On Father’s Day: For Those With Hearts Breaking

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We pound pavement in the fading light of day. I struggle to keep step with his manly gait, his earnest stride. This is the time of evening when my fatigue catches up with me. Softly, the wind blows unruly tendrils of hair across my cheeks, and I stop to wrap my jacket around my waist- I over dressed this evening in case a chill came without warning. But instead of shivers, balmy summer sun penetrates through to my skin, warming me. I watch the road intently for cars that might not be watching as carefully as I.
While we walk, I wrack my brain to come up with something of import to say.
“What will we do for Father’s Day this year?” I ask rather suddenly.
It is valid question for those finding themselves within the week of this significant holiday. A question that begs to be asked. But when your heart is still tender from breaking, and there have merely been two weeks passed since you said last goodbyes to your own Dad, this question can leave one feeling startled by fresh tears.
There will never be a Father’s Day the same again for us. Not ever. Quite honestly, the world is now forever changed. How do you do things when the one you formerly did them for/with/to is forever gone? Can a holiday still be commemorated even when the one for whom it was meant is no longer present?
We walk and talk. Shed some tears.
And I wonder and imagine while he walks quietly.
All the while, I still hold out hope. There is always hope.
Hope for another day. Another moment. Another slice of life.
And there is still room to celebrate even in the midst of sorrow. Still room for joy expressed over a life lived with grace and love and courage and faithfulness and tenderness and loyalty and gentleness, even when the remembering brings tears. There is still room to honour a father’s influence even in his physical absence. There is still room in which to cry and laugh.
There is still room in our hearts and there always will be.
There is not a day goes by that our hearts are not moved by his memory.
We sit down by the river for a spell. We are motionless, save for the occasional slapping of a mosquito here and there. Below my feet, there are schools of tiny fish curiously weaving their way around a wooded slat. They know naught of what the worlds above them experience with loss and pain and sorrow. Farther down the river, two ducks paddle off while a heron takes flight. The natural world around us has a rhythm all its own. Everywhere is peace and quiet.
I am reminded to be still. And so I am.
Later, as we make our ascent back to the road, I am further reminded that life too must resume. But our memories of what really matters are never far from our hearts. We return to these places and spaces often so as to remember. To recall and evoke the images in our minds of those we love.
We never forget.
This Sunday is Father’s Day. And while it will be different this year, there will still be a celebration- a commemoration of all that we have been given by way of legacy, heritage, history and connection. A calling to remembrance of and for our fathers. Our cherished memories are ours to keep and treasure for a lifetime.
Our loved ones might be physically gone: but they will never be forgotten.
May all those whose hearts are breaking this Father’s Day find comfort in the knowledge that their Dad is always present in their memory.

Our fathers will forever live on- in and through- our remembrances of them.

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What People Remember Most

We are standing together, even as the long line stretches out the door, snaking around one corner and then further back into the spacious funeral home chapel. Our feet ache from our high-heeled shoes, but we are both so intent on seeing each and every person that places their warm hand into ours so as to offer comfort that we hardly notice this minor inconvenience. These traditions are a beautiful way to honor a life, and we are both so touched by the heartfelt words we have just been privy to hearing. We are so moved by the many, many words: words of comfort, words of concern and words of joy at the ways in which lives have been touched by our own dear Loved One.

Words of hope.

He was a dear husband. A beloved father and grandfather. A brother, uncle, friend; Boss and co-worker, neighbor- among many other more diverse roles. But for today, he is just Loved. Our Loved One. Each person that comes through the processional line shares a different memory with the theme woven throughout each and every sentiment of the kindness he displayed as he lived out his life. Even the funny stories bring about a torrent of tears- we are bound together by our humanity, even in our baser moments. These words- they heal us. Words mean so much.

Harold Hazen Gard.

He was a humble man. A man of the land. A hard-working man. A family man. A man of faith in the God he served. Just an ordinary man. And yet, his story reveals a life lived out of a reserve of extraordinary love, patience, kindness and caring. This is no ordinary feat.

As I stand there absorbing the impact of all these heart-warming words, she leans toward my ear and whispers these additional profoundly moving words proffered about her father: “It doesn’t matter what you did for work, what line of employment you were in; it matters how you lived your life.”

It matters. It does indeed. And within our human connectedness, what matters the most is something so simple it can almost be overlooked. Something so ordinary in its application that its intense impact can be disregarded. It is simple, but not easy. Unpretentious, yet so difficult to maintain. That’s the thing about kindness: it seems basic. Yet its impact is astronomical. And the ways in which our interactions are affected by its absence are profound. In this life, amongst all our human relationships both intimate and otherwise, what matters beyond all else is that we are authentically kind to one another. Kind, in each and every encounter we undertake.

Because, Friend: here’s the thing.  Someday someone will recall back to the time you offered them a caring shoulder to lean on; will recall that you saw the best in them when no one else could find the strength. They will recall that instead of acting in anger, you acted in love; will recall that you were tender, were compassionate and merciful. They will remember you for your genuine concern about their welfare. They will remember you for your caring.

Someday, someone will recall back to your connection with them. And they will recall that you reached out to them in their time of need. They will remember that you offered them hope when they were desolate. That you extended them a warm welcome when they felt estranged. They will remember that you placed them first above their own needs. Because someday: someone will recall you. And they will either remember you for your kindness- your caring, your love, your understanding, your compassion, your mercy. Or they will not.

It’s as simple as that.

I have come to the startling realization at forty-one years of age- with two degrees and a third nearly gained; with a full-time job and many professional recommendations. With a beautiful house and acreage- and the toys and trinkets to boot. I have come to realize: none of this really matters. Because it doesn’t matter a hill of beans how high you have climbed the ladder in the corporate world- how much you have acquired. Nor does it matter how simple your expectations might be in this life. It doesn’t matter what successes your have seen to or what failures you have been prone to. At the end of your life, when you lie on your own deathbed and your loved ones are gathered round, what matters is how you have lived your life. That’s it. And if you have lived life compassionately- with caring and kindness, you have done life well.

Everyone can be kind. It’s something we all can choose to do as we live this life. We all have that available option at our disposal: the choice to show kindness. To be kind with every part of our being. Radiating love to the people we meet.

At the end of the day, it’s what people will remember most about us when we’re gone.

It’s our kindness and caring that people remember more than anything.

Our lasting hope, our consolation

My dear friend- buried Monday on a beautiful November afternoon. Snow softly falling as if to quell the pain. The hour prior, friends and family crowded into a small country church, four hundred strong to say last goodbyes. To sing and pay tribute to the woman they loved while honoring the God she adored. To bring humble offerings before the One who had held her through it all- knowing that same Dear One stood in God’s very presence even as we mourned. Her beloved family there, lining the rows. Clutching Kleenex in hand, heads bowed in sorrow even as they said final earthly goodbyes to a wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt and kindred spirit. Not a dry eye in the place.

What if your blessings come through rain drops What if Your healing comes through tears What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

This life- it is never time enough for those of us who love. We always crave for more. More time, more moments, more memories, more laughter, more hugs, more touch. More opportunity. And when time is up and eternity claims the ones we hold the closest, we wonder: where is the good in all of this? How can good come from so much sorrow?

When friends betray us When darkness seems to win We know that pain reminds this heart That this is not, This is not our home It’s not our home

And this life- it is so hard. So much to bear. I talk to another precious woman, listening as she shares her story of a broken marriage, a baby lost and the hope of any other future babies gone with a medical complication not of her own doing. I talk to others, even as I think back over this past week’s events and wonder: how can we carry on? A colleague killed crossing the road, another three-car pile-up, a mother left to carry the burden of her sister’s accident, a father and mother-in-law struggling with the ravages of Parkinson’s. A father taken, a mother. Disease and death surround us at every turn. And that is just my story- my precious friends with their own stories of sadness to share. It is all too much. One doesn’t have to look very far to see the misery that this life brings. Our own dear family- both immediate and extended- a testament to this truth. So much suffering. So much pain. And I have to wonder, how is all the misery of this life able to become a blessing?

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace Comfort for family, protection while we sleep We pray for healing, for prosperity We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

We pray for the realization of all that we believe would give us joy: an end to cancer, an end to disease. An end to brokenness of any sort. We pray for restoration in marriage, for lengthy lives lived until the grey hairs crown our heads in glory. We pray for an end to all suffering. We pray for inner peace, familial peace, relational peace, world peace. An end to poverty, famine, war and pestilence. We pray for an end to our misery and trouble. We pray.

We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near We doubt your goodness, we doubt your love As if every promise from Your word is not enough

And we wonder: where is God? Where is God in all of this? I come across a beautiful message in my Facebook feed from this same dear friend whom I am mourning the loss, a note written to me six years earlier. Who would have known that this message would come back into my present reality and speak to me- as if they were words given to me in my time of sorrow from God Himself. Words offering comfort and hope.She writes:

Hi Lori, I know things are going to work out for all of you, time is a healer and GOD is all powerful, nothing happens without a reason…the healing can start…. Time will bring everything back to where it should be!! …you are a wonderful person, God is not finished with any of us yet, and he is doing a wonderful work in you, it may be a very DIFFICULT time right now, but look how close you have come to God in all of it!! GOD is using you in many ways, some you are not even aware of, HOW EXCITING!!! Just let go and let GOD, he is carrying you and he will never let you go. I was thinking of that song today, it is my favorite and my prayer when I am down, “Draw me close to you, never let me go” I pray that you feel so close to GOD, I love you guys, and am still praying for you all!! Good night my friend! and GOD BLESS YOU.

And all the while, You hear each spoken need Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

What if the heartache of this life was the pathway to understanding? What if the insight we gained, the perspective we were offered- was the open door? What if the purpose of all this pain and sorrow in life was not for it all to end, but for us to endure so as to find the beauty within the pain? What if beauty could truly come through ashes? Joy through mourning? What if every-day, private miracles were just as necessary as public sensations? What if the little moments of victory were our true pursuit? And what if the moments whereby inner strength was gained were as valuable as those moments we derived the sustaining ability necessary to climb physical mountains?

What if life was less about the mountain-top and more about the climb?

And all the while, You hear each desperate plea And long that we’d have faith to believe

I take a walk the day after, last goodbyes already having been spoken; and the brilliant sunset brings me to tears. It is not that I see my precious friend or even Heaven in this earthly vision so much as I see hope. It makes me long for another time, another place. I think of Heaven and Wendy and others who are there. I think of Jesus and I long for home. Long for an end to the aching of this life. A brand new beginning.

What if my greatest disappointments or the aching of this life Is the revealing of a greater thirst this world can’t satisfy What if trials of this life The rain, the storms, the hardest nights Are your mercies in disguise

And this is our lasting hope, our consolation: eternity. Forever is such a very long time.

The Pursuit of a Joyful Life

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is hard to understand, to fully comprehend: how someone who brought so much joy to other peoples’ lives could himself be eluded by that same joy and wonder. And yet, here we are on a Tuesday night, grieving the loss of a beautiful life- grief those of us who loved his work feel in some form or fashion.

Another light has been extinguished. You are already greatly missed, Robin Williams.

I just came from a funeral home myself an hour ago- a loving father and husband lain to rest, his family sorrowing the loss. As I slip into the restroom to refresh, I overhear a conversation referring back to another deceased, sharing another room in the funeral parlor adjacent to the one I have come to bid adieu.

“I am so sorry for the loss of your father.”
“He would have been 93,” comes the reply. “He lived a good life, though.”
“Yes, but it is still hard,” says the first woman. “One is never ready to lose parent- it is never time.”

So too it is with the family I have come to give my deepest sympathies. It is never easy to say goodbye to those we love. Emotions strain to find the right words, the right sentiments at times like this. Saying goodbye is never easy.

It is never time.

And as thoughts drift again to the recent death of adored actor Robin Williams, comedian extraordinaire- I can’t help but wonder if his greatest legacy was that he lived as a father. His daughter Zelda leaves the following words written by Antoine De Saint-Exupery as a lasting tribute to her father’s legacy:

“You – you alone will have the stars as no one else has them…In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night…You – only you – will have stars that can laugh.”

I write often of care- specifically the care of Significant Others in our lives, and particularly as it concerns children and students. But without an understanding of the role that self-care plays as a first step in the process, we cannot truly understand the impact of care in our lives and in society. I often think of the airline rule to first affix one’s own gas mask before attempting to help one’s dependents. Is this not also true of everyday life at times? If we have not given our own bodies and souls attention and replenishing, are we really of much assistance and benefit to others? We must remember that we cannot run ourselves into the ground, depleting our own resources and ignoring our own needs and requirements to the extreme that we are of no earthly good to anyone else around us. Is it worth our while contributing to the world at large at the extreme expense of losing ourselves? These are tough questions to ask and perhaps the answers will differ depending on who is answering. One thing remains- without care given to ourselves, we eventually run down. We diminish. And the cycle of care cannot be continued without more care invested from either without or within.

Since the only dependable source is from within, that is where our greatest efforts must be concentrated.

Nel Noddings writes about caring for self in terms of meeting the physical, spiritual, occupational, recreational, emotional and intellectual needs of all human beings. If I had to pick one to focus on primarily (acknowledging, of course that the basic needs of the body must be met), it is my beleif that the spiritual needs are the most significant. For without an inner purpose and greater meaning to act as our guide, where are we headed? What direction do we choose? And what benefit is everything else going to be? We must decide what truly matters in this life; for me, I have found purpose, meaning and significance in the person of Jesus Christ.

2000 years ago, I believe that very Person willingly chose to lay down His life for me. And it wasn’t a suicide pact or mental illness that compelled Him to the cross. It was love. And because of that Love, I too am free to love. Free to care. Free to give my life in service to the Call. Free to give my love with generous abandon. Free to live- free to really live.

I am free.

And even though I know that death will one day call, I daily make it a priority to care enough for myself to ensure that when that time comes, I am ready to die. No stone unturned. Living my life as if today might even be my very last (we never can know). Living each moment, each day with joy, passion, wonder and care. Living with a healthy appreciation for the fact that Death is part of life. Even as I focus on living my life to the fullest.

Even as I live this brief expanse of time that we call life with a wild and beautiful pursuit- the pursuit of a joyful life.

My Five Wishes for the Upcoming School Year

It’s August. And as it happens to be my holidays, I am knee-deep in summer lovin’. I have paint spatters on my legs from the fresh coat I applied to the veranda this afternoon, a good book waiting for me on the couch and the idea in my head of a glass of iced coffee just waiting for me to drink it. Thoughts of school, teaching and work might be a million miles away from my immediate consciousness.

But are they?

As a teacher, this time of the year is one where my mind drifts to ‘what ifs’ and ‘how abouts’. To possibilities. Summer is the time of year when teachers are finally afforded the TIME in which to breathe, take stock and think about what is yet to come. So while I am not ready to cash in on summer yet, here are a five wishes I have for the upcoming school year, set to start in a few short weeks.

1. I wish for this upcoming school year that we as teachers act on the principle that education be not only about the mind. It be about the person. That is, the whole person. I love what Nel Noddings has to say on the topic:

“…school, like the family, is a multipurpose institution. It cannot concentrate only on academic goals any more than a family can restrict its responsibilities to, say, feeding and housing its children. The single-purpose view is not only morally mistaken, it is practically and technically wrong as well, because schools cannot accomplish their academic goals without attending to the fundamental needs of students for continuity and care” (Noddings, 2005, p. 63).

What Noddings is saying here is that school must function in continuity for the purpose of caring for students as whole persons, not just merely as empty minds which require regular and constant filling up of knowledge. Students have minds, yes- but they also have souls and bodies which both require care and attention in the course of the day, along with caring for the student’s mind for academic, physical, emotional and relational pursuits. My wish is for educators to remember that there is more to student learning than simply pumping the mind with facts and information. The possibilities for growth and development are endless.

2. There is a lot of wasted time in school. Time wasted before school while waiting for all the buses to arrive, time wasted in line-ups, in wait time, in coming and going places. Another wasted time of day is lunch time. Sure, it gets used for eating and sustenance- but wouldn’t it be great if lunch time was an opportunity for growing community, in the very same ways that those families who see it as a priority use it to grow family attachments? What I am talking about, and this is another one of Noddings’ beliefs as well- is the importance of mealtime. Breaking bread in the very real sense of the word. Mealtime is a time to talk and listen, a time to discuss and reflect. A time for sharing and caring. A time when what is said is not evaluated and assessed- but taken at face value and respected. If students were given this opportunity, to sit face-to-face, as might a family eating a meal together, how might that benefit in a positive way the dynamics of social interactions amongst students? We’ll never know until we give it a try.

3. There is very little choice for students in school- very little choice for teachers either. We have all been given the required curriculum and asked to adopt it as our own. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if students and teachers were able to work together to come up with themes and pursuits that might reflect curriculum ideals, using them as springboards for further areas of study and exploration. Using curriculum jazzed up with a healthy dose of imagination, critical thinking and creativity to make these extra-curricular projects work within the existing structure? I think the sky is certainly the limit for those who give it a chance. Who knows what new interests might be sparked for learning amongst students who are currently disenfranchised, disengaged and disempowered. The time is now for outside the box thinking and teaching..

4. My wish for teachers and students is that we remember that each person we see sitting in front of us each day, standing beside us at our desks, walking along in front of us or behind us in the hallways- each person going and coming in the hustle and bustle: each person is a person. A person with feelings, thoughts, emotions, complicated baggage, issues, story, problems, joys, sorrows, hurts and pains. They are a person with more than meets the eye. And I wish for all those who find themselves in the educational milieu, that is MY HOPE would be, that we never lose sight of the humanity of the people in our schools: the humanity of the students, the staff, the parents, the volunteers, the administration and any visitors that might find themselves walking through the hallways. May we always be known as a People that care. And may that define each and every one of us this year.

5. And as a final note- may we have fun! Is it too much to ask that we find time to play? Time to laugh? Time to breathe, and wonder, and imagine, and daydream? Time to doodle, and draw and sculpt and create. Time to rest and time to work. And may we never forget that learning is a life-time pursuit. We don’t want to burn out the creative fires until the very last embers of life have been snuffed out, when we find ourselves breathing our last. May we always be found learning each and every day of our life- and may it be a joyous, delightful, exciting, inspiring and worthwhile venture.

These five are among my wishes for you all- for we are all learners. And for those of us who call ourselves teachers, staff and students, as we set off in another few short weeks for another voyage, another adventure of learning, wonder and discovery: let’s not forget to take care of each other in the process.

Carry on, comrades!

{You can read this again on the Huffington Post by clicking on this link: http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/lori-gard/back-to-school-2014_b_5656507.html?utm_hp_ref=canada-living }

 

Offering gratitude

I remember the Christmas I was about seven or eight years old. I wanted a Cabbage Patch doll. It was all I really wanted that year, to be honest. I had made that much clear to anyone who was listening (Mom, Dad, Santa….God?). I think I dreamed about her, my doll: those chubby cheeks, that rag-doll yarn hair. Those two lumpy pig-tails tied with ribbons, along with the signature on her rounded derriere that guaranteed she was truly made by ‘the’ Xavier Roberts. To have a Cabbage Patch doll would have been to have a dream come true. An answer to prayer, even. (I am not sure if I prayed for her, my non-existent dollie- but to think that I might have makes total sense.)

So imagine my surprise when I opened my Christmas gift that year to find a beautiful china doll with porcelain skin staring back at me instead of a dimpled plastic one. This replacement other- this actual doll was a fine toy complete with dark, wavy hair, finely stitched Victorian dress and a velvety blue bonnet that just never would stay put on that her head. She was lovely, but she wasn’t a Cabbage Patch Kid.

I don’t remember feeling very thankful.

What I do remember was receiving that doll and the disappointment I felt. She was beautiful, elegant and far more of a classic in comparison to the trendy Cabbage Patch doll I craved. But she wasn’t what I asked for. I felt quietly disappointed about the whole thing.

Years later, I find myself still asking. Only this time, my requests aren’t as trivial and innocent.

“Please God, protect them…” “Please God, allow rest…” Please God bring healing…” “Please God, more time…” “Please God….please.” Sometimes the litany of request feels like a shopping list of needs that I rhyme off- with hopes that I will get everything on my list. But what if what I am asking for is no longer in stock? What if it is not available at this time? What if what I am asking for is something not the very best for me- nor the very best for those for whom I am requesting that certain something? What is best, anyway? Do I even know?

What if prayer was less a list of ‘please give…’ and more of an “I thank you…”? What would prayer be like then? Would it change?

Our lives are full of blessings. Some of those blessings come through rays of sunshine and hope. Some of the blessings come through tears and storm clouds. But through the joyous moments and through the difficult times, there are slices of time when light shines through and we see the absolute beauty in life. Yes, our lives are precious in all their complexity- even in the midst of absolute darkness and sorrow, beams of light will radiate.

These little moments for me can be seen as answers to prayer. True, these little blessings are not always the big ticket items on my proverbial prayer shopping list- sometimes they are just those little somethings I noticed out of the corner of my eye. The little things. Things like…

• A friend stopping by to say they are thinking of me
• A phone call just when I needed it
• A message, email or note
• A smile timed just right
• A hug
• A drive to Tim’s
• A rainbow
• My flowers blooming
• A found kitten

The little things in life are sometimes what bring the greatest joy in my darkest hour. They are what get me through.

I have been asking God for some pretty big-ticket items lately. I have a feeling a few of us might be in this same boat. But I wonder if we have sometimes forgotten how to pray gratitude into our prayers. To thank instead of ask. To offer gratitude.

To thank God for the gift of time- what a precious commodity that is. To thank God for the gift of memories- we have such precious recollections of the ones we love- even as we make new memories each and every day. To be grateful for each moment we’ve been given. Even for today. To just relish the very minutes we have right now and breathe a prayer of thanks for this priceless gift.

We are so blessed.

Our lives may seem complex, complicated, rushed, maddening, stressful, anxious and short. But viewed through a different lens, they can also be seen as beautiful, intricate, intense and precious. Our lives are a masterpiece- and this life is only the beginning.

For every breath we’ve been given, our grateful hearts say “thanks”.

Blessings come through tears

We have a new baby kitten, so precious and sweet. The girls are enamored yet feel completely responsible for this little bundle of love. The other day, M.A. said to Husband with a sigh, “I am soooo tired of looking after this kitten” to which Hubs responded it was not her responsibility to do so: it was the mother cat who had that job.

Nevertheless, she feels it is.

Last summer, we had five little kittens born and raised on our property. One summer evening, the mother introduced them to us, calling them out from a Spirea shrub one-by one. They danced around our feet in the twilight much to the delighted squeals and giggles of our girls. We were taken by these little beings- they quickly wrapped themselves around our hearts.

One busy Sunday morning we were heading for church in a rush when Brian backed the van up quickly. One of the little kittens was situated under the tire, as they all found the warmth of our vehicle comforting. With a sickening feeling, Brian knowing he had backed over it, got out of the van without the children knowing and found the kitten. Still without telling them as he knew it would completely upset them at that moment, he moved the little lifeless body and carried on, feeling sick about the unfortunate event.

Even the life of a kitten has meaning and significance.

This summer, I have been watching this new mama cat as she cares for her single kitten and I have been struck with the fact that although she can do much as a mother, she cannot prepare her baby for the inevitable: its death. It is contrary to our normal inclination to think of death upon the emergence of new life, but the inevitability that life is followed always by death is something we cannot avoid. We as humans have the ability to be aware of our existence, something cats, in all their amazing capability cannot be.

Sadly, we as humans are not always aware that we are born to one day die.   Yet thankfully, we are reminded throughout life that it is the living that is sandwiched in between the entry and exit that makes all the difference.

I have been thinking of how we as parents- how we as the adults can prepare children for death. We know not how long any life has been given, know not the number of our days nor any one elses, for that matter. How do we live life while facing death? How do we prepare for this fact? Even with my own assurance of heaven, there is still the very real aspect of separation in death that we as humans must face. Death causes separation, even if but for a time. No one truly wants to leave behind those they love and adore.

In my extended family, we have had several premature deaths- two to infants and one to a teenager on her graduation night. In all three cases, it has been hard to make sense of the fact that these were not elderly people facing death after a long, fulfilling life. These were babies, these were children. How does one make sense of this? How is it that a child is as susceptible to their mortality as one who lives to be one hundred? But it is the very nature of our humanness to be so fragile- we are but a vapour, a breath- transfixed between the present and eternity with only our next lungful of air as a separating veil.

Is this life we live, as fleeting as it might appear to be, a blessing?

I talked to a dear friend recently about that word ‘blessing’- a beautiful word to describe life when things are going well, but a puzzling one when things are not. Is life a blessing? All life?

The night my aunt was taken, she who was then eighteen years of age and a brand-new high school graduate- that night, two officers came to my grandparents door in the wee hours of the morning. Came there to deliver the inevitable news- news no paret ever wishes to receive.   That an accident had occurred and their beloved baby girl had been the casualty.  Words could not express the emotions that would overcome a parent hearing such a fateful interruption during what would have been prior a peaceful night’s sleep. What images would run through the mind? What visions? Our sole desire as parents is to keep our children safe- and when we cannot, have not been able to keep this sacred oath, what must that do to a parental psyche? Where would one go to find solace?

My grandfather’s devout faith and trust in a loving God- in a God who blesses us even with showers that fall fast and furious at times, pelting us with their intensity. My grandfather said this: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” In the scriptures, Lord connotates a title of respect for one deemed in a position of honor, much the same as the word Rabbi is used to refer to a teacher. For my grandfather, he did not hesitate to acknowledge that the One he trusted most- the One who had proved faithful to him time and time again, would still prove faithful even in this storm.  And he used the word “blessed” to ascribe meaning- even to the taking of that dear one whom he held most precious.

How could this be?
Was this tremendous loss a blessing? For our family, we suffered the passing of a beloved daughter, sister, friend. Down through the years, we grandchildren have been told stories that honor my Aunt MaryAnne’s life. We have seen her legacy- and my own daughter is her namesake.  While death will never be celebrated as a blessing, for death is not lauded in the same way that we cherish life, the blessing was the life. She has never been forgotten, her life not rendered as history. Because through story, her memory lives on. Her life, however brief it may have been- was a blessing to those whom she met. There was not a soul who crossed her path that didn’t love her- she was that kind of girl. Years later, I still find people who talk of her genuine sweetness and purity of spirit. She was gentle and loving- and the world is a richer place because her life was in it.

We often say that we have been blessed with good health, good fortune, good genes, good luck. When the weather is nice we count it a blessing. But I would counter that life, no matter how short, how seemingly insignificant- is precious. Our lives are precious. And it is a blessing to live, to have lived. It is a blessing to have been given the chance to breath in air, to feel sun rays’ gentle warmth on our upturned faces, to know what it is to have felt the rain. My grandmother of 92 sits day after day inside a manor in Fredericton and while it can seem to be a curse to live that long and no longer have the wherewithal to get up and move, the people in her life are a blessing to her. It is a blessing for her to be cared for by people who genuinely love her.

And while I even think of the people in this world who have not been blessed with love and care, I feel the challenge is left up to those of us who know this blessing well to then extend it outwards. So that everyone the world over can feel the touch of love, especially those who need it most. Acclaimed writer and critical theorist bell hooks said this about the blessing of love: “Imagine how different our lives would be if all the individuals who claim to be Christians, or who claim to be religious, were setting an example for everyone by being loving” (hooks, 2000, p. 74). Were this to be true, how much more would we then understand the meaning of that little word blessing?

The challenge is left to us.

Our lives are not for naught. They are precious, meaningful, purposed for a greater plan. And it is a blessing to live, to have lived. A blessing to love, to have loved. And a blessing to have the opportunity to share this eternal love we know so well with the others in our lives.