For a Change

Two more sleeps, and we fly to Canada, ending our five-year service in China. So much to say about our stay and our going, but little time to write. I did, however, stumble on this from my archives, a 2007 piece recalling my halting, erratic progress along a spiritual path. That road eventually led to several warm, lovely evenings and afternoons of farewell to good friends in Dalian, China. CHINA! 

I was a small-town Baptist, though I mainly worshipped Gordie Howe. I reverently oiled my baseball glove at least twice a year. We also went to church every Sunday, and were allowed to ransack our stockings and open only one present before attending Christmas service. Sunday school attendance prizes were an annual treat, but I rarely read or discussed the Bible at home. The patron saints of our southern Ontario Protestant family were Rocket Richard, who crowned my sister “Miss Corvair” in 1965, and a skinny, bespectacled local football hero named Garney Henley. Oh, and Rusty Staub, le grand orange of another Montreal sports squad, the brand-new Expos. As I became a teenager, though, love and spirit began to mean something different.

One September morning, a new girl sat in the desk behind mine, a girl with long blonde hair. In a grade eight instant, I knew there might be a reason for females after all. Within two years, I had not only fallen for her brains over basketballs, but was also fascinated by the Faith lived by her mother.

It said the Creator keeps promises. It made me think that I didn’t have to turn off my brain to believe. It said that religion was natural, sensible, renewable, universal. One day, the girl with the long blonde hair showed me an old Sunday school project, a sort of temple construction with many cardboard doors that led toward the beauty of the same Unseen Source. It offered another gateway to devotion, one that I’d never heard of before, but which also illumined all the other more familiar points of faithful entry. It made sense to me. I read of the dawn-breaking heroes, their deeds not dim and ancient, and I surged with feeling.

In the evening of another September, two sixteen-year-olds sat on the curb on a street corner near my house. That same girl and I read the Tablet of the Seeker, looked for reassurance from the great souls and from each other, and decided to declare our commitment. Joining hands, we walked through my front door, and asked my mother to sit down with us. Dad was out of the picture, as he often was for the big moments. At the time it didn’t disturb me; it made the whole discussion seem easier. Later, when I learned how he had quietly supported my spiritual independence, I wished he’d been there.

“Mum, we have something important to tell you.” Her eyes were bright, and she was nibbling her upper lip. I was also nervous at her reaction, knowing how anxious she had been, when I was thirteen, to get me safely baptized and into the Baptist fold before our aging pastor retired. We were all tense, but I plunged in. “Maybe you’re going to find this hard, but we want to tell you this as soon as possible. Okay? So, um, the thing is, we’re going to, we’re going to become Bahá’ís.” My mother’s tightly-held breath came out in a violent sigh.

“Oh!  Is that all? I thought you were going to tell me you were pregnant!” We laughed and laughed. And so it began. I studied, served our fledgling local community, taught the Bahá’í Faith to my best friend and tried to live it, as best I could. I married the girl with the long blonde hair, and as a tangible result, three sons have kept my heart warm, my mind racing and my fridge door open. I became a teacher, as two older sisters had done. I remained passionate about sport, playing while my skills held up (and beyond!), and coaching with enormous idealism and drive. I taught reading and writing and jumpshots at my old high school while my two biggest lads were there, and for much of my life lived within blocks of that fateful corner. I can show you right where we sat.  So what came out of all that seriousness?

Well, her hair’s not long any more, and, like too many others, we’re no longer married. On a dark night of the marital soul, I asked, “Can I still walk this road without her?” Mercifully, a calm and wonderful “Yes” dawned soon after. After years came another lovely chance at marriage, and a fourth marvellous son now chatters and jumps through my life, begging for a backyard hockey game and one more story. We even read about Gordie Howe. The occasional plague of muted urgency wonders if I shouldn’t have gone farther – geographically, personally, spiritually – after nearly three decades of trying to live this commitment, but more often I’m refreshed and gladdened.

To the Faith I owe peculiar inclinations toward Persian cuisine, nine-sided buildings, and Haifa, Israel. I retain an affection for youth and for their capacities that has far outlasted my own green years. Striving to work in a spirit of service has enriched my career. The Bahá’í worldview has helped me to understand the meaning underlying apparently random modern horrors and fixations. I treasure an abiding sense of hopefulness, the only antidote to restlessness and gloom.

I also know that the corner of Sutherland and Nairn was as good a place as any to start making a new way.

N.B. A slightly different version of this piece also appeared in that fine collection of well-organized electrons, Baha’, right about here.

Comments (4)

  1. Sam

    Honest, gripping and eloquent. You have a gift and you are using it in His service.

  2. Michael Freeman

    I honestly enjoy love stories like this. The ‘from the first moment we met…’ stuff. My colleague has a story like this too, and I really admire them for knowing so young that they were meant for each other and have made it work for so long. It is unfortunate when relationships/marriages end. Sorry, buddy, but you seem to have found that special something again.

    I, too, fell in love with the faith of your mother-in-law and others like her. The depth of their faith, commitment and devotion made them attractive to me, at an intellectual and spiritual level. I truly wish that I could find that depth of faith.

  3. Stephan Miller

    My heart is stirred by your reflections and insights upon leaving our beloved China! Rest assured that back here in North America the opportunities you will find for service, though perhaps a little more elusive, are nonetheless abundant and juicy, indeed!

    Also remember one of the great warning mottoes– “no false dichotomies”. Though you will not physically be in China, the effects of the services you and your family have rendered there are limitless, resounding, and not bound by space or time!

    See you in Toronto, my friend!

  4. Karl King

    Have a safe journey home.

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