Invictus and Matthew 11

Middle rank, Left.

My father will be 97 in a few days. He told me a story yesterday, while I was cutting his white, still curly and unruly hair, about making it somehow from Toronto to Pembroke. First on a train and then walking a bit; he couldn't remember. He was 7. Or maybe 8 or 9. He had gone there to meet an army recruiter he thought lived there. He was going to join the army. Arriving and not knowing the name of this soldier, he found a bike and rode back to Toronto. He had nothing to eat. I asked how he knew how to get home and he said he followed the signs to Toronto. He slept in a gully. When he got home, someone had snitched to the cops that he'd stolen the bike and so he had a rough handling by an un-empathetic officer. It didn't seem to matter that he'd been gone and without food for 4 days. He said it in passing, like it was a thing that 8 year olds did in the 30s. Dad was a rivet boy on the bridges in Toronto at 6 or 7. Boxing for prize money at 11 or 12, in the merchant marines by 14, overseas with the RRC by 16 and shot by the Germans at 17. He came home physically wounded to the same poverty and violence he had left in Toronto years before. 

There's 80 years of really sad tangles and really amazing triumphs in between then and now. Lots of inspiring stories that involved him getting several degrees from U of T, working at a bunch of engineering companies, teaching high school math and physics at Toronto's worst high school, and reaching into the central Toronto youth justice system to help other rough and hungry boys. But yesterday what I found poignant about his story was that whatever has happened to our culture, the one noticeable thing to me is it does not have many men like this any more. Tough and shrewd. Pawky and agile. Smart and able. Survivors. Not many current 7 year olds will be telling these kinds of stories to their grandkids in 90 years. Not kids in Toronto, anyway. 

We do quite a bit of "read alouds" while we've homeschool. We're reading Outcast right now, by Sutcliff, and it reminds me of my dad. We read Invictus for poetry today and it also reminded me of him.

Out of the night that covers me
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance,
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.

Unbowed, indeed. Unafraid. Even at 97. 

So now, in this season, as he watches with pride as his seven grandkids try their hand at life, we pray a new prayer for him:

Matthew 11 - Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”