When people talk about Canada, it's often about hockey and snow. As someone who grew up in Canada, I'm familiar with the schtick. But as someone who has spent most of my life in the lower Fraser Valley of BC, aka Metro Vancouver, the whole Great White North thing is not a lived experience. But I've had a taste of it this past week in Winnipeg and Beausejour, Manitoba. This has been the snowiest, coldest winter on record since sometime in the 1940s.
Winter, I realize, is actually a culture. The ability to survive in such extremes of weather really does shape people. It's not just remembering to plug in the block heater before you take the car out, it's also the skill of driving in snow, both snow on the road and in the air. There's something shared by people who survive months of winter, like people who went to the same university or fought forest fires together.
Simply to go outside to walk to the market requires a level of preparation akin to packing for a weekend at the lake. Careful layers of clothing are the only thing between you and frostbite. There is no just tossing a jacket on to run to the corner. When it's -30 before the windchill, that's enough to kill you. This winter Winnipeg has seen temperatures plummeting to -50. Even my die-hard, winter-loving friends hung up the snow shoes and stayed inside.
This week was more like -25. That's still cold enough to feel the crackle in your nose when you step outside and to appreciate the wooly mittens over the gloves. But I loved the moment of stepping out and really feeling the cold on my skin. It felt like a reminder that I am alive. It felt like God calling me back to myself.
People who live in winter appreciate the spring. I was here in Winnipeg early in June last year as the weather warmed up (and before the notorious mosquitoes) and everyone, everyone was outside, walking, cycling, sitting in cafes, working in the yard. When you've been either housebound, or wearing so many layers that it was like walking in a cocoon, you're happy to stretch your wings and feel the warm air on your skin.
I have travelled to Winnipeg several times a year for several years, but only one other time in the heart of winter. It is stunningly beautiful when the sun shines, which is often. One complaint that people often have about the mild Vancouver winter is the lack of light, the greyness and rain. It's mostly true. Here, the sun on the snow and the big sky fill the day with light, as if to make up for the shortness of the day.
Winter can be a spiritual practice. This week has been like a retreat for me. Indeed I spent 5 days in circle at the Sandy Saulteaux Spiritual Centre. It was that, and also the early morning walks through snow, the deep quiet of the snow-buffered land, the beauty of the landscape and surprise of seed pods and rabbit footprints. Winter, by its nature, slows down the world. You can't walk quickly through the snow, nor drive too fast. It's a good time for slow food and long books. Days are short and the dark nights invite early bedtimes.
While my time here was relatively short, I am grateful for this Canadian winter experience. I feel a bit of solidarity with Canadians outside of south west BC. And I feel closer to our Creator, in awe of the vastness and diversity of the Creation in which we live and of which we are a part. I am whelmed. Thanks be to God.
I recently received the most beautiful e-mail invitation.
It came from Christine, a mutual friend of my friend Wade. There was no explanation, only a request and a list. On the list were 52 dates, the first Monday of every week of 2014. Beside each date was a name or cluster of names. My name was beside May 12.
The request was this:
"The hope is that you will put something in the mail to Wade during that week.
You are welcome (but not mandated) to get creative. Mail a card. An art project. A mixed-CD. Chocolate. Pictures. Poetry. A book. A copy of a Wade-inspired letter-to-the-editor. There are no limits. And there is intended to be no pressure."
On March 3 of last year, I'd had a phone call from Wade, fairly late in the evening. He called to tell me some news and ask me a favour. Wade's news was that he had just been diagnosed with colon cancer. He then told me that his mother had also been diagnosed with ALS, Louis Gehrigs disease. It was pretty aggressive. She wasn't expected to live past the summer. He was putting his Masters of Divinity on hold and moving back to Enderby to be with her. He was also expecting to undergo surgery within the next few months. The favour he asked was that I contact some of our mutual friends so that they would hear the news from someone, rather than through social media.
This e-mail says something about Wade. There were more than 52 people on that list. These were 52-plus people who Christine and Wade were pretty sure would be willing to mail him something. And I know that if they wanted to do two years, they could have found 52 more people who would have mailed him something. I can't think of 52 people who I would even consider asking to mail me something, let alone who I thought would actually want to.
People love Wade. They do because he is generous with his own love. He is the kind of guy who could be called the face of love. He is intentional, mindful, creative, wise and kind. When he went to Africa, to thank the people with whom he stayed, he created theWATERproject.ca and brought fresh water to their village, devoting six years to the project. You want him as your minister, even if you don't go to church. And he's willing to be open and vulnerable. And that's what makes this e-mail so beautiful. In his willingness to ask his friends for something that will help lift his spirit, he has given each of us the opportunity to spread love. In participating, I get to practice being intentional, mindful, creative and kind. I can only hope to ever be so wise.
E-mail from Wade, February 13:
Hi Dear Ones~
Letting you know that Mom died today. My brother and I were with her at home, which is exactly how she wanted to go. I’m feeling lots of things – sad and grateful being the biggest themes.
Love you all – thanks for your love.
musings of someone spiritual and oddly religious
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