What she left

“What will I leave of myself?” asked nurse and poet Christine Wiebe (1954-2000) in her journal. The question found its way into a limited edition book, “How to Stay Alive,” produced for family and friends, and now into excerpts carried in the latest issue of the online CMW Journal. I hear it, honest and poignant, as it weaves through the 79 online pages of the piece, and through her poems, and as I read her mother Katie Funk Wiebe’s short biography of her daughter, then a short analysis of Christine’s work by Ellen Kroeker (and the poem, “Her Spirit, a Small Bird with Color”), and the reflections of her sister Joanna and Jeff Gundy Christine, and… well the whole issue, in fact.

Christine faced many health challenges, including lupus and heart attacks and eventually the complete collapse of her body and death. She was interested in healing — of others, of herself. She was both Catholic and Mennonite. And most of all she wanted to be a writer. And she struggled — in the way one’s thoughts turn round and round in journal writing — with those dreams (and others) and what might not be accomplished.

On the evidence of these articles, she left more than she knew perhaps, for her mother, sisters, friends, colleagues, clients, especially in terms of personal interaction. But in addition, and here I speak as one of those now reading these gathered words by and about her, these frank and lovely, almost heartbreaking words, I want to answer her, you left us all this: a gift of what you saw and strove for and accepted.

I close with one whimsical foretaste of Christine’s art and poetry from her journal (used with permission):

Everyone has an angel.
Angels have friends.
Imagine all the angels around
your bed
before you sleep.

Mennonite chick lit

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen has all the marks of chick lit, which I don’t usually read. (If that sounds snobbish, let me rush to explain that it’s an age thing: I’m up for some well-written crone lit, actually, if it’s out there.)

Plus, Valerie Weaver-Zercher, reviewing the book in Christian Century, said Janzen “manages to reveal little of consequence about either herself or the church from which she came,” and “her wit at times obscures authentic self-revelation.” I thought I didn’t need to bother with it then.

But I also read other more positive reviews and a discussion of the book at the Center for Mennonite Writing. And, of course, there was the fact that, if chick lit, it was Mennonite chick lit — an oxymoron, perhaps, until now. I learned further that the “going home” of the subtitle was to the Mennonite Brethren, which happens to be my brand of Mennonite, and the author’s father is Edmund Janzen, for some years moderator of the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (although author Janzen calls him “head of the North American Mennonite Conference for Canada and the United States…the Mennonite equivalent of the pope”). Don’t most of us like to know what’s being said about “us”?

Given the intrigue of conflicting reviews, then, and my undeniable curiosity, I decided to buy the book and find out for myself.

Continue reading