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double standards are never honourable

I sit at Bill and Renita’s table over a mountain of Mennonite crepes. It’s a beautiful morning in Rosebud, the sun toasting up the rolling hills like hot cross buns. Bill shows me how to operate the breakfast: line the mid crepe with crab apple sauce, then roll, then top with a layer of whip cream, then a drizzle of maple syrup. Bacon on the side. Cheese if you’re – (he wrinkles his nose) if you’re a cheese eater. Delicious. You see, Renita puts her whip cream inside the crepe then rolls…Norma makes her apple sauce without sugar…both of these deviations mess with perfection. I trust Bill on this one. I follow his every move. I think he is right. I have to cover my face after I take the first bite. He says, “Is there something wrong? Too sweet?” And I say, “No. Too pleasurable. This is ‘private face’.”images-1

I marvel at their beautiful kitchen. It had been worse for wear for several years: the top of the counters broken and floaty, the cupboards old and the floor needing a replacement. But you know, big family, busy life, Renita is always in there cooking, they work for an arts school, all of that. Well, the Lindsey family (Byron, Joanne, Brynn and Leigh) sent Bill and Renita away for their 30th wedding anniversary on a romantic trip to a friend’s condo in Canmore. The moment they left, the Lindseys and the Hamm kids descended on the kitchen and did a complete renovation while they were gone. They replaced the floor, rewired it, put in new fixtures, painted, the whole works. Everyone in the town heard about it and came by to help wash windows, etc. Apparently the house got so full of people sometimes it was too hard to work! Renita and Bill returned a couple of evenings later, Poul Lassen was put on the look out, giving everyone a heads up with a warning phone call then burned past them in his car. They probably thought, “What the hell was with him?” haha. The renovators all quickly finished banging in the last nail and pulling up the last bit of painting tape, then rushed out to the balcony and hid in the dark, all these little shiny eyes peering through the windows, watching for Bill and Renita’s reaction as they walked through the door. They were floored! Renita explains, “I am not sure what was more unbelievable: that my kitchen got renovated, or that my kitchen got renovated and I didn’t have to do dishes in the tub for a month, or just the plain fact that people loved us enough to do such a wonderful thing.” images-2

The Hamms are good people who come from good people and they gave birth to four children who have grown into good people and they’re making more good people. (I know lots of nasty people too, but they don’t deserve blog time.) Pick a Hamm. Any Hamm. As far as I’m concerned, there can’t be too many Hamms in the world. I ask Renita what it’s like to be the model family in town. She looks away. “Sometimes I want to say, we have our bad days too, you know. We have our days…” And then they unravel some of what they’ve been dealing with this year. It’s all cleared up now and it’s not my place to tell this story, but it did flabbergast me to hear that such loving good people of integrity were under attack by someone. Usually boils down to fear or envy when someone lashes out. It’s tempting to live small after being harmed like that. It’s tempting to withdraw from love and affection in fear of being misinterpreted. But we must live big and love openly and trust that integrity will speak for itself. Courage takes many forms. One of them is the fact that when the Hamms speak of this whole issue, they speak with such grace and compassion, there is no accusation back.

“So tell us about this guy you met.” says Bill. Renita’s eyes shine, “Oh yes, I have been reading all about your Fellow! Do you have a picture?” I show them. Renita coos, “Ooh he has such nice eyes!” I smile, “Not to be weird, but he reminds me of Bill a bit.” Bill raises his eyebrows as if to suggest I have questionable taste. I giggle, “He’s genuine.” Renita hums and agrees, “That’s one of my favourite things about Bill. He can’t lie. He is who he is.” Bill raises his eyebrows again and says, “Yeah. Simple.” And we both laugh. “No! Genuine! Honest! Grounded! You’re not a manipulator!” He grins that Cheshire way of his, clears the table and leaves, partly because we are talking about him, partly because he has to go teach. 1910160_10204338793375768_3832759319759384798_n

I go on to explain that sometimes I feel I don’t deserve happiness. What is “deserves” anyway? We don’t deserve our happiness, we don’t deserve our pain. But it’s true, I feel guilty for being in love because I am divorced. Renita hums again, then asks me if I think her daughter doesn’t deserve a second chance at happiness just because she’s divorced. That’s a no brainer though. Not like me. If anyone deserves love it is her – “Of course not! She’s so young! She has her whole life ahead of her! She was courageous enough to take a chance on love. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. I think the next time she chooses, she’s going to choose well.”

I know Renita has set me up by asking me this. I can hear myself…

Norma looks at me in that matter of fact Roth way. Straight line for a mouth. Unblinking gaze. Eyes deep lake. Shoulders straight. In the calmest of voices she says, “Double standards are never honourable.”

I breathe out with a big “ho”.

Honorable. Double standards are never honourable, even when doled out to oneself. It’s a huge truth to hold. I have to think about it.

I say my good-byes to Renita and follow Norma (my sage) out the door. We are walking her two little dogs: Jinka and Mouse. They are about the size of fluffy socks. They sometimes get their dear little ears caught in the rosebush thorns, but being quiet tender dogs, they just wait. They wait for her to find them and pluck them free.

We have a good deep visit as we stroll through long prairie grasses. Norma and I have known each other for…what…? Twenty six years. She is one of my dearest. At different times we have lived in the same house, had our hearts broken by the same boy, we’ve played the same roles on stage, we’ve loved the same friends, we’ve walked the same train tracks, we’ve cried out to the same God under the same sky, we’ve snuck a secret smoke down the same highway and we’ve hummed the same tunes. We ask each other the important questions. We love each other quite unreservedly. I can always expect Norma to tell me the truth in a way that I can hear it. I guess because she tells it with grace.

She goes on to explain, “If a double standard is legitimate, then you and I will never be equal. In order for us to love clean and true, we have to be equal somehow. If you have grace for me, you must have it for you or it isn’t actually real for me. There is no honour in a double standard.”

I put my arm around her slender shoulders and we stride under the warm sun and the billowing clouds, between the rolling hills and under the shadow of the cemetery hill. I am reminded why I have it in my will to be buried here.

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1 comment

  1. Jason Goode

    Lovely.

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