Comforting Words: 02/2006

Monday, February 27, 2006


Some words simply cause me problems and quite often downright grief.

Over the past year, I have shared a few of those: “Responsibility,” and “Surrender,” come immediately to mind.

The trouble I have with these words had to do with interpretation; the fact that everyone brings their life story to bear on the way they use certain words or phrases. For some, 'responsiblity' means doing the right thing for other people. At the same time, it could very well mean (as I have heard one minister stress) “having the ability to respond.”

Some people understand 'surrender' as a synonym of 'sacrifice' – giving up your heart’s desire for the sake of another. Again, this is one of those words that could be interpreted in a ‘inner’ focused way, having more to do with choosing a particular way of being rather than “submitting,” or “conceding” one’s desire.

By now you are probably wondering where is she going with this and what does this have to do with either Black History Month, which ends tomorrow, or my birthday party that I promised to tell you about. Answer: not much yet everything.

As a person of colour, a woman, a lesbian, a divorcee and an immigrant in a white-majority country – the call to responsibility and to surrender have been both numerous and continuous. Even louder have the voices been that would have you believe that total surrender of diverse identities into a homogenous one is the only way to peace. Wars and murders have been and continue to be waged and committed due to this mode of strife-mongering.

“Get with the programme,” “Get over it,” and “That isn’t normal,” are some of the refrains that people of colour, for example, and specifically black people have had to live with whether the conversations is about the economy, race-relations or sexual orientation.

Nothing short of a complete surrender of culture, sexual identity, personal values or spiritual convictions and practices is acceptable to those in the majority. Dominant cultures and groups demand that ‘the others’ behave and conform to their notions of ‘right’ and to their understanding that usually, surprise, involves submission.

For this reason, in my decision to host a pyjama party to mark my 41st year on this Earth plane I took a very personal and intimate stand to not be ‘responsible’ and not ‘surrender’. I chose instead what would give me joy and the greatest sense of freedom.

As things turned out, my party was truly a ladies night when due to circumstances beyond control the (four) men who I had invited could not be there. Decked in our pyjamas and wooly socks to keep our feet warm in below freezing temperatures, my women-friends (all over 40) and I drank wine, Jamaican rum and ate well as we toasted each other, the menopausal years and Life.

Not for a second were any of us constrained by skin colour, sexuality (and we were not all lesbians, I would have you know) or the diversity of faith in my living room. We were response-able in our loving of each other and we surrendered to the experience of being diverse and different. We had a ball, as we negotiated which movies to watch, that continued (for some) until three Sunday afternoon.

Speaking of response-ability and surrendering to Life, one woman-friend, who has come to mean so much to me over the past year in ways beyond imagination, used another word that gives me trouble. We were talking about relationships; the joys of finding a partner and the pain of letting a possible soul mate go by. She said the latter is a ‘bittersweet’ feeling and I tentatively agreed.

“Bittersweet,” particularly in the context of relationships is a troublesome word and emotion for me – one that tugs at the core of who I am. For this reason, I again choose to ‘go with the feeling’, activate my response-ability and, for the month of March, focus on relationships – the intimate ones.

We have spoken about parent/child relationships in a few articles. This time, however, I would like to look at the questions – What is an intimate relationship and what makes it so? Are intimate relationships only of a physical nature or can they be spiritual? Does one always have to be with the person who causes your heart to flip-flop when you hear their voice? Or is it possible to be intimate with someone from a distance or without them ever knowing? What about friendships – can they be intimate relationships without sex?

Some of these questions are my own but many are questions that I have fielded from more than a few readers of Comforting Words. I believe the time has come to taste “bittersweet.”



Photograph available at Yahoo Images

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Universal Language: Pain and Hope

He was not the first or even the most petulant child I have ever seen. His behaviour, however, was a powerful lesson for me this morning, one that is relevant to race relations and Black History Month.

Each morning as I sit on the bus on the way to work, the drama of human life unfolds in myriad of ways, presenting me with material for my musings and/or lessons for my own learning and development. This Thursday morning was no different, with several mothers embarking on the bus with a little boy or girl who is either eager to get to school or still too sleepy to care.

Unlike on the public transportation in my country of origin, Jamaica, the seats just rear of the driver are designated for elderly persons, those with physical challenges or mothers with small children. For the most part, those not fitting these descriptions will vacate these seats when needed by such passengers and this morning most of the men and younger women on Route #43 did just that.

At the third stop after I got on, a mother came on the almost full bus with an eager little boy in tow. He looked about five years old and it was clear that he was in a take-charge mood. First, he insisted that his mother lift him so that he could insert the ticket into the depository. Then, as several passengers had vacated seats for the Asian mother and her son, she gratefully moved him towards the nearest before the bus was again in motion.

“Mr Eager,” I will call him, however, wanted none of that, preferring to remain standing barely able to hang on to the rails over his tiny frame. His mother prodded him to get into the seat but he refused, pushing backwards into her. Knowing that at any moment the driver could hit the brake and her little one would careen into the lower front boards of the bus; she picked him up and planted him in the seat.

The drama that unfolded was both amusing and insightful, as the temperament of this five year old soon became obvious, as he sprang out of the seat and dashed towards the driver’s seat.

Now, Edmonton is fast becoming a very multicultural city, with people from all over the world and the Aboriginal peoples creating an interesting and diverse mosaic of cultures and languages. Sitting on a bus, one can hear so many different languages and accents but as I, an English-speaking immigrant from the Caribbean, watched this Asian mother and her son, as I heard her voice and tone, I recognized the language she spoke.

The universal language of motherhood requires no formal training or audiotapes. It is a tongue that every mother (and father for that matter) recognizes. It is one so accentuated with love and concern for the well being of the offspring that its tone will be pained.

Watching and listening to this mother, I understood every word she was saying to her child as he kicked and screamed at her, wanting to have his own way, completely unaware of the potential danger of his desired action.

I understood the language as I spoke it the evening before to my 18 (going 28) year old daughter, who I fear is jeopardizing her chance at higher education by not dedicating herself to her studies the way I think fit.

It was also the language I used this morning as I clicked on a Yahoo! News item about “Job Market unkind to Canada-born minorities.” Reading the article describing the racial discrimination that Canadian-born and educated people of colour face, my voice quivered with pain and anguish as I raged at a society still blinded by ignorance.

The anxiety of the Asian mother to protect her child was mine, albeit my child is well on her way to womanhood. The pain that she expressed, in a foreign language to my ear but a universal one to my heart, as her son kicked and screamed at her, is a feeling I share as I wonder whether my admonishment to my daughter was in vain.

“What’s the point of encouraging a child to do good in school, when according to this article people of colour in Canada are concentrated in low level sales and clerical jobs?,”
I thought. “When is racism going to stop?” I screamed.

Unknowingly, this petulant five year old boy took me to such raw emotions this morning. Reflecting on what he demonstrated, I realized that the Universe is our Mother and she, like the Asian mother, cries to us, asking and prodding us into right action. However, like the little boy (and my daughter), we have free will and a right to choose how we wish to learn and so we go right ahead with our self-determined course of action.

After several attempts to get him to sit in the seat, the mother on the bus gave up and it was amusing to watch the little trooper hanging on to the rails for dear life – with his mother close enough to catch him should he lose his grip.

Some people in this country, Canada, and many others around the world are like that five year old – petulant and wanting to do things their own way, even though those ways cause hurt and pain to others.

The Universe is watching and waiting for them to realize that all her children were created in Her image and likeness.

She, Mother Universe, like the Asian mother this morning, is wiping the tears of people of colour all over Edmonton, Canada and the world who are bumping into societies’ stubbornness and determination to keep ‘the others’ out.

From a place of pain and hope,



Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Happy Birthday to Me

Tomorrow, February 15, 2006, is my forty-first birthday, bringing to an end my all-year celebration of my fortieth.

On Saturday, February 25, a few of my dear friends, including members of the Comforting Words Community, will help me close this special time. The official celebration had to be postponed as this weekend my partner, along with two dear women-friends, will be cooking and serving at a Black History Month Luncheon at my church and I will be trying to calm my nerves to again deliver the Reflection.

The thought, however, of my friends donning their pyjamas and coming over to my place for what I am anticipating to be a night of childish fun will do the trick.

My guests need not purchase any special or expensive lingerie for this event – any old terry wool, flannel or cotton pj’s will do. Mind you, I will need to purchase a presentable pair myself, as it has not been my habit to wear the things, preferring a tee-shirt and an old gym pants myself.

We will watch old movies (maybe Calendar Girls) while nibbling on the delectable hor d’oeuvres – crab stuffed shells, mini crème caramel and pastry filled with shrimp, among others – that my partner, Chef Mc, is planning to whip up for us.

The part that I am looking forward to most is the music! I have spent hours searching for and downloading some of my favourites, much to the chagrin of a particular woman-friend whose taste in music is so different from mine. I am confident though that even she will be infected by the ‘jig and boogie’ bug while the night is still young!

You might be wondering why a forty-one year old woman is so excited about a pyjamas and sleep over party? Does she not have anything better to do, you might be asking?

You are exactly right – there is nothing better than this!

There is nothing better that I would like to do next week Saturday than being with a group of people, who have filled my year with such love and pleasure, people who have supported my growth even when the going was tough and people who have helped me to realize that I am enough!

There are many others who I would love to be there but for various reasons cannot. I know that they will be with us in spirit, hopefully a childish and playful one, and I thank them. Thanks to all who have sent me messages of well-wishes. I love you and thank God that I have the privilege of journeying with you.

I have never felt so much love in my entire life and there is no better way I could imagine of saying “Thank You God,” than being in the company of these loving friends; breaking bread and having the time of our lives doing simple things!

I have only one wish – would someone please, please get me a carrot cake from “Death By Chocolate?”



Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sharing a Reflection: Black, Woman and Gay

Recently, the Minister of the Church that I am a member of asked me to "Share A Reflection," at its 7th Anniversary of becoming an Affirming Congregation.

This was not the first time I was being invited to share with 'church people' my reflection on what it means to be a person of colour, a woman and a self-identified lesbian in Canada.

However, it was the first time that so many people came to me requesting a copy of my presentation. After sending quite a few emails of this Reflection and providing a copy for an upcoming publication of the Church, I decided to make it available through Comfort Foundation and Ministries.

There is a saying, "Be careful what you wish for," and it is so true! It has been my desire to speak out on behalf of women, people of colour and the LGBT community and after this sharing this Reflection I have been invited to 'speak out' on March 12, 2006 at one church on the South side of Edmonton. Before that, I will also be sharing another Reflection, this time on Black History Month, with my own congregation on February 19, 2006. We will see how that goes.

Here is an edited version of the Reflection on being Black, Woman and Gay in Canada. Invite you to read it with an open heart and spirit as the congregation did as it contains some of points that need repeated highlighting on behalf of black women (and men) who are divinely created as lesbians (and gay men).


In 2001, when my partner and I submitted our applications to the Canadian High Commission to migrate to this country as skilled workers, we wrote in the letter covering our documents that we wanted to be full members of an orderly society, paying our taxes and contributing to the continued development of the country through the talents and skills we possessed.

Why were we seeking to leave behind all that we were familiar with, a country of 12 months of sunshine, white sand beaches, a property we owned and fairly high profile careers? You might ask why did we not want to continue to use those talents and skills to the benefit of the developing nation called Jamaica? Why would we leave all that to come to Edmonton, Alberta?

Well, we choose to leave all this and more behind, including our parents, because our beloved Jamaica is a country that the international organization Human Rights Watch describes as somewhere where "violent attacks against homosexuals are common place."

By the time of our applications, we had had our share of threats to burn our house. We were tired of hiding, tired of the fear that we would be outed in a public way that would cause great damage to our daughter.

We were looking for a home where we could work, play, pray and rest as a family; one where our sexual orientation would not be the reason to maim or kill us. We were looking for a place to call home where our daughter would not be ashamed of our family, a society that is orderly, caring, compassionate and where all are treated equally regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, skin colour or faith belief.

With hope in our eyes we came to Canada in 2002, knowing full well that although this country is not free of discrimination, we thought at least we would not have to be in a closet due to our being lesbians.

I do not believe any of you could have been as happy as we were when we visited Alberta Health and found out we could register as a family. You probably would not understand how proudly we filled in those forms as a couple knowing full well that we would receive less than single parent families for Child Tax Benefit.

I would not be revealing any secrets when I say that Canada is a wonderful country and although there have been many days that I have wondered about our decision to migrate here I have never regretted it. But Canada in all its manifestations - the politics, the church and the people - still has a lot of soul searching to do about the way minorities (ethnic, racial, and sexual) are regarded and treated.

In the tension of this tolerance and arrogance, my family and I have been blessed to enter the doors of Southminster-Steinhauer United Church to find a home, a sanctuary, where all of who we are is not simply welcomed but embraced and celebrated.

I have visited other congregations, of other denominations and in the United Church, where my ethnicity was like a cold wind passing through and everyone ran for cover. I have entered churches and institutions where my accent and my gender make me a target for poor reception. I have been in classrooms where the lessons tell a tale of ignorance, condescension and disdain of anyone or anything not white or orthodox. Moreover, I have entered gay and lesbian settings where I was too ethnic.

But not here, not at Southminster-Steinhauer.

This congregation in its commitment to be Affirming of not only gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people but of all people - women, men, children - who suffer discrimination and injustice in all its forms has provided me and by extension my family with not just a channel to praise and lift my voice freely and openly as a lesbian to the Divine but as a differently structured and configured family.

I can recall sitting in these front rows one Sunday morning soon after we started attending this church and our beloved Minister raised the hymn "We Shall Overcome." I barely made it through the first verse as I was so overcome with the significance and the appropriateness of the words as I, a woman of colour, a lesbian, an immigrant was in a sanctuary filled with hope, love, celebration and renewal for all.

My sincere thanks to all of you who seven years ago shared the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King and had faith that one day "we will be able to transform the jangling discords . . . into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood . . . [that] with this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day."

Thanks to you, the current congregation of Southminster-Steinhauer, who daily walk this faith in this corner of South Edmonton thereby freeing my voice and the voices of gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender people, people of colour, immigrants and women to not only speak but to ring out in prayer and praise in these hallowed halls.


Photograph available at Yahoo Images

Monday, February 06, 2006

Emancipate Yourself First!

At first it was my intention to write about the late Coretta Scott King, not simply about how much millions of people around the world will miss her but about the eloquent and forthright way in which she spoke up about the similarities between racism and homophobia.

I was even more impressed when I read her statement supporting same-sex marriage, even while major 'black' pastors were denouncing marriage between two loving people as wrong.

"I believe," the late Mrs. Scott King said, "all Americans who believe in freedom, tolerance and human rights have a responsibility to oppose bigotry and prejudice based on sexual orientation."

However, my plan to elaborate specifically on Coretta Scott King changed somewhat as I spoke with my dear spiritual guide (she would hate me calling her that) this morning.

I called her just as it felt like my heart was going to give up on me and burst through my chest. As I heaved while reading another email from a woman-friend in Jamaica telling me the latest antics of my mother, it was clear that I needed help.

After her usual cheerful, “Hi my darling Claudette,” Dr. P (no, not Dr. Phil, but close) sensed that something was wrong with me. I sobbed a hello to her greeting and then she launched into her no-nonsense style of questioning, “What’s going on, speak to me!”

Everybody needs a Dr. P in their life, even I, especially one who reminds you to come back to centre and focus on the beauty within yourself, in spite of what the world might be throwing at you. Of all the things my spiritual guide said to me this morning, one point that really stuck with me was how captivating and insidious mental slavery can be.

My compatriot, Bob Marley, wrote a song about mental slavery, entitled Redemption Song.
Old pirates, yes, they rob I;
Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong
By the 'and of the Almighty.
We forward in this generation

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
'Cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look? Ooh!
Some say it's just a part of it:
We've got to fulfill de book.

Won't you help to sing
These songs of freedom? -
'Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs;
Redemption songs.

I share these lyrics because they reflect part of my personal story, as a child of the so-called Third World, who grew up with a single abusive mother, as a person of colour who is in a 15+ year committed same-sex relationship and as an immigrant in North America.

More important, however, I share this story as it is reflective of the journey of the people of African heritage and of all those who are living in mental poverty around the world. Mental slavery is such a big issue, especially among people of colour and the economically marginalised and therefore I think it is an appropriate topic as we celebrate Black History Month.

Here is a speech which is attributed to William Lynch (where the term 'lynching' derived from), in which he allegedly described "how the minds of African Americans could be enslaved."

As you read it, you will realize that the same strategies - fear, distrust and envy - are as current today as it was in 1712. Also, you will understand why mental bondage is still an issue and why the minds of people of colour and people who are seemingly ‘powerless’, namely women and children, are easily captivated by the stories that others tell them. Those people might be parents, preachers or politicians (the new slave masters).

What is so startling is how these fear-based, envious and distrustful stories stick like glue to our psyche! How many of you reading this today, can recollect having someone tell you who you are, whether that is:
You are poor!
You will never turn out to be anything good!
You don’t have talent so learn a trade!
You are a whore!
Anything black never good!

How long did it take you to recover from your bondage from that image? Or are you still working through that garbage like I am?

There are too many modern day slaves, particularly children, and we must find a way as parents, as adults to first emancipate ourselves and then free the children from mental and all forms of slavery that threatens to take over families, communities and even nations as the Lynch's strategies of fear, distrust and envy continues to thrive.

Practically, aside from having a Dr. P in your corner or on speed dial to remind you that you are a Child of the Divine, whether you are 'black', 'white', 'brown', gay, straight, man or woman, adult or teenager you can start by taking these words of wisdom from some noted African-Americans to heart:

The battles that count aren't the ones for gold medals. The struggles within yourself—the invisible, inevitable battles inside all of us—that's where it's at.
--Jesse Owens, Blackthink (1970)

I have learnt over the years that when one's mind is made up, this diminishes fear.-- Rosa Parks

Champions aren't made in gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them—a desire, a dream, a vision. They have to have last-minute stamina, they have to be a little faster, they have to have the skill and the will. But the will must be stronger than the skill.
-- Muhammad Ali The Greatest (1975)

Fear is a disease that eats away at logic and makes man inhuman.
Anderson, Marian Singer (1897-1993)

Blessings on your journey,


For those of you in Canada, who indicated an interest in attending some events for Black History Month, check out this site.

Photograph available through Yahoo Images

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Black History Month: Some Thoughts

Black History month is largely marked in the United States of America but is gradually becoming a time that others (read as people of other than African-descent) stop and pay attention to the achievements of African-Americans.

In my own country of origin, Jamaica, of the approximately 2.7 million people it would be safe to say that over 70% is visibly of African-descent, i.e., ‘black’. During my early teens and growing up in this majority ‘black’ country, one that has been independent since 1962, I was somewhat less attuned to many of the day to day issues confronting African-Americans.

Certainly, I was aware of historical figures and personalities such as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Dubois. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jnr.'s “I Have A Dream Speech,” is one that my mother would replay on her Phillips component set as if to get inspiration to make it through another day of economic hardship.

I can hardly imagine an African living in the Diaspora who would not have heard about Stokely Carmichael, who was incidentally born on the Caribbean island, Trinidad, or the fiery figure - Malcolm X.

Although my personal history might be somewhat different from African-American children of the 1960’s into the 1970’s, we were connected by the history of our forefathers and foremothers, who were stolen and transported from their homes in Africa.

It is out of this shared experienced of loss and retrieval of place, identity and, to some extent life-enhancing spirit, that over the course of Black History Month, Comforting Words will offer posts, activities and general information on the history and culture of Africans in the Diaspora – whether we call ourselves Black, of African-descent, African-Americans or Jamaican-Canadians or whether we are woman, man, gay or straight.

I do hope you will find this series informative, spirit enhancing, uplifting and yes, educational. If by doing this, the manners (understood as Emily Post did) of one non-African person to one that is of African descent is improved; if the esteem of a child of the African Diaspora is lifted, then my job would have been well done.



Listen to Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" Speech

Photography courtesy of Yahoo Images