Monday, March 28, 2011

Doggie in the window

Jim Pickett died. Not that I’d ever known his full name. He was just Jim, the cheerful, portly, octogenarian WWII veteran who attended daily Mass and rosary at our parish. There’s a bunch of us who stay after Mass to pray the rosary together, and, as with daily Mass-goers in parishes, we see each other every weekday, pray together, smile and nod at one another, make commentary about the weather or some parish gossip tidbit, and emerge into the daylight to carry on with our days. We are bonded in a special way, but often know little or nothing about each other – not even our full names. I do know there were three Jims … and now there are two.

But Jim Pickett was one who did love to chat, and thank goodness he did; he had a fascinating lifetime to share. He was too young to join the Canadian forces during World War II, so he slipped across the border and somehow managed to join the US army at the age of 15. He fought with American troops in the Philippines, and it was there he met his Filippino wife and brought her home to Canada. In the last few years she had been suffering Alzheimers, and Jim had been tenderly caring for her night and day.

He had another special friend – his Heinz 57 mutt who loved to travel with him. I got to know Jim’s dog fairly well (known only to me as “Jim’s dog”); he and I were on barking/hello terms each morning. I’d arrive my usual two-minutes late for daily Mass, careen into the parking space next to Jim’s pickup, and scramble out of my car to be met with the morning bark from inside the truck. I’d smile and wave hello as I scurried across the parking lot, tugging my missal out of my purse.

But it was a different story after Mass. If I left the church before Jim, I’d reach my car and wave/say hi, but there was never a friendly answering bark, not even an acknowledgement of my presence. Jim’s dog would be in the driver’s seat, his face pressed to the window, big brown soulful eyes riveted on the church door, waiting for his master to emerge. Nothing could take Jim’s dog’s eyes off that door. He knew Mass was over, for he had seen people walking across the parking lot going to their cars, and he knew his beloved master Jim would come striding out any moment. As I noted this devoted loyalty morning after morning, I realized there was a valuable lesson to be taken from this relationship between man and his dog: Would that we could be so attentive to our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, that absolutely nothing could take our eyes off Him.

I grieve for Jim’s wife and family, and I grieve for faithful “Jim’s dog” who surely must be suffering as well. May eternal light shine upon Jim, and all the faithful departed.

Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the Lord. (Psalm 27:14)

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Don't it always seem to go ...

They bulldozed the ninth green at Lake Simcoe Golf Club. In fact, they’ve bulldozed the entire 18 holes.

My heart is panting on the floor.

You may be thinking, “Yeah … so? … like, get a life, lady!”

Now, how can I make this relevant? For the non-golfing reader, what shall I liken this to?

Well … for the tennis fan: They tore down Wembley.

For the baseball fan: They demolished Yankee Stadium (oops, they already did that, so if you are a fan, you know the pain).

For the American football fan: The NFL adopted Canadian football rules.

For the TV fan: They replaced your 60” 3D flatscreen TV with a 12-inch black-and-white portable (with bent rabbit ears).

For diehard CSI fans (pun intended): Series cancelled; after 400+ episodes they ran out ideas for gory corpses

For the opera lover: They closed The Met.

For the bargain shopper: Your beloved local Value Village/Good Will/Sally Ann closed.

For moms of small children: An evil fairy came and spirited away all your DVD episodes of Blue’s Clues, Franklin the Turtle, Baby Einstein, Veggie Tales, Sesame Street, Bob the Builder, Sponge Bob Square Pants, and Thomas and Friends.

For Seniors: Your doctor, your dentist, and your hair stylist all retired in the same month.

Does that help?

In the what-is-this-in-the-light-of-eternity? grand scheme of things, these events matter very little, and are eventually absorbed into our lives, but, wowsers, they are mightily disturbing when they occur.

I have actively played or participated in just about every mainstream sport available: tennis, badminton, racquetball, baseball, football, volleyball, basketball, ping pong (is that a sport?), skiing, waterskiing, high jump, relay, long jump, and a near-fatal attempt at scuba diving. And, surely this is why my joints have been whining for decades; the wear and tear they experienced before the age of 30 was enough to accommodate three bodies. I’ve enjoyed every sport, but the one that remains dear to my heart is golf. And it is so with many golfers. There is just something about the sport – the most frustrating, rewarding ... and spiritual game invented.

Spiritual, you say? Yes. Really. And I am not alone. Books have been written on the spirituality of golf. And no, it’s not blasphemous to suggest this. This game, despite its frequent club-hurling temptations, is primarily about a three-hour walk in magnificent, serene, God-imbued settings, surrounded by the immensely calming effects of emerald green grass, natural forests, streams, and ponds. It is to become so utterly involved in this convoluted game of organized warfare with a dimpled ball, a club, and a hole, that, at the end, the golfer feels as if he has had a weeklong vacation. Surely this is the point of true recreation, ideally referred to as re-creation. All  fears, worries, and anxieties vanish as an experienced golfer steps on the first tee and disappears into this beautiful magical orderly world.

A golfer can replay entire games in his head as he listens to a boring predictable homily (did I just write that?). Golfers gleefully regale each other with stories of shot-making on difficult holes: “You don’t mean the sixth hole at The Highland Links of Glen Osprey Heatherwood Brae Rolling Ridge? The hole that narrows to a valley just before the deep ball-eating chasm in front of the massive rolling green that drops off at the back? And you were on the green in two! Oh man!” I mean, you are actually there when shots are eagerly described, as much as if the storyteller provided a video replay. Can one do that in basketball: “Well, it was halfway through the second half, and I dribbled the ball six times, went around Johnson, shot the ball at the net, and it went in.” Or volleyball: “It was my turn to serve in the first game. I hit the ball, firing it low over the net, landed it on the back line, and we scored a point.” Yawn-sers.

And now they are bulldozing my beloved Lake Simcoe Golf Course to put in a subdivision. The hills and valleys and trees have disappeared as myriad giant yellow machines have gobbled up, flattened, and smoothed that gorgeous green competitor which captured every fibre of my being over 15 years. I cannot describe the gut blow I feel every time I drive by and torture myself by picking out the last remaining vestiges of landmarks: two of the long line of magnificent beech trees that lined the left side of the 10th hole; the clump of cedars at the 18th.

I have lived a chunk of my life there, wrapped up in the challenge and the beauty of this game, rejoicing in verdant green surroundings and the rich sweet smells of freshly mown grass and fallen pine needles. In how many sports can one breathe in the scent and grandeur of God? I give profound thanks to Him every time I enjoy this immense privilege.

Lake Simcoe is where I shot my magical 78 on a hot steamy August day in 2004 – an out-of-body round where every putt drained in, every chip cozied up to the pin, and tee shots split the fairways … never ever to happen again. I have secret intimacy of every square yard of this course. I have fought with the apples on the fourth and the eighth, cursed the pin that stole my near hole-in-one on the sixth, thrashed through the bushes of the 11th, soaked my feet in the boggy areas of the 13th, and known the precise outline of the giant maple that was my target on the seventh. How many times on the par five ninth did I rue (code word for swear at) the nasty downslope which spoiled many a second shot and a chance at a par? And now it is no more. How can that be? How can such beauty and sweet connective union between man and God’s glorious nature be gone?

They paved Paradise and put up a parking lot.

Well, I suppose there is one small consolation: There will always be boring predictable homilies, and whenever that happens, I can once more walk my paradise as if she were still with us in all her green glory.