|It’s dawn, on the beach at Pocologan. I am the first to come down the stairs and walk on the sands this morning. Last night I sat here until my toes got wet, on a rock that earlier in the day had been far from the edge of the water. Last night, the beach was marked with footprints big and small, bare and sneakered, human and canine, around sandcastles and names inscribed with sticks or clamshells. This morning, below the line of seaweed marking last night’s high tide, the sand is pristine. They talk about the tides of time and the sands of time. Perhaps that means something about Mother Earth’s ability to remove all evidence of what was, and to start again.|
My room here at the Clipper Shipp Motel is a small one, too small for doing any of my usual stretching exercises. Instead I have walked the beach at various times of the day, marvelling at the height of the Fundy high tide, and sneaking around points of rock that had been under water a few hours before, to walk on the bottom of the sea.
The other night at home, as sometimes happens, my stretching released the emotion I carried in my muscles. When that happens, I let the tears flow. I’ve learned to ask, whose tears are these? My tears are not always my own. The other night as I stretched, the tears that flowed were the tears of the people on the West Coast, watching their forests and homes burn.
Where will they go? What will they do? So many thousands homeless and broken. I noticed how my tears flow more easily for these sudden refugees in California, Oregon, or Washington, than they do for refugees fleeing fire in Greece, or terror in Myanmar. I can more easily relate to the traumas of our North American neighbours. And yet, I know that refugees around the world are also mothers and fathers, children, losing everything they love, feeling the same grief, shedding the same wrenching tears. I pray that these difficult times will help us see each of us everywhere as a sister or brother.
And so as the sun rises this morning, I reach for the sky, bend to the earth, and pray for our planet. On this new day, the skies above me are clear of smoke. The crescent moon waves goodbye through wispy clouds. I am grateful for these blessings, aware that I no more deserve clear skies than my brothers and sisters near or far deserve pain and loss.
I live in the same place where I have lived most of my life. Some things remain the same. Dawn on my horizon looks the same as it did when I was a child. Other things change more drastically, like the traffic on this road. When I was in junior high, the school bus came up the road this half mile, and turned around in our driveway. My siblings and I, and whatever children might be living next-door in the house where my grandmother grew up, got on the bus and headed off to school. By the time my own children began their education, the bus went right past us, returning a while later half full of children. Now, on this holiday weekend, the traffic speeds by like a busy highway, despite the deplorable state of the pavement, as seasonal neighbours travel to and from cottages on the lake.
My husband and I went for a ride in the woods behind our house. In my mind, that journey should be the same as it was 50 years ago, when I took solitary walks down the same woods road. I still expect it to be overhung with maples, but that has not been the case since the tail end of Hurricane Arthur blew through in 2014, toppling a quarter of the sugar maples, and many other trees. Instead of the deep magic forest of my childhood, now the skies are open over the Little Mactaquac Maples sugar camp, which itself is a more recent addition to our landscape. But the stream still flows, and in spring the falls still roar down the rocks from the fields above. Yet the contrast between my childhood memories and the current reality is so stark that I grieve every time I make the trip. I miss the magic in the ancient trees.
I am thinking about these things, because of the change this pandemic brings. We still don’t know what the longterm changes might be, as we wait in an extended pause between what was and what is coming. But we have survived change before. I think the biggest upheaval this extended community has experienced in my lifetime was the construction of Mactaquac Hydro Dam. I was 10 years old when the water rose in the St. John River Valley. Farms that my father worked were inundated. Mactaquac Stream, into which our Little Mactaquac Stream flows, could once be crossed on stepping stones in summer. Now it is part of the deep headpond above the dam. I remember the Snowshoe Islands, but since they weren’t part of my daily landscape, I don’t miss them like some do. I do miss the darkness of a starry night, something that disappeared forever when they turned on the lights on the “damn dam,” as it is affectionately called around here.
I was small when this all came about, listening on the edges to adult conversations, and hearing the anger, sadness, and fear in their voices. I imagine what it might have been like for them. Perhaps the years of change and the uncertain pause between what was and what was coming is similar to what we are experiencing now – knowing that things were changing, seeing the survey stakes go up, hearing news of neighbours’ land expropriated, watching swaths of trees cut and piled, denuding steep hillsides that would soon be under water – unable to imagine what the river valley would be like in the future.
That future came and we got used to it. Some still grieve what was, while others fought tooth and nail to save their beautiful river, waterfront houses, and tourist industry, when, in recent years, a decision needed to be made either to refurbish the dam or remove it. Some envisioned the removal of the dam as a return to what was, while others pointed out that what is under the water will never again be the river of our memory.
We got through that massive change, somehow surviving and becoming a different community, a truly beautiful community up and down our river, with new people, new activity, and a new way of life. That history of loss and rebirth in our lives can encourage us as we face the changes of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our future will again be different. We don’t know how different, and we will naturally grieve what was, but we will also rejoice. I hold onto my faith, believing that those things that need changed, that we didn’t know how to change, will be changed, through this pandemic, for the good of all.
I am just back from a very nice walk. It’s a little after 9 AM. Sun is shining, birds chirping, breeze blowing. I found myself singing one of my father’s favorites, “Trust and Obey.”
The song begins with the words “when we walk with the Lord.” I used to think of this song as a message to buckle down and do what we’re told, with the emphasis on “obey.”
Whenever I hear this song, I hear it in my father’s voice, coming strongly over the fields, from the tractor while he plowed. Today, I wondered why he would sing that song.
Today, walking with Spirit, the message came through that there were times when Daddy was very glad to be out in the field all alone, times when he was discouraged or overwhelmed, times when it was hard to bite his tongue, and be a good husband/father/son. He was the best Daddy ever, so good and patient. But he had to deal with a slew of us kids, a difficult stepmother, and the usual trials of farming. He was a young man, once upon a time, doing the best he could. And so, today, I heard the emphasis on the word “trust”, to trust and just keep doing the next best thing, as the key to happiness.
I walked today, singing Daddy’s song, feeling connected to everything, to Daddy, to God, to the road, the birds, the neighbours, the forest and the sky. It was a beautiful day to walk and pick up other people’s garbage, which I try to do once a day, along the side of the road, especially in spring. It was a beautiful day to pick up other people’s garbage, because it’s really my garbage, as I am part of all of it.
It doesn’t matter that I didn’t drop that garbage. It doesn’t matter that I can’t stop in to see my neighbours during this pandemic. It doesn’t matter that I can’t go for a walk with my friends. We are never alone, “when we walk with the Lord.” ❤️
I have always been an optimist. Once upon a time, when Pollyanna was a popular children’s story, I took on that persona, the cheerful optimist, the “glad girl”. The book was published in 1913; Disney made a movie in 1960. I was very small at the time, and never saw the movie, but the story became part of my repertoire for life. I’m sure I wasn’t glad all the time. Neither was the little orphan Pollyanna, but her Glad Game of finding something to be glad about in any circumstance got her through, and changed the lives of those around her. The story lives on in our parlance, pejoratively, as a put down of those who are considered naïve because they do not see things as being as horrible as others do.
I have been called a Pollyanna numerous times, even now, as an adult. When I first interviewed to become a candidate for ordination in the United Church of Canada, I was so excited, that the Interview Board gave me an assignment, to talk to a good number of ministers about what was the best part of ministry and the worst part. They didn’t say as much, but it was clear that they feared I was entering ministry as a naïve dreamer. I carried out the assignment with vigour. The answers boiled down to “the people” and “the people”. One minister’s story deeply discouraged me; their people had been exceptionally hurtful. Yet with prayer and the encouragement of other ministers, I regained my optimism. God is still working in the world, even if Christendom completely disappears. In fact, if Christendom disappears, that would probably be a good thing. Followers of Jesus could then get back to living the Way, instead of maintaining church buildings and tradition. I may be disheartened from time to time, but I still hold the belief that the Biggest Big, Love, Life, the Universe, is moving in a positive direction.
Probably because of this natural optimism, I have never thought of myself as “suffering”. Others may suffer, but I did not claim that word for myself. Then in August 2018, I came across a definition that fit how I was feeling. Suffering, James Finley said, is “ an inescapable sense of precariousness”. He was discussing Buddha’s Four Nobel Truths. The cause of this sense of precariousness, Finley says, is wanting life to be different than it is. The cure is surrender. Buddha taught that the “how” of surrender is the Eight Fold Path — right practices — right view, right thinking, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right diligence, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
Of those eight practices, right mindfulness was the one that spoke to me that day, and speaks to me still. Paul Knitter, in his book, Without Buddha I Could not be a Christian, wrote about “a mindful trusting of each moment as it comes” (p. 159). That’s what surrender means to me now — trusting in the moment. The paradox of trust in the midst of suffering carries us through dark times. This is not a smiley face that says there is no suffering, but a sense of solidness inside the presence of the Biggest Big.
I posted a video on my Facebook page about making today, New Moon Day in March, like New Year’s Day. If what you do today sets the tone for the next year, do what you want to be doing for the next twelve months. I am doing social distancing at home with Hubby, and I hope we won’t be still doing THIS twelve months from now, but today has to be intentional. As I say in my video, the main thing I want to do today and for the next twelve months is to write. The above paragraphs are an excerpt from my current writing project. Just a taste. I needed to read these words myself, this morning, so I thought I’d share.
This morning I came across a clipping and a quote that struck me as so true: “Keep quiet, pray, and wait for God to work.” (Rose McCormick Brandon) Yesterday, someone told me to read Psalm 91, especially vs. 7, which says, “You will not be harmed, though thousands fall all around you” (CEV). It is comforting to think that somehow God will keep me safe and sound while thousands of people die. Seriously? Not! Certainly not comforting for those thousands! Better to just keep quiet, pray and wait. And yet, here I am, writing.
I’m writing because sometimes the medicine we need does not taste very good. Chemo almost kills before it cures. We submit to medical traumas for the long term good of our health. Over the years I have counselled many who were burnt out, on stress leave, at their wit’s end. They didn’t think they could stop and rest. They thought they had to keep going, no matter what. Parents do it all the time – work all day, then spend the evening driving children to events and activities on the other side of town, sometimes several trips in different directions in one night. If they are lucky, they have time on Sunday to do a load of wash or get the groceries.
I often have reminded people that when they don’t take a break, eventually the body just stops, gets sick, plays out, forcing us to rest. We have to make up the rest that we never took. Some never make it back to where they were before, having worn themselves out too far, pushed themselves too much. Maybe that’s what is happening to our species right now. Maybe we are being forced into a reset. You probably have seen a meme passed along on Facebook, more than once, about Sabbath. A day of rest. We haven’t taken our day of rest for so long; we have lots of catching up to do.
My province, New Brunswick, yesterday joined the ranks of many others around the world, declaring a state of emergency, closing all non-essential business, and severely restricting the places we are allowed to go. We are so used to going to the pool, the spa, the gym. We spend hours in hockey rinks, pool halls and theatres. Not now. Not for a while to come. Not for quite a few daily Sabbaths.
Now we stay at home, read books, play games, talk to our friends and family on the phone. We are having meals at our kitchen tables, getting to know our family in close quarters instead of escaping for a cup of coffee elsewhere. All the things that keep us so busy, we are told, are not important after all. We are being given a simpler life, at least for a while. We rediscover what used to be the norm.
When my son was ten, he said, “Mom! You have to read this book!” He passed me a copy of Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game. (You may have seen the movie.) My son, even at ten, could choose good books, and I have since read the sequels as well. The Earth of these books was much like ours, full of war between races and countries, until…. until an alien species comes from space, and suddenly everyone is on the same side, fighting the “buggers”. I’ve often thought, yes, we need an alien invasion to help us see that we are all one. That alien has arrived, in the form of a virus, not from outer space. Suddenly, the other side of the world is our next door neighbour. Suddenly everyone is aware of the plight of everyone else. We are all in the same boat.
We want this to be a very short boat ride. We want to get back to normal. But many say this is not going to be short. This Sabbath rest will be a long one. The world may not be the same when we come out the other side. In fact, I hope it is quite different. Can we learn that we don’t need to be jetting around the planet as easily as taking a trip to the grocery store? Can we be content to enjoy where we are instead of hopping on a cruise ship to see the world? Now, believe me, I love to cruise, but I also cringe knowing what it does to our oceans. Can we learn that what really matters is the people we love? That, and health? Can we come to appreciate a simpler way? Can we take time to fly a kite for a change? Can we reset?
Back to Psalm 91:7 and Rose McCormick Brandon’s quote…. In some ways, we are all being harmed by this virus, whether we get sick or not. We have a new understanding of the perils of pandemics. We face having loved ones die in hospitals when we are not allowed to be there. We fear not having enough hospital beds at all. We may be angry at the idea of God, especially one that saves a few and lets others fall. Whether you think of this as something from God, the Universe, Life, or Chance, if we can be quiet and wait, when this reset is complete, I pray we will find much to be grateful for. Already the air and water are healing. Already we are learning to be kind again. Be quiet and wait for this Virus to work in our lives. Find love. Find things to be grateful for, and expect healing for our souls through this bad tasting medicine.
A couple of weeks ago, I went for a walk out our road. Our road is a country road. In late winter, the pavement is full of holes, bumps, and frost heaves. Traffic moved slowly. The day was mild, warmer than it had been, and sunny, without a puff of breeze or a single blackfly. It was a perfect day for a walk.
As I walked, I was praying. I was feeling out of sorts, unsure of where things were going, for myself, or for anyone, really. I walked and prayed for insight, a meditative stroll. I walked until I met up with my sister and her husband. I turned to travel back with them. After I left them at the end of their driveway, I knew I had my insight, the sign I needed.
I have lived on this road most of my life. A good number of my neighbours are my siblings and relatives. Others I have known for a very long time. I walk and think about each of them. I am fortunate. In hard times, I have a ready support group, just a short walk away. I too can support them in trouble, as need be. My sign, that day, was to go slow, and remember my neighbours.
This morning, I cancelled church services and meetings until further notice, because of COVID-19. I hate to do this, but for the safety of those we love, we decided we must. My congregations will miss what Sunday morning offers them, a sense of community, sharing with friends, solidarity, and a few moments of peace in a crazy world.
This pandemic is affecting all of us. It is reminding us that everyone around the whole world is a neighbour. Six degrees of separation is all there is between us, six or fewer. When one of us hurts, we all hurt. We just don’t think about it most of the time. And so, today, and for the foreseeable future, maybe, together, we will begin to go slow, and remember our neighbours. May our world right itself, but not as the same world. May our world right itself into a better version, a better version of each of us.
Yes, go slow. Remember your neighbours.
I love Brene Brown. I’ve read several of her books, and always delight in any videos I find. One came to me as part of an ongoing conversation of why we love church. Over and over in our conversations, the word “community” comes up. Brene Brown puts more words onto the importance of church, in part that loneliness will kill you, but she also, from her social work and research perspective, points out that we need to be in places where we can recognize that we are all one humanity, where we can sing together, and greet one another in peace.
Brene Brown is always an engaging speaker. Lots of laughs, but with such depth of sincerity and compassion, and thought-provoking insights. Take a look:
A dream from years ago surfaced in my journal this morning. It was Sept 17, 2001, the last day of the ancient Egyptian calendar. I commented that the world had not ended yet. Despite the tragedies of 9/11, we were still here, and we are still here now.
In the dream, I was in an old house, with friends, including a little one who is now a mama herself, in waking life. We were all going out for a while, and I was the last to leave. I realized the wind had come up, and some of the toys the little one had been playing with were blowing away. I went out to get them, but found very little. Much was gone. An unfamiliar man followed me out of the house, and left the yard. I went back inside with what toys I had rescued. The door was blocked after that, and the man outside looked surprised. He pulled a gun. It seemed that, rather than being a thief, stealing things, he wanted to move things in! He seemed surprised that I was there. Time passed, and I was there with children still, and again. We were expecting trouble, but felt safe.
I wrote in the margin of the page, that Fear was trying to move in. But Fear could not, because I was there. My presence blocked the door. Even when so many had left, I remained. Even when familiar things had disappeared in the wind, I was still there.
Beyond that, I did not write more about what the dream meant to me at the time. Today, reading my thoughts from the days after 9/11, I think how Fear did move in, for many, how Fear has changed how we relate to each other in the larger world and in our neighbourhoods. Fear seems to have flavoured international and political interactions. People have left the old ways, and let Fear in. How I wish we had stayed put, respecting and loving each other like we used to.
Can we somehow get back to that? Can we get back to caring for each other, caring for the children, and feeling safe?
Today is the day that I am as old as Mom was when she died. It’s been on my mind for a while, but especially this week. It is hard to imagine dying, right now, and hard to imagine my mother facing death at this age. I have so many plans for the future, so much I want to do. I wonder at what point Mom stopped planning. I wonder at what point she realized that planning was useless.
She had metastatic breast cancer for six years. Every time it came back, she fought it. But in December 1995, she didn’t want to fight anymore. My youngest brother begged her to try. It wasn’t what she wanted, but for him, she said she would. She would try. But she never got that far; the cancer was too much, too quickly filling her body, too everywhere.
So it is the day that I am as old as she was when she left us. I catch myself thinking, “This is the day Mom died.” It’s not, of course, but at times this week, the grief has been as fresh as it was in 1995. Why did Mom have to die, and I get to live? I’ve often wondered if her love for us was such that she would bargain with God; that she would take all the breast cancer so we would be free of it.
So sad to think of all this. If I wallow in it, I might drown. But I am alive! I AM ALIVE! I do have a genetic mutation in the BRCA2 gene that makes me more susceptible to breast cancer, at a risk of as much as 80%. I got this mutation from Mom. Mom never had the chance to get genetics testing. Now we have that opportunity, and I did get tested. Then came the hard choice to let go of my breasts. They are gone now, as of August 16, 2019. I chose prophylactic (preventive) mastectomies. I am cancer free, and now much less likely to get breast cancer than the general population.
This is good news! Maybe Mom would have lived a long life if she’d had the chance to get tested, and to have surgery in advance of cancer. Maybe this is the answer to my mother’s prayers. I spent the morning sad, but I am grateful now. I am grateful to be alive and cancer free. I am grateful for the chance to continue in health for a long long time. I am grateful for my mother’s prayers.