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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician

All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

Sunday, December 16, 2007

John Shapland

To say John Shapland was my wife's father's sister's husband makes him out to be one of those relatives you never think much about until you're sat next to him at Christmas dinner. That he was also a relatively soft-spoken man might compound the likelihood that John would inhabit the mind's broom closet labeled "sundry relatives". Other members of his large family are more loquacious, more gregarious, more outright noticeable.

A quiet, ex-corporate British gentleman, John would rarely speak of himself. He seemed genuinely curious about anyone sitting across from him, whether they'd just met, or he'd known them all his life. He simply wasn't one to harvest the attention of others. In his eighties, with the well-earned right to profess on many subjects, he effortlessly resisted every opportunity to teach or preach.

Yet I have often remarked about John to Flame-Haired Angel. Despite being such a retiring man, he was also the lightning rod of creation for one of the most extraordinary environments I've ever experienced. Conveying what it is, exactly, that makes the Shapland family strange -- strange in the best possible way, the way in which every family wishes it were un-normal -- would be a hopeless task. But to live with them, even for a few days at a time, is to have magnanimity and resilience redefined in whatever dictionary it is that resides in one's heart.

"Patriarch" is an unfashionable word, one we don't think of much. Perhaps that's why it took some time for me to realize that was the name of John's great achievement in a remarkable life. He was the patriarch around which the chaotic wonder that is the Shapland family grew and revolved. It took its shape from his mold. I never saw John press himself on the fabric of forceful personalities around him. I simply saw a diaspora shaped by his kind spirit.

John Shapland took life as it came at him -- with grace, patience, humour, love and generosity -- until yesterday morning.


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