We had more great discussion tonight on the subject of Ed Smith’s book, From the Ashes of my Dreams. Tonight we focused our energy in a few specific areas.
1. Marion and Jennifer Smith’s contributions to the book.
2. The moments of Tears, Laughter and Anger in the narrative.
3. Ed’s Theological reflections.
1. We began our discussion tonight with the question
· Think about Marion and Jennifer and their perspective. Does it add to this book, this narrative, this story?
Did we ever get some wonderful feedback on the writing offered by Ed’s wife and Daughter? It was a widely held view that these perspectives were invaluable to this book. It was suggested that we got a good picture of Ed Smith prior to “the accident.” One person noted that Ed was not really the person to speak to his role as Father – that was more appropriately told by Jennifer – a loving and caring daughter. Marion, it was clear to me tonight, gave this book a larger sense of completeness. One reader suggested that Ed could have told this story without the extra voices, but all that happened while he was unconscious or over-drugged would have gone either untold or told second hand from others through Ed. Marion gave a very well written and passionate account of Ed’s journey and indeed of their journey. One of our readers pointed out how hard it must have been for Marion and indeed for Jennifer and the whole family to watch Ed go through so much. “We have to remember that they were in the accident too.” There was a lot of empathy for Marion and a great deal of respect for her. “I was left thinking, she must be a tremendous person – she is obviously a very strong person.” Another added, “she was the person who had to manage it all, especially when Ed was out of it.” It was no surprise to me that people wanted to confirm that Marion will be at St. Mark’s by-the-Lake with Ed on October 23. People want to meet this incredible woman. It would be fair to say that Marion made this book more complete as did Jennifer. I also added that Kathleen also added tremendously to the book, but I did not say too much as some have not read that far ahead. Our overall assessment? – This was a family crises and it was helpful to hear from the whole family.
2. Cry, Laugh, Anger. I gave the readers three sheets of paper with those Headings and I invited the participants to write their accounts of what made them laugh, what made them cry and what made them angry. We then posted those on the bulletin board for discussion. This was an interesting exercise indeed. I did this because in my reading of the book, those were y most common reactions. I laughed, I cried and at times I got really pissed off. The readers from our Markus Book Club did not disappoint. Here is a sampling of what was offered.
i. CRY –
· Reading Jennifer’s account of Ed waking and asking people to “shoot me.”
· Reading about Ed’s loss of dignity
· When everyone got on the elevator
· The inability to do the simplest thing – i.e. scratch an itch
· Ed’s journey home to Springdale after 17 months away.
· Ed’s overall Newfoundland sense of Humour
· His ability to make great one-liners even in the midst of difficult circimstances
· Ed’s feelings about the physiotherapists.
iii. ANGER –
· An unbelievable number of participants wrote about “The Rules.”
· Unbelievable insensitively and lack of compassion on the part of the heath care professionals
· Air Canada’s treatment of Ed and his family in General but most especially his trip to Toronto.
· The Chair salesman’s treatment of Ed and his family.
3. Ed’s Theological reflections.
For this discussion I read Chapter 13 before our groupthink. In this chapter of the book Ed has a very honest discourse with God. It begins with a question as to whether God is out there or listening. The common questions are asked. If God can stop things from happening, why did he allow this to happen to Ed? But the beauty of Ed’s theological discourse is that it does not end with a self important reflection. It was agreed that Ed may indeed be reacting to a terrible situation, but more than that he takes the questions to the next logical level. If indeed, these “things” that happen are all a part of God’s will, what kind of God are we following? What kind of God wills the genocides in Rwanda, the holocaust or for that matter wills for a vibrant Newfoundlander in his prime to be relegated to a chair? Ed makes clear that he does NOT blame God for his accident because he does not see God as playing the puppeteer that controls every little thing. Believing is about choosing for Ed. He chooses to believe. This to me is very profound. Ed is not a believer because of Damascus Road experience. He is a believer not because he is compelled to. Ed is a believer because he chooses to. The group had a very good discussion about the honesty of this faith perspective. It was agreed that people say some strange things sometimes in an effort to say something of comfort. One participant admitted that He will from now on be more conscious of what he says to people in times of crises. This was, I think, a great breakthrough. We “Christian” types are all guilty of giving those quick platitudes that are designed to avoid having to acknowledge that we do not know the answers to life’s most complex problems. We find it hard sometimes to sit and be present with someone who is living under the cruellest of life’s conditions. We do, often, feel the need to say something. But what Ed’s theological position shows is that there are no answers to some really tough questions, and at that point choosing to believe is a great act of faith. We discussed people like Mother Teresa and Henri Nouwen and their ability to live with the uncertainties of life and to keep serving God in neighbour. It was felt by some in the group that Ed gets to serve in many ways and that he is continuing to witness to what a person can do if he or she so chooses. There is more to be said about all of this than space and time on a blog allow – there will be more – I in fact have a whole reflection on this book of Ed’s and the Book of Job.
We had an excellent discussion tonight and we had a lot of fun – even at the church – it is more LIVELY than the funeral home – Sorry – Ed Started it!
One of the most interesting things about Mother Theresa, for me, is that she spent such a large part of her life feeling God\’s absence. This was, apparently, the great cross she bore throughout her life after being called to the veil. The courage she showed in her life was not the work she did but was, I think, continuing on in her work despite what she perceived as an absence of God. When things in life are difficult we may perceive God as absent– we call and there is no answer. Sometimes, in the case of Mother Theresa, for decades. So I suppose the question then becomes, not "why is God absent from me" but "what am I going to do, believe and act on even though I cannot feel God\’s presence". Ed\’s book, it seems to me, talks a little about this, and the life of Mother Theresa spoke a very great deal about it.
Lately I am wondering if, as human beings, we don\’t get it wrong– it\’s not an absence of God– even though that\’s how it feels, but if it is, in fact, something else. An absence of something of ourselves in times of adversity. I don\’t know. I\’ll have to think about it.
Sorry, I forgot to put my name on the above.