The Clock of Time
How many rotations to turn back the clock – to halcyon days? And once there, how long could that time be maintained? A day, a week, a month – maybe forever?
It was a house warming gift – way back when at the old house – where the afternoon sunshine glowed onto the wall-clock’s round face, from the wide picture window. The noise of each tick-tock was noticeable at first, until the sound became one with the rhythm of family life. Sometimes it was drowned-out by the young boy practicing on his chanter. Other times, it was muffled by the repetitive plunking on the ancient keyboard of the girl typing her university essay ….
But what the clock also observed were not always sheltered, serene days. Two adults alone. His breath stopped one day, while smoking that last cigarette on the living room sofa. And she, having outlived him by a quarter century, now hobbles lonely through empty rooms, searching – for messages from him, from another plane.
“The clock ticks. The years pass. We age and die. Time is the only thing we can be certain of.” But Dr. Robert Lanza further asks the question – “Does Time Really Exist?” (Psychology Today, Feb. 6, 2012)
Conventionally, time is divided into three distinct regions: the past, the present, and the future. Using that representational model, the past is generally seen as being immutably fixed, and the future as indefinite. Within this instinctive comprehension of time is the philosophy of presentism, which argues that only the present exists. There is still another perspective of time: a philosophical approach called eternalism, which takes the view that all points in time are equally real, meaning: temporally distant objects and events are as real as those currently present to us. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternalism_(philosophy_of_time)
Are there moments in time, to which we can return, not as a memory but as real time, as a real experience? Are there moments in time which are etched into the universal subconscious and which exist on another plane? Can we move back and forth at will, remaining here and there, repeatedly?
August 6, 1945, 8:16 am, an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, drops the world’s first atom bomb, over the city of Hiroshima. Approximately 80,000 people are killed as a direct result of the blast, and another 35,000 are injured. At least another 60,000 would be dead by the end of the year from the effects of the fallout.
The car turns off Main Street at Dealey Plaza. It is about 12:30 pm, November 22, 1963. Passing the Texas School Book Depository, gunfire suddenly reverberates. Bullets strike the President’s neck and head and he slumps over towards Mrs. Kennedy.
8:46 am, September 11, 2001 Mohammed Atta and the other hijackers aboard American Airlines Flight 11 crash the plane into Floors 93-99 of the North Tower, World Trade Center, New York City, killing everyone on board and hundreds inside the building.
Shortly before 10:00 am, October 22, 2014, witnesses watch Zehaf-Bibeau arrive at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, carrying a rifle. A series of shootings occur killing Corporal Nathan Cirillo, a Canadian soldier on ceremonial sentry duty.
May 22, 2017, at 22:31, the 22-year-old British Muslim Salman Ramadan Abedi detonates a shrapnel-laden homemade bomb at the exit of Manchester Arena, England, following a concert by American singer Ariana Grande. Twenty-three adults and children are killed, including Abedi, and 119 are injured, 23 critically.
At 00:15, Monday, June 19, 2017: One man dies and ten others are injured as a van drives into worshippers at Finsbury Park Mosque, north London. The man driving is yelling: “I’m going to kill all Muslims!!”
The question has often been asked: What were your doing when a particular event took place?
In the past, and depending on the age of the individual, most could identify the moment and pinpoint exactly where they were, and what they were doing when a devastating incident took place?
What is it that pulls us together on this journey? Does a part of our very being, actually return to the event time reality, as well as to our own event time – at the moment when we think of these happenings? Is part of our being, actually participating on an eternal universal time plane? And why is it that our time travel seems only to recall horrendous world events – rather than joyful celebrations? Is the universal clock trying to tell us something? Are our returns to these distressing flash-backs intended as lessons for humanity, from which to learn? What are we learning from them?
These days, catastrophic images bombard us, moment by moment, on the digital media. Are we losing our empathic connection with each other? Are we becoming more and more desensitised and indifferent?
“The clock ticks. The years pass. We age and die.”
He was sometimes known by the name Rapha Olam. No one knew when he was born. No one knew where he was born. What is known, is that he leaves with us a mark of timeless remembrance which no one will ever be able to match.
Those who recall his early days speak of him being exceptionally idealistic; others saw him as far too naïve. He unconditionally accepted that everyone could be a perfect human being and could exist in a state of absolute harmony. With time his optimism shifted. As many young men, he joined the military. Occasional letters were received by friends from such places as the Middle East, Africa, Greece, Italy, Spain, Eastern Europe and later America.
Some decided the military was a means for him to explore the world. Others felt that he was fighting for just causes. Still others dismissed his escapades; he was merely a mercenary soldier having no loyalty to anyone. Years later, when he was reported to have been released from Guantanamo Bay detention camp, chronicles about him altered, yet again.
Supportive friends passed on his letters. This time he was establishing communes in various parts of the world. He had the uncanny faculty to befriend all manner of individuals, regardless from what culture, swaying them to his way of thinking. Once more, he seemed to revert to his youthful convictions of universal serenity. But ‒ there seemed to be a frantic edge to his methods. Nevertheless, his skillful abilities and inherent gifts enabled some communes to flourish as well as proliferate. Even theological articles embarked on endorsing his remarkable approaches. Not everyone, however, was on side. Serious allegations about him surfaced from a number of scholarly circles: he was either smeared as a two spirited homosexual, or he was scorned for being of the transgender persuasion, in either case mesmerizing the masses.
Some friends were disturbed that he didn’t deny their accusations. Most loyal friends, on the other hand, didn’t care and ignored the bad press. They were aware that he had never married. Through some of his communications, they knew he had had affairs. Likely many. A number of women came forward to acknowledge his progenies. One legal certificate was produced which identified him as the father of a son. He owned up to that. Sadly, too late! This discovery document was only unearthed after the son had been brutally murdered by thugs. Olam was photographed at the funeral service, standing beside the tiny woman whom he barely recollected. Head bent low, he mourned the son he lost ‒ without knowing what he was about.
The final blow came when Time Magazine’s leading article questioned whether it was he, rather than his son who had died. Eventually, a close friend was delighted to receive his post card with only the sardonic caption: To quote Mark Twain, “The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
After that, only a few sightings of him were recorded by friends. He was traveling again, this time to help at major catastrophes. He was seen at the Twin Towers, moving debris to pull out bodies from under the rubble. Later, there were photos of him in Sumatra following the tsunami. Then, back in the US, he helped with the victims surviving hurricane Katrina. And, he was last sighted in Haiti, after their earthquake.
Those letters from him were brief, but heart wrenching. It was as though he couldn’t understand and certainly couldn’t accept why these disasters continued to occur. But more so, his words were agonizing descriptions of the cataclysmic events, as though he somehow was responsible for them – yet helpless to prevent them.
Then he simply disappeared. With no trace left of him, declarations of his death again arose. We ‒ his friends ‒ do not accept this! Therefore, we are holding a commemorative celebration to honour the existence of Rapha Olam, at All Faiths gathering place. Tell everyone to come and bring all messages you have received from our long time Friend. We leave you with his words, by which he concluded each of his correspondence: “I AM – with you.”
How wide is your world?
Sometimes my world includes only my house and my cat. Sometimes it includes my neighbours: the man who mows my lawn; the one who shovels my driveway; and the others who keep my house safe. Sometimes, it opens out to my church, my club and my college. Sometimes it moves farther out to the country, to the farms of friends. Sometimes, it spreads even further, to the city ‒ to all the people I’ve known and to all the places where I spent most of my adult life. Sometimes, on rare occasions, my world stretches across the ocean to another continent where relatives still dwell. And sometimes, my world reaches far into the galaxy, and even beyond into the distant universe, trying to touch the Eternal.
These days, whether we like it or not, our world extends outside our narrow, self-imposed borders. Like it or not, we have been made aware of the struggles of countries that fight for their principles to gain control of their own destiny. I have to admit that I don’t know enough about the sides and I’m often not confident enough about which side to take. I have to admit that I cannot begin to understand the religiously and politically driven conflicts which have pervaded the philosophy of various foreign movements and governments for decades ‒ if not for centuries.
What I do know is that we have a freedom in this country which we must appreciate and preserve. It is this freedom which brought my family to Canada many decades ago. How very grateful we were that Canada opened its doors to refugees and immigrants who sought a new life of peace and liberty. Is it any wonder then that displaced peoples from all parts of the world want to come here, today, to this land which proudly boasts of democracy.
In the past, we considered ourselves special because we supported and valued our vast mosaic of cultures, not as a melting pot, but rather as an enhanced entity thanks to a variety of traditions, values and beliefs. Regrettably, I now hear too many comments about the need for new comers to blend in, to conform to our unwritten conventions of clothing, conduct and conviction.
For those whose families have been here for generations, and even for us immigrants who have lived here for only decades, it is probably natural that we are protective of our turf. Is this not what all countries experience? But, if we are indeed the forward thinking people whom we profess to be, then we have to embrace the changing face of the Canadian landscape.
The wide world is coming to us: through the written media, through the television screens − and in ships and airplanes. As we continue to uphold our belief in democracy and our position of acceptance, our principles dictate that we continue to support those who have come to join our midst. Make no mistake, demographically, socially and economically speaking, the future of our country needs the contribution of our immigrant population. Yes, we have to acknowledge that the changes will bring tensions and challenges. Just remember! Ethnic diversity will also bring opportunities and achievements to us all and to future generations.
Our job is quite simple really. It is to practice what we were taught as children: “Treat others as we would like to be treated.” After all, it was not long ago that many of our ancestors were also immigrants to a new growing settlement called ‘kanata’.
(From my new book “Echoes of Footsteps” page 154)
At Our Doorstep
Pastor asked from the pulpit:
“Has the Anti-Christ come?”
Is this the last hour?
Can one Deceiver rock the planet
Through fanatic nationalism,
Spreading Its sinister arms to all those elsewhere?
Seen before, so often, so often…
Back in the day ‒
Viewed now on black and white films,
The transmission of unscrupulous orders,
Marching through Europe.
And Europe saw it again.
In this time, in this hour.
Hordes streaming from far-off,
Meandering through distant lands.
Meeting closed borders.
Oh, but not here!
We want them to come.
Begin anew, like before.
A mosaic of humanity.
A memory of our very roots as pioneers.
What has changed?
From where has It crept in again?
And we didn’t believe
It could take hold.
We are a civilized western world.
Spoof, skepticism, rebuff against the audacity.
No, not possible.
Why were we so naïve?
Promises to the downtrodden…
Beliefs silently held
Now ‒ given permission to bellow
From a place of possibility.
Its supporters cannot be denied.
Remember the Jasmine Revolution of Tunisia?
And then again in Tahrir Square, Cairo?
The social media revolution
When the masses united, fused, conquered!
Watching from afar
Through the same cyber lens,
Words of sarcasms, anger, defiance ‒ dismay!
Marching in throngs, the women gather,
Joining and chanting.
Now too late, far too late ‒
The corrosion, implosion begins.
And as we observe in our own safe haven
Another massacre, this time in a sacred house!
At our very own doorstep ‒
Has the Anti-Christ come?
The creation of poetry
There is no way of knowing, when the art of poetry first began. It is assumed that the origins are steeped in an oral tradition, frequently employed as a means of recording history, storytelling to an audience, perhaps sung, often paying tribute to deities. To aid memorization, there was already a form to these, including rhythm and repetition.
When written composition began, it meant poets began to write for an absent audience, though likely scholars. The earliest written work may have been The Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor which is a story of an Ancient Egyptian’s voyage written at about 2500 BCE. The Epic of Gilgamesh from ancient Mesopotamia, was impressed in cuneiform around 2100 BCE. These are considered to be distinct stories. Later came The Vedas, which is a collection of hymns and other religious texts composed in India between 1500 and 1000 BCE. The oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry, dates from the 11th to 7th centuries BCE. It is one of the “Five Classics” traditionally said to have been compiled by Confucius. The Greek Odyssey dates from about 800 to 675 BCE.
Then, moving right along to a personal favourite – Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales was written in 1380 CE. And then further on, to my much loved Romantic verses: the poets who spring to mind include William Blake, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats. Modernist poetry in the English language started in the early years of the 20th Century among many, W.B. Yeats who used symbols from ordinary life. Canadian poet Dorothy Livesay’s work was first published when she was only 28. I happily sat at her feet, as she held her audience captive in salons.
The word ‘poetry’ comes from the ancient Greek word poieo (ποιεω ) meaning ‘I create’
Poetry is an art form, using language in a more concise, tight manner than prose, which is expansive and less condensed. Poetry conveys feelings, emotions or ideas applying such devices as alliteration, internal rhyme and also relying on imagery, word association, as well as musical language like dissonance. The interactive layering of all these generate meaning as to what marks poetry. It is to be noted that English and European poetry often use rhyme, generally at the end of lines in such formats as ballads, sonnets and rhyming couplets. Just as the Greek classic poetry, however, much modern poetry does not use rhyme. In more recent times, the rise of poetry reading have led to a resurgence of performance poetry, which dates back to the very origins of the art form.
Poetry is something I have always written, experimenting with various traditions, such as ballads and sonnets and even Haiku. For me, poetry is fundamentally about expressing a particular idea, about a particular matter, in a succinct manner, using techniques associated with writing in general. I’m a story teller, and thus my ‘style’ demonstrates that technique. I have compiled a selection of poems written over many years, in my latest book “Echoes of Footsteps”.
She was glad to see him. The morning tour guide had left the group at Grand Place. It was the intoxicating aroma which had drawn her to the Neuhaus chocolate shop. While heading back outside with the delectable package in hand, Sophie had bumped into him. He politely asked if she minded him tagging along.
“Not at all!” she had answered, much to her surprise. She generally liked being alone.
But from the time she had boarded the tour coach in Calais, she had noticed something about this man that had intrigued her. Perhaps a long ago memory? Now in Brussels for an entire day, it might be nice to wander about with a companion.
“Will you join me for lunch at La Brouette?” he had invited.
Her feet already hurt. She hadn’t been prepared for the cobble stones. She agreed. The waiter led them to an outdoor table at the bistro’s terrace. John was a charming older man, likely pushing sixty, she considered. Safe – by her standards. He suggested the croque-monsieur and recommended she try the local beer. She thanked him for finding this eatery, from where they had a superb view of the entire square. Before he could comment, they were interrupted by another from the tour, whom Sophie unhappily recognized.
“Good to see familiar faces!” She greeted them almost brashly, plunking her exhausted body on the other free chair. “I was going to settle for a bench and a decadent waffle, but this place is far more interesting,”
Sophie was flabbergasted! Didn’t people on tours respect personal space and privacy? Hadn’t she worked diligently at avoiding this boisterous older woman, from as far back as London? No boundaries! A perfect day ruined.
Alyson was tired of tramping about alone. As soon as the city tour was finished, everyone around her headed off in different directions ‒ all to avoid her. She had no delusions. It was something she had gotten used to on these trips. Even the shared roommates, arranged through the company, were relieved to leave her on her own. It was a challenging way to travel; certainly a hell of a come down from the days of gallivanting about with Alfred, her fifth husband. He had left her nothing ‒ but the yearning for adventure. Her friends back home were far too few now: some still married, some widowed like her and others, with little income ‒ or so they said. Well too bad! An excursion a year was her annual resolution ‒ and just maybe, finding another mate. She had immediately liked the look of this man, John Knight, who had helped her with her luggage last evening. She made note of his name when the guide called out their room numbers at the hotel. What on earth was he doing with this young hussy half his age, she wanted to ask him. And such a miss snooty, snob at that! Yes, attractive by all counts, maybe even beautiful with that head of red cascading hair. She enviously remembered her own good looks, back in the day. Now it was more about being bold to attract attention, and counting on people’s good manners to include her.
He couldn’t very well tell her to leave, though it was his first instinct. His young guest was clearly uncomfortable having her there. As was he. John chided himself for having been helpful with her luggage. Dumb move. It was likely an innate habit, from days gone by. How many of these older women had he encountered over the years, feigning helplessness? Right on cue, he had performed the job – now the act of chivalry ‒ expected of him. Women seemed to recognize these types of females, for who they were. Hunters on the prowl? But men, were they destined to fall into their trap? The best he could do now was to engage them in polite conversation about the tour: the silly Manneken Pis, that had become the emblem of Brussels and about the surrounding buildings ‒ the Town Hall, Maison du Roi and the opulent guildhalls. He informed them about the magnificent Grand Place Flower Carpet that would be on display in August. All the while, what he really wanted was to spend some alone time with Sophie. He needed to find out if his hunch was correct. Had he in fact met her years before on another tour ‒ with her father? He had detected a familiarity in her lilting voice that led him to this reflection. Once free of the grappling female, he was determined to invite Sophie back in the evening, to again view Grand Place ‒ all gloriously illuminated in brushed gold.
It was a spontaneous decision. A surprise by all accounts. Wanda hadn’t the remotest notion to travel to China.
Previous trips had been painstakingly planned for months ahead. Not this time. This time she threw all caution to the wind and grasped the opportunity presented.
“Just go!” Her reckless Inner Child had commanded.
And here she was at the Great Wall. She took a deep breath, intentionally feeling the moment. Intentionally storing the feeling in her memory for future reference.
The trip was more difficult than she had anticipated. The stairs, the climbing, the smog! On the positive side, sites were grand and indescribably spectacular. The petite tour guide Gloria was informative, humble yet firm. Meeting times and locations were specific. After all, who would want to be lost in such a vast country?
As was her custom, Wanda traveled alone. For a while, she shuffled along with the crowd heading up the recommended block of the Great Wall. But what was the adventure in avoiding uneven stone slabs beneath her feet? Or avoiding the bumping and squeezing among bodies heading upwards on slippery slopes and steps? She looked at her watch. Two more hours until the meeting at the mammoth visitors’ centre. Too much allotted time! She took a quick look at what had been advised as a ‘must see’ including the flag. Gloria had given some instruction about that flag, her voice drifting far off into the wind. Wanda headed off.
She located a clearing, away from the throng and took the road with a familiar name, which she thought she recognized from her ride in the coach. There was a sign with a picture of food near a low building. She decided to enter. It was dark, long and narrow with concession booths on either side, selling every Asian food concoction never seen on this trip. Each vendor tried to snatch her attention. She walked on and on, descending steep steps every few yards. At last relieved to see daylight, she found herself in a parking lot filled with coaches bearing Asian names. Was this where her driver parked the coach?
“Now, that was some adventure,” she mumbled to herself as she headed back on the road with the name she recognized from before.
It was quite the climb. Reaching the top of the road, she looked around and saw a sign with a picture of people. And off she went in that direction – only ‒ to find herself at an all too familiar entrance. How could this be? An utter, if not eerie surprise! She was once more in the same long food building ‒ and this time she noticed she was the sole Caucasian. Her steps down the stairs were quicker than previously. At the parking lot she knew she had taken a wrong turn. A man approached her and asked, “Taxi?”. Well that would have been nice. But how could she explain – to where?
Determined to trace her way back, she spotted a towering lumber entrance to her right, with animal carvings at the top. Had she seen that before, perhaps from the coach on the way to the visitors’ centre? She was delighted to find various different buildings as well as families walking about heading towards a place around which crowds had already gathered. People smiled. They let her to the front of the group, as she again realized these were all Asian tourists. For the time being, however, her attention was drawn to the small black bear cubs scampering about within the enclosed area; there were also several larger bears, looking quite harmless.
“Another adventure!” her Inner Child reassured. Then reality and a hint of fear hit hard. Where was she?
Out of the gate she went. And up the road with the familiar name. And back to the same people sign – and yes, back into the same food building. There is some quote about the insanity of doing the same thing over and over but expecting a different result. Yet, that was precisely her hope. How could she be in this same place ‒ again? No surprise that this time the Asian vendors looked at her quizzically. All she wanted was to be out of there, in the sunlight, in the parking lot and finally finding the right road. Perhaps third time lucky? She was. Reaching the top of the road, an older couple from her group meandered into sight.
Wanda slowly approached. With as much nonchalance as she could muster through her quivering heart, she greeted them.
The woman was friendly. “Yes. We’ve been looking about, but keeping track of the flag. Time to head back to the visitors’ centre.”
Oh that frigging flag! There it was, now in full sight. She had taken the opposite turn from what had been instructed. She remembered, as she followed the couple.
Back on the couch, her seat partner remarked. “The Great Wall is as I recall twenty years ago. But this colossal tourist centre is new. Must have been designed to impress us Westerners. When I was here before, we were dropped off at a large wooden archway with carved animals on top. And there was a pit with black bears! Too bad all that’s gone.”
Wanda smiled. Hearing this story was the best surprise of the adventure, or was it synchronicity ‒ which she decided to share with no one.
BOOK LAUNCH ‒
“Echoes of Footsteps”
Thank you Lorna Foreman ‒ my editor, my publicist and my dear friend. And thank you all, for coming. I am amazed that you still attend my book launches.
And, I am amazed that I continue to be excited about seeing another one of my books published, thanks to Raymond Coderre, Founder and President of Baico Publishing,Ottawa.
I was in the first stages of researching what I had planned would be my next novel, when I couldn’t get a niggling feeling out of my thoughts. I decided to set aside my research and this time, instead pull together all my short compositions.
I came to this conclusion for a number of reasons. I became somewhat frustrated by people’s suggestion that I write my own story, which some consider to be interesting. I had already written a portion of that! But then I remembered that this year 2016 marks the 60th anniversary of the Hungarian uprising. The date also marks my family’s escape from Hungary. I felt, therefore, it was timely to bring to light my early experiences as a refugee arriving in a new country. Perhaps some of these sketches will resonate for readers, especially as they echo the circumstances of current refugees seeking asylum in this country.
The challenge to compile this book was to pull together relatively disjointed pieces, written over various periods of time, in a manner which would hopefully flow from one to the other. The bottom line is ‒ I’m a story teller! You know that if you’ve read my two previous books, “The Women Gather” and “Reconnecting”. Thus, even with short pieces, I still needed to tell a story, or various stories.
The book is divided into 3 sections: Days of Innocence, which comprises my Hungarian experiences; Days of Wanderings, which are poems from early years to today; and finally Days of Experience, mostly from the time I moved to Cornwall thirteen years ago. Many consist of articles I wrote over a decade for Cornwall’s Seaway News, in my column called “Kindness”, thanks to publisher Rick Shaver. Others are some of the stories I penned including as member of the Cornwall and Regional Writers’ Society.
While I generally do not give names of people about whom I write, nevertheless, there are many who are identified throughout the book: my family of course, including my late father András Gyula (for whom I dedicated this book). my mother Lidia András and my brother George András. In addition, you will note references to my young friend Emma, who has grown up through some of the pages. Bernadette Clement is also referred to a few times in the “Community” section of the book ‒ because of course, her presence as friend and Cornwall City Councilor is always so appreciated at events, including today. Thank you.
Brilliant Miss Emma recently asked me if I had hidden an ‘Easter Egg’ in my new book. I clearly didn’t know what she meant. Perhaps you do. According to Wikipedia:
An Easter Egg is an intentional inside joke, hidden message, or feature in an interactive work such as a computer program, video game or DVD menu screen.
Apparently, it can also be applied to writing. Unknowingly, I had in fact applied the concept in both my previous books, “The Women Gather” as well as in “Reconnecting” ‒ a sort of tease which referred back to the previous work. It is a nod to the reader, who recognizes the reference. And still unknowing the term, I have incorporated it again in my current book. Do note the sections called “Owen’s Poems” and “Marlie’s Stories”. Some of you will perhaps understand the subtle mention. So thank you Miss Emma, for legitimizing my technique to me, and almost bringing me into the hip age of technology.
Finally, I want to say something about the cover, which I must say I really like. On my computer, I found a scanned photo ‒ long ago lost ‒ taken in 1978 by Husband Duncan. It is of me walking down the street of my grandmother’s village in Sárbogard, Hungary, where I was born. The scan was faded and ghost like. I sent it off to creative photographer artist Jacqueline Milner, who did her magic to resize and add bits. Thank you Jacquie! Baico did the rest, and voila!
As I told you the last time, marketing one’s work is the most difficult challenge set before any author. It’s not why we write. I look around this community and there are so many writers in the same situation as I am. All I can hope is that you will read my book, and that there will be something in there which connects with your sensibility.
“Echoes of Footsteps” may be purchased from me the author, or ordered through Chapters, or Baico Publishing: http://www.baico.ca/
Presented at Cornwall Public Library
September 17, 2016
Friday at last! It had been a long, hectic week at work for Marlie. End of the fiscal year. All programs were directed to account for their past year’s activities and spendings. What a relief finally to be home, in solace with Owen.
On most Fridays he would meet her at the local hang out for wine and dinner, but she had begged off with a phone call that afternoon.
“I just want to put my feet up, order in and have a some wine, alone in peace with you.”
He had agreed of course, as she knew he would.
“I’ll be waiting on the balcony with the wine!” She pictured his smile and glistening sky blue eyes, as his mellow voice reassured her.
She called out “Hello!” as soon as she entered their apartment. There was no response! That was troubling. He always greeted her. Marlie dropped her hand bag, slipped off her heels and headed down the hall to his office which opened to the balcony. The early spring sun blazed through the overhanging branches, waiting for the buds to form. It was surprising to have such warmth this time of year and late afternoon at that. Owen’s shut eyes opened wide in surprise as she repeated “Hello” and bent to peck his forehead. He had been dozing, she concluded.
The bottle of Merlot they enjoyed, along with two wine glasses were waiting at the side board. The small table beside his deep wicker chair held her mother’s opened Bible, which they both shared. Also within reach was the large amber ashtray he had purchased for her, because she liked amber and also because of its size, as a tease that she smoked too much.
“I only smoke at work and only out here on the balcony. It’s large enough to share with your pipe.” She had reminded him.
Just then a loud shatter! The massive ashtray cracked before them in countless wedges from the centre, hurling his pipe to the floor.
“Oh my goodness!” Marlie was startled. “It must have been caused by the heat of your pipe and the blazing sun hitting it simultaneously in the centre.” She was pragmatic.
Owen slowly stood up from his chair, reached for the wine bottle and poured the lush, maroon liquid into each glass. He handed her one, took the other, motioned for her to sit down as he did likewise.
“Marlena, I was asking for a sign…”
She remembered that day for years to come. She remembered her pseudo scientific explanation as to what she considered to be an ordinary experience. How different the experience had been for Owen, the seeker for answers to universal questions about the mystic. She remembered that day because that was the last day in which she smoked cigarettes. And she remembered that day also because she knew that was the night in which their precious daughter Amanda was conceived. But mostly she remembered that day, because it forever changed how she looked upon her own universe.
Life wasn’t only about waiting for the weekend. It was about holding onto every single day as important, with potential learnings and revelations. It was about accepting mysteries without attempting to explain them away by some latest scientific attempt at reasoning. It was about reconnecting to the universal consciousness that had guided mankind throughout the eons, yes with new insights, but anchored in fundamental truths since the dawn of creation. It was about recognizing, acknowledging and accepting signs that gave direction and encouragement.
From that time onward, Marlie became open to signs. There were signs that came to her in church, though not in any obvious way; it could be a hymn that held particular words she had thought of the day before, or a mention of an incident to which she had related. Other signs were often about friends who called or sent a note at precisely the moment she had thought of them. Sometimes, signs were simply memories that hung in the air like veils revealing themselves in moments when she needed comfort.
And thus it was ‒ when she waited for Owen to walk through the door of their home on that ninth day, of the ninth month, in the ninth year, as the rainbow arced for hours over their street, that Marlie knew her beloved had died. She knew that he had sent the rainbow as a sign of his covenant: he was and would continue to be with her throughout time and space and eternity.
My aunt in Hungary still goes to the market daily to buy bread. She feeds the remains from the day before, to the birds. Wasteful perhaps, or all in the way you look at it. When she was a little girl following the Depression, it took a cart full of paper bills to buy a single loaf of black bread.
My father, imprisoned in Hungary for nearly seven years, was content enough to eat the wedge of dry bread he was given; it was better than the blue mouldy crusts he was sometimes left. Even his dinner companion, the rat, had trouble consuming that.
My mother baked bread over thirty-five years for my father. Hers was the only kind he would eat: white with a thick golden crust, crumbly after the first day. No wonder my aunt replaces hers daily.
Arriving in Canada sixty years ago, I remember my delight when a classmate at lunch time offered me store-bought, uniformly sliced, white bread that tasted sweet and stuck to the roof of my mouth.
That is the same kind of bread with the crusts off and cut into tiny, even sized cubes with an electric knife, which is served at Presbyterian Communions. It also sticks to the roof of the mouth, needing to be swallowed with a drop of grape juice, pretending to be wine, offered in minuscule glasses. Husband, the Protestant Minister, would sometimes rebel against the minute bread cubes when serving Holy Communion. He would hold up a full loaf of his favourite Italian bread, tear it into two parts before the congregation, rip off a piece for himself and pass the rest to the Elders to do the same: the bread of life to commemorate the Last Supper of the man Jesus, before his death. In the Roman Catholic Church where I’m not permitted to take Mass, wafers are distributed that melt in your mouth, intended to represent the body of Christ. The wafer ‘bread’ is meant to mimic the unleavened bread likely provided at the Last Supper, marking the Passover when the Israelites had to flee Egypt from their captors; there hadn’t been sufficient time to allow the bread to rise.
Most restaurants place bread at the dinner table. Indian restaurants serve Nan bread, which too is flat and hardly risen, and which I rather like. This type of bread is close to the initial bread, discovered by mistake no doubt, by the female some 30,000 years ago, while accidentally splashing water on the cooking grain. Variations sprung from that kind of unintentional experiment ‒ passed on, refined, and redefined throughout history and cultures: cooking, grilling, frying, baking bread to share among the family, the tribe and even with strangers.
Throughout my travels, my most delicious bread experiences have been the baguette devoured with a hunk of cheese while sitting on a bench along the Seine River, overlooking Notre Dame Cathedral; and while still in Paris ‒ the croissant ‒delicately consumed with café au lait, from a bowl. I’ve even attempted to make croissants years ago. Unsuccessfully! Do you know how many foldings and days are required to follow this process? Never mind. Some patisseries sell good ones. A woman I know bakes several loaves of whole wheat bread for a group’s fund raiser auction, every year. I give up bidding at the $20 point. They must taste like manna from heaven! I’ve tried to catch onto the gluten free fad, but the frozen loaf I purchased for far too much money at the grocery store was as dry and crumbly as my Mom’s bread on the second day ‒ though I need to digress ‒ when Mom’s bread came out of the oven, the air in the house floated in an aroma of utter ecstasy…
Sitting with friends at lunch recently, we gravitated for the warm rolls, permitting ourselves to enjoy their intoxicating fragrance and luscious flavour while poo-pooing this generation’s fervour that means to control carb consumption. Yet even Oprah, who is currently promoting Weight Watchers on television, confesses with what can only be defined as orgasmic passion: “I LOOOOVE Bread!”
Well there it is. Bread crosses all cultures and customs since its invention. Bread is a staple that has been part of my entire existence. Bread connects me to life long memories. The bottom line for me is that bread is about sharing and love. And no one has expressed it better than Omar Khayyám:
A book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread ‒ and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness ‒
O, Wilderness were Paradise enow!