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I’ve been driving a lot through the backroads of Cape Breton over the last few weeks.  Most of these trips are for the purpose of getting somewhere, hopefully on time, but I got the lucky chance of taking Rod out for a drive last week at sunset.  We had already told him he could come with us to drop off another assistant at another property, but she didn’t end up needing a ride after all.  And I just couldn’t break Rod’s heart. He really likes going for drives.  So do I.  (“Shoot the earth, save the oil man.”)

There are so many hills and bends in the roads here.  So many lakes and a lot of forested land.  There is Gaelic on most of the signs.  Some of the houses look like they’re about to fall down or already have.  Some of my favourite houses are right on the crest of a hill, set against a backdrop of sky.  Two deer crossed the road in front of us, also at the crest of a hill, backdropped by the setting sun.  I think this land is so much more untouched than I can understand.  And yet there have been people in these towns for a long long time.

There is a desperation in these towns.  I won’t ever understand all the things that cause it, perhaps the job market or broken families or drug problems or the fact that all the young people are moving West.  I noticed St. Stephen felt the same way too sometimes.  Like a quiet sad realness that isn’t covered over the way it would be in the suburbs.  Life is not so much about appearances here as it is simply about surviving, being present to the circumstances of now.

I’ve been thinking about this idea of living in the moment.  The ancient Greeks had a word for the now: Kairos.  I’m no Greek scholar, but I think it sums up this idea.  It means the right or opportune or supreme moment, “a time in between, a moment of undetermined period of time in which something special happens’.  There are lots of these little moments here.  Most often they are ones I can’t explain… someone’s smile, or a gesture or a quiet moment of gratitude for these new and developing relationships.  Or a lesson learned.  Some of the people I live with have every right (in my opinion) to be bitter, angry, hateful people.  Some have been treated like garbage by family and society.  Some have lived lives of abandonment and abuse.  And yet they, for the most part, approach each day with new hope.  They are kind and trusting and gentle when they could be harsh and fearful.  They live present to the moment, aware of the now, rather than dwelling in the past.  They are slowly teaching me to do the same.  I think there are lots of opportunities for these Kairos moments anywhere we are, if we are open to being present to them.

I bought a fish this weekend.  He is a beta (siamese fighting fish).  He is bright red.  I named him Kairos.

My own words seem inadequate tonight.

This video, made by members of L’arche Cape Breton, says more about
the people I am learning to love than I could ever express:

“Whatever their gifts and limitations, all people are bound together
in a common humanity.”

I am from an old tire swing.

I am from a brick bungalow with a big backyard, a house with an old kitchen and a new deck. I am from the room decorated first with teddy bears, later with carousels and now with blue and white stripes. I am from the unfinished basement and the crawlspace in the attic. I am from the kitchen table and the big red couch and my great grandmother’s piano and hot days on the cold steps of our front porch.

I am from my mother’s forget-me-nots and chinese lanterns and bleeding hearts, from dandelions and wild violets, and the fragrance of lilacs and rose bushes. I am from the crab apple trees and the tall sturdy maple and the birch tree on our front lawn. I am from cold winter mornings on the frozen pond and stormy summer nights by the lake.

I am from tall grass and long summer days. From barbeques and fireworks and street parties and calling on friends. I am from soccer, and t-ball and ringette and hockey. I am from rollerblading and capture the flag, and pickle, and cops and robbers, and street hockey and the neighbour’s swimming pool. Go for it and scrabble and chess and egyptian rap slap and skip-bo.

I am from garage sales and bike rides and gardening. I am from Saturday morning chores and family hikes on Sunday afternoons. From teaching old dogs new tricks. I am from Robert Munsch and Dr. Seuss and Shel Silverstein and Dennis Lee. I am from story-telling.

I am from mother daughter days and drives in the countryside and watching thunderstorms from my parents bed. I am from sunlight streaming through my bedroom window. I am from teasing and laughter and quick wit and taking apart old broken radios.

I am from family illness and skinned knees, broken wrists and chipped teeth.

I am from always believing there will be enough, always striving to give generously and always recognizing the importance of being together. I am from singing and dancing while we work.

I am from faith in God, because of or despite our present circumstances. From small miracles and a few big ones. And I am from endless questions and doubts and uncertainty and a reassurance that all of that is okay.

I am from Christmas Eve open house and New Year’s Day at Grandma’s and Easter hockey tournaments in Haliburton. From holiday baking and decorations and blue and red Christmas lights and picking out the perfect tree.

I am from the cottage on Redstone Lake. From swimming with my dogs and canoeing with my brothers and fishing and bear caves and moss. I am from our tent-trailer and sticky marshmallows and campfires and staying up late and board games and stories about when we were little.

I am from rum truffles and angel food cake and haystacks and shortbread, chicken divan and chilli and shepherd’s pie and spanish rice, hot dogs and toasted tomato sandwiches and grilled cheese and KD.

I am from family photos on the top of the piano, pictures of kids I have yet to meet in the hallway, and artwork on the refrigerator door. I am from the games shelf and the craft shelf, the sewing room, the work room, the family room. The bookcases and the photo albums. I am from the dog kennel, the bath tub, the linen closet.

I am from Oakville, from Etobicoke and Collingwood, from Canada and Scotland and England and maybe Germany and other places I don’t know. I am from Burtch and Hills, Sutherland and Barker.

I am from Daryl and Julie, Rob and Bryan.

I’m on my first ‘weekend away’ – three days where I get to do whatever
I want without any schedule or responsibilities.  Three days out of
the house.  This was much needed after a very busy week in our house.
My intentions for days away are always very high, and most of my
previous days away have been fulfilling.  Hiking, sleeping, reading,
responding to emails, doing yoga, playing guitar.  All good things to
plan to do on a day out of the house.

But this time has been different – possibly because I knew it was
three full days, so I wasn’t as conscious about ‘making the most of
every moment’, thinking I will have time to do this or that later.  So
I’m coming close to the end of my weekend and finding that I haven’t
really done much.  I technically have eight hours left in my weekend
and they all need to be devoted to essay writing, which has been
the main focus of this weekend.

I did however, make time to go for a hike yesterday.  I normally just
explore the woods behind our property with no real plan of where I end
up, but I have been told that if you follow
the stream for awhile, you come to the base of a waterfall.  Sounds
wonderful.  So I off I go with my bug jacket, homemade natural
bugspray and rubber boots.  At first the plan was to walk along side
the stream, but when you have rubber boots it seems like the best idea
is to walk upstream.  It was shallow enough in most places and I
didn’t have to fight my way through branches.

Eventually the stream crossed under a dirt road and ran along beside
it for awhile.  A sign said something about snowmobile trails and the
road headed directly uphill.  Our little town is surrounded by rolling
hills and highlands (not quite mountains I guess) and I’ve wanted to
head uphill to get a good view of the land and water.  So I detoured
from the stream and started climbing up.  Flashbacks of Mount Kinabalu
rushed through my mind and I wondered how long it would take to get to
the top.  At one point a car passed heading downhill, but I saw no
other signs of humanity.  I was in the company of strangers –  a
woodpecker who seemed as fascinated by my presence as I was by his,
tall trees that provided a fresh green canopy over head, an endless
swarm of mosquitos who would get close but wouldn’t land thanks to the
bugspray and my jacket and the friendly sound of the wind.  I stopped
occasionally, and noticed layers of sound – first my own pounding
heart beat, then the birds singing nearby, the wind and sometimes the
water, and the distant traffic.  It is a good feeling when the sound
of your own heart is loud enough and the traffic distant enough that
the one drowns out the other.

It took about two hours to get to a point where the road evened out,
and although I thought about turning back a few times, I kept thinking
that an amazing view could be just around the next bend.  When I
finally did get to the top, I could see sky through the thick forest,
but I was still pretty well closed in.  The sky above had been gray
all day and started to seem menacing, the wind became more unfriendly
than before and my imagination started to get the best of me.  Being
up here in a dark thunderstorm is not my idea of a good time.  Without
finding any great (or even decent) lookout places, I turned around and
started heading downhill.

I was so frustrated – with the stupid hill for being so steep, with
the wind and the rain for ruining my day, with the trees for blocking
my view of the land below.  By the time I had reached the bottom of
the hill and found the stream again, I was too tired and annoyed to
try to find the waterfall so I just headed home along the highway, I
didn’t want to go back the way I came through the forest.

Mostly I think I was just frustrated with myself for letting my
imagination get the best of me and for knowing I was missing the
point.  I may not have gotten a great view of Cape Breton, and I
didn’t even get to see the waterfall I originally set out for.  But it
was still a great way to spend a few hours and I’m sure there are some
obvious lessons in here about enjoying the journey rather than
focusing on the destination, and being flexible and open to
disappointment and recognizing the blessings in things unexpected.
Maybe next time I’ll keep that in mind.

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