Saturday, June 24, 2006


I was at university in those heady days of women's liberation and flower power. Women were coming into their own and I was in that same year with the first women graduates in theology who would be ordained. I was studying French and German philosophy, reveling in the freedom this gave me when I spent the summers backpacking through Europe on my own.

Diana, along with some other friends of mine, signed up for theology. I saw her struggle through her beginning lessons in Greek and Hebrew. This was the first time she had tackled a foreign language and I was baffled by her pain. She stuck at it, more determination than facility, but that is often the way.

I heard one of her theology professors address a group of young students and I was impressed with this severe-looking man, who told outrageous jokes with a straight face but a twinkle in his eye. His iron grey hair erupted in unruly curls more suited to a teenager and his motherly wife doted on us.

Some of us girls assessed this situation carefully, and finally decided that this conservative theologian did, in fact, consider woman to be equal to man. We did not doubt this ourselves but we were not ready yet to venture into unknown territory. We were still uninstructed in the history of women leaders who had gone before, and shrank from being the ones to create a new role model.

We switched from language and philosophy into health and education in search of a pragmatic choice. These careers have served us well, and, no matter what you read in the papers, we have blended work into family with the light hand required for folding beaten egg whites into batter.

Diana, unlike some of us, did not abandon her aspirations to theology and became her professor's best student and protégé. He mentored her with pride as the woman who would become a model theologian. She walked with a sure foot where angels fear to tread. She considered no one her equal. But she did consent to be a part of our little group of friends who got together for movies and spaghetti.

For reading week that year we decided to book a chalet near a ski resort and bundled ourselves into 4 cars and drove 6 hours inland from the coast through the mountains to our retreat. We were a group of friends only, no couples, ready to ski and talk and joke around. Rob came too. He was a buddy of mine, still recovering from a breakup with his girlfriend.

We skied all day and basked in the sun, eating soggy lunches wrapped in wax paper, racing down the long runs, some making a great show of expertise and others of us hoping that no one would comment on our style.

The second night the moon was full. We went to the chalet shed that held the snowshoes and laid the wooden shoes on the snow and buckled our boots into leather bindings. We tramped across the field and past the dark spruce, down a trail through the naked willows and aspen to the creek. A layer of snow lay on the frozen surface.

We walked along until we came to a pond, and circled the shore by the bulrushes and the beaver house, a brushwork dome mounded with snow. Looking across the open expanse of white, a hush fell, and the moon shone.

Diana, always dramatic, looked up at the moon and stretched her arms to the sky. She back tossed her long black hair and laughed. We paused and breathed in the cold air, each of us lost in our own quiet thoughts.

Someone threw a snowball and the silence broke. Throwing off our snowshoes, we launched our missiles, or simply stuffed handfuls of wet packed snow down the shirts of whoever we could catch offguard.

Exhausted, we lay on our backs in the drifts on the surface of the pond, spreadeagle to the sky and made angels in the snow. We stood and admired our own outlines, divine shapes, captured for a moment in the cold.

Our sweaters had become clumped with snow, and our behinds were damp and chilled. Our hands and feet were wet and our noses were red.

But most of all, us girls knew that our hair no longer hung sleek down our backs, but had clumped into matted tails of sweat and ice, disfiguring our glory.

Back at the chalet we drank hot chocolate with marshmallows from chipped mugs at the long table in the kitchen. We laughed and told jokes, and didn't even once think about the fact that we were supposed to use this week for studying.

(In all these years, over thirty since then, this is the first time the thought crossed my mind that we were supposed to read during reading week.)

We slept from 3 until 8 and staggered down to breakfast. There was Rob, his head laid down on arms folded on the table, staring into space. He looked truly hungover. I sat on the bench across from him and commiserated. He murmered into the air, "Diana."

I stopped too quickly and spilt my coffee. But I mopped up the coffee and left it at that. There was nothing to be said.

A couple of years later, Rob and Diana were married. They had two children and he became a famous scientist and she became a theologian. She occupies a seminary post in the South West and sometimes I come across books that she has written.

Just a couple of years ago I was back in my hometown with my husband and we looked up some old friends. We met for dinner at the house of a couple who enjoy entertaining.

We sat around the oval dining room table making a great show of tasting wine and sharing gossip about people in the news. Some of us women chatted about our children growing up and leaving home, and dismissed for a brief evening our careers.

Rob was there as well, without Diana, she had left him long ago. He sat beside me and as the evening grew late, he drank yet another glass of wine. Then he leaned in my direction, speaking low, looking at the table.

I gazed up at the ornate candelabra, black iron twisted stalks holding cream candles burnt down to stubs, wax dripping, yellow light flickered on the damask linen cloth. Crystal clinked and silver forks were laid on plates.

Rob studied the spreading stain of port merging into mango,

"Diana is out there still searching for that one right man who will be the equal to her own great intellect."

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