Friends Like This

2019-03-06 09.03.18

Deeply grateful for this wise and tender Friend. Oh that old familiar saying “it takes a village…” realizing over and over that it is not just children needing a village. And this dear blessed friend reminds me each day, as she walks hand in hand with so many of us. simple and forward. compassionate and steady. Thank you dear Bara. I love you. We love you.

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Notes from the Ground Floor

2019-04-06 19.29.09

I set up camp in the Ottawa General Hospital to be with my Dad. Everyday is different. I leave every night and arrive every morning not knowing what the day will bring for my dad and for the other folks I meet each day.

Some days I read to my Dad from Alistair Macleod’s short stories other days I feed him strawberries and chocolate milk. Some days I sketch him as he sleeps, and other days I simply hang out while he struggles in and out of sleep.

When I am not in his room I am riding the elevator with the world, with humanity raw and tender, with a billion human stories in that small miraculous contraption taking us up and down each day.

I tell dad he is not alone in his suffering. And I wonder if this is comforting to him or not. Sometimes I share with him some of the stories I am told and hear all around me and sometimes I don’t tell him. Like I didn’t tell him about the youth man I met who is in the hospital after a suicide attempt and I don’t tell him about the young woman speaking into the phone describing the large jelly fish mass in her mother’s belly that the doctors could do nothing about.

I did tell him about the young woman outside the hospital doors vomiting and people walking right by her and the purse I picked up and the cigarette she begged me to light and the smile she gave me as she took the first pull. I do tell him about the woman pulling her IV stand into the stairwell and seconds later hearing Sinead Oconnor’s, Nothing Compares to U belting from underneath the stairwell door. “My therapy,” she tells me. I don’t tell him about the cancer that has invaded her gallbladder and piece of her liver and I don’t tell him her mother’s residential school story or the atrocious and tender survival stories of her own life. I do tell him about the long strong hug we shared and the blessings we swapped. I do tell him about the Syrian Elder woman walking the halls with a baby doll wedged in the crook of her arm conversing out loud in her beautiful rolling Arabic tongue, how she stopped me and gave two gentle slaps to my shoulder and smiled.

I do tell him how honoured and blessed i am to be here with him and with all the other folks here in Ottawa’s General Hospital connected by the elevators we ride, the sitting rooms we wait, the stairwells we meet, the hallways we smile, the humanity we share.

I Just Told a Man Not to Cry

masculinity course

Last night I told a young man not to cry. “Don’t cry,” I said, “you will be reunited soon.“ This said to a young man whose wife is leaving Sunday for the UK on a nursing contract for three years. I told the man not to cry. Damn. I didn’t even realize I had done this but then I walked into the house after saying good by (please note: I did not tell the young woman not to cry who was leaving behind not only a husband but three of her children) and found Maya in the middle of the room with her arms crossed watching me. She says, “You do realize you just told a man not to cry!” Woooooh I thought. “What the what?” I said. Damn how deep this gendered conditioning is. Me, who believes the wrongs of this world are the self and societally-imposed prison men live in, a prison of narcissistic rage and emotional denial resulting in so much violence on so many levels. And me reinforcing through my own deeply ingrained conditioning of what it means to be man. Don’t cry. Men don’t cry. And yet I hear me saying over and over in different spaces formal and informal that we must let men own and display all their emotions, not just the acceptable anger of toxic masculinity. i want to run back down the stairs, run to catch up with husband and wife and say, “Cry man cry. You have every right to cry because you will be lonely and sad and lost without her!”

revolutionary love

We gather to celebrate
and honour revolutionary love,
replace the love we’ve grown up on
a hallmark kinda love;
a love defined by man loving woman,
woman loving man love;
a chocolate, flowers and champagne love;
a dinner for two love;
get the kids a babysitter love;
damn its valentines and I didn’t get a gift love;
alone and not enough love.

Instead we gather.
and call our names,
mirror and move,
embody the other.
Instead we listen to our stories:
love, rage, hope, forgiveness, freedom;
we request more, listen deeper, witness further.

Instead we dance.
We dance on behalf of each other,
the wounded and wonderful
Instead we lay out on the floor and drink up
Civil Rights Activist,
Valerie Kaur,‘Revolutionary Love in a Time of Rage’
and we snap our fingers,sigh,and whisper
yes, yes, yes;
push and labour,labour and push

Instead we let the magic of the talking circle
witness one another
holy silences,
revered pauses,
courageous considerations.

Instead we break bread together;
sorrel and fruit cake,
curried rice and cucumber,
fruit salad and pumpkin bread,
devilish eggs and dal.

Instead we leave one another
with embraces lasting longer
then a second,
I love you’s
lingering
in mouths and minds
and we embody
this kinda love,
revolutionary love.

written by Maureen St.Clair

Multiple World Woman

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Multiple world woman
with pose and presence
fierce kindness
and boundaries
walking through
stories
your own
and those
spinning and spanning
around you

Multiple world woman
Grenadian Canadian Irish Italian
origins
Mother land Africa
a book spread wide
on a sea facing
verandah
pages like
waves
riding shorelines

Multiple world woman
from cinnamon tea skin
to ancestral
baby toes curled
a shawl, cloak, jacket,
a warrior backpack
stitched of cocoa farmers
nutmeg gatherers
kitchen gardeners
teachers protectors
lawyers and judges
carriers of sorrow
and disappointment
resentment and grudges
artists and artisans
bakers and bell makers,
survivors and thrivers
through
centuries of historical atrocities

Multiple world woman
your wings have sprung
like the burnt sugar curls
on your head
raising their soft fists
in the air
preparing the wind
for departure
and there we will be
On the other side of
yesterday
grateful you entered our lives
so you could glide past us
into the multiple meanings
of you
multiple world woman

By
Maureen St.Clair

We read to know we are not alone. Cs Lewis

We read to know we are not alone. Truth. My truth. The readers who surround me, expressed truth. Maya says, “ok don’t flip out when i tell you this. i am loving Kei Miller’s stories.” When she experiences what i experience diving into worlds so vividly and subtly truth telling; stories that reach into shared humanity, stories that let us know we are not alone, i tend to get excited. and so i calmly say, “I know, right.” And from here we discuss the heart wrenching and heart soaring brilliance of Kei Miller and Olive Senior’s collection of stories: The Fear of Stones and A Discerner of Hearts.

Violence is Suffering Unheard

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Parker Palmer asks, what shall we do with our suffering? as one of the most fateful questions we as humans must wrestle with. He writes that sometimes suffering rises into anger that can lead to murder or war; at other times it descends into despair that can lead to quick or slow self destruction. Palmer writes, “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.”
I’ve walked back to these words over and over while wrestling with the violence witnessed and experienced in my own life and the violence witnessed experienced around me. On Sunday afternoon I revisited these words as I watched a young mother pull her young daughter out to sea, out where the child (not older then six) was unable to touch bottom and then I watched as the mother repeatedly slapped the girl’s hands away every time the child reached for help. The child’s face a mix of confusion and fear. I watched as the child finally found ground under her feet only to be slammed head first under water by her mother, the child popping back up for air. The mother turning her back and marching out of the sea, returning to sit under the tree growling to herself and to the young men beside her. I kept my eyes out to sea and breathed for the child. She did not cry. She glared at her mother. And when her mother wasn’t looking she repeatedly raised her middle finger in her mother’s direction. I heard one of the small cousins or brothers say, “you nah fraid of your mother?” and the young girl balling up her fist and pounding the boy on the back.
Later when at home I knew I needed to breathe not only for the child but also for the mother, a mother who was acting out her own suffering. I thought of the trauma hauntingly living in so many people, trauma/suffering not easily, consciously wrestled with; trauma/suffering internalized, normalized, then passed on from generation to generation. Was there something more I could have done then just breathe. i thought if I confronted the young mother I could have shamed her into more suffering and this could have been played out again on the daughter when they reached home.
Breathing perhaps was the best I could do at that moment for both of them. Finding compassion for both the mother and the child, knowing this kind of suffering is being played out violently all around us and within us. How do we wrestle with it all. How do we find ways to be active in dismantling, de-escalating suffering, violence?
i look forward to further co creating and facilitating violence intervention/prevention workshops/programs/sessions for 2019 using various creative expressions such as narrative, poetry, theatre. Stay tuned. And in these last few days of 2018 more breath, more presence.

A Short and Mighty Journey: Empty Words Turn Action

Just before stepping through the doors of Maurice Bishop Airport’s security the girls were given these words by the representative of JA Grenada “Recycle. Recycle. Recycle. This is what the judges want to hear.” I was puzzled as if simply throwing these words into their presentation would be enough to swoon the judges. I felt the emptiness of those words and wondered how environmental and social justice were being embedded not just as words to fling at judges but words to inspire and root within youths minds and hearts, words made into action.

I learnt in more detail about Junior Achievement by accompanying JA Grenada team (Go SAASS go!) to Peru as chaperone. Junior Achievement is a worldwide organization that focuses on providing experiential learning for students in secondary schools around entrepreneurship, work readiness and financial literacy. I also learnt JA Americas integrates passionately social and climate responsibility through presenting and integrating the UN seventeen global goals for sustainable development presented in one of the first day seminars to the youth and repeatedly emphasized throughout the three days.

JA Grenada’s project and product (Odds and Ends Craft Supplies) was pretty and practical, using odds and ends, recycled material such as tin cans and wood clothes pins to create usable art such as vases, pen holders, coasters and miniature rocking chairs. The Grenada team also killed their presentation in the best sense! So confident. So professional! And they worked brilliantly as a team. And still there felt a lack of passion, a lack of consciousness related more deeply to the social and environmental impact of their product and project, they seemed to mimic adult words memorized but not necessarily believing those words.

Indeed there project and products held strong social benefits however we didn’t understand this fully yet until the day of the trade fair held in the beautiful Miraflore’s city Park where we noticed Peruvian Elders stopping regularly at our table with great nostalgia and curiosity for the team’s products. The Elders lingered over the products with smiles and asked the girl’s questions. JA volunteers translated and I soon realized Odds and Ends Crafts Supplies held meaning and validation for the Elders. We soon realized the power of those clothes pins was also about acknowledging crafts the Elders were also engaged in when children and as adults too. We began to understand Odds and Ends Craft Supplies was most importantly about building relations with Elders, about meditative community healing practices through sitting collectively and creating art; about the power of simplicity within this modern world of busyness, social media, technology; about inclusivity, Elders not being left out in this fast paced, heads down busy world.

There were other crafty projects like Jamaica with recycled plastic bags of all sizes, colors and styles. And Other projects more modern and high tech like stress bands and baby monitors with special phone apps, miniature cardboard gardens where you could grow easy miniature crops like seasonings, lettuce and tomatoes; wood carved phone holders that amplify sound made out of trees spoilt by a deadly beetle outbreak; hand made journals made out of seed embedded pages (my fav) which meant you could plant them once you were finished filling them up; another phone app that helped folks share with their loved ones their location after a natural disaster; recycled tires made into beds for pets and pet blankets and toys sewn from scraps (Congrats Cayman Islands! The winners!). Just to name a few.

What a thrill to spend the day in Kennedy Park with youth from 14 different countries along with international folks, local community and in particular the Elders.

Our team hopes to turn words into action this holiday season by bringing Odds and Ends to a nursing home here in Grenada; to exercise the major learnings and share time and space in community with Grenadian Elders creating art out of clothes pins and recycled tin cans.

Snapshots of a Short but Mighty Journey: We are Many out of Many

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Trip to Lima, Peru confirmed days before we leave.
Grenada joins Argentina, Brazil, Cayman Islands, Costa Rica, Canada, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and St. Lucia for Junior Achievement competition. This year hosted by Peru!

Angel, Chloe, Maya and I roll off red eye flight and into JA Peru community. Hugs, Peruvian color bracelets (red and white), makeshift frame for photos and laughter. We follow our gracious and skilled driver to the van and we are off into the glorious chaotic streets of Lima. We drive down one way streets the wrong way, cross mad intersections, quick turns, sneaky breakthroughs, bends and balances, gentle and not so gentle horns honking. We wind and whirl through Saturday morning traffic. And I think damn we are just one out of many Saturday mornings all over the world: selling newspapers through car windows, walking dogs, setting up food stands, sweeping sidewalks and alleyways, watering plants, getting on and off buses, pulling young children this way and that, holding out sponsor sheets and tin cans, texting and walking, practicing football skills in city parks, drinking coffee, scowling and smiling, skipping over drains, holding hands of lovers, peering out windows, catching first breezes of salt and sea.

We are first of many to arrive.
stay tuned for more snapshots….