Monday, August 29, 2011

Everyday vs. Every Day

I think that words have an intricate design and that we show them disrespect if we sloppily throw them together because it saves a character in a 140-character message or - worse - because we don't think it's a big deal to be precise in our message.

Take everyday, an adjective which the dictionary says means mundane, commonplace, ordinary, routine, unremarkable. For example, "She had everyday clothes, clothes for Sunday, and party frocks."

Every day, on the other hand, is an adverbial phrase that means each day. For example, "Every day she looked in her closet and sighed, 'I have nothing to wear ...' "

It's not that hard, really. But here's the reason I am scrutinizing everyday and every day more closely than usual:

Yesterday morning, even though it was Sunday, it felt like an everyday kind of day to me. I was to play the piano with the morning service's worship group at a local church. I woke up fairly early and hit the snooze button a couple of times. As I slowly came to bleary life - crawling out of bed, showering and dressing, getting ready for the day - everything felt blah. Mundane was the actual word that crossed my mind. I baked and cooked and marinated and cleaned and ate some cereal and drank some tea and thought about what to play for the offertory. It wasn't that I dreaded the day or resented the busyness of it or was concerned about any of its activities - it was just that nothing had a spark, nothing was making me feel like this was the Lord's day and I should rejoice and be glad.

I forgot to turn on the oven to bake the meringue on the coconut cream pie. "Great, I'm going to be late for the practice," I thought to myself. I tried calling Claudia and Don, the music team leaders, to let them know; but they had decided to walk to church and so had already left. I got to church about seven minutes late. Fortunately guitars were tuning and voices were being warmed up. "Here goes nothing," I thought to myself. "Just accept that it's going to be a routine day and write it off now."

I resigned myself to going through the motions, resigned myself to being slightly numb and disconnected for the day, settled back into the comfortable rut that runs right next to the path of my life.  I moved into the comfort-able zone.

The songs were all known to me by now. Nothing grabbed my mind or tugged at my heart strings. We started in on the first set - 'package', as Don calls it.

All Creatures of our God and King - check.
You're Worthy of My Praise - check.
What Can I Do - we started in on this one and I thought to myself, "Really? The song writer couldn't write more than four notes into the tune of the first ten bars? Talk about unimaginative. Talk about everyday ..."

Then Reg ruined everything.

Reg plays the electric organ, which sits sort of perpendicular to the grand piano with the low keys of the piano almost touching the high keys of the organ. He also sings tenor; but from behind the piano I can barely hear him, for the most part. Earlier I had requested, without much hope of being heard, that the sound man would turn Reg's mike up so that I might be able to hear him over the drums.

Suddenly, right in the middle of the chorus of the What Can I Do song, Reg's sound kicked in:

... Every day make everything I do
a hallelujah, a hallelujah.

I was startled out of my autopilot mood. The man's voice soared on the tenor, so crystal pure and so harmonious with every note, bringing depth and richness that I in my stupor had not even suspected was in the song.

I glanced over at him and had to do a double take. His always handsome, kindly face was transformed as he sang the words with sincerity, paying attention to them in a way that I had not. He was offering his music and his voice to God right there in the practice before the service.

In those moments, his face was a countenance.

I can't really describe what a countenance is, how it differs from a face. The dictionary says Appearance, especially the look or expression of the face. It's an intangible quality that for me evokes thoughts of Moses coming down from the mountain with the ten commandments; of the story of the Mount of Transfiguration, where the disciples Peter, James and John witnessed Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah; of the apostle Stephen as he was being stoned to death.

I don't see it often; but when I catch a glimpse of it, it is indelibly seared on my mind.

I saw it on Bronwyn's face as she spoke on Mother's Day Sunday.

I saw it on Dr McIlveen's face when he preached in India this March.

I saw it on the face of a little boy named Alex the third time I got to visit him on my trip to South Africa in 2007.

Dad, as he gets older and closer to God, is now more countenance than face and sometimes I have to look at him through my peripheral vision in order to be able to look at him at all. At Martha's funeral, and at Mum's funeral, he was all countenance, the radiance of God all around and through him.

And now Reg.

I was jerked out of my rut, jerked into the privilege of the moment, reminded of why we were singing, Whom we were honouring and praising.

I lost my place in the music, lost my voice. I found my focus.

When church started, we as the worship team were not at the top of our game, frankly. Somehow we couldn't quite get into synch. It was hard to hear - I could hardly hear Reg again! - and there was no guitar to fill in the little pockets of empty space that a guitarist can cover.

But none of that mattered. The congregation sang and worshiped and the guest speaker reminded us that even the air we breathe is a gift from God.

There is one other countenance experience that shook me so much I can barely bear to dwell on it, much less write about it. The memory of it is so painful, so precious to me.

About a year after my friend Maynard died I was sitting on the couch in Dad's and Mum's house. The TH had not been closed for too many months and my life was in turmoil and transition. It was just Mum and me there and she was dusting the wooden ornaments in the little bay window. I asked her, "What do you think, Mum? I believe that Maynard truly knew God in his life. How would God - who is so pure, who cannot bear the sight of sin - view Maynard, view all that he had experienced and done?"

Her answer was swift and sure. "Through the veil of Jesus, Chris. When Jesus died on the cross He took all the sin onto Himself. And so for those who have accepted that gift, God sees them through the veil of His Son and He views them as spotless. If Maynard had accepted Him, that's how He sees Maynard."

I glanced over at her. She had stopped dusting and her body, which even that day was feeling so much pain, was standing completely upright. And her countenance shone. I saw God through the veil of her countenance, and I knew that I too was accepted by God.

Accepted by her.

Countenance moments change my life in ways large and small. I am deeply grateful for all of them.

Thank you, Reg, for yesterday. Everyday activity becomes a clarion call for worship every day.

*What Can I Do, by Paul Baloche

Friday, August 26, 2011

Summer Birthday

Some of the most beautiful moments of my summer this year were spent with one of the most beautiful people in my life.

She led me to her back garden and offered me a cup of magical tea. Then she quickly assembled the simple, delicious lunch she had prepared and we sat in the shade, eating off bird of paradise china plates and catching up on the last few months and watching her suddenly grown-up second son jump and whirl on the trampoline.

If anyone should have a summer birthday, it's Mary. Her demeanour is warm, accepting, even. She is one of the smartest women I know. She bikes, jogs, swims, canoes. She loves her family and is loyal to her friends. She overcomes adversity but doesn't dwell on it. She is so musical. And she's beautiful, with the kind of face that welcomes you to glimpses into her life and her journey, that reassures you of tranquility and wonder within arm's reach. She leaves a small footprint but a large impression in her wake. She is gentle with people's hearts.

And so today I say happy birthday, Mary. Thanks for the summer moments you bring into my life.  I adore you.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Look Who Came To Dinner!

Mr and Mrs Enoch. On the counter sits
the beautiful fruit basket they brought!

Mr and Mrs Enoch, relatives of our friends the Chellis and in India at the same time Dad, Deb and I were this March, are visiting in Calgary and drove out to Drumheller today. On the way back they stopped at Nilgiris and we had dinner!

The newest member of the
Teacup Club. A budding pianist,
she loved Angela Hewitt
playing on the sound system.

New friends - it turns out
 they live in Calgary!

Old friends ...

Come on Chellis and families, far and near - what are you waiting for? At times like this the circle doesn't seem complete without you ...

And to all my other friends from India: the tea kettle is simmering and there's always some food in the kitchen and a warm welcome awaiting you at Nilgiris!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jack Layton 1950 - 2011

(taken from the NDP website)

I got to see him only once, and that from a distance. My friend Greg got me into the House of Commons Question Period and gave me a prime vantage spot from which to watch the goings-on.

That afternoon the Conservatives were sluggish. The Prime Minister was not in attendance. I remember dimly that Jason Kenney and a few others made speeches, ponderously reading from pages and pages of white 8 1/2 x 11" paper, awkwardly throwing in a few words en francais to show that they were indeed capable of governing la toute Canada. The Liberals were scattered, sheep without a shepherd - he too was absent that day. The Bloc yelled and pounded more than anyone else, it seemed.

Finally it came time for the NDP to speak. And Jack Layton, leader of the party although not yet of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition, rose from his seat with his trademark smile flashing across his face.

No notes. No hesitation. Fully bilingual. He spoke quickly and far longer than anyone else that day, passionately, convincingly, by turns battering and beguiling. He addressed the issue of the day. He spoke of his vision for his country.

I thought he was way off base, thought that maybe he was bargaining Canada's soul away. I couldn't fathom why such a highly intelligent man could be so blinded to the economic realities of the country. But I left that session pondering more deeply than I had in a long while my own dearly held beliefs and stances. While I didn't necessarily agree with him on everything, he caused me to think more carefully. He showed me that people all across the political spectrum love this country as much as I do and that everyone should be given a voice. I will always be grateful to him for that.

He elicited a number of boos that afternoon, but managed to squeeze out some chuckles throughout the room and even a little reluctant applause from those who were diametrically opposed to his policies.

And before he sat down he smiled one last time and said a few words, in both official languages, reminding everyone that we all wanted what was best for Canada; in this room it was politics as usual but we had to work together to improve everyone's lot in the country that we all loved.

Orange has never been my colour. Orange will never be my colour. But in those moments I wished desperately to be able to wear orange (or, more accurately, I wished that Jack could wear another colour!), wished to be able to back someone who was the consummate showman, the unparalleled politician, in the room that day. The person who seemed to want to bring Canadians together.

I followed our latest election with great interest. It was Jack's Party, all right, that won status as the Official Opposition. It was Jack on the the posters, Jack on the radio and TV ads. He never seemed to stoop quite as low as some of the others in attack ads. Even his needling of Ignatieff as to the latter's spotty attendance record in Parliament was delivered with humour, as had been his comments to sweaterman Stephen Harper some years earlier.

He knew how to win the affections of thousands of people who would never vote for him; in this last election he proved that he also was becoming adept at winning some of their votes.

Jack passed away this morning after a valiant battle with cancer. He died as he lived, caring for this country. The last words he wrote in an open letter to his party and to the people of Canada are these:

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.

All my very best,

Jack Layton

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Happy Birthday, Dahling!

The hostess in the new little black dress with the dramatic necklace and earrings that were a gift from her boys, "with some help from Dad."

Soundtrack for "Something's Gotta Give" playing quietly in the background; boys playing guitar and bongo in the foreground.

Thai feast for all the senses - sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, but mostly heart.

Orange chiffon cake beaten and beaten and baked and iced painstakingly so that it would be perfect for his girl.

Presents chosen and given with care, and received with tenderness.

The "Queen for the Day" gift bag making its first appearance this year.

And everywhere you look, an abundance of love for this wonderful daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend, minister whom we celebrate on this day and cherish all year round.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Of Tinkerbell and Trucks

I first met her dad years ago, in Yellowknife at a conference in the height of summer where we all golfed until just after midnight and then sat on patios overlooking the water in Old Town until the wee watches of the morning when the sky got slightly less golden and we returned to our hotel rooms to try to get a couple of hours' sleep.

I next met Greg in the bleak midwinter - February, where I was advised to leave my vehicle running for my whole visit due to the extreme temperatures and where there was only one (ONE!) orange at the grocery store because the supply planes and trucks had not been able to make it in. I was cold and his friendly face and kind acceptance of me cheered me up immensely.

We met at conferences and training sessions over the years, more so when he moved to Saskatoon. In time I met his wife, Inge, and in even more time his daughter, Samantha.

This week as I worked in Saskatoon I went to call on Greg, the new Law Library Director, and had the opportunity to meet Samantha again after about six years.

Tinkerbell's house - she enters
and exits through the
cunning trapdoor in the roof!
 You know how some people can seem to spy a little vacant spot in your heart and are able to fit themselves right into it without even trying? That's Samantha. Immediately when I saw her she showed me the house she had built for Tinkerbell. She carefully brushed off the glitter - green and purple - that she had scattered about to make the beautiful fairy feel more welcome. Then she confided to me that Tinkerbell writes her the occasional letter as well: in one such letter Tinkerbell told Samantha that apart from Lizzie, the girl in the movie, no other girl except for Sam had built her a house where she could be so comfortable. 

Then it was time for lunch. Greg and I had planned to meet for lunch, and with Sam along, what would have been a very enjoyable time became magical. Montana's it was, of course. Cheese pizza and spinach dip and a red truck with a side dish served in its bed. "This is a great truck!" exclaimed Sam. "Do you know that every Montana's has a red truck in it somewhere? Look right above us!" And sure enough, there were the front wheels of the old red truck in this particular Montana's restaurant.

After lunch we popped over to where Sam's Mom had been called in to work. When she saw her, Sam launched herself into her mother's arms, chattering about her day and how she really, really needs a blue sparkle-covered notebook for school.

Soon enough it was time to say goodbye, but not before a mango smoothie for two and a coffee for me. "I'm going to do gymnastics and jazz and Dad and I are going to go swimming when school starts!" she chattered excitedly.

And that's the thing about this precocious, precious eight year old. She's smart and entertaining and compassionate and well mannered, and she loves both her parents fiercely in return for the secure knowledge that she is utterly loved and accepted for who she is by each of them.

It's because of these exceptional parents that Sam is happy, healthy and has her own art gallery in Dad's new office. And it's because of her parents that Tinkerbell feels free to visit Sam's home and now has transportation in the form of a little red truck that will roar to life some night soon, just after midnight.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

To Blog or To Sleep?

This week, I chose sleep.

But oh, I have some stories from the past couple of weeks! Here are a few of the topics I want to discuss:

  • Camelot
  • Of retirements and rings
  • The Mad Red Hatters' tea party
  • Love the second time around
  • "London's Burning"
  • The Best Is Still To Come

Stay tuned ... and good night!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Happy Birthday!

... to one of the most hard-working ...

perspicacious ...

thought-full ...

and loyal people I know. Thank you for all I have learnt from you. May this be the year that your hopes and dreams come to fruition!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Making Jam

A couple of nights ago I popped over to my Dad's house for tea and a chat. I found him up to his elbows in nanking cherries - he had just finished straining a large pail of them them that he, BA and Allan had picked the evening before.

And I got my first jam-making lesson!

What a satisfying feeling, as the clock prepared to strike midnight, to survey 16 jars - 2 gallons - of jam ready to be labelled.

As we worked, he talked about how he and Mum would make jam together: about how they would meticulously measure out the ingredients; about how they would discuss the exact right amount of time to stir to produce the perfect consistency for the jam; about how one would pour the bubbling, fragrant liquid into the jars and the other would quickly place the sealer on top and tighten the lid. I could picture the two of them moving together in synchronicity, falling into the easy rhythm they had perfected over the years.

And it was almost enough.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Person Of No Identity

A few weeks ago I lost my passport - just put it in the pocket of seat 12A on the midnight flight from Raleigh and forgot to retrieve it at the end of the flight. It hasn't resurfaced.

Then last week I fell asleep instantly on the flight from YYC to YVR, clutching my driver's licence in my hand. By the time I awoke it had fallen out of my hand; I didn't notice until I had driven out of the rental car facility that I didn't have it.

I went back into the airport and filled out a lost-and-found form. The agent was incredibly helpful, even noting on my profile that the office was to call me before shipping the licence back to Calgary (their standard operating procedure), as I had to catch a flight to YKA the very next morning. He also directed me to a supervisor's desk at the check-in counter where I was told to come back the next day to plead for an exception before my flight. A person needs two pieces of government-issued ID, one of which should have a picture on it, to get permission to board the plane without a passport or driver's licence. I had my Alberta Health card with me - no picture on that - and nothing else that would remotely qualify.

"Then you are a person of no identity," the agent said to me gently. "For our purposes you could be a terrorist, although a very sweet-looking terrorist ..."

In despair I went back to where my car was parked and also where my manager waited for me. My manager, who doesn't suffer fools gladly, took one look at my supremely foolish face and said, "It's okay - it'll all work out." She never once told me I was an idiot or should be more careful or aware of my situation, or gave me any of the lectures I was berating myself with. When I told her we would have to go early to the airport the following morning, she proposed leaving half an hour earlier even than had been suggested.

The next morning as I stood at the supervisor's desk for 45 minutes waiting for her manager to decide my fate, my manager also stood there, not far from me, quietly observing the entire airport check-in scene, smiling over at me encouragingly from time to time. The Air Canada manager herself called lost and found to see if the licence had been turned in; negative. But because I had filed a claim the day before she granted permission on my profile for the gate agent to board me for the flight to Kamloops. "You'll have to go through this again there for your return flight," she warned. "Good luck to you."

Then we discovered that our flight was delayed. We made our way to the departure gate and I called our client to advise that we would be late.

At 11:08 the preboarding call was made for the flight. And at 11:11 I got a call on my cell phone: "Ms Ironside? This is Air Canada baggage calling. We have found your driver's licence. We'll send it to the Calgary airport and you can pick it up from there."

"Don't do that!" I almost shrieked into my phone. I'm still in the Vancouver airport - my flight has been delayed."

"Where are you?" the man asked.

"Gate 35 in the domestic terminal," I told him. "I really need my licence to get back from Kamloops this evening." 

"Wow," he replied. "I'm in International. That's really far away. I'll really do my best to make it over."

"Please hurry!" I begged. They've started to board my flight ..." But he'd already hung up.

We updated the gate agent, who indeed had the instructions about letting me on the flight without ID. And then we waited, the last two to board the plane. Finally the agent said, "You're going to have to board; the plane's already late. I will do my paperwork, which will take a few more minutes, and if your licence arrives I'll bring it out to the plane for you."

And at that precise moment I saw an angel - not a feathery winged, statuesque majestic creature, but a fairly short, smiling man in an Air Canada baggage handler's uniform. "I've been waiting for you at the plane!" he exclaimed as he handed me my licence. It turned out he had figured that the fastest way from point A to point B was not through all the scores of corridors and hundreds of gates but straight across the tarmac. "Glad I could make it in time for you!" he beamed, brushing aside my thanks like it was just part of his routine.

On that short flight I was very conscious of two overwhelming certainties. The first one was that if my plane hadn't been late I wouldn't have received my driver's licence until I was back in Calgary - the flight delay, for which there was no reason given, had been providential.

The second certainty had bigger ramifications for a person who often feels invisible to a certain extent. The words You. Are. A. Person. Of. No. Identity. had run laps around my brain that previous afternoon and evening and had continued into my sleepless night.

In the morning as I had been preparing for the day, no closer to a solution and not confident that I would even be able to board the plane, I finally turned the whole predicament over to God. And immediately this is what He impressed upon my exhausted mind and anxious heart: "Remember the prophet Isaiah's words? I have engraved you upon the palms of my hand. You are not a person with no identity. I know you, with or without your driver's licence or your passport. Your ID might fall out of your hands, but you'll never fall out of Mine because, Karyn Christeen Ironside, not merely your name but your very self is permanently embedded on these hands that are also going to carry you through this situation."

At the precise mystical moment of 11:11 - a time significant to some of us in our family - I heard the words "Ms Ironside ..."

My earthly identity had been reestablished. And my eternal identity had been reconfirmed.

As I walked down the aisle to my seat, I heard the door of the plane being locked securely behind me.