Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Text and Image
© Copyright 2017 by Neall Calvert

"House of Jewels" (c) 2017 by N. C.


 USED TO OVERWORK AND NOT TAKE VACATIONS. One spring a few years ago I’d been busy for months editing books, selling my photographs, and performing music for the first time . . . okay, I was actually addicted to work—I couldn’t unhook.

Hard work (along with thriftiness, family togetherness and the church) is a cornerstone of the Mennonite faith in which I grew up. The Protestant work ethic was so important that, in some homes, emotional and physical violence were not considered too-strong measures to instill this ‘value’ in children. My prayers to Jesus at age 14 to get me far away from my victimizing, unhappy family had been answered when, at age 20, I got a job 5,000 kilometres away. I returned only occasionally. 

After my fatherthe most obvious offenderdied (when I was 46, and had become tired of city life), I lived on my mother's 10-acre farm for two years and got to know her again. I became aware of her contentment, her love of nature, and her consideration for others in her extensive social network. I introduced her to the benefits of animal companionship by bringing a kitten I found beside the road into the house (it spent many hours on her lap during her bereavement). One day she said to me, "You have the Christ light in your eyes," so at last I felt seen as a spiritual being rather than a so-called 'religious person'.

Sadly, many Mennonites in my growing-up experience seemed to be out of touch with their bodies. They continued working until something, either physically or mentally, broke. Mistrustful of the medical and psychological worlds, they avoided seeking help till the last possible moment. Even in the late stages of the 20th century, one Mennonite man, a carpenter, recounted to me as if it were an everyday experience how his wife awoke one night to find him, standing up while still asleep, pounding unseen nails into the bedroom wall with an invisible hammer. . . . Overwork? Stress? No, not here.

Though I couldn’t afford a distant excursion this year, I realized that the main reason I hadn’t been taking journeys out of town was the lack of a partner. “So why don’t I have companionship for adventurous holidays?” I asked myself.

Awakening the next morning with the words “Granville Island” on my mind, I set as my destination this artistic community surrounded by water in the middle of the city of Vancouver. First, though, I decided to have an hour-long hot bath. After all, I was building a holiday state of mind—a state free from fear or worry. The long soak (with Epsom salts that pull tension out of the muscles) is useful for generating creative ideas too. In my search for wellness I had discovered that when my body deeply relaxes, so does my mental apparatus, and in that state I become receptive to fresh thoughts and ideas.

In the tub I continued to contemplate why I had no female companion, and afterwards, putting on my jacket, I recalled a stimulating two-year relationship with a sun-filled woman, a time that had included a seven-week vacation in Europe; we had separated five years earlier. I suddenly realized I had never forgiven her for leaving me. (My mind had now relaxed and moved out of the repetitive track called “But you’ve got to earn a living!”) Then, quickly, one after another, pictures of other women I had had relationships with assembled in my mind like a stack of playing cards—all waiting to be forgiven.

I faced a nearly impossible task, it seemed. My mind, however, had a solution: spend a whole day (or more) repeating “I forgive you” nonstop while holding each ex-partner in my thoughts; that would lay the necessary groundwork for future female companionship.

During the thirty-minute bus ride to Granville Island I started silently chanting my “I forgive you” mantra. I continued while beginning my walk in sunny, breezy weather and while stopping to watch children at the water park laughing and screaming with delight as they romped through the various fountain configurations or sprayed each other with hoses and water cannons . . . “I forgive you . . . I forgive you . . .”

I strolled to the eastern tip of Granville Island, past the old foundries that had become artisans’ shops and art galleries, along the boardwalk beside the marina crammed with deluxe motor yachts . . . “I forgive you . . . I forgive you . . . , past the hotel and its outdoor restaurant, empty at this hour, past the neat row of rectangular floating homes, their decks decorated with emerald-green shrubs and hanging petunia baskets . . . “I forgive you . . . I forgive you . . .”

I moved on to the art school named after Emily Carr where I stopped in to visit the gallery, then strolled by boutiques and restaurants bearing names like Dragonspace and Kharma Kitchen . . . “I forgive you . . . I forgive you. . . .” I finally got to the huge, high-ceilinged public market with its cornucopia of vegetables and fruits and its art and craft displays and began catching whiffs of baked goods, seafood and fresh-ground coffee. My repetitive chant was in its third hour as, at a Greek food stand, I bought a falafel sandwich for its tasty filling of deep-fried, spiced chickpea patties, tomatoes, lettuce and tzatziki sauce comprised of yogurt, garlic and cucumbers.

Stepping outside to eat in the sunshine, from my perch on a picnic bench I watched sail and power boats lazily motoring back and forth beneath the steel truss work of Art Deco–styled Burrard Bridge. A siren sounded from beyond the bridge and then a powerful red-and-white crash boat from Kitsilano Coast Guard Station sped out to sea.

Closer to me, seagulls and starlings successfully begged for handouts and a young man in a striped T-shirt shouted, in that raucous song unique to dog owners, “Cisco—here boy! Cisco—here boy! Cisco—here boy! . . .” I looked around and located his dog three metres beneath the dock we stood on, violating all notions of animal intelligence by eagerly struggling to drag out of False Creek’s salty-smelling brine a five-metre waterlogged plank.

The youth’s hollering continued as I scanned the enormous outside deck of sunflower-bright Bridges Restaurant, full of sunning customers. Relative quiet suddenly manifested, so I looked over and then gave thanks that Cisco, who moments ago had seemed to be nowhere, was now here.

My chanting now began to take on a different quality, I noticed. My voice had strangely become more feminine—and it seemed to be taking on a life of its own. What is happening here? I puzzled. I realized slowly, hard as it was to believe, that I was no longer the speaker, rather a listener—some voice besides my own was now uttering the phrase that I had been repeating for several hours!

“I forgive you . . . it was saying, and then: “I forgive you for anything you need to say to me, or about me, for the way I raised you. I forgive you. Any hatred, anger or resentment you need to express, I forgive you for right now. The slate is clean from my end, Neall. I forgive you.”

My committed Christian mother, who had unexpectedly died of a stroke three months before (at age 82 and in the midst of a widow’s romance with a fellow churchgoer, age 81) was leaving me her last words. In response, tears fellcleansing, redeeming tearsand more than a few. . . . And then, since today I was claiming time as my friend, I sat for another half hour, embracing my new clarity, sense of connectedness and inner peace. 

“Holy day” is what the word “holiday” once meant. My day had proved itself true to that original definition.


  1. Thanks, Neall, for the holiday memory, and the other, deeper ones. I, too, have been having visits by my mother, in dreams, and written: " . . . blinded by her sureties, travelling by The Book." The same has applied to me, and may still, in some ways.
    I see myself in your posts, and I hope you don't mind that I say in some ways we are alike.
    Much love, Joe

  2. I enjoy reading your blogs, Neall. Isn't it wonderful how your soul/inner being leads you to the next logical step of personal growth?

    I love knowing that if you desire a thing, you also have the ability to manifest it? *hugs*