Thursday, September 28, 2006

ankles and serpents

Watering lawns can be hazardous to your health - just ask my husband. He fell off our budding new grass this week and broke his ankle. Strange as that may seem, it is true. Other contributing factors were darkness, uneven terrain, a 3-foot embankment of soggy clay, and khaki pants (they attract incidents involving dirt and mud).

Being the strong and easy-going guy that he is, he joked through most of the afternoon that we spent at the clinic and emergency room, spoke encouragingly to the resident that attended him, and gave the nurse a teasing hard time when she demanded he use a wheelchair. I cannot complain about his positive attitude towards this mishap and his calmness in the midst of it all. Nevertheless, after a long day at the hospital followed by a long evening when I tried to catch up with all my work and homework while tending to his few needs…I found myself in a complaining and whining state of mind. I felt bad that instead of supporting and caring for and nurturing the wounded one, I was irritable and terse and negative, even though I was not the one in pain! How selfish of me! Other contributing factors were lack of sleep and adequate food, plus the draining experience of being an empathetic person surrounded by people in pain for 5 hours. I was overwhelmed by all the stuff that had been thrust on me and found myself wanting to be cared for instead of doing the caring. I went to bed knowing that my outlook and ability to cope would probably be better after some sleep.

I was still quite tired and un-cheery this morning, so as I drove to school in the autumn sunshine, I offered the day and my attitude to God. BAM! In a flash I saw the ugliness of my heart once again: I resented having to change my little world in order to serve someone else. Agh! I thought I had already repented of this ugly controlling desire, but alas, it is the sin that trips us all up, the original biggie, the one that dealt the deathblow to mankind, the one even an angel could not resist falling into, the one I will battle all my life as it seeks to reassert its ugly serpentine head over and over again. This morning I said, “NO!” to it once again and though the fatigue did not subside, the miserable attitude did and I gained a more rational perspective on things once again.

I was discussing something on a forum with a Muslim this week and I asked him the question, “What makes one a Muslim?” He responded that at its very core, the term refers to one who submits to God. I asked if this also applied to Christians and he said that in general, Muslims believe that Christians today are perverse and have strayed from the original teachings of Jesus, at least according to an Islamic perspective. I was strangely convicted by this, for I do not know if someone who encounters me would readily say, “Ah, yes, this is a person who submits to God.” Submission is not my middle name; no, rugged independence seems more apt for a pioneer, an artist, a free spirit, a creative thinker and mystic. But love is one that submits itself for the sake of another; it can be assertive, but never for its own good. It is not demanding or pouty or slighted or irritable or whining. It does not take or demand attention for itself.

Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always “me first,“ doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end. Love never dies. (From 1 Corinthians 13, The Message)

So for the sake of love...I submit.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

the lawn...part 2

The lawn on our property was finally planted on Monday - five days later than planned due to non-favourable weather conditions, but there was nothing we could do about that and I assured my landscaper that I wasn't worried about a slight delay. Monday turned out to be a perfect day for the job and we finished ahead of schedule. After 6.5 hours of labour, I let out a big sigh of relief as I surveyed the perfect black soil evenly spread and compacted to safely house its precious seeds. It rained the next day and that made my lawn and me very happy. Yesterday, however, the predicted rain never really materialised and I knew watering would have to commence. This was easier said than done.

I live in a town with very strict regulations regarding lawn care and the like. No pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals are allowed and water usage is kept down to a minimum. Last week I purchased the necessary permit from the town hall to water new vegetation and was somewhat shocked to find that I was only allowed to water my lawn from 9 pm to midnight for the 15 consecutive days the permit covered. My lawn-to-be is over 6500 square feet and I complained to the man who issued the permit that I doubted whether I could adequately water my yard in the allotted 3-hour time slot. He shrugged and suggested using 2 hoses. Obviously, he felt it was my problem and not his.

The problem with the 9 to 12 timeframe is that at least 2 to 3 times a week I have meetings to attend in the evenings and do not get home till 11 pm. Of greater consequence, I discovered last night, is the fact that it is DARK at that time! My husband and I returned from a meeting downtown last night around 11 pm. We immediately dragged out the hoses and set them up, one in the front yard and one in the back. After realising the settings on the sprinklers were wrong (it is really hard to read anything in the dim light of a single bulb on the deck 20 feet away), and the water pressure not adequate to run both at full spray, we adjusted and fiddled and finally got somewhat of a system going to move the sprinklers at 15 minute intervals and cover most of the pregnant earth with at least some measure of moisture. We also managed to muddy 2 pairs of pants and 4 shoes, implant deep footprints in the previously unmarred soil, get the neighbours’ house and half of the deck wet, and utter an unsanctified word or two.

I have a whole new appreciation for rain. Water and sun and heat in the right proportions will make my lawn grow. Rain means that my day will not have to include 3 hours of muddy, cold, and fumbling-in-the-dark watering that interrupts the evening’s activity every 15 minutes, and as I see the ever-increasing marks of hoses and feet criss-crossing the previously smooth ground, it also makes me wonder if I am doing more damage than good. Since God’s method of watering is far superior to man’s in evenness, coverage, no time limit, and efficiency without wear and tear on the ground, I pray for rain daily. I got ecstatic this morning when I heard that the weekend is looking less than sunny and clear.

I admit that the sigh of relief at seeing the seed in the ground on Monday afternoon was premature. The birth of anything new is exciting and it always feel like a major milestone has been reached, but we all too easily forget that the bulk of the work in bringing it to maturity is ahead and will include late nights, a lot of effort, a good amount of mess, and times of frustration when we reach our limits and seem to be making very little progress.

In the end, the growth is up to God. One plants, one waters, one nurtures, but God brings the multiplication.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

fascination

Yesterday, a young gunman entered a downtown college here in Montreal and opened fire, killing one person and injuring 19 others. Montreal police were on-site immediately and thanks to their courageous and timely intervention, the 25-year-old killer was neutralised in relatively short fashion (he died in a confrontation with the police).

I am hesitant to even write anything on the topic because I have been so inundated with non-stop talk and news about this shooting in the past 24 hours that part of me cringes every time the gruesome details are replayed or more updates and theories and personal anecdotes are presented. It is not that I am squeamish, though I do think of myself as a fairly compassionate person, but through all the attention this event is getting, the focus seems somewhat off-kilter and unhealthy in some way.

This morning during a break in my French class, I was wandering the halls of the Adult Learning Centre I attend (all students are 16 and older) and happened to pass through a group of teenage guys grouped together by some lockers who were obviously talking about yesterday’s tragedy. One of the guys said, “Man, I wish I had been there. Not that I got hurt or anything, but I got to see it.” Ah, yes. There it was again.

We as human beings are fascinated by aberrations, be it some sick evil deed, or a malformed person, or destruction and death by bizarre means (as the Darwin Awards popularise), or hideous diseases and accidents, or dangerous and psychotic behaviour, or serial killers, or genius criminal minds, or the unfortunate kid with a limp in ones class. Normalcy is boring to most of us, and good has little power to intrigue us. Any movie or television show depends on captivating drama, usually portrayed as a conflict between some form of good and evil, its flawed characters in tension, and most times engaged in some violence or extreme behaviour. This is what people will come to see. This is what we are drawn to.

In discussions around me today, the theories were abundant about the role that violent video games and heavy metal music played in this alleged young murderer’s demise. Personally, though I acknowledge that these are not always the best use of one’s time, I don’t believe that in themselves they carry any inherent power to corrupt a mind or soul. Playing violent video games will not make you an assassin any more than listening to the Bible all day will make you godly. We do have control over our thought patterns and our actions, though how often we exercise it wisely is another matter altogether.

However, the things that we are fascinated by, those are the things that we will begin to become like, and I fear in this day and age, very few are fascinated by the concept of goodness. I suppose it is a lack of seeing truth and love and justice and mercy and honour portrayed in their full glory that makes us see most good characters as rather one-dimensional. Is God (the definition of good) one-dimensional, boring, predictable, or even safe? Hardly. When I was involved in theatre, it was commonly accepted that an evil character was more interesting to portray than a good one, and I can attest to the truth of that from experience, but I don’t think the lack is in the concept of goodness itself; I believe the lack is in our understanding of it and thereby, our ability to adequately portray it. Evil has a flashy stage show, so we turn aside to watch, but it has no core, no real depth to it and it always ends in self-destruction. Truth may seem simple at a first glance, but its multi-faceted beauty must be explored and pursued to be truly known; it does not need to titillate or entice – it just is.

And so I grow tired of listening to the account of yet another angle of the rampage, for it does not fascinate me. I do not visit the troubled man’s blog to find out all about his deranged mind. Instead, the story (at least for me) is about the police officers who confronted the gunman without hesitation and risked their own lives to cut his deadly plan short. The story is about one student who, with a trembling voice, urged all his fellow classmates to be brave and go back to school and not give in to fear because going on with life and pursuing their education was the right thing to do. He was determined that the actions of one man who wanted to instil fear and disrupt society would not have him as a victim by taking his freedom and peace of mind.

Notoriety and infamy are over-rated and I mean to undermine them. I fondly remember August 31 not as the day Princess Diana was killed, but as the anniversary of the day I was married to a wonderful man. You cannot take that date away from me nor change its meaning. September 11 will always be the day I was overwhelmed by the love of God in a powerful way on the train on my way to work – not the day some terrorists had their way. September 13 will always be the date Eden was born, a bit of a miracle child for two good friends, not the day a crazy man walked into Dawson College with a gun.

These good and precious things are what truly fascinate me and will be what ruminate in my mind and soul today and over time. As my young student hero said…it is the right thing to do.

"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.” - Martin Luther King Jr.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

the LAWN

On September 13, I will be getting a lawn. We have lived for almost a year in a modest but beautiful home surrounded by crushed rock, weeds, sand and dirt. I spent a lot of my summer putting in flower beds and painting the deck and improving the yard as best I could, but in the end, weeds and rocks are still rocks and weeds and even the prettiest flowers look a bit sad against a backdrop of prickly, spindly thistles, misplaced rocks, and rain-pocked sand.

I started getting quotes for installing a lawn early in the spring. The first two quotes I received were enough to send threatening quivers of impending extinction through my bank account and I quickly moved on to other, less expensive projects (flowers starting at $4.99), but as August drew to a close, I knew we had to tackle the issue again, for I was determined to have a lawn before the frost of a Canadian autumn hit the ground. So I asked God to provide me with a nice lawn at a reasonable price and to point me in the direction of the right landscapers who were knowledgeable and honest and could help me accomplish this end. And then I started making phone calls.

I hate calling strangers – just shy, I guess, especially when so many of the people I contacted did not speak English very well and I am still struggling to speak basic French, not to mention having to wrestle with landscaping vocabulary which we don’t seem to spend a lot of time on in my French class. Nevertheless, I am tenacious and I called company after company and requested a quote for a lawn. Some never called me back. Some promised to make a trip out to my house but never did. Some came to my house while I was away and called me from my front yard with a quote. Some made an appointment and never showed up. One man got frustrated with my poor French and just hung up on me. Sorry, sir. I finally got the quotes down to what I thought was reasonable (more than a thousand dollars less than the original price I received in Spring) and showed the two choices to my husband. I was comfortable with both companies, though I slightly favoured the tall, dark, English-speaking gentleman with 'Bachelor of Agriculture' printed on his business card.

After twenty years of marriage, I should have known better than to expect easy acquiescence from my husband. He negotiates deals for a living and juggles tight budgets all day long. Basically, everything is always too much money, and in typical Dean fashion, he said, "That’s better, but let’s try to knock off another two to three hundred dollars." What? How was I supposed to do that? I had two quotes at exactly the same price from reputable, local landscaping companies and I was running out of time! Within two weeks, the window of warmth for seeding a lawn would be closed. How did he propose that I just “knock off another few hundred dollars?” Sigh. Well, back to God with my request to make it all possible within our budget and time restraints. This was becoming a daily prayer by this time. I picked up the weekly paper as was my habit and scanned the ads. This time I saw one for a local landscaper that I had not seen before, so I called him and he offered to come out that evening.

He showed up an hour early and his mannerisms reminded me of my charismatic friend from Lebanon – Pat included me in his personal space (touching my elbow when he addressed me directly), talked about his experiences with other customers, and overall, treated me more like a new-found friend than a possible client. He spoke English very well (except that he muttered to himself in French which I found endearing), invited me to measure the yard with him (all other landscapers had kept a certain professional distance with minimum conversation and personal contact), and made a point of finding out exactly what I wanted, what was important to me, and what kind of person I was. I mentioned my limited budget and he immediately tried to accommodate me by offering different options. One of them was asking if I was willing to work with him and his wife on installing my lawn and deducting my hours from the price. Heck, yeah! This is exactly the type of situation I was looking for – someone whom I could work with and learn from and was interested in team work. He said he would call me the next day with a price.

I was hopeful, but not too hopeful. The situation sounded too good to be true and in the end, I feared that his price would reflect the high value I was putting on his abundance of advice, remarkable flexibility, and desire to make me a happy and long-term customer. He called me at 8 am the next morning and gave me the breakdown of costs and all the options. I was still not quite awake so I said, "What does that all add up to?" We tallied everything together and the figure so surprised me with its reasonableness, being four hundred dollars less than the limit my husband had set, that without even consulting my budget-savvy mate, I told the guy on the phone, "Let’s go ahead." We made an appointment for early on September 13 and Pat said, “It will be fun – we’ll work and talk while we do it and have lunch together and at the end of 8 hours, you will have a lawn in the ground.”

I am looking forward to it. A day of hard work, people to share it with, an investment of time and labour and money in good proportion, and a sense of satisfaction at seeing a major project well-started (it will need re-seeding and maintenance next year as well, which is fine by me).

Life lesson: In the landscape of my life, there are many major projects that need to be done, and I have discovered that I love it when God asks me to be a part of his green team, to work with him, to learn from him, to develop skills in pulling weeds in my life, improving the soil of my soul, and growing good things that last. You can ask God to do it all for you while you sit back and watch, but I don’t see that as his modus operandi most times (just look at the story of the Israelites taking over the promised land and all the work He left for them to do in order to make it their home). He loves to work together, to chat and laugh and develop friendship while we do it, to teach me things he knows, to share food and drink, and at the end of the day, to rest and enjoy the progress. Sounds kind of like how things might have been in the Garden of Eden. I like that, and so I christen my work-in-progress yard…Eden.