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The Judi and Robin Excellent Adventure ~ 4

Eclipse Day!

Judi was actually up until about 5:00 am working.  When I arose a couple of hours later, she was sound asleep ~ in our Murphy bed!  She said that she’d always wanted to sleep in one so . .  dream come true.

I headed out for a beautiful morning beach walk.  The St. Lawrence River has widened to the point where the northern shore is invisible.  Birds: black-backed gulls, cormorants, and gannets in the distance.  Crab breakfast for gulls.  The pink flowers we would see everywhere.  I made a cairn for Josh.

q matane beachQ matane crabQ matane flowersQ matane cairnQ Matane river

I felt fine until we began loading the car and I reached upward to put now-dry tents back into the roof storage container.  My first hint that I might have done some serious damage with that fall the previous morning.

Lots of driving that day as we proceeded from Matane to Gaspe’.  A delicious lunch at a roadside cafe’, where the chef/niece of owner sent me off with a bag of ice for my invisibly bruised ribs.

Q cafe east of Matane

I had not realized that the eclipse would be partially visible in the peninsula.  When the time came, it seemed a bit hazy, and the river darkened from blue to gray.  Most obvious sign?  The gannets vanished, and the gulls and cormorants moved in toward and to the beach.  Twenty minutes later, they were all airborne again!

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As we drove on, the landscape began to change, and so did our conversation.   Sixty-four years have brought challenges we could not have imagined in our dorms all those years ago.  I think we’ve handled them pretty well.

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We reached the town of Gaspe’ in the early evening, settled into our hotel  ~ home for the next three nights ~ and went out to a restaurant we enjoyed so much that we would return the next evening.

gaspe restauant

By bedtime, I was hurting, but highly motivated for the next day’s gannet trip and promise of sunshine.  I turned down all suggestions of waiting a day, and went to sleep on my back ~ not a good sign!

 

Glass Houses (Book Review Interlude)

[***Trigger Warnings: Suicide, Suicide by Jumping, Drug Addiction***]glass houses

I don’t recall when I started reading the Inspector Gamache mysteries ~ although Amazon says that I purchased the first one three years ago, and a month later had finished four.  Number 13 arrived last week-end, and a couple of days ago I re-read the last 100 pages, much more slowly and deliberately than I had a few nights earlier.  (Louise Penny is a master as describing intense encounters between criminals and their pursuers, and I had flown through the ending the first time around.)

At first, I didn’t care for this book. Louise Penny frequently makes use of sentence fragments in her writing, but in this novel she has reached a new extreme.  I was frequently distracted by the short, broken phrases, and wondered whether they reflected the sad and harsh reality of her own life.  Her beloved husband had died of Alzheimer’s during the writing, something she had discussed in her online newsletter and reflects upon at the end of the book.  But as I continued to read, the sentence structure seemed to become one with the broken world of the Surete’, the court system, and the drug trade whose stories coalesce into this one.

I don’t want to give anything away to either longtime Gamache fans or newbies, so I will make only two points.  First, the plot line does indeed center on the opiate trade, and thus address a contemporary crisis.  It does so in broad strokes, in the exploration of new characters, and in details of the lives of old favorites.  It is possible that, if you have had to deal with drug addiction in your own circles, this book might prove a difficult read.

Second, like nearly everyone else, I want to extol the character development at which Louise Penny is so brilliant.  I have started re-reading the first novel in anticipation of a book club discussion and, while I had forgotten many things, I knew that in Glass Houses I was reading about people who have grown and gained in strength and dignity over a period of several years.

As an aside, many of the books focus on the traumas and tragedies experienced by one or two characters other than Monsieur and Madame Gamache.  In this one, Ruth Zardo, perhaps my least favorite of the Three Pines residents, comes to the fore for a bit, and I fell in love with her.  As is so often the case, it’s the ones who most irritate us who turn out to be most like us in past trauma and lifetime response.  The woman prays for Satan ~ how wonderful is that?

Finally, it is an added pleasure to read these mysteries just after having spent time in Quebec.  (I re-read two others, out of any order, while we were traveling.)   Every time we came across a Surete’ du Quebec sign, I nearly jumper with joy, anticipating that I would encounter Chief Inspector Gamache at the next stop!

 

The Judi and Robin Excellent Adventure ~ 3

Sunday: A day of altered plans.

First there was the Whoop!  Yikes! Thump!

That was me, arms full of sopping wet tent and fly, distracted by conversation, slipping on the slick wooden tent platform and, as far as I can tell from the consequences, hitting my rear several times on the way down and toppling over to slam chest-first into a rock, or maybe more than one rock, on the ground.  A week later, the bruises on my bottom and legs are healing, and I can finally lie, for a bit, on my left side.  I probably do have actually cracked or broken ribs; I have my annual physical in another ten days, so maybe I’ll find out.

But it didn’t seem so bad at first, so off we went, further east along the coast of the St. Lawrence River.  First stop: a small island ~ a short boat ride and a hike on a spot somewhat famous for shipwrecks and for a hermit who dwelt there for forty years.  (I felt fine.)

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Then, as we would almost every day, we kept driving, and came across small villages in which churches with towering steeples loomed above the sea.  Had we photographed them all, we would still be on Monday!

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Our conversation continued to focus on Northfield.  Gratitude for what we gained there, despite the frustrations and pain of those years:  The music.  The impossible academic standards.  The sheer physical beauty of the campus.  The regret over the merger of the boys’ and girls’ schools, which seemed like a good idea at the time, but ultimately led to the closure of our campus.  The dismay we felt at the fate of many of the women teachers, who with the merger lost the place they called home.

Meanwhile, Judi was beginning to stress over a work proposal she had promised to submit by Monday evening.  Our plan . . .  my plan, I should say . . . involved a 20-mile drive deep into the forest to a wilderness campsite.  Judi’s involved a desk, a laptop, and a Wi-Fi connection.  I was getting  a little achy, and there was obviously no way that she could enjoy a remote campsite with that project looming overhead, so we reconnoitered, and headed for Matane.

What a fabulous change in plans!  The town of Matane is charming, and we thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at La Fabrique, a microbrewery recommended by our boat guide that morning. Judi was full of compliments for the ways in which the town has arranged its public spaces to facilitate walking and community gathering.

le fabrique

But even better: our hotel, on the banks of the St. Lawrence River, which by this point was beginning to look like the ocean.  Very contemporary, inside and out.  Filled with families.  We didn’t visit the restaurant, but I enjoyed the indoor hot tub and pool area while Judi got to work, I didn’t at all mind sinking myself into a hotel bed rather than clambering into a tent, and the view from our balcony was spectacular.  I am a Riotel convert!

q riotel outsideq riotel barq riotel view

 

 

The Judi and Robin Excellent Adventure ~ 2

can flag

Our first full day in Canada was marked by contrasts:

On an early morning walk, I scoped out a bakery (un boulangerie, for Gamache fans!), to which we later returned for crepes that practically melted away.

qc crepes

We spent the morning walking — and carriage riding — to take in the sights and history of Old Quebec.  The Jesuits were here, arriving in French Acadia in 1609 and establishing a seminary near Quebec City in 1636.  If you have read any of the history of the early Jesuits in New France, you know that often it did not go well for them at the hands of the Iroquois and Huron nations, but in the long run things did not go well for the First Nations at the hands of the French and English.

The Ursulines, who arrived in southwest Ohio in 1845 to found my first boarding school, showed up in Quebec in 1639, where they founded the first western institution of higher learning for women in North America.  When I was an eighth grader at the School of the Brown County Ursulines, nuns and girls alike headed to Montreal for the World’s Fair ~ Expo ’67 ~ and then on to Quebec City, where we stayed with the Ursulines.  This trip, there was no time to do more than take a quick look around.  One of many reasons to return ~ to linger all day over Ursuline history!

qc ursulinesqc ursuline chapelqc ursuline academy


As we wandered the streets of Quebec City, Judi, a city planner, remarked repeatedly on the beauty of the flowers which mark nearly every home and public building, whether business or government.  I have thought of her observations many times since and, a couple of days ago when I stopped by my son’s apartment,  I could not help but notice the potential for color in the utilitarian spaces on his street, large apartment buildings lining one side and older homes with porches the other.  Not a garden or window box in sight.  Quebec City is home to narrow streets and adjoining townhouses and apartments, but color greets you at every corner.

QC1QC2QC3

Everywhere, beauty and elegance:

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q fountains

QC govt

And, although Quebec is a deeply Catholic province, the Reformers have been here as well!

qc st andrews

Too late to plan a meet-up, we discovered that the Presbyterian St. Andrew’s, dedicated in 1810 but originating with Scots Highlanders fify years earlier, and pastored by a RevGals colleague, was only a block from our hotel!

The city was for the morning; by midday, we were headed north and east, and in the afternoon made our first stop at a provincial park.  The still-overcast skies did not mar its stark beauty:

q prov parc

And, finally, we reached our destination for the evening, a campground in Riviere-du-Loop!  After a long afternoon of driving, we set up our tents, built a fire, made dinner, cleaned up, and snuggled in for what would be another rainy night.

Q tents

Well, one of us snuggled in.  Judi was not quite ready to abandon her laptop technology!  I,, on the other hand, startled at first to discover that our campsite included Wi-Fi, was happy to burrow myself into my sleeping bag and read from my ipad!

Q judy camping

Not quite the Clarendon, but we were warm and dry ~ although that tent platform would prove to be my undoing . . .

 

 

The Judi and Robin Excellent Adventure ~ 1

As of August 18 . . . So far so good . . .  After an uneventful flight from Cleveland to Boston (except for a minor kerfluffle over luggage), Judi picked me up (after a minor kerfluffle pertaining to my exact location), and off we went, driving through New Hampshire and Vermont to Quebec City!  The drive was, of course, longer than anticipated, but the hours of almost nonstop conversation gave us ample opportunity to remember our Northfield (girls’ boarding school) days, and establish that they were not, for either of us, a time of unadulterated happiness and achievement, not by a long shot.

Judi had come as a freshman from a small town and public school in northern New England, and I, sophomore year, from a small town in Ohio and a previous boarding school life.  She, I think, had a better time of it than I did until nearly the end.  She was involved in music, and Northfield had an outstanding music program, whereas my efforts to engage outside the classroom mostly flopped.  As far as our junior and senior years are concerned, our stories differ, but I can say from my vantage point, as I probably already have, that while academically, musically, and athletically outstanding, Northfield was poorly equipped to deal with the emotional challenges of adolescents living far from home.  Carol Gilligan’s work and emphases on girls’ learning styles were far in the future, and I think that most of our counselors were simply graduates of Seven Sisters colleges — brilliant women, no doubt, but with no training in education or psychology or group dynamics.  And to be fair, it was the late 1960s. I have read that the administration and faculty were in something of a state of shock as they sought to respond to the upheavals of that decade, which reached New England prep school campuses nearly as quickly as they did colleges and universities.  All of those factors no doubt influenced our high school experiences.

Back to our trip: as dusk fell, so did torrents of rain.  Clenched-fist driving for Judi at that point. We were both glad that our first night’s lodging was the elegant, art-deco style Hotel Clarendon in the center of Quebec City and not a wilderness campsite!

clarendon1  clarendon2

Tired, cold, and quickly quite wet, we threw our stuff into the room and ventured out for an excellent dinner at Le Grill Ste-Anne, only a block or two away.  And then we fell asleep quickly, hoping for a glimpse of the city in the morning.

 

A Prayer for Tomorrow

A work in progress . . .  after a day like this, I would usually re-write the entire service.  But the congregation I have been serving this summer has just learned that its pastor’s medical leave has been extended indefinitely, and he is going to speak with them tomorrow ~ his last opportunity to preach and share with them.  So I have been working on the Prayers of the People off and on all day . . .  it may look completely different sixteen hours from now . . .

God of All Peoples,

When you came among us as Spirit Wind, you did not come to a small group of like-minded people who knew what to expect.  You came as a surprise of power and a mystery of awakening to people of all sorts from all places in the world as they knew it ~ people who came by different routes, people who looked different from one another,  people who spoke different languages from one another.

You called us, this conglomeration of all peoples, to gather as your church.

You called us to follow the way of your Son, who was never intimidated by illness or disarray, and to align ourselves with your healing presence.

You called us to follow the way of the prophets, who again and again called your people to the justice which is care and provision for all peoples, to the kindness which embraces all peoples, and to the humility required for ourselves to become instruments of the way you set for us.

And so we pray for Pastor — and for his family, that they may recognize and deeply know the community, the hope, and the healing, whatever those things may look like, that come across the winds and the waves of life with your Son.

We pray for the people of Charlottesville and of our nation, for the killed, the injured, and the heartbroken, that they may know the determination of a nation set on hope and justice grounded in the abundant love and care of God..

We pray for our leaders, that they may find the patience and wisdom and courage to guide us toward peace at home and abroad.

Grant us the patience to gather in community and to seek and offer healing, even and especially where healing does not look like that which we ourselves seek and prefer.

Grant us the strength and confidence to condemn racism and violence wherever we encounter them.

Grant us the courage to pursue justice and peace, in our community, in our nation, and in our world.

Help us to become the people you want us to become ~ people who follow the One who rose victorious over death and who reigns over the new creation of heaven and earth into which we are all called.

 

Why Gannets? (La Gaspésie ~ 3)

Why gannets?  I don’t know.  But I love them.

There’s a great image of gannets here.  (Unfortunately, the only close-up photograph I have taken is of the one whose body washed up on the beach at St. Augustine last spring.  She — for so I decided that she was — made for a good opportunity for up-close study over the week we were there, but her soaring days were over.)

It was at St. Augustine that I discovered gannets.  Many, many years ago, sitting on the beach with my binoculars, I suddenly realized that the birds I was watching far out to sea were not pelicans.  I had been taking in their acrobatic dives, but saw that their coloring ~ their white torpedo bodies flanked by jet-black wingtips ~ was completely off.  With a little research, I discovered that northern gannets, birds of the ocean off Canada and Scotland, winter as far south as St. Augustine, and occasionally can be seen from the beaches, when storms drive them shoreward.

Some years I see them, some years I don’t.  Once, out in a motorboat preparatory to a parasailing adventure, I saw one resting on the waves.  “A gannet!” I was excited!  Our guide was surprised.  “I thought they were just gulls,” he said.

Gannets nest in huge colonies, thousands of large and loud birds in close quarters raising fluffy young to become pirates of the sea.  And they soar and dive ~ if you search for them on google and youtube, you will find astounding gannet feats recorded in photographs and films.  Elegant, exquisitely colored, fearless acrobats ~ who wouldn’t want to return someday as a gannet?

Back when people hid behind pseudonyms online, I chose “oceanmrc” ~ ocean + my initials ~ as my first, and Gannet Girl as my second.  Gannet Girl’s first blog was entitled Search the Sea.  Due to the vagaries of life, my blog writing has undergone many reincarnations of its own over the past fourteen years, but I am feeling the pull of that old title these days.

I had no idea that l’Île Bonaventure (click through the dots ~ lots of pictures), just off the coast of the Gaspésie Peninsula, was home to a major colony of nesting gannets, not until I began to research the adventure that Judi and I are planning.  I am going to a gannet colony.  When I say that I may never return, I mean it.

I think that Judi is a little concerned.  But I am excited for all that we are going to see on Gaspésie ~ whales, kittiwakes (those are birds, too), forests, waters ~ and to get to meet the people and learn something about their lives, out on the edge of the sea in the north.

But I am just a little bit obsessed with les fous de bassan.  My best bird friends.

 

500 Words on Lament

The Bible is filled with words written, spoken, and sung in response to life’s catastrophes.  We can be forgiven for not knowing this ~ even regular churchgoers are primarily exposed only to proclamations of joy (one reason I stayed out of church for months after my son died, even though I was a seminary student), and to a general cultural assumption that Christians are happy-clappy people with neither experience of the darkness nor willingness to go there.  And the sad truth is that many pastors are ill-equipped for that work.

(My brother, several years ago, decided to experiment with a church connection.  How do I get to know the pastor? he wondered?  Go to lunch, I said.  I can do that? he asked. Pastors eat lunch, I said.  What do we talk about? he wondered.  He’ll know, I responded.  He’s used to it.  At the ensuing lunch,  my brother wondered aloud about faith in the context of a mother and brother dead when he was four,  a stepmother ten years later, a nephew dead of suicide only recently.  Wow, you get right to the point, said the pastor.  It turned out he had no idea what to say.)

In fact, volumes, libraries, have been filled with writing about the Bible’s words on grief.  I have allotted myself 500 words as a starter, so that I don’t ramble on indefinitely.  And I’ve already used 227 of them!  Herewith, an introduction:

The Book of Psalms, the prayerbook and songbook of the Jewish people, Jesus’ people, is filled with psalms of lament.  (Google: psalms of lament.)  Many of them are what are called communal psalms, psalms written out of a community’s misfortunes and disasters.  The language is equally applicable to each of us in our individual misery. No glossing over or mincing of words:

Psalm 142: Give heed to my cry,  for I am brought very low.

Psalm 44:23-24: Rouse yourself!  Why do you sleep, O Lord? . . .  Why do you hide your face?

Nearly every psalm of lament follows the same pattern: an expression of horror and sadness followed by an expression of confidence in God.  My favorite is the exception to the rule, Psalm 88, an unremitting cry of anguish.  I wrote a lengthy academic paper about it in seminary, but you don’t need to know Hebrew or history or expository techniques to get it:

Psalm 88:15: Wretched and close to death . . . I am desperate.

There’s an entire little book in the Bible called Lamentations.  There’s the story of Ruth — another book — in which a woman loses husband and sons, and her daughters-in-law their husbands.  I’ve done a study/support group on that one; it’s a moving source for considering the hidden losses which accompany the obvious ones, and the ways in which life goes on and new life can be found  (and especially for coming to terms with the unexpected resources of women who go beyond the usual boundaries of “acceptable” behavior – nevertheless, they persisted).

Bad things happen to lots of good people in the Bible.  Most famously, to Job — his name the title of another book.  People often speak of “the patience of Job” — I don’t know where they get that.  I preached a sermon series on Job once, after which one of my parishioners said, “We all learned that we are never supposed to get angry at God.”

That is NOT what I said.

The Book of Job, in a nutshell:  A good guy, a successful guy.  God gets into a dispute with Satan and terrible, terrible things happen.  Job’s wife says, Curse God, and die. (A good line, that.)  Job has some really bad news friends who come around and ask, What did you do, that all this happened to you? (We all know who they are.)  Job never gives up expressing his rage and his grief to God (Why did I not die at birth, come forth from the womb and expire? ~ Job 3:11) , who finally responds, in a wild and turbulent two chapters of question cascading upon question, by asking, Do you understand who I am?”

It’s not exactly a satisfying answer, which is perhaps the point: to our understanding, there is no satisfying answer.  (I might add that the ending of Job, in which he gets back a perfect life, is fairly useless ~ even in the era in which Job was finally written down, people were looking for Hollywood endings, so skip that part.)

I’m way over my 500 words.  My suggestion? Read, pray, very slowly, through the Book of Psalms, one or part of one a day.  And/or a chapter of Job a day.

They will not bring anyone back.  But you will discover a treasure of words written down by people who have experienced, one way or another, what you have.

 

 

 


Written for my friend Brigitte, who has lost son and, now, husband.

Nine

Some days, I try to figure out which is worse.  Is it that he is not here, living his life to the fullest, that life in which we had invested every square inch of our own beings, everything we had to offer?  Not enjoying a family, not succeeding in his work, not taking photographs or making pottery?

Or is it that he is not in this world, sharing his multitude of gifts?  At only twenty-four, he was fluent in French, a comfortable world traveler, a gifted writer, knowledgeable about history and science and literature.  I glance at an article about desperate need in French-speaking Africa and wonder why he is not here, lending his talents and expertise to creating solutions.   I see a new architectural design and imagine that he might have participated in its development.

Or is it that he is not here with us?  Not here to add his considerable wit to the political predicament in which we find ourselves?  Not here to share his young adulthood with his twin brother and their little sister?  Not here to help us as we age, become less able, falter, and die?

Sometimes, in the course of my ministry, I meet elderly men and women who tell me how close they are to the brother or sister with whom they have shared eight, once even nine, decades.  I smile and say something encouraging.  I want to hollow out the landscape with my cry into the nothingness that is left.

***

I remember little of the first years.  Some things.  The suffocating, nauseating guilt.  The icy rejection which slammed me against a brick wall.  The feeling of falling, falling, falling . . .  of stepping across shards of glass. The way my joints, and back, and head, and gut, and everything, hurt.  The way I went to classes and wrote papers and looked at the grades . . .  always good grades, always gracious comments, always such a disciplined and even sometimes insightful student . . . with no recollection whatever of having written those pages.  The way I walked, and walked, and walked, wondering if I might simply walk right into the stratosphere.  The questions people asked me . . .  isn’t it time to focus on life? don’t you feel wiser, more compassionate?  don’t you find comfort in your faith?  . . .  causing me to understand that I had moved to Jupiter, or perhaps little Pluto, not even an official planet anymore.  Pluto. That sounds about right.

***

It takes a long time.  A recently widowed parishioner wrote me a note this past week, mentioning that she believes that the American tolerance for grief lasts about three months.  I can understand how it is that no one knows about this.  I look at my friends, reeling from the deaths of children six, seven, eight, nine, ten years and more ago, and I see how productive and engaged and filled with joy we all are . . . and yes, we are, filled with costly and hard-won joy, for we know, if we did not before (and I, actually, did . . .  I’ve known since I was seven . . . ) that it can all be erased in a second . . .  but I also see the things which are not so visible.  The shadow which crosses a face standing in the crowd at a wedding.   The smile and slight shake of the head when a baby is offered as a gift from a beaming mother.  The step out the door and onto the porch when the laughter over the antics of small children echoes throughout the house.

***

The last couple of years have been much easier.  I don’t know why.  I suppose the wavelengths of grief stretch and become more flexible, given enough time and practice.  That did not stop me from twice bursting into tears at my desk during the most recent Christmas season, grateful to be the only one in the building when an unexpected letter arrived from a high school classmate, last heard from 45 years earlier, who has lost one of her own sons, and when a FB message appeared from one of my son’s roommates, silent since the shocked condolence letter written years ago, and now a husband and father in his home country, France.

***

Who, I wonder would he have become?  Would he have continued with his corporate career; would we have returned to Chicago for a B-school graduation?  (Unlikely.)  Would he have left that life behind and begun to nourish the artistic gifts he resisted, begun to write and travel, relaxed into the world that beckoned him to so much? (More probable, given enough time.)   Would he have become a husband and father?  That woman, or another?  Would he have been tormented by episodes of depression, or would he have found hope and possibility where it one night seemed that none existed?   Would he be up in Canada right now, or out on a soccer field, introducing a small son or daughter to the world?

***

I live my life.  I do good work, important work.  I extend myself for my family.  I do love this world.

***

And there is not a day on which I do not breathe, Come back. Come back to me. Come back.

 


Our son Josh died by suicide on September 2, 2008.

 

 

 

 

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