"Our soul must perform two duties. The one is that we must reverently wonder and be surprised. The other is that we must gently let go and let be." Julian of Norwich

...Cancer teaches both!!!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

St. Mary's - Lifford

Lifford is a small community in Manvers Township in Central Ontario, not far from Peterborough.  Many of the Preston's settled there in the 1830's and 40's after leaving the original homestead on Amherst Island.  St. Mary's Anglican Church was built on land donated by Capt. Isaac Preston, who is buried in Vancouver with his wife Mary.  Alexander Preston's wife Mary was instrumental in getting the church built.  Unfortunately she got very sick and died before it was finished.  Her funeral was the first service held in the new building and the church was named St. Mary's in her honor.

The original church burnt to the ground in a tragic fire on Ash Wednesday 1993.  The church and community rallied to build a beautiful replica which is in use today.

We visited the site last week while on our holiday.  We were graciously greeted and given a tour by our distant relation Viola Sisson. Viola let us into the building, recalled the story of the fire, and told of the determined effort to build the new chapel.  Viola's family has been in the Lifford/Bethany area since the early 1800's and they are related to the Preston's, as are many of the old families still in the area.

It was a very moving experience.   There are five generations of my direct Preston ancestors buried there, including Isaac and Sarah, Alexander and Mary, Young Isaac and Mary, Jack "The Colonel" and Charlotte, and my very own Grandpa Preston, Allen Victor.  There are also hundreds of other relations by the names of Preston, Sisson, Hanna(h), Neals, and Johnston.  It is a very peaceful site.  Perhaps I will rest there one day.  But not too soon!!

Enjoy the video clip below.  The pictures are from our trip and the music is "For the Beauty of the Earth" arranged by John Rutter.

I am most grateful for the small group of dedicated folks who continue to exercise faithful stewardship and care for this sacred place.  Thank you all...

Peace and Blessings... Rob; in Vancouver

"For the joy of human love,
Brother, sister, parent, child,
Friends on earth and friends above,
For all gentle thoughts and mild."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

"Filaments of Life"

In "Late Nights on Air" Elizabeth Hay describes a poignant scene in which Elanor confronts the reality of the sudden and tragic death of her new-found love Ralph.  The scene is witnessed by Harry.

“... Harry stood for a moment watching her.  Her head looked like the heaviest of peonies after a rain, her body tilted forward over Ralph's.  And the thought came to him that it wasn’t just one person who had died, but all the filaments of life connecting that person to everyone he’d ever known and to every place he’d ever been.” Elizabeth Hay

I am drawn in particular to the phrase "Filaments of Life" that Elizabeth uses to describe the connections that exist between ourselves and all the people and places we have known.  As I enter more deeply into this experience of living with a terminal illness I find that I am becoming much more conscious of the "filaments of life" that connect me to family, friends, colleagues, and the many hundreds of people with whom I have had a connection through my life as a minister. Likewise I find myself remembering the many places and events to which I am connected.

I had an opportunity to reflect on some of these "filaments of life" while at a family reunion in Ontario this week.  I spent a lot of the time reconnecting with family who I see only every few years.  We are spread right across the country.  To be gathered with extended family covering three generations gives me the sense of the significant connections that give rise to my family identity.

In addition to enjoying quality time with my living relations I was able to commune with my ancestors by way of a pilgrimage to the ancient family burial grounds of the Preston family at St. Mary's Anglican Church in Lifford, Ontario.  At St. Mary's I was able to visit the graves of 5 generations of ancestors from my Grandfather Preston (on my Mom's side) on up to my Great, Great, Great, Great Grandfather and Grandmother.  In remembering their respective lives I was able to imagine the "filaments of life" that extend from me through them and to the places they lived and the events that brought them to Canada and shaped our destinies here.

It is quite remarkable that through this long lineage I am connected to the County Armagh in Northern Ireland, and through Isaac Preston's military service I am connected to the United Irish Rebellion of 1797!  Likewise through the lives of Isaac and his wife Sarah I am connected to the War of 1812 as the cause of my family's eventually migration to Upper Canada from the US, where they were not welcome as British Loyalists.  Through this lineage I am also connected to the rebellion of 1937-38 and the Fenian raids that plagued the settlers of Upper Canada in the 1860's.  Through the life and service of my Great Grandfather, Colonel J.A.V. Preston I am connected to the Northwest Rebellion of 1885 and the First Great War. Whew...  and that is only in the last seven generations or so!

This is not to boast of ancestral achievement.   By no means.  Indeed there are many causes for which my ancient family fought which by today's reckoning I would see as unjust or even oppressive.  Be that as it may, we have to accept our history as it is, for better and for worse!  And we need to remember that when we look at history, we do so from the vantage point of standing on our ancestors shoulders!
For myself, I celebrate the peace that exists between Catholics and Protestants both here and in North Ireland; and the peace that has existed between Canada and the US for almost 200 years; and the reconciliation efforts underway with the Metis and First Nations communities in Canada.  I give thanks that none of these relationships are a cause to bear arms today.  Alas that they ever were!

"Filaments of Life" indeed have an historic element!  When I think of the incredible lives of not just these ancestors but all of the diverse relations that have given rise to the life in me I am thoroughly amazed!  It is truly amazing to imagine all of the random events that have their culmination in a particular life, a particular relationship, or a particular event.

What can we do but live in awe, in wonder, and in thanksgiving!

Remembering and reflecting... Rob; in Vancouver

"Our soul must perform two duties.
The one is that we must reverently wonder and be surprised.
The other is that we must gently let go and let be. 
Always taking pleasure in God."
Julian of Norwich

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Doran Bay 2010

As we were growing up in the 60's my family would gather at my Great Uncle Beau and Great Aunt Ida's cottage on the St. Lawrence River near Prescott, Ontario.  More recently my Mom and Dad, sisters, and cousins have carried on the tradition in nearby Morrisburg.   We've been able to join them only occasionally.  Most recently, last week.

What a wonderful week...

I feel incredibly blessed to have been able to make this trip and to have enjoyed it so much!

Tomorrow it is back to chemo!!  Yechhh...

Be well... Rob; in Vancouver

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Hospice Care - Some Wise Words

Brooks is a friend, and fellow semi-colon, I met through the American Cancer Society Cancer Survivors Network (CSN).  He has many years of working with people in "hospice" care.  Brooks has a wonderful capacity to translate his experience of life into a wisdom that both consoles and inspires us.   He recently had this to say regarding "hospice" care...

"People who choose hospice are not giving up hope, they are in fact redefining it. Though there may no longer be a possibility of curing their illness, they redirect their hope into mending and restoring relationships, spending quality time with those they love, and finding peace and comfort.

Choosing hospice doesn't mean choosing death, it means choosing to live life to the fullest. Usually once someone has chosen hospice, they have been through a lot already. Multiple hospital admissions, chemotherapy and radiation, and invasive tests and treatments can leave patients feeling sick and tired. By choosing hospice, they have decided to focus on the quality of their lives rather than on the quantity.

I've seen many people who have chosen hospice use their time, once consumed by doctors appointments and hospital stays, to take family vacations, travel to places they've always wanted to see, and enjoy the company of loved ones at home. These aren't people who have given up hope or given up on life. These are people who are living life to the fullest."

What Brooks shares also resonates with my own pastoral experience.

A particular challenge for the person living in the advanced stages of cancer is, “knowing when to let go”. It seems to me that in the cancer journey there is a time to fight the "dragon" with all of the weapons we can muster. I've also seen that there can come a time when it's helpful to "let go", so that the final stage can be one of peace and dignity and not one of prolonged pain and suffering.

"Letting go" is not giving up. Death is not defeat or failure. It’s not about winning or losing, but rather about accepting the very imminent reality of our mortality. My experience has been that when the terminally ill reach the place of "letting go" a deep peace follows for the individual, their family, and their friends. Discerning the time of this transition is deeply personal and needs to be respected by caregivers and family alike.

Peace and blessings... Rob; in Vancouver

"When I find myself in times of trouble mother Mary comes to me,
speaking words of wisdom, let it be."
The Beatles

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Educate - Liberate - Celebrate

Vancouver Gay Pride 2010!!!

We've enjoyed celebrating Gay Pride since we came to Vancouver 8 years ago.  Having a Gay daughter has only added to the great delight we have each year as Vancouver's GBLT community celebrates.  The organizers have chosen EDUCATE - LIBERATE - CELEBRATE as a three-year theme with each year focused on one of the elements.  This year is LIBERATE.

What really sucked about this year was that I was suffering from post chemo bowel distress and had to listen to the fun from my condo window.  Grrrr.....  Lucky for me Brent and Jerome took 273 pictures with my new camera so I had lots to see!  Thanks guys!

I've narrowed it down to 100 in this slideshow.  Enjoy!

We are reminded, even in Canada, that although we have made significant gains in civil law and human rights there is still a long way to go before our GLBT brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, parents, and friends are fully liberated. Attitudes of intolerance and hatred continue to be held in parts of our community, spilling out into behaviors of violence and exclusion again and again. And there are still many countries where there are no rights and outright persecution.  Alas...   It seems that homophobia is destined to be the last of the sanctioned hatreds.

It was good to see many church and religious groups involved again this year.   I hope this march keeps happening until "Gay marriage" is legal in every country and "love of neighbor" is preached from every pulpit!  Imagine!

Happy Pride!    Rob; in Vancouver

"For a long time I thought I wanted to be a nun.  
Then I realized that what I really wanted to be was a lesbian."  
Mabel Maney