Sunday, February 28, 2010

Monty, 90 years old

"I want you to meet Monty," she told me. "He's been my mentor for as long as I can remember. He's in town visiting from Quadra Island."

My friend is an Aboriginal minister with the Anglican church. She didn't know I knew Monty. I'd met him years before talking about planes. He was a radioman and gunner in WWII. 19 flights over Germany, I think he told me. I told him my Dad had been in the Lancaster and he said he'd flown in the Halifax.

He'd been coming to the Dug Out AA meeting long before I had. I'd been going nearly a decade. We shared the deaths of the kind hearts like Chris and Margaret. It's a quiet place where I've come to know Lyle and Al, Christy, Jan, Ed, Sally, Herb, Ron,Nancy, Archie and so many more. Monty was always a voice of inspiration and wise with laughter.

We shared our plans by text messaging. Arriving in from a week of sailing, I needed to go to church and told her I was going to Christ Church, then to the Dug Out and then to lunch. But today I was running late and decided to stop at St. James' Anglican Church. She'd told me she had to attend her vestry meeting at another church and we'd left it that. I'd meet her and Monty for lunch the following week.

Meanwhile my Roman Catholic friend, Laura, hadn't been to an Anglo-catholic High Mass service and getting to Christ Church across Vancouver during the Olympics might have made us even that much later.
So with attended St. James.

Father Mark Greenaway-Robbins shared in his sermon that "People look at me odd when I'm wearing my collar and when I mentioned this to my other priest associates they shared that they had the same experience. It wasn't that way in my previous parish where Christianity and priests were the norm. Here though Christians are in the minority and I think Christianity does best when it is…as a minority I have to reflect on what it is to be a Christian and consider seriously what Christ means to me….I even have to not take it for granted when I talk to other Christians that they will understand what I mean when I say the words sacrifice and grace.…When we're on top of the world it's easy not to think about Grace….but it's all Grace….all God's grace." And though I'm sure he said it better and my paraphrase is wholly unworthy of his much more profound message, that's what I came away with. And I liked it. Lent is that time of reflection.

And I was thinking about Grace after I left the service. How God, the unknown, the other, the mystery is the first principle and I am at best the second.

And there was Vivian, Monty and Vivian's dog Puta (I know that's not how it's spelt but he loves me regardless). They'd gone to Christ Church and heard Alistair's sermon. I explained how we were late and attended St. James. Since I've moved to North Vancouver St. James has by proximity become my default church too.

We entered the Dug Out together and were later joined by Al who when asked shared that it was his 29th year of sobriety, 'today…this day…though I'm taking my cake on the Friday." Monty then shared that it was his 90th birthday. He'd first got sober in the 1950's but didn't stay sober until a decade or so later. The 90 was his 'belly button' birthday. Otherwise he'd look even younger than he does.

Monty talked about Agape, that realization that there was something the same in you as in the other. This empathy he said was the realization of God in each other, the essence of spirituality. And he said, "that's what makes you care for each other." He shared that alcohol produced an artificial experience but that when you have the real experience you don't want to go back to the artificial. He told me later that Hell, theologically, "just means isolation".

I never knew Monty was an Anglican minister. "after the war and naziism all I thought about was God. When I met my wife I told her that and she said that was okay. We had 4 children and I'm very proud of them. We've loved each other a long time even if there's been times here and there when we haven't particularly liked each other. Loving some one doesn't mean I approve of their behavior. I certainly love my sons but there have been times when I haven't approved of their behavior."

Later we all had lunch together and Monty told me that he studied pastoral counseling and that the United Church minister, Taylor at UBC had been his mentor. "He taught me more about the Eucharist and Mass than the anglican's did. He'd been to India and come back to Canada and explained to me that we come to church to join in congregation and be filled with God so we can go out into the world and give it all away so we can come back again and get renourished. He told me too that when he was in India he'd been overwhelmed by how large the task was, so many hungry people then, and he realized that wasn't his job that was God's job. His job was just the small part of the whole that was facing him.... God's love is giving and as I've got older I've learned to see Jesus as my ideal man. I had lots of other ideal men when I was younger but now I really know Jesus as my ideal. It's all about sacrifice. That what love is." said Monty.

The blueberry pie was delicious. We were looking over the train yard at Coal Harbour. Canada had won the Olympic Men's Hockey Gold and there was shouting and horn honking in the streets.

He told me, "I know a lot of people down here because when I worked at the Central City Mission. It was pretty much just a shelter when I came there, but I set about turning it into a rehabilitation facility. It's what I believed in."

"And the way you don't get burnt out is that you look for the gift every individual you help brings you. Each person is individual and unique and each has something special that only they can share and they'll give that to you when you help them. That's God working in people."

Outside the honking and cheering were intense. Monty took out his hearing aids then, "You know there are advantages to getting older. " Now there was Grace.

All around us as we walked to the cars there was cheering. The cherry blossoms were in bloom. We hugged in parting. Four friends on a special day. Monty is 90 years old. "You know you're about the same age as my son," he said in parting. "My Dad is 91," I told him. "You're still pretty young."

"Hooray for Canada! Hooray!" a passer by called from his car, waving the red and white maple leaf flag.

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