Saturday, July 2, 2016

a truly happy birthday...

Today was my 64th birthday - and the day Elie Wiesel died. I did what I long
to do most of the time: wander aimlessly through a city I love with the woman I love as we stop in bookstores, sip tea in cafes, explore street corners and odd spots of beauty hidden from the rush of life and strike up conversations with those who call these places home. He, in his grand and humble way, returned to his final place of rest and I thought of him often as this day unfolded. Like many, I was moved and rightly unsettled after reading Night. But I didn't stop there as Wiesel drew me into his greater wisdom as I read his reflections on Biblical heroes as well as the Hasidic masters. Souls on Fire continues to be a go to book for me at least two or three times each year.

So even with the death of a wise teacher, it was a perfect birthday. I slept late, well past 12 noon, as is my want when left to my own schedule (I read until well past 2 am last night, too.) After a modest breakfast and lots of African black tea, we journeyed to The Black Squirrel Bookstore in the Glebe neighborhood of Ottawa (check it out @ On our first trip to Ottawa five years ago we stumbled upon this place and fell in love with it: there was a small tea pot and some random baked goods off to one side and lots of new books by Canadian authors. Since that time, the operation has grown, moved, refocused its trade on high quality used works of fiction, philosophy and culture and expanded their tea/coffee cafe. They will soon acquire a liquor license too so there will be books and spirits alongside great conversations and periodic live music. We probably spent two hours browsing this small shop and left with quirky volumes including a new translation into English of the Tanakh (the Jewish Scriptures), an introduction into the philosophical critique of Walter Benjamin, a collection of love letters from ages past and two novels by Canadian authors.

From there it was off to a Southwestern section of Ottawa to see where the L'Arche Ottawa house sits - and it is an appropriately small, quiet and totally ordinary residence in a solidly working class neighborhood. We will have tea and conversation with some of the volunteer coordinators on Monday evening. I am hoping that by this time next year: a) I will have completed my pastoral ministry and moved toward retirement; b) We will have found a year long house to rent in the greater Ottawa area; c) I can volunteer at L'Arche a few times each week; d) I will use the solitude to continue working on my book re: a spirituality of tenderness; and e) Di, Lucie and I will rest and discern where God's love is calling us to next. During this "writing/discernment year" we want to spend a lot of time with our children and grandson, too. So, this visit on Monday holds some fascinating possibilities.

Then it was off to see where Ottawa's "Little Italy" and "Chinatown" lay in the grand scheme of things. They are small but vibrant ethnic centers that could be fun to explore more thoroughly soon. And the afternoon concluded with the discovery of a whole new neighborhood where I wanted to feast tonight on my birthday: the Wellington/West Ottawa area. I was taken by the on-line description of Petite Bill's Bistro (check it out @ http://petitbillsbistro .com/) and with the help of Google Maps we found a quiet, lovely residential section of the city that was fun to explore at twilight. And man was the food and the staff terrific: our waitress, Lauren, was engaging, knowledgeable, fun and kind - and later the owner joined us and treated us to desert on the house for my birthday. We talked, laughed and shared a few family stories together on a gorgeous summer night as we feasted on French comfort food at their street-side terrace. And an added delight was that for certain items on the menu, the Bistro donates a meal to the local food kitchen. I can't wait to bring my whole family back to this grand place sometime before my race is run. 

Today Dianne and I talked philosophy, ministry, poetry, family, future hopes and dreams and next steps in our evolving journey. Tomorrow we're going to go north of the city into the French city of Gatineau to explore possible country settings for next year's possible year of writing and discernment. Then at 6 pm we'll take in a Quebecois jazz/classical artist, Marianne Trudel, at the jazz festival and close things up with Brian Wilson's "Fiftieth Anniversary of Pet Sounds" concert. It was a quiet, gentle and profoundly satisfying way to celebrate yet another year around the sun. I am so very grateful.


  1. Flaneur-ing at its very best... glad your 64th trip around the sun was celebrated in such a great way.

  2. Happy Birthday James. Each of your years blesses so many.