Off to Collage

Kings University College, Dante Lenardon Entrance, Wikimedia Commons

Autumn always makes me feel nostalgic although its cooler temperatures also give new energy, and inspire new beginnings.  The school bus, on its way past our house, is the signal to call back the eternal student in me.  There are new worlds to discover, to marvel at.

St. Peters Seminary, London Ontario Wikimedia Commons

It wasn’t always that way.  I’d stalled for time by taking Grade 13 credits.  At the end of the year, classrooms seemed to hem me in. There was a fair bit of anxiety about leaving home for an unknown campus.  I was eager to be on my way in a career, and jobs were plentiful.

So I settled.  A position at McMaster University meant a vicarious participation in the learning vibe. I typed manuscripts on my Selectric typewriter to earn a little money on the side, to save for our first house.  Courses were either free or discounted for staff, but I did not take advantage of that perk, to my later regret.

All the more sweeter, then, to come back after an hiatus of more than 15 years to King’s College in London.  The time away was not wasted – much had been accomplished in establishing our home, and our young family.  But now, with our youngest at the age of ten, it was finally my turn again!

There was a deeper resonance in my studies now –  I had met some of life’s difficulties, and so recognized the insights that glimmered in poetry and prose. Like a sponge, I eagerly soaked up everything – it was such a relief to know that the search for answers to life’s big questions was not as solitary as I’d feared.  They’d been asked for millennia.

In class, mature students participated with an enthusiasm sometimes incomprehensible to the younger students.   I in turn marveled at the wisdom of these young adults, the windows they opened onto their world views.  It made me feel young, though I was much further along the path than they were.

And, yes, yes, it’s off to college, not “collage.”  I know.  Spelling comes more naturally for someone who reads a lot of books.  Still, there’s a truth in it, because I have vivid impressions of campus scenes:  the Italian literature class Professor Dante Lenardon taught while we sprawled under a tree on the pleasant St. Peter’s Seminary grounds, or the professor advising the “suspension of belief” long enough to at least investigate strange-sounding ideas.  There was the reverential atmosphere in the hush of the small library,  and the intersession class on the Theology of Marriage, a group small enough to be invited to lunch at the home of the professor.

We reached across genres, in social work and science and philosophy and literature, one snapshot sometimes highlighting another, sometimes tacked incongruously side by side.

And in the collage of my memories, these scenes were illuminated by others who encouraged me:  the anonymous person who left the leather schoolbag at my door, those professors who taught with joy, the family who contributed financially along with the generous benefactor at King’s who donated the student bursary.

So, to all those who are off to “collage”: may you find those precious moments, make many good memories that will last a lifetime.  And take every opportunity to make learning lifelong.

Secret Places






He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.     Psalm 91

We toured the Blue Grotto near Capri when we were in Italy in 2015, though we risked seasickness as our little boat tossed and rocked in the waves.  Passengers had to duck down so the boat could enter into the cave’s small opening.  Once inside, the light rippling and shimmering on the waves mixed a palette of  colour that was almost electric blue.  It felt other-worldly.

It’s why we vacation away from our everyday surroundings, to experience this thrill, this discovery of awesome places.

You don’t have to go that far, of course.   There’s hideaways tucked all around us,  a window framed by the thick cover of trees, or a secret tunnel under the road.

When our children were small, one of their favourite places to hang out  was the large willow tree at the end of our driveway.  Sometimes whole birthday parties of kids would perch on its branches.  The long tresses of its branches were a perfect cover from any prying adult eyes.

In Psalm 91, the psalmist writes that God is his secret place, a shelter, a place to hide from trouble.  God’s presence was a sanctuary always available to him.  As it is for us.

God’s spirit has a light and beauty that refreshes us, gives us safety, comfort, and renewal.  Sometimes when the pace of life gets to be too much, when work or relationships get snarly, we are in danger of forgetting who we really are.  Jesus tells his followers to come away with him to a quiet, secluded place, to leave our cramped attitudes, to be awakened to a holy dimension and a deeper perspective.

Work to Live

My parents had this Dutch proverb prominently displayed in their home:

“Werken om te leven, niet leven om te werken”

It means “work to live, not live to work.”   It was a necessary reminder because on a farm the work was never done.

OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

When we were young, my father worked for a dairy, delivering milk by horse and buggy.  For us kids, this meant his arrival home in the early afternoon, a bonus in those days when fathers worked long hours. We, of course, usually weren’t awake when he got up for work around 4:30 in the morning.

After we moved out to the country, everything changed, because on a farm the work is endless.  Not only that, it was often urgent and time-specific. The hay had to come in when the sun shined. The livestock had to be fed.    Summertime was always busy.   There was no swimming at Holiday Park on a summer afternoon until chores were finished – usually well after the hottest part of the day.  The crops had to be harvested, and I well remember the rattling of the old corn elevator on a cold November day, the cobs dropping from its height to slowly fill up the corn cribs.

Over the years, I have had ample opportunity to observe the ways people work.  I learned that hurry is counter-productive, wastes energy and actually increases risk of accidents.  I learned to go the distance – when the strawberries were ripe, it meant not quitting until the rows were picked through, though there were straw marks indented on your knees.

I learned to do the hardest job on my list first.  Pick my essay topic long before the deadline to collect the serendipities that will help write it.  Make repairs early before they cause more problems.  Dot my i’s, cross my  t’s,  proofread my work.

Step back to look at the big picture, work smarter, not harder.    Accept help, delegate responsibilities because it’s better when others can take ownership, share the burden and the credit for success.

Do the next right thing.  Or do the next thing right.   “Anything worth doing, is worth doing well!”

Now that I have been retired for a number of years, the to-do list is nowhere as long as it used to be.   I have time to sit down and ponder which task to take up next.   Increasingly, I need the skill to learn how to do nothing, because that is also truly difficult.   My self-worth no longer depends on being productive.  There is satisfaction in just the being, the uniqueness of each relationship, the beauty I’d somehow missed in the headlong rush of busier times.

I am happy about the things I have been able to accomplish, the things made, team work and participation.  But in the long run,  they are only part of the equation.   Because we work to live, not live to work.