I’d had expectations for my retreat time here at St. Peter’s Abbey, the Benedictine monastery I’ve come to love deeply. I’d expected to get a lot of writing and revising done, to walk and feed the chickadees every day, and to go to Vigils often. But things don’t always happen as you’d planned.
I arrived a couple of days early because it usually takes me that long to settle in. This time was no different so by the time the others arrived on Friday, I was writing. By noon on Saturday I had three new poems in my Poetry 2015 folder — yippee! I was well on my way. And I had hand-fed the chickadees.
Then I received a phone call, well, actually a voice mail, and everything changed. I suppose one should not check one’s phone or email when on retreat. But I do. I did. And I learned that one of my best friends, the woman who stood up for me — my best woman — at our wedding 25 years ago, had lost her mother. Yes, her mother was old. Yes, she had been somewhat ill. But I’d loved and respected her since I was 16 and now, 30-some years later, it’s a significant loss. She was one of the strong women I’d attached myself to over the years. I’d crashed in her house, ate her food, read Shakespeare at her husband’s funeral.
I’d been writing some delicate stuff, going into that deep and dark place that’s often hard to face. I was feeling vulnerable — more vulnerable than usual — and to learn about this, well, it hurt. It brought tears. And it threw me off my writing game for a while. I recovered, however, and started into some revisions. I got into a rhythm and worked through about 50 pages of poetry, admiring some, tweaking some, tossing others and completely rewriting still others. By Tuesday, I had finished that task and was feeling pretty fine. I found some Cathedral Village Arts Festival (CVAF) work which proved to be a great transition into the children’s literature manuscript I also wanted to edit. Another yippee!
And then, Tuesday night, around 11 pm, I learned that a colleague, Michele Sereda, was one of five people who died in an accident on Highway #6, north of Regina. I’d heard about the accident, worried about Jane Munro and Michael Kenyon who were traveling here for a reading that took place today (Wednesday). When they arrived safely my worries turned to people from my hometown and the surrounding communities, people I’d grown up with, family, friends. I’d never expected the deaths to be those of a carful of artists, especially not Michele, with whom I’d been working since June in my role as Chair of the CVAF. I was up til the early hours of the morning, trying to deal with my own shock and grief and the social media aftermath.
Needless to say, today has been a write-off. I didn’t go to the dining hall for breakfast, but at lunchtime, as we were chatting and getting to know each other better, I spoke of my work with the CVAF. That led to the work with Michele which led to the story of the accident and to me rising from the table to run to the bathroom where I wiped my tears and recomposed myself. The tableful of writers was very forgiving when I returned. They’re typically like that. I’d forgotten.
After lunch I didn’t have a lick of interest in children’s literature so I put on my CVAF hat and wrote a media release expressing the organization’s shock and sadness at the loss of Michele, a Cathedral Village resident, and the others.
I went to Jane’s and Michael’s reading, which was fantastic. But when, at the end, Michael rose to say that he’d forgotten to mention that he wanted to dedicate this reading to that carful of artists because it seemed to him that it was a tragic loss, I burst into tears. It was tragic. It is tragic.
And I’m angry — not at anyone or anything — just that the time I’ve spent here at the Abbey, at this place where I love to write, has been a time of such loss for me. Instead of writing poetry and children’s fiction, I’m writing email messages to colleagues, Facebook posts expressing my grief and condolences, media releases on behalf of organizations, and blogposts that try to make sense of it all.
Maybe that’s the point of all this. There is no sense to be made. It is what it is and it’s not pretty. It’s not what I expected. I assumed things would go a certain way — and if you don’t know what “they say” about the word, “assume,” well, I’m not telling!
This evening was a gift, however. It was a gift of time with old and new friends gathered together, sharing stories and food, talking writing and life, and laughing. Laughing is so important. Both the women I lost this past week had great and contagious laughs. There’s a lesson in there, too, I’m sure.