Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Tenth Year Should Be Significant

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Change and Continuity
Time goes... Sometimes the hours and days just disappear without a trace and sometimes similar moments mark a life.   I thought that my 10th anniversary deserved a "significant" reflection, but like empathy, it is the other who determines my grade.   I'll have to let the ten years of "my" students give me a mark.   And I'll just return to my usual insignificant ramblings.

This year certainly had the usual and familiar continuities: heat, flooding, energetic and grateful students, chicken and rice [though there was more chicken-and-noodles this year], the miracle of my mattress with the dinosaurs printed on it  (a miracle because I am sure that the mattress had been made before the Thoracic Period), and old friends...

There were enough changes to make it a distinctive year.   You know about my two volunteers, Bev Clarke and Dennis LeBlanc, as they each took up their "first" blogger pens.   I found their presence exciting and exhausting.  It was exhausting as they both had way more energy than I did and as "first timers" to Guyana wanted to experience as much as they could jam into their three weeks each.    I did get to see and do some things that I hadn't done before.  And really when it came down to it, I just missed a few naps.   The students loved Bev and Dennis and their contributions to the course.   I could not have run the course nearly as well without them.

A little autobiographical background:   I grew up on a street around the corner from my Grade School, Our Lady Help of Christians, in Brooklyn, New York where I had my first friends.  Then, I went to Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception for the Brooklyn Diocese, High School Department - a  Roman Catholic Seminary where I found new friends. Then, after four years, I went to Maryknoll Fathers College, Novitiate and Major Seminary where I had a whole new set of people who knew me [and that may have been a good thing].  After six years, I ended up changing religious brands, getting married and living in Ontario, Canada, where I became a pastor of a small German Lutheran Congregation, St. James. After another six years, I went to McMaster Medical Centre as a Chaplain  and stayed long enough to get a 25 year pin.   In 2002, I became a refugee from middle management in the hospital-turned-corporation and skipped into retirement, then soon began my semesters at Mercy Hospital, Georgetown.

The "constructed" bio above was part of my reflection from living for 7 years in Middle West Pubnico, Nova Scotia.   This small and tight-knit Acadian village is a place where most people my age knew their friends from school days... and knew their friends' parents, grandparents, siblings and how they are (ALL!) related.  No one there could escape their past.  I sometimes envied that harmony of years as there have been none who have journeyed with me through all my changes of place and person.   So being in the Guyana context with Dennis and Bev was a gift -- just to have them to chat with (and Charlie in previous years) and remember stories from our past selves.   I know I am not the same "Lefty" of  my childhood home on 28th Street, nor "Champ" of  High School, nor "Jo'c" of university, nor "Pastor" or "Chaplain" or the "Mr. O" of soccer, but it was good to feel connected to all those apparitions of My Self.


Now that I come to think about this theme, I realize it has been with me for some time.   When Maryknoll celebrated its 100th Anniversary, I wrote a reflection called, "The Accidental Missionary".  (I have attached a link to spare my students reading more than a few paragraphs; I suggest reading it to all those who are having trouble sleeping.)   And this year I celebrated 40 years of being ordained, at a service in my old church of St. James. To tell you the truth, even I can't remember what I said; I do remember being overwhelmed by all the people who showed up from my fractured history.    I guess I am just getting old -- the stage where remembering is more important that dreaming - Sh-t, I hope not.  

And you may remember the whirlwind visit of the Mental Health Canadians - Peter, Sujay, Ram and Brenna. In trying to get their visit planned I had the opportunity of spending a lot of time with my friend, Bhiro Harry, who is the Chief Psychiatrist in Guyana... It is always a joy to connect with someone who is "like you" in many ways.   And we "used" the Canadians to help us have a few beers together.     This month, Bhiro visited the Canadians at Grand River Hospital, Kitchener, not far from my home... Unfortunately I was out west in Calgary attending to a death in my family.  I had planned for him to come and visit in my home with my wife, Anne (I had been a guest in his home and met his wife, Georgia) and to take him out for a nice meal -- and to pay for it.   (He usually ends up paying when we go out in Guyana, so I was to buy here...)    Oh well, next time he comes to Canada .....

Events Worth Picturing in My Last Week

Azalia Luke [m.] who was a first year student many years ago
and a tutor in the PBL course this year graduated from University Guyana
with the highest grades in the entire Faculty of Health Sciences.
Of course, I have taken credit for setting her on the right path!

Judge Rev (I couldn't find my white powdered wig, so housekeeping helped me out) presided over the ethics final exam, "The Assisted Death Trial of Jessie".
The students write about how each of the ethics principles applied to a case of an elderly woman
who put her husband with advanced dementia in a car to die.   They showed growing understanding of all the principles -- even when they got them wrong!
In the afternoon I assigned different roles, ranging from Jessie through defender, prosecutor, Jesus .....  Hey, it is just a role play!
They each had three minutes to present their viewpoint ..... and they almost came to blows this year.
They served as jury too and the vote was split evenly for acquittal or  life imprisonment.  So I broke the tie.

Amazing!  The Sisters of Mercy, including many octogenarians like Sisters Judith and Noel,
took up supporting the Guyana Women Miners’ Organisation and their leader, Simona Broomes  (left at top) in their fight against human trafficking in the interior of Guyana.   I wonder where the leadership for so many social issues will come from after these "tough" women die.
The students have formed the first Nursing Student Association in order to improve their schooling
and working conditions at Mercy Hospital.   Denzil Hernandez was elected the first president.  
They sponsored the trip to The Creek  (yea!) and are the ones behind the project of tiling the classroom floors.  
I do hope they succeed and gain a sense of power to take on other needed projects.
And the mandatory "Farewell Gift".  This time it was a carved turtle
as I had said more than once as they took forever to get into their small groups,
"A herd of turtles can move faster."
 My Florida Interlude

My slightly younger sister, Kathy and her partner Mike,
for many reasons too long and too crazy to explain here
are adopting a  baby, nicknamed "Jack".
And I thought the people of Guyana needed your prayers!
Speaking of prayer.. I spent a few days golfing with my brother, Tony.
I had not golfed at all in 2013, so I was prepared to yield the Family Championship.
He needed a win as he lost last year and so golfed 5/6 times a week.
I am practicing my humility, so I can't brag about who won.

The End 

Certainly it is the end for this tour.  I (and no one else either) do not know about the future and whether I'll get back.  As per my tradition, I'll celebrate Christmas and Old Year's Night with Anne, then start thinking about No 11.

I want to thank you all for reading these stories.   I do hope that they have conveyed some of the meaning the people of Guyana provided for my life, and some of my contributions to them.   I cannot do what I do without the support of many people who contribute their thoughts and support.   My most important supporter is my wife, Anne, who almost wholeheartedly encourages my time away.

Thank you.  John JSPS