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The Final Sprint

This concludes a web diary covering my 2004 Sabbatical.
The beginning of the diary may be found by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004
At the home of my daughter, Ariel
Toronto, Ontario

This morning was spent at home with Heather in Winnipeg, then I made a couple of family visits. By mid-afternoon I was once more back in the air, returning to Toronto for the last leg of my sabbatical.

It was bright and sunny in Winnipeg, but raining in Toronto - threatening snow, in fact, but not quite achieving it.

Approaching Toronto the increasingly bad weather made flying more... ummm.... noticeable?

You can sit in an aircraft and read, type on a laptop, eat a meal, and be completely calm about the fact that you are hurtling through the air at death-defying heights! Then, turbulence. The tin can in which you are sitting pitches violently up and down. You become aware that those wings are taking an enormous strain. What if one of them should snap off???

We landed with a bump and a lurch and a great splash of rain and snow, then - finally - peace settled once more upon the cabin, and we were just a bunch of seasoned travellers arriving at yet another familiar destination.

Visiting with Ariel and Shai, and catching up with their news, then supper, brought me to late evening, when I managed an hour’s reading. Now, email to Heather and the day is done.

The last leg of the sabbatical begins.

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Thursday, November 25, 2004
Toronto, Ontario

Living in Toronto is not like living in Cuddesdon.

First and foremost, there is no worrying about bus timetables. When I was ready, I slipped on my backpack, walked to the corner, and a bus immediately pulled up to the stop!

Neither is there any worry about the last bus of the day. Admittedly one bus route that I use does reduce service after 6:00 p.m., but another one operates around the clock!

I think with some nostalgia about the limited bus schedules between Cuddesdon and Oxford, and my athletic, almost daily bicycle journeys. However this, while being less of an adventure, is certainly much more manageable!

So I spent the better part of today in the John W. Graham library at Trinity College Toronto, picking up where I left off in the writing of my book.

Unfortunately, it was tough going. I was constantly having to stop and check a fact or a sequence of events. True, I was surrounded by useful books and resources with which to do this, but progress was very slow.

I know I won’t be able to finish the book before my sabbatical comes to an end in December, but I’m determined to get as far along as I can.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2004
Toronto, Ontario

You may have noticed that I am not keeping up this web log very vigorously.

That is primarily because all my writing efforts are now concentrated upon making progress with my book. After I put in a full day of careful textual composition, I seem to have too much brain fatigue to then do the writing of these not-so-pithy web thoughts!

But... I’m really enjoying the process of bringing the book into being!

Today was more or less typical. After breakfast I made a bag lunch, loaded my laptop and a few essential books into the backpack, then took the bus and subway down to the University. Once in the library, I found an available study carrel, and plugged in my laptop. Moments later I was connected to the Internet, where I could access the library catalogue, or do simple “fact-checking” by means of various online resources.

Then I reviewed some of my notes, and the book outline (just to make sure I haven’t strayed off course), and finally I opened up the book itself at the point where I had left off.

For a while I just tinkered - fine tuning the paragraphs written yesterday. But, as the “feel” of the narrative began to come back, I started writing new material.

I had an interesting fact-checking interlude today. I had come across a particularly unique bequest, made in 1501 (an alderman had left money for the creation of a device which would cause mechanical angels to come down from the church ceiling whenever the priest raised the host at mass). This is the kind of fascinating tidbid I would really like to include in my book, but things like that ought to be supported by a footnote, so I checked my source.

Uh oh. The author merely referred to another modern author. But, hey, I was in a theological library, so I went to the shelf and pulled the second book down and returned with it to my carrel. There, sure enough, was the story of the angel machine, but good gracious, the author cited another modern author!

So on my laptop, I checked the library catalogue for the third modern book, and luckily it, too, was on a nearby shelf, so I brought it back to my carrel. And with this book I finally found a citation of the primary source! Well, sort of primary. It seems that in the 19th Century someone published a collection of Yorkshire wills (most of them in their original Latin), and it was to this collection that my modern book referred. Well, that was as far back as I chose to pursue this particular source. I included the angel machine in my narrative, and made reference to the collection of wills.

That is more or less typical of what I believe is required for writing a history book - for even a book designed for the general reader must be careful not to perpetrate legends or tales that are fun, but fanciful.

Slowly, with stops and starts similar to this one, the paragraphs, and pages, and even chapters of the book are beginning to take shape.

I packed up and left for the subway about about 6:40 p.m.

Ariel was at a concert rehearsal tonight, and Shai said dinner would be on a “fend for yourself” basis, so I reheated some lasagne, and decided that this evening I should do a bit of a catch-up on my weblog.

Life in Toronto has not been unremitting work on the book, I hasten to add. On Friday I went to a concert in which Ariel was performing, then had a restaurant dinner with Shai, Ariel, and a friend of Shai’s.

On Sunday, I attended St. Thomas’ church, Huron Street, as is my wont, then spent the afternoon with my other daughter, Rachael, her husband Kevin, and their dog Annabelle.

Last night, I connected with a cousin whom I had not seen for years, and was treated by her son and daughter-in-law to an Indian cuisine restaurant meal, all in honour of my cousin’s birthday.

There are a handful of other social engagements planned before I leave for Winnipeg, so, even though my primary attention is on writing, my personal life is busy, and very full.

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Sunday, December 12, 2004
Sudbury, Ontario

Study and writing have been put aside. Ol’ Harry has been pointed towards home. The sabbatical is coming to an end.

I preached this morning in the parish church of St. Thomas, Huron Street, in Toronto. These are the first words in my sermon notes:
The last time I spoke from in this pulpit was 39 years ago.
It was the first sermon I ever preached to an actual Sunday congregation.
Approximately 1,700 sermons later, I’m back.
Of course this wasn’t the actual sermon, just self-introduction. 90% of the congregation has changed since I was an intern there in 1964, so there had to be some personal content before launching into the actual message. The meat of the talk (based on Matthew 11:2-6, in the Gospel for the day), was a reflection on John the Baptist - how he was beset by doubt in his last days. As nearly everyone is beset by doubt at some point in their lives, it seemed important to say that “... ‘hope’ is about holding fast to that which is good - even when it doesn’t make much sense.”

People were very kind and complimentary following the service. I went in to their coffee hour and visited for a while. Both my daughters, Ariel and Rachael, were present, so we had someone take our picture. Then I ducked into the Rector’s home and changed from formal clergy attire to jeans and heavy-duty gear for driving-through-winter-storms.
Heading Home
Ol’ Harry is pointed towards home.
(it was just a light drizzle in Toronto)

Then, about 2 p.m. I drove away from Toronto, finally heading home - after more than three months absence (not counting that quick visit on November 22).

In planning this return journey, experienced as I am with driving across Canada, I had forgotten a small detail about mid-December: days are shorter than they are in summer - much shorter.

Two hours after I set out, the sun went down.

And I just wasn’t mentally ready for night-driving at 5:00 p.m.!

Worse, what had been a light drizzle in Toronto turned into snow by Barrie, and a mini-blizzard by Parry Sound. The snow on the highway got deeper and more treacherous with every kilometre I drove. Steering began to be unpredictable. It was hard to see where the edge of the road was.

Eventually I found myself at the back of a procession of cars and semi-trailers all creeping along at about 60 km/h. We were getting nowhere quickly. And every minute was a white-knuckle steering event.

So, after making only 400 kilometres, I did what I’m sure you would agree is the sensible thing. I quit, and found a motel. Daylight at this time of year runs from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and I can do winter driving safely in daylight. So, that’s what’s going to happen. Up early, on the road when I can see it, and drive until dark.

As well, I’ve been online to check the weather forecast, and both the skys and the highways will be better in the morning. The blizzard I’ve just driven through was the tail end of a huge snowfall that passed through northern Manitoba yesterday. It has now headed east, leaving behind much colder temperatures, but no more snowfall and good visibility.

Ol’ Harry, at least, has been conducting himself like a trooper. Warm inside, smooth running, no smoking, and no untoward noises. I’m thinking those four used tires I bought are just a little too slippery in snow, but that’s not Ol’ Harry’s fault.

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Monday, December 13, 2004
Terrace Bay, Ontario

If I had known what I know now, would I have done anything differently? Like, for instance, taking a plane and abandoning Ol’ Harry in Toronto?

After completing yesterday’s diary entry, I turned the TV to the Weather Network, which reported that a major weather event was taking place on the road between Toronto and Sudbury - the one that I had just travelled - that, in fact, the police had shut the highway down (probably only moments after I had inched by in that procession of cars!).

No wonder I had felt somewhat frightened!

As dangerous as it proved to be, I’m glad I slipped through before they closed the highway, because today’s driving was excellent! The roads were, for the most part, clear of snow, and Ol’ Harry went like a bullet. True, there were signs that the storm had recently tracked through, but this is Canada’s main highway, so road crews had plowed and salted as quickly and efficiently as they could, and there were only a couple of patches where the surface got a little iffy (and you can rest assured I went gingerly over them!).

There is a sure sign that I am moving West: In Sudbury, sunset was supposed to be at 4:35 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. I have, however, driven so far that the sun was still above the horizon (just barely) almost an hour later, at 5:20 p.m. Tomorrow, if the roads stay dry, I will cross the invisible boundary into Central Standard Time, and sunset will no doubt revert to 4:30!

So, I have travelled 800 kilometres today, all except the last 20 minutes of them in daylight. There remain 900 more to cover, but the last 200 of those will be on good divided highway, so if I get to that part after dark, night driving may not be too stressful. And, of course, the end of the journey is not another motel, but home and that is a very good incentive. Weather, however, can do a lot of surprising things in 900 kilometres. For instance, it is supposed to be mainly sunny, but the temperature will jump from -15 C to -3, and the forecast threatens fog patches as it warms up.

If I do get home, I will be at the church at 7 a.m. the next morning, and immediately in the midst of a parish preparing for Christmas. Who knows if I will ever get time to write a conclusion to this sabbatical web diary.

So, for what it’s worth, here it is now:

The word “sabbatical” comes from “sabbath” - the divinely ordained “rest” which according to the Bible, even God takes (see Genesis 2:2-3). For three months I threw myself into study and writing in various parts of the world which to some would look very suspiciously like “work” and not “rest,” but it was, in fact, wonderfully refreshing, reinvigorating, and rest-full.

I thought I knew quite a lot about 16th Century Anglican reformation history, but I found out on this sabbatical how much I didn’t know - and that was good.

But I did not complete my book. It stands at 3 3/4 chapters (out of a possible 12), and a mere 17,000 words. I like what I have written, and I think the general reader will find it both enjoyable and informative, but I don’t know how I will ever get to finish it. Currently I want to try and snatch some time to work on it here and there, but the prospect is daunting.

The comparatively small amount completed is an indication of how much I found I didn’t know (see above). Oh well.

Meanwhile, immersion in England, already talked about in this weblog (to refresh your memory, click here), was wonderful and utterly memorable, book or no book.

The trip to B.C. renewed my bonds with my oldest son and his family - we do see so little of each other - and was a confirmation of my vocation as a preacher and teacher. The sermon given yesterday morning at St. Thomas, Toronto, was a personal milestone, and in its own way another confirmation of vocation.

In addition to deepening family bonds with Christopher, I had some marvellous times with my two daughters in Toronto, Ariel and Rachael, and their husbands. Family bonds were strengthened there as well.

By coincidence, my mother’s sister died while I was in B.C. - the last of that generation to go. Her daughters, my cousins, live in Toronto, and I contacted them to give my condolences - ending up with some very pleasant in-person visits which wouldn’t have happened if I had not been on sabbatical. Last but not least, I connected with old friends. Most especially with an individual whom I met when we were both thirteen and in Grade 8! He had found my website and contacted me, and as he lives in the metro Toronto area, we got together a couple of times - to my great pleasure.

So I come to the end of the sabbatical with dozens of positive impressions, no negative ones, and only one regret - the unfinished book.

It will be good to be home with Heather - whose patience and generosity enabled me to be away from home and marriage - without guilt - for a very long time. Daily email is not the same as being together. There were great benefits for me in this sabbatical, and great costs for Heather. She is the best.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2004
At home

Ol’ Harry made it home!

This final day of driving took a little over nine hours, and there were a few times when the road was very slippery (I passed a car in the ditch, and a little later, a totally smashed and overturned transport truck), but I drove carefully, and, when required, slowly.

Normal life now resumes.

Ol’ Harry in front of our apartment block

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Here endeth the story of my Sabbatical