Saturday, May 23, 2009

What a Wonderful World!

My greatest wonder in life has nothing to do with the mechanics of anything. That is Hub’s department.

What I find wondrous is nature, and life, hopes and dreams. But having lived in the same house with the same man for more than thirty years, beyond a new bend in Hub’s sense of humor, what new could I possibly find to wonder at in my home environment? The mechanics of material things change, which doesn’t impress me, but little else. Still, even at that, unexpected situations arise that tap into my emotions and leave me quite awe-stuck.

Take this morning, for instance.

Hub is in a funk and I am beginning to worry about it. He’s bored. He eats too much and sleeps too much. Seems restless and unable to focus on anything.

Added to that, the weather remains nasty, which doesn’t help. And so I am beginning to fear if the weather doesn’t turn, Hub may not turn either. Back to his normal happy and carefree self.

Still I do my best to try and cheer him, but all to no avail. So there remains little left for me to do except to remain quietly supportive and at the same time more attentive to Hub’s conversations in hopes of finding an opportunity to assist him, in some unexpected way, back to his normal good humor.

And so, for these reasons, I am immediately alert, when Hub says to me at the breakfast table this morning, “Do you know the words to this song?”

I perk up my ears and wait for him to hum a bit of the melody, but all I hear coming from his side of the table is a deep muffled rumble like a slipper tumbling in a clothes dryer. His lips are ever so slightly parted in a duplication of Mona-Lisa’s famous smile, and I can tell he is deeply concentrating while exhaling a soft sound, so I go to his side of the table and bend over and listen. An uncommon thing for me to do, because normally Hub talks and sings, so very loud.

As I bend near his face, I hear a rumbling hum that seems to be coming from inside one of the table legs rather than from him. I bend closer and peer into his eyes and see a look of such intense concentration. A look that leads me to think Hub may have quietly slipped out-of-body. It is a glazed look that tells me he has moved somewhere else—leaving me feeling quite alone. He is not immediately behind his eyes, as he should be. Normally I feel an intimate adjacency to the person behind the eyes, but when I look at him, it is like looking through 140X Binoculars across a great expanse. He seems so very far away.

But, despite that, if I am to render normality here, I must pay attention. I must listen and try to identify the song. And so I listen very carefully to muffled modulations of oblique sound that have spacing and rhythm that is vaguely familiar.

But the tune? There isn’t any. And that sets me wondering what is going on, because Hub, like most people, always attempts to jar my memory with bits of the melody when he wants to remember an old song.

This morning there is no tune. The sound is more like a liturgical chant. There is no melody. But that is not the full extent of the weirdness of the situation. What is even weirder is the sound I hear is, in no way, representative of Hub’s voice. Not his sad voice, his happy voice, his normal voice, or even his silly voice.

It is not Hub’s familiar voice I am hearing. It is another tone, another pitch, another pronunciation, another shade, another frequency. It is simply not Hub’s voice. But yet, there is something strangely familiar in this never-before-seen-or-heard rendition. The pulses of the sound are scattered but not random.

And now I begin to verge on a kind of panic with the dragging and quickening of bass-toned exhales and inhales, and again, I say, without melody. And furthermore, the sound is incredibly soft, because it is as if Hub is forcing from somewhere deep inside a sound outside of his own voice range.

I don’t know what is happening here but my inner gut tells me it must be way more serious than a high fever, a blood clot, or an aneurysm. And the eyes though still and unblinking, remain fixed on me in an imploring stare. Across the huge expanse I referred to earlier.

And then, by God, it suddenly hits me. I know the song! I know the song!

Not from the nature of it, but the mechanics of it. Hub was amazed I did it. But I was far more amazed at how ‘The Lord of the Mechanics of Everything’ (that would be Hub) packaged the clues to a musical piece into nothing more than the mechanics of the piece.

Now that I understand the virtual impossibility of what he was doing, of course his eyes veiled over with such intense concentration. It’s pretty close to miraculous when someone can deliver a memory of a song with little more than vibrations of E.S.P. accompanied by a rhythmic percussion of nothing more than the sound of a slipper tumbling about in a clothes dryer.

Now Hub can carry a tune. He knows if it is right or wrong. But as he told me later, he had completely forgotten the tune. He had forgotten the words as well. He had forgotten the name of the song, and he had forgotten the artist. But what he hadn’t forgotten was that the song was a happy song. That is the memory that led to the twisted Mona-Lisa-smile. And he hadn’t forgotten the timber of the singer’s voice or the rhythm of the song.

Now Hub is not an impersonator in any way, shape, or form. But the voice I heard, that was not Hub’s, but yet was vaguely familiar, was the deep voice, magical and dream-shaped, of Louis Armstrong.

And the song Hub needed to remember was “What a Wonderful World.”

Isn’t that totally delightful? When Hub wants that desperately, and needs that desperately to recall a song to sing this early in the morning, and that particularly happy song is the song he wants to sing, my heart is lifted and I know all is well. The weather has cleared despite the dreary skies outside the window, and I know Hub’s funk has flown.

Hub is out in his shop right now singing at the top of his lungs, in tune, and in his own voice with impeccable phrasing…

“I see fields of green, red roses too…”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Garden Rhymes & Nursery Whines

Roberta, Roberta,
From chilly Alberta,
How does your garden grow?

With brush and thrush,
And quiet hush,
And fresh-pressed footprints
In the snow.

(for a bit of extra amusement, try reading the second verse out loud as fast as you can -- not easy is it?)

As I told you last post, my garden is seeded. One picture was taken during the snowfall and one after. By way of explanation, beyond the swing, a comfortable swing, that doesn't squeeze my hips or cause hip dysplasia, is my garden, and beyond the garden is the tree stump Hub planted upside down.

We haven't done it yet, but on hot summer days, we plan to drape ourselves in skimpy faux-fur body scarfs and sit under the stump. We will sip jars of cool lemonade and wave to passer-bys. A pretense it would seem of the lives of Fred and Wilma Flintstone.

So now you know. 'Playing cabin' is not the only game we play.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Garden Daze

Flat and fragmented thoughts, which are what most of my thoughts are these days.

Hub cultivated the garden a few days ago. He started parallel to the road and when he got to my row of perennials, shrubs, and rhubarb, he ended up at a serious angle. Then he began urging me to plant it. But when I saw the rows running at such an angle, it wouldn’t do. I asked him to cultivate it again and run the rows parallel to my row of shrubs and perennials. I don’t care if my garden isn’t square with the road, or the world, I just want it to look like it is square within its own perimeters.

So grudgingly he cultivated again, all the time singing at the top of his lungs some made-up jingle about redoing a job that was already done, and why must he do the same labour twice when his rows ‘aren’t nearly as crooked as Brian Mulroney’ (You have to be Canadian to get the joke, or just Google the name and you’ll soon know).

And then of course deeply entrenched in my psyche is the old adage ‘waste not, want not’, which is not always a good thing. So first a neighbour brings me the excess of sprouted garlic that would not fit in his garden. Then another brings me two plastic bags with a bushel of soaked peas in one, and a peck of soaked beans in the other. And I also have all the seeds I purchased a few weeks ago to put in the ground.

Now I had no intention of planting garden yesterday, but what could I do? Soaked seeds generally have to go in the ground within 24 hours of soaking them. And of course, I couldn’t throw them out. Can’t be wasting them. So now I’m planting. Oh yes, I’m planting.

Enough peas and beans to feed a small village. I don’t pick peas, shell peas, or freeze peas. That is way too labour-intensive for me. Not when I can buy a big bag for about three dollars. I only plant a wee row of peas for the education of the Grandchildren. So they know where peas come from and what peas taste like fresh from the vine.

But this year, to fit in all those peas, I have two long double rows. And of course come fall, the Grandchildren will barely be able to make a dent in them and there I will be. On the back porch, like I was when I was a kid, shelling 5-gallon pails of peas for days on end.

But that’s not all, while I’m doing all this I’m thinking I shouldn’t even be planting anything when the soil is too cold to even step on in bare feet. But anyway, everything is in the ground, except the spuds and Hub will help me with them next week.

Now if it doesn’t all freeze - - - - I guess we’ll be doing okay. My neighbour tells me the seeds are deep enough that if they germinate in the next few days, the frost won’t get to them. As for me, I’m not so sure about that. This afternoon there were snowflakes again floating around outside trying to hide from view in a light foggy mist. But I saw them when they settled on Dough-Gee-Dog’s silky black fur.

And so now I’m wondering if the wood ashes I brought from Hub’s cabin cook-stove and sprinkled in the rows of radishes and turnips will stave off the bugs. I don’t know if it will work but it seems like a greener thing to do then using toxic insecticides that are so often years later pulled from the market because of risk to environment and body and blood and DNA.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Death & Resurrection of Faith #2

(To appreciate this story, you need to read Part 1, before continuing with this conclusion)

Come Take a Portion of Faith – Pt. 2

Now Bible Camp and in particular, The Tabernacle, is a place of revelations where unseen occupants of heaven descend and commune and touch those within. It is a place of revelations through miracles, faith, healing, tongue-speaking, and soul-changing blessings. Normally, that is, but the shavings on the floor have told me a different story.

The adults at Camp assumed they had a monopoly on these messages, visions, and all other forms of heavenly contact. They assumed children were excluded. But that was just not so. I received a message. The message contained within the ‘Parable of the Shavings’. I wanted desperately to tell them ‘my message’ but unfortunately, I had not the courage or opportunity to do so.

And so, I remained silent as the Minister concluded his sermon with an announcement that he had a special surprise for us. And with that, he nodded toward a dim corner at the side of the platform. Shavings rustled softly as a tiny woman moved to the side of the platform and made her way slowly and unsteadily up three steps with an old cane as crooked and bent as she. The crowd applauded with delight at a figure familiar, and so well-known to all of us.

It was Mrs. Rett, with her bright little eyes that always twinkled and her precious mouth that only smiled. Mrs. Rett was a black woman. Black as midnight. But in Bible-Camp circles, she was a camp-celeb – renowned for her grace and goodness, renowned for her unshakable faith. Faith sufficient to part the sea, or move mountains if she chose to. And if the color of her skin made a difference, the only difference was the keen awareness we all had of her special gift of faith and unwavering goodness.

Now this particular day was Mrs. Rett’s ninetieth birthday. And what you need to realize about that is we are talking about a time when life expectancy was probably no more than sixty-four years. And so now the Minister left the podium and Mrs. Rett steadied herself with feet spread and both hands on her cane in front of her.

“Friends, I am soon going to be moving to another place,” she said in a feeble voice, “and I wanted to say a special good-bye to all of you before I left.”

Here the pianist rippled a few soft notes, and Mrs. Rett began to sing.

“Some day the silver chord will break,
And I no more, as now shall sing…”

The chord, if there was one was already broken. And we truly hoped that she ‘no more, as now would sing.’ Her voice was squawky, raspy, pitchy, cracked, and brittle. In a way that made even I, though just a child, feel the embarrassment and concern we so often have when another human being is in a situation that perhaps it would be best for them not to be in. But then Mrs. Rett raised her head towards the orange-colored canvas overhead, where the golden sunlight was filtering through, and continued her song.

“…but oh the joy, when I shall wake,
Within the palace of the King…”

And suddenly the melody was sweet and pure – her voice steady and unwavering. The sound as silken as the smooth warbling of a nightingale. And all the time we saw, in the midnight blackness of her countenance, her bright eyes and warm smile.

“…and I shall see him face-to-face…”

And that is when the most uncanny thing happened. I know others saw it too. Mrs. Rett’s charcoal-colored face suddenly turned silver –as silver as a radiant crystal with an inner glowing light. And those bright eyes were no longer fixed on us. They were fixed on something else that broadened her smile even more.

And that’s when all that I had lost from within my longing, vacant, empty soul, came rushing back with a force that made my knees weaken. I looked around me, and I could feel it in the room. Hope and faith and unwavering belief flooded the tent with a force that loudly rippled the canvas.

And I knew in that moment that everyone in that room, every single solitary person – sinner, agnostic, atheist, or believer, seized hold of a portion of Mrs. Rett’s faith. And in that moment, every one of us had faith that could part seas or move mountains – if that is what we chose to do. I believe at that moment we had enough collective faith to even turn the shavings on the floor into tightly-spliced floorboards.

And so this is where my story concludes. There is nothing more to tell you except that bit which is simply a matter of fact.

Mrs. Rett died a couple months later. And who knows? There may or may not be a heaven, there may or may not be a hell, there may or may not be a God. But if faith can do all it promises to do, of one thing I am certain – whether the foregoing questions are answered ‘yea’ or ‘nay’.

The thing I am certain of (no matter how barren the fact, science, or truth) is that there is one wee mansion with one lone wee occupant straight up, overhead, right up there – beyond the sky!

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Death & Resurrection of Faith #1

The Parable of the Shavings – Pt. 1

Some stories of my childhood defy my ability to tell a story, and this story about the mysticism of faith, is one of them. The story has meaning impoverished by only words. But still, with no other way to tell it, I hope I can find enough inspiration in a long-ago memory to make the meaning of the story transcend the insufficiency of the words.

The story is about Bible Camp – that ritualistic 4 or 8 or 10-step program dedicated to making kids the best they can be. But unlike other self-help programs, I didn’t have to first recognize I had a problem. I didn’t even have to have a problem. My Mother just assumed if I didn’t go, she would have a problem, so every year, I and my siblings, went to Bible Camp.

So now, let us first examine the camp-grounds. The original camp I went to had two granaries connected together that served as a kitchen and dining area. Another granary with too few windows sufficed as the girls’ sleeping dorm. The boys slept in a big tent and church took place in a much larger tent – orange-colored like a circus tent.

The once-circus-tent, now-camp-tent, was referred to as the Tabernacle, and inside were rows of crude wooden benches and at the front a wooden platform. The floor was sod of some sort, heavily layered with fresh, pale-colored, sweet-smelling wood shavings. And it is the wood-shavings I want to talk about, because that is where the story begins.

But first I must tell you that when nothing was going on in the Tabernacle, adults or children were still free to go there. And because, for the time being, the tent served as a church, we were expected while there to be quietly tranquil and reverent as is expected in any church. And so, one day, in the quiet tranquillity of the Tabernacle, I sat alone on a bench waiting for some friends, and quietly scuffling, with my feet, the shavings on the floor.

I had already been at Camp a few days, and of course with all the sermons, songs, and prayers, I was at a new high in my faith. Soul and mind overflowing with self-righteousness and resolve to be more kind, loving, reverent, faithful, and mindful of my spiritual wellness.

But as I examine the shavings on the floor, an obtuse thought came to mind. I find it rather amazing that although the remnants at my feet are the same fiber, the same color, and material, as a solid wooden floor – this is not anything like a solid wooden floor. It is only fragments of the original. Posing in a shameful way as a wooden floor, but not really a wooden floor.

And then that obtuse thought became even more obtuse. I began to wonder if the shavings were translating a message to me? The Bible relates stories of messages from God being relayed through simple things like the sun, a burning bush, tablets of rock, grass-dew and rain. Wood-shavings seem to fit that category, so is there a message for me in those shavings?

But at that moment a crowd arrived and seated themselves for the afternoon service. And, as generally was the case, the service commenced with singing and a few announcements. The singing was nice, but in a weak way. Relative, it seemed, to the shavings on the floor.

Now came the sermon. The minister gave dramatic inflection to every word. His body was animated. His eyes wept tears – of happiness one moment, concerned sadness for souls the next. Somehow, though, I wasn’t getting it. I was still too preoccupied with the shavings on the floor. And despite the Minister’s heroic efforts to make a solid impact on everyone in that place, I was more intent on understanding the translation within the context of the shavings on the floor.

And then came a dark realization. Perhaps the shavings signify a warning from God about my spiritual wellness and the authenticity of Bible Camp instruction. Maybe the counterfeit relationship between shavings and a wood floor is being paralleled here in the form of false spiritual instruction mimicking, in a similar way, something solid, true, and good.

Maybe this sermon, despite the dramatics of the Minister, is nothing more than a counterfeit and blended mix of shards of human-based and Bible-driven thinking, that can never provide solid transport for my soul from present life to an eternal place of refuge.

But how, pray tell, did I end up involved in such obviously complex and convoluted thinking? Truthfully, I cannot believe for one minute that it originated in my nine-year-old brain without heavenly assistance.

And so, that is how the Parable of Shavings formed in my mind, albeit in a more rudimentary way, and as it clarified, my heart and soul felt truly vexed. Hollow and empty of the usual warming convictions that had always come to me in the Tabernacle. And then as the sermon drew to an end, I felt an uneasy chill as a sudden final backwash left my inner spirit devoid of any previous convictions. And with that, a searing sense of abandonment that I expect only an orphan could understand.

I determined to look away from the floor, but by then not even the happy shouts of “Glory! Hallelujah!” or the magical gold wash of color that bathed all of us within those orange canvas walls could shake the impending agnosticism that now heavily bordered on something even more extreme. The “ath----” thing. I’m reluctant to say it, but I’m sure you know what I mean.

NEXT POST is about a broken 'chord' and faith restored.