When one is little –
Wishes flow expectantly.
Some, even come true.
When one is older –
Miracles are not for free.
Life, comes at a cost.
And so it goes
Hottest summer ever! Cold inside. Broiling oven outside. And so it goes.
Finally, when there was a reprieve for a few days, my foot found a small hole in the sidewalk, the exact shape of my shoe. The hole was marked with a pink circle, which the rose-coloured sun glasses clearly missed. The fall was a heavy thud. What hurt most was the left hand. Tried heat, then cold. Still hurt. Bruising spread.
Five days later drove to Emergency at the insistence of 92-year-old mother. Having been there a couple of years before by cab, I knew where to park. Didn’t know the rules inside. Observing my confusion, a smiling man came to help obtain a number from the electronic information gizmo. Right away, the number 259 was called. Reporting the fall and injury, a first question by the first nurse attendant was a screening about woman abuse.
Happy to hear that. Years ago, I had a project on hospital triage screening on this critical subject, at the Vancouver General Hospital. The protocol became nation wide.
She said she ordered an X-ray, then onto the identification intake. Afterwards – sitting and waiting. Oddly pleasant and serene! It had been weeks since I remembered simply resting without any other commitment than to me. The white noise of the television overhead on some unidentifiable channel and far behind from view at any area seating, mumbled on as background noise. The walls covered with various required signs melted into each other.
Opened the Kobo to continue the wretched book I had begun two days before to be finished in two days for the monthly book club meeting.
The frantic single sound from an infant interrupted the reading – as did the voice of a young girl who took a seat too close by. She was accompanied by a well-dressed woman. A pungent odour of stale cigarette smoke wafted over the free seat between us.
“Oh, dear lord no!” I heard my inner thoughts. “But, I can’t just get up and move,” though that was foremost on my mind.
The need to do so, quickly passed as my concentration shifted. The young girl took out a sheet on which she had created a naive coloured something. She rifled through her stuffed back pack…
“There’s a fly on me!” her child voice was frantic. “I hate flies!” She brushed it off her shoulder. “But I like butterflies. They’re nice. I’ll draw one.”
The woman said, “That’s a good idea.”
“I’ll also print the butterfly’s name, Barbara. How do you spell that?”
“B- A-R- B-A- R-A” the woman’s voice was calm and encouraging as she helped form the letters.
“That’s a long name. A lot of As. Maybe I’ll just print BARB,” came the voice now sounding louder and more shrill.
“Yes. It is long. Alright to shorten it.” Said the woman. “Soon we’ll go up to that window. See number 3 over there?”
“I see. Number 3. There’s a person in there. Can she come out? Does she have a name? Everyone has a name! Can I ask her, Marilyn?”
“Yes, you may.” Came the continued kind response to the persistent inquiry.
And when the call came, the woman went first to identify some group home. The young girl with the child like voice gathered up her belongings and followed. She was taller than her companion. Could have been 12 or 18. A challenge to guess her age.
The first nurse came to advise she should have instructed me to go straight to X-ray. She apologized. Too bad. The hospital’s average stay wait-time might have been reduced – had she not erred. So then, onto the blue triangle route which meandered on and on, hall after hall.
In that waiting area, an older man was holding court about his knee surgery recovery and his sixty-two stitches. He wore beige shorts revealing his now healed knee. A woman far in the corner wanted details; she was scheduled for the same operation. Having found his audience, he continued disclosing alarming caveats:
“The worst part was, you have to sleep on your back. I’m a side sleeper. Didn’t sleep much for the duration.”
He eagerly showed unsolicited photos to everyone on his cell camera, taken straight after the surgery. Really! Impossible to turn him off. Impossible to tune him out.
“Dear lord, help keep my knees in tact!” I offered a silent prayer to the great beyond.
The woman beside me was youngish. Sharing a camaraderie smile between us about the man, we chatted quietly. She fell from her bicycle. Cast on her left arm. Accidents. Incidents… Sigh.
More waiting for Emergency doctor to read the X-ray. Tiny fracture in an odd place on the hand. Unhappy diagnoses and advice. Then, dismissed to another attendant who located a left-hand medium size hand-arm brace
“So, what’s next?”
“I think you can leave.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’ll check with the Dr.”
Emerge Dr. appeared across the hallway. “Wait for a call from Dr. X, the specialist.”
“You mean by phone?”
“Yes. You can leave.”
Intake time 9:40 am. Out time 11:40 am. Parking ticket $6. Waiting for follow up.
It’s hot again. And so it goes.
Katalin Kennedy, September, 2018
Seeking a new dwelling
Falling, falling, falling …
Hurling through the cosmos,
His ineffable wings unfurl to catch the wind
As he searches with radar eyes
For the perfect place
To unearth his new dwelling.
Lower and lower he descends
Overlooking the ancient structures of worship:
First being Gobeldi Tebe near Sanhurfa.
Then onto the Palace of Knossos in Crete,
And the Temple of Amas in Nubia.
Soaring onward to the Ggantija Temple and the
Megalithic Hagar Qim of Malta
He next heads off to the Temple of Hatshepsut
Beneath the cliffs at Deir el-Bahri of Egypt –
And later across to Stonenehenge.
Attaining no shelter in any, he frantically ascends
Back to the Temple Mount of Jerusalem
Where like the Phoenix
He attempts to arise once more and surmount the
Three faiths of Judah, Jesus and Mohammed –
Yet none will give him sanctuary!
Cast out by the sacred trinity
He yearns to establish where he might reign.
Then out of the tumultuous whirlwind
The sound of almighty fire and fury
Penetrates his dejected spirit.
“You were once my son,” the mighty resonance proclaims!
“I Am – of compassion.
Fly then, into the new world.
Seek out a place called the domed Capitol of the Americas.
There, have I been abandoned.
There, will you find followers to rule.”
The knocking woke her! Dazed from the unexpected rousing, she checked the clock. The numbers looked hazy. Had she forgotten to place the ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign on the door? Didn’t matter. She had examined the lock the required number of times. Even if hotel staff tried to get in, she had also bolted the door. Who could be bothering her?
Her mind raced to another place where there had been a knocking. It too had been a surprise. New in St. John’s, only the administrative staff at Memorial had been given her address. She had found a charming house on Water Street: one of the brightly coloured attached buildings. She was thrilled that hers was maroon, her favourite colour. She had been told that the name for them was Jellybean Row. The legend was that the luminous colours shone like a lighthouse. That way, fishermen could find their way home. And then she realized this legend was exactly the same she had experienced while visiting the Venetian Island of Burano in Italy, on another trip with Malcolm. There too, fishermen could see the vivid, different colours of each painted building even through thick fog and thus avoid crashing into the shore.
At that instant, the buildings were as clear to her as if she was walking on the very streets of the colourful row houses. Such fanciful folksy tales, so typical of both these friendly places. “Good morning to you!” greeted the voices of two young girls with their lilting accent. Everyone had that accent – except for Edwin. His was British. Like her, he too was a visiting professor. She was a little disappointed in him when he disclosed why the houses were really painted that way. The legend had been simply that ˗ he had told her ˗ a legend. In fact, the Jellybean houses were part of a 1970 heritage project to restore Victorian homes.
The knocking bothered her at the Water Street house. Her bedroom was upstairs on the second floor. Although she knew the front door had been triple tested, she couldn’t help wondering how safe the locks were on these old houses. The knocking persisted. Finally, she screwed up her courage. She pulled on her jogging pants and tee shirt and went down the stairs…. She remembered being terrified to open the door.
Her fear stemmed from another image ˗ a passage that floated into her thoughts of Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Natasha was still in the room nursing the wounded weak Prince Andrei. He was dreaming that he was lying in a room with a closed door. He too had gone to the door to bolt and lock it. But had he been in time to secure it properly? He was in agonizing terror. Something on the other side was pushing against the door, trying to force its way across the threshold. With all his strength he thrust his suffering body against it – to no avail. The door opened. It was death. Prince Andrei was dead. That haunting story was as real to her as if she had stepped into the very pages of the epic novel.
Stirred to reality, she could not avoid the knocking that persisted at her hotel room door. There was nothing else to do but to see who was causing it. She found her glasses and pulled on her overcoat at the desk chair. Slowly, cautiously she peered through the peek hole but could not distinguish anything. The knocking continued. She unbolted, unlocked and slowly opened the door ˗ to darkness, to a black empty hole ˗ into which she fell with a thump ˗ and woke with a start, to the knocking!
If you were to journey to her haven, far from the city gates, what questions would you ask of her? And if she were to look deep into your eyes with her piercing dark ones and respond with that enigmatic smile, how could you be satisfied with her words, “It was long ago. It no longer matters.” Instead, I believe you would persuade her with other questions, until she would finally relent and tell her tale:
I was born in a fishing town where my father held a prominent position. Being the only child, he encouraged me to study as though I were a boy. I learned the languages of those who sailed to our shores and heard their stories about far off lands.
It was how I met him. His party of followers landed the small boat. He led them to the hillside. Then the strangest occurrence took place. Masses of people from other boats and from the town made their way to be near him. I saw him from afar in his long cloak, arms outstretched and welcoming, face glowing not from the sun but what seemed like – from within. I meandered through the seating multitudes and found a place close by. His words were simple but powerful. I was touched by his sincerity.
My father later sent me to his brother’s home in the city, to further my education about the real world. My Uncle Joseph was learned, honourable and also well off. When I asked him about the man on the hillside, he was aware of him. “A Teacher“, he told me. My uncle feared for him. The times were difficult with the occupation of the army. Rebellion and chaos were imminent.
One day, I heard that the man whom I had seen on the hillside had also traveled to Jerusalem. My uncle knew I wanted to hear him once more; he went with me to the city square where again a crowd surrounded him. His words of meek wisdom still cling in my heart. After the others dispersed, Uncle introduced me. In our private talks I learned from the Teacher about his joys and his struggles.
He had spent several years in the desert, living among the Essenes. He revered their humble, pure and spiritual life. They were well versed about Hebrew Scriptures. They taught that there was virtue in poverty, honouring the Almighty above worldly riches. They did not worship in the temple, considering the priests to be negligent in spiritual discipline. He respected many of their doctrine including that they would help usher in a new era. One aspect of their teaching which he rejected was celibacy.
We were wed in Canaan. I too became his follower. He encouraged me to understand the authentic meaning of his teachings. His male supporters either ignored me or were jealous of me. He knew them to be unaware folk who nevertheless championed him until his final hour.
He died. A horrible death! Mistaken identity or martyrdom? His devotees all scattered to distant parts. Fearing my life to be in danger, my Uncle Joseph of Arimathea sailed me to this place where I have now lived for over thirty years. I teach his words to all who will listen. Our child chose to return to the land of her father – where she lives in anonymity.
I hear that his disciples, including new ones, relate their stories ˗ keeping him alive. Many of these accounts will become retold and eventually some versions will be written down, including perhaps by me.
It has also come to my attention that references about me are varied: that he performed a miracle by releasing seven demons from within me; that I was a sinful woman; that I was saved from stoning having been ‘taken in adultery’; that I was a harlot ˗ and that I was a witness of his crucifixion and his burial. No mention ever ˗ that I ˗ Miriam of Magdala was his beloved wife. Where else would I have been, but by his side?
As time goes on, there will continue to be many speculations. Keeping him alive may become the ongoing mission of some who come after me.
And so my friend, to answer your very first question, “Is the story a myth or is it the truth?” my answer is still the same. “It was long ago. It no longer matters”. You must be the judge.
In the Tall Grass
Stretched long in the tall grass
Embraced by yellow dandelions
And wild purple violets flown from
Grandmother’s heavenly garden ˗
His Cat nose sores high
To sense the lilac scented breeze
While his green Cat eyes
Survey his tame domain.
The creak of a near-by opening door
Distracts his Cat ears ˗
Searching for the gay women
And the two young girls
Playing in mid-day alone
On unsteady roller blades
Along the lazy street.
Echoing through the cacophony
Of whirls and shouts and giggles
The man in the balcony spews
Guttural cough from his throat
To which his primitive Cat response reacts
With a tiger’s roar –
Until another day, maybe to chase a squirrel.
She used to love old black and white films: especially the horror ones, produced in the late thirties and forties. By the time they were released for television, the sound was slow and eerie and the character movements were jerky and mechanical. The most intriguing, scary aspect of these films was the interaction among the various ranges of the colour spectrum – from white to grey to black. All these traits were precisely part of the attraction. When the production worked most effectively, with hovering, menacing shadows and piercing shrieks that penetrated her entire nervous system, she would grab onto her father with one hand and shield her eyes with the other. It was this unexpected thrill of fear that kept her body glued to the sofa and her eyes to the television set.
Saturday afternoons were the best time for watching these movies. For one thing, prowling, creeping silhouettes were not as foreboding in daylight. For another, her father was a willing partner, ready to humour her. He too enjoyed haunting movies. He was a connoisseur of the works of such actors as the Hungarian Lugosi Béla, most notably famous for his portrayal of Dracula. He admitted, however, to draw the line on watching the 1922 silent film Nosferatu. That one, he was confident, slithered from the energy of another world.
A highpoint of their comradery in this venture was that her father knew her triggers – those delicate moments when she was most vulnerable to be spooked. “Watch out!” He would yell. Afterwards they would laugh and laugh about the absurdity of a harmless scare – until their sides were near to bursting.
But that was then… another lifetime ago. There came a day when she could no longer watch any film that included ghostly, frightening themes. Even the idea of watching one worried her; she could not deal with the possibility of having a nightmare resulting from a monster movie. She had enough nightmares already. These were strange dreams that intertwined from slivers of images or experiences she had encountered.
They were often of daunting women trying to subject her to suffering. Sometimes the dreams were about searching for a place and sometimes about almost getting there – but something always blocked the entrance.
And yet, for whatever enigmatic reason, her life-work was about mythology and superstition: probing the various folk tales ˗ often dark tales – from different cultures and identifying their root beginnings and ongoing influences.
Against her father’s persuasion, she was convinced she was called to this field of study, by some force she couldn’t decipher.
Perhaps it was Malcolm’s influence that lead her to this domain. “Look for the essence of the thing” he had instructed. That had also become her philosophy. From the moment they met, she grasped that the two of them had a connection. The eerie part of her intuition was that she also understood they had known each other ˗ forever. She clung to him as her rock, whenever her life shifted. Where was he now? Not knowing was her darkest fear.
The climb through meandering rocky paths
In open sandals for forty days ˗
Who does that? And why?
I ask siting in his rose patterned wing back chair,
Now my chair.
Here, I expect messages of consolation.
The dark nights of the soul on sunny mornings
Can’t get beyond the desolate brown hills
Without greenery –
Even my green walls give a sense of serenity
But the image on the projector screen in the bare church hall,
Of the Wanderer,
Does not give comfort – only questioning….
Oh, these days we are far more enlightened ˗
Who quotes passages from that ancient book?
And aren’t there many ancient books?
Though most ˗ in the Land of White ˗
Believe in only the one ancient book
Written by ancient people, but with divine inspiration:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Those in the know, say all that writing is poppycock because
As creative beings in the here and now, we are privy to scholarly and intuitive insight:
In the beginning was the Big Bang – which came out of what? Nothingness?
These day, we don’t talk god stuff –
Even when we contemplate with like minded folk, in the know ˗
God words are taboo.
Science has taught us to see the Universe,
Not just the Wanderer on rocky paths in an ancient story.
Talk of god is off-limits,
Reminding of church and institutions
And dark sermons on sin, hell, fire and damnation –
And memories of nuns with straps curbing any questioning.
Yet, sitting in my rose patterned wing back chair
I do little more than question ˗ and contemplate
About the massive rough-hewn cross
Standing at the front of the sanctuary
Draped in black on the day that marks his death.
Each good Friday,
I used to say to Husband the Minister
Get off your cross, it’s been done!
And I remember those words,
Maybe blasphemous –
As I sit in his rose patterned wing back chair
Wondering if he too is wandering
Through meandering rocky paths,
In open sandals.
White cotton clumps clung on the tree branches beside
Her new place, in her new life.
The snow had come ˗ again ˗
Just as he had come ˗ the evening before,
With only the words: and so it goes,
And ready for bed ….
Not their long bed at the other place
But a normal length one in this her place
His feet dangling at the base ˗
His lingering arms wrapped round her until she slept ˗
Only woken to the affable aromas:
Of eggs sizzling in the blue porcelain-lined frying pan,
Of rosemary focaccia toast and
Of dark roasted coffee
Hers ˗ with frothy milk in her china cup,
His ˗ black in his bottomless tucked away mug
He reclaimed ˗
From deep in her cupboard….
Just as he had been tucked away deep in her heart,
Until he might come ˗ again –
Just as the march snow.
Birth and Anniversary Dates
It was Sunday, February 24th, 2001. My father had just turned 70 years of age at the end of January. In many ways, that was a remarkable triumph, considering how difficult his life had been: being imprisoned in Hungary for 7 years, escaping from Hungary during the 1956 uprising, and starting his life all over again in a new country Canada – all the while suffering from debilitating rheumatoid arthritis which he acquired during his confinement in dark and dank prisons.
Husband and I had just moved into our first house. As was my custom I was hosting the family party. This time, while the main focus was about my father’s birthday, it was also a time to celebrate the other birthdays – my brother’s, mine and my mother’s Name Day.
Although it was a Sunday, I hadn’t gone to church. I was preparing the meal and getting ready for the festivities. At 11:25 a.m. the telephone rang. It was a frantic call from my mother. Her calls came seldom, and generally only when she had a disastrous event to relate.
“Your father is dead!” came her hysterical yet clear, precise words. “The ambulance is taking us to the General Hospital.”
How does that happen? Death! Out of nowhere, all the plans one has underway – suddenly become interrupted. Although I am easily frazzled, when insignificant incidences arise, I have the uncanny knack to assume a sensibly controlled persona, during devastating occurrences.
My response was simply, “I’ll meet you there.”
Before that, however, I had to contact Husband, the Presbyterian Minister who was conducting his regular Sunday worship service in the downtown Ottawa church.
I heard the telephone there ring and ring and ring. It being located in the basement, a good deal of time passed by, before anyone answered. I left the message for Husband to meet at the hospital. Apparently, at that very moment, he was in the midst of his sermon. The subject was on “Death”.
There have been many significant dates in my life. And the ones dealing with death continue to be easily retrieved from the depths of my subconscious: my grandfather died in September of 1953 when he was 61 and I was five – I remember this vividly because I was held up to see him in the coffin. My dear friend Nancy died in December 1975 at the age of 24 having married the love of her life just months before in May. And Husband died in January 2006 also at the age of 61 – with no warning, no preparation on my part.
But I digress. After my father died, my doctor at the time tried to be reassuring that Daddy had lived to a good age, quoting Psalm 90 verse 10 – “The days of our years are threescore years and ten”
Thus, when I reached that significant age of 70 years in early February, 2018 – I came to the realization how privileged I was. These days, “three score years and ten” is no longer the same kind of death sentence that it seemed to be a quarter century ago. These days, many of the Boomer generation are fortunate to be still alive and well at 70. Yet – at the same time, I can’t deny the sad reality. I have now outlived several close friends, Husband as well as my 70-year-old father.
Way back on February 24th, 2001, the party for my father’s 70th birthday was interrupted. And for whatever reason, I felt compelled to honour it – when I turned that age. What I really wanted to do was to thank some of the people in my life, who have been my staunch supporters, since my retirement and my move to Cornwall 15 years ago.
Birth and anniversary dates are important. It gives us the opportunity to visit where we have been in the past and in that way appreciate where we are in the present. I particularly like a quote from Soren Kierkegaard who said: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
I think looking back is necessary in all our personal lives, but particularly when we get older. It’s not just about evaluating our life path, but also about validating that we have been here and that somehow, in some way – we are leaving a mark.
As I review my life’s journey, I can’t help but notice that I have always celebrated milestones in my life – and this year, I am again blessed to be still thriving and surrounded by compassionate and caring friends.