In the Shadow of Giants

The lives we lead,  and who we are as we walk along their paths is ever changing, evolving.   Recently I have found myself struggling with these changes, and the slow rediscovery of forgotten territories, parts of myself lost along the way.  In the simplest terms recalibrating my measuring cup. ..again.                     

It was with these things in mind that I jumped at the opportunity to throw myself into the world behind the IML curtain.  And what I found there amidst the controlled chaos left is mark forever upon my soul.         

Quiet strength, boisterous laughter, fraternity, beautiful and stiring ritual; and raw, incredibly heady sexual energy permeated the space… It was all so beautiful and powerful that the words cannot even begin to do it justice.

My heartfelt thanks to all of the handlers who welcomed me so warmly, the powers that be that allowed me to share in this incredible experience.   

Most of all I want to thank the contestants for allowing me to offer a warm smile, a teasing comment, and a gentle touch as I bore witness to their journeys.

The words are too small to contain the depth of their meaning to me, perhaps I am over complicating things in my struggle to express it all.  The simple truth is that. ..

In the shadow of giants I found myself again.



A Complex Anniversaries…An Ode to my Mother

May 5th, 27 years ago my life changed in ways I couldn’t have imagined.  The path it had taken up to that point was almost picture perfect.  My mother stayed home to take care of my brother and I.  Bread was made fresh every day, we had an amazing sandbox to play in, lots of family and friends around us, there were fishing trips and many adventures to be had.  Yet for all of these things it was not a happy home.

I must confess my memories of my childhood are at best sketchy; they are by and large based on what I have been told but others who were there.  But on that day several life times ago the world spun on it’s axis thanks to the courage of an incredible woman, my mother.  I won’t bore you with the stories of violence that happened behind closed doors, the cruelties inflicted on us by my father, nor will I speak proudly of the moments I interceded for my family, drawing his rage upon myself to protect them.  Those stories aren’t what is important.  What is important is the beautiful soul who found the strength and courage to take us away from it all.  The woman who’s nose still bears a slight crook, testament to my father’s love.

She took my brother and I away on that day so long ago, bribing us with a trip to the big city, a stop at McDonald’s and freedom from school the following day.  To this day I am in awe of the strength it must have taken to take my brother then 6, myself at 9 and a suitcase, and to trust the universe held something better for us; more than that to trust the strangers who ran and occupied a shelter for battered women and children, all on the hope for safety, peace and a better life.

I remember a very pink and oppressive room that felt like it would suffocate me, I remember feeling lost and free at the same time.  I remember vividly the soul searing stories of the other women and children who lived there with us in the months that followed, the kindness and strength of those who worked there.  I grew up then, it was a quick thing, but I hold no regrets, I am the woman I am today because of this, and I like her.  My mother and the others like her taught me the value of choice, the strength it takes to own them for better or worse, and most of all to demand better for myself and those around me.

In the years that followed my mother put herself through school, and became one of the top in her field on the continent.  We may not have had much, but we had what we needed.  In ways that feel beyond my understanding we became one of the success stories that are still told to this day.

Today, the day before this complex anniversary this sharing of my past is to honour my mother, to honour those who stand up against cruelty and violence, those who rise from the ashes beautiful and strong, those who choose a better life.  Your sacrifices, struggles and sorrows are not forgotten.  Today I celebrate your courage and strength, I celebrate your choices.

Today I thank you!  You are loved!

Stigma – t – icing

I remember the first time I heard about HIV and AIDS.  I was 12, and a friend in my grade 7 class had chosen the subject for a project.  I walked away from it thoughtful; the information lay in the back of my mind for many years, something that seemed so far away from me, yet something I held on to.  There have been times in my life I found it odd that the memory should be so strong, especially given that it was over 25 years ago.

Like many of my generation I started to get tested regularly, to keep a list of those with whom I had sexual contact just in case. I had heard many stories, read the articles, cried through the movies and TV shows. I did my best to keep myself informed and aware; I volunteered time, money and energy to various organizations.  I did what I could but it was never a focus, beyond the mother of another girl I went to school with, it hadn’t touched me.

Somewhere in the last 10 years that began to change.  There are moments where it seems like I woke up one day to find HIV and AIDS had crept into my life in very real and overwhelming ways.  It seemed almost as though I turned around to find that many of those closest to me, the majority of those closest to me, were very deeply affected.  I couldn’t avoid it any longer; it was no longer something that happened to other people.  It is happening to my people.

I am reminded of another experience not quite so long ago.  I had joined some friends on an AIDS walk, it was only five kilometers, an hour of my time and a bit of fundraising; in the grand scheme of things it was very little for what I gained.  All along the path there were people cheering us on, high school kids earning their volunteer hours with high fives and smiles.  The end of the walk was met with other volunteers handing out red carnations as we approached the AIDS Memorial.

I’d never been before; I’d never seen the lists of names that started with screams.  As we walked along the pillars the sheets bearing the names of those who had passed went from screams to a whisper.  In the early years there were so very many, many more than I’d expected.  I wept as I moved along, trying to read each and every one, to mark their passing in my own way.  The further along I got, the shorter the lists became, speaking in silence of advances in education and medicine.  And yet we still have so very far to go…

After we emerged from the heavy silence of the memorial we were once again greeted by the cheers of the volunteers.  It was overwhelming, almost rude.  I remember commenting about it to a man I deeply respect, more than that I remember his response.  He said that was his favourite part, the part that he looked forward to it every year because it was a reaffirmation of life.

As many may or may not be aware, I have Type 2 Diabetes.  For many the assumption is that that it is the result of obesity, or a lack of self control.  That this is something I have done to myself.  The truth is it happened and is now something I have to live with for the rest of my life.  While I may flog myself in my low moments with the Whys and Hows of it, the reality is…it simply is.  This doesn’t mean that I can understand all that it means to have HIV and/or AIDS, but it does offer me a bit of insight.

It may be a gross over generalization, but I can’t help but feel this is the same for anyone suffering from any chronic disease.  Each of us is challenged by our illnesses, and the stigmas that surround them, we are forced to review and re-evaluate the lives we lead, to make changes and face our demons…whether we like it or not.  In many ways we are all challenged by the preconceived notions, and in some cases the prejudices of others.  Perhaps it was a natural progression of things that I should find myself seeing the way the world treats those who are deeply touched by the complexities of HIV and AIDS.

Even as I write I find myself struggling with language, working hard to find the right words to convey my thoughts and feelings without perpetuating the stigma.  To say that my heart breaks every day for the blind cruelty I see is an understatement.  Like many things the intension to cause hurt and harm to others may not always be at the forefront of one’s thoughts, the reality is hurt is hurt.  As a good friend often says, hard is hard.

Recently I found myself blessed with the opportunity to listen to someone I greatly admire speak about the stigma many face around this disease, about meeting the fears of others with kindness…or a friendly smile as it were.  I felt challenged and inspired by him.

The truth is that at the end of the day all any of us can do is our best, we can choose how we behave, how we treat others, how engaged we are in the lives we lead.  At the end of the day, I am not a maker of waves, or a bringer of change.  I am a creature who causes ripples, and it occurred to me that perhaps this is enough.

At the end of the day I choose to be open and present, to continue to educate myself and those around me, to reach out with my heart, and more than anything to treat others as I would have them treat me.