Thursday, 31 October 2013

My Name

I wrote the story "My Name" (below) about 7 years ago - an assignment in a writing course about our names. My birthday's a good time to share it. It's a quiet day. Last night Sandy Miller came over and we had supper eating a chicken (from the farm shop) that had been happy until the day before I bought it. Then we took things to church for Sunday and went looking for Hallowe'en lights. Not many. Anyhow, back this side of the river in Greenfield Park looking at one of the most fantastic displays when I realized I didn't have my purse. Took Sandy home, opened my gifts, and headed back to church to get my purse. Sigh.

Been for my flu shot. Done most of my physio exercises. Heading out to the Mission as I'm invited for lunch. Otherwise, a quiet day until sundown and broomstick soaring. :-)

Remembering my birthday when I was growing up. It was such fun. We'd have supper and go trick-or-treating. We also had children ringing the doorbell all during supper. My birthday party was usually a different day, and Dad used to make my cakes. No cake molds in those days. He'd make round and/or rectangular cakes, and cut them into different shapes each year. I remember the pumpkin (of course) and a witch...  I can't remember our costumes, but someone must have been a ghost.

One year, a little girl was killed on Hallowe'en by the Southern Counties streetcar. So dark, and it was wet that year. Parents were always with us as we plodded about, but in the end, terrible accidents sometimes happen. I never knew her name. Which is odd, as we lived in a three block by three block small part of Montreal South.

When we got to the Kipps' home on Lasalle (where I live now) we wound our way up the inside back stairwell. There were so many children out. We went out in Grade 9, some of us, and stopped at one of our teacher's. The next day he told me I'd have done better to do my Latin homework than be out trick-or-treating. :-) Such a serious man. And it was my birthday! 

A baby. I still have my first shoes. Walked at 9 months.

Back: Cousin Steve, Brothers Jim and Lorne
Front: Cousin Peter and Ros
Jim and Ros at Beaver Lake

Mrs. Gill's Grade 1 at William White School 1952-53
Very back, Marilyn looking on
Back: l to r - Norma  ??  ??  Betty? Jimmy and Tommy
Middle: ??  Iris  Irene  Roslyn  Linda  ??
Front:  Stanley  Terry and ??
Can anyone fill in the blanks?
I was wearing my white and red smocked dress (Mum made it)
With my cousin and best friend, Peter  c 1953
Grade 7 - Mrs Anderson's class
A very young 12 c 1958-9
Red bows.
No self-respecting 12 yo would look like this now - but they were different times.

Sisters in Haiti - c1972 at the Sisters retreat house in Kenscoff
Back:  Sisters Anne Marie, Virginia, Roslyn Marie
Front: Sister Jean (with Sarah the poodle) and Mother Marjorie Raphael
BBQ at the beach in Duxbury.
I was often in charge of planning meals and feeding people
Sister Louise, one of the Sisters from Canada
Sister Louise used to say: "Use your head and save your feet."

My Name

I was born at the witching hour, 5:54pm on Hallowe'en in 1946. Lorne was five and, already having a little brother, he was desperate for a baby sister. So desperate, he intended to ask Santa for one if necessary, not allowing my parents much time to be obliging elves. Fortunately, Lorne got his sister and he gave me my name. Roslyn. He must have heard it somewhere; Mum didn’t know where he found it. My parents added Ann to round me out. Roslyn Ann.

Lorne is a hazy memory. The day he drowned, when I was three, his Roslyn vanished into somewhere the other side of nowhere. She became Roslyn-the-Good. The Nice. Roslyn-the-Eyes, watching, watching. Roslyn the Cute, the Mute, the oh-so-well-behaved-and-nearly-dead-inside child. Not that anyone noticed.

I was called Roslyn if the ghost annoyed the grown-ups.  Roslyn Ann when once I stuck my tongue out at our cranky neighbours. I was Rozzie to my brother and Montreal cousins (all boys). Roslyn to teachers. Ros to friends as I grew up, and Spooky in October. Our Swiss French teacher, Monsieur Burgat, called me La Tresse, as his sister had had long braids. Buzz (pronounced with a Lancashire ‘u’) was Dad’s pet name for me. It’s not a good thing to be too much Daddy’s special one. I didn’t like my name.

In a Boston convent, at twenty-two, I became Sister Roslyn Marie. For nine years I was Sister – Sister-Any-Name-would-do-we’re-all-the-same, hidden (except for face and hands) within a dark grey habit.** Haitians, with whom I lived and worked briefly and forever, called me Soeur Roselyne and, being loved I fleetingly, almost, liked my name.

The drumbeats, the pulsing earthy life in Haiti fractured the igneous outer layers of my heart. Returning home, somewhere between the convent and Boston’s hospital-on-the-wooded-hill, the fragments fell. My life began then - an arduous journey of self-discovery: emotions long suppressed, experiences denied.

Seventeen years into this Mrs. Noah journey, I was ordained. People asked what they should call me. “We can’t call you ‘Father’,” they said, embarrassed.

“Call me Ros,” I replied. “That’s my name. And please, don’t call me Mother.”

More recently, my genealogy research has led to the freeing of family secrets and added new textures to my Name. A curly-haired child, I resembled my maternal grandmother. Bermuda-born, Gram passed for white in Canada. I’m descended, I discovered, from Pequot Indian, and African, slaves.

Breast cancer has shocked me into a confrontation with my mortality. I courageously dance on the edge and wonder, juggling terrors and uncertainty with a passionate desire to live fully.

As I stitch the oddly shaped and multi-coloured fragments of my Name into a living quilt, I’m beginning to love my Name. Roslyn. Ros. Rozzie. Buzz. Soeur Roselyne. The one I love the best is Auntie Ros. I hope that when I die, my family and friends will gently hold my Name and know that I’ve been a Truth Seeker. And I hope that I, and my Name, being one and the same, will, like the Velveteen Rabbit, have become, Real.

Roslyn Ann Macgregor (a.k.a. Auntie Ros)
March 7, 2006

 ** This is not the attitude of Sisters today. And, if I hadn't been trying to be invisible and to find a safe family, I wouldn't have been there. St. Margaret's gave me so much, as I gave of myself to them. And I loved God, as well as my Sisters. Still do.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Remembering Lorne, Our Brother

I just re-read a chapter of Robert Fulghum's book - From Beginning to End: The Rituals of Our Lives.  The chapter is called "A Cemetery View" and begins with a photo of him sitting in a folding chair on his grave. Obviously, he's not in the ground yet, but had felt it important to living to contemplate his death. This meant speaking to his family about death, and buying a cemetery plot. 

We have a cemetery plot at Mount Royal Cemetery. It was bought in July 1950 after our brother Lorne drowned at Camp Kanawana. I have a garden there. Mum, Gram, Auntie Joyce, a tiny infant from Mile End, and our Connie are all interred there. I will be on Lorne and Mum's side one day. Not in a hurry. 

Lorne was eight, tall for his age with sturdy legs and lots of freckles. His thick brown hair had started out blonde and  his blue eyes sparkled. He had just completed Grade 3 at William White School three blocks from our home in Montreal South.

Peter Lorne Macgregor was born October 24, 1941 at what was then the Homeopathic Hospital in Montreal. he was called Lorne after Dad's best friend, Lorne Goat who helped Dad through rough teenage years. Lorne, Mum and Dad lived briefly in an upstairs apartment at 240 Labonté in Longueuil, and he was baptized at St. Mark's Anglican Church by the Rev (to become Canon) John Bonathan. Mum and Lorne lived in Barrie, ON while Dad was in training and working at Camp Borden. They moved back to Gram's at 427 Lafayette (Montreal South) when Dad went overseas towards the end of the war. Jim had been welcomed into the family on September 12, 1944. Dad came home from Europe in February 1946. Someone (Dad's cousin Doug Bowes-Lyon and his wife, Lottie, I think) arranged for Mum and Dad to have a room at a nice downtown hotel the night he embarked from the train. I arrived almost nine months later (a tiny bit premature). I look enough like both parents to be sure that the milkman wasn't involved. 

Lorne was everyone's baby. He was the first grandchild on both sides. He was the first child of all Mum's friends. Everyone loved him. Everyone claimed him. 

At Ada and Pop Goat's, I think.

July 1, the day he left for camp, after seeing him down the ecalator in the station, Mum, Dad and Jim and I stood at the wire fence gazing down into the pit where Place Ville Marie would be built - and watched his train cross the expanse and disappear under the mountain on its way to St-Sauveur. We waved and imagined we could see him and he, us. I was three. Jim was five.

Saturday, July 8th, early evening the telephone rang. Auntie Eileen, Mum, Jim, Gram and I were upstairs in Gram's living room. Being a big girl, I answered the phone. "A man's voice (it turned out to be Henry F. Hall) asked, "Is your Daddy there?" "No, Daddy's at work." "May I speak to your Mummy, please?" I handed the phone to Mummy and all hell broke loose, as Dad used to say. Mum's scream went to the end of the universe in a silence as vast and deep. Some terrible, chaotic force entered our home through the back living room window and filled the house with explosive energy, yet was so silent we could pretend it wasn't there. I did for about thirty years. And then some.

Chaos. Auntie Eileen called Uncle Bill who went and picked up Dad at work at the CN station. Some one called Canon Bonathan and he arrived. Many years later, when he was nearly 100, he said his strongest memory of that day was Jimmy standing in the door looking like a lost soul. As that was the day I became invisible, I don't know whether I was still there or if I had already been sent to Granny's in Brosseau. Children don't understand, of course. We were too little. NOT! No blame. Everyone did the best he or she could in the horrific circumstances. Except for Granny who was not the most understanding of adults. I can still see myself crying at her kitchen table, not wanting to eat (canned green beans) and being sent to bed because I wouldn't/couldn't eat. 

Hey! My brother died. I got sent away with adults lacking in compassion. At three, it's punishment, so it must have been my fault that Lorne died.... Ummm... Well, it's easier as a child to blame yourself than to imagine and realize the impotency of  grown-ups. I apparently cried enough that they sent me home. Then, my aunt told me off (I have this story in writing from her in later years). She said she got angry with me for being manipulative - that when I cried, "I want 'Norn. I want 'Norn" she told me what a bad girl I was for upsetting Mummy and that Lorne would be very disappointed in me in heaven. Good grief! Lessons in how not to treat youngsters when a sibling dies. (This, by the way, has been turned into a gift - in ministry I involve children in funerals, no matter their age, and know ... ) I'm still learning to cry my own tears of grief, and not my Mum's.

Lorne was molested many times as a little boy by a teenage neighbour. He was very anxious. His camp counsellor, John Slater, wrote to my parents after his death that it was very important to Lorne to be liked. He was also sensitive to others' hurt. John told Mum and Dad that a child with hair lip as it was called then was teased by the other boys and came crying to John. John said, "I bet Lorne didn't tease you." He was right. 

I wonder sometimes, who Lorne would have become. How would the abuse have affected him? Today, he would have been 72. I suppose he'd have white hair. Tall. We're complicated people. Being human is a challenge. I wish I could remember him, but I don't except for that moment waving good-bye after we'd seen him go down the escalator.

In 1991, after I was ordained deacon, and before I began work at St. Paul's, Lachine, I began to investigate Lorne's death. I called the YMCA. The director of Kanawana at the time asked if I was sure I had the right camp, as he'd never heard of a drowning. However, Bruce looked in the archives. There was no mention in the director's report of the day! The director of 1950 was still living and visited the downtown Y. Bruce asked him about it and gave me his name. I wrote a letter and asked for information - not to make trouble, but to bring closure. He called - I had just come back into the house for a forgotten item, when the phone rang. He gave details of what happened, who found him, where his body was taken ... and finally, after 41 years of the blame having been placed on Lorne for wandering off, the former director admitted that Lorne probably drowned during free swim that Saturday morning when there weren't enough counsellors on duty. He also died of cancer that September - so it was a kairos moment to have been in contact that summer.

I organized a memorial service in the outdoor chapel and Mum and Dad both came. Each told me separately afterwards that they had finally found peace. I have been back to Kanawana many times. Swimming, I would allow myself to dive deep and to come up - allowed to live - and putting 50+ years of survivor guilt to rest. Once - on July 8, 200o I placed a memorial on the wall with photos and poems.  The last time I visited was July 8, 2010 with our brother Jim. We swam in the lake, ate lunch in the dining area with the campers, and had a tour of the camp. 

It is enough now. Lorne lived. Lorne died.  I wish I had known him. I hope one day I will. 

Lorne is remembered at Kanawana. We remember him. We have broken the silence that surrounded his death for so many years, can cry our own tears, and be thankful that he was, and is, a part of us. 

Lorne's Memorial at Camp Kanawana, St-Sauveur

In memory of Peter Lorne Macgregor
born October 24, 1941
drowned at Kamp Kanawana Jul 8, 1950
loved and remembered by his parents, Frances and Jim Macgregor
his brother and sister, Jim and Roslyn Macgregor
other family and friends

"Give sorrow words. 
The grief that does not speak whispers the o'erwrought heart and bids it break."
from Macbeth


Be like the bird, who
Halting in his flight
On limb so slight
Feels it give way beneath him,
Yet sings
Knowing he hath wings.

Victor Hugo

You would know the secret of death.
But how shall you find it
unless you seek it in the heart of life?

If you would indeed behold the secret of death,
open your heart wide unto the body of life.
For life and death are one,
even as the river and the sea are one.

from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Remembering at Mount Royal - one of my family grave gardens

Monday, 21 October 2013

Waiting - in the womb of God...

I 'spect many people experience books jumping out at them, crying, "Read me! Read me!" I have hundreds of wonderful books (my addiction and weakness), and sometimes the hunger leads me to the shelves to find just the 'right' book - the one I don't know I'm looking for but deep down, I do know. It may be at the book store or amongst my own books.

Well, a few days ago, "Finding Stone" by Christian Lore Weber reached out and grabbed me. A lovely, quiet book - a poem and meditative read ...

I quote - 
"Waiting is endless. I waited to be grown up. To become myself, to be smart enough, patient enough, and loving enough. I waited to be seen, I waited to be heard, to be recognized. Even now, I wait to be called by name, to be understood. I wait to be strong. I wait to dare. I wait because I am powerless to do anything else. I wait because what I most treasure is deepest within and protected by silence. Out of waiting comes patience. Out of accepting my powerlessness comes strength and love and courage to dare. I wait and the waters enclose me: the waters of compassion, of Divine mercy and tenderness. I wait in the womb of God."

Art of Robin Urtin, Portland, Oregon - hoping I'm not doing something illegal.
Check her web page - for images and meditations

I keep reading this passage. Peacefully.

I was always waiting. I remember when I went to the convent, I waited - to travel to Boston, to become a postulant, to become a novice, to become first professed and then life professed. Safe, in a sense. part of a family/community that couldn't send me away. 

Moments were lost in that kind of waiting - the present moments, that is. Not always. Not totally, of course. But it was living into the future - waiting - to belong. To be safe. Ahhh... Look out - here comes the Holy Spirit!

Over time, some of my waiting has become Advent waiting - trusting, living in hope, that I, or we, will know what to do next when the time is right - kairos. I've learned this pretty well in relation to ministry and to other people. 

There seems to still be a problem with my inner self. Leftovers from early days. Waiting to become enough.

A priest asked me not long ago, "Are you grown up yet?" He was trying to put me down in that particular situation. We can only be put down if we allow ourselves to be - right? I answered, "I'm pretty well grown-up, but I'm still working on it." So are we all! If there's anyone out there who's finished growing up, then I expect he or she is dead - and even then, I'm kind of hoping growing doesn't end when we die.

What would smart enough, loving enough, patient enough look like? Urrgghh. Stop it! Breathe! 

I have waited to be seen, to be heard, to be recognized. I know about waiting to be seen, heard, recognized, because I felt invisible as a child. And that I could be sent away, given away, abandoned at any moment. No one meant it to be that way. It's just how things worked out. Unfortunately - the recognition seems to need to come from on  high. (You know - parent figures.)  I know. I know. It's not necessary. 

Something is changing within. Recognition has come from many quarters - from people at the Mission and those who have seen and understood what we were doing. From those who know our ministry in the East End - the love, joy, truth-seeking, and alive-ness of that small community of people.

Learning to know, trust, and speak my truths has been a huge challenge - as the saying goes, "Speak your truth, even if your voice shakes." Helping others do the same, has been one way of taking what is, in a sense, broken in me and using it as a gift. And when I see - as one example - how Lori at Mile End has taken on the system - challenged people with power, become a confident, articulate and sometimes comical leader - well - I did my job!  

I know I did! It is enough! Someone tell that little scared kid that continues to reside in my gut. OK. OK. I'm doing it myself!

Problem is - what am I still waiting for? Maybe I don't need to wait any more. Maybe I can accept that it is enough. Maybe.

Prayers appreciated. And I 'spect if you have read this far, it is because my journey is simply a human journey, and while the details of our lives, fears, insecurities, may differ, we're on this pilgrimage through life together. Grown up and still growing.

Being Invisible - Seeing People

Three Sundays ago, we had the following Gospel reading. It's the kind of reading I wish (am I alone?) we didn't have in our lectionary - or better still, that one of those guys putting the Gospels together hundreds of years ago had left out. You'll see why momentarily. However, since it's there, the escape route to preaching on the Epistle or the reading from the Hebrew Bible is the coward's way out.

Luke 17. 5 - 10
The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ 6The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a* mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.
7 ‘Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table”? Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink”? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” 

Is Jesus approving, accepting of slavery? Yikes! 

So, our little congregation wrestled with this passage. Some thoughts and questions:

This is the kind of passage that reminds us that we cannot take the Bible literally, and/or use it to justify our behaviour. Well, it WAS used to justify slavery. Those were all good Christians, right, who transported, sold, and owned slaves? What do we do with THAT??!!

And today - who are the slaves today? What is it about a slave? Slaves are invisible. Seen, if at all, as inhuman, sub-human, objects to be used. 

One person used the personal approach - it's part of our story and a valid response, but inadequate by itself - that we are enslaved to sin. I was wondering about actual slaves? 

Who are slaves today - who is invisible, seen/treated as inhuman or sub-human?

People responded: "Children in factories and fields around the world. Prostitution rings selling youngsters and adults. The people who lost their lives in Bangladesh, making clothes for us in unsafe buildings - doors locked - so they could not even escape when fire broke out. People who suffer from mental illness and are alone and sometimes homeless... people begging on the streets ... the poor, people who are different from us ... AIDS orphans ... and on it went." 

What is our call in the midst of this? I'm still working on it...

Question: What do you do when you see someone on the streets (say, Ste-Catherine) begging for money? One person told a powerful story of how difficult she finds it to see people on the street begging. She doesn't have very much. She is afraid. She wishes they weren't there. She wants to get past them as quickly as possible. And while she was speaking, others were nodding their heads. 

Another asked, "How do we know if the need is real, or if we're being taken advantage of?" Again - nods.

These are human and natural responses. Not right. Not wrong. REAL.

Next comes what do we do about it? What can we do? What does it mean - going back to the Gospel to have faith enough to move mountains. Jesus actually took that question, and as he so often did, turned it on its head. He seems to be saying you're asking the wrong question - you don't need huge amounts of faith. (And anyhow, I add, when people have huge amounts of faith, or believe we do, sometimes we can be pretty self-righteous, comparing ourselves with whomever... judging  those who don't 'believe enough'! What would be enough??)

Maybe, we decided - though we're still working on it - maybe we only need a grain as small as a mustard seed. 

Say - I don't have any money with me. Say I ... whatever... what is it that someone sitting on the street begging needs most? What is it we all of us need most? Slaves. Free. Men. Women, Children. Poor. Wealthy. .... we need to be seen. To be visible to the world around us. Acknowledged as human. As a person of worth who is judged simply as being a child of God (or whatever language one wants to use) and of immeasurable worth. No matter our life circumstances.

So, the mustard seed. It is small. It doesn't cost anything. Give money if we can and feel we should. But it costs us nothing to acknowledge the person. Smile. Speak. Nod. Look them in the eyes. It does cost something of course, because most of us are - maybe - afraid. But, we can do it!

Work in progress.

Crinkle! Crunkle! Scuff!

At church two Sunday ago, I asked at the beginning of my homily, how many people had scuffed about in autumn leaves that recently. Three hands went up out of 19. Now that is pitiful! God gave us autumn leaves precisely for that purpose! Never get too old to scuff in autumn leaves. Never, ever get too old to play in the leaves. Borrow a child, if you feel too foolish - though it's a shame not to have the feist to do it on your own. Others around you would probably be watching with envy, wishing they could reclaim that bit of fun in their grown-up lives. AND - never get too old to blow bubbles, either!

I'm back after a long hiatus. I was away in the UK for 6 weeks, and I don't like to advertise online that I'm not home. Maybe I'll share the e-mails I sent to friends and relatives, on my pilgrimage with family and continuing to search for my ancestors - principally to know my Grandpa Macgregor better. And I am beginning to scratch the surface of understanding, though there is still a certain amount (or uncertain amount) of mystery about him.

When I returned, I leapt into work. Have had some wonder-full experiences in ministry with people, wrestling with meanings ... see the next few blogs entries ...It's time to stop avoiding writing and as my friend Holly reminded me - the key to writing is to place bum on chair in front of computer. :-) It is so placed for at least an hour - and so we're off! 

"We are pilgrims on a journey ... "  from the hymn Brother/sister let me be your servant....

A pilgrim.