Grannie’s story

Black History month is a reminder to me that I am a part of Canadian Black History, not just because I grew up here and built my life here but because my family has made contributions to the fabric of life in this country and specifically in the City of Toronto.

Although I may think of my Grandmother often, February gives me the opportunity to really assess what she accomplished as a young woman, way back in 1929, when she left her native Jamaica, on board the ss Lady Somers, headed toward Halifax and other places she never heard of in her life.  I suppose if she had been born to one of the wealthy Jamaican families whose children were highly educated about the world, it might have been different but she was a simple, poorly educated girl whose strength was tested over and over as she struggled to find a way to help her large family back home.  At the core of her desire to do better was her only child, born into sadness and heartbreak, who she left behind with an uncaring father.  In her dreams, it was clear to her that in the land of opportunity, if she could find a way to give him more opportunity for a better life, then she would do so.

I have been to Halifax a few times.  Mostly, I go by plane, complete my business there, sight see a little and then return.  On my last visit there I was alone.  My wandering footsteps took me to the train station.  In a moment of clarity back in 2004, I realized that my grandmother would not have landed in Ontario without first been processed through the maritime port, which boasted so much history of its own.  It dawned on me that indeed my own history in Canada began at that point.  When Agatha boarded a train from Halifax headed to Kingsville Ontario she opened doors not just for herself but for many of those who came after.

Years after her arrival in Canada, and by then married to a wonderful man who had taken a similar journey, my grandmother settled in Toronto.  With very little education, she worked at menial jobs, saving nickels and dimes to find a way to buy a house.  In 1940, she purchased a property on Dufferin St. and there she used her kind heart and natural ability to organize her family, her community and her heritage so that what she was not able to achieve with her son, she was able to achieve with her grandchildren.

As a child growing up in Toronto in the fifties, my siblings and I were different.  Many times there were no other Black children around to reflect our own experience, although diversity was not uncommon in my neighbourhood.  My grandmother was able to generate a sense of confidence and deep aspiration within us to achieve what she did not.  Education and independence were her keywords.  I believe that no matter what success I have in life, I will not be able to match the success of my greatest role model, my Grandmother and each February as Black history month rolls around, that is where I turn my thoughts and my deep pride.

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Is God Love? Part I

Is God Love?

A Journey of Discovery

No one knows when a journey will begin, a journey of discovery.  Sometimes the light of spirit moves us but the most important aspect of change is to recognize that change is needed.  I was at that point in my life back in 1991.  I had just buried my mother who suffered with  a very debilitating form of Alzheimer’s disease.  Shortly after,  I was diagnosed with breast cancer, a circumstance which dictated change in my life.  Clearly the loss of my mother left me with the feeling that I was on my own.  My own diagnosis left me with the sense that I was alone.  I wasn’t, but the loss of someone so important to my sense of self was devastating.  There is something about the mother child-dynamic which does not exist on any other plane of life.

At the time, I was working as a charge nurse in the nursery of a small community hospital.  Despite my grief and  the disheartening diagnosis, I could not ignore the demands of a very intense and high pressured job.  Strangely, the stress balanced the increasing depression associated with the surgery, therapy and radiation looming large in my future.  Into that whirling pool of life’s challenges, I was confronted with little choice about my future. This is where I found that journey of discovery.

My job gave me the wonderful opportunity to meet so many families.  I worked, and still do, in the Obstetrical unit.  In my part of the city, we prided ourselves on providing service to the community in sixty-six languages.  Compared to the larger corporate hospitals, our community based facility was considered small and low risk but the unique ability to provide culturally sensitive service brought us large volumes of fairly recent and ESL(English as a Second Language) immigrants.  Despite our size we were busy.

In 1991 Obstetrical prenatal assessments were not as sophisticated as we are now.  I credit an early diagnosis and treatment with saving my life but for many women, the distress of moving to a new country and leaving behind close family was always compounded by the inability to provide adequate prenatal and general health histories.  Many lives included factors of violence, abuse, war and death.  Some families had barely escaped with their lives from war torn countries.  Early diagnostic screening was an unheard of luxury for many of them.  Receiving these women into our care presented great challenges.  Many had children previously. Without an adequate medical history we were working in the dark.  It would be impossible to articulate what I saw as a nurse during that challenging period of my life but what I learned from the intensity of care was that courage comes when we feel at our lowest ebb.

We are nothing if we don’t find out selves moved by the ways in which we learn from the stories of others.  It was into this environment which I brought my own grief and fear and learned a lesson I will never forget.

I can’t recall every story I heard over the years but many are too compelling to be forgotten.  When relevant I have tried, in so many ways, to share some anecdotes in other areas of my work.  Sometimes the need to write about these experiences is overwhelming and this blog provides the time and space.  It allows me to bring to light the story of one family, who changed my life and spiritually transported me into another world of understanding.  Their story is not one of war and despair.  I had heard horrific tales over and over from other families but this story was a simple crisis of faith and how their cultural heritage and belief systems were challenged.  In order to save the life of their daughter they had to embrace change.  In doing so, they brought me to a new understanding of the strength of the human spirit.

Part Two to follow soon.

Why it matters what we do and say

All the recent activity in the newspapers about adults in responsible positions who molest children in their care is and should be thought provoking.                        Because these stories continue to make news it is clear that the actions of these predators has not abated.  Blaring headlines continue to generate a feeling of distrust for the integrity of institutions which have not protected our children.  Victims who may or may not have remained silent over the years continue to suffer.                  Every time this becomes a subject of public debate, some long time predators are exposed but at the bottom of anyone’s caring list is the long line of victims who continue to suffer various forms of post traumatic stress because they re-live the events personal to their own lives.
Before this most recent spate of chatter in the news, I started writing *a story about the fallout of childhood sexual abuse.  Although the story is a fiction, it contains elements of someone’s truth. I hope that those who read it will be able to know that they are not alone even though loneliness is the hallmark of keeping such secrets hidden.                                                                                                                                         We don’t know what threats force children to lie about the abuse but that is another part of the story separate, but also ancillary to the effects of the actual abuse.
I hope to see the end of this predatory action on children.
What was done in the wake of other major well publicized events has been helpful but hardly seems to make a dent in the consciousness of predators past and present who are still out there. There is no group of survivors marching the streets in support of victims but there are tireless workers who try to help children of all ages, forever trapped in the mists of a murky childhood, struggling with normalcy as an adult, but wanting to see justice and an end to this disgusting criminal act.

*Fanfiction – Blunt Thou The Lion’s Paw

** Other real life stories available at Discover the Path – Women of Courage

First again

Reverend Judith Andrade,  My Ordination Journey.

Over the weekend of October 1-2 2011,
the second of my firsts came to fruition. Imagine at my great young middle age,
having the opportunity to participate in something new, something never done
before with an amazing group of people I never met for the second time in less
than three months!  My ordination as an
interfaith minister was as challenging as it gets.

Although I had been  ordained in 1999 through The International
Assembly of Spiritual Healers and Earth Stewards, I didn’t take my divinity
degree until 2002-4, when  I realized a
dream to build a new and unique Ministry for and by women. The additional
training added a wonderful dimension to the work. The whole plan started to blossom
in 2004 only to have it shattered with the
sudden and unexpected death of my co-collaborator, dear friend and business
partner.

Everything was put on hold. For the first three years I was shattered, feeling
that perhaps it wasn’t meant to be. Then one day, I woke up, like Buddha and
wondered why I thought all the dreams we shared as friends  should end. Some dreams die with people who
share our goals, some have to be adjusted and some should go on in order to
honour the person and keep their spirit alive. This dream we had of helping
women and men to overcome trauma and childhood abuse was worthy and needed. Our
vision was not for ourselves but for how we could help others.

So I started on projects which clearly got me back on the right track. I
completed and published my two novels, The Will To Be True/In The Shadow of the
Blackbird and a third, Suspect, Love. Just as I completed my third book and
pitched it at the first ever ‘Pitchfest’ organized by my publisher in Hollywood,
I was offered a chance to be ordained
with the seminary where I completed my degree, something which was not
available at the time I graduated.

How do they connect?  The novels relate stories
of strong women who have overcome childhood traumas and succeeded where they
thought the status quo was the only option. On completing the books and having
them published, I was inspired to complete my own paths and fulfill my dreams.

Getting to the point of ordination was not easy. We were given three months to
complete herculean tasks (well it seemed that way to me). With much focus, I
finished the required courses, books, and services. ( I mean, who needed to
write another 10,000 word essay after writing a 100,00 word book). I mailed my
last assignment two days before the deadline and blamed Canada Post for not
getting it there on time. I wasn’t the only one but the College faculty were
beyond understanding and so patient with all of us because this whole
ordination things was new for them too.

Our group was just amazing. We were from all walks of life, sharing different
histories, but working with common purpose to prepare for our graduation and
bring our strengths to a multi-faith service in which we all took part.  I never met any of my colleagues but knew all
of them by voice. With very few hitches, we were all ordained by the hardworking
Director and Administrative Director of the College through the support of A
World Alliance of Interfaith Clergy.

Change and challenge are always
wonderful exercises which allow us to observe the strength of the human spirit.  As humans we are blessed with the ability to
look back at where we started and see where we reach then use that impetus to
move us forward. What will always please me is the chance I had to be first
again and pave the way for others. I am mindful in these later years of my life
that I must follow the example and goals set as a standard for life by my pioneering
grandmother way back in 1927. If I emulate her courage even for a day, I hope I
have made her proud of me.

 

Sunday morning

It’s Sunday.  Apart from a few morning shows which update the current US political process, there isn’t much on TV.  Really, it is a good time for reflection.  I am preoccupied with an upcoming opportunity to work with my publishers on my lastest book.  I will be using the time to sell the story.  It would be a dream come true  to see Suspect, Love on the big screen.  Never one to dwell on the future dream when the present calls me to pay attention to details, I have spent days practicing a presentation.  I have had less angst practicing to officiate at huge weddings which occupy most of my summer weekends.  Well….the words I am speaking aren’t mine.  I just have to say them in a meaningful way.  Talking to a stranger about the outpourings of my head and heart is different.

Anyway, I digress in writing just as I do in thought.  My reflections took me to a couple of delightful realizations.  For those who read my fanfiction stories of the modern day Beauty and the Beast, you will know that the handsome young Russian actor, Vasily Stepanov, who made a splash in the movie Inhabited Island as Maxim, is now on facebook and actually talking with fans.  His beautifully planed face in so many poses helps to inspire my character Jacob whose growth from an inexperienced but brilliant young lawyer to man of super strength and power has been a pleasure to chronicle.

Lots of folks who read Fanfic, do so because they want stories of the main characters Vincent and Catherine, but I have said often that I can’t rewrite history, even in fiction.  So Jacob and his wife Cathy pursue their history and their life together in my imagination with some interesting fillers about Jacob’s remarkable parents. As I thought about the young couple,  I was struck by how much they resemble William and Catherine.  There is another pair of role models for further stories.  As handsome as William is, Vasily remains,  hands down, my visual hero.

And, as I work toward feeling comfortable with all the questions I will be asked during my interviews and preparing possible answers, I thought about which story of the thirteen I have penned in the past four years, most epxresses the goals I set for myself as a story teller.  When I started writing, I saw my role as one of story telling rather than professional/technical ‘authoring’ or journalism.  I was trained for neither.  Basically I just wanted to put out the thoughts and feelings of people I meet every day because many are unable to do so for themselves.  ‘Judgement of the Heart’ serves as the best example of a detailed story which meets my personal criteria.

One last point about stories…when there is a dedication at the end of the story, it is a considered decision, based on how much I learned about someone or something during the course of writing and what their sometimes simple contribution in my life has meant to me.

Why everywoman is a Goddess

“When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid”.

~ Audre Lorde, 1934-1992

This wonderful and inspiring quote from the celebrated Black Author and Poet, Audre Lorde, never fails to provide me with a deeper courage to face challenges that sometimes get me down. This gave me pause to really think about courage and what it means for women.  As I was researching the word courage, I fell in love with another word that is rich with meaning;  Agathology.

My Grandmother, who demonstrated enormous courage, in her day and time was named Agatha. I used to feel that her name was so old fashioned. She was also given the right to choose my name at birth and it was just as old-fashioned. I never used my given name until I was 19 and forced to change it from the family nick-name. Now, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I suppose we sometimes have to grow into a name.

Agatha, like the name Judith, has strength, but there is a softness to Agatha that speaks of woman at her best, nurturing, providing for her family, out there protecting, doing what it takes to survive. This was very much my Grandmother’s way and how she had to live her life. So, I fell in love with Agathology, which means ‘an inquiry into the nature of good’.

There are so few references to this lovely word and its practice, Agathism and its adherents, Agathists. In adopting a philosophy (love of knowledge), related to the nature of good, I was inspired to learn about and appreciate the women and the stories of their life and their survival. I wanted to know how good can overcome evil and how we strive towards good in the absence of negativity. Further, I was inspired to write about them from their own words, out of the depths of their own pain and hope that other women will read the sometimes harrowing struggles and be inspired too.

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I started writing a series of stories and interviews about surviving to help give voice to women who didn’t have one.

 The dictionary defines survive as ‘live on’ endure subsist. None of these words can really describe what it means to overcome the despair of tremendous loss or breach insurmountable obstacles. Does one really live on after losing a life long partner, suddenly and cruelly? How does one endure the normalcy of everyday life after suffering the most inhumane physical and sexual abuse. Millions of women subsist in wealthy countries as well as poorer nations every day as they struggle to make a life for themselves and their children. The definition does not come close to describing the true meaning of a survivor. Hestia’s Hearth, our Sanctuary of healing,  thinks survivor is synonymous with courage!

Quite often the newspapers or TV tabloids will carry ‘human interest’ stories that provide the rest of us with the occasional reminder of the strength of the human spirit. Reading or hearing about the intimate and extraordinary things that ordinary people can do in the face of adversity is inspiring. When women find themselves surpassing even their own expectations and serving as role models for others, their story has a profound energy and quality.

Hestia’s Hearth is a quiet sanctuary in Southern Ontario which serves as the setting for intriguing interviews with ordinary women who have shown tremendous courage and fortitude. The subjects of these fireside conversations are the true heroes of Hestia’s Hearth. They are women from all walks of life and all parts of the world who, for the first time in some cases, will be sharing painful memories, courageous acts and hearts filled with spiritual presence.

I hope you will have a look at their stories.