Sunday, 10 March 2013

Roller Skates, A Funeral, and Home-coming

Late yesterday morning, I headed out for errands and to gradually wend my way to the funeral of  Mammie Fillance Gabaud, one of the matriarchs of the Haitian Anglican community in Montreal. As soon as I opened the front door, I gasped with joy and felt a dance attack coming on. It was perfect! The sun shone, the temperature was about 3 Celsius, snow still sparkled, and ... it felt like 'almost spring' - damp earthy scents, birds chirping, a cardinal singing, teensy buds on the maple trees... bits of gravel, sand, and stone lay scattered on the sidewalks, water melting from the snow created wee sparkling streams, and everything was exactly right and ready - as it was 58 + or - years ago - mostly clear and dry and ready! 

I'm 10 again and it's the first day of roller skate weather! Call Cheryl! OR4-9424. Get out those skates and key.  Attach the skates to my white and blue saddle shoes, hang the key on its grubby string around my neck, and I'm off! No thought that at 66, I couldn't possibly roller skate without falling and breaking my wrist and scraping my knees. I'm 10. It's 'almost spring'. I can do anything! Joy!
Days that were... :-)

Remember these? 
I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart...  the joy has remained from that moment  ... through a funeral that was a wonder-full send-off on the journey home for a faithful, loving woman who lived great sorrows and great joys. Yves sang the traditional sentences (in French) at the beginning of the service, and they were hauntingly beautiful. The church was packed to overflowing. Singing, especially the Créole, dynamic and moving. Music with piano and guitars. 

When I was a student and then curate at St. Paul's, Lachine, we began a French ministry, largely with this extended family. I presided at the funeral of a stillborn baby girl, baptized children, married one couple, felt connected back to Haiti through relationships, the liturgies and hymns (no Creole in 1991ff). Fabiola, at 10ish, had the sweetest, pure voice and learned to sing verses of the Gloria and the rest of us responded after each phrase: "Gloire à Dieu, et paix sur terre, aux êtres que Dieu ai-ai-me." (We changed the word from 'hommes' to 'êtres', with a little initial resistance)  :-) Joy.

Deep, deep sadness as we buried the body of this woman who was so blessed and a blessing. Her connections go deeper than I realized. The Sisters in Haiti used the Gabaud family home in Mathieu (near where our PWRDF school lunch program is) as a mini-convent and place of ministry. Sister Marjorie Raphael says in the beginnings of Foyer Notre Dame, a home for women who are alone near the end of their lives, violence in the neighbourhood necessitated a quick move. The Gabaud family provided their home. Memories. Family re-members and re-connects. 

Still the joy hovers. Or is it hope? Or ... it all fits somehow with the reading I've been doing, the homily we shared at church this morning, an ongoing journey of home-coming. Back to Henri Nouwen and his book The Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen's life was transformed over time as he lived with, and within, Rembrandt's painting of the same name. He travelled to St. Peterburg, Russia, and spent many hours sitting with the original work. The details. The different characters. The theological and psychological depths. He found his way home. In himself - and living at the L'Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto. Curiously, on his way to St. Petersburg again, he stopped off at his original home in Holland where he died of a heart attack at the young age of 63. His body was brought back to his Canadian home for burial in a coffin made and decorated by his Daybreak community.

I printed 8 1/2" x 11"copies of the painting and distributed them after the Gospel of the prodigal son was read as a powerful dialogue. Following a brief explanation of the background of Nouwen and Rembrandt's painting, we all took a few minutes to simply BE with it. To touch it. To feel it. To look at details - or whatever each person felt called to do. I find myself constantly touching it - moving my fingers so softly- awe-struck by faces, hands, feet, the woman who is a ghostly shadow who emerges in silence and sunlight ... I feel as if I could spend the rest of my life exploring this work of art and this story and still there would be mystery.

We shared thoughts about the different characters. where we saw ourselves, what details touched us, the why's and what might have been going on in the heart of each one... Awesome insights into ourselves and each other and into the painting and the story. 

I feel joy. Did I already say that? :-)  Peace and quiet joy. I wish I could still roller skate, but... reality checks in. I'll happily remember when I did ... on these almost spring days on these gritty sidewalks ... Journeying home. 


  1. I came by to ask permission to use the photo of the roller skates on my own blog, but then got caught up reading this post. Beautifully written!

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. Of course you may use the image. I got it on the internet. How did you set up a thing so that people could follow?