Anne M. Smith-Nochasak:
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Anna, our central character, is not one who can trust easily. She never really opens up to her fiancé Terrence and is not one to confide in her mother. Her infatuation with Joshua, even as it blossoms to love, does not really open a dialogue. There is much, she reflects later, that she did not ask about him, that she did not know -- things that his wife Leah would have known and carried in her heart.
When she encounters the Husky Petra on the trail, however, Anna immediately pours out her inner grief to this being. As Petra's guardian observes:
"... You been like a shadow here, always ready for school, always doing things right, but never smile, never part of things. Politically correct, but like you’re scared not to be.
“I come along, and here you are, talking all out to the dog. Like she’s your therapist or something. And her listening all out. I think she’s your dog.”
I have often said that I do not choose my dogs; they find me when it is time. Thus it is with Anna and Petra. Petra is her mentor, her companion, and her secret keeper. Those who have been chosen by a dog will understand.
Yet Petra maintains her independence. She never loses her yearning to roam free in the Bush, hunting as in her youth. When she senses that Anna is about to leave her, she feels the loss, but survival dictates that she must find new connections, as she does with Natasha. I do not agree with Anna's choice, but I think it is in keeping with her character.
Joy is a much different dog. We are not told how Joy comes into Anna's life, but we sense that this is a dog who is simply amazed by the world and embraces every good moment. She loves Anna, but she loves all life, and will be Joy wherever she is. Petra is perhaps an "old soul"; Joy is childlike innocence.
Anna needs both dogs really: one to guide her, one to lift her from her inner intensity. Together, Petra and Joy bring balance to her life.
Both are modelled on the dogs of my own life.
Ten months ago, I had my farewell walk with my personal Petra. Each day, I remember her; each day I give thanks for the memories we made and for this time to remember. To me, dogs are a special gift from the Creator, sent to teach us how to be better people. They are sent to bind up our breaking hearts, and to lift us to joy.
Two years ago we waited while a family member had an emergency MRI. It had been a long day of sudden changes and fears for us, and the waiting room was crowded and grim. I turned to my friend and commented, "No matter how this turns out, think what it would have been like if we'd brought the dogs." A woman across the room put down her phone. "What kind of dogs do you have?" the former stranger asked. Within moments, the room was ringing with laughter and many dog stories were exchanged. We were offered rides back to the hotel; everyone hoped each other had a good Christmas. All because, by accident, the word "dog" was spoken.
That really happened. If you have a story about a dog who made a difference, even just by being there, I would love to hear about it.
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Aaron is the son of Anna and the son of Joshua in The Ice Widow. Much of the time he is a figure in the background, silent in the shadows.
Anna and Joshua never really sit down and make a firm plan for Aaron. Joshua would like to plan, and encourages Anna to settle in Endor and raise Aaron there. Although he is marrying Leah, he wants to remain on friendly terms with Anna, so that Aaron will grow up with both parents nearby, and will live surrounded by all his family history. Reah, one of the guiding people Anna meets on her journey, sums it up:
This is not seen as an awkward thing or a bad thing; it is the best of both worlds. For Anna, though, this is not possible. Her life with Joshua would have to be her life together with Joshua on her terms, and when she knows she cannot have this, she isolates herself more and more.
Anna’s mother worries; she suspects that Aaron is “Anna’s Joshua-token”, and that she loves him “but as a memory, sometimes, more than a real child.”
Joshua and his family are very accepting and welcoming people, happy to have Aaron around, and willing to welcome Anna. The offer for her to come to Endor is made often, and Joshua comes to visit his son each summer until Aaron is old enough to travel to Endor. Eventually, Aaron asks to spend more time with his father, and one day, he is simply living in Endor and visiting his mother each summer.
Some feel that Joshua and Leah and Anna work together for the benefit of Aaron, that they keep in touch and plan together for his benefit. A close scrutiny reveals that there is little dialogue; it appears that Anna simply lets things roll along that way. She does not try to enter Aaron's Labrador life, except that one ill-fated Christmas visit and his high school graduation, at which she realizes “that he had become a man without her bearing witness to his life.”
Yet Aaron turns out well, a tribute to all his cultural backgrounds. His mother is anxious to be a good parent, but there is little interaction between mother and son. His father is happy to see Aaron settled in his family, but the insistence on Anna’s participation leads to anxious moments for Aaron: “Aaron had his mother-home moments, and then his father-home-panorama-of-family. That way was comfortable. If the settings overlapped, he knew, he would lose both worlds.”
Why does Aaron turn out well? I attribute this to the gentle, loving presence of Leah. She is simply there, with love and a hug when it is needed. She is the one who grounds them all.
And that, my friends, is what we really need – one face that smiles for us, one set of arms that embraces us. Someone who believes in us, cries for us, and laughs for us. That is the face in the window that watches for us. I pray that each of us will find and honour that one who will carry us.
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Who is Terrence in THE ICE WIDOW? Many have had deeply painful experiences at the hands of organized religion, and so I will tell you immediately that Terrence is a minister. If you do not wish to read further, I will honour and respect that.
If you wish to read further, I assure you that Terrence is not your typical minister. I initially cast him as a fussy, somewhat tedious scholar, but a good person – filled with love for his neighbour, operating street outreaches for troubled youth, and falling in love with the innocent Anna Caine. Terrence did not really grasp that Anna was instinctively seeking a safe refuge. He began as an awkward student with an open heart and a naiveté that could only end in a broken heart.
Terrence had seen himself as one whose faith embraced the universe, and he was humbled to discover that he could not accept Anna’s affair or the child of that affair. He decided that her son would be the child from the North that they adopted. Better yet, he could be raised by his father, in his own culture, a further hurt to the child’s mother.
Terrence brooded over the Book of Hosea after Anna’s departure. “Had he become Hosea, most inept husband in the whole Bible?”
He just glanced at the Book of Hosea in its scriptural meaning and was soon carried away in a highly personal speculation:
Hosea lived his life as a model of God’s relationship to his covenant people. Or so, Terrence considered, Hosea would have us believe. God told Hosea to marry a whore—this was a deliberate, calculated act. He also told him to take her back. That was supposed to represent God’s willingness to take his wayward people back. Hosea was not a fool. It was not bad judgment or naiveté that made him such a luckless husband. It was God’s will!
In Terrence’s final reflection, however, the pain of God’s commitment became real for him:
…. That was going to be their table, where she would smile and pass him his tea. Every day was supposed to start like that, but instead there was just a lonely fool, staring at the empty chairs through his tears. Just him, and his own personal wilderness.
“She doesn’t want me, God,” he sighed, “and now I am all alone.
“Is this how you feel, every time?”
In that moment, he recognized the loneliness and heartbreak of God.
This is the point at which I began to love Terrence, the man who grieved the crucifixion of our Lady of Shadowed Hope, Tonya, and saw Christ in communion with her, sprawled in the bloody snow by her body. This is the man who would embrace Anna on her quest into the North, the man who would recognize in his rival the presence of the risen Christ. Ultimately, Terrence would become the man who would accompany Joshua into his final journey:
He will be like the desert ancestors marching out of Egypt with nothing but the power of God to warm their hearts and fill their bellies.
Terrence would also recognize the worth and dignity of Sarah and perform heroic deeds.
When I started, I had no idea that Terrence was a great man.
Maybe I should look more closely at the people of my life, and see the blessing that is there, waiting to be discovered.
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Leah, in the novel The Ice Widow, is the rival that Anna would like to forget. She is also the subtle character that we tend to overlook. She is in the background: a quiet and seemingly passionless being. She was Joshua's girlfriend, the one he did marry, wasn't she? She died, didn't she? We are sad about that, but after all, this is Anna's story, so we let Leah slip away and we move on.
Yet, some have told me that they really felt for Leah. Why does this "minor character" move us?
Why did Joshua marry Leah, when Anna Caine was clearly more exciting? Ah! Leah was expecting his child! Technically, so was Anna, but no one knew that at the wedding, did they? I do wonder sometimes -- Would Joshua still have married Leah? I like to think so. I like to think that he always knew, as he did in the end, that "her peacefulness was worth more than any passion with Anna Caine."
Leah was a steady flame, a low fire burning long and bright, a woman of quiet strength, loyalty, and integrity. When she did confront Anna, she gently reminded her that real love is not the passion of a season, but an inner strength that builds the good in others, a power that does not break hearts.
Leah raised her children and opened her heart to Anna's son. She brought dignity and honour to the last years of Joshua's grandmother. She was gentle, but she was powerful. Leah is the "worthy wife" of the Book of Proverbs who does all things with wisdom and grace, but is not a pushover.
At the same time, as her daughter Miriam sensed, Leah was often in the background as Joshua contemplated the mystery of Anna Caine. Anna was like the great mountains of the North, a raw spiritual power that challenged him. Do you see the dark, dominant mountains on the cover of The Ice Widow? Those are Anna's mountains. Leah's mountains are the gentler mountains, the mountains of home. Anna draws him away; Leah grounds him in life.
The name "Leah" honours her strength. In the Biblical story, Jacob falls in love with Rachel, and happily works seven years for her father to earn her hand in marriage. We imagine his joy on the wedding day, as his beloved Rachel, heavily veiled, is led into his presence. A happy wedding night follows. Then comes the morning, and then comes the line that many have chuckled over: "And in the morning, it was Leah." Jacob storms off to his father-in-law, demanding an explanation. It seems that Leah, as the eldest, is supposed to be married first, but another seven years of work and Rachel is guaranteed. Leah, receiving the promises meant for Rachel, feeling the caresses meant for Rachel, and then abandoned on the marriage bed meant for Rachel, must have been humiliated and hurt. Yes, they were disciplined and obedient in those days, I know, but still the story of Leah has always brought tears to my eyes.
I am glad that Joshua recognized his Leah's worth, grieved for her, and loved her. Even though he sometimes still thought of Anna Caine. Sarah, in the passage in the photo, recognized this, for her husband, Terrence, was still working through his own past with Anna. "All our wives," Terrence reflects, "seem to be Leah to Anna Caine's Rachel."
Leah was not simply eliminated to serve the story of Anna and Joshua. No, for she remained present in every moment going forward. I grieved for her passing, and as I write, her quiet strength, her grace and compassion, are with me. Let us cherish those who are Leah, and celebrate them in our lives.
In life, there are no minor characters.