Bits and Bites of Everyday Life

 

Breathing room and a landing space  for Hope

By Geneviève Hone
True North Perspective

Geneviève Hone is a grandmother, family therapist and social worker.  With her husband, Julien Mercure (also a family therapist), she has co-authored three books on couples and family life. Her home on the web is www.hone-mercure.com/index_hone_en.php.

I am nine years old and this is my first day at my new school in Montréal. I’ve been assigned the center front row desk, probably so the teacher can keep an eye on the new kid from Ontario: will she be a good student, one who obeys without comment, doesn’t say a word out of turn and would never mock the teacher? Or will she be trouble? Well, so far, I haven’t been “trouble”. It’s early days, early hours actually, and I have all the time in the world to organize good trouble if I choose to do so. Making trouble is not always as easy as one might think. It requires careful planning especially if you don’t want to get caught.

Today, the teacher starts with the arithmetic lesson. I can afford to listen distractedly because I have already learned all that stuff, curricula differing quite a bit between provinces. I’ve long ago mastered the art of daydreaming while seeming to be completely focussed on the teacher’s words, so for a few moments I enjoy visualizing the new red CCN bicycle I would like to receive on my birthday. The class is very quiet. All we can hear is Sister Joseph de la Croix’s voice (name changed to protect the innocent that she was) and the squeaky sound of the chalk on the blackboard. And then suddenly, at precisely 9 o’clock, a voice behind me is strongly heard: “Rappelons-nous la sainte présence de Dieu.” Sister Joseph stops writing the series of fractions, the kids fold their arms on their desk, put their head down and everybody recites: “Oh, mon Dieu, je crois en Vous, j’espère en Vous et je Vous aime de tout mon coeur. Venez, mon Dieu, venez dans mon coeur.” Sister Joseph then picks up her chalk, the children their pencil, and the lesson continues. I throw a glance to François Bélanger (again, name changed) who so rudely interrupted Sister Joseph. He is calmly writing numbers in his notebook. I have no idea what this whole thing is about.

Sister Joseph switches to the geography lesson. I must now pay attention because all I know about the province of Québec is that it is next door to Ontario and possibly to some other countries. Sister Joseph has us read out loud in turn and as Madeleine is stumbling through the description of the battle of the Plaines d’Abraham, a girl from the back row interrupts loudly: “Rappelons-nous la sainte présence…” It is precisely 10 o’clock. “Here we go again”, I say to myself. “I’m surrounded by crazy people, here.” I can’t wait to tell my mother at lunchtime. She will want to pull me out of here and homeschool me which will leave me plenty of time to ride my new bicycle.

My mother and I don’t always see eye to eye and our lunchtime discussion is certainly one of those times. Mother explains briefly that in this school people apparently like to take a moment to stop and pray for a moment. And she flatly turns down my proposal for homeschooling. I bring forth solid arguments: we don’t even know who God is, why should we pray to Him (in those days, God was always a “He”, of course). But between serving soup and sandwiches and trying to prevent my brothers from pulling each other’s hair out, my mother is not inclined to indulge in a serious theological discussion. “I’ve told you before, Geneviève. If you are bothered by the idea of God, replace the word ‘God’ by ‘Life’.” It’s the same idea. Now get out of here or you’ll be late for school.”

So I go back to school and eventually make it through 4th grade safe and sound! Sister Joseph de la Croix proves to be a superb teacher, Madeleine becomes my best friend and François Bélanger my lifelong love… for about two months, though I never inform him of this. I stay in school for a very long time, enough to wear out three bicycles before finally declaring myself sufficiently educated. I become a social worker, then a family therapist and I start teaching at university, training future therapists for whom I entertain great hopes. Then, one day as I am teaching stress reduction techniques to my graduate students, I remember the 4th grade classroom interruptions and suddenly realize how important and beautiful these were. Our teacher was teaching us to stop whatever we were doing to take a moment to invite Faith, Hope and Love into our hearts.

Painting by Julien Mercure.

We couldn’t see or hear Faith, Hope and Love, those mysterious forces, just their effects, but somehow, at the ripe old age of nine, we were being introduced to the power and abundance of the “intangible”, the mysteries that we cannot solve, only contemplate.

Alberte’s latest TNP article, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast”, set me to once again reflect on the subject of hope. Hope concerns the future of course and all that we know about the future is that it will happen. We do not know what it will be, yet we dare dream about it. We make plans for a good future, one that does not include accidents, illness, material or spiritual poverty, estrangement from loved ones and certainly not their death. But eventually the future tumbles into the present, transforms into reality, and this reality includes suffering. What will sustain us through pain of all sorts is of course Hope. In the midst of things, the focus of our Hope may shift somewhat from wishing a happy future for ourselves to deciding to be present as best we can to whatever Life will bring us, which we evidently cannot foresee.

But if we expect Hope to sustain us through loss, we must know where to find it. Every kid from my 4th grade could tell you that it is “inside of us”, that it comes from opening one’s heart to Faith, Hope and Love. Well, yes, but where exactly? “Inside of us” is a complex world, where we can easily lose our way! My mother’s reply when we had lost something was: “Try to remember where you last saw it”. Wise words, applicable to the process of searching for Hope. I believe Sister Joseph knew the importance of putting our Hope in a safe place, where we could find it as needed. I believe that she trained us to stop, at least once an hour, to build a landing space for Faith, Hope and Love. She taught us to interrupt our life to contemplate Life.

To this day, I remember Sister Joseph with gratitude every time I stop for a minute to look around inside and outside of me, to acknowledge the mystery that surrounds me. I take a few slow deep breaths to create a landing space for Hope. And as I quiet down in the middle of an agitated day, my memory brings back the smell of the chalk, the dream of a red bicycle and the picture of the new kid from Ontario who was deciding whether to be trouble… or not, but for whom Sister Joseph held great hopes!

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