no place like home

hints of autumn lace the cool morning air. i ride my bicycle, letting summer’s final kisses graze my cheeks. find serenity in the tall stately fields of corn, in the proud trees lining the road, in the horses flicking their tails from side to side. i’m home again. after a summer of traveling, i’m blissfully, wonderfully home.

afternoon consists of baking bread–pounding, kneading, rolling the dough into gentle submission then watching it rise into golden glory; i gather tomatoes from the vine in the garden, and chop them into soup which will grace our palettes at supper. bring in zucchini, shred it into thin green lines then mix it with peppers and vinegar to make salsa. hang countless coloured clothes upon the line and watch the moisture lift from tired material. fold them into crisp clean squares then slide them into drawers where they slumber till morn.

evening falls as the sounds of crickets arise and serenade the stillness. i sip tea with my husband who nurses a beer, and we watch as one by one the lights in people’s windows turn off, leaving only the television’s green glow dancing upon our neighbours’ walls.

autumn is indeed around the corner; the reddening leaves tell me so, but this too is fine. so long as i’m home.

pink bundle under a bridge

At first, I think it’s a pile of garbage covered by a pink blanket. My feet are slap-slapping the pavement and Moby is crooning in my ear. Above, a round yellow sun in a perfectly blue sky.

As I approach the bridge, I see that the garbage has two feet … and then I realize the garbage is a man huddled under the pink blanket on this gloriously sunny day.

My heart thud-thuds inside me; I will never get used to seeing the homeless. It’s not right. I prepare to cross the road and talk to the man; then I see another jogger heading towards me and suddenly I run past, pretending not to see.

Why did I do that? I wonder, staring at the way the river is licking hungrily at the shore. Why do I care if she sees? I turn around, determined to do the right thing.

Approach the pink pile of sleep. Another jogger emerges from the trees; I tense up— realize it’s another test. Reach out and touch the blanket. The body underneath moves. “Excuse me? Are you okay?” I ask, realizing that no, things weren’t okay, but not knowing what else to say.

A muffled voice. At first I don’t realize what he’s saying. I pat his arm. “Okay. God bless you.”

Start to jog away. Nearly stumble when I realize the man had said, “Got anything to eat?”

“God bless?!” I mock myself. What good is God without food? Spiritual food is futile without the physical.

Upon reaching my car I consider my options; I could go buy him a sandwich and not get myself a coffee this morning, or I could give him the pretzels and cantaloupe in my car and still have money for my coffee. I decide to go that route, and drive back to where the pink bundle lay.

Once again I approach him, pat the arm. “Hello?”

The body moves, an unshaved face appears from under the blanket and peers at me. “I brought you food,” I say, trying not to show my pleasure in this generous act of charity.

Nothing. The man merely hides back under the blanket and resumes sleeping. I feel disheartened. Does he not realize it took all of five minutes for me to drive back down here? That I’m giving up my precious pretzels and cantaloupe? I leave the items by him, head back to the car. Despite my disappointment there’s a welling sense of satisfaction. I’ve done what I can.

Sitting back in my car I wheel away and without warning, the tears come. What is the point of charity when it’s still all about myself? That man didn’t need my pity, my pretzels. He needed a home, a job, a second or third or fourth chance. What did I think I could do by feeding him? Keep him alive in order to feel hopeless for one more hour?

I pull into the cafe, order a coffee then sit there staring into its dark mirth realizing it doesn’t taste nearly as good as a sandwich would have to him. Even then, that wouldn’t have been enough.

What is enough? Where do we start and end in this endless cycle of pain? How do we love the pink bundles under our cities’ bridges?

postcard imperfection

We’re driving into Jasper, Alberta. White-capped mountains embroider blue-cloth sky. Turquoise ponds are fringed by mossy stones.

 

“Doesn’t this remind you of the backdrop in the ‘Sound of Music’?” someone says.

 

“Yeah,” another replies. “It’s like a postcard.”

 

What kind of world do we live in, that we compare breathtaking reality with man-made material? Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

 

When I see a deer, I shouldn’t automatically think of Bambi. I should think of my father-in-law who spends hours in the woods feeding and studying the patterns of deer.

 

When I see Jasper’s jagged Rockies I shouldn’t think of Sound of Music; I should marvel at the majesty of creation.

 

Television has deprived us of critical thinking. We take things at face value, no longer questioning for the stimulation of the screen. Everything is eye-candy, a feast for the senses, masking truth and lies, making them one and the same.

 

We stop to explore the glacier at Mount Edith. It’s blue with age, as tall as 25 humans stacked against each other, leaking tears which splash against grey mountain crevices, flowing into a pristine ice-cold lake at the bottom. We marvel, take Kodak moments, failing to understand how much loss is symbolized by this leaking pile of ice. How the glacier is weeping from the effects global warming. Once again, we’ve missed the meaning for the picture. We are standing in a stone-cold graveyard.

 

Driving home, rainbows spill Crayola-colours across the sky. I once again think of how ‘nice’ it looks. Then my husband reminds me of their Biblical promise, how they symbolize a maker’s promise to withhold his rage until the end of time.

 

When will we learn to truly see? To once again learn from our surroundings? We’re being destroyed by our addiction to pretty postcards which in the end will kill the very trees they claim to emulate.

 

Wah Lay Ray

A crystal blue tear rolls down her brown skin, leaving a trace of sadness far too mature for her tiny soul.

Wah Lay Ray steps across the Burmese border, runs headlong into her, scoops her up, up into blue skies and the tear flies away in a moment of sheer joy.

Soon he’s surrounded by other relatives with smiling faces, a happy reunion hiding the horror which lies beyond the border in the hearts of villages overrun by military power. Wild pig curry, dancing, and songs mask the truth of life in Burma, chase the children’s nightmares away, at least for the moment. Wah Lay Ray is here.

Fifty years of civil war ransacking villages cremating hope damaging infant toys making foreign the concept of holy, wholly set on fighting making fear a lifestyle, a frame of mind.

Wah Lay Ray escaped before it was too late, found life in Canada, spent time on his knees for his family forced to farm while the soldiers plucked the fruits of their labour.

Today they embrace the pain dealt by the un-chartered chills of men in power, men with steel toe boots and army green uniforms, men who have never known grace.

Then, Cyclone Nargis and its green eye of fury, destroying any sliver of hope which might have remained for these oppressed Burmese orphans.

Finally Wah Lay Ray leaves, waving goodbye, wondering how people with so little can be allowed to suffer so much.

Another crystal blue tear squeezes from her eye, rolls down her dirty skin, leaving one more trace of lost childhood.