A few weeks ago I was blogging live from the Bar MW working chute. Today the location is distinctly different. I am coming to you from the St. David dorm room in the guest house at Sisterhood of St. John the Divine in Toronto. I am in an Anglican convent. Rain is falling quite heavily and its kind’ve a great atmosphere. Russell is enjoying milking my location for all its worth, he has been telling me that when chatting with friends he enjoys saying things like, “you think you’ve got it bad, my wife left me and went to a convent!” Its true. But I only left for a bit.
Here is how this came about….back in January my sister and I were talking. She shared with me something she had recently been invited to do and that was to set goals for the new year, as opposed to resolutions. It made sense to me. The process included writing the goals on index cards and reviewing them regularly. I made goals. I wanted to read a fiction book every month and a non-fiction every three months. I wanted to ride my exercise bike with some pattern. I wanted to do some extended fasting. I wanted to work a variety of spiritual care practices into my living. I set all these things up in measurable ways. But a really important goal was that I wanted to connect with my elders more. They mean so much to me but you would never know it by how I live my life most of the time. So my goals included, “visit Uncle Ted.” In March as I reviewed the goals I realized I had to get my head around how this was going to happen. A rancher in Saskatchewan doesn’t just schedule a visit with a man in Toronto without a little planning. The pieces fell into place pretty quickly, very quickly when I realized I could get a Westjet flight to Toronto for $79 due to a sale I stumbled upon. As I thought through the options for how this could look I connected with a memory of a previous time. When I lived in Saskatoon I booked myself into a retreat house there, a place where I could go to be apart from the rigors of daily life, experience silence, be fed both spiritually and physically, talk to a spiritual director and perhaps come away renewed. I loved those days. I have tried to recreate them with varying levels of success. When I stumbled on this memory it feels like my brain literally went “ding.” I thought I could probably merge visiting family and friends with retreat life and I went on the internet. What existed in Toronto? I found the convent I am currently sitting in. For a very reasonable fee I have a very comfortable room, 3 beautiful meals a day and invitation to join the sisters in their times in the chapel. Silence is the norm in most of the public spaces, it is healing and thought provoking.
There is lots more that could be said about some of these pieces, I hope to write about some of them later.
(Fast-forward a little bit….)
I am currently starting my last full day here at the convent. It was a good decision to come here. I fly home tomorrow. In about an hour I am setting off to get to the Finch Subway station, I am going to ride south to Bloor and Yonge, transfer trains and find my way to the Kipling station, if it goes smoothly its about an hour on the trains. I will bring my book. Not far from Kipling station I will meet my Uncle for lunch. I saw him on the day I arrived but due to the distances involved, my need for rest and my desire to see other family and friends I have here, I wasn’t expecting to see Uncle Ted again. It sounds odd to plan a trip to see a person and then only see them once. The thing is, and its weird maybe, I just needed to see him, for my heart it didn’t matter for how long or how much. But since that first day I have become confident enough on the subway system and I feel rested and my cousin gave me the inside scoop on Uncle Ted’s favorite restaurant, so I called him up and we made a date.
I am finishing this blog now, sitting in the departure lounge at the airport…. and now my spot on the plane. I read over what I wrote yesterday with its extreme amount of detail, why should you care what trains I had to take? I think that is my way of being seen for something that is kindv’e important to me. I might live on a ranch, with my hometown not even in possession of a traffic light, but I can still find my city girl groove and I am deeply thrilled that it allowed heart to heart connection with one of my people. I am super lucky to have all the pieces in place that make trips like this happen. The backbone of it is a spouse who figures he can run the ranch without me for a bit and drops me at the airport with his blessing.
I have not yet had the chance to look over my goals for ’22 index cards. When I do, it will be with a warm feeling in my heart that I write “accomplished – June 3 and 7/22.” Have I mentioned I feel lucky?
Russ and I are home from a trip. It’s a trip that we began planning two years ago, thinking ahead to our 20th anniversary. However, the cruise we planned for fall 2020 was cancelled, and so was the one we then booked for fall 2021. At the point where the 2nd cruise was cancelled we decided to fly to St. John’s Newfoundland for a week.
On September 13th we were pretty elated to be in a plane and successfully soaring towards our holiday. After all the changes to our plans, and then changes to our changes as a result of Hurricane Larry, it felt amazing to be on our way.
When we landed in St. John’s we had already submitted a travel form that included an attached record of our vaccinations. So when we got to the airport exit and took our turn going through the screening desk, they were able to pull up our form and see that we were clear to exit and start our holiday. Bottom line…..we complied with their expectation and were deemed acceptable. Honestly, I know there is so many hard thoughts and feelings around how all this is or isn’t handled, but my reality was that we were finally starting our adventure, and I felt gratitude for what had made that possible. In my head many times was the thought “isn’t it amazing that in the midst of a very contagious variant of a pandemic illness we are on the move.”
After we arrived Monday night we got unpacked at the Air Bnb we had booked and then walked the few blocks that would take us to George Street. We found ourselves at a pub called O’Reilly’s where we began our tasting of Newfoundland beer and goodies. We had nachos with moose meat on them and Newfoundland poutine. When we first approached the bouncer at the door he drew us close and looked us in the eye and said, “wer’e all vaccinated eh loves, all double vaccinated?” Yes we were. “Well then loves you just take your masks off, we’re all good here, we all gots the vaccine.” And there we sat, in the heart of St. John’s Newfoundland, enjoying local everything, including live Newfie music and getting called “love” by tough looking strangers!
Something about our holiday that we really enjoyed was the chance to make new friends. We didn’t come home with new buddies, but we connected on a human to human level with people we had never met before, from cultures we were not familiar with. There was an old man on the corner of our street who flagged us down to talk. He was anxious to tell us a bit about himself, he was intrigued to hear about our ranch. He told us he is 81 years old and he has lived in the same house for 81 years, he was born there, it was his “mudders” and she gave it to him. He asked us to wait a minute and keep watch of his dog while he went into his house. He came back with lapel pins for us that say “St. John’s”. It was only a few random minutes but our sense of neighborhood was enriched.
We enjoyed a lunch on the balcony of the Quidi Vidi brewery until rain forced us inside. There we shared a table with two travellers from the Washington, D.C. area. We learned they were friends who had worked together and retired from national security. As we talked about the work they did and what we did a very interesting thought to ponder came up, something I think we will include in the book we are writing. Their joyful energy was fun, a treat to experience.
We had an incredibly charismatic boat steward on a small ocean trip we took with Iceberg Quest. His name was “Glen”, his energy and charisma made our day, we should have known we were up for a blast when he ushered us on the boat wearing a pirate hat and never took it off. During the trip he learned I was a minister. The last thing he said to me as we disembarked was “pray for me.” I have not taken that lightly, although maybe he was just kidding, us ministers hear that often enough.
If you want to know more about the screeching in tradition I have an invitation for you. Search up the musical “Come From Away” on whatever streaming platform you have. Youtube music worked for me. If you have time listen to the whole thing. You get the story of 9-11, from the angle of what happened in Gander Newfoundland that very scary day 20 years ago. It is so heartwarming of a story and so much Newfie culture comes through. If you don’t have time for the whole musical just search up “Screech In”, that song explores the tradition.
We encountered more than a few people asking for money. I stood very close to one as he looked me straight in the eye to ask for what he needed. I could not believe the beauty of his eyes. I have seen few people in my life with more beautiful eyes. I asked him for his name, I just wanted to call him by his name, it was weird what was going on inside of me. I wasn’t poking for info it just seemed important to me that as we put some money in his hands I could use his name, maybe hoping to somehow give the message, “I see your humanity.” I think about him alot still.
By late in the holiday Russ needed another book to read, we tackled a long walk to find Chapters. Enroute we came across the building which houses the Saturday farmers market. It was Sunday and a multicultural market was on. I felt like we had struck gold. We had seen few people of color and I had been wondering about the immigrant community. We landed in and found friendly friendly people, eager to share their cultural wares with us. I brought three aprons. We mingled with the folks there, (masks on after a new level of precaution was enacted the day before). I promised the woman who had stayed up all night sewing aprons to sell at the market, that I would take a picture of me wearing her apron while serving trail food to our cowboys and I would send it to her. That pleased her. It is a GORGEOUS apron.
Our taxi ride back to the airport included conversation about driving back to our ranch from the Regina airport. We have a ranch, we have cows. That information was literally exciting to our driver. He had experience with cows in his home country, he loved something about them. By the time we parted from him I had given him my blog address and our names. He laughed heartily at himself when he realized that he had forgotten to collect our money, he was so distracted by the talk of cows.
It was so much fun and interesting to randomly make these connections.
Like many people on a holiday I experienced relief from all the duties that shape my usual everyday life. As wonderful as that is it creates a huge void. Left with tons of time to shape as we wanted a very important variable was at play and it made me realize again that I married the right person. Someone who knows me, with all my quirks, and what he knows about me he likes and he relates to. So, everyday we ambled through activities that mean a lot to both of us and we chit chatted and joked and interacted with the people and events we encountered with a deep comfort. As the days went by I noticed how much I often opened my mouth and spoke, joked and quipped without thinking twice, no need to guard or censor myself. I don’t think this is totally unusual for me or anything, but somehow it hit me, I was feeling particularly free to be myself. One of the things we talked about, maybe as we made a marathon uphill walk to the top of Signal Hill, (something Russell would like credit for, and he deserves it…..because I coaxed he and I both into alot of walking/hiking that day)….anyways…..what I asked him was “Russell, all over facebook people are talking about their freedoms being taken away. Have you ever experienced your freedom being taken away?” He thought about it and said “No.” I said, “me neither, so I am kind’ve confused. What are these people talking about?” I am thankful that Russell has never said, “Kathy, your’e too analytical.” I heard that enough in my life before Russell. So, he welcomes my wandering thoughts and efforts to figure things out maybe because he is analytical too. Perhaps this enjoyment/acceptance of each other is how we made it through our almost 21 years, because there were some points it seemed iffy. Marking that accomplishment we did something really corny and maybe a bit excessive. We hired a photographer and we packed our original wedding clothes and we had a session at Cape Spear, the most eastern point of the continent. I hope to do a blog telling some of that story but for now here is one image from our gallery, me and the guy I get to be most totally myself with.
Another thing that happened for me on this holiday was that I was reminded about who I am. We took the city bus several times to get where we were going. In those moments I was reminded that I am a city girl. The rhythm and process of that bus skirting through the city streets was something I had written down deep within me. It was as familiar as horseback is for Russell. In contrast to that, the first bus ride we had, Russell asked me with some concern, “how do we tell the driver when we want to get off?” With some shock I asked him, “you don’t know? Well you just pull on the bell chord up here on the wall.” Our different backgrounds were starkly clear. Having said that, I could count on one hand the number of hours I have spent on a school bus, Russ has given years of his life to that experience with several stories to tell because of it. One of the more surprising things I learned about myself was how much I love to be active. It was very practical to be walking, rental cars were unavailable, buses took time, almost everywhere we wanted to go we were within 4km and it was walkable. I loved it. I never expected to be able to say that. I have put some time to trying to figure out why I resist exercise at home but I was more and more thirsty for it as the days went by in St. John’s. I think part of the reason is the walking was so practical and it felt so good (mostly).
As our holiday was unfolding I found myself a bit obsessed in my thoughts with the topic of freedom. Perhaps because we were doing what seemed unthinkable only months ago. I was noticing all the different ways I was experiencing freedom besides being able to go 4000km from home, ….freedom to be myself, freedom to be in contact with different people, freedom to learn more about myself and the freedom to do that without worry of causing harm. All these freedoms mean alot and I find myself wondering if the current laser focus on freedom as people define it, is causing us to forget to see, nurture and take ownership for all the different ways that freedom does or does not touch our lives. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but I sure had some good things unfold, I had a good break and so did my best pal.