Friday, December 28, 2012

A Bridge is...

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A tiny cry
Lustier now
One large finger reaches
Five tiny ones grasp
Hand reaches out for hand
A bridge is born.

A solid thump
Dignity hurt
Tears fall, wailing starts
Some comfort sought
Hand reaches out for hand
A bridge is strengthened.

Oh lonely walk
School begun
Strangers at each turn
Seek kindred souls
Hand reaches out for hand
A bridge is started.

Cross my heart
And hope to die
The pledge is given
Friendship forever sealed
Hand reaches out for hand
A bridge is cemented.

This sweet love
The first to be
With every intention
Of lasting past forever
Hand reaches out for hand
A bridge is expanded.

Long black robes
And sweaty palms
Fine speeches made as
Superior becomes equal
Hand reaches out for hand
A bridge is spanned.

Nine to five
Joyous terror struck
Until new minion is
Equal to old master
Hand reaches out for hand
A bridge is possible.

A coffee shop
Pumpkin pie
Double sugar, double cream
Eyes meet, hearts unite
Hand reaches out for hand
A bridge is completed.

Some angry words
Senseless battle
Second thoughts, wisdom prevails
One face turns to another
Hand reaches out for hand
A bridge is repaired.

Two, then one
Alone again
House empty, heart full
One thing forever sure
Hand reaches out for hand
A bridge is gone.

In stillness now
The bonds released
Peace fully and forever known
A nail-scarred welcome
Hand reaches out for hand.
A bridge is crossed.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Tinkle and Clang

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A flurry of discordant sound announced the arrival of several sections of the bell choir.

“Move it, you three. You’re late and we haven’t got much time,” chimed the Bell Master from his place on the bottom rung of the carillon.

“Nag, nag, nag,” whispered the D flat to his buddy, C, as they climbed into their places on the top level. “What’s the hurry, anyway? Clang’s got his clapper in a knot for sure this morning.”

“Morning? It’s still dark outside,” protested the F major, breathlessly hauling himself up behind the others.

The smaller bells finally got themselves into place, just as Clang struck the note that indicated readiness and silence in the ranks. He looked around, carefully checking to make sure no one was missing. Worse than a faulty note was no note at all.

“Where’s Tinkle?” he boomed from his assigned spot.

Tinkle was the littlest bell of all. Her spot was high up at the top of the carillon.

Like an evil wind brushing through the tower, the rustle of the bells created dissonance as everyone looked around, hunting for Tinkle.

“I’m here sir. Just polishing, Bell Master.” Her clear, high sound rang out as Tinkle took her place at the apex of the musical arrangement.

“That girl takes herself too seriously. ‘Just polishing, Bell Master.’ As if fingerprints made any difference to anyone,” mimicked the D flat.

“You have something to share with us?” came Clang’s voice from down below.

Everyone froze. More than once Clang had said out loud that he wished they never had to have contact with their human counterparts—the evil always rubbed off a bit, like fingerprints on the burnished surface of a bell.

“Uhmmmmm, no sir. I was just, well, wondering what all the rush was about,” stuttered the offender. “It’s not even daylight yet.”

“Well, if—and I know keeping time for you doesn’t usually include knowing what day it is—you had been paying attention during rehearsals, you would have remembered that dawn today is the biggest moment of our year. Today we bring hope to the world.”

From somewhere in the middle of the bevy of bells came the dulcet tones of one of the G’s. “But, boss, do you really think anyone listens to us? It’s nasty out there. Everyone knows what happened to poor Liberty. Those humans are a mean lot and we don’t seem to be making much of an impact.”

There were a couple of chuckles from the group at G’s unintentional play on notes. The subdued merriment stopped as Clang’s clapper sounded for silence.

“I’ll admit that I sometimes have my doubts as to whether anyone gets our message, but that’s not the point. The point is that we have a message that we have been assigned to deliver, we’ve been practicing faithfully for this last year, and we are going to chime out that message no matter what. It’s up to the Master Musician to do the rest. So, are we ready? It’s almost time.”

The bell choir stirred, positioning themselves, clappers at the ready, all eyes on Clang.


“Yes, sir?”

“Don’t forget, your part is critical. Sometimes people don’t hear the high notes, so you can’t hesitate or show weakness.”

“I won’t let you down, sir.”

Slowly the blackness outside the tower retreated before the insistence of the watery light of a winter sun. As it peeked above the horizon, Clang readied himself, gave the choir one last check, and nodded to Tinkle.

The high, light sound rang out loud and clear, followed by a rolling scale of melodious notes that reverberated across the awakening town.

Far below the tower, in the manse beside the church, a pastor looked up from his prayers. He had wrestled all night with his Christmas morning message. What could he say that would bring hope to a world where evil ruled men’s hearts, where even Christmas was banned with an “X”? How could he make sense of a world where, in the name of preserving peace, war was wrought?

He listened, remembered, and smiled. Hope was in God’s final note—which had yet to be played.


And in despair I bowed my head/There is no peace on earth I said/For hate is strong and mocks the song/Of peace on earth, good will toward men/
Then peeled the bells more loud and sweet/God is not dead nor doth he sleep/ The wrong shall fail, the right prevail/Of peace on earth, good will toward men./
(from: I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day)

Friday, December 14, 2012

One Little Snowflake

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Once upon a time, long ago and far away there was a little snowflake. She was one of many waiting her turn to announce the coming of yet another winter season. The delicate embroidery of each flake had been lovingly crafted by the Master Snow Maker. Still, the little snowflake felt lost and forgotten in the presence of the bigger and more complex designs.

As her time approached, the little snowflake grew more and more worried. “I can’t do this,” she whispered, for she was afraid of what might await her out in the outer limits of the heavens.

The little snowflake made one last appeal to the Master Snow Maker. Perhaps he would have compassion on her and let her wait until she too, was bigger and better.

However, he shook his head, and with a wise smile, eased her out the celestial windows along with a multitude of others whose time has also come.

“You may not become the cusp of the biggest snowball, or the cornerstone of the strongest snow fort. You might not be the first to signal the coming of winter, or freeze into perpetuity in the still waters of a waiting stream. But, you’ll be exactly what you were meant to be just as you are. You will do what you were designed to do-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o …” and his voice drifted away as she fell further and further into the dark night.

For a time she lost sight of the rest of her companions as she drifted down through puffy clouds. She was teased by gentle breezes and tossed by some that were not so gentle. Now, more than ever, the little snowflake felt small and oh so alone.

As she drifted through the blackness, she tried to remember all that the Master Snow Maker had said. “You are unique. You know that I never make even one snowflake like any other. Only you can be you.”

“But I am only one among so many,” she argued.

“You are still the only one that is YOU,” he patiently insisted.

The little snowflake felt her progress slow. The breezes had faded. The night was still and silent. The air was cold. She could see more clearly now. The clouds had drifted away leaving the skies intense with glittering stars. One in particular drew her attention. It shone more brightly than the rest, bathing the landscape in a warm glow that penetrated the cold and dark.

“I’ll head for that star,” she said to no one in particular. She picked her currents of air carefully and soon found herself under the pale light of the bright star. Below her, the little snowflake could see the outline of hills against the dark sky. Nestled among them was a village. Pale lights flickered from the rough dwellings, occasionally disappearing as their inhabitants went off to bed. Against one hill, on the edge of town, a shed rested, its tired beams sheltering the entrance to a hollow carved out of the hillside. The star on whose mantle she rode seemed to point the way to that unlikely spot.

Closer and closer the little snowflake came. In the light of the star, she saw that there were four-footed beasts huddled beside the humble shelter below her. Some of her quicker companions melted themselves into curly wool and rough hide. Others slipped through the gaps in the roughly hewn slats in the roof and came to rest on the woolen cloaks, weathered cheeks, and calloused hands of the sheep keepers seeking shelter inside the shed.

The little snowflake braced herself. Her end was coming. She wondered how it could possibly fulfill all that the Master Snow Maker had promised. She landed gently on soft and pure flesh; the tip of the tiny nose of a Child nestled deep in the straw of the feed box. He made no sound, no move to brush her away. She, so small and insignificant, would go unnoticed right to the end. Or, would she?

As the little snowflake melted into Him, she felt the warmth of His smile and sensed that, somehow, He had been waiting for her arrival. In a flash as bright as that of the star she had followed, the little snowflake knew in her deepest being that in finding Him, she had found everything and had discovered not her end, but her beginning.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

It All Depends On Who's In Charge

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Soon. Too soon. I know you told me that you’d be with us, that we should be courageous and strong. I can hear your words ringing in my ears, reverberating through every sinew and muscle, sticking like Jordan’s muddy banks to my every sense. Nevertheless, it still feels like it’s too soon.

You took Moses too soon. I know, I know — he blew it at the rock, but I’d rather follow him than be the leader. After all, he was your friend, got closer to you than any man ever has. I hear that voice again reminding me about what you said: you’ll be with me just like you were with Moses.

I just feel that I will never be as close to you as he was, obey you as well as he did — the rock notwithstanding! I’ve never had that intimacy with you that he did. That’s my fault, I know. I’m sure not blaming you. I try to meditate day and night on your word, just like you said. It’s not easy to find the time or the energy with all these people at my heels.

When I think of all the things that could go wrong, I get a bad feeling. I told the people what you said, and they promised to do everything they were instructed to do. But, as soon as they said that they would obey me just as well as they obeyed Moses, I could feel the hair rising on the back of my neck. They think they are better than their fathers. You and I both know they aren’t. I know I’m not.

Then there’s the business with the prostitute in Jericho. I hope I didn’t make a mistake there. You told me not to spare anyone and now I have to live up to the promise that Micah and Judah made to that woman — and to whoever ends up sheltered in her house. She did take a lot of risks for them, and showed some strong faith in you. Still, I feel as though I’m already breaking the rules you made. How can you bless me, or these people, if I don’t do exactly what you tell me? I hope there are exceptions.

I’m a military man, not a diplomat, so who knows how many toes I trampled on issuing the orders to get us across the river. That WAS pretty amazing though. I remember the Red Sea parting, but not too many others do. Crossing the Jordan with the waters piled up before us was like déjà-vu for me. I still haven’t gotten over the big hoopla once we crossed. For the first time, I really felt that the people saw me as their leader, not just as a Moses stand-in. Now that I’ve reached that plateau, I’m not sure I want to be here.

I suspect your latest command brought me down a couple of rungs on the leadership ladder. That business with the circumcision took the stuffing out of most of the male population — quite literally! Boy, you sure do ask us to do some scary things. While the men were healing we could have been wiped out, easy pickings for any ten-year-old armed with a pick handle.

Well, here we are, facing Jericho. I sound confident, but my innards are churning. You told me to be strong and take the land you promised, and here I am thinking that the desert is beginning to look pretty good!

Wait, someone’s coming from the Jericho side.

“Who goes there? My men know better than to draw a sword in the presence of their commander, so you’re either suffering a lapse in judgment or, you are an enemy. Which is it?"

“It’s a good thing YOU don’t have your sword drawn then, isn’t it. I’m not one of your men, nor am I one of your enemies. Give your brain and your innards a break, Joshua, I have come as the commander of the Lord’s army.”

Get down, man! Get down. This is a Moses moment.

“My Lord, give me your orders.”

“Moses took his shoes off in my presence once; you do the same. I touched the ground you are standing on and it is now holy."

Forgive me; here I was thinking I was in charge of all this. It’s you; it always has been. Just as I was Moses’ servant, I am more than happy to be yours. Issue your orders, Lord: I’m ready now, whenever you are.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Mr. B

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When I was eight my heroes were Lassie and The Lone Ranger. That was before I met Joe Bonikowsky.

There wasn’t much to do in our little town. During the summer, I tagged along with my brothers doing whatever they did. That usually amounted to hanging around the drug store or the A & W, playing baseball or swimming in the river. In the winter, we donned skates or snowshoes. I tried to imitate Dave, Danny, Frank and Jimmy, but since I was the youngest, there were some activities which earned me the, “wait until you’re older” thing — including joining the local hockey team.

The undersized team bore the oversized name of: “The Temagami Timber Wolves.” Dad and I went to every practice and to all the games to cheer the boys on. Archrivals, Latchford and Haileybury killed us on the ice, but nobody in the crowd yelled as loudly as we did.

I first met Mr. Bonikowsky at the rink. He was an old man then. Of course, everyone is old when you are nine. He’d worked in the bush for most of his life, cutting trees and hauling logs. Now, he did odd jobs at the rink. He must have slept there because no matter what time of the day or night, Joe Bonikowsky was always around; changing light bulbs, repairing the wooden benches we warmed during the practices and games, or picking up Juicy Fruit wrappers and empty root beer cans.

Sometimes Dad couldn’t get away to watch my brothers play. I’d go to the rink by myself, and Mr. B would often come and sit beside me. He never said much. I didn’t either, but he seemed to know how much I wanted to be on the ice playing hockey, not just watching it, or cheering on my team.

Then when I turned ten, I got my big break. The Temagami Timber Wolves ran out of players. Like I said, Temagami is a REALLY small town. The season had just begun and the right-winger recruited from the Reserve took a check into the boards and broke his wrist. The coach didn’t have any choice but to let me try out. He wasn’t happy about it; neither were the rest of the kids, including my brothers. However, faced with the possibility of losing an entire season and the long-awaited chance at revenge against the other teams from the neighbouring towns, they swallowed their objections. Mom was in shock, imagining my broken body carried out on a stretcher. Even Dad was a little worried.

But I made it. All those winters playing street hockey with my brothers was paying off.

Coach called the house with the news. I was to start in Saturday’s game against the Haileybury Hurricanes. I was thrilled — and suddenly terrified.

On Friday afternoon, I walked over to the rink. No one was there except Mr. Bonikowsky. He was throwing sand around the front entrance. The snow there had melted and then frozen and it was slippery.

“Gonna play tomorrow, eh?”



Was it that obvious? I had grabbed a star, didn’t know exactly what to do with it, and hoped it wouldn’t show.

“A little.”

“Don’t worry.”

“Everyone thinks I’ll fail.”

“You won’t.”

“How do you know?”

“Gotta have faith.”

“In God?”

I went to Sunday School, but we never talked in class about God’s interest in hockey. I figured He was more concerned with Saturday night baths — you know, “cleanliness is next to godliness” — than Saturday’s Hockey Night In Canada game on television.

“Wouldn’t hurt none. But you gotta have faith in you too.”

“Do you have faith in me?”


He seemed to sense my doubts so he added:

“You’ll see tomorrow.”

The next night I waddled to the rink behind my brothers. I’d put all my gear on at home. The boards thumped underneath my skates as I made my way down the hall past the home team’s dressing room. Then I saw it. To the left of the dressing room there had been a broom closet. The buckets, brooms, and cleaning cloths were gone, leaving a wooden bench and a peg nailed to the wall. The sign “Cleaning Supplies” was missing from the door. Replacing it, written in crude but large letters was: “Helen’s Dressing Room.”

Mr. B. had proven his faith in me. The first girl to play in the area’s juvenile hockey league was here to stay, and I had a champion.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Sweet Song of Crow

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It was as though I were able to read their thoughts—though they were not thinking about the sudden appearance of this shadow. A sea of transparent faces with clear eyes like tunnels leading back into crystal minds, looked beyond me as if I were not there.

Some were winged creatures, awesome in their physical presence, yet unaware of that very grandeur. Others, whose features would have inspired fear in another world, were now marvelously benign. However, they had no time for me. They too looked beyond me, fully focused, eyes bright, and faces glowing. A multitude, those who seemed like me, but weren’t, glowed in white robes, which might have outshone the sun in their whiteness—if there had been a sun. They too, looked beyond me, adoration written indelibly on their faces.

Every eye centered on the Throne.

My Guide took my arm and led me closer. If you pressed me, I’d say He took me to the front, but in fact there was no front. The presence of the Enthroned One was everywhere. Every space, no matter how seemingly far away, was as though it were only a step from the dais.

To describe what I saw would be like catching the wind in a bottle: it ceases to be what it is as soon as it is touched by human craft. The One who occupied the Throne glowed as though every jewel in the universe had shed its brilliance as an offering in an ultimate act of worship.

I was suddenly aware of the sound. The air vibrated. Music, of which a pale imitation had been my only experience until this moment, soared around me. It was not brash. It did not fill my head with itself; rather it carried me directly into the glow of its Object. My friends would tell you, for they are here somewhere in this audience, that my voice resembles that of a crow. Nevertheless, in this place, my fully sanctified mouth, with a most melodious caw, echoed the words of the hymn being sung.

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

“You are worthy, our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

A hand reached out from the midst of the brightness of the Throne. It held a scroll, tightly closed. Surrounded by such open, transparent purity, it seemed an aberration. What would dare to be closed against Majesty? I wept. One of the humankind leaned toward me and smiled:

“Don’t weep. There is no need. The Worthy One will open the scroll.”

My faltering human vision cleared and I saw the Lamb. He took the scroll and I knew Him. With those around me, I sang the song of redeeming blood and redeemed men.

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”

Encouraged by knowing that He had taken the name of one of theirs, to exalt His own, I heard the creatures from whom I had borrowed my own voice, add their cry to the song. From the earth, the skies, the seas, their worship resonated through the heavens.

“ … praise … honor … glory … power, for ever and ever!” The voice, which the serpent had lost in long-ago Eden, returned one more to Creation.

I needed no pen to record the sights and sounds. What was not permanently engraved on my soul would defy even the best-honed descriptive skills of a more accomplished writer than I am. My Guide stayed close, perhaps knowing that I would have stayed forever if I had been able. Soon, very soon, my turn would come and I would bask again in the glory of the Enthroned One, in the presence of the Lamb, with the Guide at my elbow.

The sun is less bright as it sets behind the now-tarnished beauty of my island prison. Until I can sing again with perfect pitch in the chorus of heaven before the Throne of the Majesty on High, I will caw as best I can:

“Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”

No human ear will hear the discordant notes, but God will know their intent, and be pleased.

Revelation 4:8, 11; 5:12, 13; 7:12

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Bubbles, Bathtubs and Rubber Duckies

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Les allowed his body to slide forward and his head to fall back.

There were seven seas to sail. He felt the waves gently tickle his toes, enticing him to come and explore. Bubbles rose, exploding on his cheek: A whale perhaps, blowing a welcome? A pod of dolphins to accompany him on his journey? He wiggled, and his world wiggled back, caressing and calling; calling and caressing.

But wait; an ocean of another ilk reached out for him with a scent not of salt, but of sweet. This time it was the smell of hibiscus and roses. A garden floated before his eyes, bubbles transforming into a haze of dandelions gone to seed floating upwards, seeking new horizons and uninhabited islands of verdant green. As the waves wrapped loving arms around him, so did the perfume of dancing girls in grass skirts. Odd though, that they should all bear a vague resemblance to his mother.

He could not linger long in this tropical paradise. There were other worlds awaiting him, other lives to live. Everest beckoned, reaching down with icy fingers. He felt its chill in the air and did not flinch. The Russian Steppes and the Great Wall of China called. No tour bus for him; he would arrive with due pomp and ceremony as the leader of the free world coming to bring order out of disorder. Yes, there were enemies out there preparing to meet their fate at his hand. A new Patton was on the march.

A vision of water fowl on a pond of frothy blue came to mind, awaking in him his artistic self. He’d become a great painter; no, a writer. Any fool could throw brushfuls of paint at a canvass and call it art. Writing was pure and exact. Surely a blank page waited somewhere begging for his ready pen. An audience hungered for the great novel written in his mind, possessed by his heart, but not yet released through his hands. Neither Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Donne nor Grace Livingston Hill would ever be able to hold a candle to his literary genius.

A less esoteric note rang out; one that was music to the ears of the financial world. The bell would not ring on Wall Street to signal the end of a business day without his permission. The markets hung on his decisions, rose and fell at his command. He was the cog around which the wheel turned, and that wheel would crush poverty and inequality wherever they chose to lurk.

And medical science? He would discover the cure for the dreaded big “C”, banish HIV, Bird Flu and West Nile. Every hepatitis in the alphabet would be stomped out under the boot of his needle and pill. No one would ever suffer the heartbreak of psoriasis again.

But how could he be so remiss, so selfish? The physical world was his to have and to hold, but it wasn’t about him, was it? Devils and darkness demanded his attention as well. He must preach and teach and win. Churches needed founding, missions cried out for his leadership and largesse, the dry wells of theological education begged priming. He’d be the leader of the church militant — a combination of Billy Graham, Billy Sunday with a liberal twist of “Billy” of Orange.

Yes, it was time to take charge, to regain control, to be that special man among ordinary men.

It was time …

“Les, would you please get out of the bathtub! I need you to take Genghis Khan for a walk. He’s standing out here in the hallway with his legs crossed! And don’t forget the pooper-scooper this time!”

… to get back to real life.

The rubber duck sprung a leak, flipped over on its back, slipped beneath the scummy surface of the now cool water and took its final dive to the bottom of the bathtub. One lone bubble escaped and floated free. Perhaps it was a sign that there was still a chance that a walk with old GK would be the means of bringing to life one tiny part of Les’s dream. Maybe he’d meet a beautiful Chinese girl walking a Pekinese?

Friday, November 9, 2012


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On that cold winter’s morn in nineteen hundred and seventeen, no red flag waved above the stacks of the Mont Blanc. There was nothing to warn the innocent in Halifax, Nova Scotia, that she was a floating bomb filled to the gunnels with, among other nasties, some 400,000 pounds of TNT.

The absence of the flag was a safety precaution. The German u-boats prowling the Atlantic would have no way of identifying her as a carrier of such deadly, or such an important cargo. Perhaps in their search for more impressive prey, they would leave this little rust-bucket alone as she sailed with her convoy to battle-weary Europe.

Except for one stretch of water, called “The Narrows” which connected the outer harbour and the Atlantic with the Bedford Basin, Halifax Harbour was ideal as a launch point for the dozens of ships that came and went from the war zone. Troop ships, cargo vessels and munitions carriers like the Monte Blanc were a common sight.

Vincent Coleman, like thousands of other Haligonians, went off to work that morning in December with absolutely no inkling of what was soon to happen. He settled down to his work as dispatcher at the Richmond Railway Yards not far from the harbour. Soldiers, sailors and the materiel of war, as well as trains carrying ordinary passengers, poured into Halifax from all over Canada and the United States. The responsibility rested heavily on his shoulders.

“Hey,Vince, how’s the wife and kids?”

Intercolonial Railway’s chief office clerk, William Lovet stepped into the office just minutes behind Coleman.

“Little one’s got the sniffles; you know what it’s like in winter. As for the rest, everybody’s fine. You?”

“Lookin’ forward to Christmas.” Bill hung up his coat and set to work.

It was 7:30 a.m. At the entrance to the narrows, the anti-submarine nets had been lowered and the Mont Blanc’s captain, Aimé Le Médec, began his slow passage into Bedford Basin.

But in the habour, a Norwegian freighter, the Imo, was as anxious to get out of Halifax as Mont Blanc was to get in. She was riding high, in passage to New York to pick up relief supplies. She stayed to port extending the common, though illegal, courtesy to incoming vessels of using the starboard channel that was closer to the docks.

The two vessels exchanged signals and whistles to indicate their intentions, but confusion won the day and just before 9:00 a.m., Imo sliced into the Monte Blanc. The Imo reversed engines, and as she pulled away, fire broke out on the Mont Blanc.

Captain Le Médec, knowing what his ship carried, immediately ordered his crew to abandon ship. They screamed out warnings to anyone who might hear. Few understood since they were shouting in French.

The Mont Blanc drifted toward the harbour, coming to rest against one of the docks. She was burning profusely now and the spectacle attracted a huge crowd of excited school children, workers, and passers-by, along with local firefighters.

A stone white face, mouth gaping and eyes wide, appeared in the doorway of Vince Coleman’s office at the Richmond Yards.

“Run, run for your lives! She’s gonna blow!” The sailor’s garbled tale was clear enough to convince William and Vince that they needed to get as far away as possible, as quickly as possible. They were out the door when Coleman slid to a stop and turned back.

“Vince, what are you doing? We have to go. Now.”

“I can’t. There are passenger trains due any moment. I have to stop them.”

“Don’t be crazy, man. You have a wife and kids. If you stay …”

“You go. I’ll be right behind you.”

At 9:04:35 a.m., Mont Blanc disintegrated in a flash of light, sending up a pillar of smoke the likes of which would not be seen until the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima almost thirty years later. The better part of northern Halifax was leveled; almost two thousand people lost their lives.

Among the lost was Vincent Coleman.

Out of the reach of the shrapnel, glass and flying debris, trains idled. Vince had completed his mission by tapping out the crucial message: “Munitions ship on fire. Approaching Pier 6. Goodbye boys.” He had been just in time to save hundreds of lives, at the cost of his own.

When one man dies to save the living, we call him a hero. And rightly so. When one man dies to save the dead, we call Him a Saviour. —LS

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Der Kessel

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Author's Note: Remembrance Day is not far away. In honour of those who have given themselves to defending our freedom, today's post and next week's post will be stories from the war era.

By some miracle, the shed at the farthest end of the alley had survived the massive bombing raids. Everything else around had long since been reduced to rubble.

Sergei huddled inside, behind the door, waiting. It slowly opened, rusty hinges protesting loudly. He lunged at the intruder, the pain in his damaged leg temporarily pushed aside. Caught by surprise, the figure in tattered field gray, crashed to the dirt floor with Sergei on top of him. The old man blindly reached for the neck, and using every ounce of strength he had, squeezed. The man in uniform struggled weakly. His coalscuttle helmet rolled off to one side.

He’s only a boy, Sergei thought, like my Arkady. He stopped pressing. The youth was now unconscious, allowing the Russian the opportunity to search him unmolested.

No rifle, he noted. No gloves, no greatcoat, and the soles of his boots are worn through. The Germans had expected to take Stalingrad long before winter. They’d seriously underestimated their enemy.

Sergei pushed the door closed. The struggle had sapped his strength. He pulled enough from the little reserve he had left to grab a brick. The soldier was coming to, and the Russian wanted to be prepared, just in case.

The younger man, recovering his senses, propped himself up on one elbow, feeling his neck with his free hand.

“You speak German?”

“Ja, a little,” said Sergei. “How old are you?”

The youth hesitated for a fraction of a second before he replied, “Eighteen.”

The old man snorted, “Sie luegen.”

“Okay, sixteen,” admitted the boy.

“Where’s your rifle?”

The boy shrugged. “I threw it away,” he replied.

With that, as December 1942 gave way to January 1943, a strange alliance was cemented. The German boy-soldier was a deserter, although escape was unlikely. He was, after all, trapped in a city surrounded by the Russian army. He was desperate for the safety and warmth of the family that lay a lifetime away in Germany. Sergei, one of 10,000 Russians left in the devastated city, wouldn’t survive the winter in his condition without help. His wife, Viktoriya and their son, Arkady, were buried in the rubble at the head of the alley under what had once been their apartment block. Hans and Sergei needed each other.


“Here, have a cigarette,” Hans said, handing Sergei a stub that he had found. Foraging had become his regular routine in those dark days since the boy and the man had come to share the shack at the back of the alley.

“I don’t smoke,” said the old man.

“Take it anyway. It will warm you up.”

Hans had stripped every distinguishing mark from his uniform, and wrapped in the old man’s coat, wandered out each day to confiscate what he could to keep them alive.

“Some planes got through to Pitomnik.”

“More summer uniforms and black pepper?” The relief supplies for the German 6th Army had been less than impressive in those early months.

Hans laughed. “Better than that.” He dug into the deep pocket of the pea jacket and pulled out a can. The old man stirred the little fire that kept them from freezing to death, while Hans pried the lid off his treasure.

“Verdammt,” Hans muttered when he pinched his finger with the pliers.

“Don’t swear,” admonished Sergei.

“What? I can steal, but I can’t swear?”

Sergei grinned. “Stealing is useful, swearing is not. God forgave Rahab for lying to save lives, he’ll forgive you for stealing for the same reason.”

Hans didn’t believe much in God. The Fatherland was god; or so he’d been told. In spite of his circumstances, Sergei seemed to have an irrepressible faith. They’d argued a lot about it.

“How can you believe in God when your family is dead, your city destroyed, you’re starving and cold? What kind of God is that?”

“He’s the kind that sent a scared German boy stumbling into a shed to help keep a Russian, his enemy, alive.”


This vignette is fiction but the battle for Stalingrad between 1942 and 1943 was brutally real. Over two million people died. Life on the Russian Front was horrific. For the remnants of the German 6th Army, and the Russian civilians trapped in the pocket (kessel, literally cauldron), it was one step above hell. The wars that men begin out of greed and selfish ambition boast little compassion and even less morality, but perhaps, just perhaps, somewhere in their midst, a spark of humanity lights the darkness.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Saving Space Between the Ears

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Is that space between your ears? Hang on to it. It probably won’t be available for long.

From the gap between our front teeth to the outer reaches of the universe, we seem to feel the overwhelming need to put something in every hole. It’s the end of the world if we can’t whistle, so plug the gap. Who could possibly do a better job of decorating an empty universe than Mighty Man’s Floating Antique Emporium. It’s not space junk: it’s modern art.

But even on a more earthly plane, we simply can’t leave space alone. Every wall has a picture—or two or three. Every surface has a vase, book or coaster. Every closet has clothes enough for a lifetime.

If there is room, we build a high-rise or a highway. And if there isn’t enough space, well, no matter, that’s what fill is for, at least until the next hurricane or mudslide comes along. Cover the beaches with hotels or deck chairs. Run a cable car, or a ski lift, up a mountain. And just for exercise, cut down a forest, drain a pond, dig up a farmer’s field and plant a house with a plastic flamingo.

Somewhere out there are old mine shafts waiting with outstretched tunnels to receive the garbage from our megacities. By all means, fill the spaces, top up the holes, stamp out crevices wherever they may be found. Wide open spaces? Unfortunately, a few holdouts still remain. But still, we’ve done well. What isn’t frozen ten months out of the year we have managed to cut with lonely highways, cross with oil pipelines, stick with telephone poles or dot with giant windmills.

Make sure the shelves are fully stocked. Empty spaces make consumers nervous. Crush ourselves into that bus or subway car. There will another one coming shortly, but that sardine-size space cries out to be filled, and who can resist its plaintive call.

Every waking hour is full. Heaven forbid that we should stop for a few moments to contemplate. Smell the flowers? Consider the birds? No way. We can not allow that space in our day to remain unproductive. If time is money, space is where we spend it.

We shout, “I need my space!”, and then herd ourselves into big cities, Suvs and Disney World. Come on, tell the truth, you bought the SUV so that you could say “fill it up” and feel that sense of utter satisfaction of having filled up a very big space, even if it was at a very high price.

If a cluttered desk is the sign of a cluttered mind, hurrah, we’ve looked after two spaces with one swift blow. Of course, if the opposite is true, and a clean desk is the sign of a empty mind …?

So what about that most important space of all? What goes into the space between your ears? If you don’t shove something in there, some other “leave-no-space-unfilled” enthusiast will, and you might not like the results. Here’s an idea from a book which incidentally, needs to occupy more space in the mind than it does on the bookshelf or coffee table. Consider what Paul writes: “… whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8 NIV) Whatever fills the vital space of the mind will influence how well, or how poorly, all the other spaces of our lives will get filled up.