After a hearty farmhouse breakfast the next morning, we set off for the ferry that will take us from Prince Edward Island to his home in Nova Scotia. As always, the ferry ride across the great span of rolling grey water delights this prairie girl’s heart. “I’ve always had a connection to water,” he tells me, as he gazes across the expanse. “Me too,” I smile in response. “I can’t get enough of it. Everywhere I travel, I try to spend at least a little time by a waterway, even if it’s just a little creek that the locals have forgotten in downtown Dallas.”
As we travel, a new friendship unfolds like the petals of a flower. We talk of common faith journeys, road bumps and mountain tops. He tells of the pain of a failed marriage and the beauty of new love. I tell of losing a son and finding hope. Each mile brings a new story and a new petal unfolding. We talk of life partners whom we both love dearly and who help us follow our dreams. We talk of our stumbling relationships with the church and the God it represents. Along the way, we also talk about the work of ending hunger, a cause that has brought our paths to this common intersection.
We take a detour along the South Shore, both of us reluctant to leave the ocean behind. We meander along inlets, stopping to photograph quaint villages and austere churches. He points out the home of his wife’s parents and, down the road, the home of the two women who fell in love against all odds and asked him to perform their wedding ceremony. We laugh at deer bounding behind a bush – the same place he’d seen them with his wife weeks earlier.
In Mahone Bay, we stop for a lunch of scallops (pronounced “scullops”, I’m told, when my accent belies the fact that I “come from away”) and French fries. We toast over beer, a drink I rarely consume unless I’m in a new place and want to “do like the Romans”.
In the pewter shop near the Pub, he points out the earrings he once bought, thinking his wife would love them, only to be told the next time they visited the shop together (before she’d received the gift) how ridiculous the earrings looked (“like ET!” she’d laughed). Come Christmas, he’d given them to her anyway and they’d shared a laugh. “It’s how our relationship works,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.
Over racks of pewter ornaments, earrings, and wall hangings, I tell him of my quest for a triple spiral, a symbol that has intrigued me recently. It’s a symbol that has been attached to many meanings over the years – the “three realms” (land, sea, and sky), the three trimesters of a woman’s pregnancy, and the trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “It also seems like a beautiful representation of my three daughters,” I explain, “spiraling out from the centre that my husband and I have provided.” No triple spiral to be found in the shop, I settle for a pair of raindrop earrings.
In the next shop, he stops at the desk to inquire about a ring he’s having re-sized for his wife, while I once again scour the room for the illusive triple spiral. None to be found, we leave the shop and begin to make our way back to his home in the Annapolis Valley.
At his home I meet his wife, and know almost instantly that she too is a kindred spirit. We talk of books we’d read recently, we laugh over our shared propensity for killing plants, we dine on fresh lobster and spinach salad, and we toast with homemade wine.
After the meal, he brings out a plastic bag and his wife laughs at him for re-purposing a bag from a mega-store he refuses to visit because of his commitment to social justice. Pulling a chair up next to me, he begins to pull gifts out of the bag. “I’m honored to present you with a membership into the Order of Good Cheer. On behalf of the Province of Nova Scotia, I welcome you to a 400 year old order whose only expectation is that you have a good time while you visit us,” he says as he presents me with a certificate. “And this is a book that your children will enjoy – about the Pumpkin People who populate our town every Fall.” He pulls out a colourful children’s book, and I think instantly of Maddie and her Happy Pumpkin Man.
Thinking he’s done, I thank him for his generosity, but he pulls one more item out of his bag. The expectant look on his face tells me that there’s a reason why this is the last item. “Here’s a little something special I think you’ll enjoy.” As I open a tiny packet, a dawning realization comes over me. There, lying in my open hand, on a fine silver chain, is the longed-for triple spiral! Somehow, in the span of a 10 minute visit to a gift shop, he has found the one item I overlooked – the one item that has eluded me in the months I’ve searched for it.
I am overcome, not only by his generosity, but by his ability to know me in a such a deep and compassionate way in the span of about 24 hours. “I feel so blessed!” I say as I embrace him. A lump in my throat prevents me from saying much more.
The next day, over breakfast, I tell them both how much the short visit has meant to me and how much the gift overwhelmed and inspired me. “It feels like you have blessed a place deep in my heart,” I say. “There’s something I’ve been working on – a piece that builds on a poem I once wrote called ‘The God of my Understanding’ – that’s been on the back burner for awhile. Something about this gift makes it feel like I’ve received the blessing that will encourage me to carry on and finish the project. Thank you for that.”
“There’s something bigger than you and I at work here,” he says. “Go home, wear your pendant, and be blessed in your work.”
Before heading to the airport, he takes me to visit the magnificent stone church he pastors. While I stand in its grandeur, I reflect on all of the people who’ve come through these doors who’ve been blessed with the presence of a great man who knows how to reach into a person’s heart and make them feel valued and known. Without a doubt, I know that his generous and perceptive heart has found its calling.