Saturday, March 21, 2009

but what if it's all junk?

Get rid of the junk in your life he said.

'Junk?' she thought, maybe I should have a garage sale.

not that kind of junk he said, reading her thoughts.

the junk in your heart and your soul.

junk that pushes God out of your life.

junk like envy and greed and hatred and fear and jealousy ... but mostly fear.

'Rhetorical question' she asked

[well, if it was rhetorical did she ask it or state it?]

'Rhetorical question'

'what if it's all junk?'

it isn't. he replied. you were created in the image of God. That's why you laugh so well when you laugh. That's why you feel so deeply when you feel. that's why it hurts so much at times. None of that is junk. all of that is divinity.

the challenge is to believe it ..... and that's the fear ... what if it's ALL junk??

Friday, March 20, 2009

A rose by any other name ......

The topic on DNTO a few weeks ago was names. Names at birth and names from friends. Given names and nicknames. Everyone, said host Sook-Yin Lee, has a nickname and that got me thinking. Did I have a nickname?

I suppose you could say that my nom de plume, Young Lady, is a bit of a nickname. And a few folks refer to me - in writing - by my first initial because that's usually how I sign off emails, etc. But it's not really a nickname.

Years ago I worked with a fellow whose initials made a word (for the life of me though I can't remember either his real name of the one I made up for him!) and so I called him that word rather than his name for as long as we worked together. He then begin to call me by the sound of my initials. It was something that the two of us shared. No one else called us by those names. It was special and it connected us and somehow strengthened our relationship.

When I met my anam cara they began to call me a 'silly' name and again I felt special.... until I heard them use if for lots of other people. Bummer. Because I had mistakenly thought that I had been given a gift - a private special name that was mine only. So when I heard it bandied around it was quite a disappointment. I heard it used again just the other day and recalled that original feeling.

Words, names, can be very powerful. A nickname can be a lovely -private in a public way - shared experience. Many, many years ago I called a man I loved 'Barney' ... it wasn't his name but it meant something to us and we could use it in public places knowing that it meant something intimate and private that no one else understood. A special shared moment that helped to connect us in public, and sometimes stressful or difficult situations.

Nicknames can also have a bit of a mean streak. Early in his construction career one of my sons shot himself in the foot with his nail gun and his nickname became 'Shooter' - his boss even had a name tag made for him.

A few years ago my anam cara and I began to call each other by the names of characters on a cartoon show. Are you pondering what I'm pondering? It was fun and silly and special because it was private.

I guess that's part of the power of a nickname. It demonstrates a connection, a shared experience or relationship.

So whether you're called Zippy or Pinky or D or Shooter .... a rose by any other name ......

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Books .... books and more books ....

I was thinking about books the other day when I was in a Chapter's store looking to buy a copy of 'The Borrower's' that I can read to my grandchildren. As it turns out I had to order it online because it's too old to be kept in the stores. Anyway, as I was looking around at other books - because you can't possibly go to a book store without buying a book, at least I can't - I found myself wondering what it is about books that so captivates me. I've always been a reader. I remember as a child taking my book and lamp and blanket and pillow into my bedroom closet, shutting the door and reading for hours. My family must have thought I was nuts but they didn't stop me. My parents, particularly my dad, was a voracious reader right up until he died. In fact, it was one thing we had in common and could discuss the various books we'd read and debate the character's and the endings.

The week before he went into the hospital last summer I was visiting him with other family members when he turned to me and said. "I've got a bone to pick with you." As it turned out what he wanted to chastise me about was the ending to a recent book I'd given him. Laughing I said, "I didn't WRITE the book, Dad, I just gave it to you." But he was so annoyed about how the author had elected to end a book with familiar characters that he made me read him the final few pages and then give him MY interpretation of the events. I honestly don't think he accepted my view - which was markedly different than his - because he just kept saying, "you think?". I remember telling him that when her next book was published I was going to ensure that she didn't take the characters where he thought she was heading and if so I wasn't going to let him read it! He died shortly afterwards but I'm sure going to laugh if his interpretation turns out to be correct.

But as for my passion for books - I really don't quite 'get it'. My parents never read to me when I was a child and we only owned a few books. The library was our 'book store'. My house today is filled with hundreds of books (not only do I love to read, I love to own) and I get great joy just looking at them, remembering the characters and stories in the fiction; the lessons learned and people 'met' in the non-fiction. I also write in my books highlighting phrases, sentences, paragraphs that 'speak' to me, and use sticky notes to make it easier to go back to them - which I do .... often. I remember the first time when, as a VERY mature student, I got my student card from U of T and was able to access the stacks at the Robarts Library. I can still remember how I felt to walk down rows and rows of books ... the smell, the touch....the honour and privilege I felt. I'm not embarrassed to say that I wept.

This is partly why I support The Children's Book Bank in downtown Toronto. The Children's Book Bank is a non-profit organization that collects new or gently used books and gives them to children. Not lends them as the library does, but GIVES them a book. One of the stories told is that a young boy came to the Book Bank and after he had selected his book he asked when he needed to bring it back. Upon being told that he didn't ever have to return it because it was now his to own he clasped his hands together, looked up and thanked God. Check out their website or drop into the centre... it's an amazing place.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Jesus Wept.

I heard a horrifying news item last week about a young girl who chocked herself TO DEATH while 7 prison guards stood by watching. The young girl - only 19 years old & with a history of mental illness - had originally been incarcerated after throwing crab apples at a postman. Ashley had been transferred 17 times - bounced back and forth between prisons, treatment centres and hospitals - and had a history of over 150 'security incidents' in 11 months.

150 'security incidents' in 11 months!! Now THERE's a cry for help. But what help did she get? Apparently the guards stood watching because they had been instructed not to intervene as long as she was still breathing. In fact they waited almost half an hour before they called for any kind of medical help - didn't even check her vitals. A 19 year old child died in front of their eyes and they did NOTHING. Apparently senior officers didn't want to reinforce the negative behaviour. The help they gave was to 'urge' her to remove the ligature she had tied around her neck.

Ashley had been originally been given a short sentence but she kept having time added to her original term because of her behaviour and 'security incidents' while in custody. In fact she spent most of her time, 23 hours a day, in solitary confinement. Because of her mental illness. Because no one in the system stepped in and helped.

The thought that 7 guards - people who are paid to protect the inmates - stood and watched Ashley die in front of their eyes is horrific. I cannot imagine how any of them can live with themselves now. Oh, sure they were 'obeying' orders. I'd guess that's what many of the guards in Abu Ghraib said as well. And the horror that her family must feel when considering her time while incarcerated is inconceivable. My heart aches for their loss.

The officials who gave the orders that the guards so blindly followed should be charged with murder. This was a mental health issue. This was not a prison matter. Ashley didn't deserve to spend the final months of her much too young life in solitary confinement because of a mental illness. Ashley didn't deserve to die because the officials determined that she was 'crying wolf'. Where were the mental health professionals?

One can only hope and pray that something positive comes as a result of Ashley's death and that nothing like this ever happens again.

Jesus wept.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Books, books and more books

I was adding to my book list on and realized two things. One, I have WAY too many books on my shelves that I haven't read yet and secondly that books have a powerful hold on me. I suppose I've always known both those things but going through my library reinforced it.

To me books are like friends - good close friends who sometimes make you laugh (anything by David Sedaris), sometimes make you cry ('What they Wanted' by Donna Morrisey...warning, you'll need plenty of tissues when reading this one), sometimes really piss you off (I was so annoyed at the ending for 'My Sister's Keeper' and as I kid couldn't finish a book if someone was being 'double-crossed'. Speaking of sister's, my own was so annoyed at the circumstances in 'Careless in Red' by Elizabeth George that she put the book down and refused to finish it or even talk about it).

Books are powerful things. The ability to write a phrase that stays with you long after reading it, the ability to create characters that come alive in the reading and stay alive when you've finished is a rare art form. I often go back to Rohinton Mistry's 'Family Matters' for the quote ... "A letter is like perfume. You don't apply a whole bottle. Just one dab will fill your senses. Words are the same - a few are sufficient."

As I added to the list on Goodreads I remembered some of my other favorites as well. 'Can you Hear the Nightbird Call' by Anita Rau Badami. 'Bishop's Road' by Catherine Safer. 'Walking after Midnight' by Kay Hutchison. And many more.

I also remembered where I was - or at least what I was going through - when I read some of them. I read 'Beyond Crazy' and 'The Last Taboo', both by Scott Simmie and Julia Nunes, when I was going through a particularly bad patch. Any and all of my books on Celtic spirituality or the Orthodox church remind me of when I was mad for learning as much as possible about those two subjects - subjects which are still close to my heart.

I still have the very first book I ever owned as a child, my first 'grown-up' book anyway. It's called 'The Five Circles' by Barbara May and I can clearly recall how proud and thrilled I was to have a book to call my own. That's partly why I'm so partial to a charity called The Children's Book Bank ( located on Berkley Street in Toronto, Ontario. The Children's Book Bank collects books and GIVES them to children. It's a phenomenal idea and to anyone who loves reading and realizes the power of a book for a child visit this website and donate, donate, donate.

I also remember feeling so stupid the first time I opened 'The Art of the Icon: A Theology of Beauty' by Paul Evdokimov. It was in the very early days when I found myself enthralled with icons and iconography and wanted to learn as much as I could about them. And, instead of starting with something basic, like 'Sacred Doorways', I chose Evdokimov's book. It begins .... ' "Beauty is the splendor of truth." So said Plato in an affirmation that the genius of the Greek language completed by a coining a single term, kalokagathia." ' HUH????? Honestly, I don't think I've ever felt so stupid as when I started reading 'The Art of the Icon' (well, maybe with the exception of the first class I took at Trinity College as a VERY mature student but more on that another time) . But I got through it and think of it often and, remembering how stupid I felt then and realizing that I 'get it' now is a special feeling as well.

I've begun to give books as gifts as much as possible. A few years ago I gave 'I never saw another butterfly ...' to all my fellow acolytes at church. I gave both my sons 'Where the Sidewalk Ends' by Shel Silverstein this Christmas. When they were little boys the three of us used to read the poem's in that, and all of Silverstein's books, over and over. It turned out to be one of their favorite books. I gave 'Bel Canto' by Ann Patchett to two of my best friends for Christmas as well, one of whom loved it, the other - well, I've not heard what they thought of it yet so ... who knows. After all, just because I love a book doesn't mean that others will.

I remember recommending 'Family Matters' to my best friend ..... and hearing that they HATED it. They went to the trouble of taking it on a family vacation, sitting down on the beach to read this "great book" and HATING it! 'Too depressing' was the comment I got back. Honestly, the way they went on made me feel guilty for even suggesting it to them! Also made me a bit cautious to recommend books to anyone for a while but then I figured, even if they don't like them, reading pretty much anything is an experience worth having. And I still love it. It remains one of my all time favorites, along with 'Bel Canto'.

Now that I've realized how many books I have on my shelves that I haven't read I'm planning to take care of that. I'll keep you posted on any true gems I discover .... well, in my opinion anyway!