Change

In my closet hang two track suits. Those who knew me, in my in my pre-island life, will be surprised to know they are what I end up wearing out in public when that rare task occurs.

Between the ages of 30-40, I owned one pair of track pants. Bought for a road trip to NYC because I thought that’s what I ought to wear, I don’t think I was ever again seen in public wearing them.

Where we live can change us.

I’m not the person I was.

There’s nothing positive or negative about that statement. I have no moral stance on the wearing of track pants or even track suits. It’s just not something I used to do and now it is.

The season of life we’re in can dictate what we do. In three years of living where I do, I’ve yet to paint all the walls. In three years of living in my previous house, I completely redecorated at least three times – changing wall colours, furniture, curtains, pictures, etc.

In many ways where we live and the season we’re in shape us.

Prior to the launch of 2020, there was so much hype around it being a new decade – a new era. None of could predict how much of a shift would come.

Everyone one of us is living in a new place and a new season. Though our houses may remain physically the same, what life looks like inside of them is radically different. Though it is currently summer, as it is every year at this time, what life looks like is radically different.

We are now in year two of a global pandemic.

Did you imagine it would go on this long?

Those two weeks the government of Canada asked for in March of 2020 have turned into 15 months. Restrictions and regulations remain in place for Ontario. I’m not saying anything for against that – though I do have my own thoughts on the matter. I’m simply saying, we’re still here.

And every one of us is continuing to be changed or shaped to varying degrees by the era we’re in.

Whatever we think of the government’s decisions, it’s hard not to grow weary. Trying to keep up with the ever evolving rules and changing dates, can crowd out any other thoughts or impede our ability to see a bigger picture.

A devoted mother I was speaking to said, “I just can’t think about what the masks and social distancing are doing to my kids. I just need to figure out how to get through this and back to normal life.”

In many ways, we’re collectively holding our breath waiting for this pandemic to pass by. Time to take a deep breath. This season we’re in isn’t going to be short lived. Especially in Ontario, there’s no end in sight.

The good news is we’ve survived thus far. Seriously, you’ve survived a global pandemic. Pretty much everyone you know is still alive. That’s good news. Let it sink in for a few minutes.

Now, where are you and who have you become?

Remembering the Light

Grandpa and me mowing the grass

My grandparents had already sold their farm by the time I came along. They were living in a somewhat rural area outside of the city where I was born. My grandfather had created a huge garden where he taught my sister and I about strawberries and raspberries. There were other things – grapes, beans, carrots, rhubarb – but the berries were all we cared about.

He had a little barn where, at one point, he raised chinchillas. The small animals always frightened me, but I never missed an opportunity to go to the barn with him. My grandfather was a quiet man. He wasn’t overly emotional or demonstrative. Especially in social settings, he was aloof. I don’t even really remember his invitations, yet I remember always going with him. Tending the garden, mowing the grass, caring for the chinchillas, or walking in the fields behind his property I went with him whenever I visited. There were a variety of odd jobs he had while I grew up; caring for racehorses and chickens at hatcheries, maintaining the properties of his wealthy sisters, among other things. Cleaning and maintaining the large Presbyterian church was something he and my grandmother did together. My sister and I always went along. We often spent weekends at our grandparents’. That’s when my grandfather taught me how to rug hook. It was something he enjoyed doing in the evenings while watching game shows. He tried to teach me pool, but I didn’t apply myself. Winning wasn’t something I enjoyed, so I really didn’t want to become a skilled player. But rug hooking appealed to me. I still have rugs he made and one that I completed from a kit he bought me.

Lately when the uncertainty of life is overwhelming, I find myself remembering moving through the air on the tire swing in my grandparents’ front yard. There was so much silence. I loved it as a child and long for it now as a mother of five loud children.

There is so much more I wish I’d learned from my grandfather. At that point, I had no idea I’d one day be planting gardens of my own. I didn’t imagine I’d own chickens or be reading up on small scale dairy production. These are things my grandfather knew about from his life on the farm. He had a diverse operation selling produce, eggs, and milk. Never did he regale us with stories of his enterprise. He gently instructed me enough so that I could take part in what he was doing – feeding horses, filling water bottles for chinchillas, cleaning trout ponds, changing light bulbs on chandeliers high up in the church sanctuary. If I’d know where my life was headed, I would have asked for more of his knowledge.

My grandmother was a harsh and critical woman. In many ways she had reason to be. Life hadn’t turned out the way she’d wanted. My sister once interviewed our grandmother for a project in college. One question was, “What is your biggest regret?” From another room, our grandfather shouted out with a laugh, “Marrying me!” The act was so spontaneous and out of character, I’ve never forgotten my sister’s retelling of it.

It’s true, they were not well suited. I’m not sure why they married. Unable to have children, it wasn’t to avoid scandal. Neither was wealthy. All their siblings had prospered in the small town where they lived. But my grandparents were both living very modestly while single. They married later in life, fully aware of who they were and where they were headed. Still my grandmother resented who my grandfather was. I don’t know what he thought of her. He always spoke of her with respect and honoured her wishes.

grandpa in younger years

Always agreeable and deferring to my controlling grandmother, I used to think of him as having a certain weakness of character. Why didn’t he stand up to her? Why didn’t he insist upon getting his own way?

Now, I see him very differently. Though their union may have been regrettable, he was committed to it. Standing up to my grandmother would have added a great deal of strife. In significant issues, he did take a stand. There was a stubbornness that came forth when something was important.

In the everyday, my grandfather cultivated a life that fed his spirit. He took long walks in the fields and forest. He grew fruit and vegetables to feed us. He planted beautiful flower gardens. He played his banjo. He made rugs and mirrors. He played pool on the table in his basement. He took his grandchildren bowling and out for ice cream on a regular basis. His home and property were immaculate as was his appearance. He was a gentle man at peace in his life. I understand the magnitude of strength he had to maintain his joy in the face of disappointment and regret that went well beyond his marriage.

Though by no means exuberant, I remember my grandfather as happy. There are so many things he could have taught me. Sifting through our time together, I realize the greatest gift he gave was the example of how to create happiness even in unhappy circumstances. It isn’t something I’ve mastered. But I want to apply myself. When I forget the cares surrounding me and fully enjoy planting apple trees or take time to marvel at the eggs from my chickens, I see how he maintained his light. He knew what mattered – being in nature, creating beautiful spaces, music, and items, and connecting with his grandchildren. That’s what he devoted himself to.  He was able to shine in a great deal of darkness. In these dark days, I’m continually remembering his light.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing,  

so that you may become blameless and pure,

“children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”

Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky

as you hold firmly to the word of life…

Philippians 2:14-16