Author Archives: rosemarysnelgrove

About rosemarysnelgrove

Retired multi-worker, whose career could be termed eclectic. Teaching kindergarten, country schools, adults, secretary, administrator, facilitator, cook, traveller, social worker, thesis producer, researcher. Loves best, besides amazing husband and daughter: friends,family,rock and roll, reading matter, outdoors, art, cats and dogs, garden, photographs. Drawn to God from the beginning.

Voices of the Rainbow

Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

This is an important blog.  It’s written from the heart, by a generous-spirited young man surviving in Beirut, Lebanon, whom we have come to know through a New Canadian now living with us.  He is part of an LGBT community that is forced to remain largely ‘underground’ because their gender orientations lead regularly to arrest, detention, harsh treatment, beatings.  Iyan is a natural leader, wanting to make public his knowledge of what he and his friends contend with, and working continually to assist them in getting to safety.  He lives among those he works to help.  Several Canadian friends have connected with him and applied to sponsor his coming to Canada.  It’s a long process.   We’re hopeful.  RGS

Voices of the Rainbow, from Beirut, Lebanon

By Iyan

A friend of mine—a trans woman—got stopped recently by police and was treated very badly.  They pulled her by her hair into a car, and detained her for three days. Someone tried to rape her, and someone else took a video of her. She wasn’t allowed to eat or drink and had to beg to go to the bathroom. LGBT advocates tried to see her but no one was allowed in. Luckily her refugee application was already with the Canadian embassy—it was the reason they released her. The Canadian embassy then worked on speeding up the resettlement process, and my friend left within a few days.

Her story is the story of a community of LGBT refugees from all over the world living in Lebanon. I’m a member of this community and decided to write about it.

We gather wherever we feel safe. Most of us don’t have families anymore, because they kicked us out or because we ran away from them or from other threats. Now we’re left to depend on ourselves in a country and a community that does not accept us.

Not a month goes by where everyone is safe. Being LGBT is criminalized here, and even though the United Nations recognizes most of us as refugees, we are considered illegal. This makes everything dangerous. There are no laws to protect us—we can’t go to a police station and complain if someone beats us up, kicks us out of our home, refuses to hire us, rapes us, or threatens us. We get sent to jail for being who we are.

There are no shelters for LGBT people in Lebanon, and most of us can’t afford rent because no one will hire people like us. Even if we can afford it, landlords refuse to rent to trans people or anyone whose sexual orientation shows in the way they move, talk, or dress.

Being hungry and homeless leads many of us to sex work, where there is more abuse. We get used, beaten up, and often go unpaid, but still there’s no choice but to go back down the same road just to have a place to sleep, even if it’s only for one day—just to be given food, even if it’s only a slice of something. Friends often reach out to me in the middle of the night after being used and thrown in the street. They use WhatsApp because they can’t afford to call, and I try to reach out to any advocates I can through assistance hotlines. It becomes harder on me when I also can’t afford to make a phone call.

Some organizations arrange activities for LGBT people. They give money for transportation, so I’ve often walked to their offices and saved that money for food. Sometimes they bring us simple things like cake and juice which feel like heaven for someone who hasn’t eaten anything in a full day or more. A friend of mine used to shower at one organization, and another sleeps there because he is homeless. Away from these organizations, we are not very loved. People stare or laugh at us—or worse, attack us. We’re not respected.

Most of us are still young, and it’s such a waste to lose these precious years living like this, not getting our education. Education is something that was taken away from us. After I finished high school my family didn’t allow me to complete studying because they were afraid their reputation would be ruined if they let me out. I was locked at home for one year. I try to make up for lost time by joining any free courses the aid organizations offer, but not all of them are for LGBT people. One of my friends couldn’t attend a course because she was told that the other students wouldn’t be accepting—she would be called by a male name during the class, the very name she’s trying so hard to forget. This means we have a generation of LGBTs who are not educated enough to know how to raise their voices. They were never taught the basic things every loving family teaches their kids. Instead, they’ve been thrown into dark places, where they learn bad behaviors and attitudes. The Lebanese community in turn sees these individuals negatively, not realizing that they helped create these circumstances in the first place. It becomes one more reason on the list of reasons to reject and hurt LGBT people.

We’re all seeking a place where we can enjoy our most basic human rights: safety, health, education, and work. How can we do anything else? We have no choice but to look for a new home—where we’re not wanted dead by the family that’s supposed to love us, the community that’s supposed to support us, or the government that should provide protection over jail, abuse, or death.

 

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What Can We Do??

By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

Regarding the Last Blog – The Rant, Feb 13

All your Comments are appreciated.  Truth, in all its multiplicity, thrives on getting out there, from as many who find the words.

Having declared my stand, I can’t just leave it hanging.  I want to answer the very pertinent question:  if we don’t like the way things are going, “what do we do about it?”

It seems almost naive to think there are any options.  I think I’ve grown used to thinking there is no room for action.  That maybe is true.  The old days of protest, while effective in resistance to entering the Vietnam war, seem truly gone.  But I find I can’t sit still about my own country feeling dangerous to me.

The Silence That Fell

Why is this “what can we do?” so difficult to answer?  I think, apart from the tiredness of protest actions, we stopped having easy answers when, in 1995 we experienced the shock and dismay that followed Mike Harris taking over the Ontario Government.  [The collective “we” is used for those who were politically interested and of a liberal/progressive bent].  We were stunned and grew silent.  As Harris’s reforms were unrolled, things grew darker and the distress continued.  No more social housing was the one that rocked our household.  But it went on and on, and that era marked the beginning of some of the most awful poverty in Ontario.  And we didn’t know what to do about it.

Not that everybody rolled up their carpet and crawled away.  I did for some years.  Many others kept working at what they’d started:  to name a few, educators, human rights advocates and policy makers, national and overseas workers bringing water and medicine and information where it was needed, mediators offering options to an adversarial law system, environmental lawyers.  So many kept their hands on the wheel even as their political voices and muscle were stilled.

But the diminishing of the democratic exercise will undermine the best of human enterprise.   And as the present Government insists on its hardline course against crime and its definition of “terror”, lumping environmental protest and crazy lone-wolf attackers all together as “terrorists”, and poverty and homelessness grow: our reason is almost numbed.

Do We Need Some Digital Brainstorming?

I have never had the skills of a political strategist.  My reactions to the wrongs of my energy-years – Vietnam, poverty, First Nations deprivation, refugees, homelessness – has always been visceral.  There always seemed to be someone’s lead I could follow with energy.  Right now, as gut-clenching as my reaction to Bill C51 is, I don’t see a way to react except to write about it.  The reality that so many people, especially those under 50, don’t read newspapers or listen to news means the written word won’t reach them.  I don’t know how to reach into the culture of the young and able.

I have a modest idea. The old method of ‘brain-storming’ a problem had some virtue.  Old style was to invite an interested group to toss out random ideas about how to tackle a problem, write them all down on big visible flip-chart pages – practical, silly, crazy, whatever.  Post them around the room so all could see.  Important to not censor your thoughts before uttering them.  Vital to not criticize other’s ideas, no matter how bizarre.  Rather, let the thoughts fly out and see what might take shape out of the whole lot.

We don’t have a meeting room.  But what if we tried this on the internet??  I propose that we try some digital brainstorming.  No criticizing at first – just let the ideas come.  Let this blog’s Comments pages be filled with ideas, with fragments of an idea, with fanciful images.  If you know where some good democracy-building is going on, name the person, group, activity.

Then we can sort and criticize.  Digital brainstorming.

My husband has pointed out that there is a potential security issue in putting down publicly one’s desire to undermine the government agenda.  Wise to be aware of that.  Means we can’t brainstorm ways of overtaking the lobby of the Peace Tower.  That was a joke.

Think about how inspired the Red Square and neighbourhood pot-banging campaign in Quebec was four years ago in support of student concerns about tuition!  Conservative folk found it ridiculous but ordinary people were engaged and delighted by taking part.  What collective actions could have an Ontario flavour?

My Ideas of the Past Week – silly and serious

Here are fragments that have come to mind in the past 5 days.  Up on the flip chart!!

  • EVERY TIME you read a newspaper or magazine article that addresses the government’s assault on democratic practice, post the address on your Facebook page so others can read it.
  • Create a t-shirt that says, on the front, “Loose lips sinks civil liberties” and on the back ”Stop Bill C51”.
  • Support charities that advocate for the interests of the people they are serving. At the present time, if a registered charity does so (as did Kairos), its status as a charity, for tax donation purposes, will be removed.  People who donate won’t receive tax deductions for their donations. This can mean that the charity goes under.   I suggest we suck it up and do without the tax receipt.   And encourage those charities that should be advocating to not give up their voices. see http://www.ourwindsor.ca/opinion-story/5340278-charity-law-blocks-progress-on-issues-facing-canadians/
  • Be a vocal supporter of the Supreme Court. Its decisions are protecting our Constitutional freedoms which some legislation seeks to undermine. The Court is helping hold back the erosion of democracy.
  • Hang a little flag outside your house, containing the Canadian flag within it but also a big X across the words “CSIS spying on us”.
  • With friends who like to think, when you’re together, ask them to brainstorm their ideas- wild and woolly or whatever — about what people can do to change the direction of a government they think is wrong. Write them down.  Talk about them.
  • Look up some of the proposals for a modernized electoral system – one that is closer to reflecting the actual population in a riding. Once you have a good one, pepper your MP with requests for him to consider putting it forward as a Private Member’s Bill.
  • Writing letters and e-mails: always a good tactic
  • When people speak of being unsafe and needing CSIS to spy on us, say, “Bill C51 is overkill. Your chance of being killed by a falling brick is a hundred times greater than of being killed by a terrorist”.

So please add your ideas about What We Can Do. Whatever comes to mind…

Post-Script:

A New Blog Just For Action Thinking

This Bigger Circle blog will maintain its original intent and not go expressly political.  The intention remains to explore the places where faith and the world intersect, the experiences of people working out their paths in the world, news and discussion about hopeful directions.  I think it’s of value and don’t want it to die.  Some of you might even consider contributing articles.

BUT.  A new blog with be started, called A Bigger Circle Activ.  It will be informally political, aimed at what we can do about our country moving in a direction that we think is wrong and harmful.  Unfortunately can’t do this until I learn how, but will get busy on it.  May turn up in your Mailbox.

 

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An Unapologetic Rant

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

I believe we, as Canadians, as world citizens, are on the verge of losing control of a democracy we take for granted.

Why Alarm Now??
Forty and fifty years ago, when hippies were seen as harbingers of anarchism and anti-war protesters were feared for opening the doors to Communism, the alarm of the Right was likely akin to how I feel now. But the continuing move to the Right in Canada, to Law and Order thinking, and to a shrinking of a generous national outreach to people in need within and outside our borders, has reached a point where I feel the presence of a slippery slope toward something dark and wrong.

So what’s new? Polarized politics continually swing like a heavy pendulum, grinding to one side, and taking decades to grind to the other. Left and right – eternally fighting. One hopes for another viewpoint about the possibilities for the world, drawing from past and present toward a different future [distributive justice and the philosopher John Rawls suggest one positive direction].

But meanwhile, things don’t stand still while we figure them out.

History Underpins my Present Fears

I am a child of wartime, and always a little paranoid about fascism, sensing danger in the rise of fearful talk about enemies and the need for police-state measures. My fears have arisen to counter the fears and proposed solutions of the Right. But being paranoid doesn’t mean that they aren’t out to get you, as some wise guy once said. Democracy has to be worked at and safeguarded. We could lose it – that’s not paranoia.

I have always tried to understand how the German people, who had contributed so mightily to intelligent civilization, allowed the rise of the far Right in the 1930’s. Fear so powerful as to undermine clear thinking was contagious and won the day. Shaky economics and a loud clash of political views, as Communists noisily offered up a new order, must have confused many. Stability and a powerful leader would seem like salvation. Were people ready to believe anything, even that Hitler was a fine guy, because of fear, and superb propaganda and hypocrisy?

Hypocrisy – As Old As The Hills

They say the first casualty of war is truth. While we’re not at war, we’re subject to a series of hypocrisies, the persistence of which over time doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t note them. There is a willingness on the part of the Government to fudge the truth of things. This keeps us uncertain about what our country is doing out there in the world.

The military is lauded, even loved, by our Leader. Yet, even as they drive along the 401 Highway of Heroes, retired soldiers may be headed for more rejection of their requests for assistance in covering the financial and psychic costs of severe wounds to body and mind. Our government boosts the man in uniform until he’s no longer able to hoist the weapon, muster the will to damage or destroy. Then he’s pretty much on his own. I call this a lie being told. There is no real honourable love for the military.

What is the advantage in glorifying the military? Is it meant to keep us well-disposed to men in uniform? Is it as simple as our Leader wanting to know he can wield a big stick if he thinks he has to? The rhetoric about Canada always includes reference to our peaceful nation, our peaceful values. As Canadians, we have indeed loved our peace-keepers. But where are they? All retired? Why are Canadians again in the midst of the fighting in a land with which we’re not at war? Are these the first choices of a peace-loving nation?

Another area of double-speak is the inciting of fear of crime. A heavy-handed push for increased punishment and incarceration go forward in the face of decreased crime rates. Our prisons utilize a massive amount of solitary confinement (beyond that of most western countries), while data on the brain damage resulting from this method and the positive results of very different methods are ignored. Facts are ignored. Punish those who behave badly – horribly and indefinitely. The government talk is of creating greater safety on the streets, but policies that create mental malfunction are nurtured in the system.

Disjoints between our leader’s slogans and honourable follow-through offend my reason.

Double-Speak Isn’t the Worst of Our Situation

Four red lights have gone off for me.

 The avoidance of debate
 The shutting down of sources of information
 Intentional dismantling of institutions supporting Canadian community
 Developing the means of repressing dissent

There are many journalists publishing in the independent Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail – not widely distributed throughout Canada but likely available on the Web – who are setting out clearly the details of how the above repressive policies are already formed or are being created.

I will point to the obvious ones.

Avoidance of debate

The British and Canadian systems of government were intended to thrive on parliamentary debate. Intelligent argument. Our government dislikes disagreement so much they have tried muffling it. Omnibus bills make study and discussion very difficult. Volumes of material, containing multiple pieces of legislation, are presented to parliamentarians with little time for study. How can MP’s develop sound responses before the whole pile is rushed through for a vote?

The free flow of information

And how can it be that Canadian scientists, in their frustration, have had to parade on Parliament Hill to protest their being muffled in sharing information about their work? Is this not a dire situation? Stifling the voice of a key sector of the productive intelligentia – is this not the sign of serious interference with the public’s right to information?
Information about our society, as illuminated by regular census-taking (a practice from Roman times), has been severely curtailed by the elimination of the long-form census. Enough evidence of the ruinous results of this policy has been publicized in recent weeks so that it seems there may be an adjustment to this policy – it is election year, after all and some concessions to reason may be made. But this is information about ourselves that has been repressed.

Intentional dismantling of sources of Canadian community

The above chipping away at significant freedoms has become more possible because of this government’s dislike of, and efforts to crush, the maintaining of a shared set of Canadian values. For many decades, particularly post WW2, whichever party was in power, there was clear growth of positive Canadian identity. This was not a fostered jingoism but rather a quiet pride as we learned about all parts of the country. School children regularly watched, in assembly, National Film Board documentaries about industries and varying ways of life in the north, west, east, seacoasts and cities. Group of Seven prints were churned out by the thousands, adorning school walls across the country. The CBC featured interesting radio and TV programs that introduced us to each other.

The present government has, for ten years, created distrust between sectors of the nation. The interests of the privileged are guarded while those who protest deprivation are treated as a danger to society. Homelessness and severe under-housing never receive more than cursory attention. The interests of city dwellers are not addressed – is this to appease the frustrations of primary producers (oil, agriculture, extraction of minerals) or simply because cities are not rich electoral ground for the Party? Newcomers have become suspect, not welcomed. [Is there any public recognition of what they have brought, in skills and actual money, to us?]. Our Leader’s Canadian “family” doesn’t have room for someone who covers her face for religious reasons. We won’t offer space to civilian refugees from Syria. Anyone with a criminal conviction is considered despicable, outside the commonweal. Lock them up for as long as possible – they are not part of us. How much large-scale crime within business occurs with either modest or no punishment – it’s the petty criminal for whom wrath is reserved.

Hobbling the CBC must be understood as an assault on Canadian community. CBC drew the country together, and has held us firm. To the furthest reaches of the North, to islands on the edge of each coast, we have been able to argue and learn from each other. Diminish the CBC and we lose our best opportunity to know ourselves as Canadians. The National Film Board: is it being strengthened, maintained, or weakened?

The means of mounting communal resistance to the results of government policies is lessened as communication is reduced.

Repressing dissent

Why are we sitting still while security measures are being prepared that push us into U.S. style post 9-11 repression of due process?

This is the culmination of what I think this government wants. To silence us. To squelch debate. To make us afraid and keep us there. To muzzle Northern Spirit – keep that for the Raptors. Northern Spirit rises among First Nations but as a growing crowd walks hundreds of miles in winter to visit Parliament, our leader doesn’t emerge to acknowledge them, let alone listen to what they have to say.

Harper wants no Northern Spirit. He wants us to stay quietly afraid. Call environmentalists terrorists. Keep calling the two separate murderous attackers in Ottawa and Richelieu terrorists – not deluded individuals. Drum up fear of terrorists, boost the military, keep building bigger jails, and give CSIS powers to arrest on suspicion without charges or appeal…does this not sound a little like the F word?

And when does a Law and Order government slide into being a police state? Are we watching closely enough? Do we even still have the tools to do so?

Final Words

We are not a fascist state. However, our government has developed a process of governing that has moved away from key tenets of democracy. The present combination of governance and policy have more potential for escalating toward fascism than any government since WW2.

I realize that none of this is new to most readers. What I emphasize is that when you look at the whole picture, are we doing enough to guard the democracy we have? Are we speaking out enough? Are we complacent in our relative privilege, and sure that things will surely be alright because we are, after all, solid peace-loving Canadians? Dangerous thinking.

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Fresh Breezes Expand Theology: Thomas P. Rausch

Introduction by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

Hello readers.  An article was sent to me from a member of my former Sunday Community at the Paulist Centre in Toronto, with a heading:” Theologies We’re Going to Hear About.”

In the document, I learned that Christian theological study is growing in humanity and vision.  Far from absorption with totally abstract questions (famously, how many angels can dance on the head of a pin), it’s increasingly focussed outward, looking at the world, people in community, humans and how we are actually made.  How to understand and include all that is alive and true, to grasp what is the nature of God and what is our role in this relationship with God? And are we co-creating the world with God?  Rigorously and logically, students are addressing these questions.  Some of their ideas will enter societies and be taken up. 

This direction is, in my view, truly enlightened: inclusive, respectful and international.  And hopeful.  We know that some religions, notably the Roman Catholic Church, the second largest in the world, (Muslims being the largest), has not – for all its positive contributions – led the way toward a progressive and harmonious world.  How encouraging to realize that in its own study halls, a developing theology grows that suggests a solid basis for something different: a more human amalgam of spirituality, social justice, compassion and respect for religion even among those who don’t engage in any.  About time that we were invited to stop dividing ourselves into warring parts.

Some faiths, primarily Buddhism, have practiced balance of body, spirit, mind, for centuries.  Other major religions, Christianity and Islam, have been more attached to theory, to dogma, to what we must believe within our faith group.  Hinduism has, I think, embodied the mystical and practical within its symbolic mythical view.  All faiths have taught the importance of loving others as one does oneself.  But otherworldliness has tended to dominate what we think religion is about.

Times are changing.  The world needs our attention, so here comes help!!

Two segments of the essay are included below – the beginning and the final section.  To read the whole piece, search in Google: America, The National Catholic Review, February 2, 2015 in MAGAZINE, article by Rausch..

To some readers, the language and Catholicism of the essay may be unappealing or daunting.  The writer can’t help being who he is!  And it’s all quite accessible, really, even for the non-religious.  The whole point is the opening up of traditional thinking in one of the most traditional – and still influential – institutions of learning and teaching.  So give it a try.  The sections of the article, not included below, include Post-colonialism, Feminism, Queer Studies, Eco-Theology, and how these have to be included in “a new conversation”.  Yay!!

 

 

Theology’s New Turn

by Thomas P. Rausch, S.J., is the T. Marie Chilton Professor of Catholic Theology at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, Calif.

Introduction

The words had a vaguely alien sound: postcolonial, mujerista, queer, eco-theological. But as I sat on our theology department’s hiring committee and read applicants’ dossiers, it was clear that the thinking behind these labels is shaping the work of many who are finishing doctoral studies in theology today and are moving into the schools. Disciplines once considered marginal now dominate the academy.

 

A New Conversation

As the Catholic Church begins to function more and more as a world church, there will be new tensions between the postcolonial churches of the global South and those of the West, the periphery and the center, and with those who feel their inclusion is less than full. The church needs to embrace all God’s children, women and men, gay and straight, the gifted, the wounded and hurting, and those on the margins.

There are signs that a new, broader and much needed conversation has begun under Pope Francis. He has spoken several times of the jurisdictional status of episcopal conferences. He mentioned this again in his apostolic exhortation “The Joy of the Gospel,” saying that their status, including genuine doctrinal authority, has not been sufficiently elaborated and citing at several points the concerns of the bishops of Asia, Africa and Latin America. Also unprecedented was the survey on contraception, same-sex unions, cohabitation, marriage and divorce sent by Rome to all the bishops of the world in preparation for the Synod of Bishops on the Family this October.

In July the International Theological Commission released a study, “The Sensus Fidei in the Life of the Church.” Reflecting on the “sense of the faith” both of the individual believer and of the whole church, the study called attention to “the role played by the laity with regard to the development of the moral teaching of the Church,” commenting that the “magisterium needs means by which to consult the faithful” (Nos. 73-74). Even more remarkable, it responded affirmatively to the question of whether separated Christians should be understood as participating in and contributing to the sensus fidelium in some manner (No. 86), suggesting that the Catholic Church might learn something from other churches.

How is the sensus fidei formed? The study recognizes that it cannot be reduced to an expression of popular opinion. The study points to active participation in the liturgical and sacramental life of the church as fundamental, in addition to listening to the word of God, openness to reason and adherence to the magisterium. A deeper appreciation for the sensus fidei means that the church is becoming a true communion, not a structure of the teachers and the taught (No. 4).

 

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Beauty in Extremis: A Poem About Grace and Loss

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

This is a kind of eulogy for a woman named Barbara: not a full expression about what I think her life offers for reflection, but an effort to bring to you a glimpse of a remarkable person, as much as I knew her. It’s also about how two people were enriched by a friendship that developed in the extreme conditions during years leading up to Barbara’s death. Barbara carried the gene for Huntington’s Disease and the illness became active when she was in her early thirties. When her tremors were becoming severe, she entered another phase of life, leaving behind what she had known up until then. She tried to live independently. She made use of various drop-ins and shelters, and became a favourite of the St. Peter’s (now First Interfaith) Out of the Cold in downtown Toronto. For some years she could manage to move about the City, eventually with a walker, using the TTC. A time came when she couldn’t do that, and she was hospitalized in a long-term care facility – which she hated. She successfully ‘escaped’ a few times, in a wheelchair that she would ride down a busy street, bent for action. She had friends among street people. She was kind and generous with them, sharing whatever she had. (Over ten years since she was among them, some Out of the Cold guests remembered her when she was mentioned at this season’s opening dinner.)

I visited her somewhat irregularly, though I was able to arrange and accompany her on wheelchair-ambulance trips to Out of the Cold so she could meet friends. However, as she was increasingly less able to move and communicate, other visitors to her room were uncommon.

That’s when Robin, an Out of the Cold volunteer, made a decision and began to visit Barbara on a regular basis. For the past eight or nine years, Robin maintained that commitment, one that took her weekly to a hospital across the City from where she lived. She and Barbara became friends. Robin grieves for her at this time.

This poem is written about Barbara and Robin, and about the extraordinary circumstances of their relationship.

Barbara

PART 1

Not an easy person
but a beautiful one
Not a favourite of her caregivers
unless you noticed
how tenderly they cared for her.
Not a peaceful face –
she well knew anger.
But when she could smile?
Light then shone.

Body immobilized, her eyes looked out;
fierce, intelligent,
with skin smooth as a child’s.
If you were looking for more?
Long-suffering, determination, endurance,
wrapped in a powerful life-force
without self-pity:
Here was the loveliness of Barb.

I believe in a loving holy spirit,
In us, between us, beyond us.
There is no God who would inflict
such cruel cruel punishment.
It was not punishment.
It was disease.
The scourge of earthlings.

All she could do was live it.

Except, amidst its ravages
she accomplished the extraordinary.
With resources destroyed,
only herself on offer,
she engaged in a great friendship.
She gave and received love

The love of a similarly determined woman
who journeyed in perseverance
to her hospital bedside.
No motive, no agency, no agenda,
other than deep sympathy
for someone so afflicted,
who in a wild and crazy way
had a blazing hold on life.

Robin brought humour, diversion,
a breath of the outside,
textures and scents
and soothing attentiveness.
Week by week, year by year,
They participated in trust and respect
that grew until the end.

Part 2

Barbara held to herself, undisclosed,
decades of embrace within a previous world,
She had been Mother, wife, sister, cousin, friend.

As she was rendered silent
Did she visit her children in dreams?

She also shared another narrower world
with those of her blood and bone:
A membership whose mark was the gene
that had taken her mother
her sister,
and that was advancing
in her second child.

Depths of anguish without comfort –
was this as great a burden
as a body abandoning her?

A tiny miracle allowed these worlds
to meet
four days before the end.
Robin and Barbara’s eldest son
met at the hospital

Hence, funeral rites
could, days later, bring into the same room
The saddened people of the decades
of Barbara’s ‘before’ life,
and
those journeying with her
in the seventeen years lost to family.
Tears and stories
opened minds and hearts
to each other.

Consolation? A small mending
of so much that was broken?
Why not see it in that light?
Yet, not to forget the young son
whose long journey has only begun.

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Can Elders Be Cool?

By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

A ridiculous question, if you look at Leonard Cohen. Or Yoko Ono. And what is cool anyway? Well, it’s pretty much about how connected one chooses to be to the zeitgeist of the time, to a sense of where the creative core is erupting, to what is most exciting and fresh in the culture. If that orientation to the world was the way we were, maybe it still is!

Some of that cool was thrust upon us in the music: from the jazz of the 30’s, through the swing and jazz of wartime and the ‘50’s and then Wham, rock and roll hit us. That’s my identifier- the rhythm gateway to something beyond the surface, to some core movement that became universal. Rock was a great unifier. My father, at 60, recognized how good the Beatles “Revolver” is. He hadn’t lost his cool. In Belfast, in 1963, “Love Me Do” was playing all over the city. In a village in central India, where water was supplied by oxen circling a well wheel, “She Loves You” blasted out from a radio somewhere. It was like the world joining hands.

I’m part of an exercise group where I, at 74, am one of the youngest. The selection of music to which we move is great fun – lots of old rock and roll, and country rock, and many lovely old jazzy standards. It helps us to feel energized. And younger. As I see many of my class members humming and moving to the tunes, I realize we’ve ALL had a past that included times of cool. Every “old’ person has a story to tell about times in his or her past. Will I ever have enough opportunity to hear them? Or to tell them!

Can A Vibrant Past Come Alive In the Present?

I’d love to hear more personal stories of what people have done in the times when they felt alive and engaged, and connected to something bigger than themselves. Times when they were in the heart of things. Some of the tales would be too personal to share. But all have lived through interesting times.
Sadly, there are few opportunities to listen to others’ personal histories. Among friends who shared the same eras, there can be great sharing and hilarity. Some families listen to the tales told by seniors. But the sharing doesn’t spread much wider.

Among us are some who retain actual memories of WWII: being a soldier, sailor, airman; being bombed in London or in German cities. There was a lot happening in the post-war era; war brides coming to Canada, large-scale immigration, big engineering projects undertaken in the ‘50’s (such as the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway), women making the move to work outside the home. These were events requiring courage, vision, solidarity, creativity in the people involved.

Apart from wanting to hear more stories, I’d like to learn more about why we in western culture don’t take seriously the weight and the dimensions of the experiences of people who’ve lived through decades of extraordinary events and struggles. What prevents us from investing more time in learning about each other?

Lifting the Veil of Invisibility

It happens sometime, if we’re lucky, that find ourselves in a circumstance where all things lend themselves to some hours of reverie. A warm night, a fire, quiet all around, and stories begin to be told. The elders can come into their own! Or a question is posed that an older person addresses and people around the table begin to really listen.

More often, as we move about in the world – grocery shopping, on the streets, riding on the bus – the glances of others move quickly past us. As humans we employ a very quick labelling process and that happens as the young encounter the old. The face of the Senior, the posture of the Elderly, the voice of the Aged: we are labelled quick as a wink.

Of course, many of us do the same to the Young. We quickly label them based on hair, clothing, how much flesh is exposed, how they move and talk. And don’t really imagine very much interesting about them Of course, I can say, there’s a big difference. I have 55 more years of living than most of them. And it’s been filled with learning and loving and daring and losing and working things out. But the lives of the young are conducted in such an intense way that 10 of their years might be mightily interesting and fascinating even. Why do we ignore them?

And many of us find it difficult to engage naturally and fully with people who live with a very visible handicap. What is that about? The consequence is that whole segments of the society we live in are easily dismissed as uninteresting.

I was exactly the same, even just five years ago – when I was still imagining that I wasn’t one of them – the uninteresting elders.

Realizing how much I had easily dismissed whole groups of people who didn’t seem cool to me, I’ve become interested in what it is that allows us to decide another isn’t worth our time and attention.

Toward an Understanding of the Phenomenon of Invisibility

We are part of a culture consisting of so much stimulation and change that those who are active, who can cause things to happen, who thus have power and money, are magnets to the rest of us who are trying to get a foothold on what seems to be a ladder. The young and the elderly have little to offer, it is thought, in regard to assisting the able-bodied to success.

There are societies in which a reverence for elders is cultivated. Ours isn’t one of them.
Years ago, sitting on a stony beach in White Rock, B.C. with a friend who placed high value on respect for elders we watched a young native person, slowly and carefully guiding a quite elderly man along the water’s edge, helping him sidestep the rocks. My friend pointed this out as something important, to take note of. I did, and I recall it 40 years later. It was the patience as much as the act itself that was so notable. This elder mattered to the younger man.

Being part of this Seniors Exercise group, I am learning that the decades past, in the lives of each individual, are full of interesting and marvelous deeds and adventures. As I get to know them, each has earned a hearing! So many stories to tell. How could I have lumped them together as just old people? They’re funny and generous and full of life. Each deserves respect.

I realized that seniors had been invisible to me when I saw them as a group. A group of old people. I feel some shame at having objectified them, and more forgiveness for people who now do that to me.

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The Inner Divine: Re-Thinking Revelation

By Michael Morwood

Comments by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

As happens sometimes, this edition of A Bigger Circle is written by a guest blogger – Michael Morwood – who at this point does not know that you are each being invited by me to read his work! This has been published in cyberspace, so it is intended for as wide a circulation as it can find.  

It was sent to me today by Brian Shaunessy of the Sunday Community at the Paulist Centre in Toronto.  It seemed so refreshing to me, on this hot hot summer day, that I wanted you to have a chance to feel the same fresh breeze.  It comes from a Roman Catholic source. Of course, many among us are not Catholic, not Christian, not of a religious bent at all. And some are comfortably atheist.  

But even if not engaged in any religious practice, the thinking put forward by Michael Morwood here presents an understanding of a path being grasped, more and more confidently, by many.  Some people who were or have never been embedded in traditional doctrines are discerning a way of listening to the holy voices of their tradition – in a way that fits with our psychological understanding of who we are.  And that I think can be freeing and soul-enlarging.

In this perspective, Morwood hears the message of Jesus Christ in a way that moves aside from dogma. I claim that it’s not only Jesus but the great teachers of every faith who have left a legacy that can be rediscovered to the benefit of persons and the cultures within which we live. That legacy isn’t what has been encrusted with authority, power and regulation. It is simply what lies at the beating heart of life – love of self, of others, of life, of the earth, 

Michael Morwood says it without the sentiment!   I hope that you too find it hopeful.

Re-thinking “Revelation”

by Michael Morwood on 06/29/14   (will try to find the full reference and sedt it to you)

 

Vatican II never questioned the traditional understanding of “Revelation” .  It is most likely that no bishop since Vatican II has questioned it either. It is truly an amazing state of affairs that given the extraordinary wealth of scientific knowledge showered upon us in the past fifty years, that no voice has been raised or has been permitted to be raised in the Catholic Church suggesting it is time to rethink how  “Divine Revelation”works. And I do not want to suggest that Catholicism is alone in this.

The traditional understanding of “Revelation” requires belief in a God, external to our world, who intervenes from wherever this God is thought to be located. As recently as 1992, The Catechism of the Catholic Church presented the world with the understanding of God wanting ‘to compose the sacred books’ and choosing ‘certain men’ to write ‘whatever he wanted written and no more’ (#106)

In the worldview of more than two thousand years ago, the prophets heard their heavenly-based God ‘speak’ to them the message God wanted ‘his people’ to hear. The prophets spoke with certainty and intensity: ‘Thus said the Lord God to me ‘¦ This is what the Lord God wants’¦  The Lord of hosts has sworn ‘¦ Woe to the rebellious says the Lord ‘¦ For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel’¦’Thus says the Lord God’ is repeated over and over in some of the prophetical books. (e.g. Jeremiah, chapters 30-32)

Today when we are not imagining ‘God’ as an external heavenly deity, but rather as the mysterious source and sustainer of everything that exists, present and active everywhere, we are challenged to turn our understanding of “Revelation” upside down or back to front, or better,  from out to in. In other words, we should consider that the ‘voice’ the prophets heard did not come from an external source, a God in the heavens, but from internally, from the mysterious source of all, present, embedded, active within them, as it is in every human.

Another phrase that some of the prophets, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel and Micah, use, may help us embrace this shift in thinking:  ‘The Word of the Lord came to me’¦ ‘ Today we can imagine that the teaching, the path to be followed, came from personal reflection, from a moment of sudden insight, or in one of those waking from sleep moments when something dawns with surprising clarity or from a deep inner conviction or ‘knowing’ as in ‘I just know, don’t ask me how, that this needs to be done or I need to do this.’

The word we commonly use for this phenomenon is ‘intuition’, a way of perception and knowing that is like an inner voice, an inner guidance. Carl Jung wrote that, ‘Intuition enables us to divine the possibilities of a situation.’   Perhaps we could play with his words and say, ‘Intuition enables us to know the divine possibilities of a situation.’

From this perspective we can see that “Divine Revelation” is within all of us. We can move from the traditional understanding that it comes from an external source and that it is granted to a privileged few or a privileged group. This thinking, of course, is not acceptable to the institutional custodians of “Divine Revelation” who consider they have a God-given mandate to let the world know the thoughts and opinions of an external deity.

Jesus knew better. He knew what was in people. He wanted to free people from whatever prevented them from knowing what he knew and experienced. Only with such freedom could ‘divine possibilities’ ever shape the future of humanity.

Albert Einstein wrote, ‘The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.’

If we could learn to understand “Divine Revelation” in the way suggested in these paragraphs, religion could regain, treasure and promote the sacred gift, and help all people come to know what Jesus wanted everyone to know: the ‘divine voice’ is within all of us.

 

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Mental Illness – A Culture of One

By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

A month ago, I offered a list of personal passionate concerns.  Tricky – communicating  a list.  Most often something  gets left off.   My list omitted one as vital to me as any:  Better Understanding of the Reality of Mental Illness.

[The topic was tackled from a different perspective in my Bigger Circle blog on November 10, 2012, the title was “More About the Gaping Hole in the Safety Net”: https://abiggercircle.wordpress.com/ then scroll down and click the title of the blog you want.]

The issue is often at the front of my mind.  Some family and friends are in various stages of recovery, or not, from devastating mental illness.  Their struggles and those of people close to them are hard to reconcile with a medical era where so much serious illness is dealt with brilliantly.  It’s the absence of practitioners that is, to me, the glaring gap: a minimum one-year and often two-year waiting period to become a patient of an OHIP psychiatrist is too long for people and families who are living on the edge.  There is help available but only if you can afford private treatment – otherwise wait beyond your capacity to hold it together.

That being said, I think I have something to offer in the way of understanding the experience of people who are in trouble with mental illness.  In part, it’s because for many years I regularly experienced  anxiety and depression.  I have been blessed with help that has led me to acquire tools needed to prevent me inflicting permanent damage to myself and my closest relationships (those with whom the masking doesn’t work).   My tendencies don’t make the list of identifiable mental illness, but there have been moments when I felt I was seriously slipping.

First, Knowing You Need Help

There is a huge resistance in each of us to identifying where our behaviour is somehow dysfunctional.  Obsessing about unrequited love, having a hair-trigger temper, discomfort in any environment other than the familiar, or feeling singled out in receiving unfair treatment – there are so many ways in which each of us at times gets to the edge where feeling and behaviour ceases to work for our own good.  Occasionally.  Not regularly.

When an unhelpful behaviour becomes a pattern, when we don’t seem able to stop it, when we carry on as if nothing is particularly wrong, we’re heading in the direction of a denial that prolongs the agony for everybody!  Recognizing that we aren’t managing our emotions, our behaviour, in a productive way seems to be a big hurdle for many.   Bring able to accept and acknowledge that we need help is the first big grown-up step.

It seems to take a lot of time.

The Isolation Intensifies

This is the part that I know best, from personal experience.  One feels utterly alone.  Great hubris!  Great self-centredness!  As if there aren’t thousands at the very same moment probably feeling the same way.  But is it wilful self-absorption or are the feelings so intense that there isn’t room for reason?  If one has been flooded with anxiety, chemistry is against sensible interpretation of what’s happening.  Whether the feeling of numbness and greyness of depression, the intense high of being in manic mode, or the certainty that there are malign forces acting upon one, all around, directing the action, there seems to be no one to run to, to talk about what’s happening.

That isolation sets up the Culture of One – with history accumulating, and an alternate reality remaining in the mind as maybe the correct one.  The ‘crazy’ self begins to have a life of its own.

Accessing Help – The Barriers

A worse case scenario:  A tenant at work, with whom I’d developed a friendship, passed the 3-year mark in sobriety.  He was part of a close-knit AA support group with a Christian emphasis that seemed to work for him.  But the longer he remained sober, the more his unrecognized mental illness manifested.  The TV began talking to him.  In his new job as a worker in a charity shop, handling bundles of women’s clothing, he began to think that God was wanting to change his gender.   Reading scripture gave him no comfort – he repeatedly saw that punishment was due to him from a vengeful  Lord.  There was no psychiatric help available, beyond the 72-hour assessment in a psych ward.  A one-year waiting list was the best we could do. The meds prescribed conflicted with his hepatitis meds and he soon dumped them.  He has now been drinking steadily with violent outbursts for the past eight years since it was first clear that he wasn’t coping.   He is seriously alone.

A much better case scenario:  People who have accessed help can link up with others and create a life that has some affection and social richness.  Go to Progress Place, the drop-in centre, or to St. Jude’s residence at Jarvis and Parliament.  There lives my old friend Samuel.  It has taken years for him to come to this somewhat level ground .  Good supports, fellow residents who all have decent medical attention, and meds that have been tried and tested to find what works for each – these have allowed lives to develop that counteract the isolation.  Samuel may still have his particular ‘voices’ and concerns about forces manipulating him, but my friend has become grounded among people who understand, with whom he shares meals and social time, and who can give feedback if he is acting in self-harmful ways.

Recently another residence has opened up for people who are Mental Health Survivors, in the downtown area, with appropriate supports.  Bravo!  The Dream Team , a group of Survivors who work to provide information about the importance of decent supportive housing for those with mental illness, visits schools and various societies and funding groups who – if they listen well – will learn more about the importance of help to those who otherwise are lost.

Any Reason for Hope?

I really believe that the more we – the general population – understand the isolating and frightening aspects of the experience of those suffering from mental illness, the more we’ll be moved to insist on decent housing and care.  Is there a single reader who is totally unfamiliar with these experiences – during episodes in your own lives, or through your own network of family and friends?  It happens anywhere.   None of us can afford to be indifferent.

Please Comment if you can add to the picture we need to grasp.

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An Age With a View

By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

I’ve just entered my 75th year. This has had the subtle effect of narrowing the number of issues that leap out and grab my attention – in the media and in the discussions flitting to-and-fro in the cyber world. I love laughing and nonsense as much as anybody, but in the realm of focused caring, there isn’t enough time left to waste it on things that don’t grab my heart. If blessed with several more decades of reading and thinking, I believe these will remain the matters that engage me. They’re what I think people call their passions.

I have to add that exceeding all other, my primary passion – fundamental and inexorable – is my family which now includes a wonderful small person named Theo. That will henceforth go without saying.

I’ll also add that at this stage of life, having time to notice, I’m stunned by the amount of beauty that I encounter in an ordinary day. The people in the Mall, or on the street. The sky! And bare tree branches stark against the sky. Children’s faces and how they move; vegetables set out in long rows in a supermarket. So much to see. These images mitigate the sadness implicit in the passions that remain stirred and unresolved.

So What, in the World, Seems to Matter Most?

In no particular order:

  • The resistance to First Nations in achieving their rights and maintaining their lands
  • Paucity of proper palliative care (including top-notch pain control) for all in the difficult stages of terminal illness
  • The impact of stress and trauma on the growth of healthy open-minded self-loving children
  • Pre-fascism tendencies in our country – how to spot, reveal and halt the growth of
  • Lack of awareness of the uses of Mediation: it works.
  • Lack of decent housing for all

Why Have These Matters Not Been Dealt With Effectively?

These issues should not be with us still. We’ve known for a long time what is wrong. There has to be investment in taking the steps we know need to be taken. Yet, we elect governments that remain reluctant to spend money on making these situations better. It’s not that there’s no money. It’s the skewed views we’ve developed as a culture about the allocation of the resources.   The poor, the sick, the dying, are way down on the list of what we’ve decided should be done with our collective surplus.

So What The Heck Can We Do?

Look again at tax money. It’s what we share of our bounty, however modest, to accumulate in sufficient measure to cover the collective essentials (infrastructure, healthcare, research, etc.) AND to invest in human betterment. The economy will thrive ultimately without a populace suffering for want of collective caring. And people will not develop sufficient caring with governments that we keep letting off the hook in terms of social well-being.

I’m suggesting that we resist the drift to despising government and tax spending.

Mistrust of the “government” or the “state” to spend tax money wisely has spread like a virus – as if private enterprise takes care of everything in a progressive well-maintained way. Walking around Brooklyn, N.Y., one sees some magnificent testimony to private money well spent. But there are also blocks of boarded up buildings that are falling down, shabby amusement areas, ugly infill that will grow ever uglier: example after example of private money deciding to cut its losses for better profit. Mistakes are inevitable, by whomever does the investing and spending of money.

One View of Public and Private Money

The government is accountable to the people – private money isn’t. Denigrating of whatever is undertaken by government is a faulty direction – an infection caught from the turn to the right in many countries. Without good trustworthy people in government, who will look out for the public good?

We’re disappointed in our Parliament? Isn’t that at least something we the people have some say in? Of course there are individuals in government corrupted by power, money, privilege, ambition, whatever. But the purpose of government is not private gain – it is public good. The purpose of business is private gain.

We Are Intended To Have A Say

That’s why I’m naming these Passions – I believe I have some capacity to contribute to the debates encouraged by the trustworthy people in government.

I think many of us listen, learn, comment on, discuss, write letters, cheer on those who are standing on the front lines. More could do that. We could even go out and join an Idle No More walk when it hits town (even if Harper has not shown the courtesy of greeting them at their Parliament Hill destination). We’re not helpless. Thinking we are is not healthy.

Simplistic? Sure. Government won’t solve everything. Can’t just throw money at problems. Absolutely true. But withholding money is just as foolish. Good thinking, good theory, has to be wedded to the experience of those on the ground. Many wise and knowledgeable minds have to meet with the people who live the problems, from the inside. Humans pay for the bad decisions and intentions of the past. Much skilled mediation is required to deal with the conflicts inherent in whatever is happening right now. Good decisions can still be made – there are many ways to arrive at better decisions. Much social science has informed us of ways to do that.

A Wrong Turning

I think a fundamental principle has been messed with. We seem to not recognize that the public is all of us.

The primacy of greed, called good business, has somehow become more acceptable than finding humane reasonable solution to problems. We’ve lost our confidence about that. But is the trend inevitable? The drift to allowing ‘good business’ to become the measure of proper action has gone far enough.

I think greed has to be named and shamed and recognized as contrary to the public good.

So What Are We To Do?

Recognize the wrong thinking when we spot it in ourselves and our compatriots.

Otherwise, if one has any passions at all, there’s no formula for how to pursue them fruitfully. We use what energy, talents, skills, inclination, opportunities we’ve still got. Neither Pollyanna nor Cassandra (prophesying doom), we do our best. This probably sounds just like a 74-year-old lady. But I’m hanging in – like most of us.

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We’re All In The Same Boat, and…

20140217_170535

We’re All In The Same Boat, artist Roy Thomas (1984)

by Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove

Yes, we’re all in it together, in the boat.

But we each have to learn how to paddle.  Our selves.

This blog tries to identify the paradox and dig into the truth of each side of it.

The Earth: Shared Home

Wherever we live on this Planet Earth, we deal with the reality of being bound to it.  We draw in the same layer of oxygen.  Gravity holds us to the ground.  We’re mostly made of water, and all the waters of earth interconnect.  We now know about the importance to living beings of healing the parts of the earth that we’ve harmed.  We’ve learned that our collective actions have impacts and that our personal well-being is affected by the ill health of our land.

Yet beyond the physical realities of sharing a planet with billions of other people, we share being members of the same species.   We each have to deal with maintaining our own bodily health.  We’re learning we must care for our brains, by avoiding injury but also by respecting the impact of stresses and deprivations as we deal with living.  We’re learning how to sharpen the use of the brain.  In part of that organ is a responsive lobe that stirs basic emotions, fear being fundamental.  Fear triggers survival responses, but handling fear and anger must be learned.  So with much the same basic equipment, all humans face the possibilities of tragedy, pain, and sorrow as well as friendship, laughter, and love.

We have so much in common, but differing circumstances form us, with such various results.  Physical and intellectual attributes, the quality of nurturing received, the available teaching, connections we made or failed to make with other humans, stable or erratic care, resources available to us including food: along these critical dimensions no one grows up in the exact same way as another.

And so while we’re in a universal boat, sailing together on the same earth, we each have to acquire the means of navigating our personal circumstances.  Together, yet necessarily apart.

A Fundamental Paradox

This paradox has always existed.  Not always recognized, nonetheless we are part of a shared attachment to the rest of the world.  Yet, we are entirely individual in our particular foothold on the ground on which we stand.

How do we live with this paradox?  Do we emphasize our connection?  Do we emphasize our individuality?  Do we seek to find a way of living that balances the two?

First Nations Wisdom

The belief system of the First Nations in Canada grew – as did all cultures – out of the experience of its members, daily and through the seasons and the years.  Each young man and woman had to meet the challenges of growing into adulthood.  There were rituals controlled by the elders, requiring courage and stamina, that brought them into maturity.   At the same time, each was part of a society – a clan – that held a collective vision of how they were meant to live – sharing and taking care of one another and the nature that supported them.

Fine artists from the First Nations in Canada represent this duality to us, drawing from the world view of the tribe.  “We’re All in the Same Boat”, painted by Roy Thomas, draws from his Ahnisnabae culture absorbed from his grandparents in the Thunder Bay area, to represent a universal truth.

Joseph Boyden quotes and then comments on Roy Thomas’ view:

“ ‘When I use my paintbrush I understand that I am not the only one doing the painting, even though my name goes on the finished work.’  In these few words, Roy captures the spirit of the Ahnisnabae. ..We are all inter-related.  We are all connected.   We are all one family together in the same boat.” (See ref. below)

An Encounter With the Communal Vision

Early on in opening our Church to the outreach that is now known as Out of the Cold, our mixed group of volunteers had to learn how to interact with groups of distinct Others, acting in ways not familiar to us.  Specifically on one of the first nights, how First Nations men preferred to deal with bedding down in a strange location.  We were trying to maintain order as 90 or more people prepared to sleep on mattresses in the Parish Hall, about twelve Ahnisnabae men among them.  After dinner and some efforts at socializing, it was time to get ready for sleep.  The native men did not want their mattresses to be placed in dormitory-like lines on the floor.  The placed their mattresses in a star-like formation, heads close together in the centre of a circle, feet placed at the outer rim.  This took space away from the total sleeping space available so we had to request that First Nations men accept the efficiency of sleeping in rows.  What a shame!   They knew the comfort of maintaining close connection in a distinctive way.  They didn’t make a fuss about our requirements, but they were joking in their own tongue over the next hour – I suspected about our stiff ways.

Again and again we saw native men and women drawing comfort from their strong ties, even in the face of death.  Two brothers in their 30’s, sharing several years of living on the streets of Toronto, were separated when the older one, Nick, died from illness and exposure.  Brother Billy, along with Thomas who was part of their city cadre, continued to join Out of the Cold for dinner, but left right after. Billy telling me that for the rest of the winter they would be sleeping outside to honour his brother’s death.  It seemed self-defeating – why risk repeating Nick’s fate?  But over time they could make clear to us that in this way they could they meet Nick’s spirit, re-entering what they had shared with him for weeks and years, and be able to let him go (this being my understanding of what they expressed to me).  For a full year, Billy with Thomas continued his vigil.  At the end of that time, he was able to find housing and was willing to accept the opportunity.  But he had been true to Nick.

Silly superstition?  I have no judgment about it, but do respect that for Billy, his connection to his brother required this extended and uncomfortable vigil.

The Tasks We Face

I speak as a product of both the culture I’ve grown up within (Canadian, British, well-read parents, lower middle class income, education highly valued) and as a person who has spent years trying to get honest about who I am.

The point for me, relative to the question of us being in the same boat, is that there are many ways of honouring our connection to each other.  I know for sure that how we live out that connection will vary greatly between cultures.  But we have to learn how best to do it.

At the same time, we have to develop a strong sense of who we are individually, in order to deal with what life will throw at us.  Our cultures have a big hand in shaping us, but getting beyond what our culture wants us to believe about ourselves requires effort and luck.  And sometimes we have to do that, if we want to stretch out and fly on our own, and maybe come back to help build a better boat!

Why Is This Important?

This is so pertinent now, as we’re struggling with stereotypes about the people from faraway lands and religions who are choosing to come and live as neighbours in our communities.   We have to try to get this right.

I’m suggesting one route. Two kinds of simultaneous awareness are necessary and each can be developed:  (1) recognizing and living as if we share our world with a variety of other people, while (2) developing a strong sense of our separate selves.  Two tough tasks.

Recognizing our personal boundaries (the lines we draw around ourselves, to enclose people close to us and keep out those we fear) is one step.  How does that work?  And how do we open up to those who are different from ourselves – learning to avoid the FEAR response and to develop a reasonable openness to those embedded in other cultures?  I’ll be tackling the necessary re-jigging of my own perceptions in the next several blogs, assuming that many of you are like me.

It’s too late to just say they should all become more like us.  We all have to become new beings.

Meanwhile, please add any comments you may have.

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