Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Daughter Comes Home

Daughter Comes Home

Nickel comes home after five years. She arrives from the airport on a clear moonlit night and walks up our driveway singing out in her African American Grenadian tongue “So how you doing up there!” She is her mother, Jacqlyn calling up from the road “So what you cooking today girl? She is her father, Denis “How you so scarce these days!” And then she is Nickel again, walking, laughing, wrapping her arms wide and strong. Nickel is walking up our driveway a full bloom woman; despite the trials and hardships, despite the nightmare year she and her brothers found themselves in six years ago.

I remember the day Nickel’s Dad drowned. Maya, Theo and I were driving to visit a friend when Ms. Teresa flagged our car down and asked “Is it true Denis drown?” The familiar shock of disbelief settles in and we drive on in a thick silence. We drive slow waiting to see if the news repeats itself. It does when we see a van full of village people and Jacqlyn in the front, head down. We know the news is true by the slouched shoulders, the eerie silence in the back of the van spilling over. We know the news is true. Denis is dead. He drowned in a senseless death, in a shallow pool of sea water with his son on his back. He tripped and fell and accidently gulped water that traveled straight to his lungs. He could not redeem himself. He needed someone to at least turn him on his side, pound the middle of his back, make the water explode from his lungs and on to the boat he was lugged into. Nickel and her brothers are on the beach the day their dad drowned. As I begin writing this blog I realize it was seven years ago today.

Nickel’s Mom died a year later but not before hurricane Ivan licked up their house and all their belongings, and not before their Grandfather died soon after the hurricane. Jacqlyn took sick after Denis’ death and spent the last year of her life in and out of the general hospital. I was honored to be able to spend time with Jacqlyn the last months and days before she died. Denis, Jacqlyn and the kids were one of the first families I met here in the Village and I grew to be part of their family over the first several years here. The kids and I spent the last day with Jacqlyn in the hospital. We even witnessed Jacqlyn’s familiar sense of humor return for a short time on that last day. A man was visiting his elderly mother who was also dying. He broke down by the side of his mother’s bed and began to cry. Jacqlyn couldn’t believe that a grown man was crying and his mom hadn’t even died yet. “He crying? How a big man crying so? She dead? Eh eh big man crying so and she not even dead yet!” a burst of air spills from her mouth. Jacqlyn is laughing. We have not seen her laugh in months. All of us swallow back our giggles until they too spill out and we are laughing, laughing at the sheer unexpected joy of seeing Jacqlyn smile. Jacqlyn died the next day.

Not long after the deaths of their parents the kids were adopted by their Uncle and Aunt and moved to New York City. They left the only life they knew here in the village friends, community, church, schools. The very land their navel strings were buried was the very land they buried their parents. I know it has not been easy for all of them. Nickel and I kept in touch over the years through emails and phone calls. It was on the phone that I learnt Nickel was in love. “Does he treat you well?” I asked. Nickel answered with a burst of laughter and a “Yes and he is a she!” Nickel discovered her own natural loving self after leaving the only home she knew, after stumbling and tumbling through windy boulder ridden roads in NewYork and resettling in Maryland with the woman she loves and married soon after.

On the first night of Nickel’s arrival we share stories of the present and stories of the past. She shows me the tattoo she has embedded on the back of her shoulder, a tombstone with the words “ in loving memory of Denis and Jacqlyn”. She also parades a ring in front of my eyes and says, “Don’t you be worrying about me girl I am a married woman!”

I can’t help think how Nickel’s life would be different if her parents had not died and she remained on the island. Would she have discovered herself, discovered and exercised her right to love who she wanted to love? Would she have blossomed into the woman she is today? And even though we both would give our dreams away to have Jacqlyn and Denis here, we still took the time to wonder how life, as Nickel knows it today, would be. There is not a single slice of doubt that Nickel is who she is because of her two strong, courageous, resilient parents who resonate and shine their very presence in the love that swells from Nickel’s very being.

We look forward to her next Coming Home!

Monday, April 18, 2011

the more i learn the less i know

and every hour of every day i’m learning more
the more i learn, the less i know about before
the less I know, the more I want to look around ….


At the end of March I journeyed North to visit my parents and to take part in the Dialogue for Peaceful Change program at the Tatamagouche Centre in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia. I found myself immersed in a diverse and empowering learning circle where the teachings were ripe and plentiful; sinking deep into my psyche and rippling outwards as I practice daily the fine art of being present, actively listening, and suspending judgement to the conflicts that arise both in my own life and within the lives of friends and community.

Dialogue for Peaceful Change (DPC) is a global coalition that focuses on creating safe spaces where dialogue can take place as a way of transforming conflict into mutual empowering experiences. DPC looks at practical ways to manage all aspects of conflict before conflicts intensify, thus creating opportunities for personal and community growth. When one of the DPC coaches and facilitators for the week, Steve Law spoke of seeing the world through a TIDES (transformation, interdependence, diversity, equity and sustainability) perspective and emphasized the importance of mediating conflict towards a peaceful change rather than resigning to legal solutions, an AHA shouted inside my head. I realized that once a conflict goes legal or violent, in the case of the youths here in the village, than there is little opportunity for the conflict to be a transformative experience where both divided parties become empowered to change.

I now understand more clearly that conflict is an opportunity to transform how we perceive and understand one another; an opportunity to recognize how diverse our individual and collective perceptions of the world are depending on culture, race, religion, class, sexual orientation, privilege, power… I now understand more clearly how crucial it is for all of us to listen more intently to one another, suspend judgement and hear individual and collective stories that are not based on our conditioned perceptions and prejudices; but based on the her/histories of the people all around whether it be family, friends, coworkers, neighbours, community members or the unfamiliar faces in the media that seem distant but close.

I reflect on how to create spaces here in the village where youths can begin to understand conflict as a normal part of life and where conflict does not have to turn into violent words or action. I begin to organize various activities that will help village youths identify the issues behind the conflicts they experience daily, where they can talk, explore, and create their own small steps in dealing with their own issues. The other night I arrived at the community centre to see the village boys pelting rocks through the window and cursing an array of colourful words at the dancers inside the Centre. For some reason I had brought a notebook and pen and when I went into the Centre I sat next to the back door close to where the rocks were flying. I started to draw. The first boy's curiosity had him quietly peeping through the crack of the door. I asked Ken Ken if I could draw him. He sat down. I drew his portrait (keep in mind I am not a portrait artist!). The other boys started gathering around. As various boys sat down for their personal portraits I asked them why they were angry at the kids dancing inside the Centre. They felt it was unfair they were not allowed in the Centre during the dance practices. I asked what they wanted to do if they were allowed in the Centre? They all shouted “Table Tennis!!” One of the issues was the broken tennis table sitting in the corner of the Centre and the boys were itching to play. Solutions were easy after the issue was identified. This was a small example on finding a non-threatening space to listen to the boys; a space where they were not going to be lectured or judged harshly. Of course this is only a small example amongst the larger layered issues of many of the Village kid’s hard lives.

As I write this blog the components of seeking peaceful change float to the forefront of my mind. They are: understand conflict is normal, respect that others are different, be aware of prejudices you carry, know your own needs, suspend judgement, avoid scapegoating, listen actively, investigate what is important to the other, seek small steps, look up you are not alone, honour the spiritual as part of the path.

While saying goodbye at the end of the week a new friend and African Nova Scotia Elder held me tight and said “Girl I don’t have to worry about you at all because you have equity in your heart” and while I trust that I do have equity in my heart and honoured that I was blessed in such a powerful way I also know there is so much more to learn and unlearn and

"every hour of every day i’m learning more
the more i learn, the less i know about before
the less I know, the more I want to look around …. "

A Big Shout Out to the Dialogue for Peaceful Change crew!!!!!

With deep love and gratitude