Saturday, September 27, 2014


A little voice told me the podcasts were not a good idea.  Did I listen?  Of course not.  I went ahead and tuned in to “Medical Errors,” the week’s episode on White Coat, Black Art with Dr. Brian Goldman.    Even when I learned that the medical mistakes involved birth tragedies, and the voice became more insistent, I couldn’t bring myself to press pause, never mind delete.  The story obsessed me.  How could it not?  Three miscarriages, a stillbirth by Caesarian; after a fifth pregnancy, a child, a few days old, brain-damaged from oxygen deprivation when the womb explodes, dead when life-support is withdrawn.  Against all odds, a sixth conception, and, this time,  a baby with a serious heart defect and a fused windpipe and esophagus.  How can anyone survive such pain, I wonder.

I don’t think of these podcasts at all when my phone pings at 6 :30 a.m.  The text from our son reads: Water broke; going to the hospital.  A week early.  Disappointment tempers the excitement; I can’t be with them for a few days yet, as I have committed to sessions with teachers over the next two days. Sound bytes from the podcast do pierce my filter later in the evening, however, with the next update.  Progress is slow.

My own labour with this child’s father competes with Dr. Goldman’s program for byte space.  I relive flashes.  Sitting in my rocker at home as  the contractions begin and then intensify.  The decision to go to the hospital.  Heartbreak after hours of labour, and I am dilated only two centimetres.  Really?  Doing the proportional, if illogical, math, and wondering how I can make it through another ten hours or so to get to ten centimetres, and then summon the strength for the real work of delivery.  The death-grip on my husband’s arm when he announces he will grab a bite to eat for a few minutes.  The conviction that this child will never be born, and I will be caught forever in the contraction loop.  The relief that accompanies signing the forms for the C-section.

I live the roller coaster with my son and daughter-in-law.  Labour by distance.  I warn the teachers with whom I am working of the reasons for any distraction they might notice, or any compulsive phone-checking.  I struggle to concentrate on the work at hand, and I try to dimiss premonitions that something might be wrong.

Erik arrives just as the session ends.  I make the announcement—the teachers deserve to know, having shared the journey with me.  Everyone claps.  A photo accompanies my son’s text.  Erik is perfect, and his mother is doing well.  I can breathe again.  Nothing else matters.  The news has squashed the negative voices like bugs on a fall patio.  Now, we can focus on getting home, repacking, and heading out very early the next day on the ten-hour trip to meet our grandson.

His son in the crook of his arm, our son looks like he’s been a father for a lot longer than 48 hours.  He places Erik in my arms.  The baby snuggles into my shoulder.  My cheek delights in the velvet of his skin.   Enveloped in bliss and gratitude, I imbibe his warmth.  I memorize the curve of his tiny ears, the pucker of his mouth, the long, fine musician’s fingers. 

Time stands still, and so do the haunting voices.    The only voices that matter today are the ones that call me Mémère.

Sunday, September 14, 2014


The phone rings in the middle of my harp practice.  I have just finished my lesson on Skype, and I intend to invest a little more time to integrate my teacher’s suggestions before I forget what she recommended.  The cryptic notes I scribble during the lesson do help to anchor me, but there’s nothing like immediate reinforcement.

“I’m at Phil’s,*” Elmer says.  “I just happened to mention that you have a harp, and he wants to see it.  And maybe hear a tune or two?” 

“Sure, but it’s Frère Jacques, an anonymous waltz, and a few Christmas carols . . .”

“That’ll be great.  We’ll be over in a few minutes.  And then, how about going out for lunch?”

Buoyed by the vote of confidence, and excited about the anticipated lunch, I launch my switch from private mode (spending the day at home with work projects and music) to people mode (chatting with friends) with make-up and a quick change of clothes.  Less project work and more visiting today, it seems.  Works for me.

My plan for the day has been dereailed, albeit in the best way possible.   “Interruptions [are] my work,”  Henri Nouwen said, and I need to remind myself of the inherent truth of the statement.  Always more important than projects,  relationships, along with the dialogue that accompanies them, stimulate and revive me, and spark my work like embers do kindling.  “Recital,”  lunch, and a wee dram of Scotch with more conversation later, we are richer for the spontaneous get-together.  In this case, derailment is easy to manage—just resechedule and reorganize.

But what about critical derailment that blindsides and irrevocably alters the path of life, in the short or long term? 

On a play the referees attempt to whistle down with one blow that’s no match for the crowd noise in Winnipeg, Rider quarterback Darian Durant gets tackled and tears a tendon in his elbow.  Season over for him.  In a nanosecond.  On a play that didn’t count.  Dismay on the team.  The season will be different, now, for him, for his teammates, and for Tino Sunseri, who gets a chance to lead, to showcase his abilities.

In the media conference the Tuesday after the game, the press prods Rider coach Chamblin to dwell on the negative, to blame the refs.  Chamblin is having none of it.  If Durant is out for the season, if that’s “what we’re dealt, we’ll play the cards from there; . . . the game is history; .. . time to move forward; . . . we don’t work out of fear.”  Yes, the team experienced a derailment.   They mourned after the game.  Now, they must perservere.

Football, though, is only football, however sacreligious that can sound to people who bleed green.  It’s a less consequential context than the critical life events that can blindside us.  I think of accidental death or a diagnosis of terminal illness as the ultimate derailments.  One moment, life stretches ahead, an untraveled road paved with possibility and lined with landmarks past and future.  The next, an electromagnetic wall blocks the path,  the way ahead beckoning in tantalizing clarity, yet unattainable.  In the face of tragic reversals of fortune, individuals consolidate their courage.  Victims of tragedy grieve their loved ones for the rest of their lives, yet they put one foot in front of the other day in and day out.    The dying decide not only to be positive, but cheerful.  They want to use the time they have left to make a difference for those they know and love, and refuse to be embittered or resentful.  They inspire the rest of us to manage our own derailments.

Derailments test our mettle.   How will we manage life events that take us away from our plans?  If, in the inconsequential redirections that mark our days, we steer a stable course and find the potential for growth, we can layer coat after coat of resilience and calm in the same way we might oil or varnish wood.  We can attempt some preparation for the portentous derailments life is sure to bring.   To inspire us along the way, we have the wisdom and strength of people who have it figured out.

*not real name

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


It’s not raining.  I’m surprised as I step out on the porch this morning on the way to work.  Maybe I won’t need the  Rider green raincoat I purchased at Otter Lake last year and that kept me toasty and dry in Galway.  Yes, the pavement is damp; it has rained.  The prognostications of the weather forecasters have been fulfilled elsewhere or not at all, so far, it seems.  What a great Wednesday ahead.

But Wednesday is not important in and of itself, Ted Deller informs me during the CBC Radio Morning Edition as I drive to work.  It’s “hump day.”  Really?  That’s all Wednesday is good for?  One day closer to Friday? 

Wednesday is so much more.

Wednesday is :
·  a brain-wringing, creative opportunity to plan a dynamic and practical session for teachers;
·  stimulating pedagogical conversations with colleagues;
·  a thank-you note from my daughter-in-law for the baby shower gift, a reminder that she cherishes the tradition of the hand-written letter;
·  an email from a music minister offering to take one of the weekend liturgies this week, freeing me to handle only one rather than two, and then to free me up next Sunday, too, so I can attend an event with my husband;
·  an hour with our son on Skype, finding out about his new digs;
·  an hour with my harp relaxing brain cells that the creative process has strained;
·  the tang of paint when I get home after work; on this humid day, my husband has painted the downstairs bathroom, still in renovation;
·  a few stolen minutes to stretch and work my muscles still stiff after a day of sitting and calculated movement.

Tomorrow will be Thursday, another day of new delights and challenges, exceptional and joyous in itself, and certainly not because it brings me closer to Friday and TGIF.  

Media denizens, language that expresses dismay over Monday, relief on hump Wednesday and joy on Friday conveys a negative message—that the best part of our life is the weekend.  That somehow we stumble through the rest of the week in a blur, tolerating each day only because it brings us closer to respite on the weekend.  Even more serious, the negativity is mired in an obsolete worldview that defines weekend as Saturday and Sunday.  How many of us work within the traditional workweek? How many more work on Saturday and Sunday, with days off scattered through the rest of week?  How many work every day, without the benefit of days off?  So, please, use the power of the airwaves to help us focus on the moment, to rejoice that tomorrow is Thursday, for its own sake.  Help us to focus on the reality of the 21st century rather than cling to a faded and jaded model.

No wasting five-sevenths of my life for me.   I want to savour every moment of every day with which I am gifted, with its joys and challenges and aches and delights

“Hump day” taints a perfectly good Wednesday.  What a shame! No more.  Please. 

Monday, September 1, 2014


For the first time ever, the other day, I saw an its with an apostrophe AFTER the s!!  That error sent me over the edge. This grammar Nazi decided the day of reckoning had arrived. 

Most of the time, when I see an its error in print somewhere, I close my eyes, and breathe deeply.  For a minute or so.  Sometimes, though, if the offending document allows, I snatch my pen from my purse, steal a furtive glance to see if anyone is watching, and then scribble in the correction.  Other times, when the error appears on a website, I send polite and specific emails using the "Contact Us" feature.  The website managers are very generous in their appreciation (no irony here at all; they are always gracious and thankful), and make the correction.  I even offer to provide proof-reading services, given that theirs need shoaring up.  No takers yet, though.  Odd, really, considering the number of errors I spy.

So, for the record, it’s very easy to know when to use it’s or its.  If you can substitute it is for it’s, as in the preceding sentence (it is very easy to know when to use . . .), use it’s.  Use its in ALL other situations.  ALL other situations.  NEVER, of course,  add an apostrophe after the s.

Some people might ask, why doesn’t its need an apostrophe when it shows possession?  Don’t we use apostrophes to show possession?  Yes, in the case of nouns.  Its, however, and its relatives yours, ours, theirs, and hers, are possessive adjectives.  Their very nature is to show possession.  It’s included, like the tip in the restaurant bill or the food and beverages in an all-inculsive resort.  You could even call it built-in, just like the water dispenser in a fridge, or the microphone in the latest iteration of iPhone ear buds. One neat, efficient package.  No apostrophes needed.

Voilà the truth about when to use its or it’s.  Quite simple, really.  No need for errors. Ever.