Thursday, May 24, 2012

Year of the Nephew: Sir Oliver

My nephew, the king of puzzle solvers. Here's a lateral thinking puzzle for you:
Happy Birthday, Thirteen!

A man walks into a bar, and asks the bartender for a drink of water. The bartender pulls out a gun, points it at the man, and cocks it. The man says "Thank you" and leaves. What happened?
  1. Question: Could the bartender hear him? Answer: Yes
  2. Question: Was the bartender angry for some reason? A: No
  3. Question: Was the gun a water pistol? A: No
  4. Question: Did they know each other from before? A: No (or: "irrelevant" since either way it does not affect the outcome)
  5. Question: Was the man's "Thank you" sarcastic? A: No (or with a small hint: "No, he was genuinely grateful for some reason")
  6. Question: Did the man ask for water in an offensive way? A: No
  7. Question: Did the man ask for water in some strange way? A: Yes

Conclusion: the man had the hiccups, and his reason for requesting a drink of water was not to quench his thirst but to cure his hiccups. The bartender realized this and chose instead to cure the hiccups by frightening the man with the gun. Once the man realized that his hiccups were gone, he no longer needed a drink of water, gratefully thanked the bartender, and left.
You probably already figured it out at about question number 2, didn't you?
Here's a puzzle I have been working on for 13 years; maybe you could help me figure it out.
How can one person generate such light around him that it transcends fear, transcends doubt, transcends distance? How can one person make the world seem like a better place, a place of hope, just by being himself?
You were born in Regina on the Monday of the May long weekend. We were all having a barbeque on the lawn at your cousin Matt's home when we got the phone call. Another boy? I must admit groaning to myself. However, plans were made to go to Regina and visit the newest addition to the nephews.
I remember the first time I saw you. Your eyes threatened to swallow up your face. They were so enormous and so blue and, even at just a few weeks old, they seemed to be trying to look into mine and tell me something. I firmly believe that's when we had our first conversation. No words, just eye to eye. I felt like you could read my mind and that I could catch a glimpse into yours.
One of the first actual word conversations I can recall our having was when I was visiting you in Regina and your Mom, Elliot, you and I were out shopping somewhere. You were with me, sitting in the front of a shopping cart, chattering about something or other and I was looking down into your eyes. The blue in your eyes was changing to almost a golden colour now, but flecks of the sky still lingered, adding magic and wonder to everything you gazed at. As you talked away you looked down and your incredible eyelashes swept the curve of your little-boy cheeks.
"Oliver, where did you get your eyelashes from?!" I exclaimed.
"From ThuperThtore," you immediately responded, tilting your face up toward me, smiling like only you could, no guile in your eyes.
As you grew older your eyes took in everything around you. You could somehow see the safest place to cross a road, the best angle to throw a ball, the shortest line, the most perfect bouquet of flowers.
Your eyes started to speak for themselves too. They reflected your intelligence, your logic, your quick wit, your ability to think on your feet.
You excelled at whatever it was you set your sights on. Sports, music, acting, reading, schoolwork - you shone brighter than your peers.
And yet you were so good natured, so witty, so entertaining, so enjoyable to be around. Even when you were pouting you could make it seem charming.

Right from when you were a toddler, your eyes have seen more than just what was on the surface. As you grew older, your eyes discerned not just the good versus the bad, but the better versus the best. 
You were quick to notice when a friend needed a little more support, a little more gentleness, a little more love. You were able to deflect awkward situations masterfully with just a few well-chosen words delivered with your subtle brand of humour.
You were the one who named your, Elliot's and my time together every other month. From when you were quite small we had started to go on "dates:" every other month I would take you to Chapters for a book and a hot chocolate and a chat. But when you were eight, just five years ago, we were in the car driving to our date when you said, "I can't go on any more dates with you." 
"Why not?" I asked, dismayed.
"Because you can't marry your aunt!" you burst out with some anguish. It seems that you had told one of your friends that you were going on a date with me and that is what he told you in response.
"What about if we called it something else? Could you go then?"
After a few moments of solemn deliberation you nodded. "Yes," you assented. When I asked you what we could call our time together, you thought for a while and then said, "An event. We could go on events."
And that's what we've done ever since. You have shaped and moulded these events to what they are today: the Birthday Events; the Summer Event; the joint November Event when you, your brother and I put the final touches on the Christmas Event, which is - as you put it - in Service to the Parents.
December 2011: Resting up in preparation
for Service to the Parents
The other thing that happened five years ago is we had to bury your Grams. I will always carry with me the picture of your little face, contorted in concentration as you held up the centre of the end of her coffin. Your eyes were enormous, reflecting the weightiness of this sacred task. Later you said, "It was so heavy. I was so scared I was going to drop her."
Oliver, you evince so many of the subtleties that made up her true essence, and they can all be captured under these three points:
  • You love God
  • You love people
  • You love life
And when life is snuffed out unexpectedly - such as with your friend Josh - you are able to see the dreadful toll misguided decisions take on those who care for the one who acted in such a manner. Yet you still see the intrinsic beauty around you and the great worth of a person who thought that life as it stood was worthless.

If eyes are indeed the windows to the soul, the vista of your soul is multilayered and magnificent. And if you ever need a rest from all you see, if you ever need another set of eyes in helping you make decisions as you enter your teenage years, here is a promise for you from the Eyes that see above and beyond all that we can ask or think:

I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you shall go. I will guide you with My eye. (Psalm 32:8)

A long time ago, you said to me, "If Elliot is the Point of your Heart, what am I?"

Do you remember what I said to you? It is more true today than it was when you were five years old.

"Oliver Charles Spilsbury, you are the Apple of my Eye."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Comment #1000

A month or so ago I saw that RtL was getting close to its one thousandth comment. I wondered idly who the commenter would be ... should we celebrate it? ... would it be profound? ... would it start a conversation? ... and so on.

This morning it happened. And it was so unexpected that it made me burst out laughing and then it got me to thinking.

Here it is, in its entirety:

This comment has been removed by the author.

Do you, along with me, see the perfectness of Comment #1000?! It could have been written by any of us; it could be by all of us. Each one of us has said or written things that we have scratched our heads about later (at best) or been severely rebuked over, either in our own consciences and minds or by someone else (at worst).

What a gift it is, this gift of a second chance, an opportunity to remove something that didn't come out exactly as intended! What a rare chance to have a do-over that's completely free!

It could have been something as little as a typo that caused the commenter to delete the comment. It might have been that a more appropriate word came to mind as soon as the "Publish comment" button was pressed. It might have been that the commenter had revealed too much of him- or herself than was comfortable. There are any number of reasons for removing a comment; I've done it myself on occasion.

But as I was speculating on the words that were removed, it was reenforced to me that words are some of the most powerful weapons we possess. I am so grateful to Unknown this morning for reminding me to choose my words well and to use them wisely.

And it also reminds me of how grateful I am each time you share your words with me and with your fellow RtLers. Whenever you comment, you're nurturing this vine (or is it this tea bush?!) on which we are all growing together.

Here's to the next 1000 comments!

Is This What Happens at Fifty?

"This is your Jubilee birthday, you know," a friend commented in passing on April 30. "Better make the most of it ..."

The week was incredible, and I was awash in a golden haze of happiness.

I was going to tell you all about it.

And then ... nothing. It is like my brain has become tongue-tied. Mush. 

I'm sure I'll be back to myself soon enough; but in the meantime, let me share with you the sweetness of part one of the Week of Jubilee

On the Tuesday - May Day - I kicked off the celebrations with my Oldies at the Manor. I had told them two Tuesdays earlier that I would bring lunch for after our meeting; and when I arrived, I discovered to my delight that the whole room had been decorated for the occasion. Lace cloths adorned the tables, and everywhere I looked there were beautiful collector's dolls displayed with care.

There were flowers arranged carefully on the organ, as well as a card with my name on the envelope.

Everyone sang Happy Birthday and several of them prayed for me. Dad spoke, continuing his series on the blessings given to the twelve sons of Jacob, from the father's and from Moses' points of view.

Then it was time for lunch: roast beef buffet:

Dad's own strawberry shortcake
to wrap up the meal sweetly!
Then that evening, we went out to Allan and Angie's place for dinner that Dad had prepared: savoury ground beef with mashed potatoes, and golden turnips - my very favourite meal any time! Accompanied as it was with warm tender biscuits, also whipped up by Dad, how could I not know how loved I am?

My Dad loves me!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

"...One of the Least of These ..."

I came home early this evening and my eyes went involuntarily to her window.

She was not there.

Of course she's not, I reproached myself, shaking my head impatiently. When I had left the TH at 10 o'clock this morning there had been an ambulance outside and a police car across the road.

When I returned, slightly over an hour later, the two vehicles had been joined by a hearse. Her body, blanketed and anonymous, was being carefully lifted into the back of it.

Her two daughters, unable to watch, walked to her back patio, where I went to see them and offer what comfort I could. 

As I held the younger one, she apologized for the shock of my having to drive back to this. "We believe she went peacefully in her sleep," she whispered.

My relationship with Colleen was all but non-existent. She was in the TH twice; I spoke to her once about her dog roaming around on my driveway doing what dogs do; I waved at her a few times.

And every time I came home from somewhere, as I pulled into the car port my eyes almost subconsciously went straight to her window. Nine times out of ten she would be at it, watching me arriving, watching me unloading, watching me sitting in my car listening to the tail end of whatever was on the radio or wrapping up a phone conversation.

Morning, noon or night - it made no difference. There she invariably was.

At first I was annoyed. I felt spied upon. Then for a short period of time I felt a little creeped out by what I perceived to be her unwavering stare, her unbudging presence.

Gradually I grew used to it. I would occasionally raise a hand or nod in the direction of the window.

She got sick. She stopped smoking. Oxygen became her new drug of choice, her constant companion.

She started to appear at the window with less regularity.

But I never thought - if I thought much about it at all - that the last glimpse I would have of her would be enshrouded, on this long-awaited sunny Tuesday morning, her destination the hospital and her final examination.

I went into the TH and was rebuked by the words that jolted me like a slap stinging my cheek:

Then He will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

The words were from the gospel of Matthew chapter 25 and verse 45. I am very familiar with verse 40 of the same chapter, And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

If I am honest with myself, I might have slapped myself mentally on the back now and then, congratulating myself for some random act of kindness I might have performed. One of the least of these, I can hear myself thinking, perhaps even smugly.

But seeing Colleen today; seeing her daughters, distraught, no chance to say goodbye; seeing the compassion of the female RCMP officer, the dignity accorded to my neighbour by the paramedics and the funeral home representative, all pierced through the membrane of complacency that I have allowed to form around me.

I collapsed into one of the purple chairs as those words tumbled pell-mell around my brain. One of the least of these ... Me. I gasped as I thought of the implications of these words.

Why had I never gone to visit her? Why had I never reached out to her when I would see her slowly taking a turn with the walker and the tank, or when I knew she had had to get rid of her dog? Why would I brush her off as an inevitable minor annoyance when I would see her standing at the window?

Why didn't I bother with her?

My treatment of her, Jesus said, is my treatment of Him.

To the extent that I made no effort at all to get to know her, I made no effort to get to know Him.

Faithful to the end: her patio dog
holds a lamp, bringing into stark relief
the darkness all around tonight
When I would roll my eyes at her unblinking stare out her window, I was rolling my eyes at Him keeping me in His sights.

When I rejected relationship with her, I rejected Him.

This evening, as the clock approaches midnight,
O Lord Jesus, I ask Your forgiveness
for being irritated with You
for questioning Your motives
for rejecting You.

For not recognizing You in the eyes
of the frightened little lady
who lived, alone, next door

Friday, May 4, 2012

Guest Post from Israel - Bronwyn

Dearest Karyn Christeen,

Happy Birthday; 50 years of grace shining in you!

I love you and miss you so much today! I know it will be a very special one, and we will all be with you in heart, mind, and thought. And will have a triple-chocolate cake in your honour too!!!!! With candles. (Not 50! Ha!!!)

This is a very special day as I think of a mother looking at her baby girl for the first time; a devoted father smiling with intense pride that no doubt made him pace up and down a bit! I think of wonderful grandparents and the joy that must have burst from them, as Gumba held you for the first time, and Nana smiled at you.

I think of the years, the friends - starting in Bombay with the birthday party where you won an embroidered picture of a lady's head! And swimming at Breach Candy pool, where the echoes were so loud! 

I think of Coonoor and water beetles and baby crabs and verbena flowers with their shiny black berries, and short school uniforms and scratchy legs through the tea bushes, and the beautiful creamy white tea flower.

"I'm here, God's here; Now we can start"
I think of Latin and French, and Science with Mr Lloyd of the twitchy eyelids. I think of Hebron senior and Grassroots dorm and Janet Tozer and Susie Kukathas and Maynard and Virgil and Paul Smith and Paul Martin and Alasdair Ferry and Miriam Dartnall-Smith and Danny Sinclair and Brian Moffat. I think of "I'm here, God's here, Now we can start!" and Fiddler on the Roof, and Shakespeare and sports like field hockey.

I think of Bangalore and kites on the rooftop with glass string to cut others' down, and music ringing out from the piano while you read a novel, and Hekiho and Yehoshi and Nair and Haupi and Padma and Snehalatha and the Cherians and the Chellis and the Franks. I think of Baldwin's school Christmas programme, and Aubrey and the Hongals and a bike trip to Kumbalgood.
I bought all the six Malory Towers books in Bangalore
I think of Dad preaching, a halo round his head in the old chapel where the Joshuas lived at the back. I think of Mrs. Float's cottage and Pixie and Cookie who lived over the wall!! (Could have been character names from an Enid Blyton storybook!) Speaking of which, I think of Malory Towers and St. Clare's, and pretending our bikes were horses, or being "stewardesses" in a "bedsit" and I think of midnight feasts with pudina sandwiches that sadly became stale when we couldn't wake up for a night or two. 

I think of Liza, and of Joyce (Joyce. Rose. Angeline!) and Susie (Sushila) and walks on the Lamb's Rock Road and safety pins and needles hiding under the first layer of the ironing board, and "your side of the room" and "mine" and the blue dress with the lace ruffle at the neck that you wore when you were 12. 

I think of glasses and haircuts and glamorous up-dos for the Muslim wedding, and high-heeled red shoes to wear back to Canada, and then staying in the bunkhouse where sweetpeas and raspberries grew outside the door. I think of the blue glasses and rose-pink china dishes of Nana's house there, and Bapa's fiddle, and Uncle Gordon's steady walk and unfailing jokes! I think of the old black stove and the horses and the long, empty road.

I think of Three Hills and the mobile court and our little home with the red carpet that Brian Walsh used to visit. And the swimming pool, outdoor, and popsicles in the winter just before we left Castor when we were six and five. I think of poppy wreaths at the cenotaph. And of Andy and the tea house and the big start-up party and all the ups and downs but the ongoing sense of party that continues, so filled with love there, and the warmth and coziness. And your home upstairs, and refuge in the time of storm. And the visit to India when you hid in the back seat for a surprise, matching the kinds of surprises Dad would give us when he'd come up to Coonoor a day early! And Welcome Home signs. And Happy Birthday sign and cards and cakes and kisses.
I believe this was the last Welcome Home sign Mum made,
when I returned from South Africa ...
And I wish I was there to give you some of those today, and big hugs, and lots of love ... but I'm in the Holy Land, and that's one place that all the love and stories started anyway, so at the heart of it I am there with you. And of course the Holy Land and all its stories were at the heart of the love of our family. The very heart. And so, in Jesus, our shared Lord and Saviour, whom we all need desperately and love more each and every year, I send you all my love, Karyn Darling. 

Happy Birthday, from your sister far away but near at heart. With all my love, today and steadfastly for always,

Bronwyn xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo Past the sky!!!  (And much love to Dad, who gave you life, and thanks to Mum, without whom none of this would be true.) I love you! Much love to the others as well, the sisters and Allan. Happy party! All our love, Paul, Bronwyn, Elliot and Oliver xxxxooooxxxx
I miss you guys!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

May 3, 2012

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with thee,
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not,
As thou has been, thou forever will be.

Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed thy hand hath provided
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me

Summer and winter and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon, and stars in their courses above;
Join with all nature in manifold witness,
To thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.

Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed thy hand hath provided
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today, and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside.

Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see
All I have needed thy hand hath provided
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me
(Thomas Chisholm)