Broken Ice

It’s February. February always gets to me and this year I think it’s gotten to everybody. For my part I’ve spent the last week or so ruminating over the realization that it’s vulnerable to hand my work off to someone else for feedback, to let it out of my control. As I face a second revision of my novel, I’m suddenly very aware that I don’t quite take naturally to creative collaboration, that when doing what I love, I like to work alone.

Then this morning, I had a library shift. Around noon I wheeled a cart out from behind the circulation desk to shelve some books and saw movement out in the garden. Regent’s library is underground and to the west there are tall sliding windows that face onto a small rectangular reflective pool and three sharp tiers of a much-beloved vegetable garden which lead up to street level. I haven’t seen a human being in that space in months. Yet before my eyes were three boys scrambling down the ladders which lead from one tier to another, leaping like monkeys, clearly drawn by the lure of the icy pool below. One of them immediately swept up an eight or ten foot garden stake which lay unused. Then they saw me standing a few yards away and all three froze, the smallest with the stake poised above the pool. 

The boys stared at the librarian lady and I stared back. For the briefest of moments I contemplated rapping on the glass and telling them off which was clearly what they expected, but then sanity prevailed. They were hoodlums certainly, but small ones—the oldest was no more than thirteen. And besides, I understood. I understood in the depths of my soul what they had come to do. It’s been colder than usual for Vancouver-winter the last few days, and every time I’ve walked past those windows I too have found that dull, wrinkled ice enticing. How thick is it really? I wonder. Surely paper thin… But what if it was thick enough to crunch when broken? What if it could take the weight of a leaf, a stick, a toe? And imagine how a stomp would do it in…

So with a nod of respectful approval, I turned my back and pushed away my cart of books as the boys got down to work, though I desperately wanted to stay and watch. In the next few minutes, I passed by as often as I could, praying they would not get caught by anyone else. But things are quiet here still and no one else materialised. Best of all, the ice was thicker and putting up more of a fight than expected—they were only able to make cracks and gouges, no matter what weapons they used to attack it. For some reason its hardiness delighted me. On my third pass by I expected at least one would have gained the courage to step out and test the water with his own weight but instead I saw only the disappearing heels of the smallest as he climbed the highest garden ladder, the long stake still in tow. I stopped again and gazed out over the garden, mourning their absence and wondered idly if they would carry that huge garden stake all the way down Wesbrook Mall. 

And then, up above at ground level, the tip of the wood stake appeared hesitantly over one of the railings. I grinned. Oh, how I had underestimated my friends. They knew physics. They knew about gravity. There was a thump and a clatter as it fell. 

They did not return to retrieve it. Accepting, I think, of the failure of their venture, they left the stake nestled on ice which was still only just cracked, a testament to a valiant, collaborative attempt at joyful destruction. Still smiling, I went to find a pen to take notes.

Bearing Hope

We are settling into February, which is a month with which I’ve always had a bit of a tenuous relationship. It is nearly always a natural low point for me, the downturn of grey and dust before the upturn of Spring and daffodils, but I have grown used to this rhythm. A few years ago in February I wrote this, and I find myself returning to reread it each year and realizing I believe it more and more each season, because this is a time, I think, when most of us are the poor in spirit, and the idea that ours (ours!) is the kingdom of heaven can seem particularly fantastic.

Fantastic, even completely implausible, and yet true. Ours is the kingdom. 

I am returning back to the base of things recently and more and more I find that when I dig down to that base through the litter and grime of this world and of my life and heart and mind, all the way down to the rock bottom, I find that that rock bottom is somehow made out of hope. Another implausibility. Hope is always and ever the ground I stand on. And more than that, I am learning that I bear it involuntarily on my shoulders–it drapes heavy over them from morning till night. Sometimes I am even able to see the way it lays weighty across the shoulders of those around me. It is uncomfortable, inconvenient, unavoidable, completely necessary. We bear hope with us everywhere, its train dragging behind us, through the ins and the outs of our days. We cannot shrug hope off, we cannot wipe its dust from our palms, cannot extract it from our guts. It hangs like an indelible banner over our heads–hope above and below, behind and before. We live, I have come to realize, in its very midst.

 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

Blessed Are the Februarys

I feel as if every year in February I write a blog entry about how little I like February.

This is because February is grey. It has a sandy feel that goes down your throat and into your stomach, and everyone seems tired and cynical and little bit empty in the eyes. I usually feel used up and far-from-home.

So since this February has arrived in all its disheartening splendor, I have been feeling small and small and smaller lately, and then this past weekend I read The Great Divorce. And I read where the Spirit tells the man with the lizard on his shoulder that “the gradual process is of no use at all.”  I stopped and I sat very still. This is at least the fourth time I’ve read the book, this scene has always been my favorite, and I think I may even have already underlined those words before. But I guess I haven’t actually been paying attention.

For a very long time, I’ve fed myself the narrative that since life is long and winding, and we change so slow, it’s okay to come to Jesus the long way. It’s okay if I don’t do the best thing, the right thing, today, or if I only do it halfway. I’ll begin being faithful eventually, when I’m older and better, when I’m tough and mature enough to handle it. I’ll join the ranks of the saints once I’m fit for sainthood.

But He must have all of me now no matter how flimsy and sullen that “all of me” is. The plan is not for me to inch towards Him as I have the strength and inclination. I’ve got to throw myself onto the pyre to be made new. And beyond that blaze lie the unknown regions of sheer grace.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,

Blessed are the ones who sing off-key,

Blessed are the ones who’ve lost their appetites,

Blessed are the ones who forget their turn signal,

Blessed are the ones with illegible handwriting,

Blessed are the uncomfortable, the fragile, the speechless, the lowly,

Blessed are the ones who are often flat-out wrong,

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and the “Bleeding Charity” that flows at its heart is theirs for the taking.