Holding On


By Deanna Cook

I really should throw it out… it has no value.  Why do I hold on to it?  I have a t-shirt that should be thrown out.  But I continue to wash it and place it back in my dresser.  It’s 18 years old, so it has served its purpose.  This week, I noticed it has become so thin that I have little tears developing in the front.  Some day soon, I may have an Incredible Hulk moment, and the t-shirt will just be rags.   It started out as a regular t-shirt, later becoming just a t-shirt to wear to the gym, and lately just a t-shirt to only wear at home.  So why do I hold on?

With my grade twelve class, we study “Lot’s Wife” by Anna Akhmatova.  This narrative poem, paints a more sympathetic picture of Lot’s wife.  Often, she is not considered a central character.  She is a simple Sunday school lesson reminding us to obey God’s commands.  But this poem casts her as a refugee and a mother fleeing her town leaving behind everything.

As I am writing this, I am watching the stories coming out of Fort Mac- the heart-breaking stories of families losing everything to the fires.  How could I choose what to take and what to leave in those desperate moments?  The citizens of Fort Mac, had such a short time to flee.  Some of them will find their entire lives turned upside down when they are permitted to return to their homes: as their homes, their neighbourhoods, their schools, and their businesses will be destroyed.

Lot and his family had little notice that they also had to flee their hometown.  In the poem, Akhmatova writes, “a restless voice kept harrying this woman/ ‘It’s not too late, you can still look back/ at the red towers of your native Sodom,/ the square where once you sang, the spinning-shed,/at the empty windows set in the tall house/ where sons and daughters blessed your marriage-bed.’”  As we read the poem, the chronicles of Lot’s wife make an impact.  The students have meaningful discussions about why she turned back, and the nameless character becomes so much more than a little story.  The poem ends with this question: “Who will grieve for this woman?  Does she not seem too insignificant for our concern?”  The story moves from straight facts to a story of emotion and compassion.  She disobeyed to have one final glance at her home.  Her attachment to the past outweighed her ability to move forward.

My t-shirt is a Black Lake t-shirt: grey and green with Etthen Athletics stamped across it.  When translated, Etthen is Dene for caribou.  In the centre of the t-shirt, there is the caribou, a wolf, and snow shoes.  It is a souvenir from my teaching career in northern Saskatchewan.  It marks my first years of teaching, when I didn’t really know what I was doing.  It represents many experiences that has helped shape who I am today.   But I don’t need to hold onto my t-shirt.  It has served its purpose.  My memories, of my years in Black Lake, spur me on into the future.

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