then he smiled at me . . .

You know how you hate it when people say things as though they discovered them, when you’ve known about these things forever?

  • The sun setting over the ocean in Puerto Vallarta is absolutely heavenly!
  • You should try the Brazilian ribeye steak at Hermanos; it’s fantastic!
  • The grammar in that book is simply atrocious!

Or, having a grand baby is the best thing in the world!

I put my desire for a grandchild on the back burner a few years ago because my wonderful kids were doing oh-so wonderful things, but producing grandchildren was not one of those wonderful things. So I enjoyed my kids for who they were. And that was great. But then my oldest child got pregnant.

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Remy Marcel, arriving 6 1/2 weeks early, spent his first three weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit. I held his tiny body for hours at a time. I changed his “preemie”-size diapers, and called him My Precious. I even got to bottle-feed him freshly pumped breast milk now and then – a few millilitres at a time. I watched the monitor as his heart rate skyrocketed and then came tumbling back down (my own heart mimicking his in my anxiety); I saw how his respirations changed on a dime.

At three weeks of age he came home.  I held his slightly bigger but still tiny body for hours at a time – sometimes because he needed it and sometimes because I couldn’t resist that snuggly warmth next to my chest. I changed his diapers – still tiny but not “preemie” anymore. I called him My Precious. In between nursings, I bottle-fed him breast milk replete with probiotics, to soothe his troubled tummy. I gradually learned to trust that his heart was beating just fine without a monitor to tell me so.

And he began to make sounds apart from crying for milk: he burped loudly, and he sneezed often.

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Then at three months of age he came to the lake with us. Soon he was making sounds that were not cries or burps or sneezes – they were coos! Such music I have not heard since my own children were babies. And he began to show his personality, covering his face when he’d had enough of our adult noise, scrunching up his face in pain when he had gas, letting out contented kitten-sighs when his tummy was full and sleep was upon him, and grimacing when his Auntie Meg sang “there comes a moment when my heart must stand alone, on this lonely path I’ve chosen like a house that’s not a home.” * And one day, I held him close and smiled at him, and . . . wonder of wonders, he smiled back. And that rocked my world.

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And now I know why people say some of the things they do.

* (Nikki Yanofsky – Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games theme song; p.s.  you already have solid musical taste, little grandson!)

 

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tuesday mornings with simon

I have a new little friend. His name is Simon. His mother is a professional cellist, while Simon is still an amateur. Every Tuesday morning I hang out with him so his mom can go to the music hall to practise.

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Simon and I do all sorts of fun things together. Last Tuesday, for example, on what began as a rather dreary, chilly morning, the two of us headed for The Buttery (a nearby coffee shop) for treats. Simon had a mini chino – a small cup of steamed milk – and a very quickly demolished chocolate donut, while I happily sipped on a black Americano. As we whizzed back to his apartment (one does not linger over coffee with a two year old) – Simon on his “little blue bike” and me on my feet, stopping and then starting again, depending on whether “the light was red or blue” (not green) – the sun came out. So we stayed outside for another hour. We drove the schoolbus, reminding children to take their backpacks with them when they got off; we zoomed around on a fire engine and put out many fires; we planted a plethora of vegetables in the sandbox garden, filling our newly dug rows with beans, corn, tomatoes, mushrooms, potatoes. “Would you like some carrots?” asks the tractor driver. “Yes, please.” “Okay. And now would you like some more carrots?” “No, I think I’d like some onions now.” “Okay, onions it is!” says the helpful unloader, who is all of two years old.

When it’s not warm and sunny outdoors, we stay inside and make trains cars out of Playdoh. Or we get down on the floor and race our separate Lego trains on the same track, averting at the last minute what looks to be inevitable disaster; we read books, books about octopuses and pirates and trains and “bigger diggers.” Simon knows a lot of the pages by heart. His energetic renderings are music to my ears.

A two year old with energy and cheerfulness and a huge natural capacity to learn and to love, Simon is a lovely reminder of how others help to shape little lives like his. His six year old brother, Abram, tells him all about his days at school and then engages him in a fun-filled, zesty game of indoor hockey, cheering loudly every time a “one-timer” slams into the net. Then the suddenly very tired brothers crash on the couch together with a book.

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Simon’s parents read to him, play trains with him, teach him what words mean, remind him to use his manners, are generous with their hugs, exulting in his innocent eagerness. One of the things I like best about his parents is that they allow Simon to admit other adults into his life and encourage him to trust them, allowing community to happen. Because if they didn’t, I wouldn’t get to spend happy Tuesday mornings with Simon.

 

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remnants of walls

What are walls for?

Roy and I took the train from Cambridge to London this past Sunday, to celebrate Rebecca’s birthday with our girls. We arrived early, and because it was a Sunday in a part of London that we were not familiar with, we took time to explore; we happened upon the remnants of the famous London Wall.
img_7433img_7432According to Wikipedia, the wall that surrounded the then-city of London was built as “a protective measure.” Certainly, “from around 200 AD, the shape of London was defined by one single structure: it’s massive city wall . . . . stretch[ing] for two miles around the ancient City of London” (Ben Johnson *).

So, that’s what a wall is for.

To protect, to defend and define one’s territory. That rationale makes sense to Donald Trump. He likes walls that say: This here is our territory, and don’t you dare mess with us! He wants to prevent Mexican drug-smugglers and all manner of evil Mexicans from entering the hallowed land of the United States of America. Interestingly, my new friend Ben, who is working on a Master’s of divinity here in Cambridge, told me yesterday that he visited a segment of what is already and has been for a while “that” wall, just last week.

Between San Diego, USA and Tijuana, Mexico, there is a double mesh wall that separates the two countries. It was here, in this spot, that the United Methodist Church chose to hold a communion service. Indeed, that wall, Ben tells me, didn’t stop Mexican fingers from finding American fingers – in between the mesh squares – as they together took part in the sacrament of Eucharist. During the moving ceremony, Ben says that participants “laid hands on the wall praying for an end to division. It was easily the most powerful communion service I’ve witnessed.”

Regardless of our religion or race or gender, it is within powerful moments like this that we find our humanity. Clearly, the strength of a physical wall doesn’t hold a candle to the strength found in our desire for understanding and compassion. Not even Trump can stop that kind of connection.

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*http://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryMagazine/DestinationsUK/Londons-Roman-City-Wall/

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“nothing stays local for long”

Richard Haass, a former adviser to Goerge H. W. Bush, was Laura Lynch’s guest on CBC’s The Current yesterday. An articulate diplomat, he “warns [that] the world is in disarray” due to Trump’s presidency (http://www. .ca/radio/the-current-for-february-16-2017). Well, we probably all knew that, and if we stop there, our disillusionnment with the political situation isn’t going anywhere.

But Haass then added this (among many other wise and articulate statements): ‘nothing stays local for long.’ Indeed, in this day and age of globalization, Haass is surely right. And while he uses this simple, pithy phrase to warn us of the dangers of Trump’s governing skills (or lack thereof), I like to think that if Haass is right, we have reason to be cautiously optimistic. Because if ‘nothing stays local for long,’ then that means that the actions of the little people, people like you and me, can make a difference. Our ‘local’ actions will spread: the ripple effects of what we choose to stand for today will be felt tomorrow, and tomorrow, and the tomorrow after that. And they will be felt by our neighbours next door, and then our neighbours down our street, and then our neighbours across the ocean.

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So let’s make that difference. Let’s continue to welcome immigrants, knowing that it could as easily be us who are knocking on another country’s border-door; let’s take the time to notice the person next to us; let’s realize that whatever wealth/degrees/security we have accrued may be at someone else’s expense and be at once grateful and humble. And let’s continue to be generous, compassionate people, regardless of what comes our way. After all, these are principles we live by, not merely knee jerk reactions to what we see happening at the current political moment.

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what do we (really) know?

I have often wanted to write a really honest post, but I know that wouldn’t go down well with a lot of readers. And that’s okay. But what I want to say is that just because things look well from the outside, that doesn’t mean everything’s ‘peachy’ on the inside.

I am in Cambridge now, and am hugely fortunate to be here. I love the city, and I love being close to my daughters.

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I love having the time to edit the book I am currently working on, to take in amazing lectures, to walk along picturesque hiking trails (public paths), to be able to avoid “Winterpeg’s” cold season, and to get to know new people. But I am still me, living my life. And life is still life. And all of us struggle, no matter where we are. So know that ‘there’s that,’ when you envy someone their life.

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But life is still life! And there is much to learn, much to digest, and much to appreciate. so: there’s that, too!

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of trump and men

I heard a talk last Friday by one David Runciman, a British political scientist, who explained the difference between a conspiracy theorist and an extremist: a conspiracy theorist does not act on his beliefs whereas an extremist does. He also described the spectrum that includes citizens/conspiracy theorists/extremists, and suggested when and why we use those terms. But his final thought was what his listeners were especially interested in: the governing philosophy of the United States is now one of conspiracy theorists, since conspiracy theories are no longer on the margin in that country – or in Europe, for that matter.

This morning I listened to a podcast of the CBC’s “The Current” from the same day – last Friday. In it Nora Young interviewed two experts with regard to the recent popular interest in George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984, a direct response to the election of Donald Trump. Both John Sutherland, from University College London, and Jean Seaton, from the University of Westminster, made intriguing observations, but the one that stuck with me was Sutherland’s ‘English-style’ (read ‘not over the top’) elation that people are turning to literature at a time like this. He and Seaton said other wise things – and please do listen to the podcast if you haven’t yet – but I want to focus on this one thing.

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Stories matter. The creative mind matters. The imagination matters. Prophets need to be listened to. Now more than ever. When democracy is at stake, when lives are considered expendable for the sake of someone’s ego, we need to get our minds, hearts, and imaginations in gear. Percy Shelley was not far off when he said that ‘poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’: “For [Shelley] . . .  the human mind performs two very important and very different ‘mental actions’: it reasons and it imagines” (http://www.jjroux.com/poets-are-the-unacknowledged-legislators-of-the-world/).

Ah, that’s it. Imagination AND reason. And Donald Trump shows evidence of neither. No wonder we are re-reading 1984. But before we despair, let’s remember all the ‘alternative voices’ (no, not ‘alternative facts’) that are being raised loudly and powerfully, passionately and reasonably, all over the world, in response to this movement that lacks imagination and reason, not to mention compassion. And let’s remember that people are reading 1984 in an effort to fight regimes that do not care for individual or communal suffering, that only crave power for themselves. We will not allow anyone to become an ‘unperson’; we will speak up; we will learn from history; we will learn from re-reading prophetic novels. Read on, people!

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good ol’ games

img_7271I have I have just begun reading The Revenge of Analog by David Sax, a Christmas gift from my sister, Lynda. I have only read the introduction so far, but already I am resonating with the thoughts, and what I consider to be yearnings, that prompted this book. Sax says, in a liberal paraphrase, that we naturally crave to use all of our senses as we explore music, words, food.

A week ago my brother, Chris, was here with his three kids. We spent the afternoon playing, cooking, laughing and eating. In the midst of our pile of chips, freshly made garlic-yogurt dip and sugar cookies, all scattered haphazardly on the kitchen island, I noticed my nephew, Seth, click on his iphone. The next second he called out to my son, Sasha, lying on the couch in the next room, ‘your turn.’

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But just before that, we had all taken our turns at the piano, trombone, the dance floor, sharing our serious and silly talents with one another.

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And just an hour later, we were sitting at the dining room table, playing Wits and Wagers, very un-digitally, laughingly competing in real time. I suspect the memories that will last from that day will be smelling the cookies, tasting the garlic dip, feeling the ivory keys, seeing the colourful stacks of wager chips, hearing my brother say yet again ‘No, I’m going to stick with my original bet’ and then watching him lose yet another round, and listening to the laughter that inevitably ensued.

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I look forward to reading chapter one of Sax’s book.


					
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