Mawwage.

It’s been a long minute since my last post.

In all honesty, even though it sounds like a cop-out the only explanation I have for my long absence from the blogosphere is life happened.

I was recently engaged when my last entry went live, and with a wedding date of 6 months from the day of our engagement things just started happening almost as soon as I hit “publish.”  Even for a small wedding (37 people, including the bride, groom, and priest) taking place in 6 months, there was a lot of work to get done.

And then once we walked down the middle of my church, had some cake, and took some photos, we were in full swing to prepare for my BigSis’ wedding later that same summer.

From there, life just became a blur.  A happy, blissful, stupidly cute blur.

Oh, and we got a dog.

On the 17th of this month, we’ll be celebrating 11 months of marriage — 11 months that I can only describe by quoting Pedro Casciaro:  “Dream, and your dreams will fall short.”  Because let me tell you, looking over previous blog entries where I was discussing my love life and my relationship with God (and sometimes both together), I realize now that everything I have experienced and endured while trying to follow Our Lord was His way of testing me in fire and refining me into the woman that would deserve the man I now call my husband.

I am a Catholic who had not one but two crises of faith (one in late adolescence and one in my early twenties) who grew up in the Catholicism of Opus Dei, and I ended up marrying an atheist who was raised in a Protestant home.

If anyone ever tries to tell you God doesn’t have a sense of humor, feel free to point them in my direction.  I’m well aware that describing the faith-dynamic of my marriage sounds like the beginning of a joke.

But it’s not a joke at all, and while I can see the humor in it and say that God really does have a way of making life turn out so weirdly and unexpectedly, I know in the deepest part of my heart that my vocation to married life (and eventually motherhood) means I am tasked with a serious lifelong mission.  And the fact that a man of science and reason, not of faith, was given to me by Our Lord and bound me in Holy Matrimony makes it all the more serious to me.

In First Comes Love, Scott Hahn states:

God knows it is not good for us to be alone .  He doesn’t want us to be alone.  It’s the oldest story in the world, and it’s written into our very human nature:  He wants us home.

As a wife, this is the point of my vocation:  to help my husband live as good and meaningful a life as possible so that we may eternally rejoice in God’s kingdom together. It doesn’t matter if he’s an atheist; not only is this one of my core beliefs, it is one that he has chosen to accept and, even without RCIA let alone the slightest iota of faith, one that he wants to support for my sake.

I promised my atheist husband that I would never beat him over the head with the Baltimore Catechism or the Compendium, that I would never make his conversion a requirement to be in a relationship with me, and that I would never force him to to Mass if he did not want to go.  In return, he listens respectfully to me when we debate about religion, he never ridicules or belittles my faith, and goes to Mass more often than other Catholics I know.  He has even held my hand while I’ve prayed out loud for guidance or for a special intention, and genuflects before stepping into our regular pew at my church.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine an “inter-faith” marriage working so well, even though I was open to the real possibility of it and readying myself for the challenge of being a practicing Catholic in a relationship with a non-religious person.  Our courtship and engagement together lasted 364 days (we chose to celebrate our first anniversary as a couple by getting married on the 365th day, and God saw that it was good), but in that short time I never once felt shortchanged on any level by our differences in beliefs.

When we discussed the direction in which we wanted to take our relationship and I stood my ground and said I wanted to get married and commit for life, and if he didn’t like that then we should part ways sooner rather than later, he respected me enough to tell me that he was also of the same mindset.

Later when we talked about getting married and I told him that marriage to me meant getting married in the Church in any way possible, he told me that as long as I was marrying him he was cool with it.

Because of his acceptance and willingness to support me in my faith — not only did he come, and still continues to go, to Sunday Mass with my family and me whenever possible, he also made no argument about doing the Archdiocese-mandated Marriage Preparation course and had a long one-on-one chat with our parish priest — we were blessed with a dispensation to get married in my parish chapel with the full Catholic Rite of Matrimony.

Yes, you read that right:  I married an atheist with the full matrimonial liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church.

And he never complained about “doing it my way.”

I may not have married a Catholic, but I am truly blessed in my marriage.  My husband’s name is Pierre, the French form of Peter, and he truly is the rock upon which I continue to build my house for God.  It does not matter that he is an atheist:  what matters is that there is love in his heart, and enough of it for him to support me in any way he can while I go about my faith each day.

He has seen me at my worst and knows where I have been and what I experienced before I found him, and he has forgiven and accepted and loved with all his heart.  And because of this, while I will never force a conversion upon him out of respect for his free will, I will always pray for him and always trust that God holds him in His hands just as He has held me.  Continuing to live my faith and follow God so that I am a strong example of Catholicism for him and for our future children while being respectful of his beliefs and of his free will is what I must do to keep our union harmonious and to keep God in it.

When we were dating, Pierre walked me home in the night even when we lived on different ends of the city.  By the graces given to us through our marriage I know he will walk with me to my Father’s home in Heaven.

Breaking Free

Winter came late to Montreal, but it’s felt like it’s lasted forever just as it does every year. Having finally hit my stride with regular outdoor running last fall, it’s been torturous these last few weeks to wait for winter to blow past my city entirely. Much like Hobbits take second breakfast, some areas of Canada get second winter and I happen to live in one of them.

Easter Sunday was bright and beautiful, and though it started off with a bit of a nippy breeze by the time I got home from my mother’s nest it was a lovely 13 Celsius and I couldn’t help myself. I had to run. After all, as I had said to my longtime Swedish friend just a few days before —

 

And it’s true. For me running is about the sun and the air and the wind; for him it’s the smell of fresh damp earth. But whatever gets us going when our respective frozen northland homes finally begin to thaw out, I know for me there’s something else that pulls me out of my apartment and towards those paths and trails I’ve come to know so well. It’s the fact that whenever I run outside, for however long I’m out there I’m free. There’s nothing but myself and the hybrid environment of urban and natural surroundings; nothing to stop me from stretching my legs out as far as they can stride; nothing to make me forget I’m alive.

In fact, running makes me remember I’m alive. It’s funny – depending on how far and how fast I go, I end up feeling like I might die! But there’s something about a racing heart and quickened breath and sore limbs at the end of the run that gives me a sense of strength and self-assuredness that I haven’t felt for a long time.

But this yearning, this longing to stretch and grow — it’s more than just wanting to break out of the indoors and be outside again after a long winter.  I was born a free spirit; my heart is wild and my soul has wings. But through a series of various events, when I turned twenty-five I looked at my life with fresh eyes and unexpectedly found myself in a cage of expectations, responsibilities, obligations, and limitations.

And I don’t like that one bit.

I know that growing up and “adulting” involves buckling down and taking on things that make you a contributing and productive member of society. But is the conventional way of becoming a contributing and productive adult really the way we all have to do it? It takes all kinds of people to make the world go round, after all, so what are the free spirits of the world supposed to do about growing up?

Something that doesn’t sit well with me is the fact that somewhere along the way somebody – I can’t remember who exactly, or maybe the reality is that it was actually several individuals – told me that the free-spirited, wild-hearted creativity I possessed would not serve me in good stead when it came to “real life” – that these traits were better left for hobbies and personal pleasures, and that my best chance at being a success in life was to go to university, get a degree, find a job in some big corporation, and work hard. And that while all this was going on, I’d be an even bigger success at life if I found a nice man, married him, procreated with him, and raised my offspring to be educated, hardworking specimens who would also perpetuate our race. Oh, and I can’t forget to use everything I’ve been given in the service of others and for the glory of God because that’s the bottom line of human existence.

Well, I’ve completed part one of that plan, and I came pretty close to having the second part as well. But it didn’t work out with that guy, and that made me re-evaluate a lot of things in my life that I had grown up thinking were “what I’m supposed to do.” And then I look at what I do on a daily basis and then at the talents with which I was blessed, and I get really uncomfortable because it’s revealed to me that part three is barely present at all. I don’t see how I’m serving man or God to the best of my potential – because the things I’m really good at are, apparently, only good enough for hobbies and personal pleasures.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful to be employed twice over at two amazing companies; I’m blessed and I’m fortunate in these circumstances to have a means of supporting myself. I was raised on many principles including the one that states than any decent, honest job is worthy of respect, and I believe that whole-heartedly.

And that might be why it’s never sat well with me, this idea society seems to have that if you’re a non-celebrity pursuing a career of creativity and expression there might be something wrong with you, and the ensuing pressure that gets put on us to live conventional lives.

It still takes a hell of a lot of hard, honest work and blood, sweat, and tears to make natural creativity and curiosity into something useful for humanity. You still need to be responsible and make sure you have a means of supporting yourself and of getting back on your own two feet whenever you fall. You don’t have to be famous to be a successful creative person, but we seem to make fame and celebrity our benchmark for success in creativity and so we’re told to leave the creative pursuits to people who are already famous for them.

Which baffles me because if fame and celebrity is how we measure success in unconventional careers, can you tell me what’s so creatively meaningful and hugely important about certain celebrities that society worships – or, as my mother put it, “Who are the Kardashians and why do I need to keep up with them?”

Now can you tell me the name of the designer who brought us the POÄNG chair or the BILLY bookcase?

And now, who has a more direct impact on your comfort and quality of life?

If presented with two career options that require me to put in the same amount of effort, willpower, and time to serve humanity, I would much rather choose the one that gives more than ten percent of that back to society and the one that gives me more joy and more pleasure in putting in that kind of work in the first place. I don’t have to end up being famous for it. If the work I could do to turn creative vision and free-spirited dreams into something useful and improve somebody else’s quality of life, that’s enough and that should be our benchmark for what makes the pursuit of a creative career successful. I’m not saying I want an unconventional and creative career for the sake of being famous: I want it for the sake of improving the human condition by contributing my vision to those of others who break the mold for this same purpose.

So, what are you supposed to do when you realize that you’re an ill-fitting cog in a vast machine that takes all the work you put into its running and gives only ten percent of it to the people you’re apparently meant to be helping? What are you supposed to do when you wake up every morning feeling like there’s something else you could be doing with the time you’ve been given on this Earth to make it a better place for humanity? What are you supposed to do when you realize that people were wrong about you and about your talents being good enough only for yourself and for your nearest and dearest?

What do you do when you realize you’re in a cage when you’re really meant to fly beyond the horizon – to leap across the gaps between people – to run like hell on wild ground?

You can either stay where you are, which is the safe option.

Or you can be the daring, brave, and free spirit you were always meant to be, and just do it. Because you’ll never be able to help others and improve the human condition if you can’t even do that for yourself.

With mirth and laughter, let me continue being surprised by joy

When I look back on my life between 2003 and sometime in mid-2015, I realize that I lived through and survived through a hell of a lot as a teenager and young adult – and that while those experiences made me grow up, they made me grow up rather too quickly and also grow a shell that’s perhaps a little too hard and rigid.  I can’t say I didn’t have a happy childhood because in the grander scheme of things I really did, but somewhere along the way between then and now I lost the child-like ability to love easily, trust unquestioningly, and live joyfully.

Towards the end of 2015 I wrote a post about how one particular friendship I have in my life has been teaching me how to open myself up and be vulnerable again directly in front of a person in real time. Since I came to full realization of this dynamic in that one friendship (which in real time was a little while before I wrote and published the post in question), I’ve tentatively explored inklings of that same dynamic in my other best friendships. Being somebody who proudly proclaims that she has a small handful of best friends, as opposed to many acquaintances and only a few good friends, I felt that the only way I could really make these relationships live up to that status was to figure out how I could truly open up to be myself and truly give the best of me to the people I love best.

One of the things I’ve learned since then is that being completely open and honest with my best friends isn’t just about being able to talk (and sometimes cry) about the Tough Stuff. It’s also about melting in warmth of their camaraderie and learning to laugh again, and by doing so finally experience some of the joy I missed out on when I grew up too fast for my own good.

I’d be remiss talking about best friends without mentioning Gacia, my partner in crime for eating sushi, folding laundry, and outlet shopping (and yes, sometimes we manage to do all three on the same day). We’ve gone through a lot together but no matter how tough things have gotten we’ve always been able to laugh together at the end of a long day. She’s the magician behind this moment:

 

Then there was that one time in Ottawa when Elizabeth, Sam, and I spent the better part of an evening trying to balance a bag of gourds on Elizabeth’s dining room table in between asking Google what the difference between gourds and squashes were, if you can eat gourds, and why you can’t eat gourds.

 

There’s also any time that Louis lets me play my music when I’m riding shotgun –and doesn’t make me stop when I rock out on air instruments and headbang along to the very best of 80s cheese…even on a two-hour roadtrip up North in the middle of winter, during which I serenaded a Timbit. And let’s not forget any time we watch old episodes of Mythbusters over some quality take-out and still manage to discover something new about the beloved show that brought us together and cemented our friendship. Yes, we still laugh out loud when Adam Savage asks if he’s missing an eyebrow and yes, we still groan-chuckle over all the jokes and puns in the blueprint voiceovers.

There’s another friend who brings out my inner child through various means – most recently through a fantastic bottle of blended red but mainly by somehow getting me to open up about past failed relationships through the scope of frank, wry humor.  He is also rather adept at capturing my silly side when food is involved.

 

Marianne and I will fangirl over our favourite movie and comic book villains in between stories of “do you remember when –” with Mario and Amanda at our favourite pub downtown. And then the jokes will carry over onto Facebook, where we share and tag each other in videos, photos, and gifs that remind us of one another.

My closest friend from Job1 has also really brought a lot of laugher into my life.  Her documentation of her kitten in a onesie is a youthful foil to my constant jokes about my cat’s obesity issue, but she’s also got a heart of gold that has embraced a lot of my pain and treated it with frank wisdom and loving humour.  There were some days in 2015 when the only thing that could make me smile was something she said, and when I learned how to laugh again her jokes were among the first that I tried it out on.

And even though I don’t get to see this friend very often, he’s one of my favourite people living inside my phone because he makes me literally laugh out loud a lot more than I think he actually realizes. Sometimes it’s because we troll each other half to death in good fun, and sometimes it’s because he says things that I’m pretty sure he means quite seriously but end up coming off as hilarious. And sometimes it’s because he’s one of those friends who gets me and supports me rather fiercely, regardless of how ridiculous I can be around him – case in point:

 

These are the people I love the best in the world outside of my blood relations, and these are the people who teach me a little more about myself every day. My best jokes and my best laughs are credited to them and the joy their friendships bring to my life, and the best parts of me reflect what I love so much in each of them.  When I became an adult I did forget how to feel child-like exuberance in life’s little joys, but I am blessed with friends who can teach me how to feel them once more.

 

Holding on to what I’ve got

At various points in my life, I’ve felt like certain songs defined exactly what I was going through at that exact phase of my life. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon before and we all have a mixtape of songs that for one reason or another we felt were all about ourselves.  Now, I’m not entirely sure what song defined my life at the end of 2015, but I can tell you what happened and how I emerged in 2016 to be howling “Livin’ on a Prayer” into my hairbrush while powerstancing on my bed.

In the last few months of 2015, I actually went through a crisis of faith. Having already gone through similar experiences twice before, you’d think I would have figured out how to prevent them from happening again – especially with all the tools and formation I received from growing up in a devout Catholic household steeped long in theology, philosophy, and Catechism. Having faith was just as normal to us as breathing and the reminder to “just keep praying” was heard as often as “clean your room.”

But I was and still sometimes am a spoiled and rebellious child, and when things don’t go my way I get upset with God. And, depending on what didn’t turn out the way I wanted and how it didn’t turn out, I can get pretty temperamental and stubborn. Yes – right up to the point of throwing in the towel on my faith and going off to a dark corner to sulk and ignore God. “You gave me free will,” I once said in a Parthian shot to Him, “so I’m going to use it the way I want to.”

This last year in particular, on the two bookending occasions of 2015 that broke my heart, the pain I really encountered after abandoning my post at the Foot of the Cross was far greater than the pain I thought I’d had while abandoning myself to the Lord. During Advent, a season in the Liturgical year during which the rest of the Christian world is preparing to greet the Holy Child at Christmas, the hours I once spent on prayer were given over to weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (No, really — I think I cried more in 2015 than I ever have in all the other years of my life put together.) For the first time in many years I didn’t receive Communion at Christmas Mass or on New Year’s Day, and for the first time ever I found myself really considering just breaking off from Catholicism altogether and giving up entirely on religion.

But I couldn’t jump off that side of the ledge upon which I teetered for many weeks, because if there was one thing I learned from my human father it was that even if your faith is in shreds, if you can find a piece of it that’s still big enough to hold on to you really should. And if there was one thing I learned how to do in 2015, it was how to look at something for what it really was and discern if it really ought to be in my life – to use logic and rationale instead of just blind faith to figure stuff out.

I’m definitely no expert at it because hey, I kind of just started doing it, but I’m beginning to at least get enough of a handle on it to start using this skill more often in my life. And when I took that long, hard look at myself on Epiphany Sunday, I realized I was a little too good at letting go: too good, because up until now the rejection, betrayal, or pain from one person was enough to make me let go of everyone in my life – including God.

After all, pure logic would dictate that if I believed God put people into my life for some unknown but good reason, then I should believe He took some of them out of my life for an equally unknown but supposedly still good reason. Along that same line of thought, twisted logic would say that if I wasn’t happy with anything, including God, I should just chuck it all overboard. But that didn’t make sense to me when I thought about it, because in a way that was saying I believed in free will but only when it was convenient – in other words, only when good things happened – and that whenever one of my choices, even a good one, cut me to the core it wasn’t on my hands but on God’s.

Once I figured that out, I spent most of Epiphany Sunday this year in dialogue with myself about all of this. I moved through the day talking myself through all the reasons why I kept abandoning my Catholicism when relationships didn’t work out, when I lost meaningful and formative friendships, or when I didn’t succeed at something I set out to do. I tried to determine why failed relationships and soured friendships had the effect of pulling me away from God so much to the point where the inevitable crash-and-burn in these instances unfailingly results in me uprooting myself from my Catholicism and putting my relationship with God on hold while I try to deal on my own.

The answer, in a nutshell, was that my efforts for others were often fuelled by fear – of being left behind, inadequate, forgotten, or expendable; of being seen as imperfect or ordinary; of being perceived as too outspoken and needy. I bent over backwards for many people who, in retrospect, I can now see as people who took me for granted, overlooked me anyway, or didn’t appreciate my acts of love beyond seeing them as things that got done for them.

Now, this is not to say that every past experience was wholly negative. In every relationship and friendship I’ve had that’s now just a memory, there really are good times. But the pain of the bad times and my own selfishness prevented me from keeping what was good and finding solace in the blessings I had received in being with those people. And because I couldn’t see the blessings I’d been given, I could not see God’s goodness – and so I abandoned Him, too, when I abandoned those relationships.

Before evening Mass on Epiphany Sunday, I went to Confession for the first time in many months and, perhaps for the first time in many years, I made it a good and thorough one. (I apologise profusely to the rest of the line – but if they haven’t experienced this kind of Reconciliation before I hope one day they will, because such a Confession can be one of the most beautiful and liberating experiences in life.) After I did my Penance I remained in prayer, taking the time to be in conversation with the Father I had ignored for so long to ask him for the grace I needed to do three important things.

One To rebuild and strengthen the good relationships that had been damaged by conflict with and fallout from others, because these were the people who stuck by me when I was too selfish and too wrapped up in my own pain to see the gifts of comfort they were trying to give me.

Two To see which connections in my life were damaging and toxic to the good relationships I was trying to heal and repair, and to eliminate them from my immediate sphere of concern – but without malice and without anger.

Three: To learn how to recognize good people when they came into my life as people intended to enrich my experiences and bring out the best in me – people who would inspire me through their own ways of giving to give of my time, talent, and treasure to others not for my own security and assurance, but for the greater good and well-being of others.

My father taught me to believe and to have faith, but my life experiences have taught me to question and discern, and writing has taught me that the simplest questions lead you to the most complete answers. So if I still believe in God and still have faith, then what I have to do with it is ask myself: what has God given me, who has God given me, why these blessings have been put into my life, where I can use them to fix my life, and how I can use them to bring joy into the lives of others?

All three things have been going rather well since Epiphany Sunday, and I’m glad to say that the third in particular has already brought blessings into my life in the form of new friends who encourage me to bring forward what’s best about myself and inspire me to share my authentic self with them and the rest of the world. I’m really looking forward to connecting more often with them and to building up strong friendships with these incredible individuals. I truly do believe their paths crossed mine at this moment in time for good reasons, and I know that it’s up to me to make something good come out of these encounters and connections. Some of them believe in the same things I do and others believe in very different things, but I appreciate them and love them all the same because they each bring out the same good qualities and talents in me I’ve ignored or kept hidden until now.

So how does this all lead to me singing Bon Jovi into a hairbrush while standing in a powerstance on my bed, and why is “Livin’ on a Prayer” the song that defines my life of renewed faith, hope, and love?

Well, even though Bon Jovi didn’t mean it as a song of praise, it rather succinctly sums up how I’m moving forward with my life: holding on to what I’ve got, understanding that what I do have really is quite a lot, and remembering that inasmuch as I can and should take agency of my own life I do need my faith and keep praying. I can’t live on just a prayer indefinitely, but when everything else disappears there’s always a way to find it all again through keeping my faith.

The Art of Moving On 

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  When we fall, we have to get up at some point – especially when we fall for somebody who belongs to someone else.

It hasn’t been an easy year for my heart.  In all honesty, this year I’ve probably cried more than I ever have before and I’m ready for a fresh start.  But I don’t want to wait until the New Year — it falls in the same category as Valentine’s Day for me, in that I don’t understand why we have to set aside one day in particular to do something that we can do any day of the year.  Whether it be showing our significant others that we truly love them or making resolutions to truly change ourselves, do big things really have to wait for one designated day of the year for us to actually buckle down and do what needs to be done?  After all, there’s no time like the present.

Moving on with life after any kind of rejection is hard, especially when the person in question is a good friend and there’s no other reason for you to walk the other way for a while.  It’s especially hard when the rejection happens not because of dislike or spite but for the well-being of both parties in question, and when walking away from what could have been entails also walking away from what was already there —  a confidant you could trust with more than you ever thought you’d tell another person; a friend who was always there when you needed them to get you through anything; a person you connected with on so many different levels that it’ll be hard to find somebody else who gets you so easily and speaks so fluently to your truest self.

Moving on and getting over somebody is no small task and is a form of art unto itself, because getting up the next day after losing so much and functioning properly in the world without letting anyone see what’s wrong is one of the greatest performances we can ever put on.  We orate to our friends over drinks and soliloquize to ourselves in front of our mirrors about how we’re okay and doing just fine when the truth is, we’re barely able to keep ourselves from falling apart all over again. We craft an outward image that’s polished and immaculately put together to disguise the broken mess we really are, and hope that the smiles we put on reach our eyes and fool everyone into thinking they’re not just a mask we’ve put on for the day.  We rehearse our lines in the dark and quiet stillness of the night after we’re done crying until we can almost convince even ourselves that we’re doing just fine.

But we can’t keep this up all day long, let alone forever, and so in time we find others to confide in.  There has to be at least one person  who knows what’s going on behind the scenes, and eventually they help us pare down our costumes and our lines until we’re playing our true selves and saying what we really think again, and truly able to smile and say we’re okay.

It’s one of the greatest performances any of us can ever put on.  It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single person in possession of a good but broken heart must find a way to mend it and move on, and what better way to do it than remembering that the world is a stage and we, merely players?  It’s okay to hide behind a carefully-crafted dramatis persona until you’re put back together again, and it’s okay to find something new to love when an old love fails.  It’s okay to walk away to get over a friend you’ve fallen for if your friendship stands a better chance of surviving past a separation instead of a constant one-way stream of feelings.  It’s okay to do whatever it takes for you to be happy again and to be whole again.

That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.

A place, under the sun, where hearts of olden glory grow young

This past weekend here in Canada was the Victoria Long Weekend.  Unlike most people I know, who skip town in favor of lakeside cottages or beach houses, I stayed in the city.  With my upcoming move to a new apartment fast approaching, most of my spare time is spent sorting through my worldly possessions and packing those of most use and significance into boxes.

However, yesterday I took a break from all of that to go visit my father’s grave with my mother and oldest sister.  His final earthly resting place is in the Notre-Dame-des-Neiges Cemetery (which, as it so happens, is just across the street from the apartment I’ll be living in come the end of June), which is located on the northwest side of Mount Royal.

An old and beautiful cemetery, its sweeping expanse of manicured slopes is populated by countless gravesites.  The cemetery is so old and so huge that there are countless graves that have been left untended for years – decades, even, in some cases.  There are also various sections of the cemetery dedicated to specific cultures, nationalities, and religions, and there are even numerous famous historical figures laid to rest within these grounds.  To get to my father’s, we drive up the winding asphalt from the main gates and make turns at landmark graves – marked by towering marble sculptures too ornate and monumental to be referred to simply as “tombstones” – before driving by the potter’s field adjacent to the section where we laid my father to rest.

When we visit my father’s grave, we clear away encroaching weeds and crabgrass, and always try to leave some kind of bouquet when we depart.  Most of the time, I end up wandering in between the rows of marble markers, gathering daisies and clovers and other field flowers to bring to him – just as I did when I was a little girl.

Yesterday, I noticed for the first time in three years that, two sections over, there stands a long hedge of lilacs.  We had a light purple lilac in the backyard of the house in which I grew up, and the sight of any lilac, regardless of its colour, reminds me of my childhood.  Upon wandering over to the lilac hedge with my sister to pick a few stems to leave on my father’s stone, we discovered a new section of the cemetery:  a field for military veterans.

A monument stands at the top of the field, rising up over rows of granite plaques bearing names, ranks, and regiments.  Yet for all the glory that might lie at rest in this part of the cemetery, it is a lonely and forgotten place. The lilacs in the hedge and the carpeting of deep purple groundcover flowers are the only blooms to be found in this section of the cemetery.  Walking in between the rows of engraved stone markers, we soon saw that one row on the left side of the monument was almost entirely overgrown.

But the turf was surprisingly easy to pull up off the brass markers, and all it took was a sweep of a hand to brush away any remaining dead foliage and dirt.  When we were done bringing these stones back into the sunshine we laid a small spray of lilac on each one before returning to our father’s tombstone to say a decade of the Rosary with our mother.

You can argue that we had no reason to tend to that row of granite markers, because we have no idea who these men and women were.  We are not related to anyone lying in that small section of the cemetery and we probably don’t know anyone who is, either.  In a cemetery full of hundreds, if not thousands, of untended graves, what difference would it make to clear ten small granite plaques?

The thing is that every life leaves in its wake some kind of legacy.  Some legacies touch only a few people and that is by all means significant.  But the legacy of a soldier touches more than just a few lives, and goes beyond immediate family and close friends.  It’s a legacy that impacts entire nations and their future generations…a legacy of freedom and virtue and the goodness of mankind, a legacy of a good life sacrificed for countless others.

As I walked back to my father’s grave I felt a peace and stillness in my heart that I could not explain.  I still don’t know what it means for me, but it was still there when I woke up this morning.  Maybe it’s because I was able to touch a part of Canada’s history in such unlikely circumstances, or maybe it’s because in a beautifully strange and inexplicable way I am still, deep down, a little girl wandering in sunshine as she gathers flowers for her dad and learns how to love and honour all life as he did.

Whatever the case may be, it is indisputable that in lonely corner of a vast cemetery, picking flowers to lay on my father’s grave, I was surprised by joy…and I cannot wait to see what such joy might illuminate in my future.

Seeing through the rain

Walking home in the rain from the cinema last night, I was waiting to cross the boulevard and thinking about how much life has changed in the last year.

I realised I’ve found more of my adult self in this last year than I have in all of the years combined since my twenty-first birthday, and a lot of that is down to having learned how to love and live for another person.  I’m not talking about living for somebody else in the sense of depending on them for validation and worth and purpose, but rather in the sense of being able to unite your own dreams and plans and goals with those of another person…simply because you share a love with them that is genuine and runs deep.  You open yourself up to a whole world of good and bad when you love somebody that way, but if it’s all meant to work out with them all of the good makes up tenfold for everything bad you have to experience.    You love them enough to want them to be happy, and trust that they see the same thing when they look at you.

Seeing him smile and hearing him laugh made me feel happy because it meant he was happy.  But what made me even happier was waking up every day of our relationship and knowing that I was one day further along in human plans that finally seemed to line up with God’s plans…that I was making a choice of my own discernment and will to fulfill a call to a relationship heading towards marriage and family.

I told him more than once that I love God more than him – for no other reason other than because it’s the truth.  What made me happiest about the relationship we shared was the fact that it fit into what I knew God wants for me, which meant my personal happiness was finally firmly rooted in someone eternally constant and loving.  The human heart is fickle, as we see over and over again whenever we love and lose, but God is love.

The catalyst to the breakup was a decision made in his part that caused confidence and trust to fall out on mine, thus causing the worst kind of pain initially:  a selfish one that’s rooted in pride and a false sense of betrayal.  I say it’s the worst kind of pain because its root makes it hurt even more than it should, because it makes us blind to anything else but how it makes us feel.  This kind of pain demands angrily of the human love, “How could you do this to me, after all I have endured for you?”  and, equally angry, of God, “I was doing as You commanded then, so why must I suffer now?”

While we can never truly know why people do what they end up doing, deep down inside my heart I know that what he chose to do was not fuelled by anger or spite or a desire to cause pain.  What made me feel his intentions as painful actions was the fact that loving him made me want to love God less so that I wouldn’t lose my relationship.  I was deeply unhappy and struggled in trying to reconcile the two – in trying to have both even though the more I tried, the more unsettled I felt.  But when I saw how this same conflict was beginning to manifest itself in our relationship, I felt a different pain.  It was the kind that comes not out of feeling betrayed, but rather out of knowing that what you’re asking of the person you love can’t be given to you without it being detrimental to their own pursuit of fulfilment, peace, and happiness.

To those two infuriated demands I mentioned above, I never really got an answer to the human question – though I did get an answer to the divine one through a long and difficult discernment.  I asked God why, and He replied, “Because I have commanded you to love others as I have loved you.  Because I am Love, and made you in that image.”

I am still fighting through both kinds of pain.  The first pain slows down the healing, which strangely enough motivates me to take the second kind of pain and offer it to God in the hope and trust that He can tend to all of my wounds.  I have that hope and trust in Him because through all the worst storms of my voyage so far, He offered me His hand to help steer my ship towards safe harbors.  Through every difficult and painful experience, I have come to see God’s hand in my life, and until last night I never knew how to explain that revelation in human terms.

But today I finally can, because the analogy came to me last night as I stood in the rain at the intersection of that windy boulevard.  In the same way that I can see the shape of the wind as it blows through the raindrops right before they hit the pavement, I can see the shape of God’s hand in how my life experiences sculpt me into the daughter He envisioned long before I began to take on human form.  I was made in His image, not He in mine, and if choosing to learn how to love sacrificially — as He did, on the wood of the Cross — is how I may better reflect that image, then may He heal me so that one day I may again try loving another person as He has loved me.