Thursday, August 27, 2009

There's Something About Mary

It was 1979 and I had left India "for good", as we used to say (as opposed to leaving "on furlough", which is what most of my family's status would be). I found myself in Edmonton, enrolled in a small college called Mount Carmel, among a very small student group -- 28 of us, as I recall.

I was shell-shocked from being in Canada, from being away from my family, from being at this school that I had chosen but for what reason I had no idea. I knew no one except for one of the instructors and his wife. I accepted an offer to be a roommate from someone who saw my conservative, prim blouse-and-skirt ensemble and decided -- mistakenly! --that maybe I would be tidy and organized and a good foil for her more bohemian lifestyle.

I was miserable.

And then along came Mary. We students were split into four groups and I had the good fortune to land in Mary's group. She was somewhat older than I, married with three children; but somehow I felt that she accepted me for who I was: not the missionary kid or the smart-mouthed teenager, but just someone who was lost in this new world and who desperately needed kindness and understanding. Even though she was going to college and was a full-time, very hands-on mother, she always made me feel welcome in her home. It was comfortable being around Mary. She made me feel normal somehow, not like the freak I was sure people thought I was, with the wrong clothes and the wrong accent and no winter boots and no job and no life.

I could hardly wait for the year to be over; humiliated and defeated, I vowed I would never contact anyone from there again.

Fast forward to 2003. I moved to Trois Lumps, opened the TH -- and two of my earliest guests were Mary and her husband, Richard! They had settled in Three Hills after their children had grown. Mary and Richard were just the same: life had dealt them some hard blows in the form of a particularly vicious breast cancer for Mary, and heart trouble leading to a transplant for Richard. But they were steadfast in their love for one another, their kindness toward others and their certainty that God and good would prevail through it all.

We quickly renewed our acquaintance. This time, however, it was so precious to be able to sit with Mary and Richard and get to know them from the entirely different perspective that a quarter century perforce brings. I discovered, for example, that Mary was proficient at needlepoint and cross stitch and that she knit and crocheted beautiful blankets and gorgeous baby's clothes. For Nilgiris' one-year anniversary she cross-stitched six panes of various teas, which were lovingly framed by Richard. They hang in the TH to this day.

Our time with Mary was far too short. On two of the last times I saw her we had a tea party, complete with Star of India tea (her and Richard's favourite), china cups and saucers and some dainty treats. The second time she could barely swallow; but to please Richard and me she managed a few spoonsful of mango sorbet.

And then it was April 2007 and Mary left. She left the doctors and the blood tests. She left the trips to Edmonton for treatment and the treats at Wendy's on the way home. She left the struggle for breath and a comfortable position. She left the disappointments and the dashed hopes. She left all that pain.

She left for a far better place, where there is no more pain and all tears will be wiped from every eye.

But she left us too.

And how we miss her! I miss her subtle sense of humour, a quip slyly inserted or a comeback that could make you do a double take to something her irrepressible husband had said. I miss her faithfulness in coming to visit the teahouse and her encouraging words -- her belief that this is a special place and one of comfort and peace. I miss her squabbling light-heartedly with Richard over who would pour the tea. I miss her eagle eye noticing some little change or addition. I miss her hugs.

Last Saturday morning, when I was particularly tired after a stressful week and needing a boost to get me through what promised to be a busy two days, once again Mary reached out to me in a most unexpected way. Her daughter came to the TH bearing a gift: two framed cross-stitch tea cups! Between our tears and laughter Rebecca said, "I found these among Mom's work. I know she intended them for you -- they couldn't be for anyone else ..."

And so, two years later, on a blue Saturday when I was missing my Mum and missing Mary and missing myself, Mary managed to speak to me again. She showed me that what is beautiful and what is important will have lasting value. She showed me that thoughtfulness is more to be treasured than the finest porcelain tea cup. She showed me that she believed in me. She showed me that kindness can make a heart sing.

She showed me that love can reach from beyond the grave.

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