A pair of reading glasses.....
“I’ll get them for you," he said.
I thought he was going to go to the front informational desk, but no – he turned climbed a two-story stair case to the church’s office to get me my pair of reading glasses….
Apparently, I had left them the other evening at the place that is always lit with candles when we have a meeting.
I had tried to tell him that they were a useless pair of glasses.
Reading glasses are such a nuisance.
I’ve always been near sighted but I don’t like wearing glasses. I feel that they create a barrier between me and the world. Probably the same reasons I like to remain barefooted – when I can.
So I buy reading glasses - which I use only for reading. Since I am always misplacing them, I have at least a dozen reading glasses floating around the house placed at strategic places so I never have to think about them.
"Chuck them," I had said. "They aren’t worth an email."
They certainly aren’t worth climbing a two-story stair case!
But he didn’t listen.
To make things even worse, it was just before the morning service which he is responsible for….
I felt so helpless.
He came down as quickly as he had gone up and gave them to me.
I was speechless – wondering how I could ever repay him for this – and for all the other acts of kindness.
Yes - There have been other acts…
He was there at the door – waiting for us – on the day of the acquittal… just as we were going to face the media….
He has been there at every important juncture during the ten-year trial process.
And its not that we are his favorite and does this only for us.
I constantly hear stories from others of his uncanny ability to be there as a comforting presence during a time of crisis. In fact secretly we have declared him “the critical incident pastor.”
Later that same morning as I’m waiting for my husband, I see him running down those stairs again – and this time he is dashing for the door – no jacket – 20 below weather - out into the parking lot in hot pursuit of two young men.
I’m guessing that it is probably not that important in the larger scheme of things – but something extremely important to those two young men. Their faces light up – they grab his hand and shake it. Something important has just happened….
To think that I hadn’t wanted to go to church that morning…. I was tired.
The sermon was great as always – but I leave with another message – the power of a simple act of kindness.
I am reminded that love and kindness are never wasted. They make a difference to the ones who receive but also the ones who are watching.
I am also reminded of the importance of community -– a group of people coming together in the same place and having particular characteristics in common.
We come together for many reasons on a Sunday morning – probably as many reasons as attend – and we might not even all agree on many of them.
But there is one characteristic at “Soul” that we all believe in - though we might not all act on it as enthusiastically as we could.
Our leader believes in it. There's simply no such thing as a small act of kindness. Every act creates a ripple with no logical end." -Scott Adam
Thank you Gerry
"Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough." - -Franklin D. Roosevelt
Last night, I walked into a sanctuary filled with round tables decorated with lace table cloths, candles, and a pile of books in the middle as a centre piece.
Books... gorgeous books - circled with what looked like a cloud.
I had been asked to present at a ladies group, which meets once a month..... just to tell my story.
I am mesmerised by the book theme.
One young woman sits down beside me to talk about her life and her desire to write a book.
Recently, when I am not coaching and presenting, I am meeting a lot of people who are interested in writing their life story.
Actually right now, we are now in the middle of my second course of "Writing your life story," that I am teaching at a the Bronx Community Club, and I have truly never enjoyed anything as much.
Talking about forgiveness and telling my story is always heart warming, but it is challenging. The concept is difficult to unpack, always hard to understand, sad, intimate, and vulnerable. It is my life-given message and I am always honored when I am asked to tell it, - but talking about books and the writing of them is just pure excitement for me.
The course I am teaching right ow is a very demanding class. Ten Weeks! Grueling. Daily assignments.
The purpose of the course, "write a 55,000 word book on your life."
I thought the challenge would be in attending the class for ten weeks and doing the daily assignments, but apparently that isn't the hard part.
The unexpected personal examination seems to lead to all kinds of turmoil - sleepless nights, tears, anger and the likes.
I've realized that part of my teaching has to include a lesson on how to deal with traumatic memories in the middle of the night.
When I read the assignments - I understand why.
But oh - the words!
The little precious stories that are being unearthed. Every life - every story - is absolutely fascinating.
A life doesn't have to be successful, glamorous, brilliant or dramatic to be fascinating. An ordinary life is pretty complicated stuff.
This simple course has validated my premise that - we need not only to live our life to the fullest, - we also need to be students of our own lives. Our lives are like the most important course we will ever take, so we need to take notes as we go.
We need to study this gift of our life, examine it, treasure it, analyze it and write about it. And there is simply no other life more precious than our own. We need to research it with the same intensity of a doctorate student writing their thesis so that when we are finally on the platform at the end - we can say we have mastered it.
Actually why not? Since we are forced to live it, we might as well get the most out of it that we can. The living is the hard part, the examining of it - is the romance.
And we all need story. After food, shelter and friends, stories are the thing we need most in the world.
I visualize that the most glorious event would be a room filled with round tables, decorated beautifully with a center piece of personal stories of all the guests, piled high right in the middle. Imagine a tower of words, raw, real, and vulnerable.
They don't have to be best sellers.
They don't even have to sell.
Because when we write our live story - it isn't about others. It's about our story and the majesty and miracle of one life lived.
“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It's that easy, and that hard.” Neil Gaiman
Surviving the winter.....
Beginning of this week, I left my office late and the temperature was 25 below. It felt like 34 below- if not colder - a dangerous 40 below. It's a cruel, hostile even
The train was rumbling slowly down its tracks.. It seems to be passing every time I leave the office. It carries a lonely mood.
There are few cars on the highway, everyone is already home, safe, sound and warm. Only the driven or desperate are out on such a night.
As I turn to make my way to my car, I notice a strange red blinking light on the highway. It's a bike!!!
Yes someone is riding their bike down Pembina Highway. They are hunched over the handle bars. Intent, exposed – fearless - I suppose - braving the worst conditions ever!
And here I am worried if my frozen car will start.
The engine grumbles - but it starts.
By the time, I turn onto the highway the biker is gone. The road is empty, And I drive slowly to my house - pause right at the end of the driveway and push a little button. The garage door comes alive. It creaks a little as it opens - ever so slowly, laboriously. I drive in even before it is finished opening. I am anxious…. I want to get into the warm.
All the cares of the evening that I have accumulated in the stories I heard - simply fall away - as I step into my lovely warm home.
I remember the biker. I hope he is safe.
Then tonight, middle of the week, I have another meeting. This time it is at another place - the place where the candles are always lit.
As I get into my car after the meeting- I don't even need my gloves. It’s a much different evening. The temperatures have climbed overnight it seems - now hovering close to 0 – unbelievable.
As I pull onto Waverley, I notice that the road is wet. The white lines have completely disappeared under a layer of something sinister that looks a little like snow but mostly mud – and who knows what.
But I think nothing of it. I want to get home quickly.
Just then a white van swings in front of me -- spraying my car. Not to worry, I have ample windshield washer fluid which I have to use quite a few times, following the white van - which suddenly veers to the left.... and I almost bump into another bike!
Yes - a bike - on the highway. This time the bike is decorated with at least 4 red blinking lights… almost a firetruck.
I veer to the left as well... just in time.
I can't believe that someone would dare to ride a bike in the thawing snow and slippery mud!
No telling if there is black ice!
And daring to share the highway with zig sagging drivers all trying to find their lane.
I’m not sure which is more dangerous the deep freeze or this sloppy night.
I'm a little annoyed with this biker -- with all of them - actually.
And I wonder why....
Is it because I'm just a tiny bit envious of their tomfoolery courage....?
A grudging admiration. They are survivors... truly.
“Bravery hides in amazing places.” Kiera Cass
As I look at my calendar for 2018, I realize that I am going to be busy…. It’s looking quite full with my work as a coach, as a teacher, and as a speaker.
I have control over my coaching and my teaching hours – but my speaking opportunities are always a surprise. There is no rhyme no reason in the time, the place, nor the organization that invites me.
Last night, I was talking to a friend who was made for the stage – she just has to write her book and the doors will fly open. She is beautiful, vivacious, articulate, precise, and most important, she gets a high from it. It is her destiny.
I don’t think it ever was my “destiny.” I don’t have her qualities – but that doesn’t seem to matter - I still get my invitations – and I can’t say no. I dare not say no. I made a promise never to say – no.
A long, long time ago during my Bible school years, one of the main courses was on evangelism, and the practicum for that was to drive into Saskatoon to give out a tract, “Four Spiritual Laws” and engage in conversations with anyone who had the time to talk to us – and “witness” to them. There was a fleet of about five cars that would go out every Friday night – full of young people excited and eager for the adventure. My car went to the university. The team dynamic of the car was so fun and I enjoyed it immensely but the actual witnessing was extremely difficult for me.
I don’t like to impose myself on anyone at the best of times – and the thought of imposing my spirituality on anyone was abhorrent to me. So my way out was to engage with the Chinese university students who were great at ping pong – and so was I back then. I even astounded a few of their champions.
But on the other hand, there is an obligation to share what works for us with others. We are supposed to help…. And I did have a solid faith from very young that I didn’t mind talking about with anyone – if they were interested.
So to appease my very sensitive conscience back then, I confessed to my God that I really didn’t like street evangelism, but I would “witness” to anyone who ever asked me to speak and share my story.
I’ll never forget that first invitation after Candace’s murder to share my story. I was so ill-prepared, so emotional, so vulnerable – but I did it. I thought it would end right then. But the invitations kept coming. Someone told me that it would be about a year or two – and the invitations would stop. I was relieved.
And here I am 33 years later – and the invitations are still coming. Not too many – just the right amount to fill the empty spaces in my calendar.
Believe it or not - I still feel compelled. I still remember the promise I made way back then.
But now looking back – the sharing of my story – doesn't make me feel resentful. It is not an imposition. It is an opportunity. I have not been alone in the examination of my life, my story, and my brain.
This week began with two speaking opportunities. Monday morning I was at the Canadian Mennonite University – 30 minutes - the slot – ‘radical dialogue.’
I wondered what there was radical in my story that would interest these young people. The actual topic given to me was “my understanding of lifestyle forgiveness.” I touched on my ongoing debate with Restorative Justice, Conflict Resolution – and all of that….. After I was approached by the President – we are going to have another dialogue. I am intrigued. I want this conversation. I want to examine all of it again. I am in a new space.
That evening, I drove out to Stonewall – a little town on a bit of a hill right next to the prison. There is a book club that meets there the first Monday of every month in this quaint, jewel of a restaurant, Summit Café. It has an amazing penny floor - a copper studded penny floor – and the menu is good enough for any “foodie.” Their chef is amazing.
There were about 20 lovely “book worms” - avid readers who have been meeting for years. There truly is nothing more exquisite than to sit down and dine with people who talk intimately about the books they have read. They are into the classics at the moment.
I can’t believe they chose my book to read.
They salt and pepper me with questions….good questions – learning questions.
I still cant’ say no – I try and answer every question. Sometimes there is a new question that requires some on- the- spot soul searching.... It can be challenging.... all of it.
I’m not sure if God really benefits - or if anyone else really does – but I know I do.
I drive home – and I feel lighter, examined and therapized.
“Think of your head as an unsafe neighborhood; don't go there alone.” Augusten Burroughs
We have a new member of our family.
She came as part of the Christmas gift exchange… Her name Alexa.
She is rather non-descript – coming in as a simple black, cloth-covered tin can with a lighted, blue ribbon rim that moves slightly when she is thinking.
Her voice is soft, even and professional. She’s known as an expert on almost everything.
Being very polite we first asked her the usual questions about the weather – “Alexa how cold is it outside?”
It was colder than we expected - "The weather in Winnipeg is -26C degrees."
We were warm – holed up for the night – a blazing fire in the fireplace.
“Alexa, how cold is it in Siberia?”
I’m not sure what she said – but it was warmer than Winnipeg.
We were all surprised.
Someone dared to ask. “Alexa, how cold is it at the North Pole?”
It was something like -17C degrees.
We were the coldest spot in the world. Did we really need to know that? I was almost sorry we had asked - as we could feel the cold hovering...seeping through imaginary cracks.
Then our little five year old caught on to Alexa. He wasn’t much interested in the weather, he’s an expert on dinosaurs.
“Alexa – tell us something new about dinosaurs?” he asked.
“Dinosaur skulls had large holes or “windows” that made their skulls lighter. Some of the largest skulls were as long as a car.”
His eyes lit up.
“Alexa – tell us something new about dinosaurs?” his asked again.
“Some of the biggest plant eaters had to eat as much as a ton of food a day. This is similar to eating a bus-sized pile of vegetation every day.”
He could have gone on and on but someone with psychological leanings also wanted to test her.... “I’m feeling sad, can you help me?”
She didn’t miss a beat. “Here are some suggestions. None of these things will take away your sadness, but they will help you get through it. ... Don't judge yourself for crying or feeling down. Take time to be sad, and then get back to the sweetness. Believe that you'll feel better soon. I hope that one of these suggestions helps you feel better too.”
There was a pause, and the she added a few telephone numbers to call.
Instant counselling. Someone’s job might in jeopardy, we laugh.
We pepper her with every question we can think of – some she declines to answer – but mostly she is polite – a nice addition to our conversation.
Then someone couldn’t resist… and asked playfully.
“Alexa, how do you solve a problem like Maria?”
Her light whirled… “How do you keep a wave upon the sand?”
“Alexa, how do you solve a problem like Maria?
Her light whirled… “How do you hold a moonbeam in your hand?”
“Alexa, how do you solve a problem like Maria?”
Her light whirled… “How do you catch a cloud and pit it down?”
We are amused - delighted - she is a welcome guest.
I wonder what it would be like to have an Alexa around all the time. Would we ever stop asking questions? What will this new presence do to our highly gifted grandchildren?
The other day we are back – and she is now on the counter in the kitchen.
A pan is sliding into the oven. “Alexa – can you set the alarm for 1:30 pm?”
She has found her place.
“Why is it," he said, one time, at the subway entrance, "I feel I've known you so many years?"
"Because I like you," she said, "and I don't want anything from you.” - Ray Bradbury
Thank you Lydia for your comment. It is fun - the new things our modern technology offers.
The editing room.....
Even though we might have felt the acquittal a satisfying ending to our 33 year wait, it isn't really a tidy ending.
it feels a bit frayed - unfinished. For some, especially documentary story tellers need a quick dramatic ending.
Especially for those who had already written the ending - and were just waiting for it to become official.
It means going back into the editing room to fashion another somewhat frayed ending.
We had a film producer drop by.
Director and Writer, Andrew Wall, of Refuge 31, a Canadian production company which produces documentary-television films has been following Cliff''s art for years now.
He stopped by our house first thing in the afternoon with a camera duffel bag, ready to do yet another interview. He told us that not everyone can embrace the judge's decision with the same enthusiasm or understanding that we have.
They are having trouble.
And we are reminded again that this isn't only our story -- that there is a whole city that adopted Candace and needs their justice expectations met\ as well.
Prior to that our son called, "Andrew was here."
Andrew is interviewing everyone. He lists them. Malcolm Gladwell is one of them.
We try to help with the ending.
The first piece of art that Cliff has done since the verdict, October 18, has a working title.... "to set the prisoner free."
We are painted into the of the picture. We are the ones walking through the prison gate -- both of us are floating dressed in white. We are the ones set free ...
It is playful.... fun.
There are also other symbols - mysterious.
There is a watch dog... bull rushes -... rays of sun - a honey comb., Who knows what it all means.... It is a wonderful mishmash of metaphors floating in the sky.
As Andrew leaves, he shrugs....
He will fashion an ending.
We all need to fashion an ending that suits us - that satisfies us.
It's all landing in a creative places.
But it still might be a good place..a better place then our tidy endings. We have to create it. And when the artist lead the way - whenever the right brain takes over - I believe it will all land in a better place.
I believe that film is another important art form that will be needed to makes sense of it. Ingmar Bergman has said. "Film as dream, film as music. No art passes our conscience in the way film does, and goes directly to our feelings, deep down into the dark rooms of our souls.”
Apparently the film Suspended a documenting on Cliff's art is almost finished. We will have the first preview at the end of January.
“Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?” - John Keats
The Magical Switch
Got up early -- braved the frigid temperatures to have breakfast at a tiny cafe downtown. No one is on the streets.
No one is in the cafe.
It is dark - even the cook is in the back.
And I sit down beside the window watching the occasional pedestrian pass - waddling like penguins they are so bundled up braced against the cold. I am waiting for a friend.
Why do I do this to myself?
Then in the evening, I drive downtown again - this time to my office. I am finished at 10:00 at night - everyone has left. I am alone to lock up.
I have to brave an even colder, darker night, as I make my way to my icy car.
And again I wonder why do I do this to myself?
I wouldn't have to -- I have choices now. I have no mouths to feed -- I could choose not to work and live happily ever after.
For a minute, in the dark, I truly feel sorry for myself. Instantly the cold night is colder, the dark more lonely - blacker. The corners lurk with evil - and I feel fear. The train rumbles past -- it sounds like a drum roll - warnings of danger.
Suddenly it has the making of a horror movie.
And then I realize... I do have choice.
I could be happy. I am still able to drive home and park my car in a warm garage - one of the benefits of purging this summer. This morning I was able to meet with this lovely friend who inspired me. She is facing a challenge that would break most of us. Yet her theme for the year is gratitude.
She is beautiful... smiling - laughing -- and..... talking about all the good things that are happening to her. We laugh together. We even laugh about Trump saying he has a bigger button. We laugh at ourselves.... We laugh at our children and our adorable grandchildren. We laugh at the weather.
In the evening, I work in this gorgeous office - tropical fish aquarium gurgling in the corner, listening to these wonderful people, honoring me with their stories. I am invited into their lives- real lives - with real drama - more vivid and more exciting than any TV show.
And then I drive home - it is close to 11:00 by the time I sink onto the sofa -- I am weary. Exhausted. It has been a long day -- stressful even. And I feel a twinge of self-pity.
Yet, I have this wonderful husband who make me a cup of tea as we talk and process our day.
And best of all - he shows me this painting that he has worked on all evening. I don't know what it is about his art but I love it - and it fills me with such satisfaction, you would think that the painting was mine. I can visit an art gallery - talk to an artist whenever I want.
The livingroom is warm. The old Christmas decorations still work their magic.
I realize again - It's a simplistic truth - I know.
But turning the simple switch in my brain from grumbling to gratitude really makes the whole world a different place.
“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” Thich Nhat Hanh
Sometimes I just want laughter.
My fondest memories are of my dear Aunt Susie, who could make a house ring with laughter.
When our aunts and uncles got together they would laugh and laugh....
Attracted to their merriment, all of us cousins would gather at the living room door to find out what they were laughing at.
My grandfather would get up from his chair -- still laughing, and shut the big French glass doors right in our faces... "Go play!" he said. (I'm still curious about what happened in that room.)
But we tried to copy them. We went and created our own jokes - and laughed so hard while eating milk and cookies that the milk came through our noses. (That really hurts by the way.)
Then as a young mother, when I was struggling with the responsibility of it all, I worshipped Erma Bombeck who could poke fun at the craziest things. Her humor was often an affectionate insight. She helped me make sense of mothering and I learned to laugh again.
Which is why I was so delighted when one of my Cre-Com instructors told me that I had a similar gift and gave my name to a local Winnipeg radio show.
Delighted, I applied, and started one of my first free-lance jobs which was to write radio spots - playful one-minute spots modelled after Bombeck.
Back then I had tons of material. I had my own comedic characters. Candace, was 13, Odia, 9 and Syras 3 -- a representative from every stage in child raising - children truly do the dearest things.
Back then Cliff and I often observed that our lives were one long comedy show. I was reminded of that this Christmas. There is nothing like having children around to bring levity to every situation... they truly say the dearest things.
But when Candace disappeared, thirty-three years ago, I resigned immediately from the radio station and ended my tiny career as wanna-be comedian. Candace disappeared Friday. I phoned them Monday first thing. I knew I could no longer find even one tiny funny thing in my life. I had lost my sense of play, humor and laughter.
So for the last 33 years, I have submitted myself to my role as a tragic figure in this city. I adopted the imposed plot of mystery, murder and crime. I had no choice. I exchanged my smiles for tears. I think I've cried an ocean.
But now...with all that over - can I start afresh? Have I healed enough?
Dare I truly indulge in a rambling belly laugh once in a while? Dare I? Can I make it a habit....
Do I want to?
With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come. - William Shakespeare
Land of Milk and Honey
It's truly amazing how unaware I can be.
I can ignore the cold until I get into a warm room -- and then I realize exactly how cold it really was out there.
I can wander through investigations and trials for 33 years and not realize the extent of the stress until it is over.
It seems as if "only after" do I realize the impact. I guess it is call survival mode.
Survival mode means there's no long-term or medium-term plan. It's all about getting through the next 24 hours.
It could also be called - "living in the NOW."
In any case, as I'm going through my last year's calendar, my journals and my files, organizing them into timelines, events, and reflections -- I'm realizing just how strong those head winds were.
The winds have died down now - everything feels quite peaceful.
I am looking around - wondering what this new year will look like without the winds. I'm in a new place. What freedom! It feels a little as if I've arrived. Perhaps, I am in the promised land?
Yes! It all feels very similar to that epic Exodus story.
At first the people caught in powerful Egypt had to fight their enslavement.
We too had to fight the trauma and all the other disorders of the aftermath of murder to find our freedom.
They broke free. So did we -- at great cost.
Then they found themselves in the desert.
We too found ourselves in the desert, dry, dusty, hungry and always uncomfortable living in tents - never quite knowing where we were going to land. There was no security - no place to call our own - we were not in control of our own destiny. Always on the move we were often pushed to our limits.
They wandered for 40 years, we for 33 years.
They were guided -- so were we. They had a controlling cloud by day and the fire by night. They saw the cloud as their God.
For us, our cloud was more like the justice system taking control of our sky - inserting their time schedule into our lives and dictating their truth. When it moved we moved. When it burned, we burned. Often we just sat in our hot tents and waited for the days to pass.
The good part about the Exodus story is that they didn't die. In fact the shoes of the people never wore out. The people got stronger. They learned the ways of the desert.
We didn't die either. Did we get stronger? I don't know.
When their forty years were over, they were brought to the border of their "Promised Land."
With the acquittal, we were quite unceremoniously thrust out of the desert into a new land.
Is it the "Promised Land" flowing with milk and honey?
“I dreamt -- marvellous error -- that I had a beehive here inside my heart. And the golden bees were making white combs and sweet honey from my old failures.” - Antonio Machado