Today I choose LOVE.
Today I choose to see the best in our world and know myself as a part of it.
Today I choose HOPE.
to believe that we are moving together in a beautiful way and that happiness for all living beings will be our consequence.
Today I choose FAITH.
To believe that the best aspects of everything that is alive exist within me and you.
Today I CHOOSE.
Working for Indian people is not like working for anyone else, I think.
Take for example last week, when I had an 11 day stretch of day work and night gigs and rehearsals, so my back half way through Tuesday afternoon last week just simply stopped functioning properly. and shooting pains brought me to my knees, which made me think:
“Well hey – maybe I should take a break”. I have been accused of ignoring my own needs in the past.
Unable to even get to clients coming into the store, I was reduced to admitting that “I think I need help”.
I texted Aman, the store owner who responded within seconds that she would be there in fifteen minutes.
I sat down on the chair and hoped no one would come into the store as I didn’t know if I would be able to actually walk to the racks to show them anything. It was pretty bad. A few came in and there i was waving like the Queen of Sheba not moving from behind the cash upon my perch, my back inordinately straight.
Thirteen minutes after my text, and after a few more people had begun to come in and mill about, Aman and Romy came stampeding into the store, with their eldest daughter in tow. It was like an efficient military swat team operation.
Aman looked at me, with her grouchy concerned face, marched immediately to the back of the store, grabbed a Nepalese blanket, tossed it down on the floor between the middle of the store and a changing room, and quite literally threw me down to the ground on my stomach.
“You stay”. she said all business, and began issuing confident sounding orders in Hindi to Arpita, who also snapped into action as her mother’s habitual other right hand.
” Hindi hindi Coconut oil…hindi hindi hindi …terrible dry skin!! ….hindi hindi” is what i heard allot of.
I often wear the things in the store that we are wanting to show people the most, so that day i was uncharacteristically wearing a short “business like” dress, maybe mid thigh length. Beige.
But as I lay there my dwindling consciousness told me there we people in the store. Lots of people.
Romy and Arpita held them at bay showing them things to stay interested in at the front of the store,
Suddenly my dress was half way up my body and my underwear were half way down.
On the floor
In the store.
I felt a little uncomfortable but the pain won and I tried muttering supplications.
Can I give you some advice?
Never ever supplicate an Indian.
I tried speaking to her – thank her. I don’t know.
What the hell do you say to someone when they have laid you down on the floor and are covering your body in coconut oil to ease the aches of decades of physical self abuse?
If you’re me – you minimize.
“Oh Aman I’ll be fine…don’t worry! ill just go home and have a ba…”
I’m sure Aman heard sometime like
“Blah blah … blah blah blah…”
“You don’t speak now! ok? Understand? Shh”.
I could hear the concern in her voice and let myself sink back into painless bliss.
Suddenly her hands were on my lower back and the pain was absolutely gone. Poof. Eliminated. She hadn’t actually done anything yet, just the fact that she knew EXACTLY where the pain and went straight to it, I think it began to dissolve. Over the next half hour, with my new dress now covered in coconut oil, as was the entire rest of my body, Aman managed to perform some miracle on me, relieving pain and bringing my dry and sad skin back to life. I left he store relaxed and disheveled, my hair now a massive mane of shiny greasy mess piled on top of my head and went home.
I cancelled a gig to rest, because I’ll tell you it got worse before it got better. I spent four days basically immobilized in some weird fog, sleeping or awake sketching was all I could muster.
I did an afternoon gig where the music started to revive me, and then I was back at work, feeling better than I have in years.
I am sharing this story because not only does it illustrate to me all of the things I am learning about the Indian people, how they take care of each other, and there is a genuine concern for every person’s well being.
I have grown up in a culture where we talk about how nice that idea is on Sundays and act like assholes the rest of the week.
These people are completely different.
To have an opportunity to see a loving example of how people truly incorporate compassion and community into their lives is probably the greatest thing I have ever experienced.
It is frustrating to me when I see people come into the store treating Aman like something less, thrusting things at her to hold, not saying please or thank you, never making eye contact or talking to her as though she is an idiot. It is hard for me to bear.
But I am fortunate to see both sides, and it is obvious that there are a many preconception that interfere with our ability to get to know each other as people.
One is who we think we are and the second is who we think each other is.
Very often I see the Montreal dwelling unlingual french canadians that treat Aman with the greatest disdain. I hear them hammering her to speak better french and being angry and obnoxious when they confuse her (fifth) language.
I had one person ask me in french if “the English here were friendly”?
I had another ask me if “bosses pray four times a day”
I love that they support me in everything. Even what others have called “my bad temper” has come to good use. Like with the lady in a failed attempt to negotiate (which I disdain) who said she wouldn’t even pay two dollars for this “Indian crap” – to the hand beaded dress in her sweaty little palms. It was my pleasure to show her to the door. Aman is too polite for this but we have a rule: No amount of sales equals our dignity.
I’ll tell you honestly, when I was a kid, I was frequently horrified by my fathers treatment of people who worked in boutiques and restaurants. It was his way of “commanding respect”. Old school and often ugly.
More than once I remember wanting to crawl under a dinner table in a fancy restaurant as my father carried on in his indignant manner, obviously horrifying the poor waiter or waitress who had the misfortune of crossing his path on a “need to feed the ego” day.
The irony that now, at least five times a day I get to be on the receiving end of people just like him, who make me change their shoes while they talk on their cell phones (that never goes well) and who speak to me as though I am their personal attendant and no need for common courtesies are required. We don’t put up with that either.,
Maybe our store is special in another way – that we will provide free instruction on kindness if you seem to require it. The place is steeped in it.
You just have to come in and breathe.
The idea of animals and energy is fascinating. Once you spend enough time with animals in any capacity, you will find that you can easily feel and transmit subtle reciprocal energetic exchanges. Animals react to our emotions and energy in a substantial way.
Years ago, one of my dear friends and fellow horse farmer was having a celebration for her fiftieth birthday. She had invited a few friends over to celebrate and we were going to have a bonfire, tell some stories, sing some songs – a good summer night.
That same afternoon, her horse of many years began to die. She was very old and had faced a plethora of health problems over the years. The vet was called and by the time I arrived it was already dark and people were sitting around the fire. They had set up a sort of drive-through IV on a tree limb so the horse could get intermittent hydration treatments while we tried to keep her from going down through an endless walk many horse owners regrettably face at some point.
We all took turns helping keep the mare moving but finally she lay down and there was nothing we could do to get her up. In our resignation we gathered around the fire and decided to send her off with good energy by playing guitar and singing. While her breath slowed, our songs became incThis went on and soon there was a feeling of celebration and coming together – the heaviness had vanished and had been replaced with music, love and community. Suddenly without a warning, the sweet old mare stood up, shook herself off and proceeded to continue to live in that body for three more years. There is no doubt in any of our minds what had changed the events of that night – it was all about energy.
Recently, I began working at a little store that is filled with beautiful things from Nepal, India and other fairly sourced places. It is in fact the only shop I have gone out of my way to visit for many years. Romi and Aman, the owners, are generous and warm people. They have beautiful carefully chosen items for sale in the store – each one somehow meant to have a good result for the person. A gift of energy and healing in a stone, or a spring jacket with vibrant colours of Nepalese clothing. Although the store appreciates the business clients give as they are hard working people with small children and the winter season leaves them with absolutely no income in the seasonally abandoned tourist town. But just as I much I think they love when you ask questions and take time look at all the beautiful things.
My life was at a massive cross roads and I was feeling pretty spun-around when Aman called me and asked to meet them at the store. When they offered me a part time job – I took it on the spot knowing there was no better place for me in the world. As we chatted excitedly about plans and training, I saw a stunning molded glass bowl with a sad looking little Beta fish in it, huddled at the bottom.
“Your fish is sad. Cold I think…”
“Yes, yes” Romi replied. “She keeps dying and coming back to life. She has not been well in a long time.” And with great concern for a beloved pet, Romi and Aman talked about the little blue fish, now dull and old sitting at the bottom of the bowl.
My first day of work was two days later and I couldn’t have asked for anything better. Imagine going into your favourite place and your boss’s first directive is “Make everything beautiful! – the way you want”.
The first thing we did was deal with the beautiful fish bowls. Perched on dried roots they were an amazing thing to behold. A woman came in to look at them and within minutes the little blue fish found herself homeless and in transition.
Aman and I took incredible care working together to move her – gently cooing in the bathroom, snuggling her from one bowl to the next as if she were a kitten or something.
Aman set up little stones, amethysts especially to bring a renewed energy to the water. Then we brought her into the sun and watched the magic happen through the day as the sweet little fish began to dance around her bowl unlike anything she had ever done before. Aman returned to her bowl about 35 times to joyfully exclaim.”Look! Look how happy she is!” We received so much of our own joy from her joy!
One person after another streamed into the store that day. The happy feeling of connection was palpable and filled with “Joy”full loving energy that abounded from our small victory bringing the little fish back to health.
Romi and Aman’s care of Joy was truly an awesome thing to behold and incredibly contrasting in a world where the news can be so bad watching two people show authentic concern for a little blue fish made me smile from the inside out.
Here’s to good vibes …
Many years ago I discovered the small shop in the water side tourist town of Ste Anne De Bellevue. Unassumingly off to the side along the edge of the rolling st Laurence river neighboured by eclectic little restaurants and shops that offered a sea side multi-cultural experience to tourists and students alike.
I had spent a great deal of time in this place for many years off and on for different reasons; as a substitute teacher at the local high school, visiting friends or buying honey and cheese at the local farmer’s market on weekends.
When I discovered Shiva, the small Hindu store in Ste Anne’s my life was a maelstrom of conflicting emotions and I was clearly in the tumult of change. On that particular day, I was driving blindly to the Montreal General Hospital to see my mother, who had been suffering from cancer for about two years. All of the relentless treatments they had given her had led to a depressed immune system, and a reinvigorated cancer that had found its refuge in other places when shunned by the treatments. I was to attend a meeting with her doctors about her end of life care.
Even though she had had “cancer” – an idea I had almost come to be accustomed to – the possibility of her death was a shock to me and it suddenly struck me, as I was driving, how final this was all going to be. I found myself crying nearly unable to move my car forward, so I took a quick turn off for the Ste Anne’s exit for a breath before facing this particular music.
I had never really noticed the small store with the colourful Hindu items in the window before. To tell you the truth, I’m not much of a shopper but I felt myself being drawn inside. I wiped my tears and went in to be greeted by the bright wide smile and shining eyes of Romi, the owner of the shop. I tried to put on my best face but it instantly dissolved as I saw all the smiling Buddhas around me;
“Hello. My mother is dying”, I proclaimed to him flatly “And I need some help.” I stopped, unsure of what I was saying or doing. I had meant to say I need to buy something to bring her.
I noticed Romi’s face had not changed. He was not shocked, or put off by my rush of emotion. He remained undaunted, still leaning on the counter looking at me more serious now, but his eyes still smiled. After a moment of stillness that allowed the gravity of my emotions to settle like dust in the sunny windows, he stood up straighter and smiled even more brightly;
“I have something for you,” he said, an Indian lilt in his words.
He disappeared behind a colourful mandala curtain, returning a few minutes later. I noticed he was limping – quite badly, like a handicap he had all of his life. I later learned he had polio as a child and somehow this made him even more authentic and brave to me.
He put a necklace on the glass counter for me to see. It was magnificent- a Tibetan necklace with a small oil vial, containing a beautiful bone etched ying and yang in the center. I understood immediately that this was for me and not for my mother, because the best gift I could give her was to focus on staying balanced within myself so I could offer her the best of what I had for all she may need me for.
I’m pretty sure I hugged him then. I felt incredibly relieved, like the whole universe would always somehow catch me when things became too heavy to bear.
I went to the hospital that day with a renewed vigour, an open heart and an optimistic view of life, death and the absolute love I could have for my mother without being afraid of her leaving. I was present and fully accepting of everything. I walked through the hospital on a wave of happy and people all around me smiled. The world looked somehow brighter.
Do you think there was magic in that little vial?
I guess in a way there was. The kind of magic that happens every time two people come to help each other in that random anonymous way that keeps us believing that everything is possible.
Taking depression on the road…
Travelling all over the world is beautiful, adventurous, romantic and fantastic. I feel like a “citizen of the world…and I love the whole thing – the good, the awesome and the ugly.
But let’s face it – it’s not all roses and can be equally difficult and dangerous for those of us who travel with medical issues like depression or other mental health issues which make us look healthy on the outside, while our mind is melting into something untouchable. Indeed the challenge is mighty to maintain the balance we all require for wellness – but a person with depression must be diligent. It can be a massive challenge at times to just feel like a normal person in your skin, alone in crowds of familiar-like faces but apart from the motion of another world. It’s a very strange feeling. And I really did my best – but there is no way to replicate the kind of gentle balance you can create for yourself in your home environment, when you know the food, the roads, the people – it’s just different.
I must admit I was entirely dismayed when about 9 days after arriving in Australia I dropped into a deep dangerously dark place after trying hard to keep my feet on the ground and carefully walking the edge of a very precarious mind. I hadn’t felt like that in years! Traveler’s exhaustion coupled with the fast pace of each day “trying not to waste a second” of where you are at, knowing it could be the only time you see it, rich food, booze, sugar – my body probably went into some form of shock. When travelling it just goes with the territory that your physical balance is completely shot with constant restaurant meals, wired eating hours, too much food, wine and not enough weed – harder to find anywhere when you are new. Imaginably for anyone, there are variety of reasons why when travelling you basically relinquish control of your body to the elements of the land you find yourself on.
It is my hope to use my own story with purpose to help break the stigma of depression. It is so important that we are speaking openly about our struggles when it falls on us like a lead weight.
If you’ve never had it – you won’t understand this.
But if you have it – I hope this will make you feel less alone.
Just in case you are not familiar with depression, I’d like to emphasize three things –
1- Depression is not “a bad attitude”, lack of knowledge or some weakness that those without depression don’t.
2- You cannot overcome depression through “sucking it up”. I saw a tee-shirt in Sydney that said…
“Depressed? Have a cup of cement and toughen the fuck up”.
3- Depression does not go on vacation just because you do. And maintaining the necessary disciplines you need when you are totally outside of your comfort zone – presents some unique challenges.
As a person who uses “natural and usually illegal” means of managing depression, the challenge is greater, because no matter what country you travel to, obtaining such “medicine” requires that you get to know folks a little less than casually or they think you are undercover something or other.
So, four days into Sydney, in the largest city I have ever been in, I found myself quite literally on my knees. It was wicked. I sat in the bath crying, praying – and feeling like a burden to the entire planet – depression closes the world in around me and makes me the only thing I think about – not good for anyone. For whatever reason (every good depression has its own “theme”) this was all about the past – I began reviewing all the regrets of my past – which are very few actually except for the absolute bleak loss I feel when I think about the people and animals I love who have died in the past few years. Depression brings back the ghost of deep grief for me.
Over the years I have come to understand that even the darkest times will reveal eventually to me a reason – that it is inevitably something I need to see inside myself, and that those are the times when self-care is absolutely mandatory. The idea that “happiness is created from the inside” is poignant and sharp like a good Pinot Noir. But you can’t think your way out of depression. The only action to move towards healing is non-avoidance – not try and rid yourself of it, but to recognize, reflect and adapt. It is imperative you remind yourself that everything is changing – all the time – the happy things the sad things – are all changing. So – as my mom loved to tell me…
“This too shall pass…”
Even if you don’t believe it.
I know how lucky I am – even when I am in the darkest of them all. . Unlike the people I see living on the streets who suffer from mental health issues, I have a fantastic partner, who is always standing at the ready to help bail me out of this place. But this one was different – even he was afraid he wouldn’t find me in there.
Here’s how I handle depression…I get into a bath and I cry, and I pray and then I cry and pray more.
My first “bath tub” prayers were to my mother. I miss her in such a tangible way, especially as I travel. She was my entire inspiration for loving the world and travelling through it like I do. When I first found out she was my mother, my family sent me to Africa to live with her. This was my first experience far from home, but unlike the experience I have had in any place since, Africa was home to me. My feet touched the red soils of Guinea and I was simply – home. I was happy there with her, basking in the hot African sun, reveling in the multicultural celebrations of living in an expatriate environment. My friends were from all over the world, from all imaginable places. Emmanuel from Ethiopia, my best friend from the US and my first boyfriend from Belgium. I heard the drums, I danced in the rains, and said forever more that we shared a common disorder – la malady d’afrique – my heart was left in Africa.
In the bathtub that night I prayed…oh did I pray. For a miracle. I needed a good one because nothing looked like it would ever feel good again. I fight with my husband, angry that he is talking to work while I fear I may be dying – not even imagined, it was really how it felt. I think about my mother – my mother – my mother – how she could always talk me down from the ledge, I didn’t even to tell her, she just knew me like two cells from the same being know each other. I miss my friend.
I find it cold here in the deep city – I mean “people cold”. Everyone rushing to work running never saying good morning or making eye contact. A person could really get lost in such a place. But I break free from john and I go and sit on stairs, away from the maddening crowds, where evening commuters are passing by.
“Fuck it. I’m going to sit here and just be.”
I think about what a long way I am from who i used to be – from shopping in New York for dresses as a young woman, only caring about my hair and shoes – to sitting here in my Nepalese poncho and ripped jeans, messy hair – I have never looked (or felt) more homeless in my life. It also felt more free than my “former designer self” had ever felt.
People are rushing by me in the evening commute. I count – one, two three – But no one looks at me, or acknowledges me. I feel like a ghost – invisible. I imagine this is what homeless people must feel like. The loneliness of being invisible and sad was almost indescribable.
I keep my eyes down mostly, sitting on the cement stairs, away from the world walking above me. Occasional post work commuters pass by me, I see shoes – jogging shoes, pretty pumps, sensible men’s shoes.
27 people go by before a man stops in mid step and asks
“Excuse me miss are you OK?”
All I can say as I look up at him is
“You’re number 27….”
He looks confused and a little embarrassed – apologizes to me and moves on. Clearly concerned but not wanting to invest any time.
I continue to count pairs of shoes, my mind still begging for a miracle in this cement world I had crouched in. I see more people, more shoes. More time passes. I think about the 15 times a day I stop in the city to make human contact with a homeless person – and I am awash in the wonder of how amazing that must feel to someone that may have this kind of loneliness every day. I feel sorry for myself – why isn’t anyone doing for me what I freely do all the time?
“Am I the only one who cares left on this planet??”
Just in time – a nice pair of casual sneakers stops and I look up to a bright green shirted man; he is number 72 but I don’t say it wanting to be alone as much as I wanted him to not leave.
He looks at me authentically concerned;
“You ok mate?”
I decided to be honest,
“Not really. I have had way better days, but this will pass. Thanks for asking.”
I try a smile but it probably comes out looking like post stroke victim smile all crooked swollen eyes sadness leaking from my face.
He lingers and looks at me then. It was clear he was no stranger to deep sadness. He had been there, done that and had gotten the tee shirt. I was grateful for the understanding and connection.
“Good on ya!” Giving me a “that’s the spirit” kind of look.
“You take good care of yourself”, he added sincerely and went on.
That was just enough real human contact for me to be able to get up to my feet and walk back to our hotel to greet my worried husband, wondering at my gratitude for having had the opportunity to feel like a homeless person for a while. It made me want to tell you how important it is to someone feeling bad, homeless or not, to feel humanity from you, even if you don’t have money to give a person – that exchange can make all the difference.
The next morning when I didn’t wake feeling any better, I dragged my sorry self-downstairs to smoke a cigarette (I know I know – I’m trying to quit I swear). I was working on a hopeful song, inspired by talking to a young musician excited about her first composition – I felt a focus that was not ME. Very important!
It allowed just enough to open a crack of light…possibility.
The smoking area is a big common square with comfortable benches where people commune to smoke and generally look at their cell phones. I went to be with my poetry. I sat on a bench, concentrating on my own composition when suddenly the blackest man I have ever seen in Australia, I mean BLACK like Africa beautiful black, comes to me and interrupts saying with an angry voice almost, no eye contact,
“May I sit here?”
I look around – most of the benches are empty – why would he want to sit with me?
“Sure”, I say lamely.
I see he is obviously homeless, dirty pants and shirt, and probably suffers from something like paranoid schizophrenia or something along those un-socially acceptable mental health illnesses that cause so many to be homeless. His eyes have no “connection” with me.
“Of course”, I smile at him, wiping the rain off the bench so he can sit in a dry place, pretty sure no one had done something nice for this guy in decades.
Just that first action of doing a kindness for someone else – thinking about someone other than my self – was a great start back to me.
He looks at me long and hard, watching my hand move back and forth across the wood of the bench, a distress, beginning a hushed conversation with only himself. I lean into him, trying to understand.
“Are you African?” I ask bluntly.
“Yes of course, where the hell do you think I come from” he says in a thick beautiful delicious accent – a
Balm to my ears.
I have to turn my head so he doesn’t see my tears – now from gratitude. I know it’s my mother sending me what I need…no one else would know this.
“Where do you come from?” I ask trying to get him to focus his talking on one thought.
“Africa…Africa. I left Africa when I was just a child. I am from nowhere now. Everyone my family is all dead form there – there is no more Africa.” He says almost angrily.
I think about the beautiful smiling children I loved so much in Africa…the real people who danced and played and understood the way of nature. The fresh smart beautiful people of Africa, no pretention and such honesty we have never known in the west. I wonder sadly if this man was one of those proud children learning the drum from his father in a circle of proud family and tribe members.
He starts talking nonsense – about his wife and loss and sadness…
“You are the nicest person I have met here”, I interrupt him unable to hide the grateful tears in my eyes.
He is quiet.
I think he hasn’t smiled in so long his face seems stuck in this frown.
“I’m a musician”, I tell him. “Music makes me feel better”.
I sing him a song – he closes his eyes.
We agree together that the world is fucked up because not enough people sing a dance.
I tell him it would be grand fun to bring a drum into this common place and make the serious people dance so they speak again to the wind – like we did in Africa.
Now he is laughing – and we are both laughing. I put my arm him and I hug him.
“You are very wonderful”, I say to him.
“Your energy is why I am here – you speak to me”. He says quietly – suddenly completely “there” with me. I feel the power of this.
We sit again quiet comfortable like old friends. I put my hand on his arm and we are happy…connected and not lonely. Not depressed – now we feel good together in our aloneness.
Soon, his busy speaking mind takes over and he is forced to move on by its vapid imperative to him.
The most unlikely, my husband and his coworker and I go to the Manly Island ferry – world famous for its view of Sydney. I can tell you right now that touring was NOT in my plan – I could barely have wrapped my mind around being near people, never mind travelling by subway and ferry with crowds of fellow travelers.
But hey – if I have learned nothing else my plans are always not as good as god’s plans…and I only wanted to feel less sadness. I was – as they say – as willing as the dying can be.
We take the subway, my eyes are swollen. I see myself in the window – I look old and tired. My eyes avoid further self-scrutiny.
Arriving at the quay for the ferry my husband says…
“Jo – do you hear it?”
I am breathing in the fresher air of the harbor incredibly grateful for not being in the city, feeling my feet reconnected…a peace coming over me.
“No”, I say to him distractedly.
Then I hear the sound…the Australian didgeridoo. It has been my only desire to connect with and learn from the Australian aboriginal people, who are incredibly difficult to find in the cities.
Suddenly my feet are running…I am, literally tearing through the crowds, pushing the too slow aside. Maybe I am running for my life? It feels like I am running to someone or something familiar. I couldn’t have stopped myself if I would have tried.
And then I am DANCING…the dig playing under me lifting me up, and old man and me – he is shaman, dancing beside me. I have rain sticks and I am leaping all over I feel the power of it all and I am ELEVATED by it.
The old shaman invites me beside him – a dew dance. I am FILLED with it all – like a magic that is so hard to describe to you, UT I really want to try. I want everyone to know this so possible.
He looked at me, and the man on the ground playing the dig and suddenly we are the only ones there.
I feel it shift in me – my joy. He has shaken my joy free – is all I can think.
We leave them eventually to take our ferry ride – but what happened next was all miracle.
My energy so high, everywhere we went people were smiling and talking to us and everyone interchanging. The ferry people around us soon became like friends, interchanging our experiencing around the world. Talking about how amazing it was to all be together tree.
I can ASSURE YOU that had I gone on that trip with the original energy I came with – one of that would happen.
So here’s my point –
Travelling with depression can be hard – a dive it happens to you, well then you have some work to do.
- Take exceptionally good care of yourself
- Create write draw express.
- Stop caring about what people think.
- And most important…WAIT FOR THE MIRACLE.!! don’t be so impatient 😉
- The lower down you go – the greater the beauty that is available.
- Be a badass…and love it all!
And so, now we are on a different route, back on home territory for us in Australia continuing on with the old shaman’s lovely energy forever inside my heart.
FILLED WITH GRATITUDE and determination to keep myself as well as possible for the people I love and this world I am dedicated to.
A far too personal introduction: I am a white French Canadian mother of seven farmer and musician. Maybe that gives you an image in your head of someone different from you – maybe someone who would not necessarily care about what was happening a world away in Ferguson Missouri. But I do care – very much. And I hope my personal information will be relevant only to you at the beginning of this article – and by the end it will no longer matter.
My daughter brought a really interesting blog to my attention – she had been talking about it for a while – written by a beautiful black woman who promoted cultural peace. She had strong well expressed opinions and my daughter admired her.
AFter Ferguson, it began to change and I saw my daughter’s passions begins to rise. SHe said herself,
“Mom there’s a fire inside of me that I have never felt before”.
I admit to enjoying this. I like seeing my kids care about something deeply. But she was clearly pissed.
The woman’s blog had apparently turned from being appealing and powerful, to angry and hateful dismissing comments from white readers, calling them “privileged” and discounting their support. My daughter’s fiery temper rose out of her feet and exploded from her mouth in a diatribe of expletives.
“You’re doing the same thing”, I tried telling her quietly.
But she was angry – angry at being pigeonholed in the box of “all whites”. Incensed at not having her help and support for the black people protesting in Ferguson accepted and acknowledged I suppose. Then again Maybe she was feeling a little of what black’s in America have felt their whole life?Stereotypes, invisible and unimportant. Out of control.
Which brought me to my question…
what do we tell our children when they come to realization of unfairness and inequality? What power do they have?
When I was a young girl, my family had a condo in Daytona Beach. I remember it well – a row of fancy white buildings dotting the beach about a mile off of the Daytona main. Across the street was a shopping center with a Publix and beside that an exclusive golf course; all very private – all very white. I didn’t understand what that was – I was young and untouched by the invisible lines that separated us. Back home my best friend was a Jamaican boy whose father was a renowned biology professor who won the Order of Canada. My “type” of racism was reversed. I thought ALL black people drove Volvo’s and were academics. Of course this was untrue for everyone – white or black – but that was also the age that I assumed everyone’s birthday was on the same day as mine. I suppose it’s just the way the young mind processes and groups things trying to understand the world as we are growing up.
Only a few blocks away from the condo was a suburb of Daytona, a mainly black neighbourhood. I remember going food shopping with my mother at the Publix the white patron’s annoyance when we were behind a black customer in line because they would take longer with counting their food stamps. Eventually when I got a bit older, I would get in to a great deal of trouble for stealing all of my mother’s food stamps and going into that neighbourhood to put them into mail boxes anonymously – I was grounded and I didn’t apologize.
My experiences in Florida and in other Southern states throughout the 1970’s-1990’s showed me clearly that although segregation may have been abolished by law – its roots remained strong and unyielding somehow. That maybe the right to vote was extended, and the Jim Crow laws were repealed, but white America found other ways of subverting the black population. Employment and educational inequity, healthcare inequity – keeping the masses at bay. There was a quiet agreement amongst (especially) southern whites to keep the black population powerless and poor. And the bar that black populations set for themselves was comparatively lower than that which was afforded to the “privileged” white population. Somehow, the roles that people had assumed under segregation were behaviourally ingrained and were being maintained by mutual agreement of both sides. These rules of behaviour are born of a hundreds of years of mistaken identity, brainwashing and blatant human error. We have been inundated through every powerful means available – radio, TV, literature and art, previous generational beliefs – that we all have certain roles certain expectations to fulfill as either white or black people. And in reality we just go about the business of doing what is necessary to become what we believe is expected of us with no conscious recognition that this is what we are doing. We are like robots – walking with blank blinking eyes not ever considering where our actions thoughts and choices are coming from. Until incidents like Ferguson and Chicago wake us up from our dream-like state.
In discussions I have with people about cultural differences, I often hear quick defensive statements like –
“I had a black best friend”, they would say. Or “I had a black girlfriend”
We are ALL racist, I would insist. That doesn’t mean we can’t become better. Realizing that is the first step to a more conscious moving forward. My point is that we all have limiting thoughts about beliefs about other cultures. Until you have really lived and been immersed in the way a culture functions and flows, you cannot possibly have the first idea about the motivations behind people’s choices and actions.
When I was travelled through China the first year it opened its doors to tourists, many of the people, especially children there had never seen a Caucasian person except in a book or the rare TV if any they got to see. My father was especially attractive to the children. They would surround him in droves waiting for him to sing a song or tell a story. A fat white man = Buddha. Someone who was not starving and was “full” and happy. Our perceptions of each other have everything to do with how we have been shown the world.
I have been very lucky to have been able to travel a great portion of the world in my life, and even to live in places like Guinea, West Africa. I was young, white and clearly a minority when I arrived in Guinea. It was a jarring experience, which for someone else may have been unsettling but for me, the moment my feet hit African soil I felt at home, welcome and happy. I was often found skipping school to go hang out in the “pig village”, the neighboring village that had the responsibility of keeping a gentle giant pig. Beside them was the drum village where I learned the most basic and important things. In Guinea I was a minority very often. However, as opposed to the black experience in America, of being treated as lower and lesser, in Africa I was treated with gentleness and kindness. As a person of “non-colour”, and maybe because I was young and enthusiastic, I was treated with extraordinary open hearted kindness and welcoming. They enjoyed my differentness I think. The different way I dressed or spoke or expressed myself with my hands. Even the things I would laugh at or ask questions about.
But in North America – we aren’t “enjoying” each other’s differences. We berate and condemn – we are afraid of differences. Studying political science I became enthralled by leaders like Martin Luther King and Gandhi. It was starkly apparent that there was a great deal more power and lasting impact in a peaceful change rather than volatile war which only seemed to give us temporary spurts of peace always awaiting the next battle (case in point – the Middle East).The good news for all of us, is that all that it takes to get past this kind of poisonous unconscious living – is to become aware that this is what we are doing. ASs long as we continue to publicize our opinions and thoughts in terms of “black – white” / “them- Us” we are fulfilling the role of believing that we are separate – that we are different. We are continuing the destructive illusion.
situations like Ferguson are a great opportunity to evolve.
1-Figure out that we are humans are not separate and 2- then go on the figure out that we are connected to everything that is alive and 3- start treating the planet like we understand our connection.
Ferguson is critically important – our tipping point. It is vital because it is creating a necessity in shifting us closer to and understanding that is the ONLY solution to saving our world is to go deeply within our own selves and to stop looking for solutions on the outside. It is our THINKING that has gotten us here – it is only by understand what we are thinking and why we think it, that we can get out. This can only be achieved at an individual level. So, if you ask what it is YOU can do to help in Ferguson, this is your answer:
KNOW YOURSELF DEEPLY
This is what i would tell my daughter
– that she should never lose her passion
– always use your powers for good
– thought is powerful – but it’s not who you are. Find out WHO you are. Don’t be addicted to your thoughts about anything
Maya Angelou – the great poet Laureate and philosopher who spoke on behalf of all people said clearly –
“Do the best you can until you know better – then when you know better DO BETTER”.
Now that we all know better we can do better.