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Allan designs and plants flowering gardens in Montreal, Zone 5 [USDA Zone 4] .

See website, design work and favorite flowering plants at  gardengurumontreal.ca

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Sunday
Sep262010

A Gardener in Mourning: When Bad Things Happen to Good People

http://www.flickr.com/photos/christopherdewolf/253086242

My neighbor Paul [not his real name] loves to garden He was introduced to growing vegetables by his father who, along with music and friendship, had made horticulture one of his life’s passions. Now Paul is passing on that passion to his children; he engages them in tasks such as planting and harvesting berries and vegetables in his city garden. He does not want them to take for granted the planet they live on or the food they eat.

When he and his family moved in next door, we had only the topic of gardening in common and that would become the source for many of our conversations. That pleased me to no end. Both my children live out of town. There are few opportunities to talk to them face to face and when I do, it is rarely about gardening. Paul is young enough to be my son; in a vicarious way, spending time with him, talking about anything, fills the void of not having my own children close by. He is also an exceptional human being who is warm and considerate beyond expectation and I value his company.

When he decided to surround his property with tall cedar trees, he apologized profusely and hoped that I would not be offended. He didn’t want a tall hedge to divide us; he simply wanted a cocoon, and I understood. Ironically, now the cedar hedge creates a proscenium which showcases both of our homes. Before, the facade of my grey house faded into the landscape while his beige cottage looked austere. Neither building looked good next to the other. Now, the color and texture of the cedars enhance both our homes and improve the appearance of the neighborhood.

A few days ago, Paul’s father died. The funeral took place at a Byzantine-style church on the other side of town.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/52955010@N00/2537833236 by Christopher Dewolf

I had heard about this architectural jewel, built in the style of the Hagia Sophia located in Istanbul Turkey, but had never had the opportunity to see either for myself. On the day of the funeral, when I entered the chapel, I was greeted by the awesomeness of the high vaulted arches and the cavernous open space that these arches created.

Image from Canada's National Archives

I was also impressed with the exquisitely decorated walls, 

http://www.flickr.com/photos/73416633@N00/2941753231/ by Colin Rose

the lofty dome, illuminated with painted images,

http://www.flickr.com/photos/73416633@N00/2917327166 by Colin Rose

http://www.flickr.com/photos/73416633@N00/2917675996 by Colin Rose

and the sublime stained glass windows.

http://stephenmorrisseyblog.blogspot.com/2009_02_01_archive.html

Paul’s family is Polish Catholic and his father was active in that community. Out of respect for his heritage, the flag of Poland graced the alter and two women attended the mass dressed in traditional Polish costumes.

The deceased’s love of music was acknowledged by the use of the organ, the chanting of uplifting Polish hymns by the congregation and clergy, and the singing of Ave Maria by a soprano with a sweet yet haunting voice. At the completion of the mass, the organ master played a dignified recessional.

Most of the service was spoken and chanted in Polish. Some grandchildren eulogized lovingly in English while a son-in-law delivered his heart-felt tribute in Polish. Since I do not understand that language, I glanced around the chapel to drink in its beauty. That is when I noticed that something was missing. Paul’s wife and children were absent.

After the service, Paul explained why he attended alone. Each of his subsequent sentences added a layer of complexity to a serious situation for which there will never be a solution.

Years ago, he fell in love with a Jewish girl, now his wife, whose religiously observant parents immigrated to Canada from Morocco. North Africa was untouched by the philosophical discourses that gave rise to the Protestant movement in Christianity and the Reform and Conservative movements in Judaism.

Religion in that part of the world remained untouched by modernity. Unlike members of other branches of Judeo-Christian creeds, whose adherents are sometimes prone to bending rules to meet the demands of contemporary life, Paul’s wife and her family continue to observe a strict code of religious laws that is immutable.

In order to marry his love, Paul converted to Judaism and adopted her level of observancy. Sadly, that conversion made him the black sheep of his parent’s family; his siblings ostracized him then and still have little contact with him today. Consequently, very few relatives spoke to Paul at the visitation or the funeral.

To make matters worse, his adopted orthodoxy created serious obstacles. Observant Jews are forbidden to enter gentile houses of worship. Therefore, he and his wife and his children were not supposed to attend the church funeral. That directive was further complicated by the fact that both the visitation and the funeral were to take place on Jewish holy days, when funerals are absolutely forbidden.

In the end, Paul’s love and respect for his father overrode his religious observance and he chose to participate in both the visitation and the funeral, even if other mourners would ignore him. However, he understood that attendance at these events was not a realistic expectation of his wife, his children, his friends and her family - a network that might otherwise comfort him. I was the only familiar person at the funeral with whom he could talk with ease.

Some might point out that we are destined to live with the consequences of the serious, game-changing decisions that we make, especially as they relate to religion. A community’s belief system is not meant to be trendy; it cannot embrace changes in order to accommodate the needs of some of its adherents.

What purpose would any religion serve if it consistently responded to current events? Those who find comfort in their beliefs expect dogma to remain constant. That is why predictability and reliability of any religion are its source of strength.

Yet, all of this intellectualizing does not change the fact that Paul’s isolation at his father’s funeral was painful for him. I was deeply upset to observe the loneliness that he endured. I suppose that there is no escaping the fact that sometimes bad things will happen to good people.

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Reader Comments (3)

Allan, what a poignant story. I had a very forward thinking mother that many times bent the strict rules of her religion (catholic) when it made sense. We attended weddings in Lutheran churches in the days when it was not permitted, she ate before receiving communion because she was anemic and would feel faint and allowed us to eat meat on a Friday if she had nothing else to make for dinner.

This was a long time ago and all of those man-made rules have now been negated. She was a very spiritual person until her death.

Eileen

September 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEileen

My heart aches for your friend and it rejoices that you were at the service. I have *such* a hard time with the many unbending rules of most religious organizations. Many, many times I just don't understand them.

September 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHolly

Wonderful article, Allan.! In particular I was intrigued by the questions you posed on religion. Like the Dalai Lama, my religious leanings have evolved to a belief in kindness & compassion, without the strict divisive lines that religion can impose.

Under the circumstances of your neighbours' family estrangement, your presence and support during his loss were surely the silver lining on a cloudy day.

October 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPaula

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