Sunday, December 23, 2012

Peace ...

Dear Readers,

In a world torn yet again by the deaths of children, the atrocities of war, the ravages of illness and poverty, and the pain and grief of those who attempt to respond to suffering with reason and compassionate action, I offer you this holiday gift of an ancient Celtic prayer for peace.

May it be for all of us who care, (in the deepest sense of that word), a source of light, hope, grounding and strength to carry us through this holiday season and beyond.

Peace in All

In your walking - Peace
In your talking - Peace
In your life - Peace
 In your strife - Peace
In your seeing - Peace
In your being - Peace
In your days - Peace
In your ways - Peace
In your night - Peace
In your plight - Peace
In your reason - Peace
In every season - Peace

Deep peace to each of you in this Season of Peace.

With love,  Jan

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Winter Solstice: The Darkness and the Light ...

Friday will mark the Winter Solstice, the time of year when we experience the shortest day and the longest night as the sun reaches its most northerly point above the equator.

Across our history, we have marked this day as one of particular significance. Faith traditions of all sorts have celebrated this point in the year's cycle, facing expectantly into the return of the light. We celebrate the fact that from the solstice onward, each day will bring a little more life-sustaining brightness.

But for some care-givers, there is little light on the horizon, little brightness to anticipate. The notion of the returning light seems a distant possibility at best, highlighting the particular darkness of their worlds. They feel isolated and cut off from the joy of the solstice because the light seems so far outside their everyday experience.

But even those who feel shrouded in the darkness of ongoing care-giving or compassion fatigue can celebrate the solstice authentically. By fully experiencing the darkness, we can, paradoxically, open to the possibility of experiencing the light.

When we examine our own particular darkness, see its shades and colours, explore its pathways, recognize how we experience times when seeing is difficult, and acknowledge times that ask us to open to whatever-lies-beyond-what-we-know, we can apprehend the "gifts" of the darkness.

When we believe that there are treasures in the darkness, we can rest in it more easily, allowing ourselves to stay present, moment-by-moment, even in the hard times. As author, Jan Richardson, puts it:
If we are not willing to journey through the darkness, we cannot understand how the light begins. Where it comes from. How it makes its way into the world as grace and gift, as illumination and revelation, calling us to bring forth the treasures we have found along the shadowy way.
It is through our experience of darkness that we can recognize and develop the personal gifts - compassion, patience, courage, love, tenacity, endurance, strength, psychological and spiritual growth - that will eventually accompany us into the light, and contribute to our ability to become weller-than-well.

So, if darkness is your truth this Winter Solstice, allow yourself to acknowledge it, be with it, and let it guide you through to the first glimmerings of light and beyond.


Sunday, December 2, 2012

Memories of AIDS ...

It was a Sunday afternoon when a familiar voice whispered down the phone line saying, "Hi Jan. It's been a long time."

With these few words came back a wealth of memories, for the quiet voice at the other end of the phone belonged to my high school English and Journalism teacher, Barry. We hadn't spoken in a number of years, out of frank neglect on my part and on his, out of false assumptions based on his unwarranted shame and on my marriage to an Anglican priest and spiritual director. (Despite the closeness of former days, he'd feared the censure and exclusion he'd found amongst his own church members.)

Barry was calling to tell me that, after years of depression and addiction, he had finally come out; dissolved his marriage; entered recovery; met his partner, Jim; and been diagnosed with AIDS. He hadn't long to live.

My initial response was one of anger, then profound grief. Why hadn't I kept in touch? Why hadn't he called me when he'd first been diagnosed? Why had he waited until now when there was so little time left? I felt cheated of time and heartsick.

Over the next six months, we met several times - Barry and Jim, and my husband and me. Barry and Derrick met alone, as well, hashing out their similarly liberal theologies in various coffee shops around the city until Barry could face his death, fairly sanguine and with at least modicum of peace. After he died in a hospital palliative care unit, boney body racked with coughs, Derrick took his funeral in a West End church and we, his loving community, grieved our loss together.

Today, the day after World AIDS Day, many years later, I remember Barry fondly as an extraordinary educator, mentor, and friend who helped me and many other students to transcend painful life experiences and thrive. He taught me to love poetry, to use white space to advantage in a layout, and to never use two words when the one "right" word would do. He also taught me, a painfully shy and pathologically self-sufficient teenager, that it was alright to ask for help.

Barry loved to teach and his students loved him. That same love allowed us to support him, and he us, through the end of his life.  Every year, I wear a red ribbon in his honour and memory and I try to keep the ripple of his love going out into the world in some way. This year, a friend told me about an organization that knits baby dresses for African babes with AIDS who would otherwise be sent home from hospital wrapped in newspaper for warmth. So, I've been knitting dresses for the past several weeks, stitching love and healing intention into each garment.

I hope and pray that the day will come when no one needs to see a beloved teacher and friend fade away or to behold a new baby wrapped in the newspaper and stigma of AIDS. Please do have an HIV test if:

  • You have had 2 or more sexual partners in the past 12 months.
  • You have received a blood transfusion prior to 1985.
  • You are not sure about your sexual partner's risk factors.
  • You are a male who has had sex with another male.
  • You are using street drugs by injection, especially when sharing needles or other equipment.
  • You have a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
  • You are a healthcare worker with direct exposure to blood on the job.  

And why not consider supporting your local HIV/AIDS research, treatment and support organizations, financially or through your volunteer hours, so the ripple of love continues.