Thursday July 28, 2022
Last weekend marked a significant anniversary. Twenty-nine years ago, on July 23, 1993, Joan and I moved into our new home here in the Okanagan Valley.
It’s the longest I have ever lived in one place.
The previous longest was 25 years in Toronto – equivalent, I sometimes joke, to a life sentence without parole. Then we moved west. Back west, actually, since I had grown up in Vancouver, and Joan in the Kootenays.
So we watched our worldly possessions disappear into a moving company’s container, locked up our now-empty home, and set out across the country in a Honda Accord packed full of suitcases, house plants, and two panicky cats.
The cats yowled for 100 miles, and then became – dare I put it this way? – catatonic. They shut down. They didn’t eat, drink, pee or poo for five days.
If we let them out of the car, they leaped back in. Better the hell you know than the hell you don’t know, I guess.
I’m glad we moved. We’ve had a lot of joy in this house.
But I don’t feel much joy in it anymore.
It’s empty, without Joan. I feel little incentive. I didn’t bother planting petunias in the pots on our deck this year. I neglected to pick the raspberries when they were ripe. The hot tub has been turned off for over a year.
It was OUR home. We designed it, with architect Gordon Hartley, for the two of us. It doesn’t feel the same with just one of us.
On that 29th anniversary day, I was in a reflective mood.
The experience of living alone is new to me. At some point following Joan’s death, my daughter Sharon said, “Dad, you’ve always had someone looking after you. Now you don’t.”
This is not, I am well aware, a new experience in the world at large. Every couple goes through it, eventually. You were a couple; now you’re not. Maybe a divorce splits you; maybe a death separates you; maybe an inhumane medical system sends one of you to this facility, the other to that one.
And suddenly, you’re alone.
Rituals and celebrations
And we have no celebrations for being alone. None that I can think of, anyway. We celebrate births, when a new life joins us. We celebrate graduations, when a child moves on to a wider world. We celebrate marriages, when two families merge. We celebrate new jobs, new responsibilities, new challenges. We even celebrate closures – retirements, wakes, memorial services…
But there are no celebrations for being alone. (None that I can think of, anyway.)
I’m an introvert. In a crush, I tend to seek a quiet corner, where I can observe the madding crowd. Or have a conversation with one or two others.
When extroverts go on retreats, they try to get away from it all by spending time in private meditation. Or even in total silence.
But where should a natural loner go to get away from it all? To a sales convention? A casino cruise? A Superbowl game?
Oh, please, no.
I don’t know, I cannot know, what lies ahead. Where I will live. How I will live. We moved here thinking this would be our forever home. After 29 years, I know only one thing for certain – nothing is forever.
Copyright © 2022 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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Last week’s column urged you to pay attention – mindfulness – to the sounds and sights that are all around us.
Jim Hoffman responded, “Perhaps growing up on a farm in Iowa made it easy to acquire a deep appreciation of nature. I still marvel at the magnificence of trees -- those awesome structures that seem to have a soul within. I've always talked to animals, especially birds. They look at me kinda funny, then tweet their message and song. I'm sure they're trying to tell me something, but darned if I can figure out what it is. Our dairy cows were special -- we named each one, talked to them as we milked them and treated them with love and care, as we would anyone else in our family. Today, one of my favorite times is to sit in midst of my garden, enjoying and appreciating the sights and sounds of the trees, the birds, the bees, the rascally squirrels and all of God's creation.”
Tom Watson liked the reference to “Martin Buber's ‘I-Thou’ relationship with everything else around us. We live in a fascinating world of sights and sounds!”
Isabel Gibson recalled a line from The Color Purple: “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it.”
She continued, “We don't have to frame everything as an obligation. Your experience with better hearing aids and a (providentially?) late companion shows that we can embrace the opportunity to appreciate the world around us.”
The rest of that quote from The Color Purple is also worth thinking about: “People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”
Ted Spencer: “Among the many bits of prose that randomly attach themselves to the bottoms of my emails is this from, I think, Sinclair Lewis: ‘When I say “look”, it’s not so much that I’ve seen something you haven’t seen; rather, it’s that the sight is more than I can take in by myself.’
“It is necessary to look in order to see. It is necessary to listen in order to hear.”
David Martyn had another way of looking at my advice: “I swear at the mosquitoes when I am trying to tee off at the golf course. I should take my hearing Aids out so I wouldn’t hear them.”
JT: That’s like getting so upset at the daily news that you quit listening to news.
My last line, last week, said, “I’ll give the last work to fellow-editor Chris Blackburn.” John Shaffer chided me; “Okay, I'll bite. Is ‘work’ a deliberate error or not? It would seem to fit into the theme of the day.”
JT: Typo, of course. Should have been “the last word.” It was not another test!
John had his own story to tell about amateur editors: “When I moved to Juneau, I learned that a retired state employee used to come to the pastor's office every Monday to tell the pastor the grammatical errors he had made in his sermon the day before. For some reason, I.J. Montgomery died before I arrived, and so I was not ‘blessed’ with that help.”
I’m going with the alternate psalm reading for this coming Sunday. In Psalm 49, a sage poses a challenge to the wheelers and dealers of this world.
1-3 Everyone wants to be rich.
Everyone imagines that money will solve all their problems.
Whether you're rich or poor, wealthy or wino, listen to these words!
4 Here’s something that has puzzled me for years and years.
5 You know how it is when crises overcome you,
when Murphy's Law tangles you in endless complications.
6 Other people are doing fine, but for you everything is going wrong.
You get jealous, angry, and fearful.
You redouble your efforts.
7 Why? Can you lift yourself off the ground by tugging your bootstraps?
Can you buy wealth?
Can you grasp the good life by killing yourself?
8 Your own efforts are never enough.
9 You may prolong your life a little, but you can't prevent death;
10 You can reduce your taxes, but you can't take wealth with you when you go.
11 Even if you're worth more than some countries, you still occupy the same space in the ground when you die.
12 No matter what you are worth, no matter what you have achieved,
you still come to the same end as the cockroach.
You can find paraphrases of most of the psalms in the Revised Common Lectionary in my book Everyday Psalmsavailable from Wood Lake Publishing, email@example.com.
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Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca He’s also relatively inexpensive!
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also has lots of beautiful photos. Especially of birds.
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ALVA WOOD’S ARCHIVE
I have acquired (don’t ask how) the complete archive of the late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures. I’ve put them on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. You’re welcome to browse. No charge. (Although maybe if I charged a fee, more people would find the archive worth visiting.)