Comforting Words: Bittersweet

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


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