A Walk in the Cemetery

I had a few hours of free time this morning.  It’s rare for me to be alone, and away from home.

So I went to a cemetery.

A cemetery, near a forest by a church.  A beautiful church.  An old church. 

Smoke from the forest fires raging south of us obscured the sky. 

No one else was around.

It was like walking through a P.D. James novel.

Our world feels very obscured.  There is no clarity.

Cemeteries provide clarity.  Death provides clarity.  The on switch is flicked off.  1 becomes 0.  Light is dark.

The cemetery was quiet.  Peaceful. Tranquil.  Mostly grey with splashes of flowers.  Immense trees loomed overhead.  I saw an infant’s grave.  I saw many birth dates far to close to the birthdays of people I love who are still alive.  Loved ones I treasure beyond description.  The people I do not ever want to lose.

As I write this, our dog is hours away from being euthanized.  I’ve written about her in the past.  Not always glowingly.  But her absence will create a void in my life.  In my wife’s life.  In my daughter’s life. I will always remember the golden beauty who was with me when I was alone, and lonely, and a little bit scared of what the future held in store.  I’ll remember long walks along the beach, stones thrown into the ocean, and hot summer days laying by the water, a book in one hand, and my Maggie beside me.

I’ll remember this day.  Some glorious free time with something awful looming.  And yet I’m still enjoying myself.  A coffee in a café.  My laptop in front of me.  Nowhere I need to be for 90 whole minutes.

The where I need to be is my daughter’s pre-school.  To pick her up.  Earlier this week she was terrified before her first day.  My wife and I felt her fear.  Agonized over it.  Needlessly.  Because she came home and told us, “I love pre-school.”  She asked to go every day.  Kids grow up fast.

Today, when I dropped her off, she greeted her teacher with glee, overjoyed to tell her about the new doll her granny bought her.  Almost forgetting dad was beside her.  Maybe actually forgetting, because I had to ask for a hug and a kiss before she bounded into the classroom.  I was so proud of her.  And so conscious that my little girl is growing up. 

My days often feel very obscured.  The smoke of work, the smoke of stress, the smoke of life.  Who has time for clarity when life moves a million miles an hour, Covid keeps us from one another, and fires blacken the sky? 

Clarity might be unattainable.  Or maybe it is does exist, but it is precious because it is both fleeting and hazy.  Like a walk in a cemetery on a day filled with both life and death.

POSTCRIPT

Dad picked up his daughter and bought her a Happy Meal for lunch.

Maggie died peacefully, in her home, surrounded by love.

The Best Thing Ever

Our dog Maggie is dying. Slowly. She’s in enough pain to require expensive medication, and the medication works so well we cannot put her down. Obsessed with food, she spends her waking hours stalking my wife, begging for snacks and sniffing the floors for non-existent crumbs. A dozen times a day she barks at the back door. We let her outside. A minute later, she yelps to get back in. I should feel charitable towards her. I should be cherishing my last weeks and final days with a loyal companion. But I’m not. I want her gone because life will be much less stressful without her. Her presence – her noise – grates on my nerves. Unceasingly.

My wife is kind, gentle and empathetic. Maggie entered her life when we met. She showered her with love and kindness. Maggie is more her dog than mine now. She has been for a long time. She loves Maggie more than I do. She’ll miss her more than I will. Where I see a dog hanging onto life by a string, she sees a beautiful old girl still desperate for a daily walk and tasty treats.

I’m not proud of how I feel about Maggie. But it is the truth.

Here’s another truth. Silence is rare and I crave it. We are blessed to have a vibrant, healthy, energetic daughter. She brings me joy every day. Not just joy. Pride. Wonder. Fulfillment. Meaning.

And exhaustion. Life is full-on from the moment she wakes up until the second her head hits the pillow. Talking, moving, dancing, playing, showing, asking, telling, smiling, teasing, laughing. And the opposite. Yelling and screaming. Sometimes throwing and hitting. She is only four. The world is opening to her. In all its wonder. And in all its reality. She knows Maggie will die soon. Last night she asked if the needle will hurt when the vet injects Maggie to put her to sleep. That’s a tough question to answer.

Like every parent, I am privileged to experience the world anew through her eyes. Like most dads with daughters, I get to experience a different kind of childhood than my own. Pinks and purples, princesses and unicorns. All those things colour my life.

As does watching her with other children as she learns to navigate relationships and personalities. Loud boys, silent girls. Loud girls, silent boys. The discovery that some kids are friends, most are acquaintances and a handful must be either avoided, or, as a last resort, confronted, because aggressiveness and cruelty already define them.

As I age – as I watch my daughter age – I’m more comfortable with what defines us both. I’m an introvert. Years ago, I would have balked at that description. Been embarrassed by it. Pretended it was not the case. Socialized when I would rather have been home. No more. It is who I am. It is what I am. It is why I need silence to recharge. I need to read. To write. To run. My website is readerwritterrunner.com for a reason.

I’m reading Susan Cain’s book, Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.  It helps me better understand myself. Reinforces that it is okay for me to be me. And helps me understand my daughter. She responds to stimulus intensely. She always has. We saw it when she was a preemie, in an incubator in intensive care, constant movement when all the other infants lay still. It’s the same today – she feels deeply and reacts passionately to the good, the bad, and everything in between. The research suggests that, given her nature, she is almost certain to grow up to be an introvert herself.

Maybe a different kind of introvert than her dad. Quiet, stillness and serenity are not on her radar. Life is a maelstrom of activity and feelings.

I love that maelstrom. It is the best thing ever. And among the most challenging things ever. To remain myself in the commotion. And to recognize, that, even within the whirlwind of life there are always – always – moments where calm, silence and quiet prevail.

On a bench

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am Third

My father is a mesmerizing preacher. The timber of his voice – the cadence, the pauses, the passion. Almost at will, he can bring his congregation to tears, or fill them with joy, with the power of his words.

I remember a sermon he delivered over thirty years ago when I was just a teenager. “I am Third” was the title. The message was this: God came first; his family came second; dad came third.

My dad has lived that message his entire life. A life of service. Always putting others ahead of himself.

I’m not sure I ever understood the sacrifices my mom and dad made until I became a parent myself. The mantra for the first 45 years of my life may well have been “I am First.”

I read when I wanted. I wrote when I wanted. I ran when I wanted.

In many ways we all create our own worlds. I created one that accommodated me. Christmas is a good example. Every December, without fail, I watched the movies that I wanted to watch: It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol, the Sound of Music.

Our three-year old daughter doesn’t share my interest in Jimmy Stewart, Ebenezer Scrooge or Julie Andrews. I don’t think I’ve watched one of those movies, start to finish, since she was born.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss those movies, and a bit of the freedom they represented.

But I don’t ever want that freedom back. Because not one second of those movies – not a single frame, or a song, or a performance, can ever top the joy of sitting next to a little girl as she watches The Christmas Chronicles on Netflix. The happiness in her face matched only by that I feel within myself. Relishing the moment.

Every day I recognize my good fortune, how lucky I am to have all the blessings I have in my life.

That doesn’t mean I don’t miss running at will, reading dozens of books a year, and writing daily. I still read, write and run. But often that occurs between 3:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m. Trading sleep for passions. Embracing the darkness of early mornings. Stillness. Introspection.

With Christmas over, and New Years looming, this is a time for introspection. To take stock of the year that is passing and set goals for the year yet to come.

Immediately, my I am First, mind takes over. It happened yesterday. I wrote down ambitious running goals. A sub-40 10k in the spring, a 50 miler in the summer, and a personal best and Boston Qualifier marathon in the fall. In my head, my I am First head, that is how the 2020 running year would play out. I crave those times and those distances.

I also recognize those times and distances don’t matter.

I want to be a better person. To be of service to others. To my family. To my wife Sonja, who never puts herself first, always working for us – for Molly, and for me. Sonja deserves some I am First time of her own.

I want to be calmer on the inside.

I want to be a better dad. Every day feels like a work in progress – a struggle between knowing when to discipline, how to discipline, and when to let a child be a child.

I want to be better at my job. To strive daily to work with the passion and commitment that led me to be a cop in the first place. More than twenty years ago.

It was well over twenty years ago when I heard my father’s sermon “I am Third.”

My dad has always lived his life in third place.

In 2020, I want to be more like my dad.

Easter 2017.JPG

… That’s my dad, Molly and my mom.  Easter 2017.  One of my favourite pictures ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pointless Acceleration

I wrote this earlier this year.  It came to mind today.  Christmas has been wonderful, yet often chaotic, and it often feels like there is no time to breath, much less read, write or run. ….  Merry Christmas everyone.  DB

POINTLESS ACCELERATION

I accelerated meters from the finish line. Pointless acceleration. I was already sprinting. This surge might buy me a few useless seconds. My goal was a sub 40 minute 10K. Twenty feet from the finish line my hamstring popped. My right hand clutched the back of my leg. I hobbled across the line, two minutes too slow.

It had been an ambitious target. Nine years earlier I’d run 39:55. Back then I was under forty, didn’t have a child, ran often, and had a coach.

This time around, I was close to fifty, had a young daughter, ran when I could, and followed a program I’d found online.

I trained hard. Many weekdays my alarm rang at 3:15 a.m. Cold runs, wet runs, dark runs. I ate a plant based whole food diet. Instead of two glasses of wine every night, I drank one glass weekly. I introduced intermittent fasting into my routine. By race day, I was twenty-five pounds lighter than I’d been at the start of training.

I didn’t train hard enough. I didn’t do enough speed work. Our neighbourhood is nothing but hills. Nothing is flat, nothing is fast. Instead I relied on a treadmill, where too much of the speed comes from the machine, and not enough from within.

Race day conditions were perfect. Cool, sunny, not too much wind. I went through 5K in 20:15. According to the clock, I had a chance. According to my body, it was already over. The last half of the race was a gigantic fade. Dozens of runners passed me. I did not pass anyone.

I trained too hard. I tore my hamstring at the finish line. The culmination of months of training, and a race run at maximum effort. I tried to squeeze out a tiny bit more speed. And a muscle rebelled and ripped. The next night, I woke up with a sore throat. Now, ten days later, I’m fighting a cold that will not go away. I slept thirteen hours last night, and still need to nap, while my nose and mouth compete to see which can expel the most phlegm.

One race, one injury, one cold. Blips in the life of a runner. But they feel like more than blips. They feel like a manifestation of inner turmoil and my inability to resolve the question, “Why do I run?”

I believe that hurting, suffering and sacrificing make me stronger. I believe that if I work hard enough, I can run faster in my fifties than I did in my thirties. The 10K was not a one-off. I envisioned it as the first of a series of challenges. A marathon or 50K in the fall. A 50 miler next year. And the year after that, months after turning 50, I’d try a 100 miler. Worthy goals.

And all of them taxing. On my time, on my family, and, increasingly I worry, on my health. I want to live a long and active life. I seek inner peace. Running can provide that on its own, without races, or personal bests, or ultra-distances. Without injuries and a compromised immune system. I could just run.

But I want it all. I want to show up, on the starting line, with the perfect balance of training and health. I want to cross the finish line experiencing both agony and accomplishment. I want to be ninety on my daughter’s 45th birthday. I want to run with her that day. I want to straddle the line of health and performance for a long, long time.

Born that Way

Maggie is 13 going on 14. Old for a golden retriever, with the failing hind legs to prove it. She is the only Golden Retriever ever that doesn’t smile.   She’s melancholy by nature, with a frown that rarely turns upside down.

But when she feels joy she feels it intensely. She leaps into the ocean to chase thrown stones. She devours dog shit like a gourmand treasures a fine meal. And she loves her family. A loyal, sad dog who wants nothing more than to be by our sides. That saddens me, because I have so little time for her, the demands of family, work and life, usually dropping Maggie to last place on my priority list. I know that when she is gone I will mourn her. But on most days, if I’m honest, she brings me more frustration than happiness. Writing that makes me sad. She’s a good old girl who has been by my side through some tough times, a faithful companion at a time in my life when I didn’t want to be around people and just needed my dog.

I’m pretty sure Maggie was born that way. Sad. I got her when she was two. Attracted by a picture on the breeder’s website of the most miserable looking dog that I had ever seen. A dog that clearly needed a home. A Golden Retriever that needed to smile.

Maybe it’s appropriate Maggie came to me. We’re a lot alike. I’m melancholy by nature. Not depressed, but not happy either. Always conscious of the fragility of life, and the cruelties of this world.

Unlike Maggie I don’t chase stones in frigid water. I chase experiences instead. A good book, an invigorating run, bring me happiness. Although happiness might not be the right word. Because I might not smile when I read or run. But inside I feel fulfilled.

And like Maggie, I want to be around my family. That doesn’t mean I want to talk (to my lovely wife Sonja’s exasperation!). But being with them, in the house together, in the living room together, on the couch together, is the most satisfying thing I know. The closest I come to inner peace.

Fortunately, my greatest pleasure in life isn’t eating dog shit. But there is something special about seeing Maggie eat crap. Because for her it is pure joy. And pure joy, sheer happiness, is not something any of us see, or feel, often in this world.

Since September, I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing pure joy every week. My daughter Molly started dance lessons. She loves every second of it. This three-year old girl has thrown herself into the world of First Position, Pirouettes, and Le Grand Jete. It’s her passion. Not one that we have thrust upon her, but one that she clearly and instinctively feels she must do. And on Saturday mornings, Sonja and I stand on the other side of a large pane of glass and watch her and her classmates dance. Two, three and four year-old children, jumping and spinning for no other reason than the sheer joy of it. Watching Molly, watching these kids, has become the highlight of my week. One of the highlights of my life.

Molly might not exist if it wasn’t for Maggie. I met Sonja on an online dating sight. I’d posted a picture of me and Maggie. Sonja messaged me saying that my dog was cute. I responded “That’s Maggie. She eats poo.

Maggie is asleep right now. In the corner, on her dog bed. Molly and Sonja are in the kitchen making pancakes. I’m on the couch. Smiling. Feeling very fortunate to have a sad dog. My Maggie. She and I have a lot in common.

And look … Maggie can smile.

Happy Maggie.JPG

A Different Kind of Marathon

I ran a marathon last week along an old railway track converted into a trail.  When I crossed the finish line I cried.  Which surprised me.  I’ve done a few marathons over the years.  After my fastest I vomited steps after stopping.  I barely remember any of the other finishes, other than being thankful that the pain was over.

Pain isn’t the right word for this marathon.  Thankfully.  There had been pain leading up to it.  A torn calf muscle which took weeks to rehab and put the race itself in doubt.  It got better and it held up to the rigors of the race.  As did the rest of my body.  No new injuries.  While the final ten miles of the marathon were uncomfortable, it was the expected discomfort of an endurance event.  It should hurt and it did. 

Maybe I cried because the hurt was over, and my body and mind could let go.  I’d run alone for the last few hours, mostly without music, mostly in the rain.  I saw a handful of other runners and hikers.  There were no spectators.  This was not a big city marathon. No funny signs.   No bands belting out music at the mile markers.  There were volunteers though.  Dozens of them at the aid stations.   Men, women and children who’d sacrificed their time to stand outside in the wind and the rain and hand out food and drink to lonely wet runners.  I should have cried at the aid stations, because that’s where I felt most thankful. 

Or maybe I should have cried in the first ten miles, much of which I ran with a new friend.  A talented runner who happens to have epilepsy.  A runner who could have a seizure at any time.  Who could be moving effortlessly along the trail one second, and crumpled beside it a moment later, head covered in blood from bashing it on a rock.  That could have happened.  But it didn’t.  She finished the race.  Courage and grit.

I got home a few hours after I finished, and it felt like a normal day.  Like I’d completed a long training running.  I ate a normal dinner, went to bed at a normal hour, woke up a little sore and a little tired and very ready to enjoy a week off work.

A couple days after the marathon I spent most of the day with my daughter Molly.  We skated and went to the park and played with her toys.  I battled a tantrum or two and spent about thirty minutes coaxing an exhausted and giddy child into her car seat.    We spent hours together that day.  I did exactly what my wife Sonja does every day I’m at work except I did less of it, because I didn’t have Molly for the entire day.  By dinnertime I was exhausted.  I ate early and crawled into bed.  Sonja told me I looked more tired than I did after running the marathon. 

She was right.  A marathon is a known entity.  26.2 miles.  A runner can train for it, set their own pace, and, especially with a little experience, know essentially what to expect.  Running a marathon, you can control your speed, and reign in your emotions.  You can evaluate your pain and respond accordingly.  That doesn’t make a marathon easy, but it makes it manageable and knowable, in a way that raising a child isn’t.

I have had moments of incredible frustration this week, emotionally and physically drained by a three-year old whose behaviour I can’t control.  Sonja and I search for ways to influence that behaviour.  When it works, like seeing Molly grow in confidence and independence, the feeling is better than any finish line I’ve ever crossed.  When it doesn’t, it feels like mile twenty of a marathon. Battered and bruised, you keep moving, knowing the finish line is still a long way away.

And I love every moment of it.  Both marathoning and parenting.  Maybe not in the moment.  It’s hard to be thankful for something that hurts when its hurting.  But pushing through the discomfort always pays off.

A week ago, I ran that marathon.  I’ve already forgotten the discomfort, and I can’t wait to do the next one. 

A week from now, a month from now, a year from now, I will not remember the specifics of any tantrum or angry word unleashed by my daughter who each day learns that this is a big world, and navigating it isn’t easy.  Imagine being three years old again and trying to find yourself as you’re bombarded by the cacophony of life.

A week from now, a month from now, a year from now, I will remember three things that happened this week. 

I skated with my daughter.  The first time I’ve been on skates in over thirty years.  I skated with my daughter.  A sentence I never thought I would write.

I watched my daughter dance.  In a class, at a studio with two other girls and two boys.  I watched my daughter dance.  For thirty minutes I stood with the other parents outside the window that separated us from our children, and I watched Molly dance.  She was graceful and confident and joyful.  She loved every second.  It was one of the best moments of my life.

A few days after the marathon Molly’s pre-school class went on a field trip.  I went with her.  The field trip was on an abandoned railway track.  A track that had been turned into a hiking trail.  The same trail I’d run the marathon on earlier in the week.  I watched my daughter and her friends sprint down the trail.  I saw the wonder in her eyes when she stood atop a refurbished wooden bridge and gazed at the river far below.  I sat beside her while she ate the teacher’s homemade zucchini loaf and asked me, over and over, why the railway had been “abandoned.”  She seized on that word, never tiring of hearing me tell her that the trains stopped running and the bridge fell apart, and then good people came together and worked hard and rebuilt it for all of us to use.  She asked about it dozens of times.  I never tired of answering.

A few days earlier I’d run a marathon along that trail.  Now I was with my daughter, running a different kind of marathon.  A marathon with an unknown finish line, a marathon that may be impossible to train for, a marathon that taxes the mind and body daily.  A marathon where crying is possible anytime along the trail, not just at the finish line.  A marathon where the joys and rewards of just participating are infinite.  A different kind of marathon.

Molly at the Trestle Rest Stop

 

 

 

 

The Horizon was Upside Down

I’ve been reading a lot about ultrarunners.  They push their bodies into agony and train their minds to overcome their pain.

They volunteer to suffer.  Seek it out.  Embrace it.

Hillary Allen did that.  A world class ultrarunner racing on a mountaintop she lost her footing, crashed to the ground, fractured both wrists, several ribs and sliced her head open.

Doctors told her she might never run again.

But she did.

Reading about Hillary sent me to YouTube, and a video called Redemption.  I was about 30 seconds in, when my daughter Molly scrambled up on the couch, insisting I turn off the “boring” show so she could watch her new favourite cartoon, PJ Masks.

Molly cut her knee earlier this week.  She bled and cried, while mom and dad cringed at the chunk of gravel embedded under the skin.

The gravel is out, the knee is healing, and Molly is back to tearing around the neighbourhood park and scaling the ropes of the jungle gym.

I didn’t turn on PJ Masks.  I told Molly that Hillary had fallen and hurt herself badly.  But she’d healed and was running again.  We watched Redemption together.  Over and over.  Molly kept asking me to go back to the part where Hillary Allen talked about her fall and said, “the ground was pulled out from under me” and “the horizon was upside down.”  As she fell Hillary thought she would die.  As I write this Molly is sprinting back and forth in our living room, holding my headlamp, pretending to be Hillary running in the dark.

This week the horizon turned upside down for some very close friends.  They weren’t running.  No wrists were fractured.  But their son received a life altering diagnosis.  A diagnosis that will affect his life, every minute of every day.  That will affect the lives of his parents every minute of every day.

They don’t deserve it.  As a family they have already sacrificed and struggled, pulling together, working to overcome another diagnosis.  Also life changing.  Also something that is always with them.  It is so unfair.

“The ground was pulled out from under me.”  A regular reader of this blog had the world pulled out from under her a few years ago.  Members of her family were murdered.   She is a writer.  I suspect that sustains her in her darkest hours.

None of these stories are mine to tell.  Not Hillary’s, not my friends, not the regular reader’s.

Not Terry’s either.  I worked with Terry ten years ago.  She was one of the most compassionate people I’ve ever known.  She didn’t wear it on her sleeve.  Her profession, her career, her success required strength.  Steel.

But Terry melted around those who had nothing.  Addicts, sex-trade workers, the mentally ill. Those for whom every day was a struggle to survive.  Those who are so easy for us to drive by and ignore without giving a second thought.  I do it, all too often.

Terry used to remind me to treat everyone with respect and kindness.  Everyone.  Because you never know what they are going through.

Soon after she retired Terry was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer.  She fought hard.  Valiantly.  With dignity.  And passed away less than a year later.

There seems to be a consensus among ultrarunners, that the pain they experience is worth it.  Perhaps not in the moment.  But in the process, the preparation for the race.  And in the aftermath.  Real life lessons learned from voluntary suffering.

Suffering.  Utrarunners seek it out.

Suffering.  It seeks us out, throughout our lives.  Ground crumbles at our feet.  Horizons turn upside down.

I had no idea how to respond to our friends this week.  No words can heal what they’re going through.  I sent them my love.  I think about them.  They are strong and brave and they will need every ounce of that strength and bravery in the days, weeks and years ahead.

Their horizon is upside down.  I pray for healing in their lives.  For love and health and family to prevail.  For their horizon to right itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home

I didn’t see my daughter this week. I wasn’t working long hours or in some distant city that made getting home impossible. Instead I got off work on time, traffic wasn’t awful, I was home at a reasonable hour, and I still missed her by minutes – every single day. My heart sank each time I opened the front door to the silence of her asleep in her bed, or the faint chorus of my wife’s lullabies, as she lay on the floor beside our daughter, singing her to sleep.

Not seeing her, even for a day, hurts. But there is something special about it too. It reminds me of my parents and how lucky I am. In the mid-1970s my dad was a student minister in Bluevale, a tiny village in rural Ontario, hundreds of miles away from Toronto. Every Sunday night, dad drove to the city for a week of classes, and long nights of studying. Every Friday night he came back to Bluevale for a joyous reunion with his family before the chaos of the weekend began. Two young boys full of energy, a wife who’d born the burden of being a single mom all week, and the demands of his calling as a minister – two services in two rural churches. The physical and emotional toil of leading those congregations on Sunday mornings must have been overwhelming, knowing that come Sunday night he’d be driving back to Toronto, to do it all over again. Four years of that. Four years of not seeing his boys every night.

I have nothing but great memories of those years. My mom was ever present, caring for my brother and I, taking us to the general store where a glass bottle of Coke cost a dime and a bag of chips was twenty-five cents. She played with us, and planted gardens with us and was always there for us. In my memories my dad was ever present too. I don’t remember the weeklong absences. Instead I think of all the things we did together. Baseball, fishing, walks by the old mill near our home. It was idyllic.

As an adult, and a dad, I have a greater appreciation of the challenges my parents must have faced. My father’s sadness at not seeing his boys for such long stretches. The strains and stresses my mother must have endured all alone with two boys, the wife of a minister in a small town with all eyes upon her. To this day my mom speaks about Bluevale often, the friendships she formed, and the way the community supported her. But it could not have been easy for her.

Although I have lived in British Columbia for over ten years, Ontario still feels like home. It still is home. I miss small town Ontario. The brick buildings, main streets, century old homes, and farmers’ fields which surround every town. Bluevale was the epitome of rural Ontario and it became a part of me which I will never shake.

In late spring 2014 I went home again. The timing was perfect. A long relationship had just ended. I needed my family. And although we had talked about returning to Bluevale for years, we’d never made the trip. It took us a couple of hours to drive there along straight country roads. We visited both churches. The front door of the first we visited was open. We wandered around and found my dad’s picture hanging in the basement, forty years after he’d preached there.

Dad in the Belmore church

Visiting the second church was sadder. It wasn’t a church anymore. Instead the church had closed, the building sold and that sacred place had been turned into a home. It made the 1970s seem a long time ago, perhaps the last decade when a village of a few hundred people could sustain a church of its own.

Bluevale church (2).jpg

The closed church did not ruin our day. Far from it. Happiness and wonderful memories abounded. Walks around the old mill and through the quiet cemetery near our home we had once walked through regularly. And our old home was still there – “the manse” in church parlance. The center of my childhood years. When I was the same age as my daughter is now.

Bluevale Manse

I had a full day with my daughter yesterday. We picked blackberries along the side of the road revelling in a “secret spot” we had found. Then to our favourite coffee shop where buying her a treat is always a highlight of my week. Perhaps the most special moment was at the library, where they’d set out toys and masks for kids to play with. And one of the librarians had a Polaroid. A Polaroid! Who knew they existed anymore? My daughter, who talks to Siri and asks for shows on Netflix, knows nothing of Polaroids. So for her it was magic, real magic, when the librarian took a picture, and out of the camera slid a white piece of paper. Which Molly shook, and watched as it transformed into a picture of her and her dad. A Polaroid. It was like we’d been transported back into the 1970s. To a small town in rural Ontario. Home.

Polaroid

 

Inspired by Mark and a Dose of Doctor Danica

My friend Mark is a writer and photographer. Mark’s compassion, wonder, and wit, combined with a healthy dose of cynicism make each of his blog posts a joy to read. Each photo complements every word. Check out his blog at walkacrossitall.com.

Mark’s pursuit of his passions inspired this blog. Writing is integral to the person I am. Yet I’ve stopped writing. I’m challenging myself to write regularly and asking you to read it if you like it and delete it if you don’t.

Mark re-entered my life recently. Electronically at least. I never wanted him to leave it. But we drifted when life intervened. As it does.

Not many years ago, Mark helped get me through my darkest days. My ex-partner’s cancer diagnosis rattled me like nothing before. Until I rattled again, just a few months later when our decade long relationship ended during her treatment. I retreated to a basement suite. I retreated into myself.

Mark buoyed me at my lowest ebb. We worked together, laughed together and drank beer in the park together. Every Thursday night meant growlers, gossip and Capoeira in Victoria’s Central Park. Capoeira is a Brazilian martial art. We didn’t practice it but we certainly enjoyed watching the best combination of beautiful lithe bodies, and not so beautiful not so lithe bodies we’d ever seen contorting in public. “Capoeira” became a codeword for Thursday nights. Capoeira was spiritual gold when I was spiritually bankrupt.

Mark and I became vegans at the same time together too. Not surprising for me. The world is full of scrawny running vegans. But Mark is big and strong and outgoing. Not the stereotypical vegan. His courage to pursue a lifestyle that many still raise their eyes at, helped give me the courage to live my beliefs.

When I began to feel more like a whole person again, I tried online dating. In my profile I described myself as Reader, Writer, Runner.

I met a beautiful and very special woman. Sonja is my wife now. Before we married, we had a daughter. Molly was born on my 45th birthday. A gift beyond comprehension.

Life changed. As it does.

Reading, once a daily ritual, became a rare luxury.

Running never left me. It just changed. Less time to train, fewer miles, and different goals. Goodbye sub-three hour marathon. Instead running became its own essence. The pursuit of physical and mental health.

Goodbye writing. The most difficult and least enjoyable of the three, it was easy to stop making the effort when time came at such a premium.

But then Mark inspired me. With words from France. With his example – taking the time to be true to himself, while still being a wonderful husband and father.

I read Mark’s latest posts while Sonja and I were in Victoria on a mini-vacation. Molly burst with joy everywhere we went: petting goats in Beacon Hill Park, riding a big red bus, sitting beside her dad eating bacon for breakfast. I burst with joy every moment too, with my ladies at my side.

As we were about to leave town, I called my friend Danica. I hadn’t seen her in almost three years. We’d barely communicated. She had never met Molly. Yet I still felt close to her. She was yet another friend I had let slip through my life.

We parked outside Danica’s home and I called her. She wasn’t far away, walking her dog. We drove to her. Embraced. Showed off Molly. Walked. Talked. Laughed.

We ended up in a nearby park. Molly climbed to the top of a slide. Four to six feet off the ground. There was sand on the slide. Molly slipped, fell backwards, and hit the ground. Sonja and I were too far away to catch her. Too far away to see where she hit, or how she hit. We were close enough to see her tumble. Close enough to hear her cry. We both ran to her, not knowing what we were about to find.

It was the most scared I have ever been. I didn’t know if my daughter had been critically hurt. My head went to the worst place imaginable.

Sonja picked her up. Molly sobbed. Danica stood beside us. In all my worry, I had a sliver of consolation. Danica was a doctor. Doctor Danica. We’d met years earlier in a writing class. She is a talented writer, an accomplished doctor, a mom, a wife and a wonderful human being.

Danica examined Molly. Nothing broken. No bleeding. Head good. Pupils good. Ears good. Moving just fine.

It may be the most thankful I have ever been.

When Molly stopped crying I told her she was brave and strong and asked her if she wanted to climb back up the slide. She did. Up she went, and down she went. This time sliding, not falling.

It may be the most proud I have ever been.

We didn’t spend long with Danica. A few minutes before the fall, a few minutes after. But she inspired me. She is pursuing her passions. For teaching children about nature, and the environment and the connectivity of all things.

The next morning my family was back home. Molly could not stop talking about Dr. Danica, asking for “story about Molly fell and Dr. Danica.” So, with a little help from dad, Molly called Dr. Danica. They talked for a few minutes. Molly asked Dr. Danica if she had any toys, and if she liked pink cars. My heart warmed.

There are quite a few Marks and Dr. Danicas in my life. If you’re reading this, there is a good chance you are one of those people. Someone who is important to me. Someone whose friendship I value. Someone who has shared good times with me, and helped me through bad times. Someone I’ve let slip out of my life.

Mark and Dr. Danica reminded me of the importance of keeping the people that matter close.

Mark and Dr. Danica inspired me to write again.

Daryl

Driving

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