4.23 My Very Own Little Old Lady
I have an affinity for older people. Maybe I'm looking for the wisdom that life brings through experience. Maybe I'm looking for a sense of history. Whatever the case, I've found myself in the company of older people lately. When I was in university, my friends were all a few years older than me. When I met Wayson Choy and started a correspondence with him, it wasn't what he could do for my writing career, I just liked the guy and enjoyed spending time with him. Older people like to talk and it's nice to just shut the hell up for a while and listen to individuals who have lived full lives.
So, I knew I had a cousin that lived in London and although it took me a while, I knew I had to visit her at some point. Maybe it's because I'm getting older myself, but I've gotten more interested in my family history and where I came from. This cousin knows everything about the family, I imagine every family has one: a keeper of the flame, a vessel of history and holder of secrets.
This cousin just celebrated seventy years as a nun and I went to the convent where she lives. To be truthful, I was a little intimidated - I've never been to a convent and never talked to a nun. My relationship with religion has been a bit volatile to say the least. I've achieved some calm with it and accepted that it's just not for me. This is all I got to say about it: I don't know. Look, none of us can really know, all we know is our beliefs. Some can choose not to believe, some believe it's not a choice, that they are compelled to believe. Either way, what's the difference? You know, I've been critical of all this in the past, but now, I just think that your beliefs are your beliefs. Whatever happens after we die is going to happen, and whatever helps someone get through the day while they're alive is their prerogative. I'm not going to crap on anyone's beliefs. It's easy to look at someone else and be critical, and I did this, but now I just mostly look at myself and be critical of my own tendencies to judge others based on nothing but projection.
Heavy. Okay, when going into the convent, my nervousness stemmed from them knowing. Not necessarily that I'd be struck by lightning or anything like that, just that all the guilt of the very un-Christian things I've done would be exposed. Pretty ridiculous, but it did cross my mind. The first thing we did was go to church. My church-going consists of Christmas mass and I usually opt out of communion. Sitting next to a nun, I felt compelled to do communion. How do you do this again? When taking the host, I was sure the priest knew. Catholicism, no matter how far you stray, you can never get far from the whole guilt-thing.
After mass, we sat down and she started telling me about my family. I should say that the next day, I set up a podcast interview in Windsor at Caesars hotel and casino with the musician David Ford. One of the first things the nun told me was my family settled in Windsor on a plot of land overlooking the river and the skyline of Detroit. Now, she said, there's a casino there. I told her that the next day, I'm going to Windsor for the first time and will be meeting someone at the casino. She smiled and looked to the sky and said I was returning to where I came from. Okay, I don't know if god is in those details, and I don't know how any of this works. But I can't deny that there is something in the energy and particles and atoms and vibrations around us. Maybe it's random and every once in a while this randomness connects and electricity pulls people together. The great thing is that I don't know, I can't explain it. Sure, there are scientific reasons or I could logically explain away these coincidences. In the end, I just want to keep being amazed by these experiences, accept them, and just keep bumbling around in my perceived randomness. The one thing I do believe in is patterns. To me, patterns govern my experience. Maybe this is why I enjoy spending time with older people. With enough time, you get the privilege of connecting the dots.
We spent all day together. The nuns fed me. I can't deny that the nun has a lightness about her, a spark that is ignited by her faith. We laughed, we paused at certain points and there was a poignancy and a truth in those pauses. I was put to work, getting things for other nuns from high shelves, offered fudge for my help. One time, I went shopping with Wayson, and it's in these mundane errands where lessons can be learned. Maybe I'm just storing up karma so younger people will talk to me when I'm older, do errands with me. But I think I can honestly say that this is not the case. After many hours and another meal with the nuns, I was unleashed into the night, my usual guilt in check, back to my sinful ways and continued my way towards Windsor.
The next morning, sitting in the lobby waiting for David Ford, my You Suck voice was back. It was telling me this interview wasn't going to happen, that he discovered that I am a fraud and a hack. The interesting thing is that the usual argument was not an argument at all, just more of a mulling over of the facts. A discussion. I was more interested in how I arrived sitting in this hotel lobby on the land where my descendants settled. And David Ford showed up and he was very polite and hospitable and the interview went very well.
Ford said something in the interview that stuck with me. One of the offshoots of doing this podcast is that I get to speak with people that have wisdom and I can ask them about it. I asked him about channeling his vulnerability in order to perform so emotionally. Another musician from a different interview talked about this and I liked the concept and so stupidly assumed that all musicians operated from the same point. He talked about having to feel the opposite, of going on stage and feeling invincible, that in order to access the emotional depths, he's got to ground himself in this way. Both these musicians are reaching a similar place, but getting there through different means. I liked this desire of invincibility and it made just as much sense to me as channeling vulnerability. These bits of information, falling like rain from these interviews, of how people work and how they achieve what they do makes me feel privileged to learn from them. I might've learned different things from the nun and the musician, she celebrating seventy years as a nun and he my age, but there is some kind of pattern from one to the other. I talked to these two people back to back for some meaningful reason.
The way David Ford talked about music had the same sounds of the faith of the nun. I've heard many comedians talk in the same way about comedy, that performing has the feeling of a sermon. Same with movies, or anything else that is asking us to suspend our doubt for a little bit of time. So, what does it really matter? Religion or music - we need something to believe in, something to provide hope. As I'm writing, I'm sitting here thinking, well, then what is it that I believe in? I've tried for a long time to write stories or make films that are good and clever and meaningful in some way. But for some reason, they were empty, for lack of a better term, they had no real soul, no life to them. There was a safety about them and the thought that I needed to hide behind these made up stories and characters. I believe in stories and exploring those places that we go to in our minds because then maybe it'll help make sense of this seemingly senseless world and the crazy people that inhabit it and my place in it.
But what is the reason or pattern of moving my way from London to Windsor? I don't know.
Maybe this can explain it, maybe not. At the convent, behind the chapel was a wall-length mural of stained glass. The mural was a colourful representation of the solar system with the planets and moons. Quite stunning. For some reason, I thought this was unusual to have in a chapel, but as things went on this trip, I just went with it. I was the one all caught up in the notion of what all this means. The nun proudly showed me the mural and asked what it meant to me. I said I didn't know, just that it made me feel small but for some reason that was okay. She smiled, nodded, and we moved on. She shuffled off, leaning on her cane with each step and I remember feeling, not thinking, but feeling, that this not knowing is okay. I learned a great deal on these two days, I learned that the more I figure out, the less I actually know.