Friday, January 21, 2011

memories come from the strangest places...

I was putting on a pair of long grey socks this morning and had a sudden blast of recollection. These socks came into my life in a simple enough way, but they drag a multitude of memories with them.

Several years ago, after hearing that a good friend was no longer in remission and beginning another battle with cancer, my sister and I decided we needed to go for a visit. This battle was not going to end in remission, and we were all aware of that. This friend had touched both our lives in a very real way and was definitely worthy of the attention. We both felt that it wouldn't be right to let the opportunity pass without acknowledging her impact personally.

So we made arrangements for a quick road trip to Saskatchewan in the depths of winter. We drove through a bleak winter storm and talked about how much we admired Consorcia and her curious blend of spunk, grace and generosity. We arrived in Saskatoon to howling winds, drifted streets and blistering cold. We made our way to her house and had a wonderful time reminiscing, crying a little and remembering how lucky we were to have our lives intersect. Then we went home.

All too quickly we had to make the trip back, once again in winter and the conditions little better. Neither of us possessed the right equipment for warmth in Saskatchewan weather, so we made a quick trip to Walmart to look for some long socks suitable to wear to the funeral rather than hoping tights or nylons would preserve the illusion of warmth. I bought two pairs of really long socks - grey and brown. The kind that come all the way up to your knee or higher. I wore the brown ones to the funeral and cried while thinking of how much a life well-lived can change us all. I kept the grey ones for inevitable cold days in the future. I wear the brown ones occasionally, the grey ones less often as weather in Alberta isn't quite so punishing somehow. The brown ones don't usually make me melancholy, but the grey ones tug at my heart regularly. Not sure why.

So today as I took out the grey socks and then tugged them on, I suddenly remembered those trips, and Consorcia's way of looking on the bright side no matter what life was dishing out; how she would forgo sleep after working all night just to spend time with her little girls and her husband, saying things like, "If I can get an hour or two, I'm usually okay;" how she worked like crazy to send money home to the Phillipines for family; how she would invite dozens of people over to their tiny apartment for one of the girls' birthdays and somehow feed all of us happily. Don't get me wrong, she wasn't perfect and never pretended to be. She could have a temper when crossed or when a loved one was slighted, but she was unfailingly kind, generous, gracious and hopeful. While in palliative care she never forgot to thank the nurses and caregivers for everything they did to make her comfortable. Complaining just wasn't who she was. And she was my friend.

The grey socks brought it all back this morning. They reminded me that I need to be a little kinder, a little more gracious and thoughtful of others. They brought back Consorcia's wicked grin as we shared a laugh about life. They reminded me that inconsequential details can be poignantly beautiful in their own way even if only a pair of warm socks.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Nothing Great is Easy...or Convenient

So, it's been a while since I made an entry, and that's largely due to the fact that I've been short on deep thinking time of late. Being back at work and having everyone back to their normal schedules has left me short of time to ponder and meditate on anything other than what comes next. But sometimes you just have to make time.

It's been very enjoyable watching Trevor fall under the spell of pottery. There is something terribly rejuvenating about the process of making clay into a vessel simply by controlling where and how it touches your hands. I really had no idea it would be quite so captivating for him, but it is. And in having to teach him how to start and continue in the endeavour, I've had to really think about my own techniques and the reasons for them. It has given us something new to do together.

I have made a commitment to myself this year to be more positive and supportive of others (and myself). It's a hard habit to create after decades of criticizing and finding fault. When being judgemental has become part of a family socialization pattern, it's hard to replace it. I keep reminding myself of the condescending wiseman. That seems to help.

I'm also trying not to take responsibility for the choices and actions of those I love. Very hard, believe me. But I keep reminding myself that every individual has the power to choose, and I cannot control that. But it is hard to watch them set outrageous standards of perfection and then themselves for not achieving them. And I can't help but ask myself if this is what our Father in Heaven has to put himself through all the time watching us stagger through life.

I'm teaching marriage and family relations class again at church and it leads my mind in interesting directions sometimes. I've been reading a book about conflict and how unresolved internal conflict in our formative years can impact our adult relationships permanently. It's interesting to see how the world likes to attribute blame for destructive behaviour to past injustice. So far every scenario in the book has been credited to something someone else did or didn't do to a person in their childhood or youth. One woman becomes a nagging critical spouse because she was verbally criticized by a parent repeatedly. A man becomes an underachiever because his parents failed to acknowledge him when he did achieve something important. And I can't help but think that there's an important element missing in all this psychology. As individuals we are all given the power to choose for ourselves. We choose whether or not to become reflections of our past. We choose to fight with our loved ones. Yes, our environment has an impact on our learned patterns of coping, but we're the ones ultimately who decide whether or not we will persist in that pattern. Our agency means that we don't have to be someone who's self-destructive, self-serving, selfish, or even self-loathing. And with the added blessing of the Gospel, we know we can draw up on the strength of the Lord to heal our imperfections as many times as necessary. Repentance is supposed to be repetitive. It was never intended to be a one time fix.

The title for the blog comes from the memorial of Matthew Webb, the first man to successfully swim the English Channel in 1875. It was his second attempt and reportedly took an extra 5 hours because of jelly fish stings and strong currents. He inspired thousands of marathon swimmers who continue to attempt the crossing both successfully and unsuccessfully. And interestingly enough, Matthew Webb (who became a professional swimmer) died in an attempted swim through the Whirlpool Rapids of Niagara Falls just under 8 years later. He was still fighting self-imposed battles.

How many of us will spend our entire lives fighting the same issues to the very end? Probably a lot of us. I can easily imagine myself battling social insecurity when I'm 80 - feeling a little out of place or out of step. And instead of finding that discouraging, I find it a little hopeful. It means I am who I am, and I get as many chances as it takes. And if I'm still fighting on the day I leave mortality, I'm still on the right path. If I'm still trying to work towards perfection until the very end, I am enduring. And that will make all the difference when my accomplishments are weighed on the balance.