See that photo on the right? It's an ice sculpture. Inside lies a very special treasure, the product of love and friendship on so many different levels. To tell its tale, I need to talk about a grandmother's love, the blog that changed my life, a marriage proposal gone horribly wrong, and a day of redemption wherein love and friendship once again rode to the rescue of all.
True love is possible, and so are happy endings. I know, 'cause it happened to me.
A Grandmother's Ring, A Grandmother's Love
Sometimes in this world, there is no healing save love.
For me, its history begins with my grandmother (Yiddish phonetic "BA-bah", popularly anglicized to "Bubby" or "Bubbe"; related to Russo-slavic "Babushka"). It was an enagement ring from her 3rd husband... whom she married while in her 80s.
Knowing Bubby Sarah, I think she just kept wearing them out. She always made her own rules, did it her way, never gave up, never thought she had enough - and never hesitated to tell you what she thought about it all. It was the classic North American saga, only more so: a wicked stepmother, running away from home, working as a servant in Lodz, fleeing to North America, the Great Depression, broken curfews, meeting her husband at a wedding, starting and running a successful business (despite being illiterate); plus 3 husbands, 2 children, and 6 grandchildren along the way. Her life began in medieval conditions, fear, and servitude. It ended in freedom, love and success, long after she had watched men walk on the moon. Bubby Sarah was a force of nature, a dynamo of energy, and a wonderful grandmother.
Given her uncanny ability to lose jewelry, however, this ring is one of the few pieces left. I had asked that it be kept in storage. One day, perhaps, it would bring another the same happiness it had brought to her.
I know what Bubby would say about that: "You have to make your own happiness." Well, she would know. Sometimes, we all need a little help in that department - and the best help is love. Zayde (Grandfather) Louis had died in 1968, about 9 months after I was born. I'm told that I was a comfort to him, and to her as well. The best help, the kind that lasts. Our bond was easy to explain, but hard to describe; it endured until her death.
Two years after she died, I followed in her footsteps and met someone at a wedding... and the circle came 'round once again.
The Blog That Changed My Life
My Normblog interview describes some of my reasons for starting Winds of Change: 9/11, a friend's death, the bolt of illumination that said the world wasn't going to be the same, and the need to spark better conversations about it all. I got all that. Actually, I got much more.
Winds of Change.NET was originally a solo venture, but by 2003 it had become a team sport. I said in my Normblog interview that this transition was the best moment of my blogging life - and here, my insight failed me. On February 1, 2004 Armed Liberal announced his upccoming wedding on Winds of Change.NET. We'd been working together for over a year, becoming fast friends without ever meeting in person. It's a streak that would have continued, given my budget and circumstances.
Fortunately, friendship intervened. A.L. decided to put out a call for donations. Many readers contributed, including a number of team members and regulars who remain to this day. My friend Adil "Muslimpundit" Farooq put the fund over the top with a very generous donation, and suddenly I was off to L.A. The wedding took place at Disney Hall on March 13, 2004.
Actually, everything happened on March 13, 2004. My friends here on the blog didn't know it yet, but 27 whirlwind hours together had just changed my life. Hers, too.
My sweetie read Winds of Change.NET every day, of course, and delved into the archives. We'd send each other a song every day, via MP3 FTPs. Each night on the phone, we'd talk about our lives and share stories that meant something to us, or made us laugh: Kipling, Kon-tiki, Korman, Analog magazine, Native tales. She came to Canada a month later on a red-eye flight, to find a trail of rose petals, a tray of snacks, and an aromatherapy bath waiting on the other end. I came back from work the next day, to find my TV wired into the stereo.
"I am the cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me." But even the cat finds a home, in the end.
There are lots of good reasons to spend time with someone. There are lots of good reasons to get married. I've been gifted with relationships involving smart, strong women who helped me break down the walls I had built, and gave me strength amidst life's ups and downs. It's a favour I've always returned, and it's a special thing - but it isn't enough. I've been lucky to have relationships involving genuine love and affection, with few games. That, too, is a special thing - but it isn't enough.
My sweetie is all these things, and she gets me. And I get her, deeply. We know each other's head space, because we've lived there ourselves. It's my adventure, and it's her adventure. Whatever may come. And it's enough.
It was time.
My Florida Shipwreck Disaster
Christmas 2004 was a busy time for me, which is somewhat unusual if you're a Jew. I was working on two major, behind the scenes projects at the time - one involving escape, and one involving commitment. The goals were straightforward: make sure the escapee isn't committed, and the commitment doesn't escape.
If only it were as easy as it sounds. Ah, but never underestimate the spirit of Christmas.
Santa arrived on Christmas Eve with a small miracle of freedom, and the Christmas spirit ensured that our Iranian friend found the shelter he needed, so far away from home. One down - and thanks, Santa! Time to pack for Florida now, where I'd spend time with my parents and my Santa Cruz sweetie.
I had plans, you know. Big plans.
After spending time with her mother in Arizona, my sweetie would fly in to Ft. Lauderdale on December 28th. I'd pick her up in a rental and treat her to a death-defying Florida drive through occasionally-visible old folks in very big cars. Destination: Key Largo, just like Bogey and Bacall. Dinner and an evening listening to the waves would be followed the next day by the U.S.S. Spiegel Grove, a spiralling dive 110 feet down through schools of brightly-colored jacks and snappers, then in and around a 500 foot+ ship that once housed Marines. Stripped, drained, and sunk as an artificial reef, it now houses a collection of sea life and tropical fish that would turn any aquarium collector green with envy. We both dive, but we had never taken the plunge together. It was time.
Of course, my sweetie's basic scuba cerification won't let her do deep wrecks unless a currently-insured instructor accompanies her (N.B. for scuba enthusiasts: True. You should have your Advanced cert if diving below 100 feet, and especially on wrecks. We lose good people every year who have no business being in those places. End of sermon).
Unfortunately, I no longer fit that description. Smack in the middle of Florida's busiest week, our only option was a gentleman who was doing some on-site videography of the famous wreck.
A very plausible story, if I do say so myself.
Needless to say, the videographer would jump in the water first, we'd be last, and by the time we got down there the ring would be tied on unobtrusively near the wreck's mooring point, waiting to be 'discovered' as we sat at the bottom of the mooring line after a fantastic dive. The videographer would be right there as I slipped the ring back through the monofilament loop, levitated upward, then spun and came down on one knee, ring in hand...
No plan survives contact with the enemy. No planner, either.
By the time I got to Florida on Christmas Day, I had the beginnings of a cold. I hoped to shake it by spending the first 36 hours in the apartment, sleeping. Next thing I know, I'm in a doctor's office. Diagnosis: sinus infection, possible strep, Azithromycin prescibed. Key Largo plans deader than Elvis. I spent the Florida vacation indoors. My only consolations were the crappy weather - and Horizon Divers, who were awesomely cool about getting everything cancelled on short notice. I can see where they got their reputation for service.
Plan A summarized: Plan. Crash. Burn. No Plan B for that area worthy of such a moment. I returned to Canada on January 9th with the ring, plus a few million germs along for the ride. I fed them airline food, and counted us even.
Recovery, Redemption, Romance
"The product of love and friendship on so many different levels." How do you do an encore for an act that never saw the stage? The same way we got there. My sweetie's birthday is January 28th, and this one had a zero next to it. She wants to ski, and she wants to forget that day. I want something else... and I have 2 weeks to produce it.
Friendship and love to the rescue. Again.
Dave McKenna manages the Delta Lodge at Kananaskis, site of the 2002 G8 Summit. His wife Julie Canning handles tourism promotion for the Greater Calgary area. I call, explain my situation, and listen a lot as we brainstorm options. There's lots to do there: winter hikes, snowshoeing, horse-drawn sleigh rides for 2, fast heli-tours of the mountains... and skiing, of course. Not to mention anything else I can find or think up for the big moment. We'll cap it off with a stay at the Delta Lodge for our last 2 days.
Perhaps it's all for the best, I thought. I am a guy, after all, and having just one date to remember in future years is a great life simplifier. The skiing should be great, too.
It wasn't, but that's OK. Amidst the chinook winds and melted snow, we had scenic hikes and ice canyons, hot springs... and my friends, and each other.
The important stuff.
Eventually, we all headed to the Delta Lodge. Dave reserved us a 2-level hotel room with stairs and a fireplace, not to mention a 2-level window that looked out onto the Rocky Mountain sunrise. A wonderful dinner in the Fireweed Grill on the 27th allowed Jan to meet some other friends of mine who were headed out for Thailand... and then came the 28th.
Morning dawned with a fire in the fireplace, and a wake up that had us watching the sunrise over the Rockies. Breakfast at the Fireweed followed, and the afternoon was spent hiking around the local snowshoe trails on foot and appreciating the scenery. We had to hurry back, though, as my sweetie was booked for an aromatherapy massage at 4:30 pm. I sat in the spa's hot tub, enjoyed the steam room, and waited for her to emerge.
It was, she said, a truly wonderful birthday.
I reminded her that we still had dinner reservations in Brady's Market, where a talented chef cooks alone in an open kitchen for about 20-30 guests. They don't normally do reservations, but... it helps to have good friends, you know?
That it does. The dinner was everything you'd expect, of course. The chef was a marvel as she orchestrated meals for the room, never hurried or harried in her movements. The meals were wonderful, and the waitress took some great pictures at the table. As the meal ended, I asked the waitress if she had a granitee to clear our palates before dessert.
She returned with the ice sculpture you saw above, with multicolored flowers around the outside, and sugar tendrils set in ice on the inside.
"This doesn't look like any dessert I've ever seen... what's that?"
-- "Reach in and see."
"What do you want me to do with this?"
-- "Put it on."
At this point, I begin to suspect the workings of shock.
-- "...my sweetie, I know you've been dreading this day. It's made you unhappy, and I've seen that. I wanted you to always remember it with happiness, so I decided... that this would be the day I'd ask you to marry me."
"Yes, in a heartbeat!" The crying began.
"...and their joy was like swords, and they passed in thought out to regions where pain and delight flow together and tears are the very wine of blessedness."
There were people to call, of course, and others still to thank. Somehow, we found the time. Our waitress brought a complimentary bottle of champagne up to the room, entirely on her own initiative. It complemented the fire and the chocolate mousse cake very nicely, as I read my sweetie the final chapters of Jacob Marley's Christmas Carol.
Jacob Marley finds his way home in the end, of course, and his finale becomes a new beginning. It's been exactly one month since our own beginning, and there are border rules and timelines aplenty to contend with before a wedding date can be announced. That's Ok, though - we'll get there. Love and friendship, remember, and a future many of you helped make possible. The obstacles are just logistics, but the home we've found in each other abides, and is real.
So may we all find our way home, and remember the power of love and friendship in a turbulent world. Amidst the winds of change, love and hope abide.
G-d bless us all, every one.