Thursday, September 08, 2022

20 years of Jonathan


It's Jonathan's birthday today; he is 20 years old.  


Can you believe that cheerful butterball (who actually did have a neck, despite appearances to the contrary) has turned into this tall young man?

 Jonathan Sept. 8, 2022 - photo Jeannie Prinsen

Having Jonathan in our lives has given us a different perspective on life than we might otherwise have had. Garbage trucks, geese and seagulls, brooms and shovels, lines of laundry all have greater significance because of Jonathan's interest in these things. Everyone he meets is a friend, and the simplest pleasures give his life meaning and joy.

 Jonathan 2017 - photo Jeannie Prinsen

I wrote the following poem, "Lakeside, with Jonathan" about five years ago and was honoured to have it published in the literary journal Relief. I think it describes Jonathan better than almost anything else could. Happy birthday, Jonathan.


Lakeside, with Jonathan

 To the waterfront at Lake Ontario Park we go,
you leading the way to your favourite place: down,

down stone steps to the little cobble beach, where a shelf
of flat rocks stretches into the water. Cross-legged

on a rock, you gaze at the lake, its wind-ruffled surface
dancing with a million bright diamonds. You call out

to the gulls that wheel across the sky, and watch
a half-dozen geese skim the water then swoop

swiftly up and away. You look around
with a smile and say Happy.

This is as abstract as you get, you whose mind anchors
firmly in the tangibles: supper, school, garbage truck.

No bedtime confidences for you, no heartfelt talks
of dreams or hopes, just the familiar, daily repetition.

I could choose to grieve what’s not, or let you teach me
that peace abides in the way water swells and breaks

again and again on the shore, that the seabirds speak
to you as they cry overhead, that the windmills

over on the island are your friends, tall and steady
in the sunlight, their long arms waving hello.


Friday, July 29, 2022

Five Minute Friday: BE

Today I'm linking up with the Five Minute Friday community, writing for five minutes on a given prompt. This week's word is BE.


Jonathan's been attending Extend-a-Family day camp for the past few weeks, as he has every summer (except 2020) since he was about six. Every Tuesday this summer they walk to the park and spend the day at the splash pad.

This past Tuesday at the park they were very surprised and delighted to meet up with Jonathan's friend Nick, whom he's known ever since they were little campers together at EAF. Nick now lives in a different town, and they haven't seen one another in over three years.

I wasn't there, but their encounter was captured in a few photos that Nick's grandmother sent me. This one is my favourite.

Jonathan (striped shirt), Nick (black shirt),
and camp counselor Lewis (green hoodie).

The joy of their reunion is unmistakable. They laughed, they played with each other's caps, and they laughed some more. Nick is nonverbal, but he and Jonathan did not need to use words to communicate how happy they were to see each other again. All they had to do was BE.

Jonathan and Nick in 2015

It's rare to find friendships that are just based on the joy of BEING. Often we think friendship must involve shared activities, beliefs, or life stages ... or that it requires seeing the friend a certain number of times a year ... or that we have to reciprocate invitations and pay back favours so everything is even. Some influencers even tell us -- especially in light of Covid, which has caused us to rethink a lot of our priorities -- that we should curate our friend lists to eliminate anyone who doesn't add value, who doesn't help make us The Best Version of Ourselves.

Jonathan and Nick help remind me that none of that is essential to a good friendship. Just being together and delighting in one another is all that's required. 




Monday, June 06, 2022

Red Roads

I haven't had anything published yet this year, so I was thrilled when Dust Poetry recently accepted my short poem "Red Roads." It appears in the latest issue and can be read HERE.

 I suppose poetry shouldn't need additional commentary (especially commentary that's longer than the poem itself!), but I thought I'd explain the impetus for this piece.

Last summer I went to PEI with Errol. The first evening we were there, I walked from my aunt Sigga's house (where Errol was staying), back to Lincoln's apartment (where I was staying). Sigga pointed out a shortcut -- a small dirt road at the end of her street that would take me back to the main road. I think it's actually someone's private lane, though I didn't know that at the time!

As I walked along this narrow lane, seeing the trees bending overhead and the Queen Anne's lace growing along the side, I felt like I was home again. It wasn't the same as our "little road" in New Argyle but under the circumstances, it was a good substitute. 

So this was what led me to write "Red Roads."

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Five Minute Friday: BOTH



Two weeks ago today my dad died. Now both of my parents are gone.

Dad lived in a nursing home in Charlottetown for the past two and a half years.  He had advanced kidney failure, so it was just a matter of a slow decline over the last year. I saw him in July 2021 when my brother Errol and I went to PEI for a week, and at that time he was still up in his chair every day, a little confused at times but still eager to see people. In March of this year he got Covid when an outbreak occurred at the nursing home. He wasn't terribly sick with it, but it may have added to his already weakening state. My brother Alan was with him and said Dad just slipped away quietly without distress or discomfort -- just the way he would have wanted to go.

The funeral was this past Friday. We spoke about the constancy of Dad's life -- his faith, his hard work, his humour, his devotion to his family. It seemed fitting to have both laughter and tears intermingled in the same moment. Dad had had a good life. He had loved and been loved. None of us had left anything unsaid or regretted.

At the funeral I read aloud this poem called "The House by the Side of the Road" by Sam Walter Foss. I can't remember when I first read it, but it has always made me think of Dad and of his patient acceptance of both the good and bad of life. 

The House by the Side of the Road

by Sam Walter Foss (1858-1911)

There are hermit souls that live withdrawn
In the place of their self-content;
There are souls, like stars, that dwell apart,
In a fellowless firmament;
There are pioneer souls that blaze their paths
Where highways never ran;
But let me live by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

Let me live in a house by the side of the road,
Where the race of men go by –
The men who are good and the men who are bad,
As good and as bad as I.
I would not sit in the scorner’s seat,
Or hurl the cynic’s ban;
Let me live in a house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I see from my house by the side of the road,
By the side of the highway of life,
The men who press with the ardor of hope,
The men who are faint with the strife.
But I turn not away from their smiles nor their tears –
Both parts of an infinite plan;
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.

I know there are brook-gladdened meadows ahead
And mountains of wearisome height;
That the road passes on through the long afternoon
And stretches away to the night.
But still I rejoice when the travelers rejoice,
And weep with the strangers that moan,
Nor live in my house by the side of the road
Like a man who dwells alone.

Let me live in my house by the side of the road
Where the race of men go by –
They are good, they are bad, they are weak, they are strong,
Wise, foolish – so am I.
Then why should I sit in the scorner’s seat
Or hurl the cynic’s ban?
Let me live in my house by the side of the road
And be a friend to man.



Linking up today with the Five Minute Friday writing community, writing about the word BOTH

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Family Day update


 Family Day is the first holiday so far this year (after New Year's Day, of course), and I thought this might be a good time for a family update.

On January 10 Richard was out running down by the Kingston waterfront, slipped on a patch of ice that was hidden by a newly-fallen dusting of snow, and fell. His left foot/ankle was extremely swollen and sore and he couldn't walk, so he had to text me to pick him up in the car. At first he thought/hoped it was just a bad sprain, but X-rays the next day revealed he had a broken fibula: that's the thinner of the two bones in the lower leg. He was fortunate enough to get an orthopedic clinic appointment a couple of days later, and at that appointment, further X-rays showed  he'd need surgery on the leg. He had surgery on January 16 and has to avoid weight-bearing on the affected leg for six weeks (so of course no work). His next appointment is Monday, which is seven weeks after the injury and six weeks after surgery; he's hopeful that he'll be able to start putting weight on his leg soon and can gradually segue back into work and other activities.

In the meantime he's been hobbling around on crutches. For the first two weeks after surgery he couldn't go outside at all because of all the snow and ice -- and for an active, athletic person that is not easy. We bought some crutch spikes (they attach to the bottom of the crutch and flip down and up as needed), which have enabled him to get outside for walks. Rich is trying to look at this as a temporary setback and be grateful that it wasn't any worse.

Our household routine has had to change somewhat of course because of Rich's injury. He can't help a lot with Jonathan's stuff, so I've taken over that, and he can't drive because our car is a standard, so driving, groceries, etc. have become my responsibility. But we're managing OK. Neighbours and friends have helped with some snow-blowing and shoveling and have dropped off some meals, which have been very welcome.

It's Reading Week right now, so Allison has a break from her Queen's classes. They've been all online so far this term, but next week students return to (mostly) in-person learning, so she'll be heading off to campus for two of her three courses. Oddly, two of them occur back-to-back on the same day, which was fine when both were online -- but now one's on campus and the one immediately following is remaining online, so she'll have to dash home to join her Zoom class or figure out some other arrangement.

Jonathan is doing great. After all the struggles with his seizures this past summer and fall, he is now three months seizure-free. He has a new neurologist; the pediatric neurologist he'd been seeing retired, and Jonathan has outgrown pediatric services anyway -- so it was good timing to get settled with a new doctor. She seems extremely nice so we're happy to have that transition completed. Jonathan has been enjoying school and also some extra respite times on Saturdays and Sundays with his former EA, Dylan, who has helped us out a bit more since Richard's injury.

I've been working away on my online course and doing a bit of freelance copyediting as well. This is my last semester instructing the course, so every time I mark an assignment or compose a course announcement I find myself thinking, "This is the last time I'll do this." But it feels right, and I'm ready for the change and whatever it brings.

With all our free evenings we've been watching a lot of TV series, and thoroughly enjoyed The Durrells in Corfu. This 4-season series is based on a real-life family who moved from London to the Greek island of Corfu in the 1930s. It's perfect winter viewing: lovely warm scenery, interesting characters, and the right mix of hilarious and touching. If you're looking for something to watch, give it a try!


 I've also been reading some good books, mostly memoir/nonfiction: 

Unprotected by Billy Porter

No Cure for Being Human by Kate Bowler

Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene

The Sacred Pulse by April Fiet (I was an early reader for this lovely book and even appear in the acknowledgements!)

Events in Ottawa with the trucker convoy have occupied a lot of our attention over the past month. We're coming to see how this protest (which might have some legitimate origins like concern over people's livelihoods in the face of vaccine mandates) morphed into a full-scale occupation that terrorized neighbourhoods, forced businesses to close out of concern for safety (how ironic), and drew racist and insurrectionist elements out of the woodwork. We really need to stay focused on our priorities as a country (ensuring the well-being of citizens and helping those who are truly disadvantaged, whether because of necessary Covid rules or for some other reason) and not let right-wing agitators take any deeper root than they already have.

This Family Day holiday is a good reminder to be grateful for our smaller circles of loved ones but also to realize how much we owe the broader community of which we're a part.