Tuesday, 31 January 2017

This is who we are

Gale force winds and bitter snow.
Yet still we gather.
In our parkas and toques and mittens and scarves.
With our candles blowing out in the wind.
Because we are Canadians.

This is who we are.

Faces in the crowd
Men and women.
Children and seniors.
People of all colours and religions and orientations.
Huddled in the snow to bear witness.
To pray.
To tell our Muslim brothers and sisters

This is who we are.

The English teacher speaks.
"These are the names of those who died
The names I know so far
Azzeddine Soufiane, a butcher, a grocer, a father of three
Khaled Belkacemi, a university professor
Aboubaker Thabti, a father of two young children..."

A moment of silence in their names.

The imam speaks, his voice strong and clear and unafraid.
"Imagine you are prostrate before your Creator, 

Your face to the ground, asking for his mercy
That is when you die. When you are closest to God."

"Terrorism has no religion."

"Gandhi said
Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny."

"We must educate the ignorant. Invite strangers into our homes. Learn about each other."

A First Nations woman steps out of the crowd
“As a Treaty Eight person, I know about what it is like
Not to be allowed to practice your spirituality.
That happened to our people.
And I want to welcome you
We are all equal human beings
You have a home on Treaty Eight land.”

The MLA speaks
"We cannot deny that there is hatred among us.
Such a violent act of terror came from hate.
But there is something stronger than hate and fear.
Love and hope."

Another voice.
"It is time to educate the racists and the bigots.
It is time to speak out
It is time to stand up
It is time to remember there is strength in diversity."

When someone dies
People come together
To honour the dead
To find strength in community
To celebrate a life
This vigil
A time to remember
A time to stand up
A time to celebrate

This is who we are.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

From Shadow to Light

When you are kid, you often feel like you are living in your parents' shadow.

At least that is how I felt, growing up in a small town where my dad was the high school principal, alderman and respected community member and my mom was a teacher and a compulsive volunteer.

"Oh, you're George Hartford's daughter," people would say.  "Ah, I know your mom!" 

Even now I meet people who knew my parents years ago and hear stories about them.

My parents were leaders in their own way. When they would see a need, they would act. Maybe that is how they learned to live from their parents. Or maybe it was a consequence of being city-bred people who moved to a small town or maybe it was the result of growing up during the Depression or living through a world war.

They had high expectations for us, their four children. Not about what kind of marks we should get or what career path we should follow (although they certainly had suggestions we didn't comply with). They did not have expectations about the kind of wealth we should attain or the status we should achieve. Their expectations were about the kind of people we should become. The sense of obligation to honour those expectations was unspoken, but oh so very powerful.

Did we live up to their expectations?  That's something I will never know.  

But I do know their shadows still loom. The shadows are there when we go to places we visited together. I think of Mom when I am shopping. I think of Dad when there are workplace challenges.The shadows are dark when I do wrong. The shadows loom when I wonder what would Dad have done or what would Mom think.That's when the shadows no longer dominate but guide and support. I think of them both when there is big news in the world and when my kids do something extraordinary or when I have big decisions to make or when I feel sad. Their shadows loom over holidays and special days and dark days. That is when their shadows move from haunting me to enveloping me with warmth. 

I thought of my dad today when I learned that his good friend Burns had passed away. Burns or "Fuzz" and my dad had a long history. They fought together in World War II. They returned to Canada where they had families and served their communities.  They were alike in many ways, and though I did not know him well, I know he was a good and wise man who loved his family.

I know enough about Burns to know that his shadow will figure large in the lives of his two grown children and his grandchildren.

I hope for them that those shadows will gradually cease to be the sometimes dark shadows of memory.

I hope they will find, as I have, that those shadows have gradually turned to light. Light that illuminates a path through this uncertain and dark world. 

The light cast by good parents who have raised their children well.

Friday, 6 January 2017


This morning, I turn on the Christmas lights for the last time. I put the last of the Christmas cookies on my mom's star shaped cookie stand. I pour a coffee into my lovely new Christmas mug.  As I sit in the gentle glow of the old-school lights of our tree, I reflect on the season.

Today is Epiphany. In the Christian calendar, the day celebrates the arrival of the Magi and the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. 

Today would also have been my Dad's 94th birthday. 

In our house, Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season. 
My grandparent's Christmas table

I think back to the Christmases of my childhood, spent in my grandparents' house on their farm, a converted log cabin lovingly added to and renovated over the years. 

Christmas was waiting.

It was waiting for Christmas dinner. 

It was waiting for the huge table to be constructed by combining the ping-pong table and assorted other tables in the middle of the living room. It was waiting for it to be covered with white linen tablecloths, set with the best dishes. It was waiting for the silver to be polished. It was waiting for my grandfather to say grace before the 30-40 assembled relatives and neighbours began to feast. 

Me and my cousins
Christmas was the infamous little red kid's table in the other room. 

Christmas was waiting to open presents after the dishes and the tables were cleared away. 

Christmas was waiting to be old enough to read so you would have the honour of being allowed  distribute the gifts.

Later, Christmas was at my aunt's house in town, my aunt and cousins cooking and serving dinner. It was the living room floor awash in wrapping paper. Christmas was cousins, aunts, uncles-all laughing, children everywhere,

Still later, Christmas was my parents' big Tumbler Ridge house. 

In Tumbler Ridge
Christmas was waking up to see the delighted little faces peering over the balcony that overlooked the living room, basking in the glow of the tree lights. Christmas was hearing their whispers, "He came." 

It was waiting for my brother and sister to arrive so we could open our stockings. It was waiting for my mom to put the Christmas pudding on to steam and put the turkey in the over before we tackled the tree, so many presents it felt almost obscene.

Still later, the small Tumbler Ridge house and then my brother's Victoria house filled with siblings and parents and love.

And now, my parents gone, my siblings far away, my own kids make the journey back home. Now, just the five of us gathered round the tree. 

Our Christmas filled with ghosts of the past.

Epiphany is a time to bless the home to protect us from evil for the coming year. The blessing represents the hospitality offered to the wise men. It invites God's presence into the home for the coming year. 

We will pack away our Christmas tree and our Christmas dishes and our Christmas decorations. My kids will return to their homes. And we will wait for another Christmas. 

An epiphany can also be a feeling. A sudden and rare experience. An enlightening understanding that gives us a new perspective. My epiphany, despite the sadness I feel as I deeply miss those no longer with us, is my realization that these ghosts are not to be mourned. They have blessed us with their presence and their memories. No matter what the configuration of people attending our Christmas festivities, we are truly blessed by generations of love. May their blessings continue to shine over us.