Friday, 27 April 2012

A Tale of One City...and One Family

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us,
we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven,
we were all going direct the other way-

It’s maybe just a wee bit melodramatic to begin this family story with reference to Dickens’ classic introduction to his Tale of Two Cities, but on scales large and small, life’s contrasts keep smacking me in the face.

 San Diego is a sprawling city filled with sights to see and things to do. We were naïve to choose it as a place to spend a week with extended family, especially for family members who hadn’t been there before and don’t have the money to travel often. Imagine the fun of making group decisions with 7 adults and four children from ages 2 to 8. The texting was frenzied and tempers frayed as plans for every hour of six days couldn’t possibly cover all the options. 

Here are a few that we enjoyed.
Besides its famous zoo and the natural beauty of ocean and coast, San Diego offers everything from a tour of the naval aircraft carrier, “The Midway”, to the playful children’s areas of music, construction and an alphabet "Smelling Garden" at the SD Botanical Gardens. We squeezed in a run through the La Jolla Gallery of Modern Art and dinner at a clichéd Mexican restaurant, with its mariachi band and hand-painted tiles. We screamed on the roller coaster and Tilt-a-Whirl at one of California’s many beachside amusement parks where our youngest had his first experience of a merry-go-round.  (Every time the music stopped and the ride slowed, the baby said, “More?” I may have broken the grandmother record for the most rounds. I actually started to feel a little nauseated after about the tenth time of going in circles atop an ostrich.) 
We watched surfers of all ages and both genders on several beaches and gasped at fields of white crosses in a military cemetery.

It was educational to visit the annual Chicano Park Day, near the Mexican border. This community is fighting to retain their piece of parkland where the city insists on highways, so they have painted giant political and historical murals on the overpass' cement support towers. Another colourful feature of their culture is the astonishing low-rider cars, customised to the extreme, some upholstered in pink fur, some with trunks full of wooden cabinetry, every engine gleaming spotlessly with polished chrome. They modify these vehicles so that each wheel can lift up in the air independently on hydraulic springs and when you see them in motion, the cars virtually dance around street corners.

Our week in San Diego/La Jolla was as full of contrasts as Dickens’ quote, the best and the worst.
During all of the activity above, there were many joyful and loving moments but the stress level was sky-high for every one of us, even our obliging and patient sons-in-law. I don’t know about your family but in my family (three generations) we have different tastes in food, different interests re tourist options and we make different choices in the way we spend money. Don’t even ask about personalities. Spontaneous or organized, leisurely or quick, we’ve got them all. My daughters are even weird enough to want to spend holiday time shopping! Can you imagine?!
I, on the other hand, gazed longingly at seaside benches, churches and a meditation garden as we whizzed by them in our caravan of rental cars.  

Needless to say, the children’s needs for food, sleep and physical play dominated our schedule, (It’s time for another nap already?) but oh what fun and delight they added. The little ones squealed with the risky adventure of jumping an approaching ocean wave, hands tightly clasped by Mom or Grandad. We adults would likely have avoided the freezing Pacific were it not for the children. In case you’ve forgotten, it is in fact thrilling to jump over or flee in a panic the unpredictable waves – lots of wet shoes and pant-legs. The older boys practiced ‘boogie’ boarding and hunted for special stones and shells. All four of the children spent as long as they were allowed getting filthy in the sand. No better toys than dirt and water, free from Earth’s Creator. 
At two state parks we spied wild rabbits, small lizards doing push-ups and crazy crabs that scramble around on the cliffs fifteen feet above water at low tide. At our rental house we were wakened each morning by a real live mocking bird. We researched it to be certain and were amazed at its multiple kinds of songs.

Despite our constant conflict (good name for an herbal tea) every one of us persisted in trying again to restore harmony and justice in our little group. Grace trumped our human limitations and I am so grateful.  Personally, I give God's Spirit full credit for so much patience and forgiveness among tired, busy people. I hardly yelled at anybody... not that much.... well, only at my husband...and he's used to it.

In retrospect, we highly recommend San Diego, CA, but I’m thinking that our next family trip will be to an all-inclusive resort far, far away from the nearest city. And it may not happen for a while.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Fresh Fruit

A single woman has a wild and woolly holiday in Mexico, throwing caution to the winds, but while she’s there, she remembers her friend in Toronto who loves making parties for her grandchildren, so she returns with a package of multi-coloured paper cutouts on a string, perfect for backyard decoration

A mentally disabled man approaches a friend enthusiastically on Easter Sunday. He loves hugging but just before contact he remembers that not everyone always wants his hugs. He catches himself, puts down his arms and reaches out for a handshake instead. “Happy Easter!” they both say warmly. 

An older woman retreats to a church washroom to hide her teary eyes. A twelve-year-old girl is there. They are acquaintances. The woman wipes her eyes and smiles, asking, “What do you do to try to stop crying?” 
The young one thinks, and then says, 
“I don’t know - I just cry.”  
“But what about everybody noticing you’ve been crying?” 
“Oh, I splash water on my face and then dry it off.”
“Great idea – I forgot about that trick!”
The shaken woman bends over a small sink and feels cold water washing away evidence of her vulnerability. She is grateful for the child’s advice. 

A senior financial executive, middle-aged, male, and furiously busy, is annoyed when he hears that someone questioned his recent decision. He fires off an email of stern disapproval. The recipient, a stranger, expresses shock and hurt at his criticism, asking to meet in person. He agrees. He is defensive, but listens long and hard. He softens, and offers new understanding and appreciation. The meeting ends with a sincere and hopeful prayer. 

She'd had a stressful day. Firstly, there had been a personal conflict on FaceBook and she felt worried about her far-away relative. They'd had to agree by email to let the issue lie and reaffirm their friendship. Secondly, the phone rang and she had to go immediately to sit beside a dying man who would soon be leaving behind six young children. She sat with eyes closed and quietly sang the 23rd psalm. At the same time, she felt anxious for resolution to a painful situation at her church.
When she lies, exhausted, on the couch at the end of the day, her husband goes out on errands and brings home her favourite snack.

A 2nd Grader hands his grandparents a folded piece of lined notebook paper. Thirteen words take up five lines of carefully written “cursive” script. It is a thank you note for Easter cupcakes and sticker books. How long did the child labour over these huge, perfectly spaced letters?

Slowly, so slowly they drive along the busy street. Stuck behind them in the same lane, you follow, hoping to get through the intersection before the green light turns yellow. Their rear right-turn signal begins to flash. They hesitate at the corner, and then stop, waiting for a pedestrian who might to be about to step off the far curb and may eventually get to the place where he could cross paths with their car. You keep your foot on the brake, halted. The traffic light in front of you turns red as they slowly, slowly make their turn. You don’t honk your horn.

Cherry blossoms grow by the thousands on dozens of gnarly old trees, their branches and trunks, twisted limbs with rough grey skin, spreading delicate creamy-pink flowers across a cloudless azure sky. Bright lime-green willow leaves, freshly sprung, sweep low in the wind over a pond's grey water. Passers-by look and linger.

“The acts of the lower nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like… 
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”                                    (Chapter 5, Galatians, the Bible)

How luscious is the fresh fruit 
of Christ’s Spirit 
in this rancid world. 

P.S. for nitpicking bible-thumpers only. Where is my example of the remaining name for the fruit of the Spirit, “Gentleness”? Well, “gentleness” describes the way I’m treating myself for not coming up with a ninth true story before I post this.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Way Funner

Easter Sunday is way funner than everything that leads up to it.
In fact sometimes I like the Easter Bunny quite a lot more than Jesus.
Old as I am, I still love playing and pretending. It’s fun to dye eggs with onion skins and hide candies. At Easter time I get to hold warm little bodies on my lap and read happy stories about rabbits and fuzzy yellow chicks. 
It’s spring in my house and my fireplace mantle display is an art installation I change with the seasons. Right now it holds pink tulips, purple hyacinths (surprise gifts), a lovely calligraphy of Christ’s prayer that his torturers be forgiven, a carved abstract crucifix and a gorgeous rock from the Blaeberry River in the Rockies. It’s all very picturesque,  especially if I ignore the fact that it’s like decorating a model of an electric chair or a gas chamber with party balloons.
What are we supposed to do with an Easter story about torture and a gruesome execution? For goodness’ sake don’t tell the children! Oh, never mind, the hero comes back to life so we can all live happily ever after. Sing the Hallelujah chorus again and feel the chills run up your spine. Pretend Jesus fixed everything. Way funner.

If only that colleague hadn’t sent me an angry, critical email last week; my stomach is still churning. If only a neighbour’s husband hadn’t died this week leaving her with four children under four (yes, she has 3 mo. old twins). If only a friend’s daughter hadn’t just been half strangled by her boyfriend. If only I didn’t keep making the mistake of watching the news, damn it. 

Unlike the saints, my true priority is to feel calm and comfy, seizing every chance to laugh and have fun on this adventure playground of planet earth. If I had any choice I would ignore even God if I could just figure out how to feel good without Her. Somebody gimme some blinders! But every escape route, all the addictions, compulsions and distractions turn out to be false promises of avoiding real life (believe me, I’ve tried). 

My memory is stuffed with crazy random songs that insist on providing a sound track for my inner world. As I write this, they’re trying to drown out my Easter angst by singing, “Look on the sunny side, always on the sunny side, look on the sunny side of life”. Call it cognitive behavioural modification or call it denial, at the moment those songsters need to shut up.
A wiser chorus now- they’re singing a line from another dorky old piece called “Love and Marriage”. Song title aside, the pertinent line for me is this:
 “You can’t have one, you can’t have one, 
you can’t have one without the uh-uh-uh-ther.” 
Okay, almost nobody believes that about love and marriage any more, but back to my point. 
At birth we arrive to a life of endless contrasts and paradox and it’s not always that much fun. To be fair, I admit that each of the ugly experiences above have been accompanied by awesome appearances of courage, persistent faith and selfless love. Either way, you can’t have one without…

Kicking and screaming, I drag myself back to the reason I celebrate the Christian version of Easter. Christians worship one who let himself be betrayed, spat on, beaten and finally murdered ... so, back to the reason this Friday is called “good”. I follow in the steps of ancient desert nomads, prostitutes and cheaters who saw in God their only chance of overcoming life’s ugly side. Like the lepers, the blind and the limping, like the tired and frightened disciples, I lie in the dust at God’s merciful feet, hoping beyond hope that there’s reason to hope. 
Millions before me have trusted that Christ’s resurrection promise was part of a true story that hasn’t ended yet. Dear God, failing the option of blinders, would you give me clearer vision?

"Altogether now, 1, 2, 3,
 Ha-llelujah! Ha-llelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Ha-lle-ey-lujah!..."