The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

30 March 2009

A good day

Today was a good day. It was a productive day. And it was a hard day. It rides on the coat tails of yesterday which was hard in that it was Sunday, and I went to Mass. I've mentioned before that Sundays seem to be the days that turn me into a watering pot. Being at Mass is where I feel the absence of my dad very keenly. It's almost so that I'm reluctant to be seen in Church, because guaranteed I'll be crying. I never ever wear mascara on Sundays anymore!

As for today, it is now three months, and that feels like a big anniversary somehow. I felt pretty steady this morning, and decided to make a real day of it. An errand for work took me to the neighbourhood of an old Church I love; I timed my trip so that I could take in the noon Mass and I'm so glad I did! Nothing profound 'word' from my dad, no warm fuzzies of comfort from the Lord. But that Church is so beautiful, and so old, that the devotion of Catholics past is laid over the woodwork like a patina of holiness. Its location allows for its several daily Masses to be well attended by people from all walks of life. (You can spot the politicos by the cut of their trenchcoats) Confession is offered before every daily Mass, and there is something about seeing people lining up to get right with God that is hope-inspiring. Communion is dispensed in the old way at the rail, which gives me a feeling of connection to all those faithful who have been filling the pews for over a hundred years. The services are always quick - to the point, short and sweet. All the same, I always feel like I'm home when I'm there. Attending Mass there makes me feel Catholic, which doesn't happen in every Catholic Church.

This evening I went to a Taize meeting. (Taize is an ecumenical community of Brothers in France who live simple lives of prayer, simplicity, and service.) I have had the great good fortune to visit Taize twice - and one of those visits was during Holy Week. The experience has remained one of the most vivid of my life. First of all, the physical presence of Taize, a tiny village in rural France with sheep and cows grazing; simple buildings where visitors stay; the simple yet modern chapel where everyone gathers three times a day in obedience to the bells that call us to prayer. There is the humble, gracious hospitality of the community, consisting of the Brothers themselves, and the Sisters who serve them. The rhythm of the days is steady and calm, full of peace, with work and rest in proper balance. Gathering for prayer is something: the bells ring, and everything stops. Everyone leaves what they are doing and we all walk down the lanes and enter the Chapel, which is usually in darkness, except for candles...hundreds of votive candles. The prayer service consists of scripture readings, petitions, and the distinctive Taize singing, which itself is beautifully simple and simply beautiful. You can feel your heartbeat slow, and your thoughts ease their frantic whirring as you sing the refrains over and over, and then there is silence. Lots of silence.

I've been to quite a few Taize style meetings since my visits there, and none have really managed to replicate the original. I think we're too rushed, too busy, too accustomed to noise to be able to authentically reproduce Taize for an hour once a month. However, I'm so glad that people make the attempt, and I'm so glad I was there tonight; a little taste of the candles, the quiet, the music was enough to bring a quality of peace to the core of me that I've been missing lately.

Perhaps my dad and my Dad had something to say to me today afterall.

26 March 2009

Very important stuff

The particular important stuff we will discuss today is: shoes. Summer is approaching, and in fact is nigh upon us, here in Canada where we jump into summer with both feet as soon as the snow melts enough to allow for footwear without ice picks. It is time to begin conditioning or training for the transition from sensible, thick-soled boots to fun and flirty flip-flops and strappy sandals. This means scraping rough skin off the heels and prettifying the toenails, and whatever else may be necessary according to your own personal situation - no judgement here, merely acceptance and encouragement.
One particular element of my conditioning regimen is to stock up on sticking plasters - bandaids. Blisters are about to become a fixture in my life for the next five months or so. I haven't yet found a way to avoid this, so I simply embrace this reality and try to be prepared. I love summer shoes, but it's a sure thing that even the sensible ones I bought and wore last summer are going to cause a little grief, at least in the beginning. No pain no gain, right? Especially when it come to our feet, it seems.
I am a female, so I am genetically drawn to shoes. However -- and this took me a while to understand and accept about myself -- I don't go ga ga for fancy fashion instruments of torture. Choo, Louboutin, Ferragamo are names that make my toes curl up in reflexive protection. Besides the fact that they look very pinchy, I am stumped by the engineering of those constructions: how to put them on, how to balance in them, how to achieve forward, upright momentum...these questions leave me baffled without answers.
Perhaps there are classes offered somewhere that teach the feminine tricks of walking in high heels, slouching with elegant disdain for pictures, and wearing red lipstick without staining your teeth. Maybe these things were taught in high school health classes, and I missed out because I played hookey with a friend to finish my law papers (ie. watch Days of our lives) I seem to be lacking the requisite hip action to manage walking in heels and don't really mind that much because I am frustrated by the enforced dawdle anyway. I know some women who seem to have been born in high heels. They manage to run up and down stairs as if in Keds, and give the impression they could tackle a desert trek or a football match in their Jimmy Choos. Good for them! I applaud them!
On the subject of shoes, we must address the agonies that women subject themselves to, in terms of size and fit. Why, why, why do we believe the sales clerk who lies to us - bald facedly - and tells us that 'they will stretch with wearing'. HA! You know, and she knows, that this is patently untrue...even if the shoes are patent leather. They may indeed stretch, but it is never in such a way that the shoe will magically fit your foot comfortably. They may grow in length so that you continually walk out of them, or they may spread in width so that you uncomfortably slide around inside them. But most of the time they will merely continue to pinch and cause you to hobble from car to event, event to car, car to foot bath. I once fell in love with the shade of brown of a pair of leather kitten heals. They were obviously a half-size too small, if not more. But I brought them home with me and engaged in a routine of wearing them with thick grey woolen socks for a week before the event I bought them for. After the first five minutes I no longer noticed any pain and thought things were working really well. Until I attempted to walk and promptly realized I could not feel my feet at all... I may as well have been walking on the bloody stumps of my legs! This is not good! I know that women endure this kind of self-inflicted torture all the time, and I say "No more!" Mr Choo should be made to wear his own shoes or go into partnership with Dr. Scholl.
I can't wait to hear the sound of flip-flops and to feel pebbles lodged in my sandals. Bring on the summer shoes!

23 March 2009

Martina - Boots

An Episode in the life of Martina Bellini, curly-headed nursing student


I am back at the health sciences library. I wore a different jacket today and put my hair up as a disguise so the shushing librarian wouldn’t recognize me. I am going to accomplish a serious amount of work this afternoon. Libraries always make me feel studious: it’s all about location, location, location. A living room says, “pssst… come and relax” and a bedroom says, “you really need a nap”, but a library says, “shhhh...there is a great deal of serious work being done here”, so you just have to join in, right?

There’s one small problem. I bought fab new boots, and they’re rather...tall, so my knees don’t fit under the table. I have to sit twisted to the side, which is becoming a tad uncomfortable. I’ve tried balancing the laptop on my knees, but I also need to look at my books, which I have propped up against the walls of the cubicle, so I was swivelling one way to read the texts, then the other way to compose my notes. This is unacceptable! They really need to make these desks taller.

Have you noticed it requires a great deal more effort to climb stairs when you are in tall shoes? Not to mention the disorientation of things like counters and stoves being generally lower than you’re used to as you’re perched so much higher up than usual. I don’t feel particularly tall most days, which is why I went hunting for boots with heels, and was so excited to find these. First of all, they have a really good heel on them; secondly they are super cute; thirdly, and best of all, they were on sale! How great is that? They’ve taken some getting used to (something in the hip action needs adjusting still), but I must say I’m very pleased with my find. And I love how confident I feel as I stride purposefully down the street in them! Striding purposefully in high heels through the library brings you a lot of disgruntled stares however, so I had to tip toe ever so quietly to my desk. Fortunately the shushing librarian didn’t notice me because there was a girl eating Doritos over by the windows.

Anyway, the primary reason for the Great Boot Hunt was a blind date with a guy I was told was very tall. I didn’t have a thing to wear, which is always an acceptable reason to go shopping! Good thing I found those boots, ‘cause the evening (and the guy) was nothing to write home about. I won’t even go into details here, mainly because I don’t remember much about it (or him).

I’ve spent the past half hour just admiring my fab new boots. I really need to get on this assignment now. Drat…if only I fit under this desk properly!

22 March 2009

The Squire of Milpond pt. 2

This post brought the introduction of the Squire. Below, the story continues.

While our Squire had been bestowing his evening blessing on his land, his household had received a quite unexpected visitor. “The young sir just helped himself to the fireside, and took a glass of your port besides. As I didn’t think it right to toss him out, I’ve let him be, but I don’t like to see the young lads take advantage of you, sir.” Ever on guard of his master’s consequence and privacy, Joseph could be counted on to halt those whose encroaching ways presumed an intimacy with the Squire; the young men of the neighbourhood, however, conspired with the Squire himself to elude Joseph’s defences.

And so it was that on this night, when Squire anticipated tranquility, rabbit, and the company of a long-awaited book, he found young Matthew Gage sitting at his fire, sipping his port and sniffing appreciatively at the aroma of roasted rabbit in the air. He’d wrinkled the evening paper too, Squire noticed with chagrin. There was a great deal he could forgive army-mad juveniles – he’d been one himself, after all – but it really asked too much of a man to share his newspaper with someone who mangled it in such fashion. That Joseph was put out was very clear. Like most faithful retainers of longstanding, he had a way of communicating his opinions without resorting to words; which ability could at times disconcert his master.
Now, in order to offset the slight aloofness of Joseph, Squire entered his snug study and smiled at the young man sitting with such self-assurance in another man’s private room. That confidence must be the country-bred habit of believing one man equal to another -- if both worked equally hard. Not that Matthew was known to work hard for his bread, but he was willing to lend his weight when needed.

“Good evening, Matthew. I see you’re already quite at home, so I won’t offer you a drink. Does your father know you indulge in spirits?” While Squire sometimes sounded gruff, one needed only to note the twinkle in his eyes to know he was not really a harsh man. Military life had taught him decision and leadership, but he was by nature ever ready to see the joke; at this moment, the joke was the lad – all of 14 years old – sitting at his leisure by the fire, sipping port and looking for all the world as though he were about to light a pipe.

Matthew grinned at the older man, and drained his glass before getting to his feet and extending his hand in welcome. “Well sir, leastways he never said directly that I couldn’t. I enjoyed the port, and I don’t deny it, but I’ll admit to you I took it to annoy the stuffed shirt who didn’t want to let me through your door. I was just wanting to have a chat with you sir.”

This of course was the signal to invite his guest to stay for dinner, which Squire obediently did, not entirely regretting his lost solitude and book. During his short time in Milpond he’d come to like the people, and never minded when they showed up at his door ‘for a chat’. It was bound to be an entertaining evening.

Joseph unbent enough to share the information that “Dinner is served, sir. I’ve taken the liberty to provide lemonade for Mr. Gage.” Squire very nobly controlled his grin in order to preserve the dignity of both men, merely acknowledging Joseph’s announcement with a nod of his head, and with another directing Matthew to precede him into the dining room.

Pleased, he noticed that cook had provided well: there was plenty of rabbit for two. He settled in to enjoy his meal with deep contentment, and waited for the boy to reveal the real purpose for his visit. ‘Just a chat’ usually turned into a favour of some sort, such as the use of Squire’s barn as a shelter for the hunting dogs he planned to train and sell as a way to ‘make his fortune’. As he knew Matthew had experience in neither hunting nor dog training, Squire was able to resist the heady promise of riches and declared his barn off limits to the enterprise.

When glasses had been drained and plates were scraped clean, the men pushed their chairs back from the table in order to slouch with comfort. Getting down to business seemed to be taking longer than usual this night, so a direct question seemed to be in order. “Now, Matthew. What great plans have you got for my property this time?”

“Oh, none at all, sir; it’s not your land I’m interested in. Well...not this time anyway.” This was said with a grin, revealing to Squire that Matthew did indeed have schemes, but was willing to wait for a more propitious time to advance them. “It’s nothing really, only I was wondering, Sir, if you happened to have an old uniform around the place that you would be willing to let me have? You see, Thomas Redknapp and George Giggs have fathers who served, while my own dad was a farmer. When we act out the battles, there’s me in my usuals, while they drill in proper uniforms. I’d dearly like to see their faces when I show up next time in an officer’s colours with them dressed as enlisted men.”

“Matthew, there’s no pride to be had in a man’s rank unless the man has honour and courage. Those qualities are found in the enlisted ranks as commonly as among the officers. It doesn’t do to measure a man based on his rank or status. ” Realizing he was in danger of delivering a lecture, he answered the question: “I don’t believe I’ve kept anything from those days, but I’ll set Joseph to see what he can find laying about in the attics”

“That’s very good of you, to be sure. I’ll call back in a few days, shall I? I’ll leave you to your peace now, and I think you for a truly delicious meal. Good night!”

And so Squire was left to his pipe, his long anticipated books, and the opportunity to reflect on the goodness of his life on the land.

21 March 2009

Road works

It's a Canadian cliche isn't it? We have two seasons: winter and road work. A few weeks ago I undertook a tour of downtown as I had to make some deliveries for work. I decided to take my own car rather than a corporate van because after nine years away the city is quite unfamiliar to me, and downtown in particular is rather notorious for one way street mazes and other generally confusing bits. Like streets that abruptly end only to continue on the other side of a concrete wall, or one street changing names three times for intance. I thought navigating in an unfamiliar vehicle would needlessly add to the challenge of the undertaking.

What I should have done was rent a Land Rover or some other serious SUV-type vehicle suitable for off-roading. This city has potholes you can build houses in! Olympic swimmers can do laps in them after a rain storm, and film crews could use our streets for wartime locations, no exaggeration.

The highway that links my burb with the big city was always under construction when I lived here back in the day. And now there they are, in the exact spot they were working on before. I never actually see any work being done, or any, you know...people. There is the odd piece of equipment sat on the side of the road, and several signs warning motorists to slow down while construction is under way. Right. I'll slow down if you can show me signs of anything actually being done, construction-wise! I'm sure there is method and reason behind how road work happens, and something obviously does happen, because sure enough we do have roads to drive just doesn't happen when anyone's looking.

You may have noticed the same phenomenon with building sites. You drive down the same quiet country road all the time, then one day you notice a promotional sign glorifying the merits of a new subdivision. Two weeks later you're out that way again, and a whole new little city has sprung up, complete with roads, street lights and cookie-cutter houses, with roofs and everything! How does it happen? It's baffling.

It's coming on to cottage season, and you know what that means: alongside of increased numbers on the roads, construction crews will also be gathering on the major highways and byways of this great country of ours. Be prepared: bring snacks! Stock reading material, games, or zen relaxation tapes. Allow for at least an extra hour to get to wherever you are going, or leave at five in the morning. And that's just for getting across town! Never mind trying to leave the city for a weekend between Easter and Thanksgiving.

The nice thing is, by the time cottage traffic dies down, the potholes are finally filled in and it's possible to drive without danger to life and limb - not to mention suspension! Life in Canada is certainly an adventure, dog sled or no dog sled.

On the road (revised)

An Episode in the life of Martina Bellini, curly-headed nursing student

On the road

Have come back from New York City. It was on a whim, but not entirely, because it was sort of planned, though the details came together very last minute. An old friend got married – sort of. He joined a group of Franciscan brothers, and was making promises to them. Like a wedding ceremony, but without the rented tux and gift registry. I absolutely had to be there, but the question was: how? It was a scary idea to rent a car and drive there by myself (we’re talking New York City drivers... no thank you!) and I could have flown, but I’ve heard stories about yellow cab drivers as well who drive drive you around Brooklyn and leave you on some lonely street corner, thinking it is actually Manhattan, looking for Central Park. I did not fancy myself figuring out how to get back home from the depths of Brooklyn...or New Jersey for that matter, so I decided the only option was to drive, and take someone with me.

Enter Theresa. I casually mentioned that I was going for the weekend, and she made noises about having always wanted to go, so I planted the idea of her coming with me. Soon enough (at the crack of dawn) (I mean that literally – Starbucks wasn’t even open!) we found ourselves in her car, on the great highway systems of North America. I was a little nervous to begin with, because Theresa had made such a big deal about not making rest stops, and how I needed to be awake to keep her company as well as navigate. Well, being awake means coffee, and coffee means stopping so.... What’s a girl to do? I drank coffee and hoped for the best. Turned out she had to stop first, so that was alright.

Have you ever noticed in movies set in New York, that the approach is quiet and innocent-seeming? It feels like any decent-sized city, sane and normal; then out of nowhere, crazy drivers surround you, unhelpful signs point you in all directions, and suddenly the horizon disappears behind bridges and overpasses and tall buildings. Just minutes ago, you felt like you were the only person heading into the Big Apple, and before you know it, you’re swallowed up in the press of motorized humanity, every one of them seemingly knowing where they’re going while you’re desperately trying to keep your car on the road, choosing the right toll lane, and figuring out where the dickens they’ve put the Bronx.

We arrived right on time for the evening’s proceedings which were simply beautiful. There was a simple meal afterwards and some entertainment in the adjoining courtyard. It was cute to see religious Brothers and Sisters in their long robes sitting on the fire escapes of the neighbouring buildings, with bare, sandal-shod feet dangling in the air. Music and poetry filled the hearts of the gathered community, while the scent of flowers and the warm glow of candle light filled the night. It was a truly magical experience, made all the more so by the realization that we were actually in New York. Through the gate, I could see people sitting in lawn chairs on the corner as their kids played in the street; it was just like I had imagined, except a little more...normal, somehow.

The next day we had some free time to explore the city a little before the big ceremony took place, so we took the subway downtown. Every now and then we'd giggle at each other, totally giving ourselves away as tourists. Then, oddly enough, we met up with Serge and Heals, a couple of friends from ‘back home’. There they were on the steps of St. Patrick’s, for all the world like we were meeting at our local Tim Horton’s. Our first order of business was to find something to eat (Serge was quite pregnant and needed food in a serious way)– hopefully an honest-to-goodness New Yawk diner breakfast, which turns out to be a rare bird. We walked and walked and walked, stumbling across Times Square, where we finally indulged in a very costly meal of waffles in a booth once occupied by Nathan Lane. I wonder if Nathan also had to ask for syrup? It was not New York's finest hour.

And so began our New York City Marathon. I’m not sure if we walked uptown or downtown...crosstown maybe? It felt like we walked forever, though it was probably only six hours. But I’d like the record to show it was the hottest day with the highest humidity of the summer and those six hours should be multiplied by at least three because it felt like we were wading through a steam bath. We would march by famous landmark buildings, glancing at them over our shoulders as we kept on going past. There was no time for casual sightseeing: we were practically ticking locations off our list as we trekked through the city: Chrysler Building - check!; Radio City Music Hall - check!; Rockefeller whossit - check! Keep on going! One thing we all noticed was the police presence. New York City has to be one of the safest places on the planet...there were as many cops in Time Square as there were tourists; the police station there is as glittery and eye-catching as the massive, building-high advertisements. But holy cow, do they need to include some coffee shops or convenience stores or something! Just a little note to the Big Apple tourist board. That, and better signage at the toll booths.

As we approached Central Park, all four of us began to feel we were going to collapse from heat exhaustion, dehydration and the extreme need for a loo. As usually happens, that is when none of us could decide anymore what we should do, so instead of stopping for a rest, a drink, or, you know, the loo, we kept on walking. And walking. And walking. Clear through the park! We waved at Donald Trump as we passed by his personal tower (we didn’t actually see him; we waved in case he looked out his window) and debated the wisdom of hiring a horse-drawn carriage, but we kept on walking. Figuring a cab would be too costly and too scary, and that we’d eventually come across a cool refuge, we kept on walking. Marching actually, for desperation had begun to set in. Don’t Manhattanites ever stop for refreshment as they go about their days making money and spending it? We certainly didn’t find any evidence of it that day. I also didn't see any evidence of espionage, but I suppose spies are pretty good at hiding their work. I was a little disappointed because according to the movies spies like New York, but then we were rather preoccupied so it's possible we walked right by a drop or a meet and didn't even know it.

Later that afternoon, not sure how far we were from our final destination, we finally decided to brave the yellow cabs, and to our chagrin discovered we were only five blocks from the church. Do you know,they really do race up to each intersection and slam on their brakes at the red lights? Never mind – by that point we would have paid nearly anything and endured nearly any danger to bring our marathon to an end. At last we had a cool interior, were able to get off our feet, and make use of the facilities. That Church was a place of beauty to us! And ironically it was surrounded by coffee shops and restaurants. Huh. Got to love irony.

Our adventure continued after Mass with a family gathering at a small Polish restaurant in Queens. Getting there involved begging rides from strangers, GPS malfunctions,a four borough tour in rush hour traffic, and several near misses with car doors, bicycle messengers and oblivious delivery trucks, but we got there eventually and had a fabulous time, too.

That turned out to be a late, late night. Poor Serge and Heals were staying in a motel near the airport and had a very early flight the next day, followed by a very long drive back home. Theresa and I stayed with the Sisters, who, it must be said, were very generous and hospitable, but keep very early hours. Needless to say we were not part of their morning routine the next day! But they sent us on our way – once we finally had ourselves together – with a detailed map of the city and a blessing for safe passage back home.

The return trip was almost the best part of the weekend. The countryside was simply beautiful – so idyllic and pastoral. Though I wouldn’t have missed Brother Sebastian’s special day for anything, I also appreciated the road trip and that glorious scenery. Not to mention the Duty Free! I wonder where I'll go next?

20 March 2009


You must say the word with a self-assured, flutey accent: Lit-rah-tour. Right away you know we're talking about Tolstoy, Austen, Bronte(x3) and Dickens, and not Grisham, Steel, King and Sparks. But maybe not in the way you think.

I have often hashed over the old debate of quality and content in reading materials versus 'just be happy he's reading'; and as I'm known to be something of a snob with decided opinions, I invariably come down on the side of quality. I believe with great conviction that what you read in childhood as well as in later years has an impact on you, how you think (and even if you think, come to that) and your future capacity for reading. For example, a steady diet of Batman comics limits your capacity to appreciate Dostoyevsky in later life, no matter how clever and ironical those comics may be.

However, while Lit-rah-tour develops elegant vocabulary and syntax, it isn't necessarily the 'great works' that capture our imagination and broaden our horizons. When I'm asked what my favourite books are, the ones that top my list aren't necessarily great classics. Crime and punishment really was both a crime and a punishment to me, and I wished the old man had fallen into the sea! So, while I disappeared into the moors with Jane when Mr. Rochester was forced to reveal his insane wife (Jane Eyre), felt every agonizing step through Mordor with Frodo (Lord of the Rings), and shuddered over Mr. Collins' unctuousness (Pride and Prejudice) -- all literary giants -- I was also torn between past and present with Claire Randall (Outlander), in stitches over singletons in London (Bridget Jones's Diary) and completely enamoured of a quaint rose-covered cottage (Thornyhold) -- none of which will be remembered as classics, yet they will remain with me because their characters became real to me and the stories were totally engrossing.

In order for a book to be 'good' it has to leave you with more than you were or had before you read it. A book without impact is a waste of time...and unfortunately I've read my share of those, though fortunately I can't remember very many of them. There are, as well, books I wish now I hadn't bothered with, though they left an impression alright. Larry's party and The Shipping news are examples of the latter - my life was not improved in any appreciable measure because of having endured them.

I have just finished a book that I'm sure will be on my list of deep impact experiences: The Reader. It isn't profound,it doesn't attempt to teach lessons or solve deep issuess. It simply presents the story of two disparate people in a time and place of historical significance,leaving room for the reader to think about the bigger questions for himself.

I'm trying to compose the usual top ten list, but it's very hard to narrow even the criteria of the list, let alone the books themselves. Maybe the one requirement will be that even today I can remember what it felt like to both begin and finish the book (or series) In that case, here are a few:

Lord of the rings/ The Hobbit
Pride and prejudice
Jane Eyre
Brideshead revisted
Tale of two cities
Kristin Lavransdatter
Father Elijah
Little drummer girl

Children's books are in a category of their own, but are just as important, and have perhaps more impact:

Where the red fern grows
Anne of Green Gables
Wind in the willows
Little princess
Five children and It
All the places to love

How 'bout you? What books are on your list? What are your requirements for a book to be good or even great?

18 March 2009


There is a birthday in the house today. The four mobile nephews are so excited, the house is levitating off its foundations. This family has perfected the technique of turning the whole day into a celebration, which is fairly easy to do with these little guys who are so eager to enjoy life.

Yesterday brought a new delight to this family: a large, electric music/noise maker. (The production of either noise or music depends on the age of the producer, it seems) This particular electric noise maker is of the keyed variety rather than the stringed, which I am keenly grateful for as I am enthusiastically serenaded while struggling to pry open my reluctant eyelids to peer at the clock.

There is bound to be tonnes of "forbidden" food today, even though it is Lent, which makes me think I'd really better get out of bed....there's chocolate in the house!


There is an earlier post about being fully alive - being awake to all that life is, whether grand and glorious, small and simple, or arduous and challenging. I think an important ingredient is dreams; it's so important to dream, which is the human/worldly plane version of the spiritual virtue of hope. A dream is a reminder that we are meant for more than ordinary things.

Even better than having one is when you chase the dream, and it comes true right in your hands. This has become a theme in my life, and you know how these things work: once you notice a particular thing, it seems to be everywhere. I hear of people leaving the city rat race to live simple lives in the country. I know several families who are following their dreams into circumstances that don't make any logical sense, and yet are finding contentment in untold measure. I have my own story of dreaming and having it come true: I left job security and predictability behind and am going back to school. The exciting thing is that the story isn't over yet...I have no idea where it's going to take me.

Dreams come with their share of hard work and challenges, but they have the best side effect: you will not dwindle when following yours. You will be awake to other joys offered by life, you will be interested in further adventures, and eager to explore other opportunities: living a dream removes fear from the equation. The dream doesn't have to be big or profound, mind. I'm not even going to give examples, because then you will compare yours to them and rank them. Don't do that! Don't judge your dream! Listen to yourself: what is it that you are dreaming deep in your heart? Maybe now is the time to do something about it.

08 March 2009


I haven't written about my dad in a while, though he's always in my thoughts. I think the sharp edge of grief has eased somewhat, though it is still there. I feel him especially while at Mass, and I was thinking this morning that it was while at Mass that his illness saddened me the most while he was still alive.
I wasn't particularly emotional before I left for Church this morning - it's a fine and cheery day - but when I was praying before Mass began, I was hit by a wave of missing him. It was so strong and so unexpected I was hardly able to control myself. I really needed reassurance from him that he was ok. Does that sound weird? I know being in heaven, in the company of the saints, in the Presence of God is a very good thing - the very best thing - I just needed a pat on the head and to know he wasn't there reluctantly.
Well, the second verse of the Psalm today (116: 15,16) patted me on the head:
Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints
Oh Lord, I am thy servant; I am thy servant, the son of thy handmaid.
Thou hast loosed my bonds.
It reminded me...comforted me...that all the ordeal is done for him. I don't have to worry about him. He is free now in a way that we cannot fathom, and all he has done, and is doing now is undertaken willingly.
That brought a great deal of peace to me, and the day has been filled with hope and promise since then. A special delight has been seeing Number Two Nephew wearing one of Pop's ties. This slip of a boy, wearing a man's tie with such dignity and panache was something to see. I'm sure there was something of Pop in his face today, too.
I am so blessed, that God is patient with me. Each and every time I ask for it, He sends me reassurance that He's still there, looking after me. He has a special intermediary now... a voice I love so well - my beloved Pop.


What a glorious day this is! One of the best things about our Canadian winters is these first days of 'almost Spring' when the sun is clear and bright, the sky is wide open and blue, and the penetrating chill has left the air. People jump at the chance to wear fun shoes rather than sensible boots, and I've even seen a few bare legs lately. (Brave's not quite that springish yet)

After months of being weighted down with my heavy woolen winter coat, those cumbersome boots, layers of hats and scarves and sweaters and feeling like the Michelin man, going outside now in just the shell of my ski jacket, and sneakers...I'm sure I could fly if only gravity would relax its hold on me just a tiny bit!

The usual hassles and challenges of life are still present, but on a day like today they don't have the same impact on me. On a day like today I am bigger than they are; I am filled with happiness like helium in a balloon, and I feel like I could keep on expanding.

06 March 2009


This isn't going to be profound, but I've just been poked by a certain 'anonymous' person, whose identity I do in fact know, about there not being a recent new post. The pressure! I must try to work in regular blocks of writing each day - as a prospective freelancer, I should just be in the habit, right? Unfortunately the two part time jobs, the school application, job hunting and laundry are getting in the way of what I really want to spend my day doing: writing.

So, because I had an interesting conversation at work about poetry, with a coworker who has translated English verse into Persian, today's contribution to the Lighthouse will be about poetry.

First of all, it's a real shame that poetry is approached in such a way in our schools that kids have a fear of it. Really, Wordsworth is just: Jack be nimble [nimber*], Jack be quick; Jack jumped over a candle stick -- but a little more grown-up. Children instinctively enjoy rhymes, catchy rhythms, and silly nonsense. Even grown-up poetry can offer those things.

The nice thing about a lot of poetry, is that it relaxes your mind, like prayer. It can speak to you at a deeper level of consciousness where words don't even really matter - the heart just understands the meaning.

Poetry allows for individual interpretation; it leaves room for the reader to bring his own experience and knowledge to the reading.

I enjoy poetry because I can dip into it, and savour it. One well-written poem can have the emotional impact of a full-length novel. I carry the effects of it with me through the day, and when I crawl into bed at night, I can read it again in just a few minutes, and get something entirely different from it, because at the end of the day, I have new experiences, new ideas to apply to my understanding of it.

Regrettably I don't have the capacity to memorize poems. I wish I had them stored in my memory bank to pull out at will. What a resource that would be! I once taught a group of children to memorize and perform The Walrus and the Carpenter, but after the first two lines, I lose track of it...and I heard it many many times in those few weeks! (Ironically, I have the lyrics to many inane rocks songs filed and alphabetized in my mind for easy retrieval. Even from 20 years ago.)

One cute little poem I do know by heart, is from The Great Gatsby:

Then wear the gold hat, if that will win her
And if you can bounce high, bounce high for her too

Till she cry Lover! Gold hatted, high bouncing lover!

I must have you!

Here's Pippa's song, by Robert Browning. You probably know the last two lines, and didn't realize where they came from:
The year's at the spring
And day's at the morn
Morning's at seven
The hillside's dew-pearled
The lark's on the wing
The snail's on the thorn
God's in His heaven -
All's right with the world!

And finally, from my favourite, John Donne, is this little bit from Love's Growth:
I scarce believe my love to be so pure
As I had thought it was,
Because it doth endure
Vicissitude, and season, as the grass;
Me thinks I lied all winter, when I swore,
My love was infinite, if spring maked it more.

Don't worry about figuring out the meaning...just let the words slowly sink into you. Enjoy!

*long story - ask Fr. Ad

03 March 2009

Saddest story

A follow-up to yesterday's post. My sister was telling me about a daytime talk show she watched today, which discussed neglected children. One story was about a little girl who was so badly, so totally left alone, that at the age of 6, she had developed only to the age of 2 months. Take a moment to sit with that. Imagine yourself in the presence of a 2 month old, think about its fragility, its limited abilities. This girl was drinking out of a baby bottle, in diapers, no language skills, had a fear of contact with other people...and so on. Her mom said she did the best she could, that she loved her daughter. She 'loved' the little girl who slept on a rotting mattress, who had cockroach bites covering her body.
When doctors assessed the 6 year old girl, they determined that her lack of development was due to neglect: no interaction, no stimulation. Her neural pathways had formed randomly rather than in the structured, organized way that is normal. They're not sure what her chances are of learning language, social skills...or anything at all. Fortunately she has been adopted by a caring family who are committed to her, so at least she will have touch, and tenderness, and love from now on.
Imagine yourself again with that 2 month old baby. Even if you had no experience with children and were somewhat uncomfortable with them, wouldn't you be tempted to hold her, talk to her, tickle her tummy...marvel at her fingers and toes?
My smallest nephew - still to reach the one year mark - loves to imitate our sounds and gestures. I wrote a post earlier about his 'night night' routine, and these days he's smacking his mouth and saying 'ga' (his version of mwah as he blows kisses). We don't sit him down in a class setting, with a daily agenda of skills for him to master. He's growing and learning because there are people in the room who love him and just can't help interacting with him. I love getting responses from him, hearing his laughter, watching him learn new things. It's such a delight, and it's happening with so very little effort from any of us.
The sad addendum to this story is that there are enough children who are neglected, that a specialized field of therapy has developed. Doctors in this specialty conjecture that feral children - for that's what they are - are more common than we can suppose. How many children have just hours of contact with their parents in any week? The true tragedy is that neglect has no cure in the very young. A person can overcome abuse, but neglect is not repairable.
For a very long time to come, I'm going to be offering a special prayer every day for these little ones. I'm sure that God has a special place in heaven for children who go to Him, never having known a day of love in their life.

01 March 2009


I have known for most of my life that I would not have children; not because I don't like them, don't want them, or think them a burden - it has just been one of those certainties in my life. Every now and then, I get baby pangs, and think how wonderful it would be to have a child; but 'having a child' is not a driving motivation in my life, and certainly not something I'm checking off a to-do list. Buy carrots - check. Pick up dry cleaning - check. Have a baby...hold on a second! Parenthood is over-idealized in contemporary celebrity culture. There seems to always be the latest so-and-so talking about the life-changing experience, how it puts everything into perspective, how it's the most important thing they've ever done. I don't doubt every one of those sentiments is true. But I'd like to caution that they do it in the context of very glamorous lives with no end of help and resources available to them - even those who choose to take on this most important of jobs as single parents.

Parenting, as I'm learning every day merely through close encounters, is a very hard undertaking. You can't punch the clock at the end of the day to signal you're done; you are not allowed to opt out for a day or phone in sick. It is the massive responsibility of forming the moral fibre and the character, and tempering the personality and outlook of a new human being. You are guarding and guiding them through their days, overseeing their physical and emotional wellbeing; you are feeding, clothing and housing them ... all of which require a whole host of emotional and financial resources. It's bloody hard work.

But - and let me say this emphatically - but, it is also incredibly valuable and rewarding. The children I have the great priveledge to observe be parented are not my own. But even so, to have their arms flung around my neck and their sweet voices tell me about their day, or to see a hurdle of development be overcome, or to witness a new's grand! They are still very young, but already I see hints of the big people they will be in just a few year's time. They will be the men who lead our country, or dispense our medication, or fight our fires, or teach our young people of the future, or create inspiring art...whatever their chosen undertaking, they will contribute according to how they are being taught in these present days by their parents, teachers, troop leaders, pastors, and so on.

It is an undertaking that requires a great deal of selflessness. Catholics call it 'dying to self' which should not be understood as a negative thing. It means to place someone else's good before yourself. It does not mean subjugating your own personhood, or loosing yourself in the role of parent. But there's no denying having children and creating a family requires sacrifices.

All of this is in response to some articles I've read recently, and an advertisement for a new birth control pill I've seen on tv.

One article mentioned a group of women in England who have radically embraced environmentalism -- to the extent that they had themselves sterilized, believing that having children would do irreparable harm to the planet. The advertisement, meanwhile, shows a woman reflecting on her life as her children play soccer around her. I suppose I'm meant to sympathize with her as she balances vacations and college funds...perhaps even her girlish figure... with the terrifying prospect of having another child. Oh! Which makes me think of the woman in the states who is now mother to 14 children, with her recent delivery of sextuplets. She couldn't bear the thought of "all those fetuses just sitting in petrie dishes" so she had them implanted, and was rather blase about whether or not they would survive. There is such a disconnect in her thinking, I don't even know where to begin a discussion on her.

We're not talking about yet another unncessary bag of carrots that either mom really could do without. The word 'child' refers to a human being. Besides the fact that the birth control pill doesn't actually prevent pregnancy but rather forces the woman's body to abort the (pardon me for being frank) baby, the ability of so many of my contemporaries to think of a human being as a biological product is very disturbing. The child that soccer-watching mom decides against could have solved the problem of green-house gasses, or written an Oscar winning screenplay. Or, as Mr. Steyn points out in the article I link to above, that child would be a key factor in the future fiscal health of our country. Retirees of tomorrow need workers of tomorrow in order to afford retirement.

I remember talking to a colleague about her son, and she said that having one child was more than enough for her. I always wondered how it made him feel, to hear her say it. Was he pleased to trade endless games of solitaire for new shoes? (As an only child, who would he play Go Fish with?) I'm not proposing large families are the only good families - far from it. Quality doesn't come from quantity. But it's the attitude that is key: do you value family life? Human life? If you were to prioritize shoes, a small carbon footprint, dolphins, and a tiny little person who needed everything from you, what would the list look like? It's very easy to cry about baby seals and lost puppies, or children locked in basements for that matter, but what about the baby that didn't have a chance at life? Who would it have been? What treasure has been lost to us because we overlook the value of human life?