Comforting Words: Taking Care of Me

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Taking Care of Me

Many people have asked why did we migrate to Canada and to Edmonton in particular. To be cute, my response is that when I opened my eyes the pin was stuck on this western city.

Truthfully, the decision to migrate was a long time coming and was made for very personal reasons. The choice of Edmonton, however, had nothing to with any deep desire to be here, rather it was made for rather practical reasons – “it’s the economy, stupid.”

Much deeper, migrating to Canada, at least for me, was a decision made at a soul level – if one can say that. This is definitely not true for my teenage daughter – who still cannot understand why we traded sun and sand for –20 degrees Celsius.

Now in Edmonton for almost three years, we have experienced the highs and lows of being immigrants in North America. Despite those low moments, when the insensitivity of human nature comes to the fore, each day brings to us opportunities to more profoundly participate in the culture of this beautiful country. We have embraced many of these new experiences and some we have yet to test.

Among those untested ‘adventures’ are ones that I have personally been slow to embrace, terrified and unwilling to give in to their appeal. Recently, I had the pleasure of being in the presence of an Aboriginal elder and he shared some thoughts which gave me courage to finally embrace some of these adventures. He reminded me that the journey between the mind and the heart is very long but it is one we must take if we are to become who we truly are meant to be.

This is a journey to self, the real self and it is the one that presents all of us with the opportunity to take care of "me." Personally, I am terrified at the mystery and lack of control that this journey between my mind and heart holds and need help. Join me for this trip through the Words from Scripture, Words of Comfort and Words from the Heart as I start “Taking Care of Me.”

WORDS FROM SCRIPTURES

These words come from a little book entitled “The Best of Women’s Quotations:”

“You have got to discover you, what you do, and trust it.”
Barbra Streisand, b. 1942

“Taking joy in life is a woman’s best cosmetic.”
Rosalind Russell (1911 – 1976)

“I want to be all that I am capable of becoming . . .”
Katherine Mansfield (1888 – 1923)

“Challenges make you discover things about yourself that you never really knew. They’re what make the instrument stretch – what make you go beyond the norm.”
Cicely Tyson

WORDS OF COMFORT

Sometime last year a friend of mine, Ren, asked me to write an article for an online magazine he started. The theme of the issue was “Beginnings” and he wanted an article from me, which would give my reason for migrating to Canada.

He gave the article the title “Trading Sun and Surf for Snow and Inner Peace” and it was published in the April 2004 issue of EmbraceZine. Limited by the word count Ren gave me, I tried to give the basic reasons for migrating to Canada. I wrote:

“I am one of more than 2.2 million people who, according to government statistics of the past decade, chose Canada as their new home. Most immigrants will likely say that their reason for settling in this true North strong and free country is to reunite with family, pursue economic opportunities, achieve educational goals or flee persecution.

My personal answer is none of the above. I came to Canada to re-create myself. It’s a short and sweet answer, which often baffles the inquisitor. It also causes me to dig deep within myself in an effort to unveil personal details of a bittersweet journey that continues to this day.”


As I reflect on this journey to re-create myself since writing that article, I am filled with both a sense of sadness and utter joy. The sadness has much to do with missing all that is familiar to me – the friendships that did not require setting an appointment to see each other or the neighbours who I would see in my backyard picking peppers or some other fruit or who would have left something from their own garden on our doorsteps.

I also miss my partner’s parents who would show up with purchases that they made for us at the supermarket because it was "on special" and they were in the neighbourhood – which was over ten miles from their home. This was particularly true of her father who was a bargain hunter. He made his transition in 1999 and has left me with a special hymn to remember him by:

"Through the Love of God our Saviour
All will be well;
Free and changeless is his favour,
All, all is well."

Speaking of hymns, I really miss those Sunday worship services filled with music, dancing, soulful singing and preaching that were as hot as the midday sun. I also ache for those mornings when I would rise with the sun and go walking along the beach with my dogs and those of the neighbours in tow. We would wait for the vendors on Hellshire Beach to light the fire and prepare me a meal of fresh snapper and festival.

Admittedly, there have been times when I have wondered what ever made me leave Jamaica for these cold climes and sometimes cold people? I have lived in Europe for many years and have had the experience of being a ‘stranger’ or a ‘foreigner’ and it was not always wonderful.

Racism and superiority complexes have marred many of my memories of otherwise beautiful places across Europe. To decide to reside permanently in North America and in western Canada, a place where ‘visible minorities’ are exactly that – the minority, was not made lightly.

As mentioned in that Embrace article, when asked the “Why Canada” question my response usually points to the less vaunted claims about Canada as the attraction to us for migrating here. We came here as it is, “a land of new beginnings . . . a place with opportunities to start anew, where one can re-create themselves free of fear. It provided a structure to facilitate and support my transformation.”

Cicely Tyson is quoted earlier as saying that it is the challenges of life that make one discover themselves and that is very true of me. Throughout the years, my greatest learning moments have been those in which I wondered whether I would make it – whether I would live to see another day due to abuse, violence or ill-health; whether another ignorant comment about the colour of my skin or some sexist remark would cause me to lose it or how would the next month’s mortgage be paid.

There is a wonderful little book by Spencer Johnson, “Who Moved My Cheese?” that, as the blurbs states, provides amazing insights how to deal with life’s changes. I gave this book to my partner in 2001, at a time when her career had reached, at least in her mind, its plateau but she was terrified at the possibility of starting over and looking for her ‘cheese’.

It is impossible to credit this book with our migrating to Canada but I think it would be fair to say that it made the move less frightening. A year after giving her that book, it was my turn to ‘freak out’ about what to do with my life. I knew that the communications field was no longer appealing to me and had a sense of the call to ministry.

However, I too was terrified, not about starting over – as those who know me well will testify that that is the least of my fears. My fear had more to do with judgement, my own and that of others.

What will people think of the new me, what did I think about the changes going on in me, as I became intentional about my faith journey? How would people respond to my coming out of the proverbial closet? Could I handle the rejection that I know would come from some? Was I ready to be all that I am and fearlessly represent those who could not do the same?

On a practical level, I was extremely concerned with how would this transformation happen, how would we afford my going back to school and doing the necessary preparation for ministry?

Being the smart aleck that she is, my partner gave me a book that I have referred to before here at Comforting Words, “If Not Now When?” by Stephanie Marston. One particular chapter stood out then and even now. It was the chapter entitled “Giving Birth to Ourselves,” which truly spoke to the spiritual transformation that was occurring in my being.

Marston wrote that at midlife our consciousness shifts and “our spirituality is now about our relationship with the sacred – with a greater reality that gives our life meaning – and how we bring that connection into our everyday activities.”

To me that meant living authentically. My relationship was almost ten years old at this time of ‘big change’ and though we had (and still have) wonderful friends, ‘in-laws’ that accepted our relationship and a nice home close to the Caribbean Sea, I knew I was not living authentically. My partner felt the same.

Strange as it may seem, leaving the island that is so precious to me was the way to be true to all that I am. As Barbara Streisand said, I had to leave my island home to further “discover [me], what [I] do, and trust it.”

A large part of that process of discovery, as I have come to learn this week, has to do with self-care.

As one of several Student-Chaplains, doing Supervised Pastoral Education at a local hospital, our supervisor took us through an exercise to assess how much self-care we practice. The point of this exercise was to ascertain whether we are adequately taking care of ourselves in order to be more for others.

This is a concept alien to me. You see, I am the driven one, the “doer”, the organiser, the one making sure everything gets done even if it means doing everything myself.

Looking back, it might very well have to do with my upbringing and deep-rooted desire to emerge from the “less than” box. I have spent a lot of time “doing” – either for others or to keep improving my chances of liberation. I have spent quite a bit of time on educational pursuits (and continue to do so) because my mother told me it was the way out of poverty.

I have spent many long and late nights at the office, being productive to get the promotion. I have given more money and things than I could really afford to just to keep "in the flow," trying to ensure that I will be valued.

It is therefore so ironic to me, having been "driven and given" for so long, to learn now through a programme that is concerned with teaching how to be a spiritual caregiver of people at their most vulnerable, that what I need is self-care .

The biggest irony to me is this: having migrated from one of the 'playgrounds' of the world, to the priaries of Canada, I now need to play more! Where? In the snow? In minus 20 degrees? At the "beach" in West Edmonton Mall? Someone please tell me exactly how that looks!

What I learnt this week, other than the fact that I need to dust off my gym membership card, is that if I am to discover all of me and what the Divine desires of me, I must learn to:
 balance work and play
 loaf more
 slow down
 plan regular recreation

Honestly, I am struggling with this, as it seems the antithesis of being a responsible and productive contributor to society. For years, my partner would say her desire is to be a wealthy bum and I thought she lacked ambition but a more hardworking, love-life person you could never find. I am often amazed at the things she notices – like the fact that two new leaves are now on the trees, the variety of birds on the lawn picking at the seeds or the shade of the water at the lake at her favourite park!

How does one loaf more to be more? My idea of taking it easy has always been an air-conditioned room at a four star hotel, with cable television and a view of the ocean. Since coming to Canada, I have settled with the idea of a RV as the most rustic way to go.

Well, the jury is in and they have handed in the verdict which is - I need to learn to loaf – not simply enjoying an early morning walk on the beach but ‘let my hair down’ (if you can imagine that) for more than thirty minutes a month. Not only is it therapeutic, I am told, it is necessary self-care if one is to be more for others and if you wish to discover and express all that you are.

Being the planner, I came up with one for the few spring and summer months that we have here in Alberta. Some friends gave me some ideas and some will even be joining me.

I will be on a weekend camping trip in early June with a couple of strong men who are experienced with living in the wild and making a fire to cook dinner. It will not be freshly caught snapper - but I am readying myself for whatever.

Some days you will find me doing lunchtime yoga stretches (?) with a fellow Student-Chaplain on the lawn of the hospital. You will also see me loafing, ‘slurpee’ in hand, on Whyte Avenue.

My friend B. is getting excited at the possibility of us taking a road trip, instead of flying, to a Conference in Vancouver in late July. I am not overly excited about the fourteen-hour drive with B., because she is not a great singer. Long drives must involve singing, even I get that. The trouble with this plan is that neither of us are good singers, so I am not sure how that is going to work out.

For those of you who live in this neck of the woods and need to lighten up yourself, look out for me: The somewhat tall, very, very low haired, woman of African descent running through the hills of Jasper with a little Pomeranian Shi Tzu under her arms and a moose chasing us – that will be me and my dog Angello (that's him in my new profile picture).

P.S. By the way, this month’s issue (May 2005) of ‘O’ Magazine is a keepsake. I recommend it to all who have wanted to change just one thing in their lives and have been afraid to do so.

WORDS FROM THE HEART

The Invitation
By Oriah Mountain Dreamer

(I have shared this poem before, but will offer this excerpt, as it is appropriate for the journey from mind to heart.)

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living, I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are – I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon, I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayal or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live and how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after a night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments
.

Blessings and take care of your Soul until next time.

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