Meeting Margaret

I readily admit to the temptation of idol worship. Not idol worship of men so much, unless their wit and intelligence is cushioned by a massive dose of humility. But women – funny, smart, influential women – they set me genuflecting.

But genuflecting is not becoming, especially in public, hinting as it does to the fact that you, the genuflector, are not yourself funny, smart and/or influential. Besides that it breaks the Second Commandment. I know this and yet when I got word that I was scheduled to be on Lorna Dueck’s Context TV show during an episode on Faith and the Environment** and that Markku and I would share the stage with Margaret Atwood – THE Margaret Atwood, author of over 40 books, winner of the Booker prize, sole subject of an entire literary society – I felt my knees start to give.

Fast forward to CBC Studios, Toronto. It is the pre-show book signing. Margaret is sitting at a table before me while I stand, lock-kneed and smiling in what I hope is a sweet, confident, friendly way – the way one might smile at a very beautiful and very intimidating Great Dane.

Margaret is signing her newest book which I’ve just purchased en route – MaddAddam. “For Thea,” she writes, because in my nervousness I’ve mumbled my name. But oh well, I won’t trouble her to correct it. Thea is a nice name. Maybe I can find someone by that name and give her this book as a present.

And then, quickly and sort of on the sly because of the long line of people stretching behind me, I give her my thin little book, Planted. And, clever woman that she is, she notices from the cover that my name is in fact not Thea, but Leah, which rhymes with Thea, but is definitely a different name. And so she turns the Th into a fanciful L and adds an h on the end and I’m grateful.

Then off to make-up where a spry middle-aged woman with something of a wood-nymph about her makes us up (which is a wonder and sets me wondering why I’ve never gone in for this make-up stuff before since she’s erased five years at least from my face….but I digress).

In make-up Margaret is warm and chatty and very funny and even sings a little song to Lorna and the rest of us, and I worry that my knees might give way.

Then it’s into the studio for the show – the same studio, by the way, where Hockey Night in Canada is filmed, a jewel of trivia which, when he hears it, makes Markku gape and look around in awe and expectancy should Don Cherry come marching in through a side door.

Margaret is on first and for most of the show. And she is very funny and very smart and therefore very articulate. And I’m glad I’m sitting down. She talks about her book Year of the Flood and about religion and the environment and the wacky fictional sect she’s created called "God’s Gardeners" – tenders of gardens, keepers of bees and wearers of flowy linen clothes. Hmmmm…

And then Markku and I are on stage – real life God’s Gardeners. Jesus followers and bird lovers. Of the potential eight questions I’ve been told will be asked of me, I get to lob back only two answers. I spent the whole plane ride out to Toronto reading and committing to memory the best of Wendell Berry (yes, I see the irony) so that I might sound half as articulate as Ms. Atwood. But no matter, because when I steal a glance at Margaret – at this accomplished and gracious author – she is positively beaming at us, her smile beatific with rapport and camaraderie. Yes, the author of The Handmaiden’s Tale – whose dystopian visions have set the most callused hearts quivering – smiles on us. We are in this together. We are all God’s Gardeners, held, with the rest of creation, in the hand of Great Love. And from that place of security and hope we are called to act with courage and strong knees.

**The show will air sometime in the new year. Watch this space for channels and times.
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