Monday, October 3, 2011

October Rambling

"She was never going to be the most beautiful woman in the room" - novelist Louise Penny writes of a minor character - "[but she] was alive."

I'm alive. After this past week, that feels like more than a bit of an accomplishment. During this last week, we juggled my nephew's heart surgery, helping out at my great uncle's funeral in London, and emceeing a wedding in Ottawa. Oh, and the diamond falling out of my engagement ring (found it!), the kennel losing our dog's reservation (found another one!), grade nine parent night, a potential football concussion, and all the normal detritus of family and work life.

Surgery went well - although the weight of it hung heavy even though we were at a distance. The funeral was fitting - despite the fact that I confused the deceased with his brother and did a doubletake when the living brother walked toward me.

Our drive to Ottawa was beautiful but it wasn't pretty. Our kids had been too excited to sleep much before midnight the night before. We had heard that the leaves in Algonquin Park were at their absolute peak this weekend and we - perhaps foolishly - decided to take the road less traveled, effectively doubling our drive time to nine hours. Thank heavens it was spectacular and that the rain was only intermittent. We got to stop at Webers for burgers, to show the kids our honeymoon place just outside Huntsville, and look at amazingly colourful vistas. We also got to endure Much Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth. I had loaded new music into my iPod and since it was, after all, Friday, I decided to include the infamous Rebecca Black song. Which my kids promptly declared verboten. Later in the day when the fighting became intense, I threatened to play the song again; that's when the tears started again.

The next day, they were even wearier from the journey. We went over to Gatineau Park in Quebec (I blew kisses to my beloved belle province from the hotel window -- and I'm not ashamed to admit it) and hiked around the meromictic Pink Lake. Meromictic apparently means a lake where seasonal mixing of the water from the top and bottom does not occur and so the bottom of the lake is oxygen-free, in part because of geology (the cliffs surrounding the lake shelter it from mixing winds), and in part because the water at the bottom is heavier than the rest. Apparently the stuff at the bottom, only 20 metres down, hasn't had a good breath of oxygen for 10,000 years, and the lake is home to prehistoric creatures. These facts and the fascinating way the wind rippled the surface of the water in a variety of directions caused our middle child to create a lengthy science fiction story about Homo Aquatic Man, who lived in the lake, and who came up to take a breath every 10,000 years, sucking all the air out of the valley. The story was detailed and was embellished as we walked the three kilometres of paths around the lake. It was around the time that we spotted flakes of mica on the path and the deep caves beside the path (mica mines from the early 20th century, apparently) that the energy of our youngest started to flag in earnest. We could see, directly across the lake the place where we had started - it would take just as long to get back either way. By the time we reached our final stretch, I was hoping Homo Aquatic Man might consider taking her for his own.

After a hurried visit to William Lyon Mackenzie King's summer home in the park, we went to the Byward Market, where we picked up lunch, apples, braided garlic and Lush toothpaste tablets (wasabi flavoured!).

By this time, we had a relatively short time to get to the wedding. We parked in the 15-minute parking in front of our hotel, rode up the elevator, threw on clothes and mascare (some of us) and hurried back down with minutes to spare.

The wedding was lovely. It was held in a massive wood-lined, stained-glass Anglican church, with coffee mugs, coat racks and bookshelves lining one side of the church. The church was abuzz with chatter before the service -- it was a rollicking crowd -- and laughter throughout the service. The minister blended tradition with innovation and sincerity, personalizing and sympathizing and adapting to technical glitches. The bride's younger sister, who has intellectual disabilities and is exuberant in her affection, read beautifully about leaning not on your own understanding. The bridesmaids carried sunflowers. The groom and his brother wore kilts in their family tartan. And the bride, whose life has been deeply involved in our family's life for a decade, was happy, as she will be.

When I looked ahead at this week, I was afraid that the weight of all the different events and needs would accumulate and I would be stressed and strained at the reception. We had chosen the emcees at our own wedding because they were fun people, but at the wedding, they turned prim and proper. I could imagine it happening to us. I could also imagine just wanting the whole thing to be over with -- when what I really hoped was that I could enjoy every minute. We planned ahead, so that the weight of the entertainment would not rise and fall on our jokes. We chose small symbolic items and wrapped them, placing one on each table at the reception. We instructed guests to open the gifts and to figure out how their item connected with the bride's story, the groom's story or their shared history. If they told a true, good story, the couple would reward them with a kiss.

I probably should have known when I heard the jocularity at the wedding, the unconventional music, and the bagpipes - I should have known then that we had exactly the right crowd for this activity. Every single table rose to the occasion. True, I had to correct some of the outlandish stories, but it provoked more laughter, community and shared history, and it honoured the bride and groom, rather than embarrassing or humiliating them.

And here's the thing. At the wedding, the minister talked about whether or not Jesus would be fun at a party -- that most would probably consider that having Jesus might put a damper on things, but in reality, the story of Jesus' first miracle was where he was at a wedding and the wine ran out and he turned water into fine wine. At our wedding, lo these 20 years ago, one of the songs we had sung was precisely about this miracle. Some of the lyrics said this: So amidst the laughter and feasting/ There sits Jesus full with the fun.

That's how I felt -- full with the fun. Really, that was a miracle to me after a week of the good, the bad and the ugly. I wasn't -- and was never going to be -- the most beautiful woman in the room, but I was alive. In Penny's novel, a character observing the woman "had come to appreciate how important it was, how very attractive it was, how very rare it was, to be fully alive."