The little guy was bundled up in "Classic Pooh," a brown snowsuit checkered with green; the combination of his pulled-down toque and tightly wrapped scarf almost buried his beautiful Native face. He might have been two years old, but no more. "Paappy," he said, pointing up at an advertisement on the ceiling of the bus. It was a Near North Crime Stoppers poster; one of Lynn Johnston's contributions to justice. The dog was looking proud of himself with sunglasses and a piece of bad-guy pants between his teeth. The father smiled, more at his boy than the poster.
"That's right," he said, all smiles, "a puppy. And there's a truck."
"Another truck, yep."
This dad was young, maybe twenty-three or -four. He had tattoos on his neck and he was wearing a collection of rings, though nothing on his left hand.
It's an undeniable truth that the world doesn't play by the same rules that it did even one generation ago. The pleasures and privileges of marriage have moved far beyond the laws and vows of the Church. But with love and sex comes risk and responsibility -- pressures that a marriage is built to withstand while informal relationships so often are not. It is in the crisis that character is exposed. As he held his baby boy, standing beside him on the matted red fabric of the bus seats, it was obvious: this was a man.
He was born on a reserve and would have grown and died there if not for the patience of a good teacher who loved people and refused to give up on him. He had graduated from the local school and moved to the city for college, working with passion and focus. It was in this new place with nothing familiar that he found his Sora, his beautiful birdsong who could speak the language of his soul. She surrendered her body; he surrendered his heart. It was the mysterious first submission -- the first of many to come.
The night he found out, Sora was already home. She was leaning against the bathroom door, quivering and in tears, with something clutched in between her fingers.
"Niinimoshe," he said with a soft concern, "what is wrong?" She could barely respond. In broken whispers, "Nimaanendam, nimaanendam," was all she could manage. He held her as she cried. They cried together. In that moment of crisis a man was born.
He had finished the semester and quit the program, found a job and did not leave. As Sora's belly filled with their child he could hardly conceive of the dramatic changes going on in his own heart. Every physical change was matched by a growth in the spirit of this newborn family. He loved her to the point of bursting. He loved her to the point of sacrifice.
The following seven months were a shift in reality: he learned to be calm and still, learned to hold his temper, learned to sing, just a little, the way his father and grandfather used to. "Gi zag gin, gi zag gin, niabinoojivens gwiiwizens, gi zag gin, gi zag gin, gi zag gin." Every day his heart was woven closer to Sora. They were one beautiful seminole, and no cloth could be more beautiful than she.
The bus pulled over to the side of the road. Three students clambered up, teetering boxes of groceries that included two cases of Kraft Dinner, a couple frozen pizzas, potato chips, Honey Nut Cheerios and a turnip. The turnip seemed a little out of place with the other purchases he could see, but it made him smile. The bus driver was just pulling away when suddenly a pair of flailing arms seemed to leap out of nowhere. One of the arms, attached to a frazzled looking youth, banged on the bus door and the huge vehicle slammed on the brakes. Although the bus had only started moving a moment before, the halt was jarring and the repercussions numerous: his child lost balance and fell face first into his lap, bumping his little head off the seat and bursting into tears; the turnip dislodged from it's nest of junk food, bounced down the aisle, knocked over an unfortunately placed stack of binders in the fifth row and smashed into the ankle of a girl standing by the back doors; the girl cussed instinctively and bent down to rub her ankle, misjudging the distance between her posterior and the cane of the elderly gentleman standing behind her, who was preparing to get off the at the next stop; with his support gone, the man buckled at the knees and would have fallen, had the bending girl's boyfriend not been there to catch him from the side. It was an awkward few seconds and few looked with a smile at the kid who boarded in the aftermath.
"There, there, bear," cooed his father, righting the child and holding him fast 'round the middle. "You are a strong little makwa. You'll be all right." Their jumbled bus-fellows sorted themselves out and settled down again; the class notes re-shuffled, the turnip retrieved, apologies offered and accepted all 'round. His boy-child calmed in the embrace and his cries melted into whimpers, whimpers to coos and coos to smiles again.
Calamity always stirs people up in funny ways. So often the surface of who we are, the polished mask or persona that we intentionally present to the world, is carefully covering something truer that restlessly hovers below; like a tarp covering just a little too much wood, something is always at risk of exposure should one corner be firmly tugged. Simple moments of confusion, like the unexpected application of the breaks, or the tripping over a doorframe, or the dropping of keys can shuffle the world in such a way that our perfectly tucked edges are loosed and the mess of our lives is revealed. Suddenly the world can see the precarious balancing act you had to preform to stack the wood in the first place, and you lose control of your secrets. It is for this reason that a beautiful mask should not be the hope of a life lived. It is for this reason that you must start at the bottom of the pile and build up strong, cord by cord.
As the old bus rattled off again the man smiled down at his son. The child seems bored with the little odaminowaagan he had been carrying. "Here's something new to see," he said, reaching into the backpack on the floor and coming back up with a small square box. He opened it, facing the boy, and the clean, winter sunlight caught the gem perfectly. The refractions danced around the bus, dazzling the eyes of the little child. "It's for you mother... wiidigendiwini-ditibininjiibizoring. What do you think of that?"
She already held his heart. She should hold his life as well.
The ring went into his pocket instead of back to his bag, as he stood up and signalled for the next stop. It wasn't a special day, but it was the right one. He lifted the child up to his hip and gave him a tender kiss on the cheek. They were beautiful, the two of them together, hopping off the bus and into the snow. The three were better still: a woven fabric, rich in texture and colour, and life; a true family; a promise unending.
And the old bus rattled off again.
Tuesday, 28 June 2011
Saturday, 4 June 2011
That explains it. The canvas is torn.
A tiny boat, no bigger than a life raft, spun round in circles about 15 minutes from shore. She was caught in the squaring-off between wind and wave and her sail, flapping wildly, unsecured and multiplying the chaos on deck, revealed a gash in its fabric that sliced from her groaning mast to the tether-turned-whip at its furthest edge. The rudder, though intact, was a minor deterrent to the crash of water coming overboard; the ballasts on her sides did little to steady her as the hurricane tipped her precariously, her starboard side exposed, her port dipped below the surface of the raging waters.
The little vessel was suspended, immobilized, out on that lake. She could do nothing to ease the storm's anxious strains as it relentlessly pitched her from one side to the other. Wind and wave met with a violence that the boat had never before encountered. It threatened to implode her; it struggled to pull her apart.
Give in, little floater, I'll protect you beneath;
Never again will this wind haunt your sails.
Give in, little swimmer, and I'll run you aground;
While at port you'll find rest in my gales.
Neither would settle for less than her all; neither sky nor sea could this maiden voyage please. With her control and choice wrecked she was at the mercy of the elements and though at war with each other, with her in their crossfire, both water and air thought their action was all to this little boat's best.
But there was something built into this small rocking ship that remembered a storm quite the same... A floorboard, perhaps, or an old rope on deck that had witnessed a reckless sea in ages past, a terrible tempest calmed by the gentle rebuke of a ghost.
Or they though he was a ghost, at first. He had captured all attention. The wind suddenly quiet; the waves as suddenly stilled. He was the master of them all. They obeyed his command. He saved the boat; he stopped the elemental war.
Oh, how this vessel begs of its Master another divine intervention. Bring order from chaos. Mend the sail, guide the boat, calm the wind and wave.