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Abigail, Rebecca and Miriam (Ch. 8)

It’s high time we checked in on Miriam.
It’s a beautiful spring day on the Simon Fraser University campus on a mountain top in Vancouver, British Columbia. We have driven up the winding road leading to where the Athenian quad and surrounding buildings literally lie down across the mountain top. The architects, chiefly Arthur Erikson and Geoffrey Matthews, had felt that erecting tall buildings in this magnificent mountain setting would be presumptious. So they derived their inspiration from the ancient Greek Acropolis. This gives the setting and the performance to come a strange ancient and venerable tone. The quad, a magnificent and large stone plaza, is surrounded by low, stone buildings lending a surprising coziness to what might have been a bleak space. And that space is filled with seated guests in multicoloured costumes. At this moment they are frozen in a surge of expectancy. It is, after all, Simon Fraser’s Convocation and the audience is composed of enthusiastic parents, lovers and friends of the new graduates.
At one end of the plaza, a grand stone staircase descends into the space, emanating perhaps from heaven itself. There is a trumpet fanfare and then the Convocation Procession, in a kaleidoscope of colours, spills down the grand stone stairs. They are led by the luxurious black and coloured robes, trimmed with gold, of the Chancellor, the President, the board of Governors, Senators, honoured guests, and the professors. Then come perhaps a dozen scarlet clad new Doctors in blue bonnet, hood and gown, followed by the blue robed Masters, about 20, with their mortar-board head gear, and lastly, a much larger crowd of Bachelors, also in blue and mortar boards.
Seated among the audience near the front (they had arrived very early) is Miriam’s mother Rebecca with her new husband, Jeremy, and recently married, Abigail with Albert. Miriam’s father, John, is also in the group. Their special interest, as they watch the parade, is the Masters for this is Miriams’ graduation ceremony. The “head table” seats itself and all the visitors follow suit. The graduation ceremony proceeds. Each graduate is called forward by name.
When Miriam’s name is called, she walks proudly across the stage, stops in front of the Chancellor, bows her head while he “hoods” her, and shakes her hand. She carries on across the stage and receives her diploma. Her one minute of fame is finished.

It’s a celebration dinner at Bishops. Of course, Miriam is the centre of celebration. Her mother, Rebeccca, is very proud. She is resplendent in a decolté deep blue gown with jewelry to match. She has even accepted the fact, quite calmly, that Miriam’s father, her ex husband, is present. The champagne is poured and Rebecca proposes the toast to her daughter. All drink then sit and the feast begins.
In the course of dinner conversation someone innocently asks, “OK Master Miriam, so where do you go from here?” Somehow the question hushes the table. Miriam looks quite embarrassed. She stands up. She hesitates. “Well… you know my specialty has been Egyptian anthropology and, in fact, everything to do with ancient Egypt. And I have even spent two summers in Egypt on digs of ancient sites in the Valley of the Kings. So I guess the logical thing is for me to go for my PhD. and then possible take some post doctoral training with some recognized Egyptian scholars.” She pauses. There is a murmur of appreciation and a titter of applause.
“That’s the logical course for me to follow.” She pauses again and this time a good deal longer. You can sense apprehension building up amongst the guests.
“But I’m not going to do that. I have decided that the world really doesn’t need another Egyptian expert however well trained. There are probably too many already.” The tension is palpable. You are conscious of everyone’s breathing. “So I am going to take a sabbatical and find out what makes other parts of this world tick.” There is a gasp of exhaled breath. Pandemonium.
“Miriam, what are you saying?’ “You can’t do that!” “You mean you’d throw in the towel this late in the game?”
Miriam looked calmly over the seething little crowd and held up her hand for quiet. “Let me tell you something. I had my head so buried in books, my eyes frosted with endless Power Point presentations, my ears assaulted by so much information in so many unintelligible accents., that finally I’ve had it! I know a great deal about one subject and nothing about anything else. I traveled to Egypt twice but only saw Cairo on the fly passing through and nothing else. I’ve been to the Canadian Maritimes once for a wedding. I been the New York for a conference. I been as far west as Guelph! I am a well educated idiot.”
The rest of the guests looked at each other in shock. Finally Albert broke the silence.
“Miriam, we appreciate what you are saying but this special gift that you have been given, this outstanding intelligence, isn’t just for you, it’s for the world. If you discard it the world will suffer.”
“Oh dear Albert,” Miriam responded. “And indeed you are a dear. You have put so much time and effort into my education, my development that you think of me as your alter ego. But I am not, Albert, I am 100% me, 100% Miriam. Don’t think I haven’t appreciated your help in the past. You have been wonderful and completely self sacrificing. But I am an adult now, an adult woman just beginning to find myself.
“A couple of months ago I read a quotation that really set me thinking. It was by Han Yu. I don’t know who he is or was but he must have been a very observant and wise man. He wrote, “For one who sits at the bottom of a well, the sky is very small.
“My sky is very small. When I used to look in the mirror, I used to see all the things that I was becoming. Now I see all the things that I missed. Things that are essential to making me a whole woman. The world is so much bigger than the narrow well where I have been living. Further into the future I can see more of the same but even a smaller sky. Eventually I will become a highly trained specialist of a tiny dot of the past. Intensively trained but hardly extensively.
“I have never seen the Rocky Mountains nor the canals of Venice. I don’t know anything about Greece or Iceland. I’ve never walked the streets of Berlin nor the markets of Delhi. I studied ancient Egyptian religion and compared it to modern Christianity but I had never been to a Christian church until Mum and Jeremy took me to theirs a month ago. I couldn’t answer the simplest quiz on world events. I’ve never even had a lover! I’ve been a brain in a well.”
Albert spoke as if he were thinking out loud.. “Well, I guess that makes some kind of sense but what are your plans? Where are you going? What is your objective? How long will it take?”
She laughed mirthlessly. “Can’t you see, Albert, those are all the things I’m running away from. I tired of having others make plans for me. I’m sick of following plans, of living to schedules. In short, I’ve had it! I need to be me.”
Albert again: “Let me be practical for a moment. How are you going to support this life of searching for yourself. Travel is pretty expensive.”
Miriam looked across to her father and smiled. “Dad paid for all my university expenses, bless his good heart. And I saved up all my scholarships and academic prizes for just such a day. I can say, with some modesty, that for a 25 year old I’m quite well fixed, thank you very much.”
Rebecca asked, “But if you have no itinerary, how are we going to keep in touch with you. We love you too much to just see you go off into the wild blue yonder.” There was actually wetness in her eyes as she asked.
“Don’t you worry, Mum. I arranged for roving on my iPhone. So unless I’m in some remote spot that doesn’t have coverage, I can always spend a few moments talking to my family.”
There was a long silence while the guest all mulled over this surprise. Finally Rebecca spoke again. “Miriam, I haven’t been a very good mother. I can remember when I had to spank you when you were very young, I’d always said, ‘This hurts me more than it does you.’ An oxymoron I guess. Now, in a way, you’re spanking me and I deserve it. But it sure as hell hurts. I didn’t know how much I loved you until I am about to lose you.” She came around the table and embraced Miriam. They were both crying unashamedly. “Do you remember when Granny used to do this?” She traced a little cross on Miriam’s forehead with her forefinger and kissed the mark. “Good bye, daughter. God be with you.”
John came up behind them. “And you have my thumbs up, daughter very dear. If this is what you truly want to do—go for it!” Rebecca even smiled at his reaction.

5 Responses to “Abigail, Rebecca and Miriam (Ch. 8)”

  1. charles kirby says:

    “Miriam’s Breaking Loose”. I guess we have all been there, one way or the other. We will see what we will see…

  2. Victoria Henderson says:

    Very interesting; although, of course, I’m the last person who needs persuading that travel is an education in itself. Just an editorial comment: for someone who’s graduating from SFU, Miriam’s definitely been farther west than Guelph!

  3. Jack Long says:

    Interesting bit of information about Miriam’s thoughts and plans and I’m sure most of us can empathize with her.
    However,I was most interested in the older generation in the story and with only one chapter to go, this seems to be an unnecessary diversion.
    Miriam never was a central figure, so I want to hear more about the other ladies, who seem to be more interesting.

  4. Silvana Ness says:

    A very matter-of-fact girl, this Miriam. I like her a lot and share her outlook on her immediate future. I also find it very brave of her to face her family group so squarely and almost antagonistically.

    As we are getting to the end of the novel, we must expect that you pull in all the various threads, hence Miriam ‘s solution.

    Now for the grand finale, Lyman!

  5. John Crossley says:

    This is a new diversion Lyman and looks like it could be very interesting

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