Lillian's conviction is that life is indeed good. Her childhood was
stark in many ways, but life is good. She has had very few of life's
material goods, but life is good. She has worked hard and long
throughout her life, but life is good. She has suffered loss and grief
and loneliness, but yes, life is very good!
LIFE IS GOOD BECAUSE OF BEAUTY
One of the reasons Lillian's life has been so good is because of her great delight in the arts. Where her great attraction for the arts came from is perplexing, certainly not from her childhood environment. The Torkelsons were pioneer settlers whose concerns were almost exclusively for the basic necessities of life. Needless to say, there was little time for such things as art and music. Her normal school experience began the stirring of her aesthetic heart; Mr. Griffin, one of her teachers, was responsible for some of that awakening. He read and recited poetry with such force that she remembers it to this day. She really didn't know that there was any Canadian poetry until she was in Mr. Griffin's class.
All of her life she has been moved by not only the grandeur of God's
creation, but also the beauty that man has produced - a symphony
concert, a choral program, praise to God in hymns or the sight of
great paintings. For many years, as she prayed regularly, she thanked
God for both music and colours. At one time, she was concerned
about the second commandment, "Make no graven image",
wondering if that forbade appreciation of paintings. As she studied it
though, she realized from the rest of the commandment that what was
forbidden was the worship of created things.
In a lesson at a women's retreat she described her philosophy about
beauty and creativity:
We are created in the likeness of the creator, therefore on a
finite level we can create. It is not a waste to pursue artistic or
scientific activities, because we were made able to do these
things. Each person has some talent, sometimes hidden, which
should be expressed and developed. In Exodus 31:1ff, God tells
Moses that he has "filled Bezalel with the spirit of God, with
skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts to make
artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and
set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of
craftsmanship." It is God who has given the skill and ability to
people to create beautiful things.
There is a psychological need to surround oneself with beauty
and it need not be expensive. In The Hiding Place Corrie ten
Boom mentions that her sister Betsy made her small area in the
concentration camp as attractive as possible by draping her
purple scarf over her cot. When I lived in Radville, I still
remember the beautiful cretonne curtains and bedspread that
brought light and some beauty into my little room, and kept life
from being dreary.
When Lillian talks about art, her ardent hope is that she may
influence people to see that art can enrich their lives and help them
to be better Christians. "Just as a beautiful flower can make people
rejoice and simple forms of beauty can lift the spirits, works of art in
all expressions can make us better able to cope with the stress of life
so that we can be of greater service for a longer period of time".
The Visual Arts
She recalls from her childhood that in her mother's trunk there was a copy of the painting, The Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur that she loved to look at. She took every opportunity to look into that trunk. She remembers how the power and energy of those galloping horses captured her imagination even as a little girl.
After her rich experience at university in Winnipeg in 1942/43, it has
been her practice to always visit the art galleries wherever she
travels. And what a rich experience that has been! It's difficult for her
to single out favourite artists or art works; she loves so many. She's
fascinated by the way art relates to the history of the time; in fact, she
believes art, music, poetry and drama are all the unveiling of the
period of history in which they are produced. She takes pleasure in
many different styles, from renaissance to baroque to rococo and very
much enjoys impressionist scenes.
However, she has had some favourites over the years. For several
years her favourite was Arthur Lismer's September Gale. A
windswept tree became symbolic of endurance and strength in time
of sorrow or hardship. She hung a print of it in her home and often
gained courage and peace from it.
Then for a time, it was Constable's Haywain. She said "A sparkling
clear mirror of summertime. It glows with serenity and optimism."
During a particularly stressful time in her life, she often brought out
and gazed at her slide of Raphael's Alba Madonna. The peace and
order calmed her and seemed to fill some of the needs of her soul.
She acknowledges that there are dozens of works of art that she
enjoys, each one satisfying some aspect of her being. She appreciates
the mixture of reality and fantasy in Chagall's works such as The
Birthday where lovers float through the air above the birthday cake
and flowers on a table. . . . The serenity, order and colour of
Vermeer's Young Woman With the Water Jug make a strong
impression on her. . . . The dear little child in Renoir's A Girl With a
Watering Can always brings a smile to her face. . . . Van Gogh's use
of colour for emotion and symbolism make his Starry Night one of
her favourites as well.
Rembrandt is always a favourite; she appreciates his way of using
rich, velvety colours, often browns, reds and golds, to reveal
character and emotion in works like Belshazzar's Feast and Jeremiah
Laments the Destruction of Jerusalem. She is especially drawn to the
expressiveness of the hands he pictures, in paintings like The Jewish
She even appreciates, although not enjoys, the paintings of Goya, who portrayed the horrors of war. In his The Third of May 1808, for example, he graphically depicts innocent Spanish citizens being shot by Napoleon's soldiers. This painting has been described as the most horrifying record of war made in any medium. She remembers well seeing his etchings, The Disasters of War, in a gallery. While the friend who was with her could not bear to view them, Lillian looked at each one carefully "to register more fully in my mind the horrors of war." To the question, "Why paint war?" Goya replied, " To have the pleasure of saying eternally to men that they stop being barbarians."
While she most enjoys balanced, serene paintings, she can also get a
great deal of satisfaction in studying almost all kinds of art works,
even some that, on first look, make you wonder why they were done.
She enjoys asking herself, "Why did he paint like that?" or "What is
the artist trying to tell me?". She believes that even modern art can
challenge the mind and have some benefit.
In more recent years, she gets a real lift every time she visits Lois and
Roland Olson's Pottery and Painting Gallery as she takes her daily
walk. She says, "I walk a little faster and a little lighter and have a
livelier song in my heart after such a visit."
Lillian never had the opportunity to study music as a child, but she has always responded to it. As a small child Silent Night, sung in Norwegian, always stirred her. She says, " Music relaxes me and keeps me sane, like walking does."
Her tastes are eclectic. She enjoys a great variety of musical styles,
from symphonic to Irish folk music to opera to musicals to hymns.
Strauss waltzes and violin music "touch my heart strings".Mozart is
such a favourite that she walked all over Salzburg, Austria (his
birthplace) to find a concert of his works to attend. She also enjoys
Ravel's Bolero, Dvorak's New World Symphony; Chopin piano works,
Beethoven symphonies, and on. . . and on.
Musical theatre always elicits an emotional response from her. She
is moved by opera, enjoys almost any musical and has a special
fondness for Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.
She will never forget a performance of Verdi's Aida at the Baths of
Caracalla just outside of Rome. It is a huge outdoor amphitheatre
with a stage large enough to accommodate not only the sizable cast,
but also the camels and galloping horses in the second act.
LIFE IS GOOD BECAUSE OF HUMOUR
One of Lillian's favourite quotations has long been, "This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be exceeding glad." It has been so meaningful to her that for several years she repeated this verse each morning when she got up. Her premise was that it would put her in the right frame of mind to start the day. She still repeats that verse frequently, and she still greets each day with pleasure.
She has never been guilty of taking herself too seriously, always
enjoying a good joke, especially when it has been on her as we've
already discovered. As young people, she and her friends were often
playing practical jokes on each other. She still chuckles when she
thinks about a skating party they had at Radville one winter. She had
always laughed about being the world's worst skater, but this time the
joke was on J.C. Bailey. The whole school, staff and students alike,
were at the rink in town, when Carlos suddenly appeared, arms going
in every direction, skating (sort of!) across the ice. Everyone roared,
and it especially amused Lillian.
There are two things most apt to make her laugh - the unexpected and
the understated. So her kind of joke is rather subtle. She tells one of
her favourites, "A proper English lady had a room on the third floor
of a certain rooming house. One day she came downstairs and asked
the landlady for a cup of water. When she got it she went sedately
back upstairs, but a few minutes later she came down again, asking
for another cup of water. After several more trips, the landlady
finally said, 'You're surely drinking a lot', to which the lady replied,
'Oh no. I have a fire in my room and I can't put it out.'"
She's well aware that some people wouldn't find that funny at all, but
that's alright; she thinks it's hilarious. Every time she pictures that
poor woman it tickles her funny bone all over again.
LIFE IS GOOD BECAUSE OF FRIENDS
Lillian considers herself blessed to have had a host of lifelong friends. The Black sisters, Ellen, whom she met at normal school in Regina, and Frances, that she so enjoyed in Wawota, are wonderful examples of that. She says she has never been popular in the sense of making lots of friends wherever she was, but she has always made a few very good friends in each place she has lived. Some of those have been dear friends for sixty, some even seventy years.
She's not sure what kind of people it is she makes such lasting
relationships with, except that they're loyal; they accept each other as
they are; they are either Christians or women of high moral calibre;
they agree on many things in life; they are usually optimistic; they
have an attitude of counting their blessings and they generally have
a quiet sense of humour. Perhaps most significant of all is that they
always knew they could trust each other through thick or thin.
They are also very different from each other. Ethel Rogers was an animated, energetic, fun loving person and Lillian loved that about her. Ellen on the other hand, was more quiet and contemplative, and Lillian appreciated that as well.
And then there was Signe, one of her closest friend during her teens
and early twenties. Lillian told her things she never told anyone else,
including some very deep hurts. That kind of confidentiality was rare
for Lillian. She seldom discusses private things with her friends, even
now. She's not sure why, perhaps her Scandinavian reticence showing
up again. She has a kinship with her close friends that often
transcends verbal communication. They understand things about each
other without the need to discuss it.
Clarice Hurlburt and Lavine Jelsing were her other bosom buddies
during those girlhood years. The bonds formed then continue. One
after the other of them went off to normal school, but the separations
they experienced as they moved around in their careers and
marriages, were balanced by their great joy whenever two or more of
them wound up living near each other. These four were the nucleus
of The Hungry Five who so treasured their times together at summer
Signe has gone on before them to be
with God; Lavine lives far enough
away that their meetings, while sweet,
are infrequent; but Clarice and Lillian
still live just a few miles apart, and
continue to enjoy their relationship.
They value their travels together; they
can talk easily or just as comfortably
enjoy silence together. Perhaps their
greatest bond at this time in their lives
is that they are both still very youthful
in their thinking, curious and eager to
learn and explore.
LIFE IS GOOD BECAUSE OF GOD
Art and music, humour and friends have all added significant dimensions to Lillian's life and she is very grateful for all of them. But, of course, the fundamental reason her life has been so good is the reality of God. She has a lesson called Life Is Good that she has given a number of times in different places. In it she describes the five reasons why her life is so good. Here are those reasons:
1. Because we belong to the family of God:
2. Because we are able to enjoy the beauty of God's creation, and
the creativity He has given man:
3. Because God has given us the ability to create beauty:
4. Because we have the gift of service:
5. Because we have the gift of God's love:
A good life is much more a matter of choice than circumstance.
Lillian has made that choice over and over again, when it would have
been much easier for her to wallow in self pity when life dealt her a
hard blow, to develop resentment towards those who treated her
badly or to seek (and surely find) personal fame and fortune rather
than live a life of service. She has few material symbols of success,
but the full richness of the good life she has chosen far surpasses
anything material she could have acquired.