The experience of being honored

Besides celebrating our 40th anniversary last Sunday (Aug. 10) with food and conversation and stories and a slide show that still chokes me up a little, some awfully nice things were said to and about us in that public setting. Our children spoke generously and touchingly, and H. and I had the opportunity to give tribute to one another.

Later, we talked privately about the powerful effect this experience of being honored has had on our spirits. I find myself still moving within the effect of it, in fact, as if in awe, and have been wondering how to describe it.

Perhaps the definition of honor helps. Honor includes notions of respect, esteem, and fulfilling (or keeping) an obligation. It implies choice. It’s a gift to which the giver might give some deliberation, and is thus quite the opposite of flattery, which doesn’t cost much and is self-serving. Honor acknowledges the other’s efforts and, for the recipient, satisfies or seals those efforts. It’s humbling, for the good that is praised is lifted from ground that’s often been inadequate and failing. It provokes gratitude, affection, and further effort. At its best, it’s beautifully circular.

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For the record, here, as we were about a week ago:

photo

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Anticipation

I’m re-reading Middlemarch by George Eliot in anticipation of Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch, waiting for me on the reserve shelf at the library. I plan to get into that book post my finish of the base book, and post the celebration of our 40th anniversary with family and friends this coming Sunday. All our children and grandchildren will soon be spilling into this house from parts east and west for about a week, and yes, we’ve got enough beds and mattresses for the 15 of us. More on that event, perhaps, in a future post. Though maybe not. I’ve already gushed some nostalgic tears, picking photos for the slide show and listening to the songs they’ll be set to. Generally I find it hard to put into words the deepest and most familial of joys. Or maybe I just like to hold them private. But about the books, for sure, later in August.

But this note to say I’m having a lovely summer, my novel manuscript revisions done and me in full break from writing and the weather quite glorious, the birds frequent to the feeder and bath for their pleasure and ours as we watch, and the tomatoes ripening, and the pink-purple petunias sprawling fuller over the balcony railing of the front porch than any year yet. I’m full of anticipation and I feel blessed.

sc0014f93dP.S. A quote from Middlemarch‘Fred’s studies are not very deep,’ said Rosamund, rising with her mamma, ‘he is only reading a novel.’

I guess Fred wasn’t reading Middlemarch; it’s a fine, deep book.

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The M Word

I’ve just spent a couple of days with a collection of essays about motherhood. About life with a uterus, as Kerry Clare puts it. It was like slipping into this wonderful story circle, 25 articulate women speaking honestly of being–or not being–a mother. Choices or surprises. Twins. Abortion. Miscarriage. Child death. Step-parenting. Single mothering. Infertility. Delightful children. Difficult children. Now and then, when the children were especially demanding and the writer felt herself turning into someone, as Deanna McFadden puts it, “crammed into the corners of her own life,” I longed to put my hand through the page with a pat and say, It gets better. Usually it does, I think. But such a typically maternal gesture, isn’t it? Coming from the stage I’m in now, which is post-Mother in a way, easier on every level but with some terrific adults in my life who happen to be my children. Me still, and again, in Heidi Reimer’s words, “gobsmacked and humbled”by their existence. Continue reading

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Does the First World War belong to me?

The first question Susan Sanford Blades asked me in an e-mail interview about “Mask” was, Was this story informed at all by any of your personal experience (via family etc.) with the war? (“Mask,” which will appear in The Malahat Review this summer, concerns the repercussions of an English soldier’s facial injury in the First World War.) A perfectly appropriate question, perfectly innocent, about the story’s origin. When I read it, however, I reacted with an inner gasp of panic. Does the First World War actually belong to me? 

It had never occurred to me to me that it didn’t, but in that moment, before I went on to answer Susan, it loomed large. Did it belong enough, that is, for me to use it in a story?    Continue reading

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A bow to the past in Kansas

In the spirit of the rather fitful reporting to which this blog has devolved, I’m here this Monday afternoon to say that I was away four days in Kansas, hanging out with historians and archivists. (I believe I’ve mentioned before that these are some of my favorite people.) I’m on the Historical Commission of the Mennonite Brethren (MB) denomination, which meets once a year, rotating between the four archival centers in Kansas, California, B.C., and Manitoba. We hear reports from the centers, undertake various publishing projects (including both scholarly and popular history–last year’s was the fascinating mystery-biography, It Happened in Moscow by Maureen Klassen, which has sold astonishingly well), sponsor research grants and an archival internship, and occasionally plan symposiums, all to foster the preservation of, study of, and reflection on our history. Continue reading

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The strong memory of places

House on Kildonan Drive, Jane's Walk 2014

House on Kildonan Drive, Jane’s Walk 2014

H. and I participated in one of Winnipeg’s 24 Jane’s Walks* this weekend: the one along Kildonan Drive North.  It was a chilly, rather overcast day, but a large group of us gathered to wander along a river street associated with North Kildonan’s rich or famous—names familiar to the Mennonite settlement here like Henry Redekop, A.A. DeFehr, George Janzen, Henry Krahn, and  those connected to pioneering and municipal leadership like J.M. Morton and Angus Matheson McKay. Continue reading

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Six more books and notes

DownloadedFileThis weekend in The Globe and Mail, Ian Brown wrote, glowingly, “Why I read a six-volume diary by a Norwegian novelist,” on his experience of the first volumes (the article title is a bit of a misnomer, as not all six volumes are available in English yet) of Karl Ove Kanusgaard’s My Struggle. I recently finished the first volume of Knausgaard and have to agree, it’s mesmerizing, this attempt to speak of everything, to recall the mundane, the truth of himself and others, memoir-like, but without the narrative arc of fiction or memoir. I’m glad I read the first 441 pages of the project, to see what the fuss was about, but presently am not inclined to continue. To me, it invites a kind of voyeurism I’m not willing to sustain. Continue reading

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