Category Archives: Father Tom Stories

A collection of Father Tom stories that I have written over the past years. New ones will be added regularly. One of my writing instructors used to say write about things you have lived – so I have. The Father Tom stories incorporate experiences I have had over the years as a Presbyterian minister with my love of the pipe. Many of the circumstances and events of the stories as well as the settings are part of the regular story of my life. They are here for your reading pleasure. It is my hope that they will give you a bit of pleasure as you read them. If they do, they have achieved what I imagined for them. Enjoy!

Father Tom – Contrasting Visits on the Road to Recovery


This story may seem fanciful to some of you but it is pretty close to what I experienced in my own journey. Enjoy the read — Steve

Blog by Steve Laug

Father Tom woke up very early the morning after the surgery, still groggy from the anesthesia but almost able to hold his thoughts together. He was on his back in the hospital bed with tubes attached all around his body. He had tubes hooked to the back of his hands. He had both a catheter and a drain tube running out of him mid-body. His legs had automatic compression stockings that inflated and deflated keeping the blood moving through his feet and legs. He lifted the blanket to check out the surgery. He was surprised at how black and blue he was from the bottom of his rib cage to his knee caps. He was sore but not in a lot of pain thanks to the drip concoction that was flowing into his veins. He was clearly not going anywhere soon.

He looked around his room to take in his surroundings. It was a nice looking room with space for another bed next to his but empty at the moment. He noticed his urologist quietly sitting in the corner on the guest chair. When the doctor saw him he nodded and said good morning to Father Tom. They chatted for a short time about many things. The doctor came over and checked the bandages, the wounds and the bags. He repeated what Tom had heard in recovery room that the surgery went well and he was fairly certain that he had gotten all the cancer as it had not spread out of the prostate. Tom told him of the shock at seeing how black and blue he was and the doctor chuckled and said that he was sorry that he had forgotten to warn Tom about that. He finished his exam and told Tom to have as good a day as he could. He had two more surgeries scheduled for the day. With that he was gone and Tom was alone.

Tom snoozed for a little while and woke when the nurse came to change his bandages and empty the bags. She said things were looking good and told him breakfast was on its way. She also said that physio would have him up walking after breakfast. They wanted to get him moving again she said. He agreed; he was never very good at sitting still and was ready to get going. As she left, the breakfast cart came in and put his tray on the table. He lifted the cover on the plate to see what kind of mystery was underneath. He ate his breakfast and quietly reflected on what was ahead for him. He knew it would be a while before he could enjoy his pipe and his normal morning ritual. So today sans pipe he said his prayers and sipped his coffee.As he finished, the physio therapist came in for a visit and told him it was time to get up and walk. Tom said he was game.

He tried to sit up and the physio stopped him and raised the head of the bed up to make it easier. He helped Tom drop his legs over the edge of the bed. He unplugged the massage stockings on his legs and put on his slippers.Together they stood up. Tom held onto his IV pole and they put his catheter bag and drain bag on hooks on the pole. All was ready for him to start the walkabout. Everything in him pulled as he shuffled his feet along hanging onto the cart. It hurt but that did not stop him. The physio told him to start slow and just do a short walk to the nurses’ station but Tom was up and wanted to keep going. He did a lap and a half around the floor. As he moved into the second lap he felt tired so he peeled off the track and went back to his room. The physio suggested he sit in the chair for a while before getting back in bed. He was compliant and took a seat with a wink.

As the physio left the room his first visitor arrived. It was Anna, and it was so good to see a familiar face. He chuckled as he said he could not quite stand to greet her but offered her is hand instead.She took his hand and gave him a peck on the cheek. She moved a chair from the next bed to sit with him. They talked quietly for quite a while about his experience.Together they reflected on a similar scene to this when William (her late husband) was in the hospital during his last days. It was a mixture of funny and sad memories that both of them had, one that brought both tears and laughter as they remembered the conversations from that day.

They paused in their conversation for a few moments and sat quietly. Anna remembered that she had brought him something. She said,“I almost forgot…I thought I would bring you something a little different from the flowers that are often brought! Hope you don’t mind but I got something a little different for you!” She reached into her purse and retrieved what looked like a tin of tobacco.

“This is a tin of one of William’s favourite tobaccos that I came across when you were in surgery. It is a tin of Dunhill’s Baby’s Bottom. I remember when he and I visited the Dunhill shop in London and he bought a sleeve of this tobacco. I was very surprised to find this one lurking in the back of a cupboard in his study. I immediately thought of you when I found it and knew that it was the perfect hospital gift Tom.”

Father Tom reached out and took her gift in his hands. “Oh, Anna this is amazing. I have not had any of this since I smoked  a few bowls with William in his study a few years ago now. I still remember our conversation that day as we two old curmudgeons enjoyed some good talk and good tobacco. I miss those days and conversations with William.”

They sat in silence, each with their memories and savoured those special days. Each of them was lost in thought – walking through private spaces that had intersected over the years. As they sat the nurse came in to help Tom get back in bed. She asked Anna to step out for a moment and pulled the curtain around the bed and carefully helped Tom back to the bed. It was uncomfortable and there was some pain but he was soon resituated and the curtain was drawn back. Anna re-entered the room and stood by Tom’s bedside.  They bade their farewells and Anna said she would check on him again. She left and Tom was once more by himself.

His mind wandered a bit and he was felt tired. He dozed off and woke as lunch was put on the table next to his bed. As he ate his lunch he picked up his well-worn copy of The Book of Pipes & Tobacco,by Carl Ehwa and read. He figured that since he could not enjoy a bowl of tobacco he could at least reread one of his favourite books on the subject. He had brought the book along to fill in the quiet hours of the day and the night if he could not sleep. He was lost in thought, reading and moving his lunch around the plate when his next guest arrived.

He heard someone clearing his throat and looked toward the doorway to see who was there. Perhaps you can imagine his surprise when he saw his friend Bill from Stanley Park standing in the doorway. They had first met by accident on one of Tom’s walkabouts in the park. Tom had been sitting on a bench looking out on the water when a fellow had come out of the trees behind him. He sat with Tom and they had enjoyed several bowls of tobacco and some great conversation. Tom had given him what remained of his tin of tobacco. They had since met many times to chat and enjoy a pipe together.

“Hi Bill, come on in. I had no idea that you knew I was here. How did you find out? Never mind it doesn’t matter. Grab a chair. It is really good to see you. I only wish I could pull out a pipe and join you fora bowl but sadly they won’t let that happen and this is one time I am going to follow the rules!” Bill chuckled at that remembering the first time they met and smoked “against all the rules” sitting on bench by the sea wall in Stanley Park.

“Never known you as one to follow the rules Tom, but I guess this is a hospital so I will take a rain check on a pipe. Once you are out of here though we have to do that. Until then tell me how it is going. Did they get the cancer? You going to be okay?”

Tom told Bill what the Doctor had said and answered quite a few more of his questions. The physio came in to get Tom for his after lunch walk and Tom thought that she would ask Bill to leave but she did not.Instead she invited Bill to walk with him. She helped Tom stand and he held onto the IV pole. She guided him out to the hallway and asked Bill to keep an eye on him. They made quite a pair walking the hallway. Father Tom with one hospital gown tied shut at the back and another one facing the front shuffling along with his pole and Bill in his layered homeless garb shuffling along with him.

As they walked they were engaged in what appeared to be a serious conversation. If you could have overheard you would have been surprised (or maybe you would not be). They spoke of their pipes and favourite tobaccos and some of the great blends they had shared together. Bill told Tom of a surprise cache of tinned tobacco he had found on one of his recent dumpster dives. They laughed and shuffled around the hallway doing three laps. As they finished the third lap Bill helped Tom back to his room and got him situated in his chair.

“I have not done that in a long time Tom. When I was a corpsman in the army I used to do this kind of thing in the field hospital.But I don’t think I ever had a tobacco talk like we did while I was doing it back then. It is good to see you. I will check in on you once you get home if you don’t mind… Oh and speaking of my cache find I brought something for you.”

Bill did a quick glance around the room to check if anyone was watching then slid a hand into his inside coat pocket and pulled out a sealed tin of tobacco for Tom. He held it up and Tom could see that it was a tin of Dunhill Elizabethan Mixture – the old Murray version no less. Tom registered both surprise and delight at this treat.

“Bill do you remember this was the tobacco you and I shared the first time we met in the park? I had a tin of it that I shared with you. It is really good stuff. I can’t believe you found the same blend in your cache. Thank you so much my friend. When I am out of here we will crack the tin together to celebrate.”

Bill nodded and said he remembered and that was why he chose this particular can to share with Tom. They chatted a few more minutes and the Bill said he needed to get moving before it got dark. They bid each other farewell and Bill shuffled out the door. Tom sat for a while just looking at the tin that Bill had brought him. He did not ever remember Bill talking about being a corpsman before, that was news. He was feeling pretty thankful for the visit with Bill and the great time they had. It must have been a first at UBC Hospital to have an old Anglican priest and a homeless vet shuffling the hall together chatting about pipes and tobacco. He laughed out loud when he thought of what they must have looked like. He put the tin on the chair next to him and leaned his head against the wall and fell asleep.

He woke to a nurse tapping his shoulder. She was saying something and as he awoke he caught the last words…”you should be in your bed.” He nodded his agreement and she helped him into his bed. She situated the IV pole and checked his bandages and bags. She emptied the bags and made sure he was comfortable. He looked at the clock and noted that he had been asleep for quite a while. It was already 5pm. He knew dinner would be coming soon so he reached for the table and pulled it across his lap. He pushed the button to raise the bed to a sitting position and picked up his book again.He was thoroughly engrossed in it when the orderly brought his dinner. He found he was hungry so he worked his way through the meal and sipped the tea that had come with the dinner. He was wishing he had an after dinner scotch but that would have to wait too! Only another day or two and he would be able to go home. He was glad it was July because it meant that he could sit on his porch at home and enjoy the life in the neighbourhood walking by.

The early evening went by slowly and he read and snoozed. Around 7:30pm there was a tap on his door and it opened to a couple of the guys from the pipe shop. They obviously were not familiar with hospitals and looked uncomfortably awkward. Tom put them at ease with his humour and soon they had both pulled up chairs to his bed and were animatedly chatting with him. The range of topics was similar to what it was like at the shop. They talked politics – local and national, current events and even theology since he was a priest.

Finally, they talked about new pipes that they had both purchased and even pulled them out of their pockets and passed them to him for his assessment. The first one was a Ser Jacopo Picta Picasso in a natural finish with shining silver fitments. It was a real beauty. The grain and look of the pipe was stunning. Tom really liked the feel of it in his hand. The second pipe was a Castello Sea Rock finish bent billiard and it also felt really good in his hand. It made Tom miss his own pipes! But he gave each one a good look and commended the gents on their choices. They both had picked some good pipes. They nodded and one of them stuck his hand in his pocket and pulled out two tins of tobacco.

“The guys at the shop figured that it did not seem right to give you flowers – we thought we would save those for your funeral. So we picked up a couple of tins of tobacco for you. These are both McClellands – a tin of Virginia #24 and one of Christmas Cheer from 2010. We figured that with your penchant for Virginia tobacs these would be good additions. And since McClelland is no longer around these will be at a premium one day. The shop gave us a discount since it was going to you. What do you think of them?”

Tom just shook his head in disbelief. They were right these were far better than flowers. He laughed and thanked them.

“Gents, this is amazing. I have been looking for some McClellands tins and when I was at the shop they did not have any. Where did you find them? I bet one of the clerks had hidden them in the back… wow.Thank you guys this is far better than flowers.”

The nurse came in and told them that visiting hours were over in a few minutes. They made some small talk and wished him well. They said they were looking forward to seeing at the shop soon. With that they bowed out and he was left looking at the two additional tins. He could not believe it. Day number two in the hospital and four of his visitors had brought him tobacco. They really knew him well. He laid the tobacco on the night stand next to the bed and closed his eyes.

The nurse came after a bit and prepared him for sleep. She checked the bags and dressings and checked the drip on the IV. When she was finished she helped him brush his teeth, rinse his mouth and turned down the lights. As he lay there he wondered what the next day would bring. He knew the urologist would be in to check on him first thing in the morning. He also expected a few more visitors but really did not think any would bring him gifts of tobacco. He could feel himself starting to drift off and it was not long before he fell asleep.

He slept intermittently through the night with nurses checking his blood pressure, bags and IV. He watched the early sunrise and saw his urologist sitting in the corner again. They nodded to each other.After a bit the doctor came over and checked things out. They chatted until the doctor had to leave to go to surgery. He lay quietly until the nurse came in and gave him a sponge bath and changed his dressings. She gave him a new set of gowns – one for the front and one for the back. She helped him get up so he could get a walk in before breakfast and he did 6 laps around the hallway this time. He definitely felt better than he had the day before. When he got back to his room he decided to sit in the chair for his breakfast. Today was much better – eggs, toast and a piece of ham… things were looking up. He was hungry so it did not take too long to finish the breakfast. He sipped his coffee longingly wishing for a cup from his local shop. He had one more day left and he would go home. He was looking forward to that!

There was a knock on the door and the priest who was filling in for him was there for a visit. He was a young guy but he had the foresight to grab a real coffee from the neighbourhood coffee shop for Tom. He handed Tom the hot Americano Misto and took a seat by the chair. They talked about how Tom was doing and the work of the parish while he was away. It was a good visit. The priest ended the visit with a well prayed prayer for Tom’s recovery. They shook hands and the young man was on his way. Tom thought that the young man would do well. He liked him a lot and was glad that he was filling in for him.

He snoozed a bit and woke to find Mrs. Conti standing over him covering him with a light blanket. He surprised her when he said good morning. He laughed at her as she jumped in surprise. She sat next to him and gave him the rundown on things at home and in the parish. She liked the young priest and thought he was working out well. She carried on a steady monologue as she did at home so he just quietly nodded as she spoke. When she had finished her talk she tucked the blanket in once more and told him she would see him at home the next day. And with that she was gone… but before a minute had passed she was back. She had forgotten to give him some of his favourite ginger snap cookies so she took them out of her purse and put them on the bed table and was gone… again. Tom just laughed. He loved Mrs. Conti and could not wait to have some of her baking.

The rest of the morning passed uneventfully. Lunch came and went and he was up for his afternoon walkabout on the circuit around the hallway. As he came around the second time he could see the Bishop knock on the door of his room and let himself in. He decided to continue his walk and see how long it took for the Bishop to come out and find him. He made two more rounds before he saw the Bishop stick his head out of the door.

“Oh there you are Tom. I just stopped by to check on you and see how you are doing. Don’t want to interrupt the therapy walk but do you have a minute we could talk?”

Tom nodded a yes and the Bishop went back in the room. The nurse saw it and laughed. She helped Tom back to the room and he found the Bishop sitting in his chair. The nurse moved the second chair over and helped Tom sit down and get situated.

“Well Tom, you seem like you are doing okay. How long do you have to be here? What kind of time are they talking about for recovery?Any extra therapy or radiation happening?”

Tom noted that he did not pause between his questions long enough for an answer and chose to answer the first question about his leaving the hospital and the second about the time off that he would need.

“I get released tomorrow and they are saying the catheter and bag will be with me for about six weeks. During that time I am to rest and let things heal. Afterwards there will be some therapy that I need to go through so I am guessing I will be out for at least 2 ½ to 3 months. Time will tell.”

The Bishop nodded and said he would pass that on to the council at the parish. He wished Tom well and said a short prayer before making his exit. Tom could not help but laugh when the Bishop left. It was such a different visit from Bill’s visit yesterday. There was no camaraderie, no real connection. It was just perfunctory duty and rather odd. He would need to take some time to think about what he was going to do once he was finished with the recovery time.

Tom ate a quiet dinner with no further visits and fell asleep early. The last thoughts that were in his mind were celebratory. In the morning he would be released and head back home. He intended to ask the urologist or the nurse when he could start smoking his pipe again. He was looking forward to getting back into as much of his rhythm as the recovery and the catheter and bag would let him.

He was awake off and on through the night and when morning came he saw his urologist sitting in the corner. When the urologist saw he was awake he came and after the morning pleasantries checked out the wound and the dressings. He looked at the drain and told Tom that would be unhooked shortly. He gave Tom a rundown of what to expect at home and how to manage the wound dressing and showering. The drip bags were already less in number than previously. The doctor told him to come in to the office for a follow up visit early the next week.Tom asked about his pipe and was relieved when the doctor told him to give it one more day and then he could resume his pipesmoking. He chuckled as he told Tom good bye and wished him a speedy recovery.

The orderly came in with his breakfast and while he ate the nurse unhooked the IV bags that remained. As soon as he finished breakfast they unhooked the drain and changed his dressings. They removed the massage socks on his feet and legs and helped him get dressed. He had brought a pair of gym shorts and tee-shirt for the trip home. They weren’t very dignified but at least they were comfortable. He rubbed his hand through his beard and slowly stood up. It was the first time walking without the IV pole. He decided to take a walk around the hallway before he ventured out of the hospital. As he was doing his second round he saw Mrs. Conti and Anna coming out of the elevator. He had no idea that they were going to pick him up and take him home.

He walked back to his room with them and packed his things in a small backpack that he had brought with him. The book went in as did the tins of tobacco. He stuffed in the clothes he had worn to the hospital.He bagged his shoes and decided to walk out in his slippers. Anna picked up the bag and Mrs. Conti picked up the cards and the pile of prescriptions that he needed to pick up on the way home. The three of them walked to the elevator and just before they got on the nurse ran to them with a wheelchair stating that it was hospital policy to wheel patients to their cars. Tom had already learned that arguing with this particular nurse was futile so he sat down in the chair and she pushed him onto the elevator.

While he and Mrs. Conti sat in the lobby with the nurse, Anna went to get her car. When she arrived they pushed Tom out to the car and helped him get into the seat – not as easy as he expected. The nurse said her farewell and the car drove away. His life post cancer surgery had begun and it would not be wrong to say that he had no idea what that meant. Life would certainly have a different rhythm he would learn a new way of life. Ah well – A Day at a Time.

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Father Tom – the decision is made


Blog by Steve Laug

The urologist had given him a month to make a decision about how he wanted to address the prostate cancer. He had given a prescription for a book for Father Tom to read to help him in the decision making process. Father Tom had read it and had also called several old friends who had already walked this road to see what they had to say about the process and which procedure they had chosen. He met with a radiologist to discuss what a radiation treatment would look like. He had learned more than he ever wanted to know about the disease and how it could be addressed. He had learned about laparoscopic surgery, radiation, implanting radiated seeds into the prostate and finally radical prostatectomy. Each one came with all of the usual medical disclaimers regarding success of that method over other ones. Each spelled out the likelihood of a return of the cancer and percentages of success. All had long lasting impact on his life after cancer. All in all it was “great news”!

He had taken a time off work to think through his decision and then called the urologist and let him know that he was going with the radical prostatectomy. It seemed to be the best solution to his mind. The receptionist made an appointment for him to come in for a consultation with the doctor. When the day came for his appointment he was resigned to go through with his decision. He loaded his pipe with his favourite Virginia, walked to his favourite coffee shop and ordered his usual Americano and took his usual route walking to the doctor’s office. He was a creature of habit and rarely varied from his normal pattern. Besides, with all the changes that lay ahead of him he needed a sense of stability that the routines of his day brought to him in this season.

He arrived at the doctor’s office early and sat outside and finished his coffee and his pipe. He had to admit he was not looking forward to this meeting with the doctor but it had to be. He tapped out his pipe on his palm, dumped the ash in the bin and put the pipe in his pocket. He took the stairs up to the third floor office and went in to the reception area. His “favourite” receptionist was working and she asked him to sit down and she went over the surgical forms with him. She explained each form as they went through them and had him sign in the appropriate place. The only form he was slightly stunned by was one where he surrendered the right for his survivors to pursue liability against the surgeon, the anesthesiologist and the hospital should he die during the procedure. He signed even that one and felt a finality descend over him.

It did not take long for the surgeon to call him in. He sat through the consultation with the doctor and asked the questions that were on his mind. The doctor wanted to do a scope of the cancer in the prostate to see more clearly the affected areas so with little ado that is what happened. It was a bit unexpected and uncomfortable to be sure but what could he do. As the procedure happened the doctor invited him to have a look at the screen to see what he was looking at. The good news was that the cancer seemed to be contained in the prostate and had not spread. The doctor was optimistic when he told Father Tom that the timing of the surgery was perfect.

He cleaned up after the procedure and the doctor walked out with him to the waiting room. The surgery was scheduled for the following Monday morning – one week away. He shook Father Tom’s hand and mentioned that between now and then he would meet with a medical historian to go over his surgical risk and also with the anesthesiologist. Father Tom took out his pipe and absentmindedly fiddled with it while the doctor was talking. The doctor saw it and made a passing comment that he would need to stop smoking a couple days before the surgery. Of all the things that had happened on that eventful day that final passing comment bugged the good father the most.

Tom stood in the hallway and loaded his pipe, totally unaware of the stares and comments that were leveled at him by people walking by. He had more on his mind than their pettiness. He stuck his pipe in his mouth and got on the elevator. When he got to the street he lit his pipe and headed home. Today he did not feel like chatting and just wanted some time in his study to think through what would happen after the surgery. He absentmindedly puffed on his pipe as he walked and soon he was at his front gate. He tapped out the pipe into his flower bed and climbed the steps to his home. He let himself in and went to his study. He reloaded his pipe, fired it up and took out the calendar. He started a list of who he needed to call to inform them of the plans on the agenda.

Once he had it done he made his calls. The first was the Bishop who assured him that they would have someone at the church the next day and he could stay throughout Father Tom’s recovery. He called the head of the Parish Council and let her know where things stood and that the Bishop was sending someone to fill in while he went through surgery and the recovery time. She asked how long and he let her know that he really had no idea – a month, maybe two. He would keep her informed. He put in a call to Anna, his late friend William’s wife. He wanted to let her know about the surgical date coming. They had kept in touch since William’s death a few years back and had become good friends. It seemed right to give her a call but in reality he needed to hear her voice and assurances.

The next five days literally flew by. He had his appointments with all of the specialists and was cleared for the Monday surgery. On Friday he received a call from the urologist himself and was told to be at the University of British Columbia Hospital by 5am to check in. His surgery was scheduled for 7am. He would be in surgery up to 3-4 hours and then recovery until he woke up. His urologist/surgeon had been able to finagle things so that he had a hospital room by himself after surgery. He was the only male scheduled for surgery on a day typically reserved for women. That would give him a few quiet days after the surgery. He hung up the phone and sat in his chair – he had the next two days off so he would have to figure out what he would do. He loaded a pipe realizing that after today he would not have another pipe until after the surgery. He wasn’t sure what he thought of that but he would follow directions.

The weekend was filled with people stopping by the house to wish him well. They filled up the time and he must have explained what was happening to him dozens of times. Sunday afternoon he closed up the house and walked to a neighbourhood restaurant for an early dinner of his favourite Thai food. He jokingly called it his last supper because he would not have anything to eat until post-surgery. As he left the gate to walk to the restaurant Anna appeared, walking toward him on the street. He waited for her and gave her a hug and a greeting. He invited her to join him for dinner and she agreed. They walked to the Thai place. He ordered a bottle of wine and they sipped it while they waited for the meal to be prepared. He talked with Anna about the surgery on Monday, airing some of his fears and concerns. She was a great listener and as he worked through his thoughts with her he found comfort. They ate their meal together and he walked her home. Normally he would have had a pipe on his walk but he was following orders and not smoking. It was not the smoke he craved now but the ritual that gave him that ability to step out of the moment and think. He headed home and got ready for bed. He pre-booked a taxi so he would not need to do it in the morning. The trip to UBC Hospital would come early.

Waking and getting to the hospital was no problem – in fact he wondered if he had slept. With the morning routine completely blown – no coffee, no pipe, no breakfast, no coffee – he was not in the best of moods when he sat down at the admissions desk. The lady at the desk was way to chipper for 5am. He mumbled his answers in response to her interview and was taken back to the pre-op room to get ready for surgery. They had him put on the surgical gown and surgical stockings and “relax” while thy hooked up the intravenous pump. He dozed off while he was waiting and when he woke the nurse came to get him to take him to surgery. He was used to being wheeled on a gurney so he was caught off guard when she told him to follow her. He took his IV hook up and walked with her to surgery. He remembered saying hello to the doctors and laying down on the table and that was it.

The next thing he knew he was waking up in recovery. He could hear the nurses talking about a restaurant they were going to after work and wondering if it was any good. He surprised them by answering that it was one of his favourite places and asking if they would bring him their leftovers. They checked his vitals and welcomed him back. They said he would be going to his room shortly. He closed his eyes and heard his surgeon ask how he was doing. The surgeon told him that everything looked very good and he had been able to remove all of the cancer. It had not metastasized into the surrounding tissue or organs so he said it had been a simpler procedure. He gave Father Tom’s shoulder a squeeze and left. Soon Tom was back to sleep and the next thing he knew he was being wheeled to his room. He had no idea of how much time had passed.

 

 

Father Tom – The urologist’s call brought an end to ordinary time


Blog by Steve Laug

Days passed quickly  following the horrendous experience of the biopsy and soon became weeks. Father Tom blissfully moved ahead, almost forgetting the experience and even beginning to be hopeful that the biopsy would come back negative. His days were filled with his work – weddings, funerals, homilies and the normal life of a priest. It was easy in the busyness to not think about the news of the biopsy that would come. He filled in the spaces between the work and sleep with his pipe and some good tobacco and enjoyed the ordinary rhythm of his life as it marched forward. He loved his work and the pattern that it provided for his days and weeks. He loved the time in the study and he loved the time with his people. It was a good life and he enjoyed it so it was easy to fill his waking moments with the work.

On Tuesday morning, he was in his study when suddenly his weekly rhythm was interrupted and things abruptly changed. He was working on his homily for the following Sunday and as always had a pipe in his mouth with a wreath of smoke encircling his head. He was reading and writing his reflections when the ringing of the phone jarred him into the present. He murmured his usual dislike of the intrusiveness of the phone and picked it up after a half-dozen rings. The woman on the other side of the phone confirmed with him that she was speaking with Father Tom and then identified herself as the clerk for the urologist’s office. She said that she had his test results. He expected that to be followed with some niceties and typical telephone banter but there was none. She went straight to the point. “You have cancer,” she said. He could have dropped the phone with the abruptness of her comment. The words struck him hard at the core of his being. He felt like he had been punched in the stomach. The fear and dread that had been held at bay for weeks broke free in those few moments. He was not prepared for this news. He was stunned and just sat there. She repeated her news and asked him what he wanted to do. She repeated herself in case he missed it. He mumbled out that he had no idea. She set an appointment for the next week for him to meet with the doctor to talk through his options and hung up the phone.

He sat there stunned, immovable and silent. He still held the phone at his ear oblivious to the beeping sound that told him the conversation was over. He did not seem to notice the noise, or maybe it just did not matter at this moment. He sat there for a long time in shocked silence. Finally he shook himself and laid down the phone. He stared into space with her words ringing in his head – “You have cancer”. He could not believe what had just happened and how it had been done. He was too stunned to even get mad. He shook himself back into the moment and sucked on the pipe in his mouth. It had long since gone out but it did not matter. The quietness in his soul was consumed in the swirl of chaos. The quiet of the study was gone. In its place was a huge cloud of uncertainty whirling around stirring up what had once been peaceful. He shook himself once more and relit his pipe. He slowly pulled the smoke into his mouth, savouring the taste of his favourite tobacco. He quietly let the ritual of lighting, puffing and sipping his pipe restore a bit of sanity to an insane moment. He knew that once he was calm he could think through what was going to happen next but that seemed far from his reach.

As expected the rhythm and cadence of the pipe brought with it the ability to distance himself from the moment for Father Tom. It allowed him to move to a place of quiet where he could objectively view what lay in front of him. It had always worked that way in his life and he counted on it to deliver that for him once more. He sat quietly puffing on his pipe and sipped his cold tea every so often in the process. He did not move other than to puff and sip his pipe and tea. Time felt like it stood still. Birds sang outside his window. The phone had long since stopped it annoying beeping and the receiver lay on its side on his desk. His notes and books were in disarray on the desk top and his chair was pushed back from the desk. He sat, oblivious to his surroundings and the passage of time. He disappeared into the quiet space the pipe created in his own soul.

As the quiet settled over him, he stood up, repacked his pipe, stuffed a tin of tobacco in his pocket and headed out the door. He needed to walk and clear his head. He knew that the appointment with the urologist would give him a clear picture of what lay ahead and what he could expect so he decided not to spend a lot of time guessing and processing the “what if’s”. He chose rather to think through the new course that his life would take with the diagnosis of prostate cancer and begin to move toward a place of acceptance. What it meant for him would somehow become clear soon enough but his acceptance of the new direction was another matter. He could not change his life back to the pre-cancer rhythms and patterns so he had to move ahead. He needed to accept the powerlessness of his new status and trust that the history of his life of faith would carry him to a place of surrender to God who was greater than himself and was truly his friend. He was not sure how to get there at the moment so a walk and time alone would help create space for him to move toward a sense of the acceptance, the assurance he needed and ultimately at least the beginnings of surrender.

He walked for a long time with no seeming direction to his walk. His internal compass had taken over and he ended up at Stanley Park. He walked along the sea wall as far as Brockton Point and sat on a bench. He reloaded his pipe and fired up the bowl as he sat looking at the sculpted, lone figure of the woman in a wetsuit sitting on a rock in the midst of the waves breaking against her pedestal. The sculptor had somehow been able to capture a calm serenity in her expression that was unchanged by the waves that broke around her. Even though she was bronze – her expression appeared unmoved by the circumstance of her setting. The artist had captured a heart of confidence and trust that had survived the years of incessant pounding waves in calm and storm since its placement in 1972. The statue was weathered but unmoved. It sat resolutely on its pedestal in the water.

As he sat contemplating the statue off the point a lot of correlations to his present predicament went through his mind. Sitting in a wreath of pipe smoke he began to connect the dots. Just as the sculptor knew the resting place of her work, he believed in a maker who knew his days as well. Just as the sculptor had carved her own resolution into the face of her statue, he knew that his life had been sculpted through the ordinary time of his life in preparation for the struggles that lay ahead of him. He began so slow down the cadence of his pipe and a sense of resolve began to displace the chaos as he continued to observe.

He had no idea how much time had passed but knew he had come to some peace with his next challenge while sitting in the shadow of the statue. He quietly breathed the words of the Serenity Prayer as he prepared to move on.

God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
and Wisdom to know the difference.

He stood, tamped his pipe, relit it and began the walk around the point. He knew that he had made some progress in his thinking because he was hungry. He checked his watch and saw that it was already late in the afternoon. He had eaten nothing all day. He knew there was a great restaurant at lodge in the centre of the park. He had enjoyed eating there in the past. The food was good and the setting relaxing. It would not take too long to walk there and he could enjoy a good meal and a good pint. He also knew that the bus stop for a quicker trip home was not far from the restaurant. He could relax with a good meal and bus home afterward. He made his way to the door, found a quiet seat on the patio looking over the park and ordered his dinner and a pint. It was good food and did not disappoint him. He finished the meal, paid the bill and loaded another pipe. He went out the door and walked to the bus stop. While he waited for the  bus he enjoyed his pipe.

It did not take too long to get home and when he arrived he saw that Mrs. Conti had been there and left a note for him. She had put some food that she had prepared in the refrigerator. He figured he would eat it the next day. She was very kind to him and understanding of his idiosyncrasies. She also mentioned in her note that the urologist had called to change the appointment to the next morning. He needed to be at the office on Broadway near Vancouver General Hospital by 10am the next day. He poured himself a scotch, reloaded his pipe and went into the parlour to sit and enjoy the pipe and drink. He sat in his chair and sipped on both the drink and the pipe. It was good to be able to be free of the initial paralysis caused the news and face it head on. He resolved that he would not spend a lot of time worrying about the morning’s appointment. It was good enough to know that tomorrow he would get informed about what was next on the agenda. He finished his drink and his pipe and laid them aside. He made his way up the stairs to bed and actually fell quickly to sleep.

He woke in the morning and did his morning ritual – prayers, coffee and pipe before his shower. He finished those and dressed for the urology appointment. He filled another pipe went out the front door. He lit it before heading down the steps and quickly made his way to the street to walk to the appointment. It would not take too long to get there so he could grab a coffee on his way there. He was ready to learn about this new chapter of his life and move to accepting what it would mean for him. It would have been too much to say that the unknown did not scare him or make him nervous; however he was ready to enter this part of life knowing that the work he had done on the previous day had given him a sense of serenity. He stopped by and visited his favourite barrista and got his usual Americano Misto. He paused outside the door to relight his pipe and continued down Broadway to the Doctor’s office. He sat on the bus bench outside the door of the medical centre and finished both the coffee and the pipe. He had plenty of time before his appointment and to be honest, though he wanted to know he still did not want to rush.

When he finished he put the coffee cup in the trash and his pipe in his pocket and caught the elevator to the third floor to meet “his urologist”. When he came through the door the clerk he had spoken to asked him to sign in and take a seat. It was not long before the doctor came out to get him. He was a little man dressed in scrubs with a grin on his face. It was the kind of face that showed he walked through life bemused. Together they walked back to an examination room. He took a seat and the Doctor closed the door. He was far less abrupt than his clerk. Father Tom told him of the shocking phone call and the Doctor chuckled and said it was hard to get good help. He then walked Tom through the options ahead of him. Really there were two choices – one was radiation of the cancer cells in his prostate with relative success and the other was a radical prostectomy – cutting into his abdomen and removing the cancerous gland. Ultimately the choice was his to make but the Doctor said he personally leaned to the surgical solution as he had seen excellent results with little or no recurrence of the cancer. He told Father Tom that he would give him a month to think over the options and talk with people. Once he made up his mind on the option for him he could call and they would proceed. He prescribed a book called “Life with Prostate Cancer” and gave him a range of dates to book his follow-up appointment. He ended the visit with the encouraging words “I can fix this for you. This is what I am very good at. Talk with you soon.” With those words he left the room and the appointment was over.

Tom left the examination room and made the next appointment at the desk on his way out. He wanted to get this over with and was already leaning toward having the surgery. He figured that it would not hurt to read the book the doctor has spoken about and call some of his friends who had already gone through this. They would help give him an informed perspective on what was ahead for him. He took the elevator downstairs to the drug store and bought the book that had been recommended. Even the title reminded him of the horrid posters in the biopsy area at the hospital – Life with Prostate Cancer. He glanced through the titles of the chapters and figured it would give him a clear picture of what lay ahead for him. He put the book in his coat pocket and pulled out his pipe. Under the watchful eye of the pharmacist he nodded and went outdoors. He filled his pipe and lit it.

He stood outside on the sidewalk puffing while his pipe began to smolder. He thought about his options for the day. It was only a little after 11am and he had the afternoon ahead of him with no more appointments. He was not far from his favourite tobacconist so he thought would be a good option for him. He made up his mind and started his walk to the shop. As he walked there was a an internal struggle going on inside of him – part was dreading even dealing with the future ahead of him and another part doggedly wanted to move forward. It was the proverbial battle denial and facing the truth. He decided to put it aside for a bit, he needed a break before he tried to figure things out and read the book. From the chapter headings he knew that it would clearly spell out the path ahead, but he was not ready for that. He tamped and relit his pipe walked down the hill to the tobacco shop. Perhaps he would find one of the crew there he could speak with… no matter. Time would tell.

Father Tom – Quieting his soul and disappearing into the smoke


Story by Steve Laug

Father Tom sat in his chair late into the evening smoking his pipe and trying to quiet his mind regarding the biopsy that he would undergo at the hospital early the next morning. He sipped a glass of scotch and his pipe – one in each hand. He was quite unfocused on the process of his pipe or his scotch as he worked the fact that he needed a biopsy over in his mind. He realized that he truly had no idea what to expect. Time disappeared quickly as he worked through things. Soon he was mindlessly fiddling with an empty glass, having even crunched the remaining ice cubes. His pipe was also empty and he continued to suck on it. He seemed oblivious to time as it passed. He nodded off, his hand relaxed and the empty glass fell and rolled under the chair. He fell deeper into sleep and the pipe slid out of his mouth and landed in his lap spilling ash all the way down his cardigan and pants. He was sound asleep.

Suddenly, he was awake. He was disoriented and had no idea what time it was. He looked at the clock on the mantle. He jumped up with a start when he realized that it read 8am. His appointment at Vancouver General Hospital was at 9:30 so he would have to get moving. He looked down and saw the pipe upside down on his lap and the glass on the floor. He laughed at himself and picked them up and carried them to the kitchen. He dusted off the ash on his cardigan and pants over the trash bin and tipped the remaining dottle out of the bowl into the bin. He put the glass in the sink. He headed to the shower to try to wake up and clear his head before getting ready to go.

After a quick shower, he dressed, ate a quick breakfast and packed his pipe for his walk to Vancouver General Hospital. Father Tom dawdled a bit on the walk to the hospital because he really did not want to go. He stopped for a coffee at a neighbourhood shop and talked with his favourite barista while she made his coffee. He took it with him, relit his pipe and continued his meandering walk to the hospital.  He nursed the coffee and his pipe for most of the walk. He was in no rush to get to the biopsy because he really had no idea what was about to happen to him. The only thing that he was certain of was that he was not looking forward to it. He purposely kept himself ignorant of the process because he knew that it would only create unnecessary worries for him. He had learned that for him there were times when ignorance was the key to a bit of peace.

When he arrived at the hospital he was a few minutes early. He put the empty coffee cup in the bin and his pipe in his pocket. He went to the Information Desk on the first floor near the entrance and checked in. The receptionist sent him to the deep recesses of the basement in the older part of the hospital. She gave him a map starting with a “You are here” spot and mapping out his route. He decided to take the stairs to the basement in order to prolong the walk. At this point he really did not care if he was a few minutes late so he dawdled once more. When he got to the doors to the area where his biopsy would be performed he pushed them open and entered an area of the hospital that he had never visited before in all the years he had been living and working in this parish.

The decor of the place was jarring, maybe even a little frightening as he walked into the sterile area. The walls were covered by many posters proclaiming that there was life after prostate cancer, there were support groups to help cancer survivors walk in the new life they were living post cancer… and on and on went the signs and posters. He must have looked like a deer in the headlights, with his eyes wide open as they passed over each new poster. He shook his head thinking that he was not ready for this sensory overload. It overwhelmed him as he stood there just inside the door for what seem like an eternity. Finally, he roused himself and checked to make sure that his pipe was in his pocket and made his way to check in at the nurses’ station. He was given a dressing room number and two “wonderful” backless gowns. The nurse directed him to use one of the gowns as a house coat on top of the first backless one. He found his “undressing” room and stripped down as directed. He put on the shapeless gowns, left his clothes in the room, locked the door and went to the room for his procedure.

He was greeted by a Samoan nurse who was preparing the room for the biopsy. She showed him where he would lie during the test and then walked him through the process he would be experiencing. She showed him the device that would be used to fire probes into his prostate that would retrieve biopsy plugs of tissue. She said that there would be seven of the probes sent into the prostate. She then cocked the tool and pulled the trigger to show him the sound. To his ears the sound was like a gun shot that echoed in the room and it caught him off guard. She told him he would have to lie absolutely still with no movement (even flinching) if they were to finish without complications. He was not sure that would be even possible. Inside he was shaking and wondering how in the world he would be able to do it. She had him lie on his side facing the wall and wait for the doctor. Her parting comment was that he could stare at the mountain scene on the wall and let it quiet him. He mumbled under his breath that the only thing that would quiet him was if the “gun” had a silencer or better yet if he could have a pipe while they did the biopsy. She left him by himself looking at the wall and worrying.

It was not long before the doctor entered the room. She introduced herself as Dr. Wong – a very Chinese name – with a thick Australian accent. She talked him through the process once again then had him lie quietly while she inserted biopsy stick. She repeated the instruction to lie quietly several times. She counted down the first of seven shots of the stick. It was all he could do not to jump. She continued with the next six rounds and when she finished she told him he could sit up. She asked if he wanted to see the biopsy plugs and he said yes. She magnified them on the computer screen in front of her. She was mildly encouraging but gave him no information on her thoughts about whether there was cancer or not. She took her files and left him in the room. He sat on the edge of the bed long enough to catch his breath. As soon as he could he went back to the “undressing” room and got dressed in his own clothes.

He threw the backless gowns in the laundry basket by his door and checked out at the nurses’ station. The clerk told him that his urologist would let him know the results within the next week. He shook his head thinking to himself that he had never known a urologist in the past and to call one “his” now seemed like a concession that he was not yet willing to make. He could not wait to get outside and put this whole experience behind him. It was one of the most unpleasant experiences of at least his adult life. He hurried out the doors, up the stairs, through the lobby and outdoors. He covered the distance much quicker than when he had entered. He took a deep breath and reached for his pipe. He needed a pipe and a pint. He stood outside the doors and loaded his pipe and lit it. He felt the comfort that came with the familiar rhythm of loading and lighting his pipe begin to quiet the chaos in his mind. He tamped the bowl, relit it and headed to his favourite local to sit on the patio where he could sip a favourite pint and his pipe. He took a deep breath and realized that he was still shaking as he recalled the gunshot sounds of the biopsy stick. He did not think he would ever forget that sound.

It did not take too long to get to his spot. He took a table at the back of the patio, ordered a pint of Guinness and disappeared into the smoke of his pipe. He really did not want to talk with anyone at the moment. What he needed was quiet to process his experience and try to compartmentalize the uncomfortableness of the horrible experience. He was certain that a thick wreath of smoke would discourage most people who would feel the need to come and talk. As the pipe began to smolder and burn he sipped his pint. He found that his shaking began to subside and he was able to put the experience aside – at least for the moment. He felt rather than heard his quiet prayer of surrender and confession of trust in this very unordinary time in his life. Tomorrow would be another day and he would meet its challenges when they came rather than presume he could somehow predict them and deal with them ahead of time. Yes it was good to sit with his pipe and a pint – they were just what he needed. They provided a familiar, safe place for him to move into as he quieted his soul and set aside the experience of the morning. Soon he was sipping on both and relaxing in his corner, lost in a cloud of his own smoke.

Father Tom – Thinking through the news, surprised by a gift


Blog by Steve Laug

Father Tom woke up and was surprised to find that he had fallen asleep in his recliner the evening before. He remembered sipping a scotch and his pipe while thinking through the news that the doctor had given him. Even as he awoke he realized that he wanted to talk with Doctor Mac when he returned to find out a bit more clearly what he was facing. He remembered that the biopsy and scans were scheduled before Mac returned. He sighed and began to feel a bit more awake. He wondered what had happened to the scotch and the pipe. He looked down on his lap and had to laugh. His pipe had fallen out of his mouth and landed upright between his legs. He must have laid the scotch on the table before he went to sleep because it was sitting on the table next to the chair.

He put the pipe on the table next to him, stood up and stretched out the inevitable kinks that come from sleeping in a chair. He took the glass to the kitchen and made some coffee. He went to the shower while the coffee was brewing and washed away the remnants of sleep. He dried off and stood looking at himself in the mirror thinking how quickly life could change. Just yesterday as he stood in this same place he was just apprehensive as he always was when he had to go to the doctor. But today he carried with him the news of yesterday – he potentially had cancer. The awkwardness of the locum made it seem to him that potentially was a weak word and that she had believed that he did indeed have cancer. Cancer… what an awful word that conjured up many ghosts for him. He thought of all the friends he had buried who had succumbed to cancer. He knew that prostate cancer was one of the “better” cancers but it was still cancer.

The beep of the coffee pot announcing that his coffee was ready brought him out of his motionlessness. He quickly dressed, took his meds and went to the kitchen for his coffee. He filled his favourite mug with the hot brew, added a bit of cream and went back to the parlour. He picked up his pipe from the table, cleaned out the dottle in an ashtray, ran a pipe cleaner through the airway and reached for some Virginia tobacco to light up. He packed his bowl while sipping his coffee and when everything was right he touched the flame of his lighter to the tobacco. Soon he was wreathed in smoke, sipping his pipe and his coffee. He had decided that today would be a day of rest – a day when he would not go to the office or visit folks. He needed time to process what was ahead of him. He sat in silence letting the pipe and coffee both calm and waken him. He was in no rush today so the quiet was good for him.

When he had finished his coffee he refilled his pipe and got ready for a walk around the neighbourhood. He put the coffee cup in the kitchen sink, put on his jacket and cap and headed out the front door. He locked the door behind him, turned and stood on his front porch long enough to observe the life on the street in front of his house. He tamped and relit the pipe and headed down the steps and out the gate. He had decided to head over to the park around the corner from his house. There was a nice bench there and the sunny day would make that a great spot to stop for a while and think. He walked to the far corner of the park and settled on the bench under the tree there. He tamped and relit the pipe. Once again his mind went over the news that seemed to interrupt his thoughts repeatedly since yesterday. He worked over the implications of the news. He knew that nothing was certain until after the biopsy but he believed in working through the worst case scenarios first. He knew that he had lots of holiday time left because he rarely took any time off. He also could feasibly take a leave of absence to go through the recovery… hmm he thought recovery. There were just too many unknowns for him to wrap his head around. Would he need surgery or radiation or…? He had no idea. He repeated his 3rd Step Prayer of Surrender to God and puffed quietly on his pipe.

As the smoke drifted around his head and up into the trees he felt a deep quietness begin to settle into his soul. The prayer and the pipe together worked to quiet him. He knew that nothing was certain – not the cancer, not the treatment regimen, not health, not work and certainly not life. He let the uncertainty go and was able to empty his head. The smoke from his pipe was almost prayerful as it curled heavenward. It was not impeded by branches or obstacles and he had a deep sense of being heard. He sat quietly just sipping the smoke from his pipe until the bowl was empty of all but ashes. Even then he continued to sit for a while. If you had seen him that morning you would have seen and older gent with a pipe in his mouth that had gone out, a distant look in his eye and a quiet, relaxed posture sitting on the park bench.

A pair of crows flew by and their cawing called him back to the moment. He tipped out the ash from his bowl and absentmindedly put the empty pipe in his mouth. He stood up and walked up the hill and out of the park. He thought he might head over to the pipe shop and pick up some pipe cleaners and see if there was anyone there he could chat with. Maybe he would pick up another tin of tobacco but time would tell. He had a couple of lane way paths that were a short cut to the shop so he headed in that direction. He walked along quietly. His mind was no longer spinning as the time alone with his pipe and prayer had come together to bring quiet. He enjoyed the sunny day and the silence. This combination was something he sought and savoured, so the moment was perfect.

He turned down the first lane way on his short cut across the neighbourhood. He stopped and reloaded his pipe, lit it, tamped and relit it. Once it was burning well he continued on his way. Sometimes he would kick rocks or debris on the ground just for fun – reliving a childhood habit of kicking stones or cans as he walked. He kicked a crumpled bag that lay on the side of the lane expecting to hear the crackle of paper but instead it was quite solid. It had more of a thunk sound like there was a can in the bag. He was used to seeing bags in the gutters and lane ways around his home so he figured it was just an empty that someone had thrown there. He figured he would pick it up and put it in a bin nearby so he bent down to grab it. The bag was a bit heavier than just an empty can so it made him wonder what was inside. He opened the bag and peered into it. To his surprise there in the bottom of the bag laid a small round tin. It was upside down so the only thing he saw was the small price tag on the bottom. It looked like it was a tobacco tin. But there was only one way to know for sure. His curiosity got the better of him and he tipped the contents of the bag into his other hand. He had a hard time believing what was in his hand, but there it was – a sealed tin of Dunhill’s Elizabethan Mixture.

He turned the tin over in his hands examining it and he could see that the tax stamp was unbroken. He looked around to see if there anyone in the lane that could have dropped it. But the lane was empty of people other than him. There was no receipt or anything in the bag to give him a clue as to who had left the tin behind. The bag was crumpled up as if it had been pitched so it seemed like it was ownerless. It looked like it had become his. If you are a pipeman then you can imagine where his mind went now. All thoughts of his cancer or anything else were left behind. All thoughts of heading to the pipe shop were left behind. All thoughts regarding the future were left behind and he was immersed in the moment. He turned the tin over in his hands. He loved a good mixture of Perique and darkened Virginias and this was blend he enjoyed. He kept walking as he knew there was a park bench not too far away and he intended to savour the bounty of this new tin and enjoy the morning.

He got to the bench in short order. It was a great place to watch the world pass by while he enjoyed a bowl. It was not near a bus stop so he could safely smoke without being bothered by others. He looked the tin over to see if he could get a feel for the date of it… he was surprised to see that it was made by Murray’s so it was an older tin. He felt even more blessed than before – not only was it a tobacco he liked, but it also was an older tin which he liked even better. He popped the tin open with a quarter he had in his pocket and heard the characteristic puff of air as the lid lifted. He savoured the pungent aroma of the mixture and laid the lid aside. He opened the paper liner, lifted the card, held the tin to his nose and inhaled the aromas of the tobacco. To his mind there was nothing like the rich smells of a freshly opened tin of tobacco.

He loaded his pipe with a bowl of the new tobacco, tamped it lightly and gave a charring light. He tamped again and gave it another light. The tobacco caught fire and began its slow steady burn while sipped and tasted the richness of the older blend. It was a really good smoke. Soon he was lost in identifying the flavours of each of the tobaccos that made up the blend. It was a ritual that he always went through with a new tin of tobacco. It never mattered if it was one that he had before or if it was something new to him. It was a challenge to try to figure out the components of a blend as he smoked it. He sipped the smoke and let each part play its role on his tongue and mouth. All other thoughts were gone from his mind as he was lost in the moment.

When he finished the bowl, having lost all track of time he reached for his watch only to find that in the morning rush he had forgotten to put it on. He did not even have a cell phone to check. He rose from the bench and walked down the hill to the nearest Vietnamese restaurant. He suddenly realized that he had not eaten breakfast and his stomach reminded him. When he arrived he nodded greetings to his neighbours and ordered his favourite pho with meat balls and rare beef. He sipped the tea that they brought him and cleaned out his pipe on the extra napkin. He ran pipe cleaners through the stem and airway, folded them, swabbed out the bowl and put them on the napkin as well. He folded the napkin and laid it aside while he sipped his tea. He was looking forward to his bowl of soup.

The waitress served the large soup and he quietly sat and finished his lunch. He was finally at peace with what lay ahead of him. It amused him how easily a tin of tobacco could change his whole perspective. But as he thought about it he realised that the pipe and the prayer had begun the process of his surrender of something beyond his control and the tin of tobacco had merely taken his attention at the right time… ah well time to head out. He thought he might head down to the tobacco shop after all and see what they had on their shelves. He was up for a day out on a walk about. He reloaded his pipe, paid his bill and headed outdoors. He stood in the door way and lit the pipe and waited until he had a good coal going before walking. He was enjoying the day. People walked by and nodded their hellos; one older woman even said she loved the smell of his pipe as it reminded her of her dad. He stood quietly waiting for the tobacco to start burning well before he walked on.

Once the pipe was burning well, he tamped his pipe, relit it and started down the next lane way on his trek across the neighbourhood to his favourite pipe shop. Yes indeed, though much was still uncertain in terms of the days ahead for him, there was a lot to be thankful for.

 

 

 

 

 

Father Tom – Life in Ordinary Time – Interrupted


Blog by Steve Laug

I have been working on a few Father Tom stories that address some of the inevitable issues of growing older. This is the link to the first one (https://rebornpipes.com/2016/05/19/father-tom-after-the-prayers-have-been-said/). The second one looks at a health issue that I have gone through and survived (and I am sure others of you have as well). I reflect on how the pipe ritual of loading, lighting and tamping seems to bring calm and enable perspective in an otherwise tumultuous experience. The act of slowly smoking the pipe brings quietude that makes room for clarity when processing these and other issues. Thanks for reading. — Steve

When he left the house he had enough time for a leisurely walk to his doctor’s office. He could stop along the way and grab a coffee and sip it as he walked. He could puff on his pipe and as he was pretty much oblivious to the anti-smoking folks he would be uninterrupted in his quiet. He had unconsciously put on his clerical shirt and collar this morning after breakfast but it would serve him well. Nothing was to be avoided more in Vancouver than someone walking down the street looking like a priest. It almost guaranteed that he would be left alone and could smoke his pipe without intrusion.

The path he had chosen took him through the Olympic Village and along the water front of False Creek. He ambled along deep in thought enjoying the slight breeze and the cool of the morning. He was smoking a dark Virginia flake that he had lightly rubbed out and stuffed in his pipe. He had learned that trick somewhere along the way. Once it was smoldering it was a good long smoke and the flavours shifted and changed as the fire burned through the various mixed strands of tobacco in the bowl. He slowly puffed his pipe as was his habit – he did not have to think about it any more it was just normal for him. Some people puffed to the cadence of their pace as they walked but he had learned to separate the two and just slowly savoured the tobacco as he walked.

He was not purposely dragging his heals, he just wanted to take the time to process and think through what may be ahead of him at the appointment with his doctor. The walk was perfect for processing and the pipe provided the smoke screen that gave him space to quietly work through things. Strangely enough his mind had not gone to the “what ifs” but rather he had spent some time reflecting on his life. He had to admit that it had been amazingly uneventful for an aging priest in his mid sixties. He had spent the better part of 35 years as a parish priest in a variety of locations in British Columbia, Canada and a young trainee for the priesthood before that. Even his upbringing to get him to the point of entering the priesthood had been unremarkable. He could easily say that his life had been lived in ordinary time – no real interruptions or troubles other than the occasional bumps in the road relationally or within the parish. But truly he had faithfully and dutifully walked/plodded through the years. Until now his health had also proceeded along quietly and oddly uneventful. He was thankful for that.

Despite the long walk, Father Tom arrived at the doctor’s office early. He sat on the wall in back of the office and finished up the bowl of tobacco he was smoking. He quieted the intrusive white coat shakes that were vibrating through him by letting the pipe do its magic. As he puffed slowly on his pipe he found his anxiety lessening and his heart quieting. When he finished the bowl he went in and greeted the woman at the desk and took his place on the Chesterfield in the office underneath the huge Rodin painting of the dancing women. He closed his eyes and sat quietly, unconsciously fidgeting with his pipe in his pocket. He stirred when he heard the receptionist tell him the doctor would see him now and he could go back.

As he walked down the hallway he stuck his pipe in his mouth – it was an unconscious action on his part and certainly a way of giving himself some comfort. As he walked into the office he had a vague memory that the doctor had said he would be away. The person sitting at his desk was a locum who was filling in for him. When Father Tom came into the office the doctor turned to greet him. Now the problems began…she was obviously uncomfortable. He did not know if it was the collar or the pipe hanging in his mouth or what, but she did not seem able bring herself to tell him about the tests. She fumbled around with the papers on her desk and had a hard time looking him in the eye. Finally, she commented that the results of his blood work were back and there were some concerns. That was it and she left him hanging without continuing. It was awkward to say the least. There was a silence that seemed really long to Father Tom. She sat looking down and he stood in the doorway waiting. He made his way to the chair beside the desk and sat down. Still nothing was forthcoming.

To help her get to the point he started guessing – was it the thyroid test? No. The liver and kidney specific tests? No. The blood chemistry in terms of platelets and white cells? No. Hemoglobin tests? Cholesterol? No. Diabetes? No. He went through each test that he had undergone and to each one her response was no. Finally, he got to the last of the list after all of the above elicited a negative response. He knew before he asked, by process of elimination that the answer would be yes. So he as if was the PSA test – the Prostate Specific Antigen tests which contained markers for Prostate cancer… slowly she nodded yes. No further explanation seemed to be forthcoming so he asked what it meant… she swallowed and said that the numbers had shown a significant increase. What did that mean? No answer… he had enough, he stood and said if she was done he was leaving and would wait until his regular doc came home. She said no… she wanted to schedule a biopsy and an appointment with a urologist for him before he left the office. He sat back down and looked at her… what does that mean? Is there cancer? Again no answer… this was absolutely crazy. He was stymied with what to do next so he just sat there.

She got up and left him sitting there. She did not come back so he walked out to the waiting room and the receptionist. She at least was communicative and handed him his two appointment cards. The first was for the biopsy that she had scheduled for early the next morning and the other for the urologist on Monday afternoon the following week. She assured him that the urologist was very good and a colleague of his regular doctor. She bade him goodbye as the phone rang. He sat on the edge of the Chesterfield and reloaded his pipe. He put the pipe in the pouch of tobacco and pushed it into the bowl. It took longer than usual this time around but he had done it for so long he did not have to think about it. His mind was just whirling.

One of the other patients sitting in the waiting room told him that the office was a no smoking environment. He did not even acknowledge her when she spoke, for he was too numb to care. Once the bowl was right and he tested the draw he rose to his feet and went out the door. He lit his pipe and stood in the entry way puffing on the pipe until he got a good burn going. He started walking home in a thick cloud of smoke. This time he took a straighter path home – up Arbutus to Broadway. Once he was on Broadway he walked until he got to Granville Street. At Granville he stopped a small pub and ordered a pint and sat in the sidewalk café. He had no idea what time it was as his mind was swirling. He finished his pint and relit his pipe. He made his way to 16th Avenue and walked East until he got to Main Street. He was not far from home now but he could not keep up with his own thoughts…he sat on a park bench on 16th in the park between Main and Fraser. The lack of information he had been given rattled him and his normal tendency to assume the worst was not helpful. His head was spinning and he could not quiet his fears. He quietly recited the Serenity Prayer as he sat there. Long ago he had memorized the long version of the prayer as he found that the second half gave him much hope and expressed the desire of his heart. It was that version that he recited there in the park.

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time;
enjoying one moment at a time;
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
forever in the next.
Amen.

He took a deep breath and slowly let the breath out. He felt a calmness coming back over him that had deserted him since he had received the news. It was a calmness born not of denial but of trust. H repacked his pipe and slowly puffed away while his thoughts became more focused. He knew the “C” word was not final until after the biopsy and the appointment with the urologist but it felt final to him. He would need to set aside the what ifs until that time as they were unproductive now. He knew that whatever happened in the next few days, that his until now ordinary life had certainly been interrupted. All of the ordinary life experiences he had enumerated previously during the walk to the doctor, his quiet uneventful life, suddenly faded into the mist of the potential threat that reared up in front of him now. It seemed strange that only a few hours before he had found comfort in his rituals of the morning. Now that morning seemed ages ago and he had been reeling inside. Somehow the ritual of the pipe and the prayer had brought a new calm over him.

If you had been near by you would have heard him repeat “living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time…trusting…”. You would have seen an elderly priest, pipe in mouth, talking to himself, deep in thought. He sat that way for a long time, nothing moving other than the imperceptible rise and fall of his chest as he puffed on his pipe. The smoke rose around him and engulfed him in his thoughts. Then suddenly it was if he came to life, he came back to the moment, tamped his pipe, stood up and started walking the remaining blocks home. His mind was quieter than it had been all day. Really nothing had changed but him. Somehow the pipe and the prayer together had given him the space to stand apart from his problem and be quiet. He knew Mrs. Conti would have prepared dinner for him and laid it out. It would be ready for his arrival. He knew that his pipes and his books would be on the table next to his chair. He knew that he had a quiet evening ahead of him. He knew he would face the biopsy in the morning. And he knew that he was not alone as he walked through this.

He went up 16th to Fraser and then up Fraser to his block. Once there he crossed Fraser and made his way home. He opened the gate and climbed the stairs. He unlocked the front door and went inside. He put his hat on the hall tree and went into the kitchen to see what was laid out for supper. He fixed a plate and took it to his chair in the parlour. He sat down, put his pipe on the rest and quietly ate his meal. A thought went through his head and he said it out loud – no, even this is still ordinary time – just interrupted.

Father Tom – After the prayers have been said


Blog by Steve Laug

Avatar3It has been a long time since I posted a new Father Tom story. I have been fiddling with this one for quite a while now. I think it captures the thoughts that I wanted it to so I am putting it up here for those of you who have enjoyed the earlier stories to read. I am in the process of putting the earlier Father Tom stories into a book. I had hoped that it would be finished by now – but it is not. I may well get it done this summer as I have some time that I can spend writing as my travels for work are less this year. Besides that, I have three or four more Father Tom stories that I am working on that I will post here in the days ahead.

Father Tom closed his prayer book and stood quietly as the last people left the graveside and dwindled away. There were just a few people who had come out to the graveside for the burial service of the older woman he had just committed into the ground and God’s care. She had no family and very few friends in the city. She had outlived most of her peers in her hometown and had only lived in Vancouver for a few years – not a lot of time to gather close friends.Those who had come out were an odd assortment of people from her retirement home. Even the ones that came to the cemetery were mere acquaintances and really they had no fond memories of the deceased. It seemed to Father Tom that funerals always seemed to bring out interesting spectators. He had learned this through the years of his ministry. He waited in silence by the grave as they made their way back to their cars.

It was a sunny afternoon with no wind – an unusual respite from the normal October rains. The grass was dry and the gravel paths through the Mountainview Cemetery were nicely laid out. It would be a great place for some time to walk and think. He had ridden with the funeral director to the graveside and had told him he would walk home. He was looking forward to some time alone without interruptions or demands – just the quiet that only cemeteries offer. He needed the space and time to think and reflect; and God knows that he had lots to think about today. He had received some disturbing news yesterday.

As the backhoe appeared at the graveside to refill the hole he stepped back and reached in his pocket for his pipe and pouch. He opened the pouch and loaded a bowl with some new tobacco that he was trying. It smelled wonderful and the few bowls he had smoked of it already were delightful. It was just what he needed to move him from a place of fretting to quiet. He pinched some tobacco with his fingers and stuffed it into the bowl until it full. He put the pipe in his mouth and checked the draw as he lit the tobacco with his lighter. He tamped it and relit it. The second light took and soon he stood lost in his smoke, oblivious to the sounds of the backhoe.

He mulled over the news that he had received from Doctor Mac aided by the distance that a pipe gave him. The doctor’s office had called about some of the results of his recent physical. The doctor had wanted him to go for a bit of blood work prior to the physical and he had complied. The trouble was that the lab had not sent the results in time for the doctor’s visit. That was no big deal normally. His blood work was usually clear so it had caused him no worries. But the doctor’s office had called and said they wanted him to stop by as there some concerns regarding his blood work. He always found that kind of call unnerving. His mind spun through a list of horrible possibilities. He hated that tendency in himself but that was where he always went. He hoped that the walk home through the quiet cemetery, smoking a bowl or two of tobacco would take his mind off his worries and give him some much needed perspective. The pipe always gave him the ability to look at his concerns from a distance and weigh them objectively. It was one of the reasons he loved his pipe and considered it his favoured companion.

As he walked along the path through the cemetery he was transported from the uncertainty of the doctor’s news to a place of quietude that a good pipe delivers. He was lost in the flavours, the textures of the pipe, the smells that invaded his senses and the cloud of rich smoke that gathered around his head and trailed behind him. His mind was quiet and his scattered and anxious thoughts slipped away with the cadence of puffing his pipe. Slowly he disengaged from his fears and troubles, calmed by the familiar comfort of his pipe. In the quiet space that it created he recited one of his favourite prayers from the AA Big Book – The Third Step Prayer and relaxed. The words like the smoke lifted his thoughts outward. Here are the words he prayed.

The Third Step Prayer
from page 63 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Copyright © Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.

Praying those words and puffing his pipe he made his way homeward. Finally he was able to have a bit of perspective that enabled him to cease struggling and be still in the midst of the questions that had earlier plagued him. He would face tomorrow as tomorrow came. He had well learned the lesson that each day had trouble enough in its own right to have to borrow more from tomorrow. He finished his first bowl as he crossed King Edward and headed down the hill on Fraser toward Kingsway. He paused on the north side of the cross walk and loaded another bowl of tobacco to smoke for the remainder of his walk.

When he arrived at his home, he opened the gate and climbed the stairs to his porch. Standing at his front door he found himself wondering about what to do for dinner. He had given Mrs. Conti the day off so he was on his own. He put his keys back in his pocket and sat on a chair while he surveyed the options from the comfort of his porch. He continued smoking his pipe without a thought of the concerns that had captured him in the cemetery. With his mind made up he went down the stairs, out the gate and headed up the street to his favourite Chinese noodle house. A chicken hot pot with some spring rolls on the side would do him well. He could sip some nice Oolong tea and enjoy the quiet space while he waited for his dinner. Besides that, Eva, the waitress there knew him well and knew how to keep him on his toes.

With his pipe still in his mouth he pushed open the door of the Noodle House, greeted Eva, the waitress he had come to know from years of eating in the same establishment and went to his normal booth. Eva brought him a glass of hot tea, and without a comment regarding his pipe laid a menu down in front of him. Both Eva and Tom knew he did not need the menu but it was part of their ritual. He took his pipe from his mouth and laid it down, picked up the menu and thumbed through its pages. Eva chuckled as he finished and ordered his usual. He sipped the tea and turned the pipe over in his hands while he waited for the hot pot to arrive. Once again his mind began to worry at the impending doctor’s visit but quietly repeated the prayer he had prayed earlier in the afternoon. Just as he finished Eva brought the clay pot of chicken and vegetables. She gave her standard warning as she placed in front of him, “Be careful, very hot, very hot”.

She turned and left Tom to his own devices. She had long ago learned that he liked to at least pretend he knew how to use chopsticks and the soup spoon. He picked the tools up and opened the lid of the hot pot. The aromas of the baked mixture rose to his nose and he began to navigate the bowl. He ate in silence and savoured the meal. It was always good to eat a hot pot at the Noodle House. It satisfied his hunger and left him feeling satisfied. When he finished he tamped the tobacco in his pipe, put it in his mouth and went to the counter to pay his bill. He stood inside the door and lit the pipe, waved to Eva and headed home.

He hesitated on his front porch, not wanting to go inside and have to start thinking again. So he sat on a chair and finished his bowl of tobacco and enjoyed the end of a good bowl. He tapped out his ashes over the edge of the railing and went to the front door. He turned the key in the lock and went into his home. He hung his hat and jacket on the hall tree and went to change into his comfortable clothes. He shed the collar and black priestly uniform and put on his favourite flannel shirt, cardigan and jeans. He slipped on his moccasins and headed out to the parlour. It was time to have a sip or two of good bourbon and enjoy another pipe while he read for a while. No one knocked on the door, the phone did not ring and as the pipe went out he soon fell asleep in his chair. In the morning when Mrs. Conti came in to make breakfast she found him fast asleep in his chair. He still clasped the pipe in his hand and the empty bourbon glass sat on the table next to him.

“Poor man. It must have been a hard day with the funeral and such. Not an easy job for any human being. Hmmph”, she said as she made her way to the kitchen. She went about her morning ablutions of creating Father Tom’s standard fare. She knew what he liked and as a creature of habit rarely if ever veered from his normal pattern. She made a pot of fresh coffee that brewed while she fried the bacon. She sliced some of her home made marble rye bread and prepared it for toast. She laid out the table for the breakfast and waited to cook the eggs until the good Father finished his morning ritual. She had worked for him long enough to know his routine. She knew that very soon he would make his way to the kitchen. She waited to hear him rouse and then would pour a cup of coffee and have it in hand when he came through the kitchen door.

The smell of coffee and bacon soon roused Father Tom and he sat up with a start. It took him a few moments to orient himself to where he was. He rubbed his eyes and took in the parlour and had to chuckle at himself when he realized that he had slept in his chair. He emptied the pipe that he had in his hand and refilled the bowl to smoke with his coffee. He lit the pipe and once he had a good burn on the tobacco he got up and stumbled to the kitchen for the cup of coffee. When he came through the door Mrs. Conti held out the cup of coffee to him and he took it with a nod of his head. Not a word came from his mouth. The smoke billowed from his pipe as he stood there with cup in hand. He took his first sip and sighed with contentment. Mrs. Conti had long ago learned that he did not communicate until he had had that coffee. He sipped the first cup of coffee as he made his way to the shower and finished it as he adjusted the water. He stood under the water for a long time just letting the spray wash over him; slowly but surely he began to wake up and his mind began to recognize his world.

He turned off the water and dried himself off. He brushed his teeth and then reached into the tin of tobacco that sat on the counter top. One of his habits was to leave a tin in almost every room. That way no matter what room he was in he could load a bowl. He filled the pipe, packed it and drew on it. It was perfect so he lit it with the lighter in his pocket. He ran a comb through his hair and adjusted the clothes he had on and made his way to the table. As he passed through the kitchen he could see the eggs were frying in the pan. He poured himself a refill of coffee and took a pull on the pipe. He savoured the good taste of the tobacco and sipped his second mug of coffee. He felt almost human. He finally was able to say good morning to Mrs. Conti and made his way to the breakfast table.

The place had been set; he laid down his coffee mug and took a sip of the orange juice that was waiting. He set his pipe on the table and took a deep breath. Mrs. Conti brought him a plate of bacon and eggs with a side of toast and jam. He settled into the morning ritual of breakfast. There was comfort for him in repeated patterns. He repeated the prayer from the day before and finished his breakfast. He pushed back his chair and sat for a while finishing his pipe. He was quiet and thoughtful this morning – no harm in that. He thought about getting dressed for the day and then walking to his doctor’s office. All would be okay with the impending doctor’s visit today. He would move ahead a day at a time and see what awaited him.

Before he left the table he refilled his pipe and lit it. He sat quietly for a few more minutes until he had the pipe smoldering well. He sipped on the smoke and let the cares of the day ahead fall off him. It never ceased to amaze him how the smoke of a pipe seemed to slow down his mind and give him the ability to cast off his cares. It seemed that there was something sacramental almost in the very act of smoking a pipe. Whatever it was it had the ability to lift a pipeman above his troubles and give the space needed to refocus his thoughts. He dressed and went back to the kitchen to tell Mrs. Conti he would see her later. He closed the front door behind him and headed out the gate for the walk to the appointment. The distance to the office would give him time to enjoy a bowl or maybe two and prepare for whatever news that awaited him there.