A Journey, Two Years Hence – Why I Write

Oban screen shot.pngAnother Sunday opens her eyes, damp from night sweat, or the river of dreams. Sunrise, like incandescent eyelashes blinks away the previous day and lets dawn stretch her legs. The miniature Big Ben mantle clock I inherited from my Dad ticks stoically, chipping away the seconds that have become, inexplicably, piles of years; a woodpile of time-chopped memories too easily fuel for the fire. And ashes are but the monochrome of memory – something once hot, bright, robust.

I suppose writing is to throw another log on the fire. The words crackle and spit themselves out as the heat rises. Those are the welcome fires of tin-foil wrapped delicacies, roasted and rich, softer by the second.

Now, this day, here in my writing chair, I can serve up a few morsels, ready to taste. Two. Years. Two full years since an adventure got tucked away, folded inward to await the fires of remembrance. And, in that time, the process, not of decay, but of marination has occurred. Like a good chili, always better the next day. 

And I’m starving!

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Facebook memory pop-ups are a blessing and a curse. They can bring a happy smile of recognition; reminders of good times past with good people. A “curse” inasmuch as those reminders pinch the inner optic nerve with the liminal colour of what is no longer now, but then – sweet, savoury, overpowering.

Never is “a picture is worth a thousand words” truer than when reviewing pictures of magical moments, inaccessible by the senses; only through memory. The existential replaces the experiential and a tear is born.

Two years.

Just seeing those words side by side is unnerving. This time, two years ago, Rae and I had just returned from galavanting around the U.K., filling our boots with shenanigans of every sort. It was our fourth such journey. 1989. 1991. 2004.

Then, a 2016 whirlwind whack-a-mole through salad-bowl Welsh valleys, pulsating London streets, book-studded villages, swarthy Scottish Highlands, tidy bed ‘n breakfast cottages, seaside adventures, writing (always lots of writing); family and friends both old and new. I think my legs still hurt from trudging downtown London and rural Skye, lost much of the time (of course).

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Only time will tell.

Just give it time.

It’s about time.

Time-out.

All in good time.

Running out of time.

We had a great time.

Time gets a lot of press, both good and bad. Likely because of its annoying persistence, an impatient ubiquity. It tick-tocks us into corners or shows up as an ally, all in the same day. We even honour it with a face and hands, and then entrust to it lists about which it cares little. And, just when we think we’ve earned its respect, it barfs in our lap the other side of the page we didn’t see coming. 

To attend to these memories respective to our journey to the UK is to approach the unapproachable. I don’t believe rose-coloured glasses are involved here. Nor do I think it a distance-makes-the-heart-grow-fonder kind of thing. It’s much more than that.

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I think the greatest impact of our time there wasn’t the allure of tourist traps or the necessary bling that accompanies them. It was, on one level, a homecoming. For Rae it was genuinely geographic. She was born there after all. Wales to be exact. For me? Existential.

As I’ve recently discovered, my very DNA hearkens from Scotland/Ireland. Ancestry and companies like it parade around biological allurements to family origin hungry types like me. I fell prey. In doing so, I discovered my patrimony, a host of living relatives, and the certainty of my own personal ancestry rooted deep in Celtic soil. 

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Given all that I’ve written, spoken, and warily discerned on the subject – a holy hunch, if you will – I was more surprised than I should have been. Apparently, it is one thing to guess at one’s place in the world. It is quite another to actually discover as much. Like the dog who catches the cat. So, what now?

More on that ride soon.

Reminiscing can take more than one form. Time is friend to one, foe to another. When we’re younger it’s common for us to remember everything in vivid detail and easily recount as much. Time is our friend.

But, as I grow older (along with everyone else), time grows restless. Not yet foe, but starting to act a little shifty – less trustworthy. And, like hair, teeth, balance and bladder control, memories disappear. They thin. Those garnishing details, enhancements, indispensable at the time, begin to drop away.

Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 6.05.41 AM.pngOnce it begins, the connections between head and heart grow more tenuous. Colours fade to pastels, then to black and white, finally to retreat into a palette of grey ooze. Faces slip further back from the front of pictures until they disappear altogether and, soon, they become just another “somebody that I used to know” (thank you, Gotye).

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Llanthony Priory, Wales

That is why I write. It is especially why I memoir. When memory ceases to recall details, setting, faces, connections, passions, tears, laughter, even rationale, there will be on paper at least one thread of a life lived. That life had adventure and discovery, not just existence. Proof of significance, a justifiable place in the world. A reminder not just to me, but to everyone that I was here. I had something to say. I had people I loved, who loved me back.

A journey, two years hence. I remember. One day I may not. That is why I write – to remember not to forget that one day I won’t remember.

 

 

 

25 + 5 =

On a windy Calgary day on May 14, 1988, I got married. Rae Kenny-Rife to be exact.  If my math is correct (in these matters it’s best to be accurate), that makes 30 years.

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Eyes, the gateway to the soul.
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Rae and I posing in her father’s living room (you’ll just have to forgive the mullet)

30 years.

30.

Years.

It feels strange just reading those words. A guy at my level of A.D.D. seldom manages 30 minutes at anything.

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Rae, 30 years ago today (yummy)

That’s 360 months. 131,400 days. 7, 884, 000 minutes – well, you get the idea.

Marriage has been compared to many things.

The slow, arduous climb up a mountain, increasingly steep, and constantly threatened by dodgy weather.

Cool. Lots to see up here.

Wild, adrenaline-pumping, white water rapids.

YOLO.

A crazy carpet ride down an icy hill. Partners in guts and glory. Fellow felons of fun and frolic, as it were, gathering speed, danger, and panicked screams along the way.

Go for it. Whether by fall, splash, crash or slide, it’ll wrap up all too soon –  sometimes with an uncomfortable bump at the bottom.

Besides, you can cry or laugh alongside someone who also pissed themself on the way down.

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As fashionably 90s as one can be in a kilt.

We love to ask our elders, decades of partnership under their belts, “what’s your secret to success for a long and happy marriage?”

Of course, in the asking, we assume their marriage to be both “successful” and/or “happy,” whatever those ultimately mean.

Therefore, let me humbly suggest we begin with a satisfactory definition of terms. What do we mean by long, happy, and especially, successful? Is it successful only inasmuch as it is long and/or happy? Put another way, can short marriages also be defined as successful if they were happy most of the time? What about those decades-long marriages that, although long, were rarely happy? Are we to view those as successful as well? At the end of the day, is happiness or longevity the litmus test for a successful marriage?

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On our Hawaiian Islands cruise, 2007

I could wax philosophical and ask whether Shakespearean star-struck gooeyness makes for good lovers (if so, hide the kitchen knives!). After all, who doesn’t love a good love story? That impossible pairing of impossible opposites who, against impossible odds, stumble into bliss together.

Nah.

Back to our aging honeymooners instead. Among the most common answers to the question are as follows:

Communication (including sex).

Laughter.

A sense of shared purpose.

Frugality and discipline.

Hard work and sacrifice.

Children.

Not children.

Regular date nights.

Bourbon…the list goes on.

To those staring at 50, 60 years or more, 30 years seems like a drop in the bucket. So what? They felt the same way as I many years ago.

30 years!

That’s a very long time and I’m proud of it. We’re proud of it. And, were someone to ask us our recipe for “success” I’d likely say, “I have absolutely no f**king idea!”

Communication. Let me land there for a minute or two. In any marriage, communication can mean many things. Lack of it might best be described as unseized potential for understanding. Maybe even happiness. Relationship carpe diem, missed.

At other times communication bubbles over like foam on warm beer.

Then, there are those times of steel-blue silence. Arms folded. Back against back. Eyes squinted and distrustful – what Canadian novelist Hugh MacLellan once called “the two solitudes.”

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2016, Caerleon, Wales, UK

Communication. In 2012, following an extended period of marriage difficulties, in what could only be described as a blinding hurricane of sexual renaissance, we were reminded about the powerful communication that can happen in the sheets. You can speak in a thousand different ways, but the robust vulnerability of intense bodily contact places trust at a whole new level.

Oddly, it can also be the best form of deception. Merely sharing orgasm doth not a relationship make. (That said, what a great way to find out!)

No harm, no foul, right?

On its own however, it is insufficient. It pales to the much less glamorous task of authenticity and mutual openness. The gristle gained in the grind.

Sex can iron out wrinkles sufficiently to make relational garments fit better. It can oil the squeaky hinges on the door that opens outward to freedom, inward to contentment. It loosens up tongues, long silent, to reinitiate the project of bridge-building.

It can, in the words of Richard Rohr, take us to the temple gates, but only the vastly superior love of God can open those gates and escort us in. Something much greater than a post-coital daze is necessary to sustain a relationship through the long, rigorously demanding years of life.

And those years are often hurled at us like glass in a hurricane rather than gently lowered down in a tidy basket of fruit, smiles, and puppies.

Laugh I’d say. If you don’t know how, bloody well learn. Few things are as life-giving as gut-busting laughter. This we have done in spades. The girl is a walking party. She attracts mischief and  gloriously infantile guffaws like scuffs on new shoes.

Laughter? Yeah, we’re pretty good at that bit.

30 years.

I wrote this on our 25th. Rae wrote this on our 26th. Now, on our 30th I add another 5. And, if someone felt the urge to ask me how we’ve managed this long – “what’s held it together? What’s the secret? How did you do it?” – I’d be hard-pressed to give a decent answer.

Was it the many times I could have more readily throttled her than cuddled her?

Was it the time we told each other to f**k off while losing control of Scottish teens at a church seaside games night?

Or, the screaming match in a church parking lot when I threw the car keys into traffic?

Was it the years we rarely touched each other?

The first or second time we separated?

Was it the nights, sometimes many, I decided to sleep elsewhere – anywhere else?

Was it those times I was so angry I couldn’t see straight or imagine another minute with her?

When the best remedy I could find was booze?

Or, was the nights, huddled under winter blankets, watching BBC together?

Our shared passion for justice, and distaste for ecclesiastical hypocrisy, and political bullshit (in America, those are the same thing)?

The Nirvana of a Welsh rain pouring restlessly over Tintern Abbey stone?

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Tintern Abbey. No wonder it inspired Wordsworth so much.

Mutual lump-in-throat dry mouth, driving B roads in rural Britain?

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Back roads, by way of example.

Our love for all things ancient and wonderfully impractical?

Those liturgical dates at a Taizé prayer service, an Anglican or Catholic Mass?

Antiquarian bookstores?

Well-honed inside jokes?

Favourite Spotify playlists containing everything from ABBA to Gregorian chant?

Writing dates at oceanview cafés?

The embarrassing hilarity of late middle-age sex?

The shared writing of a symphony, Opus 1 (Calum) and Opus 2 (Graeme)?

Yes. All of it and more. It’s been bliss at times, shit at others.

But, it’s our shit. The shit we know. The shit we’ve weathered together.

30 years and I’m still horrified at the sheer level of commitment required. I still blanche at the profundities of this whole deal – the distance there can be between contentment and chaos. How contentment, however spotty, gives perspective to said chaos.

Mostly, how God has managed to help us smell like roses in a sea of self-inflicted shit.

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1989. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh. Rae, looking like a 1940s starlet!

If a “successful” marriage, whether long or short, happy or not, is one characterized by awareness of its failures, but possessing a desire to deal with them, we likely fit the bill.

If “happy” simply means more sunlight than shadow, more gratitude than regret, more genuine than shallow, more honest than projected, more lived than protected, we likely fit the bill.

30 years.

25 + 5 = 30.

For me, it equals quiet satisfaction.

Happy Anniversary, babe. Let’s keep adding numbers until we forget we were adding numbers.

 

 

To See or Not to See…

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We’ve all heard the old adage, “one only sees what they want to see.” We easily and quickly make judgements on our perceptions of things, not always on the truth of things. It’s always been that way. I’m guessing it will always be so to some degree.

Some will see only a page full of black dots. Others see the number hidden in the middle (they kinda piss me off!) Some see the brown barrenness of parched desert. Others see the miracle of life which is possible even in austerity. What is to one a beautiful optical illusion is to another a confusing mess of nothing at all. One sees thirst and death. Another sees possibility and survival.

It is a remarkable feature of human nature that, on the basis of perceptions and in the interest of either self-preservation or the pursuit of fulfillment, we succumb to the process of other-worldly fabrications. Given our predisposition to see only selectively, we sometimes live our lives labouring under misapprehensions.

For my part, I have often built an enormous mental-emotional web of shadows and half-truths and desires and make-believe. A construct on whatever I think is true. It is mental, because so much of who I am and how I behave is conceived and constructed in my mind. Emotional, because, just like yours, my head and my heart are inextricably linked.

To think something is true is, correspondingly, to feel something as well. If I think a loved one is still alive after some long absence, it creates hope, expectation. To believe that same person to be dead is to create despair and hopelessness. If we believe the person to whom we’ve been communicating is still on the other end of the phone, we’ll happily blether on until the bleak reality dawns!

Conversely, to experience an inexplicable hope, is to believe all to be well in our little world. In the world at large. If we feel weighted down, we either have a need for companionship, a change of scenery, or mood-altering substances (my preferred M.O.!) Moreover, we will believe it to be so because, in such moments, the universe may appear to us at the time, a toxic and malignant place, unfit for habitation.

Our brains are a complex lump indeed! From the minutiae in our head comes the fodder for our palaces or prisons. All is either benign, malevolent or benevolent on the basis of what we believe to be true or false.

Perhaps the entire goal of grace, and with it, the contemplative enterprise, is constructed to help us monitor, manage, even master the cognitive dissonance we experience – the chasm between what we observe, what we know (or think we know), with what we experience?

It seems that God’s intention in the Gospel is to gift us with a mental-emotional equilibrium in a universe that, to our physical eyes at least, makes little sense. God seems to be trying to get our attention focused away from what we see and onto what we have yet to see. Or, better, what God sees.

For example, if I see endless amounts of unpromising, fruitless work – God sees a garden. If I see endless hours of frustration, ignorant bumbling and non-Sunday school language – God sees the end product of my labour – a new staircase, or a table. If I see fatigue, poverty, and unpredictability – God sees relationships, children, and the warmth of family.

To say then, “I see,” is no longer just a physical act – observations in time and space of what is immediately before me. In the infinitely broader perspective of God, contextualized in the Gospel, “to see” is simultaneously to hope, to rejoice, to weep with joy.

For, to see as God sees, is to inhabit all things at all times at one time. Things are not only as they appear to me now. They are shown to be what they will be then.

It is there, in that place of seeing through God’s kaleidoscopic eyes, that a universe –  sometimes tasteless, flat and hopeless – becomes a sumptuous feast of possibility. Only then do I experience something counter-intuitive to what I “should” under my limited experience. My heart and head agree because God has introduced them to the broad spacious land – the realm of God. My earth and God’s heaven, kiss.

And I am reborn.

Seeing is believing, say the scientists. Believing is seeing, say the theologians. Being is both seeing and believing, say the mystics. Some cannot believe unless they see. Others claim to see and not believe. Still others claim to see what they don’t believe. Others will not believe whether they see or not. Confused yet? Yeah, me too.

God’s deepest reality? All of us belong in some way along the continuum of belief, sight and experience. God journeys with us wherever and whenever that is.

All that to say this: one’s emancipation comes most readily not from a change in circumstances, but in the readiness, and ability, to see. To awaken. I have often said that, behind and beneath and around everything we see with our physical eyes, is a pervasive spirit of glory.

The light and beauty and truth of God subsumes all things into itself. And, from time to time, there come moments of lucidity, of universal benevolence, when one becomes aware of the overwhelming perfection of it all. A built-in beauty not always immediately apparent.

But such moments are frightfully rare. They are gifts, shards of translucence and splendour, reserved for the unasked-for moments of clarity; when the paleness of our present reality, gives way to something else entirely. When it does, simply observe.

Rub your spiritual eyes and let yourself be roused from slumber. Wachet auf (wake up) as Bach might intone! Awaken to God’s tap on your shoulder. Throw off the covers. Stretch. Say nothing. Speak not a word. Just drink. Drink deeply of this stream. Let it do its work. For, once it’s gone, there is no telling if or when it may come again. But its nourishment is ours to keep.

Forever.

____

Amazing image found here

 

 

Sam Still Sings in His Sleep

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Sam’s urn, made by Lane Damberger from the wood of a 100 year-old chair

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Today, we laid a good man to rest. And we did it just how papa Sam would have wanted – with belts ‘n boots, hats ‘n hoots, songs ‘n roots. Today, we celebrated him even as he celebrated us.

Friends (to Sam that was pretty much everyone), family (to whom he gave himself unreservedly), and lovers of music (Sam was a magnet to these types) all gathered in the heat and humidity of an Alberta-in-July afternoon to remember. Not just remember, but tell stories, maybe a joke or two, and sing songs – often at the same time. 

 

 

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A place to pay respects
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Papa Sam, still smiling

I was honoured to act as host to an event rightly called “A Celebration of Life.” There are those who would be aghast at the idea of such revelry at an event generally reserved for more sombre fare. “Funerals are for closure,” they tell us. Unless we can see the cross and communion table, and sing In the Garden, it’s just not right. 

“They’re welcome to it,” says Sam. “I prefer to have all my friends a-cross from the picnic table, communing together in God’s garden. For me, it’s just right.”

I acted as host, as I often do at these things. Beaming like high-beam headlights, Mom introduced us all as her family, as Moms do. This was to be a day for all of us, anyone even remotely related to Sam. It was an open door party. There were few expectations. Perhaps a love for tapping toes, sharing a humid afternoon with horseflies, and a belt with enough holes to allow for a belly full of pulled pork and potato salad.

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Mom, in typical fine form

Small price to pay for a heavenly hootenanny. And this affair was that, a gathering of fellow sojourners with happy hearts and hungry guts. This was Sam’s world, where the two always go together. And this celebration was designed to satisfy both.

To know this man was to celebrate in general. If Sam was in the vicinity, a gathering would soon follow. He attracted musicians like Alberta mosquitoes. Just more welcoming. It was best if you knew a song or two. Play an instrument? Not to worry, you were always welcome. If so, that much better.

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One of Sam’s many guitars – signed by those who loved him

All those gathered here in this place did both. Very well. And, their voices held the weight of grief borne of cheer-filled music and laughter. The Willows would be our home for the day – nestled in a little aspen grove carved out of the broad, Alberta landscape. 

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Three of my favourite Canadian gals: left to right – Marianne (courtesy sister), Cyndy (my sister), and Judy (my step-Mom-in-law)
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Brother and sister share a cuddle
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Grieving is easier with friends and music
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Lane and Mom share a moment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sam Young. Papa Sam. He was a man of surprising talent, energy, industry, kindness, and complexity. Mom might have called it chaos. She’s gonna miss the bugger, as are we all.

This little man of a big heart kept her in the happies for over twenty years. In fact, I have observed a pre and post-Sam woman. The former was much more anxious, uncertain, ambivalent. The latter, engaged, hopeful, courageous, a risk-taker; a woman fully alive.

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Bagpipes – cowboy style

 

Sam never lived life from the periphery. The edges were much too flimsy, too safely suburban to support his wild west spirit.

No, Sam was a deep-sea diver, plunging off the bow head first, wrestling sharks and singing them songs all the way down. It’s likely why he never drowned. Life was his rodeo. Saddle up, cinch up, shut up, and giddy up. He sang songs to soothe the ornery beast that tossed him to and fro.

 

 

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A place to sit with Sam
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The Métis Nation and Canadian flags
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Chris and Jan

But, mostly, for Sam, life was a campfire – a gathering around a welcome heat and light for friend and stranger alike. He’d kickstart countless singalongs and jam sessions, enough to cheer us all and then some.

A single hour with Sam at the ranch promised at least two things: evidence of the trade in every corner of the house. It would be easy to step on musical instruments, strewn about from stem to stern. He was always boasting some new guitar, mandolin, banjo, or other. 

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Dale

But, the second thing one encountered at papa Sam’s was jovial conversation. Lots of it.

Lots and lots of it.

Get Sam going on a topic and he was a wind-up doll. Best to just let him run with it. Otherwise, you would only encourage another pull of the string and off he’d go again. Short visits were rare.

But they were good. Very good. At least a song or two found its way into every one of those visits. Or, perhaps some new insights on resetting a fiddle bridge, restringing a mandolin, or shimming a bone saddle. He had taught himself the luthier’s trade. I wish we’d spent more riding that horse together.

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Young Charly Doll sings Dolly Parton

I generally consider myself to be reasonably conversant in the physics of stringed instruments. That is until any visit with Sam. Then, I discovered just how little I actually knew. Much of what I called know-how was often just a lot of pretentious bullshit.

But, regardless of poorly veiled lack of insight into the topic, the time spent was always worth the time spent. I value every moment and, whenever it is I go to join him, we can pick up where we left off. Besides, Jesus will need a break from Sam talking his ear off.

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Bruce and Doug Rawling
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Roberta and Melva
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Saying a Métis prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Good, you’re finally here…can you take over for awhile?”

“Lord, isn’t patience a virtue?”

“Of course. But, the Baptists ran out of potato salad, the Pentecostals are squabbling over something, and I need to break up the Presbyterians – they’re starting another sub-committee.”

“No worries. I got this. We’ve got more songs to write anyway.”

“Thanks. While I’m gone, I’ll ask Pop where my fiddle is.”

“Perfect. When you find it, meet us back here, we’ll be singing ‘Back to the Mountain’ with Peter, Gabe and the boys at the campfire.”

“Just don’t encourage Barnabas. He thinks he’s being funny when he sings ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ Oh, by the way, Peter’s on probation. He’s been hitting on the female angels.”

“He won’t be a problem. I’ll just tell papa Sam that he loves stringed instruments. That’ll keep ‘im busy for awhile. But, hey, we’ve got nothin’ but time on our hands…”

My gut tells me he’s already broken up a squabble and tricked the Presbyterians into singing “Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain.” If nothing else, with Sam pluckin’ and singin’, heaven won’t be stuffy, and eternity will seem like half an hour.

Have a listen to Back to the Mountain

 

 

 

 

So, What Now?

Recently, I spent words lamenting my egregious fall from grace. It was egregious in the sense that I had all the tools at my disposal for such a thing not to happen. And it still did. Fall because I ended up face first in my own stink. Grace, not in the heavenly sense, but in the way a person views his or her personhood held up to the light. 

In this instance, it didn’t look as shiny anymore. In fact, the worst part of any alcoholic’s misery is the glowing reality that self-respect has left the building. And when one lose’s self-respect they lose the ability to adequately respect others as well. 

And so the question remains, what now? What steps lie ahead for this newly sober, recovering alcoholic? 

The first part of that is the convergence of two things: my vacation and, more importantly, some of that vacation spent at my Mom’s. I’m here in part helping plan papa Sam, her husband’s, celebration of life service. Hence, I begin with words penned among the whispery poplar and birch that stand guard around their mini-ranch in central Alberta.

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Alberta trees keep me company
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The home Mom and Sam built together
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Golden Spur Ranchetta
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The guesthouse
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Quonset-ville

*   *   *

It would be easy to lose all track of time up here. Imagine a place so quiet that the ticking of the wall clock becomes almost intrusive. I can hear the blood race through my veins. Even the creaks of my aging bones become deafening in a place almost averse to sounds other than the rustling trees and the occasional lowing of happy cattle.

Such is life on a central Alberta ranch, or so it seems to a late middle-aged, suburban white guy on vacation. A guy could get used to this pace. Well, so says the man unaccustomed to the accompanying rigours and harshness of Canadian prairie life.

One’s vacation experience of a place is usually quite different from those doing the heavy lifting to help produce that experience. So, I suppose I should, more rightly, consider myself a prairie homestead consumer. A few days spent at Golden Spur Ranchetta being waited on hand and foot by my own mother. Home cooking, and the full package, magazine-ready, prairie experience. To be fair, I washed the dishes last night. That counts for something, right?

It would be perfection indeed if it wasn’t also the context in which I’m helping Mom lay her best friend to rest. It tends to bring some shadow to an otherwise sun-bright living room where I pen these words.

This is Mom’s place. It has her touch at every turn. Like stepping back in time, there are, everywhere, reminders of my own childhood. But this is also Sam’s place. A house that boasts numerous guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins, amps, gear, and tools of the luthier’s trade. He loved his old-time cowboy music and did the tradition proud with his devotion both to the music and the lifestyle it portrays.

Most of all, this is their place. Sam and Doris. Mom and “Papa Sam.” Here is a life woven lovingly together with strands of two in a single tapestry. It boasts the simplicity and industry expected of prairie home companions. A picture, painted not by Thomas Kincaid’s dishonesty or Norman Rockwell’s wishful thinking, but by two hardy souls better suited to the task.

Golden Spur is a paint by number where God does the math. Two souls plus one hope plus one God’s watchful presence, now one less.

One less. But somehow, none the less for it. Sam’s spirit lives on here. In Mom. In the legacy of his hard work.

In me.

The quiet hours spent here among the poplar and birch give me ample room to stretch my rumpled, but healing, soul. I am faced head on with the unwelcome task of returning to normal life with a lot of relational work to do.

Addicts of any kind are profoundly self-serving. We need to be in order to keep and nurture our dirty little secret. Maintaining addiction comes at a high price. Our lust for euphoria takes prisoners. There is a desperation afoot that causes us to do things we otherwise wouldn’t do. We hurt those closest to us in ways we can’t imagine, and usually can’t even remember. 

Certainly for me, I become a man I do not know. Someone I do not like. I’m forced to live in a dark corner of my head that lacks judgement, wisdom, compassion, or boundaries. I latch onto whomever happens to be in the way and, like a rottweiler on a kitten, drag them under the water with me. It forces everyone into codependency, slaves with me to a burden not theirs to bear.

Then, morning after regret. The addict looks back over a smouldering wreckage with their name on it. Reputations, relationships, respect, sometimes even families, all lie in ruins – taken captive by someone blissfully unaware of the carnage that ensues through his inebriated wizardry.

Now, before this begins to sound like little more than addiction to self-pity, let me put on the brakes and reveal what is emerging in me. And, this time spent at Mom’s provides perfect respite for doing just that. In this gift of silence I have seen that the truest me, despite having lost its lustre, remains unblemished. Kicked around and battered a little, but largely intact.

For reasons known only to my Higher Power I have been continually surrounded by those who love me. They’ve stayed, even through my worst days. Few truths are more life-changing than to awake from addiction and see, through the smoke and chaos, the faces most precious, best known, eyes cast down and hurt, but still present.

Their faithfulness lends new life to one whose heavy lifting now is a daily return to sobriety with tools ready to rebuild wherever possible. Earning trust and respect, even if from scratch. So be it.

Mom, I wish I could be here under circumstances different than these. Nevertheless, I take these days, each and every one, as pure gift. In them I reconsider a life. My life. My one and only life. This great, albeit fragile, life in which I live, move, and have my being.

So, what now?

I lift up my head, newly clear and seeing far, and say in a loud voice: “Hi, I’m Rob, and I’m an alcoholic.” Better still, I’m a man beloved and embraced.

What could possibly be better?

Mom's.jpg
Invitation…

Counting life in eggshells

It was September 15th, 1985. I leaned over to kiss the forehead of my father in his final hours about to succumb to cancer. Then, I walked away, never to speak to him again. He died that evening and we never said what needed to be said between us. Our lives remain a mystery to each other. I’ve lived with that since that day.

It was a Sunday afternoon, 1986. My fiancee, Vanessa, and I were in crisis. We were about to mail out wedding invitations the following day. Not only did we not mail them out but we ended the relationship rather unceremoniously. She was living with a coworker by the end of that very week. She died of cancer in 1992. I never discovered answers for any of it…to this very day.

Winter, 2007. I had only begun a few months earlier a brand new ministry in a new town in a new State. I was feeling a little lost and needing guidance. My spiritual director, Jeff (pseudonym), had been a lifeline for me as he walked with me through the choppy waters of change and emotional dislocation. One day, I called him. No answer. I emailed. No response. I texted. Still, nothing. I dropped by his office. There was no sign of him. I even resorted to a handwritten letter I mailed to his church office. Nada. This went on for over three months. There is nothing quite like the feeling of being ditched by someone’s spiritual director…with no explanation…ever. Now, six years later, I still have heard nothing and remain uncertain for the reasons why…to this very day.

Many of us watch from the comfort of our armchair, remote firmly in hand, the horror and tragedy unfolding in Syria. We wag our heads and harumph in quiet disapproval. We discuss it with assumed knowledge of the whole picture from our limited television encounters or at the local coffee shop. We ‘like’ our favorite page of outrage on Facebook with a sense that, in some small way, we’ve done our part toward a better society. And still the dead, dismembered and bloated bodies of somebody’s son, mother or friend float down the river like useless flotsam and jetsam, blanched and featureless like the conflagration which steals them from the world.

The shameful charade of Syrian aggression has left me reeling in many ways. Who knows what interpersonal blockages had been left unhealed? What foul words flippantly spoken, now never to unsay? How many raised voices in anger never to be undone? And the pain of losing someone is exacerbated by the knowledge that such matters were left unresolved. I think of my own family, my friends, my colleagues. What assurances do we have that such sudden losses will leave the needs-to-be-said as unsaid? Are we blindly tripping along in flagrant over-confidence that we’ll simply last forever while not addressing what painfully lingers?

In times such as these, more than anything else take hold of those around you. Love them. Tell them so. Be close to them. Hold your children to your breast and feel their breath. Smell their hair. Feel their skin.

The following prayer was originally posted on my other blog: www.robslitbits.com.

Help me to forgive you, God

Lord, they did not ask for dusty feet

sandaled and sore

to walk over the flesh and bones

of neighbors and friends,

of brothers, sisters and parents.

They didn’t ask to be brought before

someone else’s tribunal on imagined

charges of being what they should not be,

what you created them to be.

They did not seek out this desperation

that found them huddled, fearful and crying.

To see the bloated bodies of fellow pilgrims

floating down the river, under bridges,

stuck and floating on rocks jutting out

and shaking bony fists at you for justice,

is to see a God too small to save.

Or am I missing something, Lord?

I am not smart enough to know

the fancy talk at long, important tables

where cigar-smoking men carve up

the world with a glance and a handshake.

I am not wise enough to understand

how to discern what most is needed.

I am not strong enough not to hate,

nor still enough not to stir up

my anger, my outrage.

Lord, if I am forced to sit and watch

what looks like the refuse of hate-filled politics

paraded before a God with weak arms,

and no stomach to move into the fray;

then, help me to forgive you, God,

if only long enough to dive in myself.

Who knows?

Perhaps we’ll meet each other there.

Friends, whatever it takes, reach out to one another. Close gaps. Say good words. Unsay bad words. Leave offerings at the altar and confront the distances between. Life is far too precious, fragile and short to allow anything to separate what God brings together. If it is in your power, do it. Let us count our lives in the eggshells they are and…love.