Monday, September 30, 2013

Monday morsel: "forever young"

The other day I was struck by an extreme musical contrast.

On the car radio I was listening to Avril Lavigne's latest song, "[Here's to] Never Growing Up," in which she fondly recounts the things she and her friends did in their younger days:

Call up all our friends, go hard this weekend
For no damn reason, I don't think we'll ever change
Meet you at the spot, half past ten o'clock
We don't ever stop, and we're never gonna change

Say, won't you stay forever stay
If you stay forever hey
We can stay forever young

Singing Radiohead at the top of our lungs
With the boom box blaring as we're falling in love
Got a bottle of whatever, but it's getting us drunk
Singing, here's to never growing up

... and so on.

Now, I never did any of those things when I was young, so maybe that's one reason I don't share Avril's sense of nostalgia. And I know she isn't thirty yet, so maybe even as a twice-married woman she's still spending her nights that way.  But when I listen to those words they seem so empty and pointless.  Do other middle-aged people like me, with kids and houses and meals to prepare and laundry to do, really want to go back to the days when they could "go hard this weekend for no reason"?

Later the same day Jonathan wanted to listen to the Tenors' "Lead With Your Heart" CD.  (He calls it "Hat Tenors" because the cover shows one of the guys wearing a hat.)  One of the songs on the CD is Bob Dylan's "Forever Young":

May God bless and keep you always; may your wishes all come true.
May you always do for others and let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung,
And may you stay forever young.

 May you grow up to be righteous; may you grow up to be true.
May you always know the truth and see the light surrounding you.
May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong,
And may you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy; may your feet always be swift.
May you have a strong foundation when the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful, may your song always be sung,
And may you stay forever young.

photo Jeannie Prinsen August 2013

I don't know about you, but for me that is a much more appealing picture of youth:  wonder, dreams, courage, joy -- all things I would hope to retain into middle age and beyond.  If that's what staying forever young can mean, it sounds good.

Here's a clip of our wonderful Canadian group, the Tenors, singing this beautiful song.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Monday morsel: "mysteries beyond the visible"


This quotation about writer Emily Bronte is from Margot Peters' Unquiet Soul (a biography of Charlotte Bronte):

"It was Emily's great gift to understand that the spiritual mysteries of life are made tangible in simple, daily, natural things -- snow, hearth fire, gate, wind, stable, heath blossom, linnet.  [Wuthering Heights] is a triumph of realistic art because its clear, homely, concrete detail has the power to evoke mysteries beyond the visible -- mysteries of love, hate, suffering, and the yearning of the spirit for immortality.  In this the novel and poems are like their creator:  at once a homely, simple girl who baked white bread, ironed and starched and sewed, picked the black currants, whistled to the dogs, and lay on her back in the heather to hear the lark's song pouring through the air; and a silent, aloof being whose mind, unfettered from the daily fret and care of ordinary mortals, ranged far into the mysteries of nature to commune with the soul of things -- a shy yet strong creature, curiously compounded of love and hate, kindness and indifference, pride and humility."

Thursday, September 19, 2013

re-connecting with friends

This summer I saw three friends I hadn't seen in a long time.

The first friend was a girl I met in grade five and kept in touch with through university, but hadn't seen in at least 15 years.  Having reconnected on Facebook a couple of years ago, we made plans to meet at an art gallery in PEI where she displays the gorgeous hooked rugs she makes.  It was so enjoyable to see her (and her daughter and grandson who'd stopped by as well), to look at her work, and to catch up briefly about mutual friends and our own families.

The second was someone I met at church when we were in our twenties.  The very first conversation we had revealed that we both worked at the university; that led to a lunch date and to a long-standing friendship.  Richard and I hung out with her and her husband for years and enjoyed many post-workout pizza dates and lots of laughter (we just have to mention the Uranus Computer company to start ourselves laughing).  They moved to another city 17 years ago and we don't see them often; it had been at least three or four years.  Richard and I once read in a book about people you have "refrigerator rights" with:  if you were in their house you'd feel comfortable opening the fridge to get something you needed.  (Within reason, of course!)  We feel that way about this couple.  It was great to see my friend again and catch up on family, work, church, and book clubs.

The third was Jonathan's first-ever E.A. at school about six years ago; she now works elsewhere but we still keep in touch.  She was even in my writers' group for a couple of years so we used to meet quite regularly.  After over a year of not seeing one another, we got together for a visit at the end of the summer and spent a couple of hours catching up with her about work and parenting.  It was also a delight for her and Jonathan to see each other after so long.

I treasure my friendships with all three of these women, yet I note the differences in our relationships, too.  Friend #1 and I have few mutual friends and interests now (although in our school days we had many of both):  she has different creative pursuits, and she's at a different stage of life with grown kids and grandchildren.  But we're both Christians and we can give each other encouragement via brief Facebook contact, which I really appreciate.  Friend #2 and I have many mutual friends and could spend hours catching up with "How's so and so doing?"  We also have plenty of memories -- good times and in-jokes as well as some shared struggles -- and we seem able to just pick up where we've left off even after several years.  Friend #3 and I don't have a long history together, but we've had the enjoyment of watching what started as a professional connection turn into a friendship; that's a special thing.  Friendships are truly as unique as the people in them.

After this summer of re-connecting with friends, I feel grateful.

"Depth of friendship does not depend 
on length of acquaintance."
- Rabindranath Tagore

Monday, September 16, 2013

Monday morsel (and Twitterature): Purpose, Imagination, Unity

Monday is my day for quotes on this blog -- a.k.a. "Monday morsels"-- and this Monday also coincides with Modern Mrs. Darcy's monthly "Twitterature" linkup where we share what we've been reading.  (I love "Twitterature," but believe me, I couldn't keep up if it happened any oftener!)


1.  I just finished reading Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls.  (I read her memoir The Glass Castle some time ago.)  This "true life novel" is the story of Walls' maternal grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.  Lily grew up in Texas and Arizona and became a horse-breaker at age 5 and a travelling schoolteacher at age 15, then later a rancher and pilot.  I can't say this book particularly moved me:  Walls speaks in Lily's voice, adopting a certain "when the going gets tough, the tough get going" style that can prevent the reader from making a strong emotional connection.  But the details are fascinating, and I liked Glass Castle so much that I found it extremely interesting to learn more about another eccentric member of Walls' family.  Lily was, as Walls herself puts it, quite a character:  tough, driven, and fearless.  In this excerpt, Lily has just suffered a ruptured appendix in a baseball game and is now in hospital:

"Don't worry, angel," [Dad] said.  The appendix, he explained, was a vestigial organ, which meant it had no Purpose.  If I had to lose an organ, I'd chosen the right one.  But, he went on, I'd almost lost my life, and to what end?  I'd only been playing a game of baseball.  If I wanted to risk my life, I should do it for a Purpose.  I decided Dad was right.  All I had to do was figure out what my Purpose was.


2.  I'm re-reading Jane Eyre as part of a synchro-read with Classical Quest.  I first read JE as a  university student and have returned to it several times since.  It is such a wonderful book, gripping readers right from the gloomy opening sentences and drawing them right into the heart of a strong, passionate character.  For a great quote, see my "Monday morsel" post from last week:   "... the restlessness was in my nature ...".


3.  In conjunction with Jane Eyre, I'm also re-reading Margot Peters' biography of Charlotte Bronte:  Unquiet Soul.  I love reading about the Bronte sisters, whose lives of reclusive obscurity belied the worldwide fame of their books -- and especially about how Charlotte's own life and personality informed her novels.  This book makes me want to read more biographies of the sisters.

The death of their mother was a deeply traumatic experience for the six young Bronte children.... It created in all the children an insecurity so severe that it can be said without exaggeration that all their lives not one of them was able to cope successfully with the world outside the parsonage walls.  At the same time, it drove them together; they clung to each other like tender vines, deriving all their comfort and strength from their intense emotional and physical unity.


Friday, September 13, 2013

What? God doesn't make TVs?

My friend Kathryn has started a blog entitled "Kids Pray the Darndest Things", which chronicles the hilarious bedtime prayers of her son Oliver (a.k.a. Captain Triangle-Eyes). 

Here's one to whet your appetite:

"Dear God, thank you for the nice day. Thanks for all the things that you make for us, like… [Mom, does God make TVs? He doesn't? Well who does? Just PEOPLE?] Well I don’t know then. [sigh] In Jesus’ name, amen."

Be sure to check it out!

Monday, September 09, 2013

Monday morsel: "restlessness"

I've been re-reading Jane Eyre as part of a synchro-read with Adriana's Classical Quest.  It's a great novel with such a fascinating main character.  Here Jane is living a quiet, tranquil life at Thornfield Hall, not yet having met its master, Mr. Rochester; and she expresses her longing for more of what the world has to offer:

"... I shall be called discontented.  I could not help it; the restlessness was in my nature; it agitated me to pain sometimes.  Then my sole relief was to walk along the corridor of the third story, backwards and forwards, safe in the silence and solitude of the spot, and allow my mind's eye to dwell on whatever bright visions rose before it -- and certainly, they were many and glowing; to let my heart be heaved by the exultant movement, which, while it swelled it in trouble, expanded it with life; and best of all, to open my inward ear to a tale that was never ended -- a tale my imagination created, and narrated continuously; quickened with all of incident, life, fire, feeling, that I desired and had not in my actual existence.

It is in vain to say human beings ought to be satisfied with tranquillity:  they must have action; and they will make it if they cannot find it.  Millions are condemned to a stiller doom than mine, and millions are in silent revolt against their lot.  Nobody knows how many rebellions besides political rebellions ferment in the masses of life which people earth. Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”

Sunday, September 08, 2013

exciting eleven

Today is Jonathan's eleventh birthday.

Our chubby-cheeked big little dude.
Always happiest with a ball in his hands ... and a hat on his head.

Bringing people joy.


 Happy Birthday, Jonathan!
Love from
Dad, Mom, and Allison.

Monday, September 02, 2013

30 is the new 40! (It's not what you think.)

We got back from PEI a little over a week ago.  We've made at least 25 trips there and back in as many years, so it's become a pretty familiar 1500 kilometres.  But the Montreal stretch of the trip is always stressful.  Highway 40 winds right through the city of Montreal, three lanes the whole way, with tight off-and-on ramps, hairpin twists, and a healthy percentage of drivers whose cars don't appear to have turn signals installed.  It's an hour of tense bumper-to-bumper driving with me navigating and saying things like "This is where two lanes go off to the left, you'd better get to the right!" and "As soon as we get off this ramp we have to get in the centre lane right away!!" 

Although we've never had any accidents or mishaps, this is always the part of the trip we just wish was over -- or even better, that we could avoid entirely.

When we arrived in PEI we were talking about the drive and someone said, "Why don't you try the new bypass?"  "NEW BYPASS?" we asked, wide-eyed.  Yes, the newly-completed Highway 30 now goes completely around the city to the south, connecting 20 on the west side to 20 on the east; there's no need to go anywhere near the dreaded Highway 40 if you don't want to.

On our return journey, we eagerly awaited the exit to Highway 30 so we could see for ourselves what the fuss was about.  "Follow that car!" I said when we reached Exit 98 ... and suddenly our whole travel experience changed.  Highway 30 was quiet, taking a long, actually fairly boring loop around the south end of the city.  Did I say boring?  Bring it on!  It was great:  an hour of relaxed, calm travel compared to an hour of white-knuckle lane changes.  And the toll:  one dollar and fifty cents.  I'd probably have paid twenty dollars without hesitation.  It looks like our trips to and from PEI will be quite different from now on without the dreaded Montreal Factor.

This got me thinking about the journey of life.  I wondered what would happen if someone told me, "All those stressful, painful parts of life?  Guess what?  You don't have to go through those!  You can just take The Bypass; it's quiet, inexpensive, and stress-free."

Sounds appealing, doesn't it?  Who wouldn't choose easy and calm over stressful and tense?  But if I stop and think about it, I realize that many -- though of course not all -- of the difficult or stressful things in life also have a good side.  So if I chose to avoid the difficult parts I would also miss the positive ones.  If I had been able to say, "Having special needs kids sounds awfully challenging; I think I'll pass," Allison and Jonathan would not exist in this world -- and that's unimaginable!  Besides, decisions like that rarely affect just one person; ripples would go out from me to many other people whose lives would be affected by what I chose.  That's a huge responsibility.

In any case, it's kind of a moot point because in most of the important areas of life we aren't given that kind of choice between hard and easy.  And even in the areas where we do have a choice -- after all, as human beings we do have a great deal of freedom -- we don't always see the whole picture.  We might make a decision based on something that seemed vitally important at the time, only to realize later that that factor was actually pretty insignificant.

When I look at other people's lives from the outside I can't help noticing that some seem more like smooth, relaxing Highway 30's while others are more like tense, white-knuckle 40's.  I don't know why that is:  I don't think it's because person A decided to take the easy road and person B opted for the wild ride -- but I'm equally sure that it isn't because God said, "Wouldn't it be fun if I sent Mary some cancer and let John win the lottery?"  Why people experience what they do in life is a mystery I don't feel qualified to plumb.

I wasn't given any choice in the most challenging aspects of my life, and ultimately I'm grateful that I wasn't.  I don't know if I would have made the right decisions; I'm not even sure I would have chosen for the right reasons.  When it comes right down to it, I think it's better to have faith in God even in the unknown than put all my trust in my own ability to choose the right path.

So today I'm sharing the words of the hymn "This Day God Gives Me" because it is a song about trust in a God who is good.

This Day God Gives Me 

This day God gives me strength of high heaven, 
Sun and moon shining, flame in my hearth,
Flashing of lightning, wind in its swiftness,
Deeps of the ocean, firmness of earth.
This day God sends me strength as my guardian,
Might to uphold me, wisdom as guide.
Your eyes are watchful, Your ears are listening,
Your lips are speaking, Friend at my side.
God’s way is my way, God’s shield is ’round me,
God’s host defends me, saving from ill.
Angels of heaven, drive from me always
All that would harm me:  stand by me still.
Rising I thank You, Mighty and Strong One,
King of Creation, Giver of Rest,
Firmly confessing God in three Persons,
Oneness of Godhead, Trinity blest.