When Angels Speak in Ottawa
We started life together, although
she likes to think she's the elder.
Well, she is, if by life you mean existence.
In that sense she was created earlier,
but does age alone confer special status?
Look at us. Most people would take
us for twins, and we are twins, in a
way. We have stayed together almost
our entire lives. In today's vernacular,
we have shared the same space, and for
generations. The creator who made us
saw no necessity to make us distinct,
separate, apart. Why differentiate?
Our creator had a vision, an angelic
perfection whose image we represent.
We are the work of his hands. And when
people look at us some see only the
work of another Joseph, a humble carpenter/craftsman/carver;
others glimpse the image created by
the Master Carpenter Himself.
Do I date myself by using capital letters
in an age of small "c" Conservatives
and small "l" Liberals? Think
small, write small, be small; tear down
the capitals and all becomes small,
I am no "ordinary" Canadian.
Neither is she. We are unique, yet the
I haven't spoken to her once in more
than a hundred years, and neither has
she to me. Do I speak figuratively?
No; factually. And our silence speaks
louder than the loudest boom-box yet
Ours is a thoughtful silence, but we
love noise, noise four times a day,
twice on Saturdays and six times on
Sundays, when men, women, children,
seniors and grandchildren, the lame,
the halt, and the blind; priest and
prelate, deacon and bishop, secretary
and cabinet minister; saint and sinner,
throng beneath our feet to worship and
to pray, to seek the help of that Master
Carver whose angelic host we two wooden
angels represent in our silent companionship,
on the railing high above the centre
aisle, behind which choir and organ
join in sacred music.
We began our spiritual life on the
day we were blessed and installed in
the Rideau Convent Chapel in Ottawa,
Canada's capital. That chapel, long
since displaced by commercial stores
and offices, has since been recreated
with loving care in the National Art
Gallery of Canada, a mile away on Sussex
Go there. Take a look. On either side
of the altar are two circles cut into
the wood. She and I occupied those circles
for eighty-four years. For eighty-four
years we heard the chorused voices of
nuns and students raised in daily prayer.
Then the voices fell silent and were
replaced by jackhammers, saws and crowbars,
hammering, whining, grinding, filling
the air with hurt and dust. She and
I were mantled in dust and grime.
Our mission was ended, or so it seemed.
Today, rescued from a Carleton Place
antique dealer's store, sister angels
we stand in St. Patrick's Basilica on
Nepean Street in Ottawa, on the railing
in front of the choir loft. An occasional
convent alumna looks up at our lofty
perch, eyes filled with recognition
Come and see us. Our two solitudes
speak with one voice to old and new
The whole world is becoming one great
big talk show. Morning to night, and
night to morning, on radio and television,
talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. "Ottawa,
can we talk?" "Kalamazoo,
can we talk?" Babble, babble, babble,
babble, babble. And, as if that weren't
enough, now she has to join in.
"Does age alone confer special
status?" No, but a longer existence
can bring greater experience, and with
experience can come wisdom. Unless you're
a blockhead. And she is. So am I, for
that matter. We were both carved from
the same block of wood.
This whole scene is anything but edifying.
I mean, like, here we've been silent
for more than a hundred years, doing
our thing, carrying out our mandate.
This is a civil service town and, like,
you know, you can't help but become
assimilated over time. When you're outnumbered,
and surrounded on all sides by a foreign
culture you tend to pick up the jargon.
Before you know it, person-years replace
Hail Marys, and an annual performance
review becomes a laicized version of
an Easter duty.
She started it. Always remember that.
Of course, being six months younger
she can be forgiven. Seniority has rights,
and one of them is the right to forgive,
if not excuse, the impetuousness of
youth. So I forgive her blabbermouth!
But I have a confession to make. I
may be upset with her for breaking silence,
and I am. She can lay a grievance, maintain
I'm treating her disgracefully, and
carry it all the way through to the
seraphim. In a way I'm hoping she does
because the grievance procedure will
give me an opportunity to put something
on the record that very few know about.
You want the facts? Here they are.
After those eighty-four years of silence,
we two angels of the Rideau Convent
Chapel were forcibly evicted from our
home, carted off, and sold into the
hands of a Carleton Place antique dealer.
It was a bad time, but at least we
Then the worst happened. We were separated,
two sisters rudely torn apart.
The story is simple. Peter, a pilgrim
from Ottawa, spotted us in the antique
dealer's store, and arranged to buy
our freedom. Despite agreeing to the
sale, when Peter came to collect us
next day the dealer reneged and would
agree to sell only one of us. The dealer
My sister was left alone, deserted,
an object of curiosity in the backroom
of the store.
How come we were reunited? Was it a
You want the facts? Here they are.
Six years later the antique dealer
died. Peter journeyed back to Carleton
Place. The dealer's heir, his daughter,
agreed to part with my sister, and Peter
brought her joyfully home. Now we stand,
united, overlooking the congregation,
happy in our contemplative silence.
Those six years apart were the unhappiest
years of my existence. That is my confession
to my sister angel.
Now let us resume our silence, and
Footnote: The pilgrim in this
tale was Peter Gravelle, former organist
at St. Patrick's Basilica, now deceased.
| Canadian Vindicator