About Kintsugi and life

Death lurks all around.  I’m at an age where it’s not unexpected. 

I find this freeing. What am I waiting for? The time to live is now. So even though it’s a gloomy morning and the promise of spring is filled with the promise of snow, sleet and strong winds, I’m feeling energized. Every time I hear of another death, I’m reminded of what a gift it is to breathe, to see and to live.

I’m wanting to forget about perfection and make more mistakes. What’s the worst that could happen? Make a fool of myself? Done that. Hurt other people? Done that. Fail? Done that, too. Being broken is the state of being human.

File:Tea bowl, Korea, Joseon dynasty, 16th century AD, Mishima-hakeme type, buncheong ware, stoneware with white engobe and translucent, greenish-gray glaze, gold lacquer - Ethnological Museum, Berlin - DSC02061.JPGSo here’s to living dangerously on this gloomy March day, somewhere between winter and spring. Hope springs eternal. (Alexander Pope)

Yesterday, on the CBC, Michael Enright interviewed MaggieO’Farrell (author of the memoir, I Am, I Am, I Am and other novels). They talked about her encounters with death and the randomness of life. 

And when he asked her about writing a memoir, as opposed to fiction, she compared it to the Japanese art of Kintsugi, taking a broken object of ceramic and putting it back together with powdered gold or silver, and creating a new object. I love that metaphor.  Life as Kintsugi, creating art from shattered lives.

Billy Graham and Dad

Graham in a suit with his fist clenchedBilly Graham died last month. He was 99, born back in 1918—the same year as my dad.
For me, there’s another connection between Billy Graham and my dad. Back when I was an impressionable youth in the suburbs of Winnipeg. . . it wasn’t the Hitler Jugend influencing my outlook on life, (as it did my dad’s), it was the Church. And I took it all very seriously.
As I young girl I prayed fervently for my father—a Lutheran—seen by my fellow Baptists as needing redemption.  I decided to take it to Billy Graham and wrote him an impassioned letter where I shared my fear that my wonderful dad would not make it to heaven with me. 
Someone in Billy Graham’s company wrote back:  yes, they would pray for my father. I saved that letter for years, trusting that my dad would be taken care of. Eventually, that prayer came true. But by then, I’d found my own—faltering, but empowering—way outside of the narrow-minded Baptist faith.
I was in grade six when I attended a Billy Graham Crusade at the old arena by Polo Park during Canada’s Centennial year. I remember the hymn, “Just as I am,” sung at a crucial time, as thousands streamed to the front to be ‘converted.’  And then the song, “I have decided to follow Jesus.”  No doubt it was a well-choreographed script.
Music performed during the Crusades was often heard at our house. (I even used a recording of “How Great Thou Art” by George Beverly Shea at my mom’s funeral only a few years ago.) Maybe it was because Billy Graham endorsed Johnny Cash that we got to hear his songs on our record player. (Beatle’s music or top ten hits were not permitted.)
The families of my church and youth came together like a beautiful choir during the Billy Graham fever—united by an evangelical fervour. Considering these families were recent immigrants from a Hitler-dominated Europe, was there perhaps a kind of nostalgia for mass rallies which promised something bigger than the individual?
 Billy Graham’s legacy is huge. He held rallies throughout the world—East and West Germany (including Nuremberg), Soviet Union, Great Britain, Africa, India, Korea, Japan, and Winnipeg. Attending a crusade was often life-changing—creating, at the very least—a life-long impression.
He was a powerful orator and had an impact our family. But today I squirm uncomfortably in the church pews of his influence.

Letter from August

Two summers ago, I visited the Okanagan where a cousin of mine lives. Born back in the Soviet Union, she’s the last survivor of the original group of nine family members who came to Canada back in 1953.

My cousin showed me a postcard from my uncle. . . my mom’s little brother. I call him Albert in my stories, but his real name was August. August Ristau.

When I returned to Winnipeg after my trip out west, I regretted not making a digital copy of that flimsy, faded postcard. Yesterday, I received a hard copy in the mail.

August sent this card on January (or is that February?)  17th, 1945. It says: 

Dear Brothers! 
Many greetings from my prison camp. So far, things are going well for me and I wish the same for you. I hope we can see each other again soon, in our homeland.  
Greetings from your brother, August.

The date must be January, because by February, Kreuzburg, East Prussia would be empty. All the Germans were fleeing for the Baltic port of Pillau, trying to avoid the approaching Soviet Army.

No one heard from August again.  But this postcard does give me an address to search for when I visit the former East Prussia next year.

Today’s my mom’s birthday. She’d be 99. On her 26th birthday, back in March, 1945, the Red Army captured her and dragged her back into the Soviet Union. Sometimes I feel discouraged about the publication challenges I’ve encountered after writing these stories. But then I look at these faces and I become determined —all over again.

Spring Things

The absolute best thing about being retired (four years this month!) is the gift of time. I’ve been using it for catching up on house repairs, decluttering, recharging my body (worn out from years of those letter carrier walks), and of course, focusing more on reading and writing. New writing projects still get relegated to first thing in the morning—just like when I was working. That way I’ve done the hardest part first.

 Afternoons are for non-writing activities like swimming (my favorite winter sport) biking, gardening (in the warmer weather), along with my mini-teaching gig in an after-school science program.

I read an article by Joy Kowaga in TWUC’s Write journal, the other day, where she referred to the word philoxenia, which she had used in a convocation address at University of Victoria. It means, ‘openness to newcomers,’ and is the opposite of xenophobia.

Reading that reminded me of another thing I thoroughly enjoy about retirement: volunteering with immigrants. Being the first born of an immigrant family, I relate to some of the challenges and emotions of starting over. Currently I’m helping out in an EAL (English as an additional language) class with students who are at the beginning of their English study. What a warm, enthusiastic group of learners. I really appreciate their energy.

The other day we worked in small groups trying to make conversation about what we like about spring. (We’ve had unseasonably warm weather this past week.) One woman (from Somalia) said she liked the clouds. Why? Because clouds bring rain and she loves to dance in the warm rain of spring.

Ah. Spring. Yes, it’s just around the corner. But these are the prairies, and first we have a snowstorm coming our way.

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