The sky is dark. At the horizon rain ribbons mist against a deep red, almost black sunset memory. The highway is wet and the temperature is eleven degrees Celsius. It's Sunday night and my two youngest daughters and I are driving home from Regina. I go to church this morning with my sister in the same clothes I wore last night: jeans, animal print blouse, long black sweater vest, tartan shawl and clogs. I sing harmony, bolder than usual. I bow my head, deeper than in every-day prayer. I hear scripture, and if my heart had a facebook status it would update: we are not far from Creator, not any one of us, because I'm thinking of the people I met last night: bigger than life personalities taking care of each other. I walk straight to the Preacher, my friend, after his message of loving God with our heart, mind, soul and strength, and loving one-another as ourselves, and tell him of my night, and what did Paul mean anyway when he says we are to become all things to all people.
I am not a dancer. The music beats on my chest like it thinks I'm flat lining. Maybe I am. The long leather purse strap on my shoulder holds my baggage awkward at my hip. My hand spread-eagles over my chest for fear the music will thump my heart right out of my body. We dance side-by-side or in a circle, letting the music move us. A tall young man with a round brown face is winding through the crowd as though reciting poetry, his hand reaching out to people, but he is silent. His eyes and expression and gestures are his words. A slight, pale girl follows him. "He's kind of wasted," she yells, but she is only a whisper above the music. I watch them. He continues reaching. She has his back.
I arrive at the Crown and Hand around ten thirty to meet Doug, an old high school friend and a few of his friends, his sister and cousins for Karaoke. Within a few minutes the group has let me relax into their stories and songs. I have announced that this pub -- and the signage of the crown and the red hand -- it's my people, Ulster, County Antrium, under the shadow of Mount Slemish in Ireland, where both my grandfather's people originate. I have declared that my overcoat is not a shawl but a tartan. I am invited to sing for "The Holy Trio" and as I'm getting off my chair, Doug yells, "Take off the shawl, Grandma," and I hear one of his friends say, "You are so mean to her," and when I turn around on the stage I say, "Yes he is."
We are singing along from our table, and for the first time I hear the last line of the lyrics, "I wanna know, have you ever seen the rain?"
"I have, I have." I shout.
"You have what?" says Dianne and Corrine.
"I have seen the rain coming down in the sunshine," I say. My face lit up in the neon light.
They laugh really hard. "She has. She has," they agree and I think I have made some new bosom buddies.
A short discussion with the fellow on my right transcends into a singing partner and we are cued up for "The Prayer." We take turns with the melody to words we've never heard; this is not the Bocelli and Dion duet we have hoped to sing. "Have you read The Artist Way," I ask my new friend.
We are not done the table tennis tournament in Saskatoon until seven o'clock. I have already showered and changed into my jeans, animal print blouse, long black sweater vest, tartan shawl and clogs. Dean has won one and lost one in the Under 600 rating event. Arwen won't wear her medal because it is bronze and there were only three girls in the Under Eleven event. We talk about the cup being half full -- she was good enough to be that third girl entering the tournament -- or the cup being half empty -- there were only three girls. She is choosing half empty, with a smirk on her face. I haven't competed for two years, so I have lost my rating. I play in the Under 1200 category and win one match, but loose the second, but the match goes to the full five games. I advance from the Round Robin, but lose in the next round. We leave Fort Qu'Appelle this Saturday morning at 6:00am for the three and a half hour drive to Saskatoon. The land, the land, the land is glorious in the sunshine, but I don't take any pictures.
I'm back at home in Fort Qu'Appelle Friday night, but I can't write anything. What do I say when I didn't make anything happen? No protest. No statement. No signs. What do I say to that comment I overheard? What do I say if I didn't face my fears and take a stand? I'm tired. I have to do laundry and pack for Saskatoon.
We meet after the conference at my sisters because Mom and Dad are taking a Friday night class, and they can pop over so we can celebrate Mom's birthday with Thai takeout. I don't pick up a card, but sign Andrea's. I'm grumpy, still sour that I didn't do anything in Victoria Park. We had driven by but I couldn't see anything going on.
I don't know which afternoon session to go to for my professional development. One session reads: "Chief Perry Bellegarde from Little Black Bear First Nation will speak to the topic of First Nations Education in the context of Reserve life, and the challenge of Governance in First Nations Education. He will share his perspectives on the differences between the provincial and First Nations schools and what we need to do to narrow the achievement gap between our First Nations and non First Nations students."
I decide to go to "First Nations and Metis Education is Everyone's Business!" The blurb sounds good and I want to support our local FNME team: Sandy Pinay Schindler, Kelsey Starblanket, and Maureen Johns. "By making First Nations and Metis Education (FNME) foundational for all students we demonstrate our commitment to social justice and to the realization of unlimited human potential. This session will explore promising practices, will inspire you holistically and will involve you in setting goals in support of FNME. Culturally responsive curriculum, professional development, treaty education, coalition building, student-centred approaches and innovation will frame this activity based, knowledge rich and nurturing session. The First Nations and Metis Education Catalyst Team will serve as facilitators as we explore, together, ways to make a positive difference in the lives of children, youth, families and communities."
Bruce Kirkby, an award winning explorer, writer and photographer is the morning keynote speaker. He is tall, blonde, fit, and a little scruffy, like he's just blow in on foot from Moose Jaw. He has the room full of education personnel eating up his adventure stories, laughing and grinning. But it's deeper than that. He's talking about adventure as life-altering. He story-tells, using each story as one of his top five tips: 5, Touch the Rock; 4, Start Now and Keep Going; 3, The Second Day Sucks; 2, Use Motivating Fear; 1, Ignore the Bozos.
An old colleague from Wolseley finds me at the break and says he is enjoying reading my blog and good for me to be walking. I tell him about my morning dilemma. We discuss if there is a place for prayer in a public system. Should prayer be shoved down anyone's throat? Is prayer power or ultimate humility? Is it hard for us to share the microphone, even in prayer? Even with people who have so much to share about forgiveness, healing, and suffering?
I overhear a conversation. "Oh good, I'm glad to see the elder is just bringing greetings and not saying a prayer. I don't like that it's always their prayer. If we're going to have prayer we need to take turns, a Ukrainian Orthodox, a Baptist, and a Hindu." Or this is what I think I hear. My head is spinning by the time the words touch down on my heart. I don't know what to say.