Friday, November 30, 2012

Passing the Torch

For my birthday I had received a card from one of my nephews. It contained a voucher inviting me out for an evening with him - "an Event, if you will" are the words he wrote. I felt a faint stirring of joy in my soul that one of our next generation saw the joy in hanging out with a member of the family from another generation ...

And then I thought, Maybe he's just humouring his old aunt ... whatever; I'll take it!

Then on Tuesday he, his mother, three of his aunts and his grandfather all trooped down to Knox for an evening with John McDermott, he of the eyes of Alba and the voice of heaven. 

The first time I heard of John McDermott was at Mum's and Dad's kitchen table in the south house. It was Remembrance Day, which in 2000 fell on a Saturday. We turned on the CBC to listen to Stuart McLean's Vinyl Cafe. John McDermott was the musical guest.

One of the most unforgettable voices I have heard filled the room, drawing us all together under a tartan blanket of horror and pain, of loss and yearning, of old love never forgotten. We mourned with him as he sang; Mum sang along to songs she had learnt from her father, my grandfather, Patrick Charles O'Halloran, whose own father went off to World War 1. 

Stuart's Dave and Morley story that day was of finding a postcard in the baseboard of a bedroom Dave was refurbishing. It was from a soldier to his wife, written during World War 1. He was going to be deployed the next day.

It would be the last letter she got from him.

If you'd like to hear the story, click here. It actually begins at 12:59 of the recording - Stuart rebroadcast it last year - but the whole podcast is very worthwhile listening, if you have time.  

When the story was over that Remembrance Saturday morning, John McDermott's voice once again filled the room with Danny Boy:

Getting us organized -
Happy Movember!
And now here we were, at the invitation and as the guests of Matthew. For everyone else in our party it was the first time they would hear John McDermott singing live; for me, who had been to four previous concerts, I couldn't wait to see their reaction to someone whom I consider - over and above his voice - a hero in his own right for the work he does with vets and the forces both in Canada and America.

We met at an aunt's place and proceeded from there down town.

As we waited for the concert to start, Matthew and his Poppa got caught up:

As they talked, we watched the star of the evening walking through the audience, smiling, chatting, pausing for pictures. People greeted him like they would an old friend - this is the response he evokes wherever he goes.

And then the concert started, with very little fanfare. 

The old church was surely created for a voice like Mr McDermott's. Although he laboured a little bit under the discomfort of a cold, the warmth and sincerity were not diminished one iota. His musical companion for the evening, Jason Fowler, who is nothing short of a guitar genius, was the perfect foil for him. And when John left the stage, Jason commanded it. His fingers blurred on the strings as he shared his new instrumental composition, "Cambridge to Coventry."

There was also a very special guest, Michael P Smith, who has written a song that John McDermott has recorded. But there was something very poignant about seeing and hearing the composer himself singing "The Dutchman." It ripped my heart out to witness again the simple day-to-day love Margaret has for her faltering Dutchman, to hear Mr Smith singing most tenderly, "Margaret comes to take him home again through unforgiving streets that trip him though she holds his arm ... He sees her for a moment, calls her name ... Long ago I used to be a young man, and dear Margaret remembers that for me ..."

Just before the intermission Mr McDermott and Jason sang "How deep the Father's love for us" - one of Dad's favourites.

During the intermission ("We'll take a 10-minute intermission and be back in 20 minutes") Mr McDermott greeted people and patiently signed autographs and posed for pictures. The 20 minutes stretched slightly but no one minded.

The second half was Christmas songs. "Christmas in the trenches" was included, of course. As he sang it was easy to picture the courageous lone brave German soldier setting out across no-man's land with nothing but a white flag that Christmas evening of 1914.

The evening ended too soon. They left the stage, but came back in response to the audience's applause. 

He took his seat, lovingly ran his hand over the scarf, the cap and cane that had belonged to his parents and which are present with him on stages wherever he goes; and then Jason played the opening notes of "And the band played Waltzing Matilda."

Sometimes it doesn't make it easier knowing how the story's going to end. He sang it in a way that made it seem to me like it were the first time I had heard it, as if I didn't play the album this song is recorded on every month while I go about my work. Jason's guitar wept quietly as the old men marched past, once again answering the call. When it came to the last line, it was almost like an echo; the last two words, "with me," were nothing but a whisper from a ghost-man who had given all that he could.

We made our way slowly into the cold night air and waited not impatiently for the light to change colours. As we walked across the street I looked over and saw Matthew's arm gently resting across his grandfather's shoulders.

My heart was very full as I drove off that night. I was moved by the music and the beautiful setting; I was grateful for the wonderful evening we had spent together; and I was overwhelmed that it was a gift from my nephew Matthew, this young man of such talent and such promise and of such heart.

I knew then that the practice of Events would be in good hands with the next generation.


("And the band played Waltzing Matilda" was the one McDermott song Matthew had heard before we went to the concert. He bought the tickets because he remembered listening to this song at his Poppa's home. What a wonderful gift that it was the encore! The added subtitles in this video version are not always accurate; but they detract not at all from the story.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Not Just Another Sunday Evening in the TH ...

She came back to visit last evening. But somehow she seemed weighted down, particularly on her left side. She was accompanied by five people, one of whom could barely keep the smile off his face.

"I'm SO happy!" she exclaimed several times.

Our Tiffany is engaged! Congratulations, Jeff, on finally getting the girl ("I've loved him since I was in grade 4," she had told us when still working at the TH).

And what a girl you've got! A hard worker, loyal, grounded, with a good attitude and a quiet sense of leadership. Plus she's beautiful and smart and fun ...

She knows she's blessed in you too: your steadiness and charm and sense of humour, and your loyalty and integrity make you stand out among the crowd. And may I add that this is about the most exquisite ring I have ever seen? You have exceptional taste, in women and jewelry!

Both sets of parents could barely contain their delight:

Anyone who knows this couple knows from this strange role reversal - Shirley's the one on the phone?! - that it must be big news! Tim looks pretty pleased about the whole thing, doesn't he?

Ruth and Paul, Tiff has told me several times how grateful she is for the wonderful upbringing she received from you - always seeking her best, consistently displaying your love through the way you guided her to make good decisions for her life. What a wonderful decision this one is!

When Tiff worked at the TH, Jeff would show up promptly at 9:59 each Sunday night and in ringing tones (very out of character for Jeff!) would ask, "Karyn, would you like me to bring in the sign?"

He did it one more time last night, for old times' sake:

What a magical way to end the weekend at the TH!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Happy Birthday, Asad!

Eleven years old today - wow! 

It is a great joy to hear your voice every Saturday morning at about 8:54 - you are ALWAYS early! - quietly call out, "Good morning!"

And then you methodically go about your business, chatting when we come face to face but otherwise focused on the job at hand.

We are so blessed to have you as part of the TH family. 

A proud Mom taking pictures of her boy ...

Two beautiful human beings.
(Picture taken by Asad's Mom)

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A Kiss For All the World

(Photograph courtesy of Arlin Koch)

Friday was a memorable day. My sister and I went to hear the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra performing Ode To Joy - Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. We were in the centre of the second row and as a result could almost believe ourselves to be part of the magic on stage.

Schiller's words to Beethoven's Ode to Joy:

O friends, no more these sounds!
Let us sing more cheerful songs,
more full of joy!
Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire-inspired we tread
Thy sanctuary.
Thy magic power re-unites
All that custom has divided,
All men become brothers
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.
Whoever has created
An abiding friendship,
Or has won
A true and loving wife,
All who can call at least one soul theirs,
Join in our song of praise;
But any who cannot must creep tearfully
Away from our circle.
All creatures drink of joy
At nature's breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift;
She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
Even the worm can feel contentment,
And the cherub stands before God!
Gladly, like the heavenly bodies
Which He set on their courses
Through the splendour of the firmament;
Thus, brothers, you should run your race,
As a hero going to conquest.
You millions, I embrace you.
This kiss is for all the world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving Father.
Do you fall in worship, you millions?
World, do you know your Creator?
Seek Him in the heavens;
Above the stars must He dwell.
Maestro Roberto Minczuk conducted. He needed no score in front of him - it was apparent from the start that the work is embedded deep within him. He elicited joy from the orchestra, which they transmitted to the audience. 

The orchestra was at the top of their game; and the CPO Chorus, along with the Cantare Children's Choir, wove ribbons of transcendent sound through the pipes of the magnificent Carthy organ soaring above them. The soloists rose to the occasion, the apparent rapport between them lighting up the words, "Thy magic power reunites all that custom has divided." Diana Cohen, our new Concertmaster, was enthralling.

The pipes of the Carthy Organ
in the Jack Singer Concert Hall

Earlier that day we had said our final earthly farewells to everybody's friend, MaidaSo many of the hymns that were sung were the same ones sung at my Mum's funeral. There was a time for tributes. Some people had been asked to speak and then there was a space where people could feel free to come to the front and say a few words. A tribute that moved me most deeply was the one from Maida's childhood friend, the Reverend Angie Dodginghorse of the Tsuu T'ina First Nation. The farm where Maida started out her childhood bordered the Nation's Treaty 7 land and "Maida used to come visit me in my tent." Reverend Angie talked about how after her husband had died, Maida encouraged her to go to Bible School and become a minister to help her people. That is what she has done. "I have spoken at many funerals, and I talk about the love of God and I try to encourage my people to come to know the love of God. But Maida's funeral!" She paused and collected herself. "Who will encourage me now? Who will I call on to pray for me and my people? She knew us all and she loved us."

Indeed, one after the other, people streamed to the front of the church and spoke of Maida's great love and gave instances of how that love was manifest. Maida touched so many lives around the world. Her brief obituary didn't tell the half of what she had done.

It was Dad's privilege to deliver the sermon for the funeral. After Mum's funeral - where Dad preached the sermon - Maida had come up to him. "Allan, if you're still alive when I die, I want you to speak at my funeral!" she had exclaimed.

Turned out she was serious. Her daughter Laura got the request to Dad.

"I remember she had said that on that day," Dad remarked, somewhat wistfully, at the beginning of his message. "I just never thought it would come to pass."

He chose for the text the words from the book of Revelation, chapter 14 and verse 13:

And I heard a voice from Heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them.

This is a strongly worded message of hope, Dad pointed out. It is delivered in three ways - spoken, written, and confirmed by the Spirit of God. Blessed in the past; blessed in the present; blessed forever. A three-fold witness.

Why are those who "die in the Lord" blessed? Because they have experienced God's grace in their life, they pass from this world to the next already possessing the following priceless gifts: 

  • they have been loved with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3)
  • their sins have all been forgiven (Acts 13:38, 39; I John 1:7)
  • they are a new creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • they are accepted in the Beloved (sometimes translated the One that He [God] loves, Jesus) (Ephesians 1:6)
  • they are blessed with every spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3)
  • they are complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10)
  • they have had the opportunity to serve Him (the text says that they now will have "rest from their labours")
  • they have a heavenly inheritance prepared for them (1 Peter 1:3-5)
In addition, they are blessed at the very time of death: Philippians 1:21 exclaims, For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. That word gain comes from the root word that carries the sense of a bonus. For a person who has trusted in Christ as his or her Saviour, death - far from being something to dread - comes as A BONUS!

And then, lastly, the wonders of God's eternal provision begin to open to them as they enter His presence. 1 Corinthians 2:9 says, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him.

All of this is made possible because of the ultimate gift to humanity - Jesus Christ's death on the cross as propitiation for our transgressions and sin. Anyone who chooses this gift, offered freely to all with nothing to do but accept it, immediately possesses these blessings that Maida had as she passed away. 

Dad harked back to the story of the Queen of Sheba's meeting with the great King Solomon, recorded in 2 Chronicles 9:1-12. The Queen had heard of Solomon's wisdom, and she wanted to speak with him about matters that were heavy on her heart. He answered all her questions completely, holding nothing back from her. Then as she dined with him she observed his enormous wealth. Overwhelmed, she exclaimed, "It was a true report which I heard in my own land, of your acts and of your wisdom. Nevertheless I believed not their words until I came, and my eyes had seen it; and behold, the half of the greatness of your wisdom was not told me, for you exceed the fame that I had heard."

Maida is now in the presence of the One she loves more than any other. And she is seeing the reality for herself. We with our finite minds and limited capacity can only guess at the wonder of being face to face with the One who loves us more than any other has loved us.

Now Maida knows!

Dad concluded with this beautiful old hymn by Oswald J Smith:

The Glory of His Presence

I have walked alone with Jesus
in a fellowship divine.
Never more can earth allure me,
I am His and He is mine.

On the mountain I have seen Him,
Christ my Comforter and Friend
And the glory of His presence
Will be with me to the end.

I have seen Him, I have known Him,
And He deigns to walk with me;
And the glory of His presence
will be mine eternally.

Oh, the glory of His presence,
Oh, the beauty of His face,
I am His and His forever,
He has saved me by His grace.  

Maida is experiencing the glory of His presence today. Her heart, which had been broken many times and yet continued to pour out such love, and which finally just gave out on her, is now healed.

As my sister and I sat and listened to Beethoven's Chorus later that evening, the line This kiss is for all the world! struck both of us. "That could have been written about Maida!" we murmured to each other. She had a deep, entrenched love for her girls, Cheryl and Laura, and for her Willard. But her love was not limited to her family. It flowed out to her church family, her community, to people from many nations and cultures - all were loved deeply and well by her.

And as I made my way home late that night, I also remembered someone else this day. My friend Maynard would have been 51 on Friday, November 16. I was able to attend his memorial service in the summer of 2005. It was a very different service to Maida's where there was a profound, abiding joy and hope running just beneath the surface of the pain and loss. Maynard had loved Beethoven. He would have loved the CPO and the Ninth. 

He would have yearned for the joy.


(If you'd like to hear a sublime performance, click below to enjoy Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in the 1970s. Part 1 starts with Bernstein's musings on Beethoven and the precious gift of the 9th Symphony, especially the Ode to Joy. And that young tenor who leads off part 2? Domingo.)




Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"I Am Afraid"

Will you sit with me for a few moments? 

This is not going to be easy to write, and it may be dull to read. I beg your indulgence as I chip my way into this heaviness that sits squarely on my heart like a cinder block.

It's been here for over half a year, with me all the time. I can be at a party and be conscious of it pressed up against me, my invisible companion. I can wake up in the middle of the night and know that it is keeping watch over me.

Sometimes it makes its presence felt more insistently, grabbing me unawares and snatching my next breath clean away. But usually it's slumbering quietly, its dead weight making it difficult for me to concentrate, to sing, to play the piano, to be fully present to people and the world around me.

I know from whence it came; I know when it will leave me. It can cause me to sit for an hour or so, staring at the brown crumbling leaves clinging tenaciously to Franz, my Schubert cherry on the east lawn.

It has a first name: Fear. Its surname would be Grief, I suppose.

I know I'm not alone with these feelings. So many people dear to me feel the weight of various invisible but real troubles resting on their heads, their hearts, spirits.

I'm trying to name some of these fears; when you give something a name, that action alone defuses some of the power of the fear: 

  • getting behind in my job at Carswell
  • not accomplishing everything in time for every. single. Saturday. morning 
  • that one of my siblings will get seriously ill
  • that my Dad is tired or in physical distress
  • of all my receipts, resembling nothing so much as a garbage heap on the side of the road in Bangalore
  • that my nephews will be treated unkindly by the world
  • of driving on icy roads
  • that the TH will be a failure
  • that the TH will be a success
  • of losing my way  

Two gifts have been given to me as I wrestle with my burden.

One is a Psalm written by my friend Alex Rettie. He sent me this link earlier in the summer, just when I had started to figure out that it is fear weighing on my heart. This song encapsulated what I had been feeling. More importantly, it gave me a vehicle to offer my fear up to God:

The second is a Psalm written by King David of old. Psalm number 56 and verse 3 is what was given to me in answer to the anguished cry articulated for me through Alex's song. It's the reply to his prayer for help:

What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee.

It was God responding, "When you're afraid, trust Me ..."

The Psalmist goes on in verses 8 and 13:

Thou tellest my wanderings; put Thou my tears into Thy bottle - are they not in Thy book?

The sorrow and the grief and the heaviness? He already knows it. It's in His book. But yet it is costing the sufferer dearly, and so the request comes: please show me You appreciate my pain, confirm to me that You place a value on my sorrow and fear.

For Thou hast delivered my soul from death; wilt Thou not deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?

What a wonderful note on which to end this Psalm of David. I can trust Him with my soul; surely then, I can trust Him with my daily journey! It is He before whom I am walking. He's close enough to me to feel my heart pounding; close enough to collect my tears. 

And so I will continue on ...

Monday, November 12, 2012

Remembrance Day in the TH

She stands in the cold
Her black cloth coat
Suits the occasion
But fails to keep her warm
Despite the gleam of silver
At her breast.

Her thoughts circle round:

“Why did we have another war?
Didn’t we lose enough men already?
Why did my sons have to die?
O God, keep me upright.
Help me not to scream
Out their names.

“What will we have for dinner tonight?
What would Joey and Bill have wanted?
It’s so hard to have faith…
It’s so hard to have hope…
Why did my sons have to die?
Jesus, you comforted your mother
As she stood and watched you die.
If I pray hard enough
Will you bring comfort to me?

“If that preacher says ‘Noble Sacrifice’
One more time I’ll scream…
I’ll scream out their names
So hard the dead will hear me.
Only this time, I’ll scream out loud
Instead of in my heart.”

But she doesn’t scream…
She stands beside the Honour Guard
Who are older than her sons
Were when they died.
The people nearby watch her,
Wondering how she can stand
So still, so calm,
Knowing she lost two boys,
Thinking she has lost her grief
After all these years
When to her it might
Have been today.

Clare Stewart
Copyright © 20 November, 2000

"Gleam of silver." Clare Stewart, who is a Canadian, explains: "Every year, a Silver Cross mother is invited to lay a wreath on Remembrance Day at the National War Memorial in Ottawa on behalf of all mothers. The Memorial Cross is depicted in bronze with the three different cyphers, at three of the four corners of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, unveiled in May 2000. There is also a large replica of the Memorial Cross hanging above the door of the Memorial Chamber in the Peace Tower of the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings, where the Books of Remembrance are kept."

Sunday, November 11, 2012

We Remember

All Veterans are our honoured guests
at the Tea House today.

Thank you ...

Friday, November 9, 2012

Another's Mother

Have been recalling winter fun on our hill in Calgary, and skating in Three Hills! Think I'll buy a new pair of skates!

Another’s mother

                       shuffled off
her mortal coil
       last evening

Another’s mother
                    left her girls
crying out for
       one more day

as she laced up her
             shiny new skates and
                                 glided off to the other side
                                                                of the pond
             the whoosh of blades on ice
                                 whispering farewell

Picture taken by Another herself,
Her worn heart
       pouring out love to the last
                           is now her own again

But Another
         is left behind
crying, “oh mom!!!!!!!”
          is left standing
on the other bank of the pond,
          is left scanning 
the sky for a sign,

          is left

we shiver on the shore
with Another

we are all Another

Laura Lynn Shaefer momsie, i am imagining you skating on a perfect pond in heaven. it's not even cold. and there's a bonfire & hot chocolate. and i am skating with you. i'm actually not that bad at it either. 
i miss you mum.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

November 6, 2012

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet
Whose stern impassion'd stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness
America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.
O beautiful for heroes prov'd
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country lov'd,
And mercy more than life.
America! America!
May God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And ev'ry gain divine.
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

Monday, November 5, 2012

That's Right, Kids, Stay In School ...

... that PhD will pay off some day!

(Thanks, Char, for the assist tonight when Curt was off for the day!)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Dear God? I'm Just Checking Up on Josh ...

It's been a year ago today since he chose to leave here and be with You. It seems so long, so interminably long, ago.

There has scarcely been a week in the past year that I have not thought of him, this young boy whom I never was privileged to meet here on earth. I've prayed for his Mom and Dad, his two sisters and brother. I've thought about his aunts and uncles and cousins. 

The other day I was looking at the program that was handed out at his funeral: A Life Worthy of Being Remembered, it said on the front cover. I believe that, even more now than a year ago. I'm sure there are children in the Horn of Africa who are alive today because of Josh's burden for their suffering.

Thank You for teaching me, through him, more of the value of life. Every time I hug my nephew Oliver - one of Josh's friends and someone who still remembers him - I am more conscious of how precious time spent with him is, of how thankful I am that he chooses life.

Thank You for the comfort of knowing that Josh is with You today. Please let him know in a special way today how much his family loves him.

And thank you for the comfort of knowing that You are with his family today, as you are every day. They are never alone, as that old old hymn by Ludie D. Pickett (1897) says:

Friday, November 2, 2012

Thanksgiving Hymn ... Day 31

Thanks to God for my Redeemer,

Thanks for all Thou dost provide!

Thanks for times now but a mem’ry,

Thanks for Jesus by my side!

  1. Thanks for pleasant, balmy springtime,

    Thanks for dark and dreary fall!

    Thanks for tears by now forgotten,

    Thanks for peace within my soul!
    Thanks for prayers that Thou hast answered,

  2. Thanks for what Thou dost deny!

    Thanks for storms that I have weathered,

    Thanks for all Thou dost supply!

    Thanks for pain, and thanks for pleasure,

    Thanks for comfort in despair!

    Thanks for grace that none can measure,

    Thanks for love beyond compare!

  3. Thanks for roses by the wayside,
    Thanks for thorns their stems contain!

    Thanks for home and thanks for fireside,

    Thanks for hope, that sweet refrain!

    Thanks for joy and thanks for sorrow,

    Thanks for heav’nly peace with Thee!
    Thanks for hope in the tomorrow,

    Thanks through all eternity!

    (by John A. Hultman)