I’ve been pondering some resolutions, hesitant to write them down, fearing their death knell. “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead!” I’d given up my little spark of madness. I’ve gotten parked in neutral so to speak, waiting for revelation. Trouble with waiting is after a while you forget to get out of your PJs, comb your hair, take a bath. You stay late to bed and shuffle in your slippers and before long the days stretch into endless amounts of monotony. Great expanses of scenic beauty stretch before you every day and you watch the clock. I simply want to know why.
I’ve had seven years of un-gainful employment; mind-sucking, energy sapping work that is much like minimum wage; keeps your head above water but only after you’ve taken a few mouthfuls. I discovered the world of non-profit employment and envisioned fulfillment and purpose, thinking divine intervention had positioned me appropriately and my talents at long last would be tapped. But alas, all did not go as I had envisioned and I simply want to know why.
Last month, all by itself the car careened backwards over an embankment while parked in first gear and the insurance company was only too co-operative to pay out the lease when it was written off. But this leaves one driving a 16 year old toy truck that chugs along in cold weather without a rear window on the cap and a pillow propped to position me sufficiently close to the gas pedal. I declined the dealer’s offer to lease a new vehicle without benefit of employment realizing at long last, this option was not offered to honor my worthy financial status, but to place a check mark beside their sales objectives. And I simply want to know why.
And I may never have the why. I only have the now.
When the prophet Jeremiah gave this word to the Israelites, it was after they were told they would be spending the next 70 years in a foreign country, far from home and everything that mattered to them, under hostile authority. Many of their family members had been killed, all of their possessions had been taken from them. Before Jeremiah says this, you know in what must have sounded like; “Yeah, right – you’ve got to be kidding!” He says; “Thus sayeth the Lord” and then proceeds to tell them to increase and not decrease, plant and harvest, marry and have children, bless those in authority over you because when they prosper, so will you. Then and after that, he tells them what God already knows about them…. I have plans for you.
So as this year comes to a close I am affirming what I believe; God has plans for me and God has plans for you. God has plans for us. In my case, I am sure it embraces just a little spark of madness. In your case, it may take you into unexplored territory where you’re asked to take a leap of faith. You may not understand and that’s okay. God knew when He created me that I would ask why. I can trust Him. Someone out there must have heard Him and took that leap because today I received cash in the mail, tucked inside a Christmas card, without a signature.
My son told me I should write. He is far too young to know why I do not, though I confess, I can. I cannot write in the genre he prescribes – the web blog; the potential money making endeavor that gets followed and shared and becomes popular both from a profit and loss perspective and a therapeutic one. Instead, I find myself lingering in the shop window of the antique Underwood, the enameled keys and cloth inked ribbon waiting for inspiration to peck at it with possibilities of storytelling and intrigue that keeps a reader reading.
I am old. I think. My life thus far has been filled and until this phase brought comparison, I did not realize it was filled. I worked. I created things. I fed children, kept a house, and ran down the road with sneakers on, pretending to get fit. In wonder I remember Winter stand offs with snow plows in the early morning darkness as I vied for my place on the pavement, my eyelashes heavy with ice crystals, my breath, a frozen tunnel in my throat. Who was that woman? Where did she go?
My mother taught me to make a bed, protect my modesty and struggle with place; my place in the world. I watched her do that, struggle with place. Like her, I laughed too loud and often talked too much. Even now, other women tell me our times are filled with them listening while I talk. I try very hard to make that something else, to be thoughtful and intuitive, and to wait. But my mind speeds ahead of me, of them and conscious effort makes futile the attempt to remain connected to someone else’s pace. Now I find myself pacing the halls of my house wondering what to do with the rest of each day.
The season has changed the leaves and I watch from the window how brilliant colors have faded and floated to the ground. The river signals the coming Winter as hues deepen with the change in the air. A lone kayaker paddles in the late morning, a great bright banana gliding across the water’s surface. I have been before this window for what seems a life time. I have sat watching and waiting in front of this window for friends to come in their parents’ car and take me with them, devastated when they didn’t show. I have drawn its curtains, and trashed those same curtains once the sun had reduced the fabric to shreds. I have pushed in nails around its frame to hold scores of Christmas trees, trimmed it with twinkling lights. I have watched hundreds of runners run past this window. Thinking I should join them I would lace up my sneakers and puff through a distance, but it would never stick. The hedge planted five years ago, grows high enough to block the view of the driveway and I’m happy to let it grow high enough to block the view of the road, to see only the river. I won’t know whether someone is running down the road any more.
From a point where life loomed ahead it now closes in. My children are no longer children; the level of care has changed. This is as it should be yet all that time those efforts required is now a gaping hole. I managed, organized, ordered, arranged, prepared, and dictated first to a husband, then to children. It was as I thought it should be, how my mother showed me. But her marriage ended in divorce, and so too did mine. And I am here, about to turn 55. I think about the raging grannies, those old women who break the aging stereotypes. I think about the Red Hat Society, and the frivolity of having far too much free time on your hands. I think about an 82 year old Alice Munro winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. And I think about me standing in front of this window, season after season.
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, I have questioned God because I don’t understand so much of my current circumstance and I see myself in Esther’s place.
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.”
I drove to town the other day and the sky hung low with cloud cover. Not that one looks up a lot while driving, but Winter has tried best to hang on to leap year and make Spring seem like a myth someone conjured up to relieve the boredom.
The car in grungy and cold. My seat gets warmed electrically and I shift through the slush and snow. It would have been an uneventful drive had it not been for one thing. I looked up. In low hanging clouds pregnant with snow, there is not much to see. Greyish white, no sun, one seamless expanse of blank atop the trees. You would believe there is nothing there. You can’t see anything. In the valley before the next hill, for an ever so brief moment, there appeared a jetliner. That’s it. One second. It was there, and it was gone. I stared into the space where it had appeared and vanished and I heard God’s voice.
“You see” He said, “I am here. You may not see me, but I am here.”
I knew this. In some deep fathom of myself, like the airliner that can fly at all – so massive an engineering miracle sustaining flight in the air above us; I know this. On a practical, rational level, we all know airplanes can fly. Aviators have trusted this fact with their lives; yet it does not diminish the awe with which we see them ascend into the heavens, or descend back to earth. The split of clouds, the glimpse of wing tip; Is it suspended there? Is it flying? What about the people on board?
“I am here.” He said to me and I knew, wherever one must know these things, I knew He had allowed me to see this marvel. That I needed to see this miracle of flight, suspended hidden above me, yet even so – present.
“Vocatvs atque non Vocatvs deus aderit.” Bidden or Not bidden. God is there.
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.
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,
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. 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 appear while we are attending to the business of living, can be much like 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 thanksgiving or dread, or something caught between the two but defies explanation. Maybe it is a sadness that time will not wait for you as we fluster about attending to the business of living we forget.
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 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 part.
I had never known my father to spend money frivolously. He recorded every amount ever spent; fearful to the end there would 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 of the Vatican and had slipped inside the cover a neatly typed, one page epistle on 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.” 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 that I loved her, be safe and 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 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.