Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I'm a couple of days late posting this week. I have that familiar autumn feeling of days slipping by me, either because they're so beautiful that I need to be out and about in the air, or so gloomy that they feel short and dark. There's always an excuse!

But once again I'm starting a post with harsh news, this time of the harshest: David Dewees, a fabulous man, and wonderful teacher, a good and reliable and remarkable friend to many, died on Saturday, in the prime of life. My kids' old high school, Jarvis is grieving, and so are many who passed through there in the last six years. The change in the landscape of emotion and expectation is shocking and the prospect ahead bleak-looking. This is the kind of life-lesson and life experience we hate to see our kids and loved ones suffer through. There are no short-cuts to getting through this, no "quick and easy".

I guess for people who are deeply religious, there's a way to invest suffering with "meaning" and thus explain it or rationalise it. I find that approach completely unacceptable, though I admit it gives some people comfort. As those of you who have been reading this blog for awhile know already, I take a different route through this question: pain and suffering and death all remind us that we are alive and that our job is to engage with life as fully as we can. For me that means trying to tune in to others and to connect with them, be in the present with them. It also means treasuring friends and staying alert to them.

I'm not saying to ignore pain, not at all. Live it and feel it and breathe into it, get familiar with it: that's our task. Our power to reflect on it and to empathise with others who suffer or have suffered, or will suffer, is what makes us fully human. All of us experience pain and sorrow at some time, and when we do we are linked to the rest of humanity and become more fully human, somehow. It's humbling, to find how hard it is to live through the pain of loss, humbling when we realise that everyone has faced a similar burden, or is bound to at some time.

I feel very fumbling and inelegant writing this, when I think of the extraordinary clarity and elegant ease with which Karen Connelly writes, and especially when she talks about the imperative she feels (and acts on!) to live fully, in the moment. I went to a book launch at the Gladstone for her new book BURMESE LESSONS two evenings ago. It was a great event, packed, and with a short video showing striking images by Anne Bayin. Yesterday I opened the book and whoosh, I fell down the rabbit hole, headlong, as happens with some wonderful books, a rare treat. I'm now more than halfway through it, not wanting it to end. Her clarity of vision when looking out at individual people or looking in at her own motivations and reactions, is remarkable, as is her language. Stunning. And it's a good story, as well as a valuable introduction to the beauty and pain that is life in Burma.

The gusting winds today, the trees already swept bare of leaves in some places, and the increasingly slanting light, announce October and Thanksgiving (here in Canada) and the slide down to the winter solstice. I'm not ready. Are we ever?? The garden still needs to be pulled up (I hold out hope for a few more tomatoes from my beleagered plants, and the mint is still green, but the shiso leaves are gone and the seeds eaten by little families of sparrows) and winter clothes need finding and airing. Yikes!

And on the good news front, a follow-up: Last week I wrote about our dear friend with mysterious and acute abdominal pain. Well he ended up responding to antibiotics, so he didn't have surgery, and it now looks likely that it was appendicitis after all (though the GI people could never find his appendix on the CT scan or the ultrasound!). These days, they say that good medical practice is to not operate if an inflamed appendix responds to antibiotics. I wonder though, does this mean it could flare up at any time? They say not, but...

In any case, what a relief to have him back, starving of course, because he'd been kept on an IV drip and not allowed to have even a drink of water down his throat for four days. In the last week we've had consciously fuller meals, trying to fatten him up a little: roast chicken one night, with roasted sliced potatoes all round; grilled pork and beef with friends over on the weekend; mountains of salad and stir-fried green beans (we need another name since they are yellow and purple-black, as well as green); more Simplest Apple Pie; another skillet cake; a massive chocolate cake with a sheeny-shiny chocolate ganache icing, the cake made as an experiment by the sufferer himself, and eaten by all. I can't say he looks any less bare-bones, but he has colour in his cheeks and best of all, good energy!

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