The Epistle of Q — Chapter Ninety-Four

Does Stealing Home ring a bell for you?

Sometimes it’s good to go back…and in this instance I realize that I have been away from this writing for about two months…weird and not entirely explainable – but I’ll try…

When I actually started this chapter it was Easter weekend. Always an interesting, reflective and introspective time in my life. Growing up in the manse, this weekend, even more than Christmas, was spent in church. We would have the Wednesday night Lenten services throughout Lent. There would be Palm Sunday (also often called Passion Sunday) and occasionally Maundy Thursday (although it wasn’t until I was in a relationship with a Lutheran that I consistently participated in this event). But Good Friday sometimes had as many as three hours of service and then Easter Sunday itself. I’m not sure what the maximum number of services I might have attended, certainly never less than two and as a student minister I think I conducted four one year. So this year is considerably different – I only participated in one service and that via the internet from Zion Presbyterian in Charlottetown.

And yet this was a very reflective time. I walked. Yesterday I biked. I did a great deal of thinking and even some writing. I also went to Tickleberry’s for a super ice-cream cone (black cherry and bourbon/cherry/tonic). And tonight I watched a very reflective movie: Stealing Home. This has always been a fascinating film for me and not just because of its music (the film score is even better than The Big Chill). This is a story of two very intriguing characters – Jody Foster plays Katie who is Billy Wyatt’s baby-sitter when he is young and then his mentor when he is a teenager; the adult version of Billy (the lost & alone baseball player) is played by Mark Harmon. (An interesting side-bar: Mark and Jody never appear on the screen at the same time!!)

Why I love this film is due in no small part to the trajectory of the two main characters. Billy has all the potential to be a professional ball player but after his father’s death and a summer with his babysitter at a seaside home, while he does play minor pro ball he ends up dropping out and becoming not much more than a bum until he learns of Katie’s death by suicide. Katie, on the other hand, after that summer with Billy on the seashore, disappears from his life as she pursues an idealistic escape that includes two failed marriages and finally back to the seaside home where she ends it all. In her will, she leaves her ashes in the care of Billy which causes a whole lot of reflection on his part about his life, her impact on it, and just where he should be going forward.

No need to re-live it all for you now. You can rent it or track it down on some streaming service and watch it for yourself. For me among the many thoughtful moments comes the question: who was my first love? And even deeper, what was it about that individual that most impacted or shaped my life? The theme song in that film has haunted me ever since the first time I heard it. I still have the sound track on tape I think; in any event, as it came into the screenplay tonight I found myself singing along – I could remember almost the entire song! And in the aftermath it made me realize that I am now where I am in many ways because of that first love; and I wouldn’t be as happy as I am now, had the person not come into my life so long ago (and then left it).

And this all happened today, on Easter – a day of new beginnings that we celebrate every year. Today I became more aware of the spirituality in my journey, in part because I didn’t actually go into a church building but instead watched a movie about two people whose moment in time was brief but significant enough that the guy eventually found his ability to again steal home.

And then, after coming to this revelation, I never finished the chapter… although I didn’t stop reflecting on it all…partly because, in the intervening times two more people who were part of my life in earlier times passed away. One, the wife of my other critical academic mentor, was a special person. But how I came to know of her passing was when getting off a plane at YVR on a Sunday morning, I picked up the Vancouver Province and for some unknown (but doubtless guided) reason turned to the obituaries. Here is what I said in my e-mail to her husband:

She was a wonderful lady…those of us in the earliest days of (Poli Sci) 420 will always appreciate her forbearance when we stopped in AFTER class + FacClub moments. She was always a gracious host. And of course, who will ever forget her strong direction in “the move” from the banks of the North Saskatchewan to I think it was King Gordon’s house in Windsor Park. Peter, you may have been one of my best mentors and profs, but Patti was the person that humanized you for all of us. I will say a special prayer for all of you tonight…I can’t imagine your sorrow, but I have some inkling of your loss. Just know that all of us who knew her, will always remember her vivaciousness that is captured so radiantly in today’s picture. She is free from her cancer and pain…she is not free from our glorious memories.

I haven’t kept in touch with Peter as much as I should have. But a few years ago I spent the better part of a day with him. Patti was away that day so we had considerable time to reflect as well as talk about where we now were in life. After a tour of their lovely home near the ocean, we concluded our time with lunch at the Faculty Club at UVIC. They, like the McIntosh’s, were special people in my academic journey. I was only sorry that a teaching gig at Concordia University of Edmonton kept me from attending Patti’s funeral.

But then a couple of weeks later I received word that a former colleague also had passed away from cancer. This person, along with my previously deceased friend Bruce Johnson, had formed the core support writing team in the development of the landmark education curriculum project Salmonids in the Classroom. Unlike Bruce, I had lost track of Linda after a memorable dinner some time in the mid/late eighties when she scolded me for not making more of my life (I was working on developing Aboriginal Independent Schools at the time). She was a brilliant curriculum writer and the three of us accomplished much. The irony though is that my original writing team for my still unfinished book and now my writing team for the big curriculum project (that did get completed) are all gone.

Reflecting now, while I consider myself blessed to be alive, I realize that I have lost a good many friends and/or colleagues in recent years. Perhaps not surprising, given our place in the age spectrum, but still something to think about. Then I come out of that reflective moment to awaken to the amazing fact that the opposite is also true. While some of my long-time male friends have passed away or disappeared from my radar screen, there still are some very special people alive and in touch. In particular there are at least two women who keep in touch and in doing so remind me of the many accomplishments we have jointly achieved.

Both I have known for over forty years. One sends me a monthly e-mail outlining all the things going on in her life. I met her husband (who retired a while ago as an ADM in the federal government) almost as long ago and then got to know her children (both now very successful adults). They lead an exceedingly vigorous life, travelling and studying and writing… Her monthly epistles are always interesting and constantly remind me of how valuable she was as my Research Associate back in the days of the Salmonid Enhancement Program. I’m very glad that she is still alive and willing to share the ups & downs in her world – it helps keep me balanced.

The other friend did occasionally work with me, particularly on presentations to international conferences and as a co-instructor in some training sessions when establishing independent schools. But our relationship was built more on a mentor/mentee connection as she journeyed vocationally from a teacher aide through to probably the best principal in her school district. In her retirement she then when on to mentor others. Her world has been turned upside down in the past couple of years as her wonderful husband has been stricken with the Alzheimer disease. We had a delightful meal the other evening where we managed to keep the conversation primarily on topics that kept us laughing; nevertheless, it is sad to see a person, still so vibrant, dealing with such a devastating illness.

And, of course, there are a couple of guys that go all the way back to university. But I will leave them along with a perhaps another woman or two for another chapter, another movie (or maybe a series on Netflix like The Kominsky Method).

It has been good to have this long period of not writing but rather thinking about the good, the bad and the ugly of life in all its changing seasons. I have been able to re-connect with some others from my past, but generally speaking these are transitory moments. For the most part they are on very different trajectories now and their seriousness precludes much opportunity for laughter or reflective analysis. Now I am more content to concentrate on those who want to be close to me, to share their visions going forward, no matter when we first met. No doubt I will hear occasionally of others who have passed but the moments that now will impact me most are those living who are special in the current moment. They may have been friends for forty years, or they may have been in my life for fifteen. They may have more recently greeted my world and we’ve found a common thread of laughter and reflection. Mostly they may be family or just like family.

And  perhaps that brings me this chapter back full circle to Stealing Home. Perhaps we need to be reminded occasionally of those people who really make an impact on our lives and celebrate them to the greatest extent possible while they are alive. When they move out of our vision, beyond proximity, that doesn’t mean they weren’t important. It may just mean that their importance was more contextual, more existential. The key is to cherish the memories but celebrate the living. Take the risk occasionally to steal home – to win in the existential moment, to experience the joy of the surprising relationship. It’s good to be alive – don’t let it pass unnoticed or unappreciated.