Archives for the month of: June, 2020

Being a December baby meant that when Cate started Kindergarten, she was still just three years old. I remember how little she looked: her bobbed and very blonde hair, and the seemingly gigantic backpack hanging from her shoulders. At the end of the first week she asked me, “do I need to go to this place for the rest of my life?!” The transition to school was not immediately an easy one for Cate. We quickly discovered though that the hardest part was getting over the threshold of the door. Once inside she settled and enjoyed placing her coat in the cubby, finding a spot on the carpet, and quietly assessing the new surroundings. 

Last Friday Cate graduated from high school. She is now a young woman, one who is poised and ready for the next transition to university. Not that there aren’t jitters, especially given how unique her first year will be. Who could have imagined that the world would look as it does, forcing schools to go on-line and maybe only partially in-person? We hope though that something new and beautiful will emerge out of all this challenge. 

Over the last seventeen years, Cate has been no stranger to difficult circumstances. Instead of becoming hardened and angry, she has remained soft and remarkably happy. Ask anyone who knows her, and you will likely hear about the optimism that bubbles through Cate on a regular basis. There is also a depth to Cate that has always been present. A self-described old soul, Cate has long seemed beyond her years. She has a compassionate heart, cares about and fights for justice, and is a fiercely loyal friend. She is also a fantastic photographer AND musician, a very good baker, and a mean Dutch Blitz player. 

I often feel like being a parent involves seeing my heart walk around on two legs. Right now, I’m trying to process that Cate is no longer that little toddler who would rarely let go of me. My mom used to tell me that she loved every stage of parenting, “Erinn, it just gets better and better”. I feel the same. I love parenting Cate (and I know Dion does too). It stretches me, challenges me, and fills me in ways that I could never have anticipated.

Cate, I have said this to you directly, but I will also say it publicly: the minute we learned you came into existence, I began praying for and loving you. Since you learned to get over that difficult first threshold of kindergarten, I have witnessed you take even greater risks- creatively, emotionally, and spiritually (to name just a few). I can’t wait to see the places you are going to go. I also love being right in this moment with you. Through the inevitable challenges, sorrows and beauty of life, I hope you will always know that you are beloved. 

Some people called him “Rasta” others, “Dreads”, but to us he was simply Jahn. I first met Jahn when he regularly hung out at the now defunct Coffee Time on Queen St West. He would always shout a greeting, even when I was still a block away. I noticed three things about Jahn right away: his kind smile, his radio worthy voice, and his unbelievable hair- dreadlocks that when released from his tam (hat) were longer than he was tall.

Over time, Jahn became a regular at The Dale. I always appreciated his presence at our drop-ins. The place we most often saw him the last few years was the parkette beside Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre. He became one of the unofficial caretakers of the space, making sure that it was kept as clean as possible. At Christmas he helped decorate one of the trees with a variety of ornaments, saying that it was a good way to spread some cheer. Not long ago he was hired as a Peer Worker for the Health Centre’s Harm Reduction Program, a role that he was keen to fill.

Jahn loved dogs. A week or two ago while we were on outreach, he excitedly showed us pictures of the two puppies he recently got. He lit up talking about them and describing the good tired he was because of their endless energy. The dogs, a new place, and the Peer Worker job all made his big smile even broader.

Over our many years of friendship, even if I was the first to ask, “how are you doing?”, Jahn would wait to answer until I told him what was going on in my own life. No matter how challenging circumstances got, Jahn would express gratitude for life. “It’s a gift just to be walking around, you know?”

This past Monday I had a conversation with Jahn where he again expressed his upbeat outlook on life, though he wasn’t feeling physically great- nothing to worry about he assured me. He even let my daughter Cate and her friend take the pictures included here. Cate has a video of him too, one that is beautiful and now very hard to watch. We don’t know what happened between Monday and today, but this morning we learned of Jahn’s death. I can’t believe it. Many people are reeling from the news.

Jahn: thank you for the gift of your friendship. I am fortunate to have known your gentleness and your smile. Your absence is already felt. You will be missed on the block. You will be missed by The Dale. You will be missed by me.

May you now rest in deep peace. 

Near the beginning of this year I, together with my co-worker and friend Joanna, attended a Kenosis Retreat. “Kenosis” comes from the Greek, meaning “to empty out”. In Christian theology it is used to describe not only the way Jesus emptied Himself of power, but also how we are asked to do the same. On this weekend we gathered in a group small enough to meet in a large circle, almost all of us white, with the exception of a few POC (People of Colour) friends there to offer accountability and wisdom. This format provided the opportunity for us to be very honest about any fears, doubts or confusion we might have about race and racism. It also required that we work really hard to gain understanding ourselves, without adding to the weighty burden long felt by POC to be the ones responsible for educating us. 

I learned a lot. It was a humbling and emotional experience. We were repeatedly asked to check in with what we were feeling in our gut, head, and heart. I felt a lot of things, including lament and a deep longing to name and dismantle white supremacy. The reality is that I am privileged as a person with pale skin and raced as white. This doesn’t mean that my life has been easy. It does mean that I get to take for granted a lot of things; I get to benefit from a system that has been set up to oppress others. 

I have the opportunity to work for justice at The Dale, a beautifully diverse community that knows many intersections of oppression: race, class, gender, sexuality, age, disability, etc. It is common to hear stories of people who are regularly victimized simply because of how they look. I grieve the frequency with which people cite the church at large as the perpetrators of such marginalization. As a believer in Jesus, I am sorry. 

I do not write today in order to gain approval. I want to be an ally AND I definitely fail. More often than not I think, I have no idea what I am doing. I regularly pray, “most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbours as myself. I am truly sorry and humbly repent.”

We are all remarkably made in the image of God, each of us completely unique. I want to imagine a world where this commonality means all are respected and loved instead of minimized and feared. Racism, born out of the construct of race, is rampant and needs to die. In working for this I want to keep choosing kenosis. I want to empty myself of power and serve. “Where is the pain in the world that you just cannot stand? Stand there. The thing that breaks your heart is the very thing you were born to help heal.” (Doyle)