We hadn’t been to the cottage since New Years when we huddled around the wood stove at Aunt Mary’s and fought over who got to sleep beside the warm dog. Then, the river was frozen and we could play hockey in the bay. Now it was spring, and the ice was breaking up. We jumped from one jagged edge platter of ice to another. The trick was to leap over the gap and land on another ice flow instead of pushing them apart, and falling into the frigid water. I was never quite sure what outcome my brother’s were hoping for when they shouted out and reached out their hands, cheering me on.
It was thrilling. It was dangerous. It was the seventies.
Parental assessment of risk were a little different than they are today. I’m glad, it made me brave. Some of the fun we had around the water was more destructive than dangerous, to be honest. In the fall of 1972, the Canadian government banned firecrackers so my grandparents had to remove them from their little corner store in downtown Kitchener. The next spring, we set a big box filled with the slim red packages on the ice and lit them up. We did not manage to blow up the ice, but we did leave burnt cardboard and flash powder residue, where it would sink into the river during the thaw. It was not the first or the last time that our garbage would end up in the water. There is no villain really, in this story. In real life, harm is caused as much by lack of information and carelessness as it is by outright moral evil. Most of our ancestors, I suspect, like us and our parents just wanted an easier life, a better life and to let their kids have a little fun.
I teach theological ethics and I believe that we have the moral responsibility to repair the damage caused by previous generations if we are going to enjoy the good things we inherited from them. As for us going forward, our principle has to be first, do no harm. So my Watermark, the St.Lawrence River during the spring thaw, gave me a good foundation for ethical thinking which is such an important part of my life today. But I will never forget that it also gave me courage, making me brave enough to leap across the shifting gap.
My Watermark is the St.Lawrence River, on an ice flow off Wolfe island, in the spring of my childhood.