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.
About the Heart
They often squabbled. She had inadvertently overheard them, a number of times:
“You didn’t let me buy anything – again!!”
“You’re so mean! I really, really wanted to go on that Ferris wheel with you.,,,”
“Stop treating me like a child!”
“I know you’re not a child – you’re my bestest bride.” Following each row, he seemed to know precisely how to appease her – until she would positively purr:
“Oh, I do love you – with all my heart!” Then they would cuddle all snuggled under her draped bulky sweater, doing goodness knows what else.
Don’t people realize their voices and their sounds carry? Sophie asked herself the rhetorical question. Sitting directly in front of them on the coach, the only way to avoid their banter was to tune them out, by tuning on her MP3 player. Yet, she couldn’t help but smile. Kate and Peter were so very young. And for the very young, each condemnation was proof of a burnished bruise which would magically disappear by the utterance of the sacred confession – I love you with all my heart. Those were also words stowed in Sophie’s memory, which at times swirled to the surface.
“You talk about the heart as though it was some entity, existing with a life of intelligence and insight.” Malcolm had mocked. Sophie had responded perhaps all too quickly, all too defensively:
“Literature and famous people throughout the centuries have given great credence to love and the heart comingling, like Ovid for example: Whether you call my heart affectionate, or you call it womanish: I confess, that to my misfortune, it is soft.
“How like you to quote from a classical mythologist!” He argued, the way he sometimes did, dredging out more than the point in question. “I concede,” he went on with that hint of sarcasm which she occasionally championed. “Indeed, much has been attributed to this vital organ ˗ linking it to a wise persona. Really!?” This time, however, she wouldn’t let him get away with it.
“You seem to forget that even your esteemed Dante Alighieri had said: Love and the gentle heart are but the same thing. She still recalled the sudden pink hue which overtook his face. But, she was relentless as she had continued. “Then of course there is the renown mathematician and physicist Blaise Pascale who had coined the often-quoted phrase: The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.
He recomposed himself. “You are missing my point. The heart is nothing more than a tangible muscle which ticks and keeps us alive until it stops forever – bringing our body to its ultimate finale. So, don’t tell me that you love me with all your heart …,” he paused and took a deep breath. His voice dropped to a near whisper as he resumed with a tone that she could only describe as pleading. “Tell me instead, that you love me, the way I love you ˗˗ with all my soul, because the soul is an ethereal mystery that is ˗˗ eternal.”
She remembered so many words from him, but these were the ones ˗˗ permanently etched – yes, in her very soul.
Why Canada is Important to me
We stepped off the ship in Saint John, New Brunswick on Easter, April 22, 1957. We were at last in Canada – our new home! I had turned nine years of age, while waiting to be processed in various Austrian refugee camps, since that Christmas. My father had chosen this country as our destination: the land of freedom.
Canada had opened its doors to thousands of Hungarians following the October 1956 uprising there against tyranny, and the subsequent escapes. My family was among them. Father had been a political prisoner for nearly seven years, without trial or sentencing. Released on three separate occasions, each time there was a shift in the government, he at last saw no alternative but to leave his homeland or be recaptured again, indefinitely. I cannot begin to discuss my mother’s and father’s experiences; they have their own stories. I can only speak about mine.
Two Immigration Officers drove us to Minto, New Brunswick, then a small mining town. My father’s choice again – as he wanted to work immediately. Never having been driven in a car, I was sick during the entire journey (as I had been on the twelve-day ship crossing of the Atlantic). We were first billeted with a man called Walter. A while later, we were allowed a company house. The Anglican Church’s congregation and its compassionate Minister ‘adopted’ us with friendship and basic assistance.
I remember the neighbourhood children gifting me a pair of blue jeans – something I had never seen or owned before. They also took me to school. I spoke no English. The teachers didn’t know what to do about me. Back then, the solution was to place me into a Grade One class, nearly three years behind where I should have been. Nevertheless, it was there that my English speaking and reading lessons began. By the time summer holidays arrived, I was communicating fairly well. I still remember my first complete English sentence I spoke to a friend: “I will meet you at your house at five o’clock.’ I also remember the pride on my mother’s face as she heard these words. The next milestone for me was the birth of my brother, automatically a full fledged Canadian Citizen.
Our day didn’t come until 1962: a most memorable occasion when I, along with my parents took an oath to this country and received our Canadian Citizenship papers. By then we were back in Saint John, where my father worked as a bookbinder. I know we were poor. Yet, through hard work, they were able to save a down payment for a new house. I again had to switch schools. This was an occurrence that continued for a number of years, including when my father relocated us to Ottawa.
From this point on I have a clearer memory of events, and a better appreciation of being Canadian. I enjoyed school, which I had not, in Hungary. I was a good student. I was able to attend university through bursaries and grants. I also obtained summer jobs which helped pay for the rest of my education. No surprise – I was majoring in English Literature. And while at university, I met the love of my love. After graduation, I also had the good fortune to acquire a job with the Federal Government at Health Canada.
Husband and I travelled together for the first time to Hungary in 1978. I became aware what ‘freedom’ really meant and, how my life was blest with opportunities because I was brought to Canada; in Hungary, such prospects would never have been available to me. Upon my return, I unabashedly wrote a letter to our then Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, declaring my pride in being a Canadian Citizen, and that it was now I, who made the choice to live in this country.
My career as a Federal Civil Servant continued for thirty years until my retirement. I benefitted from a number of promotions working in social service programs. In the second half of my career I was a national program and project manager. My learnings over these years were unparalleled. This was a country that valued the wellbeing and welfare of its citizens – from the young to the elderly. Contributions were provided to vast and varying community groups, organizations and institutions to assist with alleviating family violence. Overseeing national projects, I travelled to each of the provinces across Canada from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Victoria, British Columbia. I experienced ongoing occasions whereby I met men and women of diverse cultures, nationalities, faiths and political philosophies – each committed to help make Canada a safer place for families.
Shortly after retirement, Husband, the Reverend Duncan Scott Kennedy and I moved from Ottawa to Cornwall, Ontario. He had come full circle, back to his Scottish roots in Glengarry. And then without warning, the love of my life suddenly died, all too soon.
Thus, it was that another chapter of my life began. It is in this community, where the friends I have met, the organizations I have joined, the column I had written for Seaway News over a decade, have all given me the sense of belonging – of having come home.
I took all these events as a sign to begin my new adventure – as a writer. Three of my books have been published: “The Women Gather”, “Reconnecting” and “Echoes of Footsteps”. Through each of them, I have been blest yet again, by having the freedom to voice my innermost views with a hope that others may also take something away from my stories.
As I look back on my life’s journey, I remember the day I stepped off the ship onto my new homeland, sixty years ago. Still to this day, Canada continues to open its doors to refugees seeking freedom. They are boldly welcomed to become part of this country’s cultural mosaic, enhancing not only their lives, but also that of generations to come.
Written in the Stars
She had tried to reach him for days. In fact, she had already warned him two months before. He hadn’t listened then, and apparently, he was shutting her out now.
Several years before, she had unearthed interesting information about him. Although these might have been well kept secrets, they were not as deeply tucked away as they have since become. For example, it was never discussed that his first wife held serious superstitions. No surprise. People from Eastern Europe are still very much enmeshed in ancient folk lore, fantasy and ritual. Add to this, his own grandfather was born in Germany. With these two significant links, it is small wonder he too has fundamental ties to outer world related peculiarities. Not only has he become an avid student of the occult, but he is also an accomplished numerologist.
It was reported that the number 45 is of grave concern to him. He had been recorded to say the following: “Most people know that 45 is the smallest triangle number, after 1, which can be written as the sum of two squares. This is generally considered a worrisome sign.” He went on to relate that it is the .45 caliber revolver which has been the most often used weapon in assassination attempts against U.S. presidents. A reporter further pursued his fear of the number 45. Was his apprehension a foreshadowing of him becoming the potentially ill-fated 45th leader of the free world?
Given his seemingly superstitious background, she simply couldn’t understand why he was not responding to her contact attempts. She considered using Twitter, but 140 characters would not be sufficient to warn him. And besides, he wasn’t one to read Twitter as much as to write it. So, the challenge was on: a delicate dance to engage his attention.
Shortly after his birthday in June, she had warned him that thousands of witches throughout the world united to cast spells against him. It wasn’t that she wanted to scare him, merely to advise that his actions resulted in consequences. Yet as he ignored her efforts, who could she engage to convey her message? There were too few now, whom he trusted to be at his side. If any. And it was unlikely he would want it to be known about consulting with clairvoyants and astrologers ˗ like herself.
The environment in Reagan’s time had been quite different. Nancy, in fact had been the one to seek her out, heeding her advice through the President.
Perhaps that was the route by which to proceed. She needed to reach the current First Lady. After all, here was another Eastern European who might prove to be sympathetic. The time was drawing too near. She had to somehow warn him about the impending effects of the blood moon and solar eclipse.
She had read when eclipses occurred, ancient peoples believed the world would come to an end or that a great evil would follow. Myths often involved a beast trying to destroy the Sun with the fate of Earth hanging in the balance. In Transylvanian folklore, an eclipse was said to stem from the angry Sun turning away and covering herself with darkness, in response to men’s bad behaviour.
She was aware that some astrologers were saying the attainment of his exalted position was written in the stars ˗ because he was born during a lunar eclipse. She knew this factor made him more susceptible to the power of eclipses; even more so to the rare total solar eclipse.
She already witnessed the devastating effects of this imminent eclipse. Wasn’t the country being torn apart, by what might culminate in a civil war? She was desperately determined to make him understand: He was on the verge of a major reversal of his previous good fortune ˗ unless ˗ he stopped twittering, talking and stepped back to listen and respect the advice of intelligent counselors. But just as his astrological chart was filled with ‘fire and fury’, which in the past had facilitated his rise to power, she also realized it might be these very characteristics which could potentially dictate his defeat. Would that be such a terrible tragedy? she considered. Well – perhaps not.
From Acts 2 she remembered: “I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord.”
And with that insight, she stopped fretting, closed her laptop and waited for the momentous solar eclipse to foretell ˗ whatever the future would bring.