Broken Hearts

"A torn jacket is soon mended, but hard words bruise the heart of a child." ~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (American Poet & Educator)

In reading the news about the recent shooting in Norway (, I found myself struggling to understand mankind. I think we are all challenged to understand that at times and, since working with the kids, I have struggled even more. My heart goes out to the children and parents impacted by this atrocity.

When I first started working for the non-profit organization that I am currently employed with, I knew nothing about teenagers other than the fact that I had been a really "bad one." Since then, I have had the liberating realization that I wasn't actually a "bad kid;" rather, I was surviving the best way I knew how in a shitty situation. In comparison, my shitty situation and the kids shitty situations are not on the same (or similar) level at all. But there is something that we share, which directly contributed to our survival response within our shitty situations and, for myself, it took a lot of money and education to figure this very simple concept out.

Although medical and psychiatric professionals tend to pathologize every human experience, pain, loss, mental anguish and symptom we have, there is actually a simple answer to the age-old-question of why children behave the way they do (when those behaviours fall outside of what society considers to be on the "normal" spectrum). For example, a teenage girl I am working with (who is gorgeous, smart, funny and talented) cuts her arms, legs, and belly to smithereens at every opportunity. A teenage boy I am working with (who is athletic, intelligent, and personable) destroys the things he loves to punish himself when he experiences overwhelming feelings of anger. Another girl I am working with, who is Aboriginal (and who is an excellent creative writer, affectionate, beautiful and generous) cries herself to sleep every night, cuts herself, and runs away whenever possible. The psychiatric community has labeled these children as being: oppositional, defiant, conduct disordered, hyper-active, unmotivated (sometimes they have all of these labels at once). In a child's mind these labels translate into one simple statement or self-concept: I am a bad child, I am a bad person. They are defined for the things they do rather than who they are.

When I was a teenager, I was fortunate to know that I wasn't a bad kid - I placed the blame where the blame was rightly due - on my mother. As I grew older, however, the guilt of "what I put my parents through" set in, and I definitely believed I had been a rotten kid who caused my family endless pain and grief. Hearing stories of my wonderful father, crying while standing in the kitchen making his lunch at night due to worry over me, plagued me for a long time. It took me working in the field and spending some valuable hours in therapy to realize that I had simply relied on coping strategies that I believed to be effective and that appeared, at the time, to meet my needs. My coping strategies were varied, self-destructive and consisted of: using a significant amount of drugs (into my early 20's), being promiscuous, dropping out of school, being purely hateful towards my family (primarily my mother) and running away from home for long periods of time (at the time I did not know this was considered running; I understood it as leaving, as my parents typically knew where I was). Partially because we were a middle-class family, and partially because my mother never would have considered shaming herself to this level, no one like the Children's Aid Society was called to help manage my behaviours. Since working in the field, I am so grateful this was not done, as there are much worse things that can happen to a kid than what I was going through and experiencing  - and being 'in care' is one of them.

I cannot imagine what it feels like to live in 49 different "homes" before the age of 13 - most moves requiring changes in schools as well. I cannot imagine what it is like to have adults "caring for me" that are not my parents but complete strangers. My guess is that it would be terrifying. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be removed from these "homes" over and over again because I didn't fit the necessary profile or because I couldn't manage my behaviours well enough for the "caregivers" to take care of me. Can you imagine what that is like? I am truly and deeply sorry if you can.

Although there are some similarities, I was nothing like the kids I work with - they are survivors with the internal and external battle wounds to prove it. To get back to that simple concept I was referring to.....the reason that kids I work with cope the way they do is because they suffer from broken hearts. It is not because they have oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder (common psychiatric diagnosis for the kids I work with); rather, it is because their hearts were broken when they were very small and fragile and they have continued to be broken all along the way.

I have a white board in my clinical room that I use to write inspirational quotes by people the kids can relate to. Recently, I had a quote from Bob Marley that said, "don't worry about a thing...because every little gonna be alright." I erased it after one of the kids, the Aboriginal girl I mentioned above, expressed that the quote was a lie...that there was a lot to worry about and that everything was not going to be alright. Her heart has a million cracks.

In general, the kids don't understand why they act the way they do. They know they experience a lot of pain and anger but they often don't realize where it comes from in a meaningful way. They can describe their abuse, neglect and abandonment in a way that is similar to reading a recipe out loud, void of emotion. Flat. Last year I attended a wonderful seminar that focused on attachment theory (which is my theoretical orientation, my foundation and the way I view kids and families) where the speaker taught us about the "broken heart" concept. It is the most basic understanding of the issues that kids experience and, more recently, I have started using this understanding to help the kids develop their own understanding of why their lives are the way they are. Within the last couple of weeks, I had a breakthrough with a very closed off youth by explaining the "broken heart" concept to him.....the results left me speechless.

As it turns out, mothers are generally the "heart breakers;" although, that's not to say that there isn't a lot of fathers out there that are causing significant harm. But that bond with a mother, the bond that develops even before birth occurs, is unfathomably unbreakable. When a mother cannot be a mother, or even worse when she cannot be human, the impact on the child is incomprehensible. Being partially responsible for mending broken hearts is challenging but worthwhile. What the kids need are mothers...."forever-mothers" and that is something that I cannot provide them with. But, I give hugs (even though I'm not supposed to), I look at them adoringly and tell them that they are precious and wonderful, I celebrate their successes and help them through their failures. None of this is enough, however.

For me to actually have a long term impact on these kids, I would need to live at the residence full time and the entire treatment team would have to operate from an attachment perspective. As an agency, we are far from this place and, for myself, I could never take that on. Selfishly so, my heart would likely break too often and I am simply not grown up enough to live with eight traumatized children. I'm not grown up enough to have my own children and I seriously doubt I ever will be. I have considered fostering teenagers when I am older but, for now, it's easier for me to live with the dog laying at my feet who is presently yelping in her sleep, dreaming of chasing something.

Sometimes you need to protect your own heart so that you can be effective in helping mend the broken hearts of others.

Children Singing

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."  ~ Robert Frost (American Poet, one of my personal favourites)

Slowly, I crawled back into the world of living. It took the sudden death of my good friend and then the entrance of a new friend into my life, who I undoubtedly credit for bringing me back to life.

Sue - the only person who's name I'll use on this blog because she's dead and can't complain about it - was one of those people that you totally loved or totally disliked and there was very little in between. Most people, including myself, loved her for her unique nature as she was different in every way possible. Sue was a good 'ol girl from a small community in Prince Edwards Island (god's country, they would say) and she had salt in her blood from the ocean that surrounded her. She was wild, totally out of control, and her antics put other people's shenanigans to shame. We met through work, as she worked with the kids directly 'on-the-floor' and, as soon as I was introduced to her - I wanted to get to know her better. She was totally unfeminine and people at work, those who knew and loved her, often joked about Sue being the boy in the Johnny Cash song, "A Boy Named Sue." Her voice was husky, likely from too much smoking and drinking. She was loyal and funny and would do anything for you that she could. If I had ever killed a person and needed an accomplice to help me out, I would have definitely called Sue. She was "that" friend. The closeness that existed within the friendship we developed, in relative terms, was surprising as we did not actually hang out for all that long. I think that's why it was so special. Sue had beautiful blue eyes that reminded me of water swirling around in a pool and I doubt she never knew that she possessed such beauty. Her spirit was old and wounded, while simultaneously wise and youthful. She was simply Sue, no more, no less.

At 41, instead of coming to pick me up at the airport when I flew in from Halifax, NS on a Monday night, Sue died. No warning, no sickness (that was obvious), she just died. As tests later showed, Sue had Acute Leukemia that literally sent her white blood cells out of control on that particular day, attacking her organs - including her brain. When I got to her she was being kept alive by machines, waiting for her parents to arrive from PEI. I got to spend 17 hours with my friend, just me and her, before her parents arrived and the machines were shut off. It was precious, those 17 hours, so precious. I talked to her about so many things and, for once, she shut up and listened. Sue had this terrible habit of laughing inappropriately when you attempted to talk to her about anything serious or emotional; her silence that day was deafening.

I heavily grieved Sue. She was this gigantic presence in my life and, like blowing out a candle, she was gone. Totally and utterly gone. I read at her memorial: Ecclesiastes, To Every Thing There is a Season....

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

I haven't been one for prayer in quite some time, but this - to me - is beautiful. After the ceremonial portion of her service, the minister invited people to get up and share stories about Sue. Her mother, a lovely woman who is absolutely hysterical, got up and told a story about her and Sue once being in a restaurant that got held up. Great story. I didn't get up and share any of my stories but, in reflection, I might have shared this particular memory....

Very often, Sue and I sat outside on her very small porch that was extremely narrow, which meant we could sit in our chairs with our feet propped up on the top of the railing without much difficulty. Most times, we would sit out there as the sun was setting, smoking our cigarettes, her drinking beer and me drinking wine. And, we would chat out there as her two crazy cats would climb in and out of the small window that sat directly (behind) in between the two of us. Many times, we discussed my dreams to go to Africa, dreams that were - at that time - under developed and not quite goals yet. I remember one conversation when she asked me why I wanted to go and I replied to her that I really, really wanted to hear African children singing. She joked and commented that it would be cheaper to purchase a CD. She found it odd that I would travel to Africa to hear children singing, even though she knew there were many more reasons than that. I told her that the African tribal music I'd been listening to made me feel calm and at peace. For some reason, it made me feel like I understood myself better. When I sat down and listened to this music, I could vividly picture myself there and that made me happy. She sat there, smoking her cigarettes, and listened to me babble on and on about it. She ended the conversation with a simple statement: you'll go...someday, you'll go.

I remember thinking to myself, I just might.
Here's to you my friend.....

If you care to hear a beautiful song of such singing, it can be foud on the Blood Diamond Soundtrack. This one is my favourite:

HIV no longer a death sentence in Africa, U of O study finds

HIV no longer a death sentence in Africa, U of O study finds

Drowning in Dreams

"There are some people who live in a dream world, and there are some who face reality; and then there are those who turn one into the other." ~ Douglas H. Everett (Author)

When everything went to shit, and it did go to shit, I fondly remembered those times that were so influenced by my dreams. Well, when I wasn't wishing myself or him dead. And I say that not because I am one of those loony ex-girlfriends who wishes all past partners dead - not at all. I say that because the circumstances that involved the end felt like the literal end in how traumatic they were. The transition between him being present in my dreams and being startlingly absent from them was difficult. Difficult being defined in this particular juncture as: spontaneously crying all the time, missing work, not eating, and isolating myself....for months upon months.

To explain what happened, I feel the need to describe an imaginary situation that you can apply to your own life, in hopes of you possibly "getting it" in your heart instead of your head. Intellectually, I know what I should have done.....emotionally, that was impossible. This is pretty, here we go.....

I want you to imagine the love of your life. The one and only person you have ever dreamed of spending a lifetime with. The one and only person you have ever considered joining with in a union that represents "forever." The one and only person you have ever considered having children with.
Go that? Ok.....
I want you to imagine that one day you wake up and, spontaneously, that person has disappeared with no explanation. He or she is gone. Their side of the bed is empty. You call their family and you call the hospitals and no one knows what happened to them. They are gone.
Following me?
For days and then weeks, you do not hear from him or her. You are frantic and sleep deprived. Eventually, you get in your car and drive the streets looking, searching. All you think is, "how could this be?" You drive and drive until your eyes hurt from looking so hard. And, one day, you see a person that resembles your love, that has all the features of the person you've been looking for, yet looks empty. Like a ghost. And when you run to them, when you embrace him or her, they are only the shell of the person you once knew. Regardless of the fact that you have found them, they are still gone.
Bringing it home now....
This continues for months. At times, you are able to bring him or her home and restore some of what you have lost, but only for short periods of time and it never feels quite the same again. Having your love around has become equally as difficult as having them absent, which they frequently are for weeks or months at a time. Eventually, your devastation, your heartbreak, your sorrow turns into a hardened bitterness of what should have been. You become just as hollow as they are. Your sleeplessness becomes chronic. You are drowning in dreams that haunt you.

Imagery complete. This is what it is like to be in a relationship with a recovering addict who suddenly becomes "not so recovered." A relapsing addict is not a pretty sight. What might make my story - this story - unique from other similar stories lies in the severity of the transition between sober and not sober. Going from having employment, living with me, and weighing in at 225lbs to living on the streets, smoking crack and injecting other choice drugs, and weighing in approximately 70lbs less took about four to five weeks in total, with very little in between. Living on the streets was immediate, as was the drug use; the weight loss took a little longer. Think back to an episode of COPS - one where it showed the mug shot of a crack addict coming in off the streets. That's basically what I was dealing with. And I did not deal with it well.

As an aside, I figure you might be wondering what in the hell all this blabbering has to do with Africa. It is significant in the sense that this experience contributed to changes that would come later on in life, which had a direct impact on turning Africa from a dream into a reality that's happening in less than a year. Prior to this relationship, I had done a lot of damage to myself as a individual; however, I can honestly say that I had never experienced that much damage from being with another person. I'm sure there are other women out there who would have handled it differently, better than I did. I am not those women and I dealt with it in the only way I knew how - survival.

I remember my wonderful women colleagues (and friends) asking me how it was possible that I was at work with all of this stuff going on. If I wasn't at work, I was in my apartment, lying in my bed, sobbing; therefore, work seemed like the more productive option. One thing I hugely regret from this time was how absent I became in my job - not just physically, but mentally. I can recall a certain female youth I was working with telling me something about me had changed and that I wasn't the same person anymore. This was confusing and frightening for her, as the therapist should be human, but more importantly reliable and attentive. I was neither.  And that feeling, or lack thereof, stayed with me (on and off, but mostly on) for a very long time.

I tried going to see my own therapist during those couple of years. It was pointless. He was wonderful, a social worker like me, but I was unable to engage in the process due to being too lost within myself. I didn't know myself any more and I wasn't in a place where he could help me find that missing person. I cancelled a lot of sessions before finally giving up and letting myself try (in futility) to forget. In trying to forget, something I know from my line of work isn't effective, I forgot who I was. And, in doing that, Africa got forgotten as well. In fact, it was grieved and then forgotten, as were most things that once held endless possibilities. Ultimately, at some point I had to move on and face the reality that we (him and I) would not be working together, him building things and me working with children, youth and adults living in poverty with HIV/AIDS. That dream was ooooooover with a capital O.

What followed was "radio silence," a virtual lapse in dreaming of anything, especially Africa.

A Long Hiatus

"The tendency to turn human judgments into divine commands makes religion one of the most dangerous forces in the world."
~ Georgia Harkness (Christian Theologian).

After confirmation, there was what I refer to as a "religious silence" for a long period of time. As mentioned, the parental expectation of attending church regularly lessened and as a family, we gradually drifted towards "C & E" status. With the pressure of being forced to believe in god off of me, my incessant questioning ceased and I simply stopping thinking about it so damn hard. Somewhere within that, within that time where I could reflect on my own thoughts without the influence or burden of adult judgement and persuasion, I found comfort in believing that there just might be something out there bigger than the rest of us. That there might be someone or something that watched over us and cared about our existence and success. Over time, I came to the conclusion that it was, in fact, easier to not think about it and to "just simply believe." Arriving at this place was not momentous at the time (as many things of that nature are not for teenagers); however, reflecting upon it at certain times later in life forced me to explore how significant simply believing was. A lot of frontal lobe development was necessary for such critical thinking.

After that, when I went to church, I prayed. If grace was being said around the supper table, I participated. And sometimes, in my head, I had conversations with who-knows-what that started out with,"dear god..." It did not feel symbolic, nor did it feel consequential. It just was. It was what my family did and what I did and what many of the people I grew up with did. As an adult, I do not regret this time; rather, I am happy for it. And, I am happy for the times that came after it where I was more devout, as it served to strengthen me. And, at present, I grateful that I am now in a different place, where I understand these things on a level that did not exist before.

"It's evolution baby."


"The best compliment to children or friends is the feeling you give them that they have been set free to make their own inquiries, to come to conclusions that are right for them, whether or not they coincide with your own." ~ Alistair Cooke (British/American Journalist & Broadcaster)

Never, in a million years, did I see myself working with "troubled teens." In fact, I avoided working with the teenage population for my entire career (minus almost four years now). After completing my MSW and then subsequently being unemployed for six months (due to a lack of french language skills)....I would have likely taken any job that was offered to me. Never being unemployed before....the first two to three weeks were amazing, followed by the next five months of life being pretty shitty and involving racking up even more debt. How I landed the job I currently have with zero experience in working with adolescents is beyond me. My supervisor has told me that she saw something in me that I didn't even see in myself. I'm glad she did.

My initial thought: hard could it really be? As it turns out, really, super-duper hard.

To clarify, the kids I work with aren't your average "troubled teenagers" who argue over not having a good enough cell phone or kick and scream about designer jeans or curfews. The kids I work with would absolutely love to have problems that benign. To provide a brief description, the youth I work with have mostly been in the care of The Children's Aid Society for quite a number of years and, almost entirely have the worlds most fucked up parents (in North America anyways). These are the children of addicted parents, of parents who abuse and neglect and who shove away instead of holding close. Most often, the kids I work with - their parents were exactly where they were years earlier, because their parents weren't much better. The intergenerational issues are omnipresent  and  generation upon generation of families are functioning poorly and struggling with the same issues over decades. By the time these kids end up on my doorstep, they are super messed up individuals who have no understanding of appropriate love and limits. They are totally out of control and, most often, they have been through every placement available and finally someone has clued in that they need more than a place to rest their head at night and, therefore, they are sent to treatment. That's where I come in.

I've been working for the same agency for just over three and a half years now and my role within that agency is primarily to provide therapy to youth and their families. There's a lot more to it than that but, I want to focus these entries on the kids and what I learn from them. Yes....what I learn from them. What they teach me about life and love and the world is far greater than I could ever offer them in their one-hour session, once a week. The youth in our programs live with us (not me, within the agency itself) as we provide residences in the community, most of which can house seven to eight youth at a time. In general, they stay with us anywhere between nine to twelve months to receive treatment - and, almost always - they do not want to be there (at least initially). Providing therapy to young people who generally don't want it makes my job challenging and I have become uber creative as a result.

My job title is "Clinician," which in reality translates into: listener, problem solver, hugger, confidant, person in which to laugh and cry with, and the one-who-does-not-judge-me. I judge parents sometimes, even though I shouldn't and even though I am aware that you can't parent if you've never been parented. They're the easiest target to hit when a kid is describing the ongoing abuse they suffered since age four. And, the fact of the matter is: it is the "parents fault;" I know this because therapists make their money off of "mothers." If there were no mothers, the need for therapy would likely decrease by 85%. There is good reason for this; however, this is not the forum in which to get into attachment theory.

One of the first youth I ever worked with, who was extremely violent and intimidating at his 250lbs, changed my title to what it remains today: clinish. He felt that the title "clinician" was far too professional and  removed, so he changed it and I have continued to refer to myself as this since that time. He was the first youth I had success with - and "success" in my line of work has a different definition than it does in mainstream society. Success does not mean that this youth went on to complete school (which he did), become meaningfully employed (which he also did) and become a "productive member of society." Rather, it means that he learned to love himself, to forgive his past, and move onto a life where he experiences happiness. That is my measurement of success.

Some of the daily issues I am exposed to are: self harm (cutting, burning yourself), drug and alcohol abuse, suicide attempts, running (from the program and into the more dangerous parts of society), aggression, sexual acting out, and lots and lots of yelling and tears. What these particular kids need is LOVE. Unrestricted love and attention and then more love. As a professional, I am not "allowed" to provide these things to kids (again, for numerous reasons that I'm not going to get into here), but I love them. Yes, I certainly do love them - in all the right ways.

Different aspects of my life have drastically changed since working at this job. First off, I have grown to love children more than I ever thought possible. I am extremely passionate about these little people (aka. circus clowns) and I have challenged myself to learn everything possible (which is virtually impossible) about child development. My love for children and youth exists deep into the core of my being and my only concern is: protect, protect, protect. That's all we need to do. Love and protect. I have also decided that having children is not for me. Now, this was solidified since working with this population; however, the feeling that I would likely never embark on that adventure has been present for many years. When people ask me if I have kids, my stock answer is: "yes, eight of them....and they are totally fucked up." Of course, it's more complicated than working with the more damaged children in society, but, I feel that my love can be offered more usefully to other people's children than my own. Most of my colleagues think I'm crazy for choosing not to have my own children, as I have been labelled as someone who likely would be an "excellent mother." They don't know me (and my sometimes profound levels of immaturity) all that well.

I often wonder how it will be in Africa, working with kids who are damaged for different (and similar) reasons. How will I handle working with those kids, as it took me quite some time to develop the skills necessary to manage listening to stories of abandonment and abuse all day. I hope I am awesome at it.

All For Not

“Our life is composed greatly from dreams, from the unconscious, and they must be brought into connection with action. They must be woven together.” ~ Anais Nin (French Born American Author)

It didn't end with the dreams I had those nights in Montreal, the flashes of images and the strange understanding of somewhere I had never been. Frankly, that would be a devastatingly boring story. What makes for interesting stories? Love. Fantastic or fucked up; love.

I received a lot more than an academic education that year in Montreal and, for quite some time, what I received was fantastically wonderful (followed by fantastically awful). I allowed myself to fall deeply in love with a man and, having said that, I feel that I should qualify what I mean by "allowed myself." In this particular circumstance, a choice surrounding whether to pursue - or not to pursue - was available to me, accompanied by big bright flashing lights that pointed towards the latter. Before the love bug had bitten me, when I was a rational human being, I made the choice to embark on a relationship I knew would be difficult. And, although I may not have known it was going to be that difficult, if I'm being honest with myself, I knew it was likely not going to work out in the end. I made a choice knowing (or at least sensing) these things, so you won't find a lot of "poor me" happening here.

I fell in love quickly, may be before it even started. In reflection, I think it was a massive combination of love, passion, obsession and co-dependency - but, that's my rational side talking. I didn't allow him to call me his "girlfriend" for months, thinking this would keep my already slightly damaged heart somewhat protected, but it was all for not. 'All for not' was super awesome for awhile. During 'all for not,' when we finally let ourselves go deeply into the crazy abyss of love, our dreams soared higher than reality would allow. I allowed myself to dream bigger than I ever had before. Prior to this, I had never "allowed myself" to think that far into the future with another human being. It was....all encompassing. And, in the end, after the final conversation was had, it remained all encompassing in an entirely different way.

He was intelligent in ways you would have never guessed upon first meeting him. Tough guy appearance, yet intelligent and sensitive. His appearance matched his life, his history, his story. If you simply judged him by how he looked, you would have likely misunderstood who he really was. He was the person I shared my dreams with while in the abyss and, in doing so, they grew and expanded.

As a social worker, the plan was for me to work with children, youth and adults who were living in poverty and affected by HIV/AIDS. So, basically everyone. Initially, his job description wasn't quite as clear; however, it was clear that it would involve building things. I imagined schools and resource centres - where I would work! It all made sense. We would do what we loved to do and what we were good at, or at least what we thought we were good at. During my masters degree, I specifically did not take any course work associated to working with children - in poverty or otherwise. I did this because I had no interest in working with children or youth; I knew my calling and it was in adult mental health (which is pretty ironic considering I've been working in children's mental health for just under four years now and won't even consider going back to adult mental health). And, after seeing him hang some curtain rods and doing other small jobs around my place, I am fairly confident that he couldn't have built....well, much of anything significant. But, while in the abyss, you do not think of practicality; rather, you virtually ignore it while continuing to swoon in dreamland.

I remember lying on my bed in the spot where a sunbeam was streaming through the window, with closed eyes, thinking of Africa. At that time, what did I know about Africa outside of what I was taught in that class during my undergrad? Essentially nothing, which clearly didn't seem to matter. The Beatles, one of my favourite bands, once sang "all you need is love," and this actually seemed plausible at the time. Love and good intentions. Apparently, they wrote this song before Yoko came along and broke up the band because Paul, George, John, and Ringo obviously needed more than love to keep them together.

And, that's all I really want to mention about 'all for not.' It is a piece of the story; however, over time it has become a piece that has shrunken in size and significance. But, I thought I should mention it.

Confirmation....Of What Exactly??

"If it were proven that there is no God there would be no religion....But also if it were proven that there is a God, there would be no religion." ~ Ursula K. Le Guin (American Author, Poet)

I didn't say the words. This is the first time I've ever disclosed that information; although I realize that this is not the same as disclosing, for example, where the Lindbergh Baby's still significant to me. The religious, traditional ceremony of becoming confirmed into the catholic church requires the young person to repeat certain phrases under the direction of the priest (e.g. he says it, you say it). I didn't say the words. I didn't want to get confirmed and my parents (by which I mean my mother), in their infinite wisdom demanded that I get confirmed. So, I did. It wasn't like the other aspects of my life that I stood fast by - like the idiots I wanted to date, or a particular set of pot smoking friends I wanted to associate with. The important stuff. But, it was important enough to me that I didn't say the words - no one could control that.

This decision was greatly influenced by my equally inquisitive friend who was mentioned in a previous post. He rebelled enough that his parents couldn't make him go to the confirmation ceremony and, even though I wasn't ready for an act of rebellion this big, not saying the words was the most I could conjure up at the time. I remember standing up in the church, alongside of all my childhood friends who had been with me in Sunday school and the ongoing years of catechism classes. They all said the words. I wonder if they believed in them or if they were saying them mindlessly? I have no and faith weren't topics we teenagers discussed outside of complaining about having to go. And I complained a lot - mostly to my parents who continued to insist we attend church on Saturday evenings. Who the hell attends church on Saturday evenings? If I was going to be forced to go, could we have not at least attended on Sunday mornings like other normal people? Apparently not.

After the confirmation ceremony I did not feel any different, but I chalked that up to not saying the magical words that officially gave me the invisible stamp of approval from the catholic church. However, my friends didn't appear to feel or look any different either - and they had said the magical words. Weird. I don't remember any of them talking about feeling the hand of god placed upon their shoulder or experiencing a transformation of any kind that would suggest that they were no longer mere humans but part of something holy and bigger than me. What this confirmed for me was that whether or not you said the words, it was likely that nothing significant changed, or may be this is what I wanted to believe so that I could validate my own experience. What did change was the demand placed on my sister and I to attend church after that point, which made getting confirmed kinda worth it. There was a shift at some point where I remember my parents attendance at church slowly changing, eventually leading to us becoming what is known as "C & E's," Christmas and Easter church attender's. Those were the two religious holidays that needed to be honored by attending church in my household - and that was fine by me.

Where Was I Again?

"I close my eyes, then I drift away, into the magic night I softly say. A silent prayer, like dreamers do, then I fall asleep to dream my dreams of you."
~ Roy Orbison

I suppose it would be useful to explore how this dream of mine developed - look at the why's and when's. Regretfully, as many things are in my mind that involve the use of recollection, these memories are somewhat disjointed. If I work backwards from today, I arrive in the year 2007 for some reason....2007 rings a bell.

Where in the hell was I in 2007? I've moved so many damn times over the years that the memories all blur into one tragic apartment complex after another. I was living in Montreal, Quebec - attending grad school at McGill. However, neither Montreal or grad school had much to do with the dream, if I remember correctly that is. Four years ago, just over. I was 29 and, just for the record, I would love to be 29 again. 29 forever, perhaps. Alas....

My peaking interest in international development emerged during my bachelors degree in Halifax, NS, when I was a mere babe of 27. I studied The Culture of Capitalism for my sociology degree - a course that was way out of my league intellectually. The professor was a hard ass who demanded that you learn what he was teaching - simple memorization would not do. He was harsh and brilliant and most of the students thought he was a complete asshole. I shared this opinion, however, I also thought he was extremely intelligent so - to me - he was a genius asshole. A genius asshole who prompted me to think for the first time in my three year degree. I had to give him props for that.

It was in this course that I learned about the history of the development of the world, the emergence of the division between rich and poor, and the contributions "have countries" make towards "have-not countries" (and the ongoing efforts towards keeping them that way). It was a level of thinking that I had not yet been exposed to - or at least had never challenged myself to engage in. Regardless, it stirred up something inside of me that made me think of people living in far away places where the term "nothing" had an entirely different meaning.

I digress. I will apologize now for how frequently that will, for a fact, happen. Where was I again? 2007. In 2007, I was living in a run down apartment that was huge and creaky, with tall ceilings and high baseboards, a gas stove, and a cocaine dealer living across the hall. I affectionately (note sarcasm) called my landlord "the trailer park boy" whereas he bore a striking resemblance to "Ricky" off the Showcase Comedy "The Trailer Park Boys." This man would have been the 6 foot 4, 300 pound, francophone version of "Ricky." During the year I lived there, amongst the incessant noise of the streets of Montreal, coupled with the sounds of the man living above me (who I nicknamed "stompy") and the saxophone player who's music drifted through the windows in the summertime, I began to have a reoccurring dream. Less of a dream and more like flashes of images, I suppose. May be it was too loud to have a full-fledged dream.

Now, the rest of this is going to sound cliché, so you'll also have to forgive me for that. I'm simply telling how it my recollection, of course. The flashes of images comprised a scene where I was working with children, in a place where poverty was omnipresent and people were suffering. And I....I was helping. And the sun was hot and the ground cracked beneath my feet. And there were definitely elephants. And I was happy and at peace, which is not a feeling I am super accustomed to. And from this, I surmised this place was Africa. I said it was cliché.

If you've been reading my other blog entries, you can probably assume that I did not (and do not) think this was some divine intervention or calling from god or anything of that nature. I chose to believe it was the beginning of a seed that was planted in my brain that turned out to take just over four years to really start growing. I intend to write a fair bit about the journey that eventually lead me to actually plan a trip to Africa - a process that is going on right now and that will be happening in 11 months. It's a significant event and therefore, I think it qualifies.

And, I think that is brilliant.