Taize

My friend Brian asked me to help with the singing at a Taize service where he is the musical director at an Anglican church. I never say no to anything music, so I agreed happily, without even knowing what “Taize” was.

We had a small rehearsal a few nights before the service. The choir was sparse, but enthusiastic. We ran through a few things and all I had to do was to show up on Saturday night.

As I walked into the darkened church, the priest quietly greeted me in the vestibule. I was instructed to pick up my lit candle and set it on the altar. Only a few people were sitting in the sanctuary. Their candles flickered on the shadowy altar as gentle darkness gathered in the vaults and corners of the church. I walked up the aisle with my candle cradled in my palms. Brian was at the keyboards, playing something gentle and melodic (which, knowing him, was something he was making up on the spot). I set my candle on the altar, and went to sit down in a nearby pew. A few more people came up the aisle with their candles. By the time the service started, there were perhaps twenty gently flickering flames there. The congregation was sparse, but it didn’t matter. 

We sang softly, a latin prayer chant. The priest stepped forward and offered a few quiet words. My friend Annie and I took turns reading Psalms in the candlelight ( we shared her reading glasses, because I did not come prepared to read). More soft words, more singing, Brian’s gentle chords warming the shadows. Time slowed, darkness deepened. The service drew to its completion, like a long, cleansing breath. The singers retrieved their candles and went up the aisle, singing. The people in the congregation went to the altar and took their candles, and our little choir sang them out of the church. It was over.

It was strangely lovely and grounding. I felt as though I had finished a very focused session of Yoga–my body felt fluid and relaxed, all my thoughts gentle. Everything just….settled. I hadn’t expected anything like that. It was a simple, in the moment experience.

Taize originated in Taize, France, with a monk named Brother Roger who brought the movement forward. A Taize service is characterized by the repeated singing of prayer chants during a candlelit service. Simple spoken phrases and repetitive music serve to bring people into meditation and prayer and awaken a spiritual experience. From what I have read, the Taize movement is not attributed to a specific faith or denomination.

I am not sure if others in the church felt what I felt, or if the effect of the Taize service was in any way similar for them. For me, on a dark night in September, 2010, it was precisely what I needed.

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Ending

A blustery, cold, dismal autumn day. I ventured out into the back yard to deal with some fall clean-up.

I haven’t been back there too much since school started. What a difference three weeks makes. My naps in the sun out in the lounge chair only weeks ago were hard to recollect. Was it only months ago when I was dropping bean seeds into the freshly-worked up earth, and arranging my beautiful patio pots? This afternoon, my dreamscape was dramatically altered. The watermelon vines were withered and brown. I rescued my baby melons and brought them into the house. The cherry tomato vines were also shrivelled. I gathered the bright red fruits into a bowl and yanked all the dead plants. The bean plants joined the other refuse in the composter. I pulled all the begonias up–the double blossoms that I dead-headed so carefully, first thing every summer morning when I was coming back from the clothesline. We haven’t even had a frost yet. What evil voice whispered to all these beautiful things that it was time to die?

But a few things linger….the carrots with their feathery green tops, the white and blue morning glories that keep their chins up, and the white hydrangeas, whose only response to the cooler weather has been to blush a little.

There’s still a lot left to do–the patio furniture needs to be put away. It does not look too inviting, with the umbrella shivering in the cold wind, and all the chair pads drooping. Remnants of the dead vines and yellow scraps of leaves are scattered through the grass–it looks like a botanical crime scene back there.

Autumn is my favourite season. I love the invigorating cool air, the glorious colours, rambles in apple orchards, and the fields done over in all shades of gold. But autumn, no matter how glorious, is an ending. And today, it seems a sad one.

Pushing 50–or 75?

If I had a bit more energy, I would use it to be exasperated. I am exhausted. I am stupid-tired. Seriously, I wasn’t this tired when my kids were babies and I was getting up every two or three hours through the night. What is wrong with me???

My age is what’s wrong with me–and all the things that go with it. Hips that are starting to be achy. Thirty pounds that are crazy-glued to me. Getting up in the night to go to the bathroom. Hormones that hate me. The fact is, I am just not the person I used to be. I’m pushing 50–in just over one year, I am going to be fifty. Years. Old. WTF? If you think of life in terms of seasons, I am well past spring. Screw it, I am past summer. It’s the autumn of the year, yessir, and things are falling, no doubt about it–the skin on my face, my iron levels, my thyroid function, the corners of my mouth, my jugs….and most of all, my energy levels. It’s free-falling without a parachute.

Oh, I know all the things I am supposed to be doing to battle this. At the top of the list, exercise. I know how much better I feel when I do. And I do it, too…just not as often as I should. Right now, after being up since six this morning, putting in a full day at work, grocery shopping, making dinner, doing laundry and dishes, I feel literally as though I would drop dead if I attempted to exercise. Exercise to me right now would be the equivalent of Dorothy’s pail of water hurled over the Wicked Witch of the West. Nothing left but a slimy pile and a bunch of cheering monkeys.

Blogging has been a pleasant, whining diversion tonight. Truth is, I have been dodging the vacuum cleaner and making lunches the whole time. Right now, there is a solicitor banging at my front door and he has no idea how much danger he has put himself in by marching up my front steps, because I could literally use what’s left of me to flatten him on the spot. And I have enough weight behind me to do it, too.

Another day, I will pull myself up by my bootstraps (if I can reach them) and be proactive about this. But tonight, boys and girls, it just sucks to be pushing fifty.

Beanery Buddies

I love my Beanery buddies. Even when dreaded Monday morning inevitably arrives, I can wake up and face the day if I know I will be meeting up with  my two dear friends at the Beanery for dinner. Returned books are piling up and computers aren’t working…it’s ok. Beanery tonight. David keeps running away from the kindergarten circle in the middle of my lesson….ahhhh, soon, my friends and me, at the Beanery. Cranes are swinging bundles of boards and bulldozers are growling right outside the library exit….no worries, I’ll be laughing at the Beanery in no time. Bus duty, a mayhem of kids beside the road and a thousand heart-stops…meh, Beanery in two hours.

It wouldn’t matter where we met, but the Beanery seems to have become “our” place.  We usually order the same meals every time (Asparagus Melt, Hogg Sandwich, Seafood Crepes). We often discuss dessert and stare at the dessert case as though it were an exhibition in the Louvre, but we seldom order it. The food is usually delicious, and prepared quickly, but it’s not really about the food so much. For me, our table with its little candle and cutlery wrapped in paper napkins becomes my oasis, a breathing place and reprieve at the end of a ridiculously paced day.

The three of us meet regularly, but with fairly large gaps of time between visits. Two of us are still teaching, and the other is (sighhhh) retired from the profession and loving it. We have a lot in common, although there are enormous differences in perspectives between the three of us. It makes for interesting, insightful and hilarious conversation. We will all three of us nod in compassionate understanding, and in the next minute, we’ll be snickering in an admittedly wicked manner over some inappropriate topic, as we simultaneously turn our heads to make sure we are not being overheard. Sometimes, we are kind. Sometimes, we are tolerant. Sometimes, we are embittered. Sometimes, we are downright acerbic. Always, we are connected.

I love to hear about my friends’ travels and observations, the little tidbits they bring home from their adventures. I am quite home-bound at this stage of my life, and they can’t possibly know how fascinating I find living their travels through their eyes. I latch onto their details and recollections as if they were my own, living the experiences through them. I feel like I have wandered the streets of Paris alone, as though I have stood in a creepy little courtyard in a town somewhere near Budapest, searching for roots.

I know their joys and their griefs, as they know mine. We’ve “watched” one another’s children grow up, even though we’ve only met them once or twice, if at all. We share our worries about our parents and our kids. We talk about books and recipes and writing and music and Alzheimer’s and teaching strategies and curling and menopause. There is nothing we can’t talk about (once we’ve ensured no one is listening).

Sometimes, through the intervening weeks, snippets of our conversations will come back to me as I am driving, cooking, charging down the hallway toward my next class. At times, my heart twists; at others, I laugh out loud. I will never tire of these women who can make me laugh and cry at the same time.

Fun With the Boys

Hanging out with a six-year-old is fun. I’ve had six-year-olds myself, four times–but always, with a mix of other-aged kids. I’ve had an entire class of six-year-olds, which is, in all honesty, far more work than it is fun. Hanging out with a singular six-year-old gives one the opportunity to truly savour all the experience has to offer.

My brother has Silas for the weekend, and is always looking to keep his only kid entertained, having had no other progeny to run interference. Sometimes, I am invited along on an adventure. Today, we were headed for the apple orchard.

It was a pretty day, a bit overcast. As we drove down the highway, it became a little drizzly. The conversation was lively, as it always is with Si in the back seat. We talked bats (do they really suck blood?), the old house Si had lived in when he was three (trampoline in the neighbours’ yard), money machines (magic twenty buttons), the nickname the two boys had given my brother’s crappy car (POJ=Piece of Junk, not to be confused with HOJ=Hunk of Junk), and a dream Si had had, involving a door in the crack in the driveway between his dad’s house and the neighbour’s, and when he went inside, he was at a baseball game and then there was this elevator and when he got on, he went to this amusement park and there was this fat man named Tommy who bounced all the way down the slide)…We arrived at the orchard (Si was not even breathless), and it was undeniably raining. Well, that’s not necessarily true: Si denied it. We had one drippy venture through the corn maze and then it was raining so hard; even he couldn’t wish it away.

We grabbed a couple of rain-drenched apples off a tree (indescribably delicious) and went for lunch, hoping that by the time we were finished, the rain would be over and we could go back to the orchard.

Conversation over lunch was primarily an explanation on my part as to why I did not like hotdogs. As Si was downing four at that time, I surmised they are one of his favourite entrees. Even as I explained what it is like to puke after you’ve eaten hotdogs, it didn’t really slow him down, although the look on his face was thoughtful.

It was still raining when we went back out to the POJ. We were going to the orchard any way! As we circled back towards the orchard, Si begged for funny voices, so my brother and I indulged him, since funny voices are really not that much of a challenge for us. By the time my brother asked, in a mixture of slurs and grunts, “Where’s the bathroom? I have to go Number Three!” Si was in a total fit of hysterical howling. (Man, I love the hysterical howling. Really, it doesn’t get any better).

As we ventured into the orchard, the clouds dissipated–blue skies and sun, just what we ordered. Si ate about fifty-seven more apples, and then we headed off to try to corn maze another fifty-seven times.

A trip into a corn maze does not equate into a simple walk for a boy who is just about seven years old. Daddy and Si had to go in the entrance and Auntie in the exit, and the race was on. The winners would go directly to the pumpkin patch, which was right between the entrance and the exit.

I plundered through the maze, which is really kind of a cool place to be. The stalks and leaves are all rattling, the corn silk blackened, and the ears cracked open to reveal the hard rows of bright yellow corn (“Can we eat this corn?” Si asked, on the first trip through). At one point, the three of us met up somewhere around the middle. Si shrieked in elation and alarm and blasted past me. I blame my sandals for my abysmal loss, not the fries I ate at Mackie’s for lunch. There is nothing more infuriating than a six-year-old boy, his butt parked on a pumpkin and his arms folded across his chest, and that smug look on his face. These men start early.

“I thought I would hear you yelling if you got out first,” I said, lowering myself onto a pumpkin seat.

“We did,” my brother explained, “But you were too far away to hear us.”

Yeh, Si comes by it naturally.

Then Si had to pull me in a wagon (there’s a dignified pose for a 48-year-old) and then I had to pull him, and then we were climbing up a straw-bale tower. I made a sound like a rooster crowing at the top and my brother announced to the people around us that he had to have me back to the institution by 3:00.

How well I remember all the tactics that kids pull when it’s time to leave and they don’t wanna go. The best part was that I could step back and watch my bro be the bad guy. Ahh, I take my victories where I can find them.

We took the long way home through the back roads and hills and woods. I remarked how nice it was, and Si grumbled, “Yeh….greeeeat.” Already? I thought, recalling that sarcasm usually showed up around the pre-teens, didn’t it? Si was still unimpressed that we were going home. But then, I told him about the tornado that had gone through that area years earlier and showed him where the gaps still were in the trees where it had torn through. So, we had a great chat about how big tornados were and what colour they were, and all things tornado.

Unlike my brother, who had to take Si out to play on his new scooter when they got home, I crawled into my lounge chair on arrival and had me a nice long nap.

I win!

No Consolation

I’ve been working with small children since 1989 and I have four of my own, so my bag of tricks is well-packed when it comes to diversion and consolation. But yesterday in the Kindergarten room, there was one little guy that just would not stop crying, no matter what I did.

I was just visiting the class. I was supposed to take them to the library and computer lab for an hour. It wasn’t going to happen. Charlie was well-rooted to a spot on the carpet, where he sat weeping silently, but profusely. It was only his second day of school because of the staggered entry approach, where they bring small groups of Junior Kindergarten kids in, slowly over a week or so. This model is supposed to make the transition easier for children, and it is very successful most of the time. Not for our little friend Charlie. While the other children played in the house centre, experimented with glue sticks, battled with rubber dinosaurs and dug away in the sand box, Charlie just plunked down in the middle of the happy activity and quietly melted down. I arrived in the early afternoon and he had been crying since 9:00 a.m.

I went over and sat down on the carpet with him. “I want my mommy,” he sobbed quietly. How well I understood. I wanted my mommy so badly on my own first day of school that it took the teacher AND the principal to restrain me when she left me in my classroom. I tried to win him over with books and little cars. I offered my knee. I talked to him about how mommies always come back. I wiped his wet cheeks and rubbed his damp little head. Imagine the headache, after crying steadily for four hours…

Inevitably, I was called away by kids who needed my attention. I glanced over several times. He was always watching me, hopelessly, through his tears. I grinned, made funny faces, waved….more tears.

Sometimes, I would look over there and some dear little girl would be sitting beside him, an arm slung over his shoulder, talking earnestly to him. One of them told me, “He wants his mommy. I told him he would see her at home time, but it didn’t work.”

“I know,” I told her. “It didn’t work for me, either.”

As I know from experience, crying can be contagious. By the time the bell rang and I had to leave for my yard duty, Charlie had a weeping buddy that had joined him on the carpet.

I had to call the office. The vice-principal came down and I left.

I heard later on that the vice-principal had called Charlie’s mommy and Charlie had gone home. It’s a fine line. Kids have to make the adjustment to school and sometimes, crying is part of that. But if a kid has been crying for four hours, I don’t think it’s going to happen, at least not that day.

The truth is, some kids are just not ready. Charlie will get there. He’s not going to grow up to be a thirty-year-old man who cries when his mother leaves him somewhere.  Some things just take time, and I hope someone has lots of that to give to Charlie.

Have a Nice Trip?

After having four babies, I didn’t think there was too much left in the world that had to power to embarrass me, but as it turns out, there is still something:  falling down.

What is it that is so humiliating about falling?

I was at a reunion today for staff of a former school I used to work at, and one of the women attending thought she had dropped her keys into the bushes along the bottom of the picnic pavilion. I went down and pushed my way into the bushes, poked around a bit. She called out that she thought the spot might be down a little further, so I stepped back, planning to get back on the road and walk down a ways. Instead, my foot caught the edge of the cement curb.

As I tumbled, in slow-motion, I thought, “F…! I can’t stop this. I am falling and people will see. However….as soon as I hit the ground, this is what I am going to do. I am going to pop right back up, and maybe no-one will notice. It will be like it never happened.”

My plan was made by the time I was sprawled in the middle of the road beside the pavilion. I was on my feet before the pain even registered. I was stinging in several locations along my leg and forearm and every bone in my body felt jarred. If I had been six years old, I would have opened my mouth and wailed right then and there, and given that the entire crowd had worked with Kindergarten students, they would have known exactly what to do.

Must keep looking for keys, I thought, keeping my head down. I don’t think anyone even noticed….

“Are you all right?” yelled my keyless companion. Heart sinking, I glanced up toward the pavilion. It was a roofed structure, lined with wooden rails all around. In that moment, it looked like a ship’s rail, with a line of twenty-thousand passengers leaning in and looking down, all eyes on me.

“Yeh, yeh,” I shrugged. I could feel blood trickling down my ankle into my shoe and I hoped no one would notice.

“Your phone!” someone else yelled. I glanced over, and there was my cell phone, smack-dab in the middle of the road, where only moments before, my carcass had been splayed like so much road-kill.

Mommy, I need a bandaid! I wept, inside my head.

My leg scraped up and my wrist throbbing, I am sitting here, making a resolution. When I see  kids fall down, I will rush over, help them up, dust them off, and reassure them that it’s just a little scrape. I will fetch tissues and bandaids, administer hugs. BUT: If I ever see an adult fall down, I will turn slightly away and watch out of the corner of my eye. If they do not get back up, I will run to the rescue. But if they bounce from the ground into an upright position and look furtively around, I will pretend that I never saw a thing.

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