A Thousand Words

suitcase in the hall outside the neighbour's door

The other evening I came home, and, stepping off the elevator, saw this. No one around, couldn’t hear any voices from inside the apartment, door closed, suitcase just… sitting there.

My brain offered up half a dozen stories about how the suitcase came to be there before I even made it the short distance to my door. So I thought recording snippets of a couple might be a fun exercise. I couldn’t tell if they felt cliched, or just familiar, writing them. There is… more than a hint of autobiography throughout.

Picture 1

Tea had seemed like the most important thing in the world, just then. Once they’d parked the car it seemed imperative that they get their coats off and the kettle on as soon as possible.

A phone call at your desk on a Wednesday afternoon when you’re wrangling a spreadsheet macro and forgetting again to water your desk plants. And the voices spew information too quickly for the next few hours, under sickly greenish lights. Fell down the stairs? Visiting Marie?

And your sister arrives… some time. You fleetingly wonder who called her. Right, that desperate hug and the questions before she even lets go, her coat still so cold from such a brief time outside. Did you change the sheets in the guest room? Most of the arrangements will be done by the time your brother-in-law and the kids, among others, arrive on Friday.

You forgot where you put the parking garage ticket until you were nearly in tears. And now, long after you’ve forgotten to eat dinner and your sister has forgotten that she hates drinking black tea, her coat has fallen off the chair where she dropped it and her suitcase is forgotten in the hallway.

Lacing your fingers around your mugs, perhaps the steam from the Darjeeling will open your brain the way it opens pores, and help you process that you are technically a newly minted orphan.

Picture 2

It still somehow felt like a video. Making eye contact just after she pushed through the doors, rushing through the crowd, and a hug that threatened to meld the two of you. Followed by a kiss whose awkwardness could be easily forgiven with its enthusiasm.

I mean, my God, it had been a year. A year of emails and text messages and Skype chats and even the occasional package delivered to the office containing random evidence of her appreciation of beauty. But through all that she remained just… media, in a way.

You don’t remember a second of the walk to the parking garage, and almost nothing of the hour’s drive home, though you tried, desperately. Listening intently to her tales of travel, shaping the sound of her accent in your mind. Sneaking glances at her profile and trying to memorize the curve of her lower lip without losing your concentration on the road entirely.

She made it easy on you once you’d turned your key in the lock. She had you pinned to the wall, and to her. You never had a chance to do that thing with your foot to keep the door from banging.

And finally, she became real. But not until the next morning when, after slithering out of the warm cocoon you’d made of the bed, she returned minutes later, laughing and pulling behind her the suitcase, which, tellingly, had spent the night in the hallway outside the door.

Unphotographable and Photographable

This is a picture I did not take of a woman, alone, wandering through Waterloo Park at around 11pm on a Thursday night, taking pictures of the gorgeous, ethereal effects of thick fog on lights, shadows, and bare tree limbs. And of the same woman putting away her camera and hurrying back to her apartment building upon hearing the approaching voices and laughter of a group of men.

It is also not a picture of my rage at being that woman, at the discomfort, fear, and second-guessing of my own actions, and at the perceived theft of my safety by disembodied voices who probably didn’t even know I was there.

The pictures I did take.

The Poppy Catalyst

Carcassonne: trail just inside the walls

A couple years ago Sherry and I vacationed in the Languedoc region of France. It was the end of May, late spring on the verge of summer, and there were poppies all over the place. You don’t see them that much here at home, unless they’ve been planted in someone’s garden, and the orange California version is more common.

I absolutely loved them. They made the fields and ditches where they grew in profusion far more gorgeous than the goldenrod and Queen Anne’s Lace we get. And, unsurprisingly, staring out a bus window, they made In Flanders’ Fields run through my head. I remember learning back in school that poppies need “disturbed” earth to germinate and grow, and battlefields were torn up to no end. Again, not so many tank ruts or shell craters in Grey Bruce where I grew up.

The poppies were and are a good metaphor for my own war remembrances, or lack thereof. As I’ve mentioned before, being from a Mennonite family means we don’t have any vets. Mennonites are exempt from service, and given we’ve also been farmers, were exempt for that reason, too. Instead of poppies, we’re supposed to wear these buttons. I probably still have one around somewhere.

To remember is to work for peace

I went back into my archive and read some of the stuff I’ve posted on previous Remembrance Days. Man, did I ever sound angry and obnoxious. Not sure why, and probably had no idea it came off that way. Ahh, hindsight. The problem I’ve always had is that the way I’m supposed to acknowledge Remembrance Day didn’t quite work for me. Of course, my extreme ignorance didn’t help. Our “learning” was from books, our version of The Last Post was scratchy and warbly, and our tiny village didn’t have a cenotaph. And not really knowing any veterans personally didn’t help, either.

However, over the years an idea has occurred to me, about which I’ve written before. That society is based on certain people knowing things. They choose to take on jobs that most people don’t want, and that involve seeing and doing things that no one would ever want to see or do. Doctors, nurses, police, firefighters, etc. — and the military. Unlike desk jockeys like myself, they don’t get paid nearly what they’re worth, and part of their “contract” is accepting that in carrying out their duties, their lives will be at risk. Possibly often and possibly very far from home.

I don’t get Remembering from a personal standpoint. I understand history quite well, and even human nature a little bit. I know what we’re capable of. But I also know I am fortunate enough to live in both a country and a generation where I am safer and wealthier than most of the world. And because of how the world works, that doesn’t just happen.

I have made the acquaintance of someone who has served, and have seen the tiniest snippet of “life” in Afghanistan. I have had the difference explained to me between the sound of gunfire around you, and gunfire coming at you. The odds of me ever personally experiencing this? Pretty much negligible.

Yes, in a perfect world, everyone would embrace the dove of peace and be willing to accept all persecution, even death, rather than fight. And ultimately, that is what pacifism means. We don’t live in that world. In this world there are too many humans. I have the utmost respect for those who try, though. For people like George Weber and Jim Loney who walk into war zones unarmed to try to help and protect those who never chose to be there. And who paid for it with their lives or by being taken hostage.

But in this world there are also those humans who realize what world we do live in, and who choose to serve. To see and do and know the things I would never want anyone I care about to know. To Remember the things I can’t even begin to fathom. I don’t have to agree with or understand every choice or action, but I can respect the choice to serve, however it is undertaken.

How To Be Alone

I learned of this poem-in-video at the Blissdom Canada conference the other week, and, in fact, Tanya Davis, the artist, performed for us before the morning keynote. (She’s excellent, and has a new album out.)

I’ve done a lot of work on being publicly alone, and it rarely bothers me anymore. Being privately alone is something that’s gonna take some more work, though. But I do agree that you’re a sub-optimal partner for someone else if you’re not comfortable being a partner just to yourself.


This is a picture I did not take of a 20-something blonde, driving a black Ford Escape, turning the corner off Erb Street at fairly high speed, thus causing her 20-something blonde passenger to lean uncomfortably hard against the window, as she was using both hands to work an eyelash curler and couldn’t steady herself.