Friday, November 28, 2014

A Glorious Christmas

Erna Elizabeth Schultz (Blaedow)
I held her hand, as if by doing so I could prevent her from slipping away. A little more than twenty-four hours before, I had been in my kitchen baking as though my own life depended on it. I was determined that this Christmas was going to be a good one. Less than three months had passed since my father’s death. For the first time, there would be only three of us to sit down to Christmas dinner. Then came the phone call.

“Mom’s had a massive heart attack. It’s bad.”

My brother had already made the journey north. On Friday night, mom had complained of chest pains. She’d had a mild heart attack several years earlier, so Wayne took her into emergency. By the time the medical personnel checked her over, there didn’t seem to be anything wrong, but they decided, as a precaution, to keep her in overnight. Saturday afternoon, the big one everyone dreaded, struck.

I had planned to travel north with some friends. Now other arrangements had to be made, and just a few days before Christmas there weren’t too many options. There were no flights available. The trains were booked solid. The only chance I had was to take an overnight bus. That was at least a nine hour ride, often longer if the weather was bad.

All the way home, I sat on the edge of the seat, willing the bus driver to go faster. I was terrified that I wouldn’t get home in time. My dad had died alone, suddenly, in his hospital room the night before he was to be released. I couldn’t bear the thoughts of not being there for my mother. I prayed that she would hold on.

The hospital was only a few blocks from the bus station. When I got there, my brother was waiting in the hall outside of ICU. We went in together. Mom was sitting up and she actually looked quite well.

“I’m sorry I’ve spoiled your Christmas,” she said.

Later, we met with the doctor. There really wasn’t anything more that could be done. It was only a question of time.

And later that afternoon, the time came. My brother and I sat holding her hand as she slipped away from us. Three days before Christmas, 1991, Erna Elizabeth was escorted into the living room of heaven.

We decided not to have the funeral before Christmas. That would allow any family that wanted to attend, to make the journey from southern to northern Ontario. Several people from the church that I had grown up in invited us to spend Christmas with them. But neither of us could face that. Nor did we want our grief to cloud the Christmas celebrations of others.

But what could we do? I remembered what mom had said when I entered her room that Sunday morning. “I’m sorry I’ve spoiled your Christmas.” No way was I going to let that happen.

Mom had bought the turkey, the potatoes, the turnip, and all the other things that we traditionally enjoyed for Christmas dinner.

“I’m going to cook the turkey, and we are going to have Christmas the best we can, just as mom would have wanted,” I told my brother. I’m sure he thought I was crazy. Perhaps I was.

On the twenty-fifth of December, we sat down to a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. We raised our glasses in tribute to those absent from us. We opened the presents that Mom had so carefully chosen. And we mourned, each in our own way.

Later, with dishes washed and food put away, there was time to think. If mom hadn’t already been in ICU receiving care, chances were that I would not have gotten home in time to talk to her for the last time. I thanked God for that favour. I had planned to make this Christmas special for mom. God had also planned to make this Christmas special for mom. His plan for her was better than mine and, after all, wasn’t that the point? She spent it dining with dad. And best of all, they shared the table with Jesus.

Into the shadow of grief, there came a little ray of sunshine, and with it, a voice that seemed to say: “I answered your prayer, but not the way you would have chosen. I know it hurts, but it will only be for a little while. There will be an eternity of Christmases for all of you together one day soon”.

Lynda Schultz, December 2005

Friday, November 21, 2014

Wait a Minute While I Put My Other Foot in My Mouth (Google Images)
At one point in my career, the mission director asked me if I would consider serving in Japan. We knew each other well enough for him not to take offense at my answer.

“Are you kidding? I had enough trouble learning Spanish. I could never manage Japanese even in my wildest dreams — and Spanish is one of the easiest languages to learn.”

There were plenty of times in the painful process of language learning that I despaired of ever being able to communicate. If I had a dime for every mistake I’ve made in speaking, or writing Spanish, the taxman would be laughing all the way to the government vaults.

However, I’m not alone in my tales of language faux pas.

One of the first stories I was told in language school centered on a foreign missionary who was waxing eloquent in Spanish during a Sunday morning service. He was preaching on the evils of sin. Naturally, that word came up often in the course of the sermon. So engrossed was he in his message that he was completely unaware that the audience was not only paying attention, but was trying very hard to keep their collective faces straight. When the missionary quoted Romans 6:23, they simply burst out laughing.

You see the word in Spanish for "sin" is pecado. The word for "fish;" pescado, is very similar. Fishing, and fish, took a terrific beating that Sunday morning.

Worse yet, was that awful moment when a missionary preacher (a different one, I hope) thought he was inviting the congregation to pray. The word for "pray" is orar, the word for what you do when you desperately need to go to the bathroom, is orinar. You can imagine what the response to that invitation was.

Most of the time, mistakes in language don’t have such humiliating results. I have trouble rolling the “r” in some words. I have learned to avoid referring to Los Chorros (the river rapids) when I am asking friends about their relatives who live there. When I don’t “roll,” I end up asking about the family members who live “among thieves.” Oh, what a difference an “r” makes. It’s a good thing that they are my friends and are very understanding about my language lapses.

It seems like the little things are those most likely to trip up language learners. In those early days of struggle as students, we were always tired. The stress of language learning was exhausting. However, we also learned to be very careful when telling people how tired we really were. When I said, Estoy tan cansada, everyone understood that I was very tired. But, with one slip of the tongue, I have just as easily said, Estoy tan casada or, “I am SO married.”

If I could speak Spanish without using verbs, I’d be extremely happy. Even after so many years working in the language, some tenses still defy me. In the beginning, a language learner is tempted to translate English thoughts directly into Spanish and hope for the best. However, you can’t say, “I am hungry” by direct translation, at least not if you don’t want people to look at you as though you were some kind of ignorant language student. In Spanish, the equivalent to the English comes out as, “I have hunger.” The same rule applies for being thirsty, being cold, and being hot. Mind you, if you did happen to say yo soy caliente instead of tengo calor, you’ll probably get lots of invitations issued by strange men (or women) to do things that you might not want to share with your mother, or in my case, with your mission director.

I can’t count the number of times that I’ve referred to a woman as a man, or a man as a woman because I didn’t think fast enough before adding the appropriate gender specific ending to a word. Thankfully, doing it correctly is mostly automatic now. By the time I retire from overseas service, I’ll speak Spanish like a native and will never have to go looking for a hole to crawl into because of some language mistake I’ve made. How wonderful it will be not to ever have such a mortifying conversation as this one:

“I am so embarrassed!

“Oh, I’m delighted for you. When do you expect the baby?”*

*I used the word embarazada, which means "pregnant" in Spanish, when I should have used the word apenada.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A Question of Trust

Google Images
“It looks dead to me.”

The larger of the two buzzards circled once more, keeping a sharp eye on both today’s object lesson and on the younger bird pacing him just a short distance away.

“It’s not moving,” offered the junior of the two.

“That’s usually the first symptom of what dead looks like, son.”

“Should we go and get it?”

“How about you go and get it, and I’ll watch?”

“But Dad, I’ve never gone by myself before.”

“There has to be first time, and I think this looks like a good first time.”

“What if it’s not dead?”

“You’ll soon know if it’s not—we have that effect on other creatures. Go on. Give it a try. You have to do it on your own sometime. I’ll be right here, circling. Don’t worry.”

If pop said he’d be there, well then, he’d be there. The smaller bird gently banked, carving spirals in the sky as he lost altitude. He kept a close eye on his prey, willing it not to move, wishing it to be well and truly dead.

There were two ledges below. The outer one was festooned with flowers and on its rim perched a bird feeder. That was of no interest to either of the buzzards. They had no taste for birdseed. However, immobile on the inner ledge lay lunch—at least that was what the younger of the two scavengers hoped.

He made one more circle and then came in for his landing, claws reaching out to grab the ledge, wings beginning to fold like flaps to slow, then stop, his forward motion at the perfect moment.

There, I made it.

The buzzard turned a bright eye toward the object of his desire. It was still there, but his heart sank. This was going to be a little harder than either he or his dad, still circling high above him, had thought. The creature, tantalizingly close, turned two huge eyes in his direction and flattened its ears. It seemed to grow in size as the young bird watched.

Drat it. It’s not dead after all.

It was then that he realized something else. There was a third ledge, the back edge of the second, and it was on this that the cat, for that was what the creature was, rested. The sharp eyes of the buzzard noticed yet another thing. His dreams of lunch died as they made contact with ultimate reality. In the middle of the two conjoined ledges was a closed window that separated the young bird from his prey.

The cat let out a fearful, anguished cry, as though it felt the claws and beak of its enemy digging into furry flesh.

The young bird cast a beady bright eye on its non-prey. The barrier was inviolable. He could see lunch but there was no way he could touch it.

The cat continued to cry. It did not run, seemingly paralyzed with fear.

With a disgusted look backwards, the young buzzard launched himself off the ledge, caught a passing current of air, and returned to where his father was circling, far above the building.

“You knew about the window, didn’t you, Dad?”

“Yes, I did. I once landed on that same ledge myself.”

“So why did you send me down there if you knew?”

“It’s all part of what dads teach their kids—what’s worth going after and what’s not. Some prey we can’t touch, dead or alive. You did good.”

“But I didn’t get any lunch.”

“No, but instead of banging your head against that window wasting your time trying to get at that cat, you were smart and flew away.”

“Why did it make such an awful sound, like it was already in my claws? It must have known that it was safe and that I couldn’t touch it.”

The two birds turned in unison, in perfect harmony with the gentle updraft that wafted through the valley, while the big one considered his answer.

“Trust, son. It’s all about trust. Sometimes these creatures just don’t seem to understand that what limits their freedom, also keeps them safe. Sometimes when they are afraid, they forget about the barrier protecting them.”


“Yes, son?”

“I’m hungry.”

The big buzzard would have smiled, if he could have.

“Let’s go then. Now that you know what not to bother with, I show you where some of the best pickings in town are. Watch and learn, son, watch and learn. This time we’ll find something unprotected—and dead. Trust me.”