Thursday, April 4, 2013

Things I Don't Know

to bring a blessing
all the way from
is no easy drive
through the prairies
over the mountains
all the way to
Tim Horton’s in Quesnel
where I type and
re-hype my words
finally returning to pencil
feel the drag of the graphite
on the white, torn page
when a smile
like a wild spring rose
speaks in fragrant
shades of pink
“what is it that
you are working on?”

I want to tell him every-blooming-thing
and I nearly do

at the wedding the bride’s beauty
sings from her bare shoulders
the healing transparent
like white lace flowers
over Champaign tone earth

I dial his number
and when we meet again
at Tim’s
“the moment for the blessing
never came,” I say
“but the bride told me
I was her spiritual warrior
and my presence was the blessing”
I lower my eyes caught in a brag
but when I look up
into his dark face
his eyes are sunflowers
the exact moment
they open a little wider
to the heavens
I'm wearing my round-dance t-shirt and jeans when I meet Martin at Tim Horton's for the second time. We shake hands, sit near the counter. Martin gets up to buy us coffee and I take the moment to jot a few questions (based on our conversation yesterday) on the back of my notes from Dustin and Naomi's blessing.
1. What's your immigration story?
2. What is your understanding of Canada?
3. What questions, thoughts, do you have regarding First Nations?
4. What do you see is the future of Canada? What is your vision?
Martin brings me a coffee and I flip the fine pages of my bible I've laid open on the table. "These verses have meant a lot to me the last two years," I say and then I read. "Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'"  
"That reminds me of the verse in proverbs," he says, "Iron sharpened by iron."
"Yes," I say. "I've learned to trust that my teachers are being sent my way. I think you will be one of my teachers."
I ask my first question. He reiterates what he told me yesterday. and then he tells me more.
When Martin first flew over Montreal, as they were landing, he wondered, what is it they are building with? Everything is white. What is that material that makes everything white? Martin laughs. "It was snow." Martin went on to spend twenty-five years in various universities, receiving many degrees. He studied logic, linguistics, management, counselling, sociology, theology, but his PHD is in ethics. Martin speaks many languages, including Malagasy, French, English, German, Arabic, Latin, Greek, and "some Spanish" he says. "I am a professional learner."
I make a joke about barely speaking English, and the irony of being a bad speller as an English teacher. "But I'm okay with that," I say, "Because I want kids to know that language is messy. I do something called a cooperative essay, where I don't rehearse the thoughts, and we write together, and they see that, even though I'm the educated one, I often lose a word, get stuck, rely on the them for insights, and keep going even when it's lame because the clock is ticking."
Martin's face lights up. "Teaching is showing others how to learn," he says. "I share what I don't know. I share what I do know."
"Oh my goodness," I say, "I'm going on a sidebar here. Tell me what you don't know."
Martin pushes his coffee cup to the side, taps the table with his fingers like he's holding a pen, and begins. He tells me that just last Friday, while working with some youth, he had a realization, and it came through conversation with these young minds. "How do we, with many cultures at the same table, come to a decision that does not come from any one culture? Maybe this will take me three years of reflection. It's work to understand each other. I'm wondering what is a process or a mental set to understand a model. When I understand this I would disseminate it. I'm looking for something innovative, something from many cultures, never seen before."
Martin is giving examples and I wish I'd brought a tape recorder because I can't keep up with my pen. When he is finished I see I have doodled a circle. "I have been drawn to the circle," I say. "We call our faith gathering 'Sunday Circle' and I have my Idle No More Community Circle. I wonder if part of your answer will be revealed in a circle."
Martin listens, a slight smile on his face.
"Have you heard of Round Dances?" I say. He shakes his head. I remember I'm wearing Kate's t-shirt "Like my shirt." I point. "See, and this one is a blonde."

Martin nods.

"A round dance is a friendship dance where everyone joins hands and steps, steps, steps to the drum as a big circle forms. One of my students was in Winnipeg at an Idle No More rally and they danced around the entire Legislative Building. When we walked in Regina, we stopped on the Albert Bridge for a round-dance, and in minus 27 we round-danced on Highway 10 and 35 intersection in Fort Qu'Appelle."

Martin is finishing his danish, nodding his head. I take a drink of coffee.

"Okay, tell me something else you don't know," I say.

"When people are hurting are they mean? Or are they victims of mis-perceptions or misinterpretations. Like in a marriage, in love or in war? I'm trying to understand if this is mean or if this is a victim. Being mean is really a horrible thing, but is it mean when you act out of pain?"

I'm nodding, reminded of a conversation I had with Rob just last night. "Was I ever a kind person?" Rob had said. "I'm just so angry now. Was I ever kind?"

"I'll give you an example," Martin says. "This is an example from McGill University. A Japanese person and a Canadian were in business negotiations. The Canadian was staying in Japan, and there was a futon in his room where they met. By Friday they would sign the contract. So on Monday, they visited very nicely and the same on Tuesday: by Wednesday they felt very comfortable with each other, relaxing, one on the futon, very casually. On the Thursday the day before they were to sign the contract, the Japanese person said to the Canadian, we will sign the contract tomorrow if I can sleep with you tonight."

"What would you do?" Martin says.

I gasp a small breath, ready to answer.

"Don't answer," he says. "So the Canadian thinks about it, and there are millions of dollars at stake, but he does have his own ethics and values, and the other man is short, but okay. So for whatever reason, the Canadian says, 'Okay.'"

"Next, the Japanese man brings a second futon into the room and they spend the night having great conversation, each on their own futon, and in the morning, they are well rested and they sign the contract."

I am nodding.

"So you see, in a marriage, one partner can be saying something, and the partner may hear something completely different. There is no fault in misunderstanding. One must step back from the situation and try to truly hear. I am especially interested in the communication that happens within and across culture."

"Oh, this makes a lot of sense to me," I say. "In my marriage, in my cross culture experiences. When well meaning people are mean. I get it. And so when we react in a mean way, it might be because we've been hurt based on a misunderstanding."

"Yes, this is something I don't understand," says Martin. "When people are acting and hurting, are they mean?"

We pause in our conversation, resting in the chatter that surrounds us.

"Okay, and what's the third thing you don't understand," I say.

Martin holds his hands together. "All the shades of emotion," he says. "If I could compare emotion to colour, all the variety, even within one colour. This I don't understand." Back and forth, we discuss emotive words and colour.

Martin's fourth unknown is the nature of intuition and kindness. He uses our meeting as a gift from nature, and how is that people do meet each other. This is an unknown.

We have slowed in our discussion. "Is there a fifth?" I say.

"I don't know," says Martin. We smile. Pausing.

I look back over my notes. "Yesterday, I'd told you I am frustrated with Canada's unimplemented treaty promises and how we are so reluctant to admit we have systemic racism," I say.

Martin nods. "Canada will need to rely on the natives and immigrants," he says. In 2014 Canada will have a very serious gap with retiring people. Maybe it's time to adopt integration of each one because I feel that when you are a First Nation or immigrant you can be rejected, you are underestimated. But there can be no such thing anymore. We must listen and learn from each other."

I am scratching notes in black ink on the white paper.

"Come let's work together, we have to do that, or Canada won't survive, according to me," says Martin with a smile. "Canadian employers can't say, 'You want to work for me, here's the way things must be.' Not one way to do things anymore. It's changed. We have no choice. If we don't try to grasp, to know. It is foolishness to ignore the potential of a race."

I sip my coffee. It's getting cold.

"Do you have a few more minutes?" Martin says.

I look at the clock, it's 1:30 pm. We've been here for over two hours. "I should probably get back by two," I say.

"Do you you mind if I go get something from my truck? I want to show you something." Martin returns with blueprints of a house and facility he has designed and is now building, to be entirely off the grid. It's a series of circles.

It's been almost three hours. At the door of Tim Horton's we are taking turns in parting conversation. "Every time I visit Rob, I'm given a gift, someone new, who helps me leave," I say. "It's very hard to leave him, but you are a gift."

Martin gives me a word in his first language, Malagasy, for a friend who knows you best.

"When I lived in Black Lake," I say, "The people didn't have a word for goodbye. They say, Ne ne sne ha, I will remember you."

"Nenesne ha," Martin says.

"Ne ne sne ha," I say.

Salmon leaping across the road from Tim Horton's in Quesnel.

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