Saturday, March 29, 2008

Happy Birthday Ms. Serendipity (“S”)!

"--- you don't reach Serendib by plotting a course for it. You have to set out in good faith for elsewhere and lose your bearings ... serendipitously." The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor (John Barth)

Throughout my journey, I’ve met more people than I care to shake a stick at. I’ve had patients, associates, colleagues, family, companions, and, acquaintances. Some have been the bain of my existence, cankers in my mouth, and hemmeroids you know where. Some have provided companionship, humour and fun while others have been the spawn of Satan himself. I can count on my fingers and toes the people in my life who are genuine, ethical, true and kind and, worthy of being called “friend”.

Serendipity is an unsought, unintended, or unexpected discovery, made by accident. So the story goes like this. Ms. Serendipity and I work for the same organization. We worked together on a proposal several years ago. We had different styles and objectives but we got through that time unharmed and intact. Ironically, in recent years I became part of the same department as Ms. Serendipity and unexpectedly, unintentionally, and accidently I found a friend. An unexpected miracle.

If you are familiar with serendipity in science and medicine you’ll know that was how Fleming discovered Penicillin; Richet used toxins to combat anaphylaxis; Jenner found the vaccine for small pox; and, Roentgen discovered X-rays. If you dig deeper you’ll learn about the accidental and unintentional discovery of Silly Putty (I still love Silly Putty); the “Pill”; Teflon; Scotchgard; Rayon; and, Cellophane. By accident these discoveries have revolutionized our modern world. Imagine your world without serendipity.

I tend to view the world through a microscopic lens and find spores and mutagens, whereas my friend “Ms. Serendipity” views the world through a kaleidoscope. Through her lens she helps me to see a world reflected through light, mirrors and prisms which in turn display beautiful symmetrical patterns. She is genuine, ethical, true and, kind. I can’t imagine my world without her. Just think I actually came upon her by accident...

Thanks “Ms. Serendipity” and a very Happy Birthday to You!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Meet My Charlotte


Wilbur blushed. "But I'm not terrific, Charlotte. I'm just about average for a pig." "You're terrific as far as I'm concerned," replied Charlotte, sweetly, "and that's what counts. You're my best friend, and I think you're sensational. Now stop arguing and go get some sleep!"

When I was in grade 2 my teacher Miss Kelly read us E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web. I remember it was a nice story about a cute pig. I didn’t give it much thought after that. When my daughter was around five my mother gave her a video of a cartoon version of Charlotte’s Web. Hilary was enchanted while she watched it and cried at the end of the movie. It was one of those videos that Hilary watched over and over again and the tears flowed each time. Recently Hilary brought home the 2006 movie version; we watched it together one evening. “I finally got it”. Guess who was crying this time?

The theme of Charlotte's Web is the power of loyalty and loving friendship. The novel is a story about a pig named Wilbur who is saved by a spider named Charlotte. They live in the same barn and first become acquainted when Charlotte overhears Wilbur lamenting his loneliness and offers to be his friend. Wilbur thinks she is beautiful and, as he gets to know her, finds her fascinating. A loyal and talented friend, she is as good as her word.

If you recall the story, Wilbur hears that his owner, Mr. Zuckerman, plans to butcher him at Christmas time, Charlotte calms his fears by promising to save him. She makes Mr. Zuckerman believe that Wilbur is an exceptional pig by writing words into the webs she weaves in the corner of the doorway to Wilbur's home in the cellar of the barn. The Zuckerman family and all the neighbours are amazed when they read Charlotte's legend SOME PIG, and take it for a miracle or a mysterious sign. And the wonder grows, along with Wilbur's reputation when Charlotte extends her campaign with other legends: TERRIFIC and RADIANT.

My mom is my Charlotte. I can’t tell you how many times she has supported us and shouted “SOME PIG, TERRIFIC or RADIANT” at us. Okay so she never used the word “pig” as it’s not in her vocabulary but the sentiment and loyalty mirrored Charlotte’s passion for Wilbur. We believed in ourselves because she believed in us.

Towards the end of the novel Wilbur wins a prize at the County Fair. Charlotte weaves one more word, this time above Wilbur's exhibition pen, where everyone could see it. She chooses the word HUMBLE for her ultimate praise, a word she thinks appropriate because its dictionary definitions, not proud and near the ground, fit Wilbur. I reserve that legend for my mom as she is the most HUMBLE person I know and like Charlotte she is beautiful, fascinating, loyal and as good as her word.

Like Charlotte, my mother is the central character in my life story. My mom reared us by following her instincts, by using her intelligence, and by being true to her individual self without being false to her general nature. My mom and Charlotte remind me that heroes are people in a class by themselves because they use their unusual gifts to protect others. They give us wings to fly and teach us to weave our webs.

For the record my mom is “SOME TERRIFIC, RADIANT, HUMBLE LADY, so she is”.


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Easter Day

For as long as I can remember Easter Sunday has been my favourite day of the entire year. It marked the start of spring which for me symbolized hope and new beginnings.
Growing up at my house, it meant much more. I was raised in the parsonage. Easter was the most important festival in the Christian calendar. It is the commemoration of Jesus' death and his rising from the dead, also known as the resurrection.

Each Easter Day before dawn, my dad would kick us out of bed to attend the sunrise service on Armour Hill in Peterborough, ON. Some Easter days were cold and others were magically warm yet all left me with the feeling of wonder, beauty, and healing. The view of the city was beautiful and the people in our lives at that time were unmatched. I remember the services always ended with the gathered crowd singing “LOW IN THE GRAVE HE LAY”.

The best Easter Days took us to Aunt Edith and Uncle Calvin’s home. As we drove up the Glen Tay road in Perth, ON, we knew that Edith had everything ready for us. As soon as I walked through their door I could smell “home”. She never let me down; she always made her potato salad, salty pork roast, girkens pickles, and beets and, topped it off with her “lazy daisy cake” and raspberry pie. Later, Edith & I would sit together at her kitchen table; drink steeped tea and just talk. I talked with her since I was a child until well into adulthood. She never judged, she listened, she told great stories and parables, she prayed and she loved me unconditionally.

When I was five I made her a plaque from plaster of paris of “the praying hands”. They were awful, the paint job was ugly. Yet she hung it in her front hall and it hung there until she died. I’m sorry Edith, I’m laughing; I never would have hung that plaque in my house. I love her for that. During my teenage years she nicknamed me”Itis” because she thought I was inflamed. When I started nursing, every time I heard a diagnosis that ended in “itis” I would chuckle and think of her.
Edith is with her Saviour this Easter Day. I’ll be up for the sunrise and sing the traditional hymn. Later I’ll host Easter Day for my wonderful family. I won’t make the “lazy daisy cake” or the raspberry pie though, I don’t have Edith’s touch and I want to remember the exact taste like I remember her. I’ll put out the girkens; I don’t think I can do much harm to those.

Happy Easter!

Monday, March 3, 2008


I have a confession to make. “I love men in top hats and cravats! “ If you had told me that I did or would 15 years ago, I would have instructed you call 1-800-Get-Lost.

I must thank my English Prof brother “Fish” who insisted so long ago that I read Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice along with all the painful novels written by Barbara Pym. I happen to admire the hell out of the guy, so I read them out of my respect and admiration for him; although I must confess that the novels were read under duress and a sense of obligation. I was so relieved when I finished them and have often pondered why “Fish” held them in such high regard. I have come to conclusion that it comes down to the ‘rectory’. I am prepared for his challenge. I even have the hymns selected. Take me on Fish!

Then came the day when Fish presented himself at our home with BBC’s drama of Pride and Prejudice. Emphatically Fish stated that I would love it. I thought silently, ‘not likely’. I had no intention of watching it. My husband insisted we should watch the first of the 6 episodes to appease him. We did and I was hooked...all night for 6 hours straight. I fell in love with Mr. Darcy. Colin Firth will always be my Mr. Darcy.

The “Fish” returned with a vengeance with BBC’s drama of Bronte’s Jane Eyre. I had never read the book and protested as I had seen the William Hurt version and hated the movie. Again my sensible husband thought we should watch the first episode. We did and I was hooked...all night; for 4 hours straight. Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre had the most erotic boot porn I’ve ever seen. Whoever said you had to get naked?

Enough is enough right? The “Fish” returned a few weeks ago with BBC’s drama series of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North & South. I put my foot down. I was not watching it! My husband started watching the series while I worked on other assignments. Curiosity was killing me and the next thing I (pride and prejudice) knew; I was sitting there beside him (sense and sensibility) and watched the entire series without a spoken word. This time the hero was not the man in the top hat and cravat but the female heroine Margaret Hale.


Pride and Prejudice and North and South have interesting similarities yet profound differences. Pride and Prejudice focuses on the effect that social mores and class influences have on the lives of the characters. Elizabeth Bennett and her sister Jane were, in Darcy’s opinion, beneath and unworthy of Bingley and himself, due to the socially inferior family they were born into. Many of the social conventions during this historical period tended to shackle the human spirit and thwart the possibility for love to come to fruition between individuals who may have been otherwise suited. While these obstacles were overcome in Pride and Prejudice, we wonder whether Austen has made the leap toward the fantastical, if not unbelievable, in bridging the chasm between the classes.

Fortunately for the world, the industrial revolution came along and down came the walls of many of the absurd conventions of the eighteenth century. The notion that an English Gentleman would be disgraced if he had to get his hands dirty in order to save the honour and integrity of his family was dispelled by Gaskell in North and South. Margaret Hale recognized that she herself was guilty of romanticizing the North (Milton), after having had the opportunity to contrast it with life in the mundane, more conventional south. The development of her attachment to Mr. Thornton evolved as she observed his propensity to become increasingly more sensitive to the condition and plight of his workers, thereby making him more human. Thornton pointed out that initially the industrial revolution would bring about hardship and difficulty, but that society would benefit over time from its development.

It is interesting that Margaret Hale was the conduit for Thornton’s transformation. She brought out the best in his character; she was acutely aware of his flaws as a person but continued to defend his character throughout the story despite the opinion of those who were willing to write him off as a monster. It is also interesting to note that she was ultimately portrayed as his economic equal at the conclusion of the story; unlikely to have occurred during Austen’s eighteenth century England. The industrial revolution, it can be argued, contributed to a greater level of humanization within society. The Hale/Thornton romance was for me more compelling and identifiable as it occurred within a wider context of human struggle. They just needed a little boot porn to top it off ;)


Best Story:
☼ North & South

Best man in a top hat and cravat:
☼ Mr. Thornton

Best Heroine:
☼ Margaret Hale

Best Storyteller: