Search Suzanne Crone


Leave No Trace

Posted in Adventures With Humans

Rocky Mountains

There I am, standing at the kitchen counter, dipping a spoon into first, a jar of crunchy peanut butter, and then and with the utmost care, into a jar of orange marmalade. The spoon, now laden with both a sweet and savory glob of flavour, I put into my mouth, empty it, and pause before a second pass. The trick is to maneuver the spoon without leaving behind any trace of peanut butter in the marmalade jar. This takes concentration, finesse. It was during a recent pause that I realized that this was a habit common with my paternal grandmother. I’m not sure if she was specific about keeping the marmalade pristine, but she definitely used to dip in with her spoon. Recognition of this particular snacking trait shared with this ancestor–someone accomplished but also famously harsh, gave me chills. My grandmother was tough; a significant player in the train wreck of our family, my father’s one failed suicide attempt in 1972, and one success in 2004, my mother’s alcoholism and almost complete abdication of her archetypal role as ‘mother.’ I looked at the two jars in front of me on the counter and wondered what else I might have inherited from this grandmother. That got me considering genetics, and then, of course, the question of God, or not-God, and it was time for another spoonful.
Early on, I really didn’t understand how people worked, and the whole idea of God seemed so odd that I set it aside while I tried to get the people-and-my-place-among-them thing sorted out first. My broken parents were no help in this regard. I was a skier, a keen cyclist, and a devout fan of Second City, but my father hoped that  
Quaker Meeting would offer the buzz I wanted for my future. For me, Quaker Meeting was miserable. My siblings, seven and eight years older, eventually left for travel and school, so were relieved of suffering along with me. On the rare morning when there were other kids and we had a Sunday school, I didn’t mind it so much, but note the word, ‘rare.’ Usually, I was the only kid on the pews, forced to sit with the precious adults, with the elderly who spat when they talked. I know this because when I sat behind them, the sun would catch the spit, lighting it up as it might a spider’s web, or a piece of stained glass. The overall theme of most of the meetings was about the less fortunate, but don’t think I’m a monster; it wasn’t like I ever rolled my eyes at the homeless. The whole idea of war has always been ridiculous and I knew, and respected that sometimes, people have it tough for whatever reason, but in our family, there just wasn’t any balance. As I grew older, I resented being made to feel guilty for my athletic ability. I began to imagine Jesus, abs to die for, sitting on the back pew with me, rolling his eyes as old, ‘what’s-her-name,’ stood up and talked about whatever sad thing. I moaned when my father would call me out of bed to join him at meeting on Sunday mornings. I wished for some kind of ailment, anything that would get me out of going, like a sudden fever, the miracle of all of our cattle getting out, or the car covered in frogs. I always went, but I did begin to wonder why this hour of guilt was necessary.
Around this time, my mother began to read to us from, Guideposts, a faith-based monthly magazine. We would come to the table ready for dinner, and our mother would sit and read a story she had found about, oh, say someone who lost a family member in a soft ice cream machine accident, or a woman without a head whose dream was to be an opera singer. The actual stories were real-life and terribly sad. What bothered me more than being forced to feel guilty, was that my mother read these with the accent of a gin pro, that unmistakable ‘Beefeater’ slur I so despised. At one point, on a day, I had had enough and as I sat politely listening, felt anger rising up like hot lava through my core, really without warning. I slammed my hands on the table and explained my frustration with this religious need for us to always feel like garbage. My brother stared at me from across the table, eyes wide with stunned surprise. It would have been nice if he had chimed in.
Over the 2022 Christmas, I read the 500 page book, “Doubt: A History,” written by Jennifer Michael Hecht, a PhD historian and poet. The process helped me to not only get my philosophers sorted out–I was always getting Aristotle, Plato, and Daft Punk confused, but helped me to chew on societal assumptions, broad projections of right versus wrong, and instances of, you know, religious genocide, terror, and corruption. Hecht offers historical figures who questioned how it was that a loving God could allow terrible behaviour, war, and so much suffering, and I thought, “Yeah, no kidding.” In my case, where was God when my drunk mother was deflating our joy at the dinner table? Why did ‘He’ allow our own father to commit suicide? Something didn’t make sense here.
For a while, I stood fully in the science camp. I was a middle-aged gooey structure of genetics, of ancestral DNA that made me appear and behave with a subtle mix of inherited attributes, spoons full of peanut butter a mild example. The earth revolves around the sun and once we wreck it, we’re going to live on Mars. Sure. “That makes sense,” I thought to myself, until I began to recall certain life events, oddities that hinted at the possibility that there was something else going on. After all, we still don’t know what Dark Matter is, or Dark Energy, or Republicans, so hold the phone, Neil DeGrasse Tyson!
I’ve studied Carl Jung’s analytical psychology. Jung was famous for his exploration of the psyche and the deeper ‘self,’ the symbology of archetypes, and the analysis of dreams. Jung was also fascinated with synchronicities, events that he called “meaningful coincidences.” I was curious about this, but turfed my hesitancy for belief after experiencing several synchronistic instances, especially the following fun-time-neato-one that happened in 2018:
 I was on Quadra, an island set off the east side of Vancouver Island on the coast of British Columbia with my son Connor, 23 at the time, and his friend. We were riding bikes to the farmer’s market and I was joking with them like I was a Tour De France coach, hollering, “Avanti! Avanti!” an Italian word meaning “Let’s go! Onward!”  Two weeks later, I was in the van with Connor, leaving Kamloops, on our way to Lake Louise so Connor could rendezvous with the staff bus to the nearby lodge where he was working that summer. We expected the drive to be four hours, and had plenty of time. As I started the van, I asked Connor what the word was that I had been hollering while we were riding bikes back on Quadra. I couldn’t remember and neither could he. I announced, “Well, I’m not going to worry about it. The word will come. It always does.” With that, we headed out, along a winding, Rocky Mountain route, full of tourists, campers, beautiful scenery, and cliffs. An hour in, Connor gasped as he realized that he had forgotten to consider the time change between British Columbia and our destination in Alberta. Now we were going to be an hour late which was concerning because all of the summer staff would have to wait for him. The cell phone signal was lousy where we were, and I hated seeing Connor so stressed, so I decided that we were going to go fast. I told him not to worry, to try to relax and do his best to make cell phone contact. I put all ideas of enjoying the scenery out of my head, and settled in to what resembled the Honda Odyssey version of the stunt-driving in the movie, ‘The Italian Job.’ We flew, as much as a van could. When I could pass, I passed. When I could floor it, I floored it, but the underlying theme was to not die, and to not cause anyone else to die either. I was focused–and it was thrilling. Soon, deep into some architecturally impressive curves and tunnels over cliffs and well, more cliffs, Connor managed to make contact. He apologized, and let them know we were coming. They were fine with the timing, and we had permission to slow a bit. In time, we arrived at the offramp onto the four-lane highway to Lake Louise; a delightful, celebratory process. As we began to merge into the lanes, I saw a black and tan RV approach and begin to pass in the lane to the left of us. I noticed that it was towing a tiny, silver car, and then–and then, there, written in beautiful script letters, high up on the back of the RV was, ‘AVANTI,’ the very word I had been trying to remember. Connor’s jaw dropped. I could hardly speak. That was some bonkers synchronicity, I thought!
Could that have been God? David Copperfield? Or something else perhaps. Or nothing.
I wondered about another kind of creepy guidance around ‘surprising abilities;’ things you don’t know you know, and I have a couple examples: My father and I were visiting his difficult mother. She was not well, and couldn’t get up to slide the chain lock so we could open her door. For some reason, and out of the blue and I don’t know what else, I grokked an idea for how we could unlock the door: I found a wire coat hanger, straightened it, then bent an away-facing hook on the far end. I opened the door enough to set the hook in a far chain link, pulled the door almost closed, pushed the wire hangar in a way that freed the chain from the lock, and voila, we had access to my miserable grandmother. Go me!
Was this God? Could have been. Or it could have been something else.
Another example: Neil, my then husband, was at the hospital, ready to come home after suffering a severe tendon tear in an upper hamstring, an injury he sustained while playing goal in a hockey game. The thing is, whenever he stood up with his crutches, the pain of the weight of his leg on that injury made him almost pass out. I left and went to the pharmacy to get his pain meds while he stayed put on the hospital bed; we figured that getting him cranked on pain medication was the only way we were going to be able to get him into the car and home. While I was at the pharmacy waiting for the prescription to be filled, my eye was drawn to a red luggage strap hanging on a display, for sale there in the section where they sold personal items for travel. An idea popped into my head. I paid for the strap and the pain meds, then drove back to the hospital. I had been a ski patroller for a time–learned how to tend the injured, the mangled on the hill, and had a cache of relevant first aid supplies in my van. From this, I grabbed two cloth pieces used for tourniquets or slings, and knotted them together to make one long piece. I had Neil sit up and put the red luggage strap over his head and one shoulder, like you would a Miss Universe sash. I then took the long sling piece, put the middle of it in front and below the knee on his bad, full-of-pain side. I had him stand, his lower leg bent horizontally, brought the free ends of the piece up, did a figure eight with them behind his thigh, and then brought them around and up and tied them to the lowest, front part of the luggage strap. Now his leg was fully supported by his fancy sash. It worked perfectly. Neil was delighted. I was delighted, and also curious as hell about how I figured that out.
Was this God? Could have been. Or it could have been who-knows-what.
Another surprise was that apparently, I knew how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver. Once in 2021, and again in 2022, I found the need to use it on my elderly mother. Around this time she was still relatively mobile and so would come down one floor to my apartment for dinner. During Covid, this at least got her out a bit. I had moved into the building after she had had a dementia diagnosis which, once medicated, reverted to just mild cognitive impairment. I don’t know why I decided to move in because, though I respected her as much as she was my mother,  I was not fond of her. But she was a human being. I had just moved out of a house in a fantastic part of Toronto after my housemate found a boyfriend and they were having loud, loud sex, to the point where I was wearing my noise-cancelling headphones at night. I suggested that the boyfriend move in, and I move on. A room came available here, so there is part of the reason. Did God cause my roommate to find a boyfriend with whom to engage in loud sex? Was moaning part of this plan? Back to the Heimlich Maneuver: the routine was that I would set mom up with her dinner at my table, and I would find a podcast we could listen to in order to fill the silence since we didn’t talk much. Most of her comments were lobbed as if I was an acquaintance instead of her daughter, a distancing I found painful, so it was better to have some diversion. There we were on one of the days, and I noticed her coughing. I asked her if she was choking. She nodded “yes.” She coughed a couple more times and I watched her, then asked again to confirm. “Yes,” so I stood behind her, put my arms around her middle in proper maneuver fashion, hoisted her up, right out of her seat and Heimliched until her throat cleared. It worked. She could breathe again, but the downside was that she unloaded what dinner she had swallowed onto my carpet; the physical force of the Heimlich is intense and thus the barfing, and also it’s likely that I injured a couple of her ribs in the process. I was shocked that this happened, that I was called to do this; it was surreal during the process, and then afterward, I was amazed that I had known how to do it, and that it had worked. The same thing happened a year later.
Was that God?  Or something.
My mother never thanked me, and though it wasn’t her fault–and it must have been scary, she never apologized for barfing all over the carpet. It’s just something I think I would have done, apologized, and maybe thanked whomever for saving my life, but that’s just me.
Though I was careful through the pandemic, I tested Covid-positive for the first time ever on December 20th. I didn’t suffer severely as I have heard others had, but the virus kept me mostly on my sofa, sleeping lots. It wasn’t until January 1st that I finally tested negative. The wording here is key: I was relieved of having to partake of any holiday gatherings with my family, and could not dutifully visit my mother in her facility. Yes, I missed seeing my two boys, but we kept in touch and they were okay with being free of any having-to-show-up. We postponed until later, but with my family of origin, there was no stress at all. We didn’t even zoom. The virus stepped in so I didn’t have to deal with anything.
This was something, right?  I mean, testing negative on January 1st! Jesus!
I’ve stepped back a little from my stern and delineated atheist position; something just wasn’t sitting right. I’m not a fan of church. Jung was clear that he absolutely believed in God, but he does mention that religion itself can get in the way of experience. I think this depends on the person. Is there a man-God in the sky? I think not. I don’t know for sure–I don’t know anything for sure, but I don’t doubt that there is something.  Life is too spooky for there to be nothing. Science is key, but in consideration of the multiverse, in consideration of the very stars in our sky, maybe we are more powerful, more connected in ways than cold data can show.  There is nothing we can do about the ancestors we have except hope that it’s the good loot, the strengths that we inherit instead of any meanness, or some distant pirate’s lazy eye. It’s good to wonder, to take a behavioural inventory and try to fix flaws, shortcomings, and get help if you can.  I think–if you want to know what I think, I think the gig is for us to feel as deeply as we can, be present for ourselves and others so we notice the luggage straps, and see the word we were looking for, figure out the puzzling locks, and if we hurl on a carpet, it might be nice to apologize; if someone saves your life, it’s good to say thank you, and continue to try to keep the peanut butter out of the marmalade.