Thursday, 29 January 2009

The Nurture Reflex

Boys and girls are different creatures. The knowledge of this fact is something I have possessed for a long time; physical dissimilarities have been pointed out since, memorably, my fourth grade Sex-Ed class with that far-too-repetitive song, “My body’s nobody’s body but mine” and other such public school scarred-for-life nonsense. I’ve notices emotional differences as well, generally associated with the response to a heartbreaking country music song or sappy “chick flick” farewell scene... ladies tend to bat their lashes rapidly, pretending to be subtle about the coming tears in the presence of certain company, while guys usually crack a few well-timed jokes that serve to spoil the mood and break the tension. Last week I witnessed yet another distinction between the two sides of the gender coin: social response to injury.

If you have ever played any kind of hockey, be it on street or rink, you are well aware of the potential for injuries and the natural roughhousing play that comes with such team sports. If you haven’t already come to understand this as true, let me assure you, accidents do happen, and they are dealt with promptly by those close by. Allow me to provide you with an example which is, conveniently, the true inspiration for this particular piece.

I live down the road from a house full of guys and last Saturday they organized an event of sorts – hockey day all day – kicking off their celebration of everything sticks and jerseys with a game of road hockey, which seems to be the recent male-bonding activity of choice (bringing us to another point of difference... girls bond better over munchies, football and red-rover). The guys had been out there for a good amount of time in the many-degrees-below-zero weather before the hand of fate (or more accurately the elbow of Tim and face of Kyle) interrupted their fun.

In the World of Girl, when someone starts to bleed seriously from any part of their body, there is a very specific and well practiced routine that takes action at first sight of the wound. It’s our Nurture Reflex that all women, at some level, are born with. Here is the system for injures in a nutshell:

1. Everyone is involved and active. Quickly someone take the organizational command of the group, delegating tasks for efficient recovery of the down-and-outer, no matter how down and out they happen to be. Calls of “Get some ice” “Bring that water here” “Tip that head back now and let’s get a good look at you” can be heard for several minutes following an accident.

2. All other activities that might be labeled “fun” and that could cause the injured person to be left out are ceased immediately and plans for the rest of the afternoon are put on hold indefinitely.

3. Everyone who needs to be called is called, and probably some who don’t even really need to know. Prayer requests are sent out like lightening and if the problem is deemed serious enough by either the person who knows the most about “these things” or otherwise by the one who has taken leadership of the situation, a hospital ride is figured out.

4. If the case is emergency worthy, one or two girls are elected to travel with the injured party to the hospital while the others busy themselves with making “Get Well Soon” cards and the like. The rest of the day is spent nursing the poor soul back to health.

In Man World, the Nurture Reflex shows itself a little differently...

1. If the injured party is hurt but can still see, breathe and stand normally, he’ll be fine.

2. If he’s hurt badly (i.e. cannot see, breathe or stand normally), one or two of his buddies will help him to wherever he needs to go (i.e. living room, bathroom, emergency room or snow bank).

3. If he’s being taken care of, everyone else should continue on with whatever they were doing before the accident happened. The game must go on as life will go on. He’ll understand.

4. When the injured party returns, looking a little roughed up with stitches or cast or sling, everyone pokes lighthearted fun at his expense, to hasten the healing process. (I’m not actually sure that this last one is a considered a positive reaction or that it is even welcomed at all - as I am not actually a guy, nor have I shown up with a sling or cast or stitches after being wounded - so, call it keen observation or poetic license, whichever is closer to the truth.)

Guys and gals... we’re different creatures, no doubt. We live our lives differently, and we respond to life differently, but there is one bond of sameness that I find undeniable in any situation. We are all made in the image of God... and God has a Nurture Reflex too. “Praise be to the LORD, for he has heard my cry for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. The LORD is the strength of his people, a fortress of salvation for his anointed one” (Psalm 28:6-8).

God definitely has an advantage in the care-giving department of life, because he not only protects us from danger ahead of time, but he also gives us what we need to prevent problems and helps us pick ourselves back up when we fall – and not just physically – the physical element is pretty important - a broken tooth and split lip need to be attended to, but he has given the means to mend those particular problems to people. God looks after us in ways that we can’t look after each other – in spiritual matters, in the eternal issues. In some ways we can help to protect each other in these ways as well (most effectively by making sure that we are living our own lives in line with what God outlines through His Word), but ultimately God, and even more specifically Christ, is the one who we trust (or don’t) with our souls.

So here, I suppose, is the thought challenge: if you skin your knee, you can take care of yourself and if you break your arm, there are people who will come to your rescue... but if you are in a car accident tonight and die, who is going to have your back?

Death is not something you can kiss better.

The end of this note has taken a rather serious turn, but I suppose the same is true in life – when it comes time to wrap up, you make your decisions and face the music, if it is indeed music that you will be facing...

There is much, much more to say on this topic. If you are a Christian reading this note, please think about what this really means and talk to someone about it. If you are not a Christian reading this note, by now probably wishing that you hadn’t, please, think about what this really means and talk to someone about it. Come talk to me, go talk to a friend or talk to God, perhaps. Deal with the questions and doubts that you have before it’s too late to pose them. Don’t be afraid of an awkward conversation... sometimes they are the ones that can teach you the most.

Monday, 26 January 2009

The Unexpected Road Trip

It was getting very late. We all knew it was going to be too late, even before we pulled into the car dealership’s parking lot. The lights were out in the Enterprise offices, but Abbie needed her vehicle. She had taken a rental when she came to town, for one reason or another, to save on gas, perhaps, but it was time for her to leave, and she had to go tonight. “See,” I turn to my friend whose bottom lip had stuck out just a little further than usual, in an indignant pout. “Closed.”

I don’t believe the concept of “closed” and its long-term consequences ever really settled in Abbie’s mind, because a split second later the seven of us were huddled around the front doors and Randa was trying to shake them open. “Closed and locked.... Come on guys, seriously, let’s just come back in the morning.” Abbie’s gaze swept back and forth, searching the street suspiciously. Satisfied, she took a knee beside Randa, eye level with the lock and a moment later had jiggled it open with one of her hair pins. Helplessly, I followed everyone into the building. My whiny protests did nothing to temper the infectious thrill of a break-in...

The offices that held Abbie’s keys captive were attached to a small chain of businesses, like a very tiny strip-mall. Most of the other storefronts had their lights off, doors closed and gates shut tightly, but there was one room with a few standing lamps that lit up the space on the other side of the frosted glass panes. The shadow of a man hovered back and forth nonchalantly, reading what seemed to be a newspaper, with a mug of hot beverage in one hand.

Heather opened the large, unlocked glass door and was the first of us “safely” inside the room. I closed the door behind myself as gently as possible, looking nervously towards the softly lighted room at the end of the hall. The pacing continued so I tried to calm my breathing.

There was much shuffling inside the room, mumbled hushes and from time to time someone would knock into some mysterious piece of furniture. It was very dark because there were few exterior windows and so although the night sky was quite bright, there was very little natural light to take advantage of. Those with cell phones found them quickly and coordinated the glow into a makeshift searchlight. The room was “L” shaped, turning sharply to the left after the long, wide foyer that we were standing in. Jon went to investigate, taking one of the cell phones with him. I watched in horror (the others in proud amazement) as Abbie hopped over the tall reception counter and smashed the glass paneling of the tall display case behind it with her bare fist. I automatically gasped aloud. My friends offered her a mimed round of applause. This can’t be happening...

The display case had contained an astounding number or keys. Abbie quickly found her own, conveniently labelled “Abbie” and hopped back over the counter as though it were the most natural and common place thing in the world to have broken into a building and stolen back her own possessions. By this point everyone else was exploring the rest of the store. “Hey,” called Heather in an exaggerated and excited whisper, “There’s a safe over here!” My heart leapt, but certainly not for joy. As John and Greg joined Heather by the safe I crept back to the doorway to look out for our neighbourly businessman with the paper.

His light was off... and his door was open.

My heart was beating so loudly that I could hardly think, much less explain to my friends the paralyzing fear that had rooted me in the middle of the room. John had cracked the combination to the safe at about the same time as I heard more glass breaking around the corner to the left, where I couldn’t see. Jon appeared waving a crowbar. “I found us a way out of here.” Everyone by the safe grinned, holding up their treasures. Heather had about four million dollars worth of diamonds cupped between her hands and the boys were holding up huge bags of coin, the kind pictured in old western movies, with a large dollar sign printed on one side, just to make sure you knew exactly what it contained. Randa had taken Abbie’s keys from her (as she had to drop off the rental keys at the counter, naturally) and both of them had joined Jon who was, as far as I could tell, climbing out his newly “discovered” escape hatch. The beam of a flashlight swept across the floor at my feet. Then I heard the sirens.

I dragged myself from the middle of the floor and over to the broken window just in time to see Abbie drop down from the sill and into a shallow snow-bank. “Hurry up, Nikki, before the cops get here!” she called, running away to the other side of the parking lot where Jon and Randa had started up the vehicles. “No!” I shouted at her, shaking my head and beginning to sob through my desperate cries. “No, Abbie, we can’t! Just put the key back, you can stay at our place tonight and we’ll come back in the morning!” The door behind me opened and someone began to yell. I heard the broken glass of the case breaking beneath their feet. “Please,” I begged out the window, “Come back!” Abbie slammed her door and rolled down the window. “Last chance, Nik. Let’s go!” The men behind me swung the beam of their flashlights in my direction. I looked in panic out the window one last time. “Where are you going!?” My shout was barely heard above the squealing tires as they peeled out of the parking lot. But I got my reply.

The florescent overhead lights flashed on and I was blinded for a moment as strong hands cuffed me to a chair, back in the middle of the room. The police had come, the store owner had been called and CTV snapped my picture; then the lights went out again and someone set up an old-school interrogation spotlight, staring down at me from above. Someone in a fedora began asking silly questions, like “Where are the diamonds” and “Who are you working for” while I cried and began to think about how I was going to explain this to my parents. I said what I could, which was the only word that would come to mind, the only explanation I had and the parting farewell of my crime-loving friends: Vegas, baby. Vegas.

Friday, 23 January 2009

The Blanket of Gold

I am sitting cross-legged on top of my bed, on my grandmother’s blanket of precious gold thread. Perhaps you may comment on its yellowing colour but I promise it’s golden at heart. Perhaps the yellow comes of its age, for I believe it may have been her mother’s before hers, before mine. But I know that it’s gold even though it may not seem it. I know that it’s gold, because she told me it was.

There are not many things, in some ways, that I remember of my grandmother, but the memories I do have are vivid and clear. I remember the layout of their home near Woodstock, and their basement or cellar where a game of crokinole could always be found, and where I imagined secret passages that ran to wonderful places, and played hide and seek with my sisters among the shelves and boxes of life, packed away. I remember the picture of Jesus upstairs, walking along the beach in bare feet. I remember thinking he looked so lovely, so at peace and so gentle and so strong at the same time. I remember their kitchen there, with the peach coloured curtains and the Precious Moments figurines that sat along the sill. I remember the day that we received our own little figurines, each with a child’s face and a soft animal’s body. I still have mine in a box back home. I found it this Christmas and it made me smile a lot, and cry a little. I remember “the new house” with carpets of white, where we would draw pictures with our fingers just after the vacuum, and then drawing on her legs with crayon when the novelty of the first game had faded. I remember the great stone lions at the front driveway, and the friendly boy-neighbour with his tree house, and the corn field behind the shed that I went into just once, and the ashes of a fire pit where we used to pretend we would be brave enough to walk across it, even if it were burning coals, like they did in Aladdin. I remember the back porch and the mysterious other door where people we didn’t know lived in the other half. I remember watching the Gaithers upstairs on the bed with Mom because it was Grandma’s favourite, and Mom would tell us stories about when she was a little girl growing up, with her pet goats who were terribly smelly, and eating green beans with Aunt Lynne until they were sick, and tale of the tricycle and the picnic bench. I remember our room, tucked into a corner, with rainbow wallpaper and lights you turned on like a giant button, and the curtain for a door, and piles and piles of pillows. I even remember the stairs and how they turned at a small platform before you got to the front door and the kitchen, over to the left of my perch. I sat on those stairs and watched many long talks held by the grown-ups at the table, or Scrabble games. It was by those same steps that I remember holding onto Amanda the day I named her, the day that Carolyn received Polly and Melissa got Jessica. I remember Grandma pulling me aside into her room and explaining that it wasn’t the right doll – that she had wanted another one, that she could send a way for it, or she had tried to – one with a lighter dress or something... but Amanda was perfect. She was one of the most important gifts I have ever received, and she still sits at home, waiting for me every time I come back from school.

And now we have come full circle to the story I set out to tell... the story of my grandmother’s blanket. We were at that table, the one that had been for Scrabble and grown-ups, and somehow I knew that it was going to be a very important conversation. I don’t remember if I was sitting or standing at the time, but I remember being at eye-level with my Grandma, and I remember her leaning in a bit, like she was going to tell me a secret.

I suppose in a way it was a secret, a very special kind of exchange, just between the two of us. She told me that she wanted to give me something – something that I was going to get now but that I couldn’t have until I was quite big, and in school... in University. She told me of the beautiful golden blanket that had been an heirloom, a thing passed down in a very special way, from one woman to another, in our family. She had tried to explain that she was giving it to me so early because she wanted to make sure she got to give it to me herself. I didn’t really understand what she had meant by that, at the time... people say she had been sick for a long, long time, but I had never seen sickness. All I can remember is the love. Anyway, there was a gift bag at her feet, kind of under her chair. She reached for it and slowly pulled out the blanket of gold; the most wonderful tapestry I had ever seen, or have ever seen since. She unfolded it for me to admire for only a moment, just long enough for my six-or-seven-year-old fingertips to feel its cool smoothness, then she folded it back up, so carefully, and put it back into the gift bag. She told me that Mom was going to take care of it for me until it was time for me to have it again. And she did.

My grandmother’s golden blanket has only tonight come back out of the gift bag. I think I was almost afraid of using it before now, remembering the way my Grandma had handled it with such care, like it was the most delicate and fragile possession she had ever owned. But I want to be able to look at it more. It is still as wonderful as I remember it, from so long ago in the kitchen of the new house. The pattern is beautiful, so unlike anything else I have, and the material feels cool and smooth under my twenty-year-old fingertips. And now it smells like my hope chest, a reminder that our memories both prepare us for our future and are affected, however gently, by our present.

I couldn’t be happier tonight. I’ve been wiping at tears for over an hour now, but my heart feels so good. There are other stories I have of Grandma Alway, other memories to share another time, but the story of this blanket made of gold seems to top them all, right now. I only hope, in however many years when I have the joy of a daughter or granddaughter that I will be able to pass on this blanket, folded up carefully into its original gift bag, so that its journey may continue, along with all of the stories and histories that go with it.

Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Rambling Rant

The time ticks on
And the snow falls down
And the bus is late
And I am late
And I am late
For school.

The wind picks up
And the world seems cruel
As the bus is still late
And I am late
For a brand-new class
At school.

So what if I whine,
As I stand here alone
With sopping wet cuffs
And sniffling nose
As I wait and wait and wait
And wait for the bus...

So I look up in spite
At the ridiculous sign
That smiles and says
“Wait just twenty minutes”
But means a full hour
Of dashed hopes and cold and wet.

Where is this bus?!
The class will begin,
The professor won’t wait
And won’t care why I’m late
And I am so late,
So late.

I’ve decided to cry.

With tears streaming down,
And freezing my face,
I suddenly see
The stupid late bus
With its stupid late smile.
Just great.

So the world pokes fun
As I wipe down my face
And wipe off my book
And my hat and my hair
And I stick out my tongue at that cruel sign
And that stupid bus
And my phone for a watch
Who laughs in my face as I check the time

But the bus-driver smiles
And the snow melts away
And I get to class
With a minute to spare
To spare!
Quite mysteriously...

So I’m sorry, I say, to the very late bus
And the snarky sign just trying to help
And the friend I rushed past
Without saying hello
In the hall with dropped eyes
On the way to class.

Perhaps tomorrow
When my alarm goes off
And I reach for the snooze
I’ll get up and out the door instead,
And not have to wait
Or fear being late...

For the third day in a row...