For almost a dozen years now we have lived close enough to the equator that the changing of the seasons, although a reality, are almost imperceptible. The winds change directions, there is more rain, the seas become rougher or the temperatures become marginally cooler in the evening.  While we love the warmer climates, we do miss the uniqueness of each season: the clear, crisp, sparkling of the snow, the vibrant burst of new life in spring, the warm sunny days of summer and especially the brilliant array of fall colours. With that in mind, we opted this year to confine our summer travels to the west and spend our October mid-semester break in Ontario.

We were only off for one week but managed to pack each day to the fullest so that we were able to tie up loose ends in terms of our finances, condo and some purchases that need to be made in London. We were happy to be back enjoying the gracious hospitality of Randy and Sylvia in their cosy grannie suite, which is full of wonderful memories for us. It was an incredible joy to worship at West London, surrounded by dear friends with whom we have shared fellowship and served alongside for many years.

   

It was a whirlwind week, starting with a baby fest meeting six new great nieces; all under the age of 19 months. Spent a lovely evening in the new home of my nephew Jesse and his wife Christyn and had Chinese with three brothers and their wives. Long time friends, John and Bonnie treated us to their signature salad and pumpkin soup and Al and Shelley created an amazing brunch.  Kim made us quiche at her allergy friendly Urban Oven business and we had a nosh of India food with friends Matt and Kate. Made a quick trip to Cambridge area to catch up on the lives of precious and like-minded friends Beth and Stephen. We even stole a morning away in which I had tea with my dear high school friend Jane, while Steve headed to our old stomping grounds in St Thomas to meet up with teaching friends. Still, there were many others that we longed to see but time did not allow.

 

Saturday morning we left early for a three hour drive to meet up with Jon and Nic and the kids in Fort Erie for lunch and a quick visit by the Niagara River. The weather was cold, rainy and the fall colours not yet in full splendour but it was a beautiful drive and a fun visit. We then drove three hours to downtown Toronto to have dinner with Joe and Jane and catch up with the news on Steve’s side of the family. Finally crashed at an airport hotel to get a few hours sleep before heading to the airport at six for our flight home.

When you see people as infrequently as we do, every conversation is intended to share our hearts joys and struggles of the past year. Each conversation is rich, precious and often deeply painful. We went back to work exhausted, with our hearts burdened for many of our friends but rejoicing in the joy of being part of wonderful families and so blessed by the friends with whom we have had the privilege of sharing this journey.

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When Richard Burbage died all of London mourned. He was the greatest actor of his generation: the thoughtful Hamlet, the heroic King Henry, the deceitful King Richard, and the lost and lonely King Lear. He was carried in pomp and circumstance through streets so thronged with mourners that the event overshadowed the death of Queen Anne 10 days earlier.

But when Shakespeare who created all the characters and plays that Burbage acted in died his passing was almost unnoticed. Now think of our day. Name some great movies you know. Wizard of Oz? Star Wars? Who were the actors? Judy Garland? Harrison Ford? Now who wrote the screenplay for those films? See? The problem is not just the silly Brits of Shakespeare day.

Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep is one of the best and most underrated American novels of the last century. The metaphorical language. The gritty dialogue. The filmic prose. It is a wonder of concision and tension. But when it came to putting that into a screenplay Chandler declined and even William Faulkner faltered. So the studio brought in Leigh Brackett to whip the script into shape. Under her skilled hands both Humphrey Bogart’s Philip Marlowe and his doll Lauren Bacall shine in what has become the classic film noir.

Fast forward 40 years to George Lucas struggling to follow up the success of his first Stars Wars saga with a sequel that will take the story to the next level. Who does he tap? Leigh Brackett who is still churning it out at 62 but who tragically dies of cancer shortly after completing the first draft. So George Lucas brings in Lawrence Kasdan who has just recently written the screenplay for the first Indiana Jones film Raiders of the Lost Ark. Kasdan writes a second and then final draft of what will become The Empire Strikes Back, widely considered the best in the franchise. Kasdan will also go on the write the screenplay for Return of the Jedi before going off to write and direct his own projects.

Where is this all going to might say? Well I recently saw Solo, the most recent and most poorly received of the current rash of Star Wars films. It is, in my humble opinion, not only the best, but likely to be seen as such 30 years from now. Why? Because Lawrence Kasdan is back as the screenwriter and he knows what he is doing. The script is tight, revealing only as much of Solo’s backstory as is necessary to keep the plot moving, and eschewing maudlin sentimentality on the one hand and studied ironic cynicism on the other. Kasdan’s Solo is a believable and charming rogue, both cunning and conned and well worth second look in a sequel.

Whether he will get that look is more up to politics than the power of pertinent prose. It is Burbage that England mourned, not Shakespeare. Money and popularity have always wowed the crowd But is is Shakespeare who is remembered and studied 400 years later. And who among you knew the name of Richard Burbage before you read this post?

I grew up in Parkway West, an idyllic little enclave nestled between Don Mills and Scarborough in the northeast corner of Toronto. Walking to Don Mills Collegiate meant a very pleasant two kilometre hike skirting the Donalda Golf course, across a little wooden bridge over the Don River and up a few residential streets to the school. I loved the walk through the trees and watching the seasons change. By the time I was ready to teach, Toronto had grown too big for my liking, so I took a job in St. Thomas, in part because I could walk to work.

We always seemed to live two or three kilometres from where I worked. When we lived on Hammond, I taught at Scott Street School. When we lived on Metcalf, I taught at Elgin Court. When we moved to Myrtle and later on Trevithick, I taught at Locke’s. Given that it was St. Thomas there were always railway tracks to hike along or over. I used to love the smell of honeysuckle that would often grow wild besides the abandoned rail lines.

I continued to walk to work until we moved to London in 2001, and then I traded in my walk for a very pleasant country drive. In Malaysia I would hike up Wangsa Baiduri the two kilometres or so to Taylor’s College.  Once again I appreciated the opportunity to wake up and get a little exercise before I had to start my day, though you had to watch for the cavernous and uncovered storm drains. And walking home in KL’s blistering heat was no fun at all.

The Cayman Islands is much better. There is a pretty steady breeze most months of the year and you are never far from the sea no matter which side of the island you are on. I hike to the end of the street and past the ruins of what used to be the Hilton, damaged beyond repair by Hurricane Ivan. Then I skirt the Britannia Golf Course, closed now for rezoning, and up a new sidewalk to Camana Bay on the North Sound, taking in the sunrise in the winter. From there it is just a few steps to the school. It takes me about half an hour without breaking a sweat.

My body is slowing down considerably as I approach 70. If I don’t keep walking, I soon won’t be able to stand in front of a class all day. My mind is still sharp, and I am still learning, so to quit before I am ready would be a disappointment hard to bear. So I walk to work. It will be my great loss when I no longer have to. Or can.

I cannot remember when I first read The Diary of Anne Frank. I was young, too young to understand all that was said, alluded to, or implied. I know I was struck by Anne’s honesty, more so when I came to grips with what the Nazis did to her and millions of Jews like her. It is not easy to wrap your head and heart around that level of demonic evil when you are young. I toured the Annex when I was in Amsterdam, as a mature adult. We shuffled from room to room, dumbstruck by the banality of the horror that was written on every wall.

So when the Cayman Drama Society opened auditions for the play, I knew I had to try out. I wasn’t looking for a major role, just something to get my feet wet on stage after more than a dozen years coaching students from the sidelines. I tried out for Dussel, the fussy dentist that comes in halfway through the first act. I practiced a passable German accent and committed a few passages to memory. I was little taken aback when the director, Kirsty Halliday, said, “Very nice, now drop the accent and try it again.” I did, and got cast in the role.

This summer I used every available minute to commit the script to memory. Then I worked on all the cues surrounding my part. Rehearsals went on while I was away in Canada, but that couldn’t be helped. As soon as I got back I jumped back into all the blocking that I had missed and introduced myself to the cast. Fortunately, drama folks are a pretty accepting sort, and I soon felt comfortable and found their company pleasant. The schedule itself was tiring on top of teaching all day: two late nights a week and four to six hours on the weekends. But slowly the bits and pieces came together and we began to jell as a cast.

Kirsty had three primary ideas she wanted to embed in her production. She wanted to put the entire audience, all 80 of them, on the stage with us so there would be no escape, no turning away. The auditorium would become the warehouse through the audience would walk, behind the bookcase and up the stairs into the Annex. Then she wanted to visualize Anne’s nightmare scene, bringing the three Nazis on stage to terrorize her as she slept. Then in the final scene she wanted us all to march, zombie like, onto the stage and fall into a heap of bodies, eyes open and gazes blank staring out at the audience. The effect was devastating. Many sat in tearful silence for minutes after the show was over, unable to compose themselves enough to leave. The nine shows were sold out to the last seat for every show, and the reviews and comments have been overwhelmingly positive, many saying it was the best show that the Cayman Drama Society has ever done, and the strongest cast.

It has been so rewarding for me to have even a small part in such an important play. The cast, especially 15 year old Jasmine Line, who played Anne, the music, the set design, and the staging were all impressively professional. I enjoyed the camaraderie of our cast and the nightly challenge of bringing my character to life. I will likely do another show, now that I am back into the groove, but I can’t think that anything else will ever come close to the impact of this show. It is difficult even after a week away just thinking about what we had to go through each show. 

One night I spoke to the only Jewish rabbi on Cayman who had come to the show. After he had complemented me on my Hebrew during the Sim Shalom prayer that I offer, I asked him about his reaction. He said he found it moving and authentic. He also shared that he had lost two of his great grandparents in the Holocaust. I asked if he minded us, an entirely Gentile cast, presenting this work. Oh no, he said, very firmly. The truth must continue to be told so that this never happens again. Never again.

Pam and I thought long and hard about buying a boat when we arrived in the Cayman. It seemed a natural: we lived right on the longest canal on the island, the waters were crystal clear, and the breezes were mild. All our neighbours seemed to have boats, and we had visions of taking our grandchildren out across the North Sound when they came to visit.

Sadly, that dream had to die. The cost for even a small runabout was exorbitant, and apparently the boat maintenance here is astronomical.  Then too we noticed that our neighbours never actually seemed to use their boats. The workdays are long here, so there is only the weekend. Besides, snorkeling had taken over our interest in the water and we were developing a nice group of older people who like to snorkel and were good company at the pub afterwards.

So we moderated our passion for boating and took whatever opportunities availed themselves to us to get out on the water through staff cruises or trips across the North Sound to the restaurant at Rum Point. However, there was one cruise that we had not taken in our three years on the island, and that was the Sunset Cruise off Seven Mile Beach. The reason was obvious, it cost more than we felt comfortable paying to see a sunset we could sit on the beach to see for nothing.

But for our anniversary, a young couple in our community group gave us the gift of a Sunset Cruise. We tried in vain to fit it in before the summer break, but the weather refused to cooperate. Finally, once we returned to Cayman, we got a chance to go sailing, and it turned out to be well worth the wait. Since we moved to the Caribbean, we have become sunset connoisseurs. There are sunsets too dull to even matter, sunsets that promise much, then just peter out, and sunsets that go out in a brief blaze of glory. However, our favourites are the ones that linger in the clouds for nearly two hours. We had one of those on the night of our cruise.  

The breezes were delicious, warm and fragrant. There was no sound but the gentle muted conversations on the deck and the flutter of the sails in the breeze. As the glow from the sunset faded, the stars came out as clear as diamonds on black felt. We had Cayman lemonade, and some chicken wings and just soaked up the great privilege of being allowed to be here at this point in our lives. It was a beautiful evening.

When Liz and Greg welcomed their first baby, Russ into our family, Jon and Nic and the kids made the long drive from Seattle to meet him. There have been many, varied visits family visits and events in the mean time but since then that we have not been all together in one place.

It took a lot of planning and a tremendous amount of effort on everyone’s part to coordinate our schedules but we finally got together again just in time to celebrate Russ’s fifth birthday. We gathered at Greg’s family’s beautiful cabin on Moyie Lake in southern British Columbia. Jon and Nic rented a small but very adequate cabin about five minutes walk away. Dave made the five hour trip through the mountains on his bike to be there with us,

Along with lovely accommodations we had the use of a boat, canoe and kayaks and a cool lake for swimming. We BBQ’d and had great meals together, hung out and played what was for us a new board game, Settlers of Catan, without too many disagreements.

 

The weather was spectacular with cool, clear mornings and warm, sunny afternoons. Steve had a great time teaching Ben and Abi to paddle the canoe and they were both steering quite competently by the end of the week.

We moved to the Caribbean so Steve could continue his ministry in teaching and yet still be close enough to our family to be able to have this kind of vacation. This time on the lake certainly brought home to us home much we love to be with our children and their children.

It is a great thing to be around your adult children and see them and their kids all getting along. For Canadians is like something in our DNA that this is most enjoyable outdoors. The Cayman Islands have lovely beaches and warm weather year round. But they don’t have the kind of beauty you see in the Rockies.

The lake was cold, but not unbearably so. All of us went in the water at one time or another, some as a result of going too fast in the raft, but always with a great deal of laughter. It was the nicest summer we have had in many a year.

We have missed a number of birthdays during our time abroad: cousins, friends, children and grandchildren. It was so nice to celebrate Russ’ birthday while we were at the cabin.

Some presents were clearly more happily received than others, but one’s interests at five tend to be pretty specific. But whether opening presents, eating cake, or just sharing in the celebration of life, it was all a pretty joyous occasion.