Monday, June 27, 2016


I met her at a writers' conference--a woman whose age I found hard to guess, but whose slowed and stiffened gait told me she was at least a few years older than me.  Her voice carried the warm musical cadence of the Caribbean, slow and deep. She was quick to break into peals of laughter that shook her body. I was drawn to this woman, who arrived alone--but seemed at ease with her own company. I caught sight of her over the three days of the conference, en-route to the next workshop or pausing to take a rest, large red purse resting on her lap, while her hands held onto her bag of conference leaflets. It turned out that she is a self described conference addict--a Senior who believes in life-long learning--and this was her fifth conference so far this year.

We sat together at one point and my natural curiosity prompted questions, which she answered slowly and thoughtfully, I learned that she had endured three major tragedies in her life. No-one would blame her for being crushed by any one of them. But like the bruised reed that God refuses to break and the smoking flax he will not quench, she came back from the pit of hopelessness with the help of friends who called out her gifts and encouraged her. 

When I asked her about her writing, she reached into her red bag and pulled out a small book, which she said was a proof copy that she had to read through before it was published. It contained her story, including the life lessons she had learned. She doesn't use the internet, cell phone, or a computer, and the manuscript was written by hand, but what she's learned I would like to read sometime.

I had already taken out my suitcases on an earlier break, and was on my way out of the hotel, headed home at the end of the conference, when I caught sight of her checking out at the front desk and went over to say goodbye. "I'm just arranging for a taxi," she said. I was glad that I had caught her before she did. Moments later, we were headed for my little black Honda Fit in the parking lot, followed by a uniformed Holiday Inn employee, carrying her deceptively small black bags, which I later discovered felt like they contained everything but the kitchen sink. As I closed the trunk I noticed her talking to the brown skinned man with an east Indian accent.  I slid into the driver's seat and he was smiling through the rolled down passenger window. 

My new friend said, "I asked him if he would accept a tip, but he said no." 

He said, eyes sparkling, "I told her to pray for me--whenever she thinks of me--just pray." 

On the way to her home we talked gardening and I heard all about hers, which sounded amazing, and when we arrived at her home in Richmond Hill, indeed, her small front garden was overflowing with vibrant flowers of every colour and hue, and I knew that that an abundant patch of vegetable plants purchased on sale, was also thriving in the back.

Everybody has a story, and whenever I take the time to listen, my life is enriched. As well as all that I had learned at the conference, I went home with admiration for a woman I'd met only briefly and a man who knew what was of more value than money.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

Friday's Child

Our second baby wasn't due until the middle of June, but in the first week of that month in 1972 I was seized by the a strong compulsion to clean the house--no matter that it was hot and humid and we had no air conditioning--everything had to be clean. For some time I had wanted my body back. I kept misjudging the proximity of doorways and bumping into furniture. I navigated space feeling like a huge, ungainly, ocean-going-liner. 

Paul was working in a facility for people with developmental disabilities, and the upcoming weekend would be a long one off for him. When he told me that he was bringing home a guest for four days--one of the people who lived there--I thought ungracious thoughts. With a toddler who had just turned two at the end of May, and our second baby due in just over a week, the thought of an extra person staying for four days was exhausting.  But when our guest Philip came home with Paul after his shift on Thursday, seeing how excited he was at the brightly coloured sheets on his bed, I gave my heart a shake.  Where he lived there were only white sheets and uniformity of everything else. Maybe the weekend would not be so tiring after all, I thought to myself.

That was before the drama unfolded next door. 

Paul had taken our toddler Peter with him to our neighbour's home and had gone down to their basement. Our houses were new and had unfinished basements with a rudimentary stair railing beside the stairs. We had added a board to the side of our stairs for safety's sake, but our neighbours' stairs had an open gap between the railing and the stairs.

Not long after he left, our door burst open and Paul ran in with Peter in his arms, crying at the top of his lungs. He had fallen through the gap on the stairs, onto the concrete basement floor where he hit his head. Paul quickly drove him to the doctor, and after being checked over, he was sent home with instructions that he be monitored closely and woken up every few hours through the night.

That night, with Peter soundly asleep, and Philip happily settled in the guest room, all was well. I crept into our bed with gratitude, but as I lowered my body, I felt a gush of warm liquid. "Oh, no!" I said, "my waters just broke."

I hadn't packed for the hospital yet, but I was so tired that I said to Paul, who was sitting bolt upright now, "Don't worry, I'm sure nothing's going to happen yet, let's get some sleep and I'll pack in the morning."

 We changed the sheets and turned off the light. A few moments later, it was I who sat bolt upright.

"Paul! I'm packing now," I said, "I don't think we should wait." The labour pains had started. We scrambled out of bed and I quickly threw things I'd need into a bag.

Paul's parents lived across the road from us, and we drove across to ask his mum to stay with Peter and Philip and wake Peter up every couple of hours.

As we left for the hospital, I said to Paul, "If we have a girl, can we name her Brenda, after your mum?" In 1972 there were no ultrasound images of the baby during pregnancy, so the sex of a newborn baby was always a surprise.

Our doctor was roused from his bed to deliver our baby who seemed to be in a rush to arrive, and at around 2.00 a.m., a nurse put our little girl into my arms.There is no feeling to compare with holding the tiny one who has been growing inside you for 9 months. Gratitude, love, anticipation, protectiveness--sheer joy--these words only begin to describe the flood of emotion I felt as tears trickled down my cheeks.

The little girl who was in such a hurry to be born, grew into a little socialite with blond hair and wide brown eyes. She would wake with the dawn every morning, singing, and the world was her friend from the start.

It's 44 years since that Friday, and today we celebrate her birth. I haven't stopped being grateful. As a daughter she is such a blessing--caring and kind--and I watch in admiration how she mothers her own daughters--and does battle for them when it's called for.

We are so blessed with our precious daughter!