Saturday, 30 January 2016

CEO of the Universe? Hmmm...

A postscript to retiring as CEO of the universe. I'm thinking it's a teensy bit arrogant to imagine we're CEO's of the universe. And how does one retire from a position that one doesn't, in fact, hold? 

Ah well.. 

Here's a poem of Mary Oliver's that moves me greatly: (shared before

And, another prayer - I wish I could share the exquisite image by Mary Fleeson at the Lindisfarne Scriptorium...
Be still, let the tide of memories wash over you.
Listen to the whispers of the Saints.
Feel the breath of wisdom refresh your mind.
Return to the place of peace, Your holy island.

A Challenging Story : Family Secrets and Freedom

I've just finished a long book my friend Ellen discovered. One Drop: My Father's Hidden Life - A Story of Race and Family Secrets


Bliss Broyard's father's family originated in France, arrived in New Orleans, Louisiana when said territory belonged to the French in the 1700's - well - the land belonged to Chocktaw Indians, really - but was colonized by the French including one of our Longueuil Lemoynes. Enter slaves - both from Africa and Indian... Somewhere along the line, the Broyard family became 'mixed.' On both sides. Only, they were mostly 'fair-skinned' mixed. Language is tricky and for now am avoiding using the word 'race.' Also sprinkling liberally with quotation marks.

It's a very long story - and I learned a great deal about the history of Louisiana, racism, the Civil War, the development of laws - is there a word for devolving laws? - as in they became more and more rigid and - let's see - evil ... Fear ... Horrors ... People of colour lost land and the ability to find work - this is speaking politely - not even mentioning water-fountains, etc...  ) So, Bliss's grandfather moved the family to NYC. When they crossed the Mason-Dixon line, they were 'permitted' to sit in the same cars as whites. But before we get too smug, racism was alive in the north as well. 

Her Dad had fair-skin, dark brown (wavy, though) hair, and blue-ish eyes. When he was 17, he went to apply for a Social Security card. It took a long time - deciding what to check off - was he White or Negro or Other? Eventually,he put a faint C in Other and when asked the meaning, said it was for Creole. There's a whole story there - the meaning and history of Creoles in Louisiana. 

Long tense discussion with clerk - what was he? - eventually the boss came over and wanted to know what the problem was. Boss (looking him over) says, effectively - "He's obviously white!" and checks the box. 

Officially, Anatole Paul Broyard became white. He passed for white. He cut himself off almost entirely from his family, moved from Bedford Stuyvesant to Greenwich Village,  eventually married a blonde woman of Norwegian descent, and brought the two children up in pretty well white Connecticut. Worked as a critic for the New York Times. Died in his 60's of cancer. His children only discovered their 'racial' heritage as he was dying. Bliss went on a 16+ year journey to discover who her father was - and who she was and is. 

Fascinating. Troubling. 

When Gram, Auntie Jenny (her younger sister) and her Mum left Bermuda in 1904, they passed through Ellis Island on their way to their brother Charlie in Liverpool. In the Ellis Island registers, they are listed as West Indian African Black. Auntie had fair hair and skin. Gram had fair skin with African and/or American Indian facial features.  Laura Mary, their mother and my great-grandmother, was a little darker.

Auntie and Gram - possibly taken shortly before they emigrated in 1904

Great-Gram - Laura Mary
They began a journey, once they were in Liverpool, of 'passing' for white. In 1908, when they arrived in Montreal, of course it continued. Mum and Auntie Joyce had died before I made the discovery about our roots. Auntie Eileen knew, but it was a pretty well-kept family secret. Sadly. Sadly, because secrets are destructive. And sadly because it was necessary if they wanted freedom and better opportunities in education and finding work, etc. 

Questions of belonging. Questions of power and overt and covert discrimination. Questions of equality. I could say questions of 'race' but there is no such thing as race. The concept was developed to divide and conquer. 

Towards the end of the book, Bliss Broyard quotes T. S. Eliot from his poem "Little Gidding" :
"We shall not cease from exploration / And the end of our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time."

An ongoing journey.

Broyard writes:
"I began this journey with the revelation of my father's racial ancestry. After sixteen years of exploration - and being by turns impressed and dismayed by my father and his choices - I feel I have only now... begun to know the dilemma for myself.

I may never be able to answer the question What am I? yet the fault is not in me but with the question itself. And with that realization, that letting go, I can finally say good-bye."  Page 463.

I'm still on the journey - and hope to return before long to Bermuda to capture in writing some of the stories of the women of colour in and around St. George's before it's too late  - family and friends who don't go back quite to Gram's day - after all, she'd be 125 this year :-) but some are in their 90's and their parents were of Gram's generation.

Friday, 22 January 2016

Retiring as CEO of the Universe: Thanks Marilyn

OK. So, two weeks ago I travelled east to Knowlton to visit Margaret (my 93 year old friend and adopted Mum) at Manoir Lac Brome. Margaret's niece Marilyn dropped by after lunch for a while. Marilyn, a Baptist and wife of a Baptist pastor, announced in our post-Christmas discussion of busy-ness and general exhaustion, that she has decided to retire as CEO of the universe.

Images in this instalment are from Google images

YES! That's it! I'm going to retire as CEO of the universe, too. Actually, there is normally only one CEO of a company, but I wonder - how many CEO's of the universe are out there? Hmmm... Ready to admit it, some of y'all?

Could it be about control? Illusions of control? Fear of the unknown or letting go?

I'm swimming again after two months of protecting my eye after cataract surgery (which went really, really well), the pool being closed over the holidays, and resistance to getting my butt up and out the door at 6:20 Monday, Wednesday, Friday. 

Joy! I did it! 

Water is a place of healing, insights, exercise, laughter, sharing with special friends, and practising my French. Ahhh... I'd forgotten how good it is. Today I swam 30 lengths and then another 10 at the end (adds up to a kilometre). Did my lymphedema exercises. Mmmm... Feels good... very good... 

Then I stopped by to see Denise, who at 91 was swimming 40 lengths three times a week until she had a stroke in November. A 'small' stroke and she's home again... and we talked about struggles ... life and death and ... well important stuff. I tried to explain about tectonic plates - "plaques tectoniques" we found using her iPad.

Periodically my internal tectonic plates shift. The shifting of earthly tectonic plates results in earthquakes, tsunamis, and forms of chaos and destruction. And so it is with the personal kind.

This time it's been six months of losses through death and otherwise, challenges seen and unforeseen, disappointments, health scares, questions about the future ... well - no different from others' lives ;-) but growth in each of us calls us to feel, live through, and be open to the changes that will come.  Last time my tectonic plates shifted so dramatically was eleven years ago when I had breast cancer.

Insight in the pool - ongoing insight - but fresh today - I've spent much of my life hoping someone could make me feel safe. It grows out of deaths, insecurities and chaos in my early life. Children do what we need to to survive. We may create illusions of safety - long desperately, consciously or unconsciously, for a sense of safety. I've tried in various ways through my 69 years to convince myself that I was and am safe.

Guess what?! This world is not a safe place. No one can make me safe. And please don't tell me God will make me safe or make me feel safe. That can be a cop-out. It maybe true, but still can be used as a cop-out in the sense of removing who I am and the struggles to become more and more human, aware, and free. The world is NOT safe. Period. Living isn't a safe occupation. If you've heard me say or write this before, forgive me. I'm not finished with it yet. 

Marilyn came along at just the right time with just the right message. She's retiring as CEO of the universe. Me, too. We aren't in control. We are never going to be in control. And attempts to keep control aren't good for our health or for the people around us. 

So - we live through the shifting of our tectonic plates. 

a willingness to live through the shifts
a sense of humour when possible ;-)  

Also required: The holy trinity of more exercise, good eating habits AND good companions.
 (from Sister Helen Claire, SSJD in an email yesterday)

In case you have trouble reading this - it's kind of dark:
"Sometimes life takes us places we never expected to go. and in those places God writes a story we never thought would be ours."

Hmmmm...  ongoing stories... 

Monday, 4 January 2016

Watch "Spotlight" : Then Secret-keep if We Can

Spotlight. The movie now playing.

"The true story of how the Boston Globe uncovered the massive scandal of child molestation and cover-up within the local Catholic Archdiocese, shaking the entire Catholic Church to its core."

It's not just about the Roman Catholic Church. Nor is it just about Boston. It's about the secret-keeping about abuse as an institution to protect the image of, in this case, the Church rather than protect innocent children from predatory leaders.

It's sickening and heart-breaking. And I can't write much right now. I am reminded, though, of a quote in Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis. 

“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve," said Aslan. "And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.”

The fact that we are sinners - (and glorious creatures, as well) - does not excuse us as individuals or as an institution, from speaking truth and seeking justice for those who have been abused in the past by lay and clergy leaders in the church.

It's time. I think that's the meaning of kairos. 

And if I may be so bold, I believe it is what Jesus wants us to do.