a charm, a trembling

morning tree

The last time we were in Paris, maybe 8 years ago, we went to the Musée des arts et métiers, a wonderful collection of scientific and technological objects, including Foucault’s pendulum, timepieces and navigational devices through history, binoculars from 1681, early planes, calculators, even a maquette for the statue of Liberty. We spent ages looking a case of artificial hips, an exhibit detailing their development from an early model of ivory, invented by one Themistocles Gluck in 1891, to the more contemporary versions made of metals and ceramics. Imagine having one of those in your body! Who said it? Me? John? I remember we touched our own hips tenderly and went on to the next exhibit room.

Yesterday John had both his hips replaced at the UBC Hospital. This has been in the works for some time. For the past 5 years he’s had some mobility issues and realized he’d need at least one hip replaced. He actually saw the surgeon nearly a year ago, after a year’s wait (because he asked friends who’d had joint replacements who they felt was the best surgeon and one name kept being repeated and it turns out he had a long waiting list….). Last November the surgeon looked at recent x-rays, realized both hips had deteriorated, and casually said, Let’s do them both at the same time. Easy peasy. John was told it would happen in spring but then COVID-19 meant that elective surgeries were cancelled. A month ago, his was rescheduled.

I visited him yesterday afternoon. He was cheerful, hungry, and ready to do whatever he needed to do to strengthen his legs and new hips so we can return to the long walks up the mountain that formed such an important part of our lives. He’ll be in hospital for 4 or 5 more days and I’m staying nearby on campus so I can walk back and forth to see him. We were both students at UBC in the last century, John earlier than me, in the 1960s. I did most of an MFA here after Forrest’s birth in the early 1980s, driving across town from North Vancouver for seminars and rushing home to nurse my baby. I didn’t ever learn to find my way around the campus. I always felt hurried. Harried. We were building a house, we were learning to print on the big old Chandler and Price platen press we’d recently acquired, and I wasn’t writing much. Eventually I realized that it wasn’t a good use of my time to race across the Lions Gate Bridge two or three times a week in order to complete a degree, particularly not when I knew by the second spring that I was going to have another baby. What I remember is that I always parked in the Museum of Anthropology lot because I could put money in the meter and get 2 hours of parking which was just about enough if I raced back to the car as soon as my seminar ended. I knew the quickest way there and back. I’ve bought a ticket online to the Museum for later this morning, hoping that it’s still as lovely as ever. I expect it will be–I’ve been back several times over the years. Almost nothing else seems the same. It’s like a city here, with residences everywhere, building projects happening on every corner, though there are not many people on the sidewalks because of course classes are online. Huge empty buses passed me as I walked back from the hospital yesterday. I looked out the window of the suite where I am staying and tried to figure out which direction I facing. There were house finches in the maples, many of them, and I wished I had my trusty An Exaltation of Larks at hand to determine what the collective noun for finches might be. I’ve just looked online and there are three: a charm, a trembling, a trimming. I’ll keep these in mind to tell John because they are also words for a man who is waking this morning with new hips.

This morning it’s still too dark for finches. I looked out the window and there’s someone walking on the dark trail with a flashlight. I recognize her tentative step. It might be myself, nearly 40 years later, trying to find my way.

I am out with lanterns, looking for myself. (Emily Dickinson, letter to Mrs. J.G. Holland, January 20, 1856)

12 thoughts on “a charm, a trembling”

  1. You found your way dear friend, you found your voice and your calling and you certainly didn’t need an MFA to do so!

  2. Wishing John a comfortable recovery. I did my 5th year at UBC in the early 70s and I don’t think I ever did find my way around the campus. And, as I remember, it rained every single day for 8 months.

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