Occasional Theoligical Reflections. Ron Evans is a Diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision & Psychotherapy and is the author of Coming Home: Saskatchewan Remembered.
Friday, April 16, 2004
Thursday, April 15, 2004
by Ron Evans
The boulder lay in some bush by the side of the trail. Bluish gray with a flat place to sit on and a back to lean against. I could see it as plain as the day my cousin and I discovered it on our way from school. We argued over who should have ownership until my sister intervened with a reasonable,even if uninteresting solution; take turns. It became our stopping place on hot afternoons, the half way point on the long walk home. Fifty odd years later I realize it is one of those childhood events that probably occurred no more than two or three times before the novelty wore off.
But for some reason I remembered that stone and wanted it for my back yard. Enlisting Norma in the project I drove out to the old farm and tracked down the owner. “Take as many as you like”, he commented, amused that anyone should want a rock. Encouraged with his blessing we set out across the field convinced, at least I was, that we would find the stone just as it had been left years before.
Of course, the search proved futile. The fence line was in a different place. Fifty years of bush and grass had obliterated the trail. The fields all looked different.
About to abandon the project, we came upon another stone, not blue but black and gray with a fuzz of moss growing on one side. It had a flat place to sit and a jagged chunk at the back that one could, with a bit of effort, imagine to be the back of a chair. But at over 300 pounds we couldn’t lift it. Not to be denied we rolled it up a slight rise through dense grass to the edge of a field. Here we looped a rope around it, hooked it to the back of the truck, and dragged it for almost half a mile until we came upon the owner with his tractor and front end loader.
By the unwritten code of the land I knew I must offer to pay him. In fact I wanted to pay him, would have paid twice what he asked. There was a sadness to the man, a look as beaten as his worn boots and jeans.For an instant I was with my father in the same field in the heat and dust,picking stones and cursing them. A job with no beginning and no end.
“How much do I owe you?” I asked, even though I knew the answer.
“Nah, that’s all right””, he replied, a slight smile crossing his face. It was as if he was pleased that he and his tractor had been of service. And that one of his rocks had been chosen. That’s the way it is with farmers, unloved one moment, admired the next. For that matter, with stones too.
One particular afternoon of rock picking I remember bending over to grab a reddish chunk of granite about twice the size of my fist. Suddenly, as if by some special effects, it was transformed before my eyes into an oval stone, larger at one end than the other, both ends worn smooth and white, a perfect groove worn around its middle. I had found the head of a stone hammer lost ages before by an Indian traveler. For the rest of the day every stone looked different. But again a stone can be like that; sometimes you even forget it’s stone.
Like gazing at Michelangelo’s Pieta. Or the Vimy memorial in France, sculpted from white marble into which are carved the names of 11,285 Canadian soldiers missing in action, that is, men blown to pieces or buried and never found. It’s a troubling sight, yet one of the most quiet, serene places I know of. I have heard that the Vietnam wall in Washington can have a similar effect. Or take the “wailing wall” in Jerusalem.
By comparison to other stone structures in the world “the wailing wall” really isn’t all that remarkable; a few hundred feet or so of stone blocks rising forty feet in the air, all that remains of the Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. Extending twenty feet below ground lies more wall, some of the structure dating back three thousand years to Solomon’s temple. Here, from as early as the eighth century A.D. Jews have come to touch base with tradition and remember their sufferings.
I remember seeing “the wailing wall” for the first time. It was early morning, the beige rock seemed almost soft in the morning sun. Bearded figures had gathered near the base, some with prayer books open, their bodies swaying back and forth, in the peculiar movement known as “shuckling”. I learned later that shuckle in low German means “to rock”. In Yiddish it has come to describe a manner of praying. A soldier, automatic rifle slung on his back, leaned forward, forehead and upraised hands pressed against the stone. Several men joined hands and danced, twisting and turning, chanting some haunting melody. Off to one side there was a wedding in progress. Further on a bar mitzvah. Army recruits after their hundred mile march will end the ordeal here with a celebration .
All gather at “the wailing wall”, rock named for good reason.
Jerusalem has been destroyed and rebuilt fifteen, or is it eighteen times. Another one or two hardly seems to matter. Eighteen massacres, eighteen burnings, eighteen rebuildings. What does destruction mean? A man on the radio yesterday said that he had once thought of finding a Christian, a Moslem and a Jewish fanatic, getting them together and having them blow up all the holy sites in Jerusalem and so putting an end to the struggle for possession of the city. But then, he said, the struggle would go on as to who owned the craters and which rocks were the holiest.
But of all the things that impressed me about the wailing wall one piece of trivia stands out: the cracks.At first glance it would seem the wall is one solid surface. But up close you can see minute spaces between the rocks where bits of foliage cling to life. And in the cracks beside the green rest scraps of paper. After a time you discover the source. Jews and tourists alike pause, rummage for a pen and note pad. They write,fold the paper, then stuff it in crack.In Italy there would be vendors selling pens and paper,even prayers already written.
I don’t remember what I wrote. It wasn’t a complaint at life’s injustice or a plea for my enemies' destruction. Nor the lingering thought that all is straw. The stones of the wailing wall change everything.
Our stone arrived at its new home safely.To unload it we tied it to the poplar in the back yard and drove away. The stone landed with a thump, settling into the dirt as if, after a few million years, this was always its intended destination. Norma will plant ground cover around it. It will be a cool place to go in an afternoon. A place to rest and watch the lake. Take turns perhaps.
Of course,it won’t happen.Once a year at most.Too hard and too uncomfortable. Just as it was fifty years ago. And yet... .
Here at the lake you realize that time seems to be the great monster. What do you do with it? How do you feed it? Houses are bought and sold in the space of a year. People move away. Nothing to do. Too far from town. Summer comes; the toys accumulate and the activities become more anxious. I built two pergolas and a brick walk.
It’s as if one can escape time in the shelter of “things”. Not that there’s anything wrong with pergolas. Or even the neighbors seado and snowmobile, although that’s a bit hard to admit. It’s just that you can expect too much of them.
Somehow a stone is different. Not any stone.One you can hold in your hand and hear voices. Or one you can sit on. With cracks and spaces. Run your fingers over it and remember all that’s written there. A place that measures time and lends significance: a parent’s face, the heat of a day, a childhood argument. A sense of absence, something lost.
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Ron Evans is a writer. He is a CPSP Diplomate in the Chapel Hill Chapter.Landscaping is a re-print from the newsletter he edits and publishes, the Sourdough Bagle. He writes the following about himself: "After twenty plus years as a CPE supervisor I quit work to learn how to write; I'm still at it. Home is in Saskatchewan which is just north of Montana. I had given up on CPE and was wishing certain people who had taken over the Canadian organization an early and painful death when I stumbled onto Raymond Lawrence(a friend from years earlier in training) and CPSP. To my delight I found the spirit of CPE still alive and well and have benefited greatly as a result. There's a life here for which I am grateful and want to contribute."