Posted tagged ‘truth’

What Miracle?

December 20, 2016
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Future Santa in his sleigh?

Here we go, lying to our children. Again. About a jolly, ageless man in a red suit, miraculously popping down a billion chimneys or magically passing through walls to deliver gifts to all the youngsters of the world in a single night. Then, we’re drawn along as though by some magnetic power and forced to buy! buy! buy!

Things.

Why?

To step back from the frenzy is a) to see how ridiculous it is, or, more hopefully, b) to search for the deeper meaning in this, the last month of the year…in children’s Christmas concerts at school, in the music we only listen to in December, or in the opportunities at every turn, church, grocery store, street corner, to give to those less fortunate.

I was in a shop downtown with my six-year-old buying a present for a family member. Suddenly my son looked up at me and said, “Santa isn’t real. Magic reindeer? How does that work?”

I should have patted him on the back and sighed with relief. I should have told him the truth. After all, when the tooth fairy forgot to come the other night, and there were no questions about “real” versus “fairy” I had to wonder, are my children naive? Stupid? Gullible?

One of the books I bought for my daughter this season was A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. I couldn’t resist taking a peek. In one scene, Smith’s main character has just delivered her first baby at age 18. She solicits her mother’s advice about how to give her daughter a better life than she has had. Her mother says:

“And you must tell the child the legends I told you—as my mother told them to me and her mother to her. You must tell the fairy tales of the old country. You must tell of those not of the earth who live forever in the hearts of people—fairies, elves, dwarves and such…. and you must not forget the Kris Kringle. The child must believe in him until she reaches the age of six.”

“Mother, I know there are no ghosts or fairies. I would be teaching the child foolish lies.”

Mary [her mother] spoke sharply. “You do not know whether there are not ghosts on earth or angels in heaven.”

“I know there is no Santa Claus.”

“Yet you must teach the child that these things are so.”

“Why? When I, myself, do not believe?”

“Because,” explained Mary Rommely, simply, “the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that she believe. She must start out by believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination. I, myself, even in this day and at my age, have great need of recalling the miraculous lives of the Saints and the great miracles that have come to pass on earth. Only by having these things in my mind can I live beyond what I have to live for.”

Instead of responding to my son’s queries in that downtown shop, I allowed him the candy cane the clerk offered. I remembered the images I had as a child of a jolly Santa hurrying through the air behind his team of reindeer.

I can still hear those bells.

The bigger web of humanity (or something that has nothing to do with anything)

August 30, 2012

I took the summer off blogging for a couple reasons: first, hey it’s summer, and second, I’ve been feeling resentful of this whole social media society that says you must have a certain web presence, and if, for example, you don’t have a facebook page, then you have something to hide. Do we really live in a world that is so superficial, we call having a social media account “real”? I suppose. It is the age of “reality tv” after all. But then, our world has  always contained both superficiality, and truth. Remember Anne Shirley, LM Montgomery’s most beloved creation? Remember when Anne poured her heart out in a story which her well-meaning friend Diana submitted to the Rollings Reliable Baking Powder Company behind Anne’s back? I still remember Anne’s reaction, all drama and tears, over the humiliation of having her story commercialized. I loved Anne’s characteristic stubbornness that stuck up for the authentic artist inside of her. We can choose, at any given point, to take part in what’s superficial (and we sometimes have to, I admit; for work, for survival) but we can also choose to spend more of our time in the realm of real, heartfelt living.

For me, as it was for Anne, what’s real is often in my fiction. Meet Dan. He’s one of the characters I’ve been writing about. I call him my video store dad because he works at a video store and he was a teenager when he became a father.

In my story I completely humiliate this character, at the same time as I make him a victim of love for his daughter. The story opens with Dan standing in the middle of the mall, patiently waiting for his ex to show up with their daughter. He’s wearing a homemade superhero outfit.

The story, in it’s first drafts, ended sadly. Dan gets more and more humiliated, from the giggles of teenaged girls who point at him and wonder if he’s being paid to wear that hideous costume, to his four-year-old daughter forgetting all about him when she has the chance to visit the same accessories store as the teenaged girls.

I was struggling with this ending, because I really like Dan. He’s not smart, or ambitious,  but he’s courageous enough to give himself over to this love he never in a million years could have imagined for himself. My original ending for this story painted him as nothing but a looser. But I know it could be different.

After getting some feedback on this story, I was looking up the word vulnerability. That’s what Dan is, he’s vulnerable enough to feel this love that makes him do something as silly as put on a unitard and stand in the middle of the mall, to humiliate himself in hopes of impressing the object of his devotion. I came across a TED talk about this very thing, vulnerability (see Brené Brown on TED).

Listening to the TED talk reinforced, in a coincidental sort of a way, the hunch I had about my character. I think that Dan truly is a superhero, and that I need to re-write my ending, if not some of the story. I feel confident that it will work, because in attempting to impress a child, you have to step down to a child’s level of understanding. Dan is trying to appeal to something in his daughter she just might get. In the adult world, adult to adult, this would only be humiliating, and Dan would remain as he was in my first drafts — a loser.

I’ve been thinking about my own loser versus heroic moments throughout our relocations. This summer was yet another challenge, to go back to the place I call “home” (which is, ironically, not a place I ever have, or ever will, live full time, it just happens to be where our families live), and return to a place I was less than excited about coming back to. But it’s made me draw on my heroic self, while acknowledging my loser self.

There was this song we used to sing at summer camp (Oh Beausoleil, to the tune of Oh Danny Boy), and it always made my bawl my eyes out. When I think back to my summer camp experiences, I remember crying a lot. I’d cry because I was homesick, then I’d cry when it was time to leave camp and go back to my family. I wish, now, that I’d had the advice, then, that someone gave me before my wedding: to not start crying, because once you start, you’ll be a wreck the whole day. My camp memories are full of tears; my wedding day, only joy. I’ve been thinking about this, about how it applies to life and to great writing, which is so much more than just blurted emotions on the page. There’s a lot of restraint involved in great writing, and in living well. A lot of managing, but first acknowledging, the loser inside, to get to the hero.

One of the highlights of my time back in Ontario this summer was taking my five-year-old son into Toronto for a day, just the two of us. We rode the subway and the GO Train. I took him to Port Credit, and stood outside the apartment building my husband and I lived in when we had our daughter. I was hit with a huge wave of nostalgia for a time of life that seems eternities away from where I am now. I must admit, I started to give in to my loser self, feeling the sting of tears (man, I’m a sop!), but then I got an idea. And suddenly I was making notes about a story, the first draft of which I completed this summer, called Periphery, which in part is about childhood nostalgia.

My husband and I had our heroic-versus-loser selves challenged when we returned to St. John’s from Ontario. Our two eldest children stayed in our home province for two more weeks to spend time with both sets of grandparents, and we travelled back with the baby, now 21 months old. We arrived in St. John’s at 1:30 AM after a horrible flight where we were “those people” with the child who screamed the entire time.

Amidst the baby’s cries, my husband and I casually discussed the fact that neither of us could remember where we might have packed our house key. In the whole kerfuffle to get the five of us off to the airport that Saturday in July, I could not remember having put the key anywhere in our belongings.

Here’s how not together I can be: I’d made a couple copies of our house key the week before we left. Two were sitting on a shelf in the kitchen. One, I gave to our very generous neighbour, who had agreed to drive us to the airport in our van. The same neighbour who was going to be away when we were (ie, not home when we got back to St. John’s). So I gave him the extra key I’d gone to the effort to have made, and when he said goodbye to us at the airport, I handed him my van keys (house key still safely attached), and asked him to leave the van keys in our house when he locked the door behind him with the extra key, so that even if he wasn’t home when we returned, we’d be able to drive the vehicle when we got back into town.

At 2 AM after gathering our luggage and catching a cab back to our house, the baby was surprisingly calm. I wrapped him in my jacket and sat him in a deck chair while my husband and I circled the house trying to think of the best plan of attack to get inside. The basement door has never locked properly, and my husband had wedged a board behind it. Knowing it was held closed by the board, but that the lock was broken anyways, we decided that bashing it in was our best option.

An hour went by as we pushed and kicked at the door, and we each commented on how composed we felt. This time last year, I said, I would have been breaking down, sobbing, freaking out. Now look at me! Look at us! We can laugh about this, right?

From his perch on the back deck, the baby exercised his new vocabulary: Door. Lock. Key? Crash!

Finally, with both of us chanting in whispers, One, Two, Three, and kicking the door in unison, we were in. Broken door frame and all.

At least we know it was secure.

The really embarrassing part of this story is that there’s a part two. A couple days ago we took our children out for a walk to a park, dutifully locking all the doors behind us. When we returned from our walk with the kids, the front screen door, which is of course placed outside the door we have a key for, was locked.

This time, our five-year-old son got to be a hero. We lifted him up to climb through an open window, then he ran through the house, unlocking the doors for us.

If there’s a moral here, I’m not sure what it is. But yesterday, as we headed out for a walk, I checked to see that at least one door was unlocked. Loser or heroic moment? I don’t know. But I’m attempting to celebrate all my moments, as both.