Like 'J' strokes

It was Bea who showed me how.

She had witnessed my first attempts quite by accident. She happened to be outside her cottage when she looked out over the lake. There she saw me at it in the distance. I was supposed to be paddling. (A canoe, that is.) The paddle was being plunged vigorously into the unresisting water - first on one side of the frail craft and then on the other, as I struggled gracelessly to propel it shorewards.

At last, I shuddered breathlessly to the side of the dock and clambered ashore. Bea was there waiting.

''That will never do,'' she said simply. There was a gleam in those gulf blue eyes that somehow changed the meaning of her words. It was as if she had said: ''I've got something I really want you to have.''

She urged me back into the canoe and told me to watch carefully as she broke the water's surface with her paddle. Her firm, rhythmic actions shattered forever all stereotypes of the grandmother as we slid back out over Lake Muskoka. Sitting behind her - my hands apologetically motionless - I watched her with astonishment.

''You keep the paddle on one side of the canoe most of the time, and as you complete each stroke, turn the blade outwards slightly, pressing sideways and curling back a little. It's just like writing the letter 'J'' With a paddle.'' She needn't have explained. The effortless sweep of her paddle and its purposeful maneuvering through each little backwash created was all object lesson enough. As she paddled, she hummed softly, her back, lithe as an Indian's; the canoe, gliding unerringly as if drawn along the flawless line of her melody. . . .

I learned quickly from such teaching.

For Bea, living never ceases to be a celebration of being. There is no celebration without praise. And there is always something that stirs in her the energy of real appreciation. She has spent most of her days close to water - either the dark depths of Canada's Muskoka or the fin-tipped surface of the Gulf of Mexico. Her words, like her eyes, are warm and blue. This is because they are usually concerned with sharing or with the earnest search to share. Her voice has summer in it.

In no one else I know are motives quite so close to the surface or so clear. They flow like the waters that have shaped her living: without uncertainty, without compromise, yet with a dearness and a force that never stops channeling their beauty along each thought that moves in her face.

Like ''J'' strokes.

Can motives be like that in days like these? Yes, when you meet genuine human beings and you have in yourself the humanity to receive that genuineness. Bea's brand of Christianity is at the same time the least obtrusive and the most compelling. For it is the unconditional generosity in her that detects its very likeness in you! There is always something more lovely to learn about in those you think you know. . . . Surprisingly yet simply. Never without delight.

I'm reminded of the Miscellanies of Clement of Alexandria, writing out of the purist origins of the Christian odyssey: ''Holding festival in our whole life, persuaded that God is altogether on every side present, we cultivate our fields, praising; we sail our seas, hymning. . . .''

And whenever I take up a paddle, is it so strange that I am suddenly reminded of Bea?

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