Easter Retrospective

115 journals

journaling, reading as strategies for survival and change

pagan Christ

I am re-posting this from last year. Of course Easter was not early this year, but given the weather we are still having, those Easter clothes of yesteryear would be too cold.

I love Easter as a time of rebirth, a resurrection of life. When I was a child, there was always a new outfit, hand-sewn and often cut down and reworked from other garments, new white shoes and a new hat, usually white straw with flowers, chilly to wear when Easter was early as it was this year -2013. To me, it was an unparalleled celebration of light, a miracle – like finding the horse radish root pushing green up out of the newly thawed soil.

In those days, I hadn’t heard about the Easter bunny. He didn’t come to the hills where my family farmed hardscrabble soil. But the hens had started laying eggs again by then and they were served in abundance on Easter Sunday breakfast. It wasn’t unheard of for a farmer like my father to polish off a dozen when he came in from milking and before we all set off for church.

Once we moved to town there were still new clothes at Easter and our growing family might even present itself at church, but that was a special occasion. I would have been the only family member who went for all the Sundays in Lent and right the way through, I would have been looking forward to the exuberance of Easter Sunday.

My love for the Anglican liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer and the King James Bible were enough to keep my child self coming  back for more.

This Easter Sunday, I revisited some of that poetry as I drove north to Barrie, Ontario for brunch. I fired up my iPhone and listened to the second part of Handel’s “Messiah”, beginning just before the “Hallelujah Chorus”. Handel took the passages from the Bible and set them to his stirring music. One of my favourite pieces is the soprano aira, “I know that my redeemer liveth”, (Job XIX, 25-26) which ends with “And tho’ worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God”. The remaining songs are taken from Psalms and the writings of the Apostle Paul, mostly the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians.

I have been lucky in my religious education. I listened to the beautiful King James Bible being read aloud in church and at my grandmother’s, daily in the latter case. I went to church religiously: I sang in the children’s choir. And the university I went to was affiliated with the Baptist Church still when I attended it. Not my church and at the time, I was not happy with the mandatory religious studies, but it gave me a ‘grown-up’ perspective on the New Testament, especially on Paul.

As I listened to “The Messiah” – and drove northward, I remembered reading Tim Harpur’s book The Pagan Christ at Easter in 2004 and I got to thinking about Paul’s letters to the early Christian church. The Apostle’s letters are actually the earliest writings in the New Testament and are “virtually” silent “on the whole subject of a historical Jesus of Nazareth” (Harpur, 166). Paul’s writing predates the earliest gospel, that of Mark, by about 20 years. First Corinthians probably dates from 55 A.D. “Paul was a mystic and he knew only the mystical ‘Christos’, Christ not ‘after the flesh’ but after the spirit. As he says, ‘The Lord is that spirit’.” (Harpur, 172) Paul does not talk about Jesus Christ as a personal saviour, in other words, he talks about redemption through the Christ within. It was the next generation of writers, working from an oral tradition, who wrote about a historical Jesus who died 70 years before.

Harpur, like other scholars before him, noted the similarity between the story of Jesus and the stories of other divine sons of God like the Egyptian, Horus.  He concluded, after much research and soul searching, that the Gospel stories were “true myths” but not meant to be taken literally. This was not an easy conclusion for him to come to. It had unsettled him badly at first, but ultimately, it lent depth to his faith. It meant that he as an individual was responsible for his own salvation, the Bible having shown the way. Jesus Christ had to be born in the cave of his own heart. The stone had to be rolled away from the tomb of his own deadness, the oblivion of being incarnated in flesh, so that the Christ within would be resurrected and true spiritual consciousness be attained.

By the time I read The Pagan Christ, I did not find the idea surprising. I had worked my way around to a similar position reading Buddhist and Taoist writing. It seems to me that all religions come around to that idea. The 13th century Sufi poet, Rumi, speaks of the ecstatic union with the Friend as a sort of drunken abandon. My Aunt Mae dwelt in great joy with her best buddy Jesus. You could hear her singing His praises as you walked up to her isolated, tiny house. I do not doubt that she saw heaven on earth.

At such festivals, I find myself reworking meaning, sorting out the literal from the metaphorical. But in the end, I do not doubt that “my redeemer liveth… and in my flesh shall I see God”

On a less serious note: this year, 2014, the local Jehovah Witnesses invited me to a memorial for the death of Jesus Christ. That’s what I call a zinger.

Septuagenarians on the Road: #3

SAMSUNG DIGITAL CAMERASo Georgia and I decided to take a sentimental journey, back to our roots. We started out on her birthday, the day after Labour Day (See https://115journals.com/2013/08/31/labour-day-weekend-reflections/)

We didn’t make the decision lightly. We divided hip stiffness into the mileage and arrived at a two day trip. We reserved a hotel room at the Waterfront Holiday Inn in Kingston Ontario, which we thought was half way from Toronto to Ayres Cliff, Quebec. We were wrong. It was more like a third of the way there, but when we got to KIngson, we realized that factoring in the fatigue of packing and hefting bags made it a good choice.

When asked if we need help with our bags, my macho sister says no. Being older, I know better. Imagine the most awkward grocery cart you have ever tried to steer, turn it into a luggage cart, top-heavy with a hanging bar, add a tiny elevator and thick pile on the hall carpet.

Still it is a beautiful room that looks out over the ferry docks and one of the six squat, round Martello towers that guarded Upper Canada from the American invaders.

Martello Tower, KingstonWe stayed in a similar room 4 years ago when we last made this trip. The place is not much changed. The question is are we?

We rest. Resting will be a recurring theme in this blog post as it is in our lives. I would say ‘in the lives of septuagenarians in general’, but Blake (see http://115journals.com/2012/05/26/septuagenarians-on-the-road-part-1/ and https://115journals.com/2012/05/27/septuagenarians-on-the-road-part-2/ ) doesn’t rest much. Resting like Archemedes’ lever makes all things possible.

Then it is time to pop the cork on the Veuve Cliquot. It is a birthday after all.

It seems wise to find a restaurant within walking distance, so we search through the available literature and come up with Olivia, an Italian restaurant two short blocks away. As it turns out there is live jazz from the Dave Barton trio with Amanda Balysy on vocals. Amanda has a retro look, blouse and skirt out of the 50s and songs to match. So the ambience is delightful. The day’s special of wild boar sausage seems too demanding for my digestion and I willfully ignore the black cod and order risotto. As soon as I lay eyes on it, I know I have been wrong. I’m used to risotto at Marcellos in Toronto where they don’t even add cheese. This dish is swimming in cheese and oil. But the optimism of the moment prevails and I take the risk.

As evening falls, the Kingston City Hall across the square becomes ever more beautiful (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Kingston_City_Hall_Andrew_pmk.JPG). Its limestone glows silver and its lovely dome stands etched against the sky. After dinner, we sit in the park at the water’s edge and enjoy its beauty.

Kingston_City_Hall__#3All in all, the day has gone well, we think. Georgia settles down to watch Netflix on my Mac Air Book and I lie down to sleep. To no avail. Yes, I am tired enough to sleep, but my body has other ideas. I am aching all over. The pillows labelled soft are so soft, I feel smothered. The ones labelled hard hurt my head but don’t support my neck. But most of all I blame the risotto. Years ago, in this same town, I spent the night sitting on the bathroom floor reading John Irving’s The World According to Garp.I might have been better to spend this night there as well.

I’ve had considerable experience with insomnia – who hasn’t at this age?- and developed strategies to deal with it. In between bathroom trips, I try them all. First, I roll up a bath towel and put it under my long neck, a softer version of the wooden Japanese head rest. I do my three part deep breathing exercise over and over. I take a sleep aid. I put in my ear buds and hit the white noise App on my iPhone. Even the continuous swish of heavy rain doesn’t send me off. By now, Georgia is soundly asleep, or so it seems for she is very softly snoring. At what seems like 2 a.m, but is actually much earlier, I get up to do tai chi exercises in the dark. That seems to calm my system down. Then just as I begin to slip into sleep, someone hammers on the door next to us and calls out in a aggrieved voice, “Come on Michael, I forgot my key.” Apparently that is just the ticket. I am gone. I don’t even wake up when Georgia spends an hour reading at 3 a.m. Of course, in the morning, she maintains not only that I had kept her awake, but also that I was groaning. Perhaps she is right.

So unrefreshed, we find our way to the complimentary breakfast with a view of the water. I am unenthusiastic about eating but I need to take on fuel. Fortunately, Georgia is able to enjoy the free meal, which we have earned by being members of the Canadian Automobile Association.

There is one more little hiccup. I neglected to bring down our parking stub. There is no attendant. Fortunately, someone from the bar across the street yells out instructions on what button to push to contact the office and my car is finally released. That is one drawback to this particular hotel. We call them parking Nazis.

So we set out on the second lap of our journey and a very long lap it turns out to be. It begins with a Google Map gaff -you have surely experienced at least one of those. Instructions are to head north on Princess St, which is, as luck would have it, one way, going south. We do what we can and find ourselves crossing bridges we’ve never seen before and confronting signs to west bound 401. We reason that east bound 401 has to be in approximately the same place, but the west bound signs proliferate and get larger. Just a little kick of adrenaline from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. Once we have achieved the elusive east bound highway, we feel as if it can only get easier.

The newly renovated ONroute service centres are a plus, clean and up-to-date. You can take your own lunch in and eat it at the tables or make one up from Tim Hortons and Subway or Burger King. I carry in my rice crackers and home-made salad dressing, and manage to scrounge up salad and chicken to go with them. We take turns driving, trading off every hour or so. Some time after lunch, we cross the provincial border into Quebec. I recall that there used to be a lovely stone building in the old style, which served as an information centre. A few of those stones seemed to have been recycled into the service centre that has replaced it. I line up at the counter to ask the same question as everyone else. Google had told me to take exit 29 to new highway 30, but the maps show no bridge there. What gives? The bilingual receptionist has the interesting skill of being able to write on a map upside down and she assures me that there is now a bridge, which will cost me $1.50 to cross. If you have ever had to drive into the city Montreal to cross the St. Lawrence River on the Champlain Bridge, you may understand what a cause for rejoicing that is. As we discover the bridge is really two bridges, the first one low to the water and the second soaring up over the widest part of the river to let the ships pass up the St Lawrence Seaway.

So we skirt Montreal in that low level river land, which is fertile but also being eaten up by industry as time passes. Now all signs are exclusively in French. Sud and nord are simple enough and easy to figure out as south and north. Est and ouest are trickier. I keep reciting “est” as a clue to finding the right exit to #15, which will take us toward Sherbrooke. “Traveaux” is pretty clear, including as it does miles of orange cones and on occasion, actual workers and machines. The sign that orders us to respect the security zone or so it seems, puzzles me, until I realize that I am to pull out into the left lane when I see someone stopped on the shoulder. Then there is an urgent LED sign that absolutely eludes me. I can not catch even one word. We fly by oblivious.

Like all Canadian children, I have studied French, in my case until I was in grade 12. Moreover, I have a brother who lives in Belgium and speaks French most of the time. I have spent long holidays there and in France. I just finished watching Spiral on Netflix, a made-in-France police drama, with  sub-titles, it must be said. I’m more than willing to give it my all, but really! Nothing but French. The stop signs say “Arret”. Even in Europe, they say “Stop”. When I am flying along at 110 km, I could use a little help.

We can just glimpse Mount Royal over the river on the horizon. Then a solitary mountain rises from the plain, a volcanic cone. The country grows more rural. The road begins to rise and curve and finally, we begin to see the soul-soothing mountains of our childhood, the northern-most Appalachians.

By the time, we round the corner into Ayres Cliff, we have been on the road for six hours. I seem to think I know where the Auberge Ayres Cliff is and I am not wrong, although I hadn’t realized it was right in the middle of town, a quiet tourist town of one main street and side streets leading down to Lake Massawippi. I stayed somewhere near here 16 years ago, but it takes me a full 24 hours to realize it was the same place and when I do, I seriously wonder if senility has crept up on me. It is a hard place to forget. It is said to be 200 years old and while that may not be an exact number, it is certainly very old. (www.aubergeayrescliff)

It has a huge patio at the side, full of expensive wicker seating and those outdoor heaters and little canvas-covered nooks, all on wooden decking. It also has seating on the veranda. We check in at the bar where some of the locals are having lively conversations. I’d like to join them, but we have to go up to see our room. Up is the operative word. We are the only guests, but we have booked two adjoining rooms, which are on the third floor. The second flight of stairs is made up of a large number of steps -each one 14 inches high.

The rooms are furnished with a double bed each, with good mattresses and dressers in a VIctorian style. And a  fan. There are no chairs. There certainly is no television set. No mention is made of this but apparently we were warned on the website. I give Georgia the room that has a more or less level floor, it being her birthday, and allot myself the one that slopes so dramatically that it takes all my tai chi balance to walk across it.

And yes, we want to have our bags brought up, a task that falls to the slim bartender/receptionist/ farmer’s daughter and a guy who gets up from dinner with his family to help her.

It is clear that we would not have got much sleep if we had come a few days before, on Labour Day weekend, but summer is over, the temperature has fallen, the tourists have left.

True to their hype, they have an excellent Angus beef fillet mignon. After dinner and the long slog back up the stairs, I get Georgia set up on the internet to watch Netflix: she is well into season 5 of Weeds and well fed with simple food, I fall fast asleep in my Alice in Wonderland room.

to be continued

Hush-a-bye: rain on a window pane

In my childhood home, it paid to have excellent hearing, not that it would necessarily stop a blow, but it would at least lessen the shock. And so, I cultivated mine. Now I’m stuck with it.

Prospective tenants do not see the drawbacks of the duplex I live in now. They see, as I did, the light flooding in through the floor-to-ceiling windows. They see the large main bedroom. They cannot see how insubstantial the floors are. They don’t stick around long enough to learn that every footfall above registers like an earthquake below.

So here I am with my vigilant hearing learning much more than I want to know about other tenants’, shall we say, intimate lives.

The 3 year-old next door has bedtime issues, by which I mean he is punishing his mother for bringing home a baby sister, by screaming at an octave only dogs and I can hear, between 10 p.m. and 11. The fellow downstairs goes to work at 5 a.m., a few hours after the tenant upstairs comes home from a night shift.

I have tried floral remedies, urgent pleas in pjs, music called Delta Sleep, which promised to change my brainwaves, ear plugs, running the air filter non-stop and pharmaceuticals. To little avail. But, wouldn’t you know, there’s an app for that.

The app in question cost peanuts at iTunes and is called “White Noise”. (Not “White Noise Ambience”) It gives a choice of 52 different sounds including white, blue, red, pink, grey, and purple noise, as well some rather mundane sounds such as a shower, floor fan, vacuum cleaner, dryer, projector and restaurant. It has nature sounds like ocean waves, a stream, a sandstorm, a waterfall, and my favourite, heavy rain.

I downloaded the app onto my iPhone and I set it going on my bedside table when I’m ready to go to sleep. So far, “heavy rain” seems to send me off to sleep. Rain on the window pane has always been one of my favourite sounds. I find it very soothing, especially since the app doesn’t come with the threat of flooding.

See what I mean? Hyper-vigilant.

Septuagenarians on the Road: part 2

Checking in is simple when the room has been paid for since January. Now to find it. We are not on the fourth floor where the rest of our family is. We are on the ground floor in a wing that runs out to the back. Okay, down the stairs, whoa! seems like a dead end, turn right, turn left, ah, a corridor with rooms on either side. But a pattern has been established: for the entire weekend we will feel as if we are caught in a giant maze. Figuring out how to get to the right parking lot so that we can bring our bags in through the patio door takes all three of us, scouts and outriders.

And what have we bought for $200 a night? Let’s see. No terry cloth robe as Georgia hoped. No minibar fridge. No queen-sized beds but, yes, there is a ‘cot’ standing on end like an escaped Murphy bed and when it is wheeled over to the window and let down to horizontal, it proves to be at least as comfortable as the beds, if not more. Georgia pulls down the covers on it and discovers she can see the mattress through the sheet. She and I stare in wonder. I pull down the covers on my bed. Same diff, as we used to say. Well, at least the mattress looks clean and works fine. The three of us collapse as one. What a pleasure to feel circulation in our feet.

There is a certain amount of uncertainty, of the sort I would experience if I were at a house party in one of the great English houses. Where to go, what to do? There is no library to hang out in on the chance of meeting others, but there is a lobby and the breakfast tables there. Feeling a little rested, I go back up the byzantine route and find my daughter has arrived, having flown across the continent. General rejoicing. But she is to have dinner with the groom and his father’s family. So back to the room. My son had called in to ask us to eat with him and his girl. Blake has said we aren’t hungry yet.

“I’m starving,” I object. So we go to Applebys next door where my son said they were going. Can’t see him. Have to wait for half an hour in the bar. Finally get our table. Once we have ordered, look over at the people across the aisle who are inexplicably waving. It is them.

Georgia has in fact brought her own terry robe and pjs although she hates them, out of deference and modesty. Blake’s nightwear are his black skivvies, the size of a speedo. Fortunately, his body looks as lean and muscular as it did at 18. He does not notice her eyebrows disappear into her hairline.

Blake has cautioned us so often about how often he gets up in the night that we give him the bed next to the bathroom. Blake sleeps like a log, never stirring all night long. So does Georgia. I do not. After one trip with my tiny flashlight, I lie listening to them. Blake has worked up a snore that sounds on the out breath as if he is being murdered, a desperate cry from a cut throat. I listen to ten such expostulations. Enough!

“Blake, turn over,” I command, sotto voce. He stops. He stirs. He opens his eyes.

“Why,” he asks.

In the morning, we find each other in the lobby and consider the continental breakfast. My son and his wife partake and then take off on their bicycles. The rest of us go into town for real food. And we tour the Emily Dickinson house (see “A Poem a Day Keeps Blues Away”) Then my daughter hands me her iPhone which she has programed to lead us to Shutesbury and her son’s home that afternoon.

But first, we three septuagenarians (one only in training mind you) need to have a time out. The room looks pretty much as it had when we left. One bed is tucked in. The other two not so much. There is another blanket as I requested and extra bath towels, but all of the hand towels have vanished. The ice bucket needs to be refilled if we are to keep the chardonney cool and the desk, dresser and night tables need a bit of a tidy. I set about that chore, devising a sort of kitchen spot around the coffee maker. Georgia choses to believe housekeeping staff had been overwhelmed.

After a delicious lunch of rice crackers and peanut butter, we are on the road again. By now we have established a pattern. I give Blake more warning when he has to turn and he inevitably misses it. On the way back from the town centre, we had a tour of the country after we turned the wrong way on 116, but I take no credit for that since I was silently sulking. That turns out to be a good thing because the wedding is going to be out there.

So I pull out my daughter’s iPhone. No problem, this time.

There are apparently three basic ways to get from the Russel St Ho Jo’s to Shutesbury, two of the involve going back to the centre of Amherst. We go that way. Then something happens. Instead of seeing the map and hearing directions, I see only a green blip moving along a street. As I stare in wonder, all unaware, we pass our turn. I try in vain to enter a new search. It is the same phone as mine. Why can’t I get it to work. The others seem unconcerned. The scenery is green and beautiful, woods, rolling hills, fields. Leverett Rd turns into Cooleyville Rd. The green blip that is us bops along. Then somehow we are on Prescott Rd. I phone the groom. No answer. Their house is in a dead zone cell-tower-wise. They line up their cell phones on one window ledge to try to get a signal. I try again. No answer. I phone the land line.

“You’re where? he asks disbelieving. And well he might. It was a 20 minute trip and we had been on the road 45 minutes. “When you come down a steep hill to a T intersection turn right.”

But there are dozens of steep hills.

I recall Dickinson’s poem, “Because I could not stop for death”:  “We passed the school where children strove/At recess in a ring/We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain/We passed the setting sun.”  It has been over an hour. In my desperation, I imagine realizing that “The Horses’ Heads” really are turned toward eternity. And then, magically, we are there.

Slouching out of the car, and more or less ignoring a warm welcome, we fall into mutual recrimination. Georgia assumes all future navigational duties none of which will, according to her, involve technology. I am happy to retire.

She gets us back to the hotel with hand written instructions. Rehearsal dinner is just up the road, although I would have headed in the wrong direction. The wedding site, we have already found.

The return trip just means reversing the route we took to get there, so I have no role. As we near Buffalo, I begin to worry. How to get through the city to the bridge? I say nothing. Blake has driven and sailed everywhere and anywhere and never got lost. (Maybe confused as Davy Crockett would say, but not for 3 days.) Blake has an intuitive sense of direction. Let him be. Then we are off the highway onto city streets. Arrrrgh! I think, but I stay silent. Blake drives without comment, and drives and then, there it is the high ramp up onto the Peace Bridge.

Just one more slight snag – we head off the Queen Elizabeth Way following a sign to the Keg, a steakhouse of note. Can it be this far from the highway? A ship moves slowly through the Welland Canal blocking our path. Blake drives on. Fifteen minutes later, the Keg appears, a Canadian idea of a highway restaurant.