Me (Godwin!) Linda, and Fred. I was thirteen. The day of our confirmation.
This post has turned into something I didn't imagine it would. I could post it as one complete post but because I've been working on it now for the past seven hours or so, it's turned into quite the read. So, I'm going to post this part as Part I, and complete the second part within the next day or so. The part that explains why I've ended up in the place that I am, the Chinese church and why I feel so alive today.
For the past day or so I've had this burning desire to write- the thing is, I have so many things running through my mind and spirit I don't really know where to begin or really what it is I'm supposed to write about. Thoughts of my brother Fred have been echoing inside of me steadily- though he is no longer here- his impact and continuing presence in my life. It's hard to believe it's already been over seven years since he passed; it seems like just yesterday...I miss him so much. As I sit here it is becoming clear as to what it is I am to write; again, my brother Fred factors into this- in a very specific way.
I recently joined a new church and now find myself in one of the greatest communities I've ever had the privilege to be a part of. It's a Chinese church (Evangelical Free Church) and I've joined the English speaking congregation. The community numbers about two hundred plus and although there is a great number of younger (elementary school age) and the older (elderly), the largest age group would be the young adults: high-school, college, and university. Within the church are a few cell groups and the church, especially on a Friday night when most of these groups meet, is hustling and bustling with activity. I state this because it impresses me that when most youth would rather be out painting the town red on a Friday night- here are youth in great numbers, bonding together in fellowship with each other and intending to grow spiritually in Christ. I think this is absolutely amazing! I've been invited to be a part of two groups and since joining, not only the church but each of these cell groups, there has been great and magnificent change in my life, spiritually. I've come back to life; I'm alive again! Why is this so pertinent? Let me back track...
This past summer, July 2012, was a very dark month for me. Emotionally, it was a month of death, a month of many endings; a month of loss. In the process of days and experience was great pain, and the realization of the culmination of seven years of tragedy, mayhem, destruction, death, and separation: beginning with my brother Fred's death on September 26, 2005. He was my best and closest friend- I'm the youngest in the family- he was next to me in years. We were inseparable. I'll never forget when I got the phone call of his passing, the immediate and complete emptiness that I felt. My heart sinking and missing the breathes necessary to keep it alive. The feeling of being "outside of myself" looking in and saying "This can't be happening." Of all the times to receive the call, when I was driving through one of the busiest corridors of Vancouver during rush hour and praying to God earnestly for strength just to continue the drive safely- through a body that was trembling slightly, holding tightly to the steering wheel, focusing with all my energy on the pedals, gas or brake...looking through eyes that were already filled with tears and aching. "God, please, I've only a few more blocks to drive. Please, have mercy on me and get me home safely." Unlocking the apartment door and stopping on the first step to catch my breath and cry, already, too weak to take another step. My wife appearing on the top of the stairs, asking, "What's wrong? What happened?" Through sobs so great and words hard to come by through great pain, with a chest feeling like it was caving in, "My brother Fred. He's dead, he died." Instantly my wife ran to me, held me, and cried with me. "Oh I'm so sorry. So very sorry. I know how much he meant to you." On those stairs we just embraced and cried- uncontrollably. She held me as tight as she could; for as long as she could. My brother and best friend no longer graced the face of this earth. He was gone. The tragedy of such a great loss is indescribable. He was my best friend. As if this wasn't enough, five months later our sister Linda died.
She was next to Fred and I in years- she was the youngest sister. The three of us were best friends- as Fred and I were, we were inseparable. How was our friendship solidified? It was tried, as if by fire, first by the death of our mother when we were very, very young. I was six- Fred and Linda would have had to be seven and eight. Then, the death of our father three years later. After our mother's death as a family we were separated- some of the brothers and sisters were sent to boarding homes in Vancouver, one as far away as Edmonton. Fred, Linda and myself were sent to the Port Alberni Indian Residential School. A place of some of the greatest loneliness and isolation a human being can ever experience or feel. A place of horrors. It was here I know our friendship was truly solidified- because really, all we had was each other. We took the risk of being with each other as much as we possibly could even though it meant we would be punished. The strapping, scolding, and beating, though unpleasant, was worth it: we got to spend time with each other. We entered the days of the residential school during the time of integration. The period when Indian children were now being integrated into main stream schooling- into white society. Schooling before this used to be done completely in the residential schools. Fred and I went to "Wood Elementary School" and Linda went to "Calgary Elementary". One of my fondest memories of this time was when the school day ended. Fred and I would look at each other knowing that the bus would arrive any minute to pick us up. He would ask, "Want to run to Calgary and see Linda?" Without hesitation I would always say yes. We'd run as fast as our little legs could carry us those many, many blocks. We didn't stop. Growing up on the reserve we learned that we could run like the wind and run forever. We knew we had to be there in time to catch the bus as it stopped to pick up Linda. Come to think of it, we never thought about what the bus driver thought or that he even worried about us. His journey to Wood Elementary wasn't in vain anyway as there were other kids to be picked up there going back to the residential school.
We'd run and run. Non-stop. Talking and laughing all along the way. Challenging one another and vying for position. Talking about days on the reserve. Constantly racing. Imagining the mountains, rivers, streams, and the forests- which were our play ground. The trees, which were our monkey bars. Climbing just to see how high we could go before the tree top started swaying too much. Still, no matter how much the tree swayed, we would sit, as a squirrel or an eagle perched high on a branch, looking over the village. It was beautiful. It was home. We were missing it.
We ran faster and faster hoping that our sister would be where she would always be, waiting for us- sitting on that little cement ledge in front of Calgary Elementary School. As we neared, there she was. From a distance we could see her face begin to light up as she noticed us. She'd begin to shout, "Run! Hurry! Faster! Faster!" while laughing the whole time. She was so happy to see us. Our sweet little sister- in all her glory- sitting on that little cement ledge: her tiny legs swinging, beating gently against the ledge as she cheered us on. Her hands planted firmly in anticipation and expectation. We laughed, we hugged, and we just loved on each other. The funny thing is (well, not really funny), these times were always followed by moments of extreme silence- as if we were sensing and feeling loss, death, destruction, and defeat. Maybe it had a lot to do with our mother's death just weeks earlier and the fact that we were taken from our family and sent hundreds (though it seemed like thousands) of miles away from home. The kind of silent anticipation of something that was about to go terribly wrong. The kind that no good could come from. Which brings me back to today- at least when Fred died, I had Linda's hand to hold as we walked with the funeral procession toward the graveyard. When Linda died, I had no hand to hold- and it was one of the loneliest, most painful walks ever- of my life. The two best friends of mine no longer graced the earth. They are gone, forever, from this realm. The pain was excruciating- the tears, seemingly unending, would eventually run dry; seven years later: not because there were no more tears to cry, but because of the ability to let go, the ability to heal. To recognize this is sometimes the progression of life and life, no matter what, goes on. Fred and Linda would want me to be happy. To pack up and move on- to continue running, to continue racing. To continue climbing trees. I miss them so much.
My marriage like any other marriage had its turbulent times. There were may ups and there were many downs. There were many contributing factors as to the demise of our marriage- I often blame it on that water bed. The one that my now ex-wife bought off of Craigslist and failed to tell me about. The one, which upon its second night in our home, marked the beginning of my sleeping on a small foam mattress on the floor at the foot of my wife's King size water bed. The one that contributed hugely to the already ailing "moments of intimacy" in our relationship. The water bed that my wife failed to tell me about, or if she did, would have went something like this: "It's a really nice bed. It's King size, more than big enough for the both of us. It has an oak head board and oak frame. The guy selling it says it's really nice and is willing to deliver it for an extra twenty-bucks." Me? "Uuuummm...okay. If you want it that badly, go ahead. Buy it." She failed however to mention the water part, although she says she did. If God wanted me to sleep on the water, he would have made me a fish. I could not sleep on that bed for the life of me...too soft and too much movement- and water sounds! "Swoosh this and swoosh that!" All night long! Waking up every minute wondering if I'm ever going to get any rest! I'm an Indian! I above all else love the sounds of nature, rivers, and streams! But not when it's being held captive and fighting to get free!
I do have one amazing memory of that waterbed. The mornings that I used to bring my wife her coffee. I'd always awake before her and getting up from my spot, I'd stand and look at her for a few moments before walking quietly out of the room. That bed was so huge and she was so tiny. It was the most precious sight, watching her sleep peaceably in absolute comfort on the bed she wanted so much- totally bundled up in her huge, down-filled comforter with her few pillows. Moments like this moved me most beautifully and she never knew this, but I'd always whisper before leaving the room: "I love you Little Flower," a name I gave to her because of her fragility and absolute beauty. I'd quietly close the bedroom door behind me and go to the kitchen and grind her free trade, espresso strength, coffee beans. I'd always grind enough for four scoops because she loved her coffee strong. I'd add just the one small cup of water ( she had her own special cup), and sit back enjoying the scent of that magnificent, freshly ground, brewing coffee. Many times it brought a smile to my face and happiness to my heart, because I knew it would make her happy. With coffee in hand I'd quietly make my way back into the bedroom, and standing beside the bed, begin to whisper, "Little Flower. Oh Little Flower..." After a few "Little Flowers" in almost a singing tone, she'd awake- rubbing her eyes lightly and most times smiling so sweetly, saying, "Coffee! Good morning baby...coffee!" "Yes Little Flower, coffee. Just the way you like it. Freshly brewed and strong." In her angelic morning voice she'd always say, "Thank you so much..." The waterbed was not entirely to blame. Really, it made me happy that she could sleep in such comfort and helped me to realize the sacrifices that we must sometimes make, in love.
We were living like room mates the last two years of our marriage. We were like two ships passing in the night (I know! A phrase too commonly used but fits here perfectly!). We even tried marriage counseling for a few months- I quit going because I was always the bad guy and I hardly left a session feeling any happier than when I went in. My wife continued with the counseling but I guess "marriage counseling" doesn't work with just one person present- she eventually quit going too. One night we sat down at dinner. Looking at her I asked, "Do you really want to live like this for the rest of your life?" She's like, "Like what?" I said, "We come and we go. We don't talk much any more. There's no intimacy between us- when was the last time we made love or slept together?" I continued, "You're up all night doing your thing and I get up and go to work everyday and do my thing. I come home, everything's the same: day in and day out. There's really no life. There's no change." The look on her face told me she knew exactly what I was talking about. She asked, "What do you suggest we do about it?" Knowing what was the obvious answer to breathe life back into our gills, I suggested, "Let's separate." She just sat there and stared at me. "Separate?" "Yes. Separate." There was a moment of silence (not the kind done in recognition or honor of)- but that which implies uncertainty, an impeding death, heaviness, or destruction. Knowing that for now there was really no other way, she agreed.
I'll never forget the day that I moved out. We set the date for May 1st., 2008. A few weeks, months away so that it would give us a bit of preparation time and we could adjust to the idea of separation. We didn't have umpteen amounts of money in the bank but I just wanted to make sure that financially she would be okay and I gave her the re-assurance that I would do my best to continue to support her financially. May came and I had already had anything that I was taking, packed. This consisted of my clothing, exercise equipment, and lap top. Everything else I left with her. She helped me to look for a home and when we found one, she also helped me to furnish it. We agreed we'd do everything amicably- that we'd stay friends: no fighting, no matter what. It wasn't easy in the beginning, we fought like cats and dogs (I know! Another expression too commonly used but fits perfectly here!). We couldn't take how we were hurting each other so we agreed to stay away from each other until we felt it was safe to get back together...as friends. Three months passed and I missed her so much. All I could think about was that final night of my move when we were so tired and so hungry. On our final trip that day, we stopped off to pick up a pizza from our favorite pizza place, we stopped too, to pick up a nice bottle of Hungarian wine for her. We got to my new place and placing a sheet in the middle of my empty living room floor, we had our little picnic. There were two plates, two glasses (a very nice wine glass for her), and some napkins. I poured her a glass of wine and I drank my diet pop. The pizza was hot and it was delicious. We talked. We talked about our future and where we hoped to be in a few years. We talked about many of our great and fun times and of our many trips to Europe. We talked too about our precious "Baby Gepi," our cat. How he was really going to miss me and when I missed him too much, I could come and visit him. We had no children. Gepi was truly our baby.
Time moved on and I couldn't take it any more. The pain of missing her was too great. I picked up my phone and called my wife. Finally, three months later. Fighting back my tears and trying not to feel the huge, painful lump in my throat, I said, "Hi. How are you?" She was gardening, it was a mid summer day. She weakly replied, "I'm doing okay, I guess. How are you?" Immediately I began to cry- "Not too good. I miss you so much." She began to cry too saying how much she missed me. The three months apart taught us an invaluable lesson- though we were never going to be together again, we needed each other- as friends. Then, we REALLY agreed to keep things amicable and even going through the divorce legally, have managed to stay friends, beautifully.
A colleague cautioned me when she knew I was working toward my final divorce, saying, "You know, be careful, as your divorce becomes final it's going to take on an incredibly new turn, maybe even more painful." She was right. Though we did things amicably going through the divorce brought up an entire flood of memories and a lot of them were very, very painful. My heart was fraught with remorse, sorrow, grief, guilt, and regret. This word "PAIN" again comes to mind: strenuous, blood-curdling, mind-binding pain! That's what this whole post seems to be about: PAIN!
Yes, the past seven years have been destructive and annihilating. There were also three other deaths in our family. Two of them an older sister in law and an older brother in law. The two were integral to our family and huge pillars of love and support. Their deaths were a huge loss. The third death was that of one of our nephews. Death is no fun.
There were other things happening too, that made the past seven years tragically despondent: beginning with my brother's death and culminating in the finalizing of my divorce on August 18th., 2012. There were huge life changing, life affecting decisions that I had to make personally- to ease the stress of my life and to try to make any type of a come back among the living. Two major decisions which are likened unto standing on the edge of an abyss, looking into the complete darkness, taking a giant leap of faith and saying, "Okay Father, I'm going to do it. I'm going to trust you. I'm going to leap and I'm going to learn to fly." Death, separation, divorce; isolation, pain, and loneliness: the letting go of everything familiar- everything secure. Letting go of the past to embrace a brand new future: starting all over again. The pain of these events was so great, that one night at the dinner table, my sister, brother, and nephew sat in complete helplessness- as they sat and listened to my woes, my heart-aches, brokenness, and pain. They talked with me; they cried with me: they encouraged me.
There is a light that began to shine amidst the darkness: the recording of my music professionally- the release of my EP "Your Presence," and the launching of my website.
Yes July was a month of many endings; but as God would have it: a month of new beginnings. This is when God threw me a life line- and gave me the courage to finally enter the Chinese Evangelical Free Church. It all gets better from here. I'll tell the story in the next post: It all has to do with trees, and two dreams. It's quite miraculous...really.
Post Script: When I write, I write from the deepest places of my heart; of my soul. I attended a major literary seminar three years ago in Vilnius, Lithuania. Our instructors came from all over the world and the participants too, from the United States, Canada, Africa, Europe, and many other places. The instructors were world renown, fully established and accredited authors. They gave us great guidance, and along with the participants, they critiqued much of our work. To sit and have your work critiqued by a fully accredited writer and about twenty other people is quite the experience to go through. It can be very, very challenging but in the end will only make you a better writer. After critiquing the first few chapters of the novel I've been working on the instructor looked at me and said, "Godwin, you're well on your way. I admire the courage and boldness that you exemplify in writing the things which you have written. Again, you're well on your way...all you have to do now is finish." I took great delight in his critique and summarizing statement. At the end of the two week session he said to us all in his concluding statement, "If there is one piece of advice that I can give you that is the greatest trait a writer can have- it is honesty. Honesty will make you a great writer." I have never forgotten his words and although I have always believed this, adhere now more than ever to this truth when I write. This is what causes you to feel...this is why I write.