Comforting Words: 06/2007

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Holy Boldness

It’s one of the first things that I do each day as I enter my apartment building.

In fact, it is something that I have always done – long before coming to Canada.

Each day, after parking my car, I walk to the mail box to check if there is anything for me. Back in Jamaica, as I drove into our garage and realized that someone was home before me, I would shout to them, “Posi [meaning the postman] come?”

It was not that I was expecting something special – it is one of those quirks of my personality…I simply enjoy receiving mail and will sit for hours sorting through what others consider junk mail and entering competitions, etc.

Today, Sunday, June 24, 2007 was no different in that after hauling my traveling bags up the steps and into my third floor apartment, I spun around and went to check for mail. Afterall, I have been away five days – “My box must be full,” I thought.

Another thing that I do is that I never wait to get into the house or in this instance the apartment to start opening the letters. So, as I walked back up the steps and along the corridor, I was opening the various pieces.

Nervously, I opened a brown envelope with my and my ex’s name on it only to find that yet another commitment – new and written in black and white – had been broken, not once but twice. My credit rating was being shot to s..t as the non-payment of joint debts were dumped on me and almost every commitment to honour has either been since adjusted and/or broken.

Whitney Houston has this song with these words: “It’s not right, but it’s okay, I will make it anyway…” These words flooded my head and traveled down to my heart and carried me into my apartment.

The words of another song also came to me, it is one I have been hearing since Wednesday, June 20, 2007 as I joined close to 100 women at a Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. “There must be a God somewhere…” we sang I believe twice every day. I know I sung it each night before my eyes closed.

“There must be a God somewhere,” otherwise June 2007 would not be as glorious as it has been – in spite of and despite the mounting debts, the very recent loss of a ten-year friendship due to the other's expectations that I refuse to meet and my being unemployed.

As I re-read the demand letter from the credit card company, I felt nothing close to panic – something that would have normally been my automatic and reactive emotion in situations like this.

I realize that this was a new memory I was creating – something that two persons had told me would be part of the healing process.

The first person was a professional psychologist and colleague. Approaching Christmas she cornered me at work and asked, no demanded, to know what was going on with me.

At that time, I was trying my best to hold myself together, focussing instead on giving to the women with whom I worked in a season that is extremely painful for them. I needed to ignore my own pain but this woman, psychologist saw the mask that I was wearing. And so I told her about my break-up and the turmoil that I was living through.

Trying to be positive and regain my composure, I said to her, “Anyway, my therapist says that it will be at least a year before things get easier.” She held me with her eyes, smiled and said, “Consider yourself lucky if it is five years before you fully heal from such a betrayal.”

Then she added, “The first year though is the hardest as you have to live through the cycle of memories, the major and minor events that you did as a couple. You will have to create new memories to replace them if you are going to heal and the faster you are able to do that the better.”

The second person who told me that creating new memories was important was one of my current dates.

(A side note here – no, you are not reading incorrectly. I did write “one of…” as I am not rushing into a new “exclusive and sexual relationship.” I made that decision some time ago, knowing that one needs time to reflect on “what was, what did I do right and/or could have done better and most important – Who Am I?” This last question is a major part of that decision, one that I have had to be careful to reflect on and recommit to – as I am not, I repeat not going to waste the rest of my life that that God somewhere gave me.)

Anyhow, the marathon runner, having experienced a nasty separation after an 18-year relationship, told me that a person has to give him or herself one month for every year of the relationship to heal. In my case, that meant 16 months.

With both these ‘teachings’ in mind, there are certain activities and places that I have deliberately returned to – with a new attitude, a new sense of me, with someone different (obviously) – creating new images in my mind of this place or event. Some events, I have completely avoided – such as the Gay Pride Parade in Edmonton, choosing instead to go backpacking and camping with my marathon runner.

As it approached time for me to prepare to leave for this Conference in Vancouver, where I was to present on “The Feisty Feminist and the Ethnic Woman,” my thoughts went to the fact that I would once again be on a plane, going to another city close to the anniversary of my first suicide attempt. It was also month eight – the midway point of my 16 months of healing.

Unsure how I would react now that the reality and significance of the moment hit me I did a couple things differently. Instead of asking my daughter, with whom I am experiencing some challenges again – to look after my angel boy – Angello – I boarded him for the five days at a kennel. He hates hit but life sometimes sucks even for a dog!

Another thing, I chose to do differently pertained to transportation. I recalled the severity of the panic attack I experienced returning from Toronto after my first suicide attempt; due to the fact that that was the first time in my adult life I would be returning from a trip and not being met by my partner. So, this time I chose to park my car at the ‘Park and Fly’ service at the airport.

Both decisions gave me such a deep sense of liberation it was unbelievable!

I think, however, what got me through this week without shedding a tear, convinced that “there is a God somewhere,” was the stories of the women I spent almost a week with in song, story-telling, dance and prayer.

Entering the hall of the Conference Opening Session, my eyes were caught by a striking black woman with completely gray hair. Something about her drew me to her and without a sideward glance I went and sat beside her. She turned and gave me the most welcoming smile I have experienced in a long time.

From that moment, except for bedtimes, I never left her side.

It turned out she is one of the most prominent (and powerful) black women in Canadian history. Here is an excerpt of what has been said about her, which is available on line…because I did not ask her nor did I tell her about my blog, I will not use her name:

DW is one of the leading national figures within the Canadian Black community. She was a founding member of the National Black Coalition in Canada in 1969. DW along with Howard McCurdy, Clarence Bayne, Joseph Drummond, Gus Wedderburn, Ed Clarke and Stanley Grizzle, founded the Conference Committee of Black Organizations which later became the NBCC. During her period of involvement, the NBCC successfully integrated the Diamond & Lasalle Taxis industry in Montreal and tested the Quebec Human Rights legislation with a case against the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, Montreal, for employment discrimination. She served the NBCC in a variety of capacities including National Chairperson, Executive Secretary and Public Relations Officer. She has also served in executive capacities for other community Organizations including the Negro Citizenship Association and the Quebec Board of Black Educators.

She was Montreal delegate to the Sixth Pan African Congress in 1973. As the Canadian co-ordinator she represented Canada in Lagos, Nigeria, at the Planning Meetings of the International Festival Committee for the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture in 1976-1977. Mrs. W has been very active in the philosophy and promotion of multiculturalism. She was a delegate to the first Federal Conference on Multiculturalism in 1971 and served as the Research Associate to the Parliamentary Committee, Participation of Visible Minorities in Canadian Society in 1983-1984. She was also a member of the Canadian Consultative Council for Multiculturalism in Canada from 1981 to 1984.

DW received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Concordia University in 1989. That year she was also appointed Member of the Order of Canada.

She did not tell me much of this throughout the Conference for visible minority and aborginal women. Instead, I guess she sensed my need to be under the wings of a strong black woman to get through this ‘dark anniversary’ of my life, so she teased me, fixed either my blouse or skirt, challenged me when I shared stories of my ‘battles’ in my own neck of the woods on multicultural issues. She watched me intensely as I cried when sharing about the work that, along with a group of other strong women, I have initiated on behalf of black women dying of AIDS without notice in Canada.

She praised and acknowledged my ‘teaching’ abilities after some other women had told her about the presentation I had made. This was particularly touching for me as I have in the past been the burnt of sarcasm and criticism by my dearest and her family members for this propensity to “teach and preach.”

At the closing worship service, those who wanted to make public their commitment were invited to come the microphone. I went up on behalf of a woman who had to leave early but as I was about to finish speaking on behalf of that person, my spirit told me there was more to say.

Halting and with tears flowing down my cheeks, I thanked DW and all the other senior black women at the Conference, for allowing me to sit at their feet and feed on their love and wisdom. As I returned to my seat, beside DW, she hugged me and said, “God bless you and I will be watching you.”

This morning as we parted company after having breakfast together at the airport, I watched as she walked to her departure gate and quietly prayed, “Thank you God for taking me this far…I now know for sure you are here.”

A thank you card that I received from the Conference planners for my “leadership," had written in it "..and for your Holy Boldness.”

It is that “Holy Boldness” that the sister who wrote that phrase, all the women at the Conference and DW imparted to me.

It is that “Holy Boldness” that allowed me to not scream in anger and fear as I read the demand letter for a debt that is not mine alone.

It is that “Holy Boldness” that led me to seek options to deal with the predicament that I was thrust into, including soon to be welcoming a roommate - a necessary option that will help to prevent me from being homeless.

It is that "Holy Boldness that is causing me to patiently await word that will move me out of unemployment and into the job that has had my heart singing for over nine months. In the meantime, it is the same "Holy Boldness" that keeps my head up while I do menial tasks to pay my bills.

It is that “Holy Boldness” that have me confidently singing, “It’s not right but it’s okay…I will make it anyway.”



P.S. The photos were taken in early June in Jasper, Alberta where I was supporting the marathon runner. The second photograph shows me about to strip to cool off in that lovely stream in the mountains.

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Sunday, June 10, 2007


It should have been simple…my weekend that is.

My woman-friend from Calgary, A, was coming to town for a meeting and we were talking about meeting for supper Friday evening. Then, being the ‘entertainer’ that I am, before I knew it we were planning a ‘girls only night’ for five of us at my place.

'A' had two women she wanted to invite – one I had not met but she promised we would immediately bond. The second, D, was introduced to me a few weeks ago and we had hit it off, so I was looking forward to seeing her again. For myself, I invited my woman-friend Anni to join us.

The evening was ‘billed’, by me of course being the commandeer I am, as a night for women over forty who are re-entering the dating scene or actively reviving their existing relationships. We were to gather at 6:00 p.m., each person bringing something to cook or something they had cooked at home.

That was my compromise for a potluck – a Canadian tradition that I totally abhor! Wine and other alcoholic beverage were to be very available as we intended to totally unwind and get down to the nitty gritty of dating and sex for women over forty.

Serendipitously, Anni had only the previous evening watched a PBS programme on the exact topic we were planning to dissect. As she and I shopped early Friday afternoon for our contributions to this gathering, she shared the tidbits offered by Dr. Christian Northrup. What was most striking for Anni was the advice that women should try to frequently gather, exactly as we were about to do, as this is good for our well-being and spirit. “That’s what I am doing tomorrow!” Anni told me she excitedly screamed at her television.

Just after 6:00 p.m. Friday my women started to arrive. As it turned out, it would be only four of us as one person could not make it.

As it turned out – the party went on until Sunday.

Except for one, D, who I was meeting for the second time but who had had made such a lasting impression on me with her forthrightness and wonderful sense of humor and wit, I considered these woman-friends. As a matter of fact, having shared the way we did this weekend, D, would now join the ranks of my woman-friends and how could she not? After all, not only did she go away knowing much of my life story and the details of my journey over the last 16 going on 17 years but she understood and totally identified – albeit from a purely heterosexual perspective - the pain and agony that I have endured and the exhilaration for life that I am now enjoying and experiencing.

I have often used the phrase “Wounded Healers,” but not as often said where that came from. It is actually the title of a book by Henri Nouwen, the same person who describes friendship in this way:
When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.
The ‘banquet’ table was laden with wonderful delights – tuna and artichoke and asiago dips, chicken soup, roasted tomatoes, prawns, hot and spicy chicken, potato salad and ham – and the wine was flowing. We laughed, we screamed and shrieked and we cried as stories of bad dates, bad sex and messy divorces and separations were shared. No topic was taboo, no holes were barred – we talked about everything and everyone who either joyfully or painfully shaped us into the women we now are and we toasted ourselves.

Well after midnight we parted company, except for A, who it turned out was actually going to spend the entire weekend with me and not one night. As she and I cleaned up the kitchen before going to bed, I felt a deep sense gratitude wash over me – for these women in my life. I recalled a tarot reader back on a beach in Jamaica telling me that I have a long line of women standing behind me, ready and able to support me whenever I needed them. Friday night proved him right yet again.

However, the celebration of friendship did not end there.

On Saturday, I was scheduled to meet my ‘new acquaintance’ to go equipment shopping for our upcoming backpacking trip. Regular readers will recall my ordeal last year on a hiking trip when I truly thought I would have either died on a cliff in Nordegg, Alberta or would lose one of my toes because of improper footwear. I was not going to make the same mistake this year so off we went to get me “geared” for not one but several hiking and backpacking trips for the summer.

Side note here: I have received so many calls and emails about this my ‘new acquaintance’ – most wanting to know more and at least one upset that she had to hear about this on Comforting Words. Her exact words were – “I thought we had a Oprah and Gayle friendship! Why do I have to read about your ‘acquaintance’ on your blog???” I thank you all for your interest, concern and more important your love and support – but please do not go out to buy wedding gifts! Enough said for now.

Back to the main story, knowing that the plan was to go get me this gear and return to my apartment for pizza and a movie – two of my women-friends decided that they would ‘crash’ so that they could size up this individual. This was hilarious! I felt – in a good way – protected and cared for but was not sure how 'the scrutinized' would take this and my woman-friends did not care!

They returned to the apartment before we did and as we waited for the pizza to be delivered they not so coyly pried and prodded. I laughed as I watched them in action – so too my, let me say “date” because it’s hardly accurate to call someone who you have been seeing at least twice per week for almost six weeks now an acquaintance. (I know I am going to get hell from my Oprah and Gayle wanna-be woman-friend for this disclosure – Lord help me).

The point here though is not about my dating but rather about the bond between women – a bond that comes when we are open to the genuine care and support that we as sisters have to offer each other. I will always remember and was reminded again this weekend of the ‘warning’ never to throw away your girlfriends for a lover (man or woman) as they are the ones who will be there for you when the going get tough.

My date survived the drilling of these two woman-friends of mine and will still need to be ‘processed’ by Anni, AA and my senior citizen (who has had an initial contact but not had the opportunity for the full interview).

Sunday was a bittersweet end to this wonderful weekend of female bonding. I went to church with A after she promised me that the preacher would deliver a good sermon (My main focus at any church service is the sermon). She did not lie.

Among the many things the guest preacher spoke of I was stuck by the example of the Amish community in the United States who intentionally lived out their faith and demonstrated forgiveness and peacemaking after their daughters were murdered.

In an indirect way, that is what my woman-friends did for me this weekend – they actively and intentionally shared their gift of love with me and together we made peace, we forgave and we embraced hope as we laughed, cried and talked about stepping back fully into life and intimate love.

The bitter came as I sat with my senior citizen, who came over Sunday afternoon to tea. She shared with me the recent diagnosis of her medical team – one that can go either way during surgery this summer.

As I recall how this woman lovingly held my hand when I was at my most vulnerable last November, I fought back my selfish tears. “I will be out of a job at least for the next two to three weeks, so I will come to your appointments, whatever you need, with you as you should not go through this alone,” was the first thing out of my mouth.

How do you repay someone, women, who have loved and unselfishly and agenda-less held you as you heal? I do not know but I thank God that I am now again in the place where I can give it my best shot.

I ask for your prayers for my senior citizen. I also ask you to call your woman-friends today and get together – maybe not for an entire weekend as we ended up doing or having them drill your date – but just because.



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Friday, June 01, 2007

May in Review

Almost one month to the day of my last post I have much to say.

The absence of posts for the past thirty days had nothing to do with my lacking words or events to report. In fact, much has happened and things have remained the same in many respects. I could have written but something told me to keep quiet.

Last year, I wrote a series of articles during the month of May and as I review them now it is clear that:

  1. history does repeat itself

  2. they read in some ways like prophesy and

  3. we must learn to trust our instincts, intuition or gut feelings.

In my first article last May, I wrote that I had two choices: (1) to give in to the despair or (2) to trust God. I also included this inspirational piece from Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments: Finding Personal Meaning in a Crazy World by Kent M Keith:

“People are illogical, unreasonable and self-centred. Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway.

People favour underdogs but follow only top dogs. Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them. Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway.

As I reflect on my life in its entirety but particularly on my journey over the last 17 years, I see the many truths in this piece. I also recognize that May 2007 was not very different from May 2006 as I was presented with the same two options – give up in despair or trust God.

There were many occasions for me to give up – too numerous for me to enumerate here. Suffice it to say, the number of broken promises, the construction of walls higher than the Wall of China, the looming possibility of unemployment and homelessness and the lack of concentration and mental capability to complete my degree were some of the main reasons to throw in the towel.

Unlike last year, I was not saying “Welcome Maia!”

My second article in May, as with most of my articles last year, made reference to food. Reviewing that article, Cookie Wisdom, I smiled as I read this insight from a fortune cookie: "Nature, time and patience are the three greatest physicians.”

May 2007 truly challenged me to surrender my plans, my dreams, my desires, in fact my life to these three physicians. One of the many things that has come of that is I met someone who is a marathon runner and who has, in the most nonchalant way, inspired me to be out more in nature.

As we walked our dogs through this enormous off-leash park recently, we came across some fellow marathon runners and as I was introduced, they asked whether I was a runner. I laughed out loudly and my new acquaintance said, “Not yet but soon.”

Regular readers know that I love to quote from this ‘essay’ – Reason, Season or Lifetime. This my new acquaintance is seemingly in my life if for nothing else a reason that is to get me moving, as I am now booked to travel with a team to 'cheerlead' at the Banff/Jasper Relay, for a weekend backpack camp and for couple of hikes in the Rocky Mountains! By the time this is all over – I might be wearing a size 8 instead of my current 12!

My third article in May 2006 referred to the insight I had from trees – nature’s physician. That insight remained pertinent to me throughout May 2007 and even now as the wind of change is still blowing strongly in my life.

Struck by the way the trees swayed with the wind – not resisting it – I made the connection that the trees were giving praise while surrendering to the forces of the wind (change). Coming to this realization, I quoted Goethe:

“I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather.”

One Sunday during May 2007, as I left Swiss Chalet with my dear senior citizen with whom I try to dine at least twice per month, I noticed a woman pointing at my car but I ignored her thinking she was admiring the cute streak on the side of my still fairly new vehicle.

As I parked at home, I recalled the woman’s attention to my car and so walked to the passenger side and to my shock there were several scratches along the two front and back doors and on the trunk! About to freak out, I took several deep breaths and from somewhere deep inside I heard this other Claudette saying, “It’s just a piece of machine.”

With that, I forgot about it for a week and then that same Claudette suggested to me calling my insurance company to find out whether they would cover the cost of the repair. The lovely agent after listening to my description – the fact that my car was parked in a very public place, my church yard, with the passenger side exposed on the day of the apparent incident - she gave me the telephone numbers for their approved garages.

Still in a good mood, two days after speaking with the insurance lady I went to the garage. I lost it when the repair man said to me, “Lady, someone keyed your car!” I made a couple phone calls to report his comments, breathed deeply and like the trees, swayed with this ill-wind and asked how much to fix it.

The fourth article in May 2006 was about broken eggs. I really love this paragraph that I wrote as it aptly describes how I felt after hearing that someone had deliberately scratched my car with their keys, causing me to fork out $500 for the deductible to cover an almost $2,000 repair job, when payments that were supposed to be coming to me were not being remitted and my job was coming to an end.

“Eggs are every dream and hope held; it is the potentials and the possibilities we see in life, including hopes for a happy, meaningful and long marriage or relationship, a new job or promotion at the one you now have, debt-free living, a life-enhancing relationship with your parents, your children’s success in school or living an addiction-free life. When these dreams go awry or your egg(s) is broken, the temptation is to sprawl on the floor right next to it, wailing and cursing the Universe for what it is doing to you. ‘What the f… am I to do now?’ has often been my cry, ‘That was the last fr…ing egg I had!’”

My second to last article for May 2006 again made reference to items that can be eaten – this time it was chickens. The point that I was making then, possibly in a long-winded way as I am now doing – is basically the power of the Law of Attraction. “What you think about, you bring about.”

Given the hard lessons that I have learned and continue to learn since October 2006, I have made every effort to watch my thoughts and my speech. In my professional life, this is called cognitive-behavioural therapy but in my personal/spiritual life we call it affirmations.

The Universe by hitting me over the head with a brick helped me to get back on track, get back on purpose and so my prayers and affirmation has been to have Love (notice the capital ‘L’) made manifest in every aspect of my life.

May 2007 had its ups and downs but it also had moments – which are a good thing contrary to popular belief – when I was smack dab in my life purpose. Take for example, my desire to help women, children, LGBTQ persons and new Canadians facing difficult circumstances. I prayed to be guided to ways and means to do this, to completely dedicate my every waking moment to this and my prayer was answered over and over again this May.

One example was a phone call I received from my woman-friend D. Her calling me was strange enough as she rarely does but the fact that she was asking me to do her a favour was even stranger. Whether it was the shock of her call or the request, I just said “Yes.”

Three days later, I was standing in a hall emceeing the Annual Benefit Concert for an organisation that supports women re-integrating into our communities from prisons. My daughter and new acquaintance, who has an interest in Afrocentric music, were with me for moral support.

I think I did well as an emcee but the most rewarding moment for me was a later conversation I would have with D. Funny enough, it was in keeping with the last article I wrote in May 2006.

I had called D very early in the morning, although (1) she hates talking on the phone, (2) she had made it clear that she was dealing with her own stuff and needed space. However, I ignored those two facts and called her as I was about to hit the roof or worse. I needed some help to get grounded so as she came on the phone I said something like, “D, give me some black love and give it to me fast!”

Explaining the latest manipulation and dishonest action that I was bearing the burnt of and my burning desire to strike back, after sharing with me her new understanding of what friends really are, D basically said to me, “Let it go!”

She was right and if only I had read my own article, “Instead Have Tea,” I would have known that. In that article I wrote:

“What I have come to learn is that I cannot live anyone else’s story or dreams. This lesson came the hard way and after many years of self-loathing, trying to live up to my mother’s expectations or to fulfill her unmet dreams.

This ‘drama’ continued to play out in my life as I moved from relationship to relationship. It seeped into my professional life and into my interpersonal relationships. If I could not control the situation so that things worked the way I needed them to in order to fulfill my (mother’s) hopes, then I would succumb to someone else controlling my life, hoping that they would pay me back for being the good little girl...

[It] is obvious that even after all these years of soul-searching, praying and spiritual counseling I still have work to do… The desire to control others manifests in a myriad of ways; it is a default and defensive mode that we have learnt. I invite you to unlearn it, let yourself and others ‘be’ by being sensitive to your inner voice that always, always tells you when you are not.”

And so, at the end of May 2007, I am in a transitional place – one where I am not sure whether after June 8, I will have meaningful employment, money to pay all my bills on time, whether the young people in my life will realise that they do not need to make the same mistakes and whether the so-called adults in my life will keep the commitments made as past behaviour predicts future unless one has made a decision to change and be honest.

What I know for sure though, is that my own commitment to what is called “Deliberate Non-action,” is solid. Today as I conclude this post, my desire for the drama and pain to end is so strong that I am not only willing but am saying “Whatever.”

By the way, throughout this post are some photographs taken during April – May, (1) while I was in Montreal making my acceptance speech of the Chairmanship of the national organisation for Black Peoples, (2) on a 'shopping', tour in Montreal and (3) at a Mother’s Day brunch with my boys.



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