docks. I was coming to understand there were other ways to park in a harbour that negated the necessity of paying marina fees. More photos and we made our way back to the car. The photo of Snowbird became my computer’s screensaver for some months after.
Not long after approaching the dock, a small skiff motors up and a gentleman introduces himself. We exchange names all around as he offers us a short motor to the boat for sale. I know you’re there ahead of me but it took me the entire tour and the return trip to the dock to realize this was Snowbird’s owner and we had just toured his second boat. Although Paul was a bit dubious of my first impression, I could see something in the bones. The roughness of both the interior and exterior was due to being relegated to storage status and filled with the accruements of a sewing business and surplus furniture. He had never lived aboard her but purchased her from the owner who had lived aboard herself from the time the boat was repossessed in Panama from the builder over 36 years ago. Yes indeed, it even had a history. I could go on to describe her, but suffice it to say the registered length is 53.9′ with a registered width of 15.4′. It is a motorsailer with a Ferro cement hull, a 1976 Samsom 55 Auxiliary Ketch, weighing approximately 40 tons. It is powered by a 1980 Perkins 6354, 120 horsepower marine diesel engine and that’s as marine-techie as I will be.
She had sat at the mooring for at least three years. Like so many others we had viewed, the idea of owning her was one thing the practicality of sailing her, quite another. She had become a storage shed and her decks displayed a variety of once used lawn chairs, tanks, and inflatables; her interior, sewing machines, bolts of fabric, a mass of tools and equipment – not all in working order, but all easily explained. Any thought of moving her to assess the potential meant a diver was employed to release as much gunk as he could from the propeller – an auspicious beginning indeed. It was decided we would take on the challenge. I had faith this could be what we had searched for and so did Paul. Not in its present condition – let’s not be too naive, but it had potential. I had walked into the ‘widow’s watch’.
We arranged with the owner to have the boat hauled out of the water. To our great relief, the owner had 35 years worth of relationships with marine experts and his good buddy at Lindstrom Marine scheduled us for a lift. Just around the corner from our mooring, Lindstrom Marine had the lift and the expertise to get a 55 foot boat safely out of and back into the water. The owner assured us that this would be accomplished under his personal supervision before he left on holiday. Lindstrom Marine is located at Maple Bay – coincidentally, the very same we had toured a month ago and we stayed overnight on the boat Sunday to be ready for our leaving Monday morning. We were scheduled in Maple Bay for a Monday afternoon appointment. Paul scraped the hull of as much reachable life before we cast off the numerous ropes that held the boat in place next to Grace Islet.
It was sloggingly slow and we arrived just after our anticipated time. By two in the afternoon, the power was off at Maple Bay and everyone had gone home. We hit the pub, had a beer or two and the owner traveled back to Salt Spring leaving us to spend another night onboard. Tuesday we discover the mast that holds the radar was too tall to accommodate the lift and needed to be removed. As I walked the dog, Paul managed to loosen the connections for lift off. Wednesday all day the boat had Linstrom’s undivided attention and we were back in the water Thursday. In that time the hull was scraped, pressure washed, inspected and painted with new zincs affixed and propeller treated. We got the prize for being the first to fill their dumpster and the star fish got a reprieve as they were plunked back into the water.
Up to this point we’ve agreed to buy the boat provided the hull inspection was satisfactory and it was. The rest are details. In the bigger scheme of things they are inconsequential and profit no one in the telling. Paul and I and the dog, Bella hope to transition to life aboard within the next week or two and begin the process of prioritizing how that will be done. It did not escape my notice that this same boat was moored not 100 feet from Grace Islet, the saga of which I had followed from my computer in New Brunswick, many months prior. It seemed there was a wealthy land owner who had purchased the Islet on which to build his home. The construction had been aborted upon the discovery of graves. This brought the native residents to protest and the government subsequently bought out the builder making him a very wealthy man.
There have been several times over the last week when the circumstances required Bella to encounter a life she has never known. Perhaps only to me, her face takes on a certain countenance and she physically shakes. She has spent the past nine years of her life in much the same day-to-day with the biggest excitement being the walks in unfamiliar woods, so the prospect of being strapped into a life jacket and hauled up a 20 foot ladder to the deck of a boat is foreign to her, to say the least. Nonetheless, I know that as long as I am there with her and she sees me, she is assured of her own safety even though her surroundings are completely strange. The unknown then becomes doable. So like me; “I know who holds my future and I know who holds my hand.”
One year ago tomorrow six celebrated the day of my birth. Celebrated with me. Celebrated me. In a world increasingly foreign, there remains a day given each of us wherein we can celebrate. The day our entrance into this world was pause from the terrorist attacks, the status of the world economy, (or our bank accounts) the preparations for the next commercialized holiday. Despite circumstances, any one individual birth pushes the stop button of life around them for we cannot come into this world without notice. What happens after that is anyone’s gamble but the entrance, by its very requirements, grab the attention of at least one other person, more often than not – two, three or even more. Getting to be born is no small task, but neither is growing old.
Aging is most frequently viewed through a lens of loss; eyes once sharply focused, now require dime store magnification for the simplest of tasks. The two middle fingers on my left hand ache each morning, perhaps in protest of another day’s expectations. I could wax eloquently of the myriad of ways the cardboard box that has transported my ephemeral self through these years, has deteriorated and morphed to be this older version of that chubby kid, but I would rather celebrate. I have the absolute privilege of being on this planet long enough to have a memory bank stuffed with constantly amazing, often perturbing bits and bobs of life.
Take music for example. While I no longer pursue the careers of the latest musicians and to many that is a sad state of affairs, I have the unique ability to pick from the air Lionel Ritchie wow wowing through the stereo speakers, midst the strains of “Just to be Close to You”. The room can be filled with people, the conversation can be deep or superficial, the context calm or chaotic. I will immediately be transported back in time. A time when the Commodores coexisted with James Taylor and Neil Diamond. I can visualize where and who I was while I pick up lyrics I haven’t sung for thirty years. I can’t remember what I did Monday, but I can sing through the hits of Toto, “Tonight I’m gonna break away, just you wait and see.” Barry Manilow, “Looks like we made it.” and yes – something called “Wild Cherry” and “Play that funky music white boy.” Go ahead, laugh – I know I do. That’s because I have all those years that gather round and whisper to me. Sometimes they beg me to come back and join them playing for awhile on their shores asking only that I stay awhile to reminisce. I sit and visit with my mother who set the bar high in loving music, or my father who sang the old hymns and I mull over my own capricious vocal trials. I kick the stones of romantic breakups underscored by heartbreak lyrics and I smile. They would have me stay but this old self knows that it’s hard to climb out of that rabbit hole. I politely excuse myself and insist I must get back to life. Life here and now. Life celebrated on this birthday.
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and sorry I could not travel both.” Michael J. Fox celebrates many years married to the same woman. Robin Williams commits suicide. “And be one traveler, long I stood. And looked down one as far as I could. To where it bent in the undergrowth.” One disease. Two choices.
Testaments of time tall and imposing reach far overhead, unwitting of the life on the ground. Straight up without bending, against a foreboding and darkened sky, they split the horizon. Other trees reach beyond their roots and like the peacock, spread their array in colors of dead and dying leaves. Something in me resonates with something in them. One walk midst their kin and that something in me responds.
“Then took the other, as just as fair, And having perhaps the better claim, Because it was grassy and wanted wear” The duotone honk of the geese signal their watery launch as if by some schedule their leaving was arranged. Soft full underbellies hang in the air neath a gaggle of wings flapping up to speed.
I stop with leash extended while the dog roots out another foreign scent. Look up, look way up. Just overhead, so close the whisper of synchronized flight. I could almost touch them. Standing still I watch the one lone procrastinator honk from far behind; “Wait for me!” Two others break formation, circle back and gather the straggler ahead of them. A lesson in teamwork. “Though as for that the passing there, Had worn them really about the same” Contrast the geese a moment later, the protracted landing of the graceful Heron as it glides to rest on the bank of the creek. The long and elbowed neck drawn back betrays its’ dinosaur DNA. The dog, impatient pulls the leash to urge me on and the dirt almost mud, squishes beneath my sneakers. “And both that morning equally lay. In leaves no step had trodden black.”
Far and away I thought the leaving to be a beginning, the chance to answer questions or ask the questions that would bring meaning. “Oh, I kept the first for another day! Yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.” Serendipitous the chance to discover these woods, the one the dog now knows. She turns to take the path before I discover its’ opening, so secret and covered with growth the way goes down and turns toward the creek bed and the wooden bridge. It’s protected. A place where the wild salmon run. Not the bison – different way to run. But run, nonetheless. In hurried panic I search to find a stick, a poker, with which to introduce myself to the long and twisty thing, on the ground, in the reeds, by the beach. It’s coiled and quiet, just waiting there shiny black and yellow. “Hello, who are you?” Before the hello, it is gone. The stick made redundant. No need then to say hello with a stick. “I shall be telling this with a sigh. Somewhere ages and ages hence:”
I search the shore to try the thing ancestry has tried for ions before me. I seek the smooth and even surface of the rock that will skip to the horizon. The small but mighty statement I can take in my hand. I balance the leash in the one hand and comb the contents of the shore with the other. I am beach combing. I have not done this with diligence since the discovery of the dead porpoise, the washed up and thick carcass that was poked with a stick as a child. What is this poking with a stick thing? I gather my technique and with all my talent, hurl the rock with great force across the glass like surface of the water. “Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Tomorrow will be the one week mark for our arrival on Vancouver Island. One week. I’m not sure why it feels like ages, but the calendar assures me – it is only one week. Already August is finished and September comes. In New Brunswick the season of Fall brings the turning of color for leaves that begin to die. Here on Vancouver Island there are trees turning gold, yellow, orange and rust but the reason is dryness not cold. Lawns everywhere are parched and bristled. If it is not watered, it is dead.
We stood in line at Service BC to gain recognition as residents. By some stroke of luck we had birth certificates and our New Brunswick drivers’ license with us. A shout out to women’s liberation – BC bureaucracy dictates if your driver’s license is in your married name and your birth certificate if in your maiden name, you must also bring your marriage certificate as proof of your name. Men don’t seem to require that last bit. Two pieces of identification required to begin the process, oh – and mandatory health insurance to be paid based on your level of income. So even though the healthcare process requires a three month wait, (thank you New Brunswick for covering us in that three months) it is also required to identify your income level and you will be billed for healthcare based on your income level. 0-$22,000 in household income and you get a pass, whereas if your household income is over $30,000.00 you will pay $150.00 for a family of three or $136.00 a month for a family of two. Sixty two dollars later and both of us will be issued a BC license in due course. The guy at the boat yard was quick to tell me that B.C. stands for “Bring Cash”.
I must express a great deal of gratitude toward Rudi & Trish. Graciously they’ve opened their home to us, fed us, advised us and otherwise allowed us to get in our van each morning to hunt down the boat that will be our home. Truly the privacy and luxury of the surroundings has been such a blessing. The garden doors from our room look out over Nanoose Bay and Mistaken Island. The diversity of the view has the mountains in the background, the island and the surrounding water in the foreground. There are resident eagles, seals, sea lions and the occasional blue heron.
Bella has become somewhat accustomed to her new surroundings and still follows me from room to room. I have almost forgiven her for darting toward a puppy in one of our walks through Bellingham, Washington. While scouting out a possible boat, we were walking past a small outdoor cafe, people leisurely enjoying lunch, Paul walks ahead while Bella and I follow. I see the puppy before Bella does and while I’m attempting to shorten the leash, she lunges across the front of me, trapping my feet like something out of a Laurel and Hardy film. I crash down hard on my right knee and one week later I am bruised from the knee cap to the base of my toes including a stripe of magenta purple along the inside edge of my foot, a dark shadow across the bridge of my foot and purple at the ankle bone. Although I hasn’t restricted walking, I can’t put any weight on the knee. The swelling has subsided considerably so I know restoration will just take time.
We’ve visited at least three marinas with a variety of responses to our inquiries. The season for boating is coming to a close and it is plausible to think anyone wishing to sell a boat would not want the expense of carrying it through the Winter. It’s possible to gain a certain feel of the marina as you walk the docks lined with boats. Of course there is the one percent; those whose boats tower above the water in two, sometime three layers, topped with Biminis, outfitted with the latest bow thrusters (makes for great parallel parking) and electronic gadgetry. Then there are the poor sods who have long since forgotten they ever owned a boat but refuse to stop paying the mooring fee. This gives the marina no choice but to let it park where it slowly decays. Seagulls and pigeons find it. Barnacles and seaweed take hold and you can’t help feeling sorry for the sad mess it becomes.
A boat broker will put a for sale sign on a boat and act for the seller to find a buyer. In theory this transaction would entail using the internet to advertise, placing advertisements through Kijiji or Craig’s List. Just as many boat owners try to sell their own boats without the aid of a broker. A broker really doesn’t want to expend a great deal of effort for a boat under twenty thousand dollars, primarily because he doesn’t make a very high percentage on the sale. Whether the percentage for a two hundred and fifty thousand dollar boat is less than the percentage for a twenty thousand dollar boat is a confidential matter between the broker and the owner. But it translates to a certain lack of interest on the broker’s part when you are not in the former category. In fact, some of the marinas are downright snobbish. Go figure!
We have found a 1980 custom built Stan Huntingford designed Explorer 44 with a cutter rig and both of us agree it is something we could live in. So we’ll pursue this and see where it leads us.
I know nothing about the art and skill required to ascend the heights of stone. I don’t fit the picture of daredevil wannabes scaling vertical precipices, but I discovered there is a rock climbing role given expression in the word: ‘belayer’. The verb is ‘belay’ – the noun; ‘belayer’.
At my age, there is no desire or will sufficiently strong enough to compel me to rappel. Most of us do not climb literal mountains, but we scale daily figurative mountains; obstacles that hinder what we believe should be our way forward. Whether managing the same set of stairs for 20 years until the day you slip and fall and really hurt yourself, or struggle to change the habits of a lifetime, they are just hills, to me they are like the stone upon stone my thoughts construct and I imagine that is partly why this new-found word, belayer brings such appeal.
With it there comes the awareness my best self lives today and not tomorrow or yesterday and that my best self climbs mountains safeguarded by the belayer who holds the rope at the base of every climb. Between us a sacred trust is growing because I never climb alone. Each toe hold I discover and lean in to for support, is guided by a slow release of rope, fed to encourage advance and secured by the belayer who threads my way as I lead the pitch. It is less and less possible to remain in the same place; advance or perish. We are a team. I can only go higher when I let go of fearful ideals and under a watchful eye, reach for the vision of the summit. As I learn to trust the skill of the one who holds the rope and who will carry my weight when I fall, my reach exceeds my grasp and I discover what a heaven is for.
She’s off – into the world of work and I’m torn between despair it would never happen and sadness that it has. “You’re not supposed to wear yoga pants, but everybody does. I’m the rookie, so I can’t” She had just given me a sideways glance, now she stared straight ahead as she talked in the car. “I don’t want to go” she said flatly. “I haven’t been paid yet so it seems like I’m working for nothing. Maybe it’ll be better once I get paid”. “What is it?” I asked. “Is it you don’t want to work, or you don’t want to be a rookie at work?” Even though she thought it was rookie anxiety, I could sense it was more than that.
She had just graduated but school hadn’t prepared her for work. Her loyal girl circle had acquainted her with the idea of work, but at the age of 18, she had never really experienced it first hand. Cleaning one’s room and doing one’s own laundry were paltry facsimiles offering up no pay and little reward even if your mother insisted on the minimum of standards. Years of advice on how to dress modestly, how to express your own opinion and be kind, how to follow something through to the end had not given any motivation for finding employment. In fact, from the eyes of a teenager, it was far more logical to ask your father to cover extracurricular expenses, knowing he would always come through.
I was instructed to pull the car up to the back parking lot, behind the building, facing the staff entrance. We were early. Like the guitar lesson that began on the hour, a ten minute margin of punctuality was deemed ill-timed as one cannot arrive that early. I instructed her on the laws that govern parents driving children to jobs. “Joe says not to put my backpack in the lockers ’cause all the geeks do that. She says I should put mine in the bathroom cubby. But when I opened one of the cubbies, it was filled with all this junk and what happens if someone’s in the bathroom and you need your backpack?” Advice from a trusted source didn’t make it trustworthy advice. I told her to use her own common sense and to trust she could make choices based on her sense of right and wrong.
She was smart enough to realize that university wasn’t what she wanted right now. I wanted her to take a leap and leave home, trying out life in another city. I tried to convince her that an arts degree could help her find her way. No, it would not necessarily assure her of employment, but life is about more than employment. So I guess that makes me to blame for her sitting in the car on the drive to her first official employment trying to convince her that her attitude was all she had. With the face she made, standing there in her new black dress pants that she claimed were too big, she did her best to promise she wouldn’t be hard to get along with. I knew she wouldn’t be. But it was more than just that. She knew she needed to get going. Get her life going; step out, find out what working was about. It was time. As she held the car door, I leaned over from the driver’s seat, squinting up at her. “You can’t control what comes to you. All you have is your attitude, how you respond.” I hoped it was enough. I watched from the car as she approached the staff entrance. Backpack complete with lunch – amazing in its own right.
For a moment I was transported to the airport where she met up with the other members of the gymnastics team for a cross country competition. I was the interloper then, watching as if it would confirm she would be safe. Now I sit in the car, making sure they open the door for her before I leave as if she needed me to wait. She had pronounced her shift ended at 4:30 as if to impress upon me the importance of punctuality. I think my heart went in that door with her. I know it will be waiting for her in the parking lot after work.
I think if anyone ever doubted or chaffed against the designation of females in the Bible, one only needs to look at the prostitute Rahab and then perhaps to Esther. I’m sure there are many other women in the Bible who have made significant contributions, but really, the purpose here for me is to marvel at the position of Esther and the position of Mordecai, her cousin.
My father always said that when you show someone a photograph you have taken, they will not marvel at the technical ability of the photographer. Instead, their level of interest is determined by whether they themselves are in the photograph. This is what I see in Esther for of late.
In chapter four Mordecai is answering a question asked by Esther. She is afraid for her life. She has uncovered information – a plot, that would see her people wiped out – killed. Esther is a queen and she is reminding Mordecai that even queens are subjects of the king, governed as it were, by the rules of the court that forbid them from coming to the King without first being summoned. But she has this information. Of course, it would be a very different scenario if she was completely unaware of the plot and it would be highly unlikely anything would be requested of her if she were the gardener for the king and not his queen. So it is by happy or unhappy circumstance that she is the queen and she knows her people are at risk. The question then becomes; What will she do? Does she chance coming to the king unannounced? If you read the first few chapters of Esther and discover how Esther became the queen in the first place, you will understand why she is hesitant to come before a king who has not asked her to make an appearance. Add to this dilemma the fact that the King is not Jewish and Esther is, only he does not know she is.
So Mordecai in a sense, is acting as Esther’s conscience. He’s telling her that she can step up to the plate – or not. If she doesn’t take the risk, he is sure her people will be saved even without her help but it will look real bad for her when it’s discovered she knew about the plot all along. There is an alternative. She can trust God. This too is her choice. The thing is, if she chooses to trust God, it is not merely trusting God to save her people, she is trusting God to spare her life. She knows that saving her people might mean forfeiting her life. Before she accepts the risk of stepping forward, she must accept the fact she could die. As I read this, Paul’s words echo in my head; “For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain.”
I really want to believe that in the moments Esther takes to make this decision the tipping point comes when Mordecai tells her; “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” There it is. That’s the turning point we all face – every day. The next verses outline the how. Esther doesn’t just flip a coin, she does her homework. She gets everybody on board or as it were, on their knees. All the Jews pray. All the Jews fast. She and her attendants pray and fast and then she steps out in faith. She plans to pray and then makes a plan.
It’s a fascinating story – you should read how it turns out. As Esther was positioned in the royal court, Mordecai was positioned at the front gates; great wealth on one hand and abject poverty on the other. Mordecai was abused, ridiculed, hated and threatened, but I believe he knew this was where he was supposed to be so that he could be there when Esther needed to hear; “… for such a time as this.”
The Bus The Bus
Listen to ole wives’ tales while wearing mother’s blood red gloves.
Patch up dreams with hope from ages past.
The stars they will not fall today though their light may briefly dim.
I’ve got my heart on my sleeve…
The bus, the bus, I’m riding this Bus
and my pen gets to the page.
Coffee hot and shiny, sipped between radio calls
The driver more plump than the last time.
Tis cold, tis cold and my toes protest.
I alone sit across from “Flight” and “Vivamus mea Claudia”
– Poetry on the Way; I could do that I think and
scratch and scratch without glasses.
The sun beams and warms my face
How brilliant it peeks through highway trees
I am warmed, my card punched, my thoughts my own.
The Lamb of God the scripture read
This morning John proclaimed His right to praise and worship, adoration.
Fear not, for I am with thee – even to the ends of the earth.
I know, I know – not because the Bible tells me.
I know because the sun warms my face and the bus ride is short
and I write.
She was leaving today, but not so much unlike other trips; vacations, school, or to hang out with friends. She had her bags packed and any attempt to persuade her not to sandwich her laptop between her beach towel and her clothes went unheeded. I had to let her decide. However much I tried to influence, there was that point I had to let her decide. Plenty of help got her bags to the car and she settled in beside me for the drive to the airport.
The moments in life that present themselves while we are attending to the business of living, can be as quick as speed bumps, designed in a way to slow us down, stop our hurry, force us to pause and it is in those moments our hearts can fill with thanks or dread or something caught between the two thatt defies explanation. Maybe it’s the sadness of time that will not wait for you.
Her passion had turned toward rugby in high school and she struggled only briefly with inadequacy. She was impatient to become an expert. All of her ran down that field clutching that ball, not just her head filled with passing advice, not just her legs conditioned from years of gymnastics, not only her heart and lungs, protesting her lack of capacity, but all of her. Every fibre, every nerve, every sinew grabbed that opposing player to tackle, hovered in the wings to assess the play, ran when her time arrived and despaired when performance fell short of some inner expectation that pushed her for better. And she played. If the photo captured what it was, it was the same essence the coaches saw, because she played in every game in most of the minutes in every game and she only wore the scrum cap because her mother warned her the next concussion she suffered would be in the last rugby game she ever played.
I looked at her in the passenger seat and realized how much I wished I could have been like her when I was sixteen. But assessing the past with a measure of what might have been only deepens that sadness and at this moment, I only wanted her to share a sense of what I was feeling so I launched into the story of my father driving me to the airport not all that long ago. I was going to Italy. A dream. So much in life had eclipsed for me by then, the trip became pivotal to my personal liberation. It wasn’t an accident then that my husband had gone to work, my children had gone to school and my father came to drive me to the airport. He had lugged all four suitcases to the trunk of his car and I sat where my daughter was sitting now. I had no way of knowing he had but a couple of years to live. When all was arranged and my time to enter the passengers lounge approached, he stood with his hands in the pockets of his jacket, the one it seemed he never took off and the look on his face was a mixture of hope and pride, love and dreams and I hugged him goodbye, wishing he would just go already. Typically, I was impatient to begin the adventure and now I realize I missed what might have been the most important moment.
I had never known my father to spend money frivolously. He recorded every nickel ever spent; fearful to the end there would not be enough to see him off. But he gave me a thousand dollars to spend on my trip. An astronomical amount even then. He presented me with a National Geographic coffee table edition book “The Vatican” and had slipped inside the cover a neatly typed, one page epistle capturing his sentiments about Roman history and the Popes and how the auspicious occasion of my trip to the seat of the Roman Catholic church demanded a certain reverence. “Love Dad” he had written in pen at the bottom.
My daughter sat patiently while I wove the story to the point where I mentioned one thousand dollars and wide eyed with amazement she repeated the amount, just to be certain she understood. “Did he give you a thousand dollars to help pay for your trip?” she asked. “No. He gave me a thousand dollars just to spend as I wanted.” I tried to get past the money part and express the sadness I felt at my impatience with my father. I needn’t have bothered. We parked the car and from my change purse, I began to extract the change I would need for the meter when it occurred to me. I walked back from the meter to the car. She was heaving the suitcase from the trunk, collecting her sports bag from the back seat. “Should I put all my change in the meter?” I asked her. The flight didn’t leave until eleven o’clock and it was now quarter to ten. She understood. “If we go in there and all of your friends are there, will you want me to wait with you?” She didn’t have to reply. I understood. I wonder what my father had done. I never bothered to ask, it never occurred to him to ask me. I put all my money in the meter.
We walked together to the entrance. I carried her sports bag, she dragged her suitcase. Once inside it was obvious from the row of rugby hoodies that we would hug our goodbyes then and I would not blurt out all the hope and pride, love and dreams but quietly whisper in her ear; “I love you, be safe, I will pray for you.” I did not anticipate the tears – mine. How very strange it was to leave and drive home alone. How my father must have felt from a lifetime of seeing me off, tending to my wounds, making sure I was safe. I can’t be sure he knows how it has made me. My daughter will know, because I’ll continue to tell her his stories. Somehow they have become our story.
The Owl and the Pussy Cat
Edward Lear (1812–1888)
The Owl and the Pussy-cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
‘O lovely Pussy! O Pussy my love,
What a beautiful Pussy you are,
What a beautiful Pussy you are!’
Pussy said to the Owl, ‘You elegant fowl!
How charmingly sweet you sing!
O let us be married! too long we have tarried:
But what shall we do for a ring?’
They sailed away, for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood
With a ring at the end of his nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.
‘Dear pig, are you willing to sell for one shilling
Your ring?’ Said the Piggy, ‘I will.’
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.
A throw back to the Baby Boomer generation would name it the Unemployment office, but in the political correctness of the day, it is now the Employment office. Makes a certain sense I think. You go there looking for work not unemployment, although you wouldn’t go there is you were employed. Life’s ambiguities always catch my attention. I approached the receptionist and advised her of my purpose and was instructed to take a seat. The waiting room wasn’t filled, there was no real flurry of activity, yet she met every person who approached her counter with a mouthful of food, gingerly fingering the morsels that attempted escape, pushing and shoving them between the muffle of words she would try to voice at the same time she chewed. How very odd I thought. The spectacle drew my focus downward for it was hardly possible to ignore the cut of her dress. I love the phrase “ample bosom” all by itself that phrase creates a visual. You can imagine, without encouragement, what an ample bosom would do if inadequately restrained by a neckline meant for an after hours soiree. It might have been in the moment she checked herself in the mirror that morning; it might have been in the car, when she pressed her lipstick to her lips in the rear view mirror, the neckline might have passed muster, for it only allowed an inch or two of cleavage to peek atop the straight cutaway of her dress. It all might have worked if not for the fact her job description required her to bend over, straighten up again, turn around, lean back, you get the picture. Little imagination needed. She simultaneously pushed the food back, checked appropriate repetitive responses, and kept “the girls” at bay, oblivious to the show, a talent that could rival a circus clown juggling as if his life depended on it.
I would have dismissed the whole affair as a “one off”. You know, those occasions where training facilitators convince you the customer service received by their company was an exception to the prescribed exemplary behavior; very close to not really ever having happened at all. On this occasion it made me think about being the one there for employment help, while clearly this woman needed help. It could have been a one off, if it were not for having occasion to be in the same office the following week.
By ten o’clock in the morning that day, it was already hot. Stepping inside the double set of heavy doors, anyone having to wait was grateful for the air conditioning. I had slipped into a permit parking spot rationalizing that if ticketed I could plead necessity, for the visitors’ parking lot was already full. A police cruiser was pulling up as I entered, joining another already parked outside the main doors. The reason became evident the moment I stepped inside. To my right, in my peripheral view two officers were snugged up alongside a young, heavy set man with short dark hair. I vaguely recall his offsetting, straight ahead focus. In crisp sharp black uniforms, they crowded him and he bolted. Striking out like a wild horse in the desperate last moments of freedom. I made a wide circle around the melee where the officers had his face to the cool of the stone floor, hands behind his back. A flash of shiny chrome as the handcuffs were employed. I had reached the receptionist counter where at least a dozen people were standing in awe of the proceedings, not really sure how to respond. Many backed away. A few expletives betrayed the surprise, most were on their feet or standing at a safe distance.
At this moment the receptionist stands behind the safety of her counter and having been oblivious up to this point, turns her attention to whatever the commotion might be. Realizing at last this is not something that happens every day she cries out; “Someone call the police!” and does so with a great deal of sound and authority. “They are the police.” came the meek reply from a young girl protecting her coffee cup.
I wasted no time in finding the room where I was to join the seminar. I lingered no longer than it took to confirm the young man was in custody. The remainder of his day would not go as he may have planned when he got out of bed that morning. Miss Blissfully unaware receptionist sat back down, satisfied she had done all she could.
I’m one of the lucky ones I thought as I found a chair close to the front of the room. I wasn’t taken away in a police cruiser that morning. I wasn’t a government clerk trying to explain some convoluted policy of reimbursement for re-training. I wasn’t the angry young man.
And more grateful I was than any of those in attendance that morning, I was not the gainfully employed, fully benefited, duly trained and utterly unaware receptionist.
The lesson was not taught in her grade ten class, it was learned in my grandmother’s grade nine class sixty years ago. You might think it odd to have such a memorable lesson skip a generation, rather the lesson was learned through a generation and will probably continue to be told.
“Barbara you laugh like a horse.” Her teacher had declared one day over the classroom din. If you were Barbara in that moment I imagine you’d cling to a faint hope the sting would be lost in the clamour that is a grade nine class. More than likely Barbara should have been crafting English lettering rather than her lesson. Otherwise it is hard to imagine why any adult given charge over children would compare a young girl or more precisely, the laughter of a young girl to that of a horse. Big stain topped teeth, enormous lips, sloppy saliva, horses don’t actually laugh, but neigh and whinny; who knows why, certainly not because they have found humor in the oats. Barbara expressed her boredom with education by practicing the art of English typeface, the anatomy of which required painstaking attention to craft the ascenders, descenders, serifs and stems. Fluid and flowing bowls and bars measured up to invisible lines that kept them straight and for Barbara, was demonstrated in copying one of her favorite poems; “I’m a lean dog, a keen dog, a wild dog, and lone”; page after page, much like her hands’ ability to fly over piano keys for she could already translate what she heard as music, it was just a matter of getting the keys to repeat what she felt, or lend her own harmony to the songs she knew.
He was right you know – really, for she did laugh. Not the measured restraint of polite society, but the stuff of deep bellies, head thrown back, mouth wide open – laugh. I suppose it was not very lady-like back then. I’m sure her very proper mother disapproved. Barbara spoke bluntly, loved fiercely and more often than not, her humor bordered on the bawdy. She was not a submissive, quiet type. She had no need to find her voice, it had pretty much found her and once settled in, spoke with frequent passion and as she aged. She was never afraid to laugh, whether at embarrassment she herself had caused, or at the foibles of others who were often at her mercy. Grade nine marked the end of her scholastic career.
That story was often repeated as I grew up. Or maybe not – maybe it was only told once and the memory of it stuck. Children can manufacture absolutes, believing in a moment a thing accomplished only once is a thing that was always done so the story might have been always or only once but it’s too late to say. I’ve lived the story for a lifetime. My own had no horses but brief quiet lapses of time where silence hung before it was snatched away by the jerk who exclaimed; “Ya think you could say that louder?” Recollection saves my ego for I’ve lost count of the number of chances I was given as stories were told, jokes repeated, sympathy was shared. A combination of clues recognized too late; the hand at shoulder height, elbow bent, brushing the air up and down alternatively bringing forefinger to lips in a plea to keep it down and a shushing motion to just be quiet. I would sense rather than know it was coming, always after the punch line or the story’s finish. I couldn’t take the words back and try again but I’d vow the next time, the next time I would know or stop or be somebody else before it went too far, before the eyes darted away from my face to the faces of others looking for a place to escape. There was always the unseen hovering authority like a trip wire that if ignored, would bring a ton of bricks down on your head. The authority had those unspoken (yes they were always unspoken) set of rules that meant you were not to talk a lot, preferably not at all; in the schoolroom, in the workplace, in the choir practice, over drinks. I tried so hard for so long to be that somebody who politely shook my head in acknowledgement of a conversation going on around me instead of jumping in with both feet – yes, I must say it – usually in my mouth.
After years of practice one day she came home and said; “My teacher asked me today if I had to talk that loud.” My heart sank. Progressive grades had seen a jigsaw puzzle of desk displacements, always to temper the chatter, reorganize classroom dynamics, shift focus – still the tongue. Out of the class. In the hallway. In the principal’s office. Stop talking. Other parents shared the back seats of their cars for their little girls to chatter, but mine would be asked to lower her voice.
“I hate art. Art doesn’t matter. Who cares if I do the assignment on perspective? What difference does it make if I pass in the shading homework?” Two weeks for vacation and missed art assignments and no attempt to catch up. “Who had asked you if you had to talk that loud?” The art teacher. And then I hear from the art teacher.
“Up until yesterday your daughter has done no work or made any effort to catch up on the work she missed when she went away. She’s now making an effort to do the currently assigned work. She is welcome to come in at noon or after school to get caught up with her pen and ink drawing and the “wall paper” assignment. I’m here all lunch hour except for Tuesday and Friday when I do 20 minutes of duty. I’m here most days after school until 5 pm. She should have an “A” in this class. She’s more than capable but needs to put in the effort to complete assignments.“
I thought about Barbara, my mother. I thought about her a lot and then I wrote to the art teacher;
“Thank you for letting me know how my daughter is doing in your art class. I think it’s obvious you care about how she is doing or you would not have taken the time to write. I think it’s safe to say you probably care about all your students, or you would not be teaching art. Because you care about her, I’d like to share a bit of background with you so I’ll ask for your indulgence for just a moment.
When my mother was in grade nine, she became more preoccupied forming intricate old English lettering and practicing the art of calligraphy than her school work and it wasn’t long before that became a problem for her teachers. The story that resounded throughout my adolescence was the one where she was in class one day and in front of all the other students the teacher turned to her and in exasperation declared; “Barbara! You laugh like a horse!” You can imagine how that must have made her feel. The fact that 60 years later, I can still recount that story tells you of its impact. Fast forward to my own school years and I, as I was often told, was very much like my mother. Outgoing, friendly, enthusiastic, moody, animated, talkative (sound familiar?) and I remember vividly the number of occasions I gave people the opportunity to similarly declare how very loud my voice was. It left such an impression on me I have told both of those stories to my daughter many times.
Many years practice have allowed me to distance myself from the resulting inferiority and dismay those comments brought to me. I have learned to love the person God made me to be and when I am now given the chance, I make that love affair what I share with others – and that includes my loudness.
My daughter loves art Ms. Art Teacher. She is an artistic, gifted, sensitive young woman, who loves to express herself, give of herself to others and cares very deeply about how people think of her. I have been adamant and consistent in my attempts to help her be glad for who she is – loudness and all. In time, age and maturity will factor out the loudness and give her the discernment necessary to use that voice of hers when it is most effective.
I am sorry Ms. Art Teacher, but I cannot advise you on how best to coerce my daughter into doing as you instruct in class. I cannot even advise you on how to get her to pass your class, that is up to her. If you love art Ms. Art Teacher, I am sure you will find a way to share that love affair with my daughter.”
I never heard what Ms. Art Teacher thought about my words because she chose not to respond. I know my daughter was mortified that I should write to a teacher of hers. That I would express confidence in an ability she herself did not believe she possessed. “I think you think I’m better than I really am.” she told me. Frankly I was a little offended. I had ridden in on my valiant steed and rescued the fair maiden – all be it a mix up of fairy tales, I did think I had behaved appropriately – for once. A few weeks later when my daughter came home from school she casually mentioned Ms. Art Teacher’s mother had died. I sent her a note of condolence and it too was accepted without recognition.
So be it. Another story filed in the annals of memory, if that were the end it would have been enough. But it was not the end for you see in the weeks before school finished something quite marvelous happened in art class. I only know because amidst guitar lessons and rugby practice my daughter happened to mention that Ms. Art Teacher had given us a different type of assignment. We get to decide what to create; there are only a few guidelines. She said it was more like the art we’ll take in grade eleven. We can use our vision to come up with whatever we imagine. As if that was enough, no wait – there’s more. A week later Ms. Art Teacher caught herself saying; “My! But aren’t you becoming artistic.” I’m not sure how or why my daughter passed grade ten art. I’m not at all sure whether her art appreciation has been expanded or narrowed, but I am sure Barbara taught me more than how to laugh.
It was an amazing story really, I watched the video before he made it to MSN or Good Morning America. He had a wild look about him and a mouth full of teeth, but when he opened that mouth, there was this voice. I want to call it the K-TEL voice, the Casey Kasem voice. Perpetually vibrant, always young, this voice could launch ships, sway nations and smooth the troubled countenances of a thousand children!
The only encouragement required was a rolled down window and a microphone pointed in his direction. And he seemed so humble, thanking the microphone for taking the time to stop. Excessively so. There was the video on WIMP.COM, then MSN ran a feature, Good Morning America picked it up and then we watch as he reunites with his wheel chair bound mother, pleading “Mommie, Mommie” twenty feet before he reaches her, cameras rolling. It seemed like a too good to be true story. The hints were there, just a few fleeting moments where you wonder if you heard correctly. He strides toward her, arms outstretched, she reaches up from the wheelchair to glasp her arms around his neck and pull him toward her. He continues to mumble gratitude, she says “Don’t disappoint me”. Well, she has other words but the words that resound like a beacon in a dark night are the ones that leave him obligated, on the hook. You may have a chance here son, but whatever you do, don’t screw it up, and more than that – Don’t disappoint me.
Some reports say it was 20 years, others say 10 years since he last saw her. And then he meets Dr. Phil. Instant celebrity. One day you’re holding the lid from a cardboard box at a busy intersection, hoping beyond hope that some poor smuck will see your sign and take pity on you. Your crayon says Golden Voice, and a journalist recognizes an opportunity. Taking photographs at the very same corner for years has primed him to know a story when he sees one. The next day, or the next week, maybe even within the month – off camera, Dr. Phil is telling you to enter rehab.
Nine children, one ex wife, one former life. 11 Million people: “I have a God given gift of voice”. Two years clean. Second chance. Maybe it’s all in the numbers.
“You’re not paying attention!”
He had jumped from the piano bench accentuating the not with a pounding of the final chord and pointed his finger directly toward me. I had sung through a rest. The jolly good fortune of being five foot two and singing alto had placed me in the front row and with cameras and tape rolling, mine had been the lone voice carrying a single tone while fifty other voices had remained silent. I thought myself wonderfully gifted to be in the church choir.
A simple feeling of immense pride and we all know what comes as a direct result of pride. My face radiated immediate warmth, my ears rung and my adolescent ego struggled to hold back the tears. We were spending another Saturday afternoon at the television studio, taping the musical numbers that would accompany our church program. In my memory, it was very much a striving for perfection, a pristine line up of shiny satin robes edged in gold, smartly stopping at the edge of dutifully lined up feet. There was little room for error. In fact, there seemed little room for joy. The older women brought bags of cosmetics and cans of hair spray, changes of clothing and were more than happy to donate their weekend to the endeavor that began early in the morning and lasted late into the afternoon. That one rest changed the way I participated from that point on and it was only for a short time that I dutifully lined up for much of anything. Perhaps not the pivotal drama I remember, but singing for me was all about prescription and following and being like everybody else. The notes on the page were only a guideline.
But there IS joy in music. We humans do not put the joy IN music. It is there whether we participate or not. The irony being, we can take a lot of joy out of music, whether it be by order or prescription, or by the sheer pleasure of bending and blending tones with rhythm, words and phrases, stops and starts. Or even a little rain.
Irene Rutherford Mcleod (1891 – 1968)
I’m a lean dog, a keen dog, a wild dog and lone;
I’m a rough dog, a tough dog, hunting on my own.
I’m a bad dog, a mad dog, teasing silly sheep.
I love to sit and bay the moon to keep fat souls from sleep.
I’ll never be a lap dog, licking dirty feet.
A sleek dog, a meek dog, cringing for my meat.
Not for me the fireside, a well filled plate.
But shut door and sharp stone and cuff and kick and hate.
Not for me the other dogs, running by my side.
Some have run a short while, but none of them would bide;
O mine is still the lone trail, the hard trail, the best.
Wide wind and wild stars and the hunger of the quest.
James Henry Leigh Hunt (1784-1859)
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?” The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou, “Nay, not so.”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerily still; and said “I pray thee, then,
write me as one who loves his fellow-men.”
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blessed,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest!