Monday, 6 December 2010

dogma, dinner, and doing the dishes

*this was written late Sunday night...*

There are a strange list of things that make me feel completely at
ease, and doing the dishes after dinner at my brother's place is one
of them.

It is probably, perfectly honestly, the dinner itself and being in the
presence of Tosh and his wonderful wife that actually put me at ease,
but doing the dishes after dinner at his place (after he's told me not
to twice already) is one of those strange things that I actually enjoy
even though the task itself is often considered grunt work. Tonight
we (Tosh, his wife, and I) consumed about three pounds of t-bone steak
and MAN was it one Happy Cow. Happy Cows always taste better because
they were healthy and happy and full of endorphins or whatever the cow-
equivalent is and it (and the asparagus and olive bread and goat
cheese and the apple-cranberry-ginger pie with ice cream that followed
dinner-proper) sent us all into a happy daze that had me seriously
considering never moving from their couch ever again. My reasons for
not wanting to move were mostly food-coma-based, but I was also a
little reluctant to move because I was feeling emotionally exhausted
as well.

Over dinner we had what was perhaps the most intense conversation
we've all had in months. Granted, I've barely seen them since they
got married at the beginning of October, and every serious
conversation I've had with them in the past year has somehow revolved
around said nuptials (not that I minded AT ALL; if either of them gets
married ever again I will be genuinely shocked) but that's beside the
point, because this conversation was about CHURCH.

This is when I am required to pause to mention that my brother,
Tosher, is not actually my brother. We share values, memories, tastes,
and opinions; I consider he, his wife, his brother, and his parents a
second family, but we do not share blood. He is not related to me at
all. He isn't even Canadian. He's from upstate New York. I am from
Ontario. We met when we were both 14 at a leadership conference
through the church we belong to. We're Unitarian Universalist. If
you don't know anything about the church, you may want to Google it
because I do a terrible job of explaining what UUism is all about. All
I can really do is tell you what it is To Me: for me, it's about
belonging to a community that supports peoples' need to question
things, and debate, and decide for themselves the details of their
dogma. For Tosh, it's (at least partly) about a having a place where
he didn't have to live up to anyone else's expectations. At least,
that's what it was for him when he was in Youth Group.

Recently a friend of mine found out I'm a youth advisor for the youth
group at my UU church. He laughed pretty hard because of how it
sounds. Also because he's a hardcore Marxist-anarchist philosophy PhD
student who was brought up by missionary parents who dragged him to
central America and Africa when they 'heard the call of God' (his
words, not mine). He assumes certain things when he hears the words
"Youth Group"... as do Tosher and I. And I can guarantee they are NOT
the same things.

I may have met Tosh for the first time when we were 14, but we didn't
become close friends until nearly four years later, when we were
brought together by an individual who had s big influence on Tosher
and who has had perhaps the biggest influence on my life of anyone
I've ever known: my little sister, Anya.

Tosh and Anya were both on the district YAC, the Youth Adult Committee
that operated under the auspices of the UU Board that presided over
probably a couple of dozen churches (I'm guessing at numbers here
since the St. Lawrence district has since disbanded) in Western
Quebec, Eastern Ontario and Upstate New York. Essentially, the YAC
was a forum for youth and adults to discuss issues that affected us
both... soooo, everything. Institutionally, the YAC helped write the
rules for conference behaviour and help facilitate intergenerational
dialogue.

Tonight, Tosh and I got talking about church because I was recently
elected to the BC YAC. As an Adult (and yes, I feel it requires
capitalization). I was never on YAC as a Youth and that may be a
blessing, because I don't have as many pre-conceived notions of how it
ought to Be, but I have still been curious about Tosher's experience.
I have been confronted with some challenges as a youth advisor -one of
the other advisors is somewhat domineering, which concerns me- and I
was eager to confirm that my uneasiness was not just based on my
having glorified memories of my own youth group experience. Yeah, I
was not. Tosher's memory of what Youth Group was to him were exactly
what I had recalled it being to me: a safe place where you can bring
up ANYTHING and where no one tells you you're absolutely wrong. And,
no, he assured me, there was none of this "programming" bullshit.
That, he argued, was the whole point: YOUTH GROUP WAS DEMOCRATICALLY
SELF-DIRECTED.

A few weeks ago I googled something I shouldn't have: my sister's
name. This is a BAD plan for so many reasons, but it was utterly
idiotic mostly because I did it shortly after Anya's birthday, which
happens to be the toughest day of the year (for me). Anya would have
been 26 this year. This year was harder than others because Anya
celebrated her last birthday ten years ago. A decade ago. As if I
didn't feel old enough as it was... What I found when I googled her
name surprised me a little bit, mostly because one of the links was
one I'd never seen before. It was a link to a blurb she'd written for
the YAC over ten years ago. It was about the exact issue I am now
dealing with in the YAC and in my Youth Group: Youth Empowerment. In
the strangest way, it was like a gift, to see this thing she'd written
so long ago exactly when I needed to read it; to have such an
important idea summarized so clearly and so suscinctly for me (by a 15-
year-old, no less); and then, when I brought it up over dinner, to
have Tosher recite it back to me almost verbatim because he was there
when it was written and because it is such an important part of his
beliefs too.

It is amazing what young people produce when they are allowed to
define their own reality, when they are encouraged to explore exactly
Who they are and What they believe in and WHY they believe in it and
How they wish to manifest those beliefs in this, their, world. That's
what I hope to do, the encouraging bit at least, because the whole
point of youth empowerment is that young people must be given the
opportunity to discover the power within themselves. That is how they
develop. That is how they grow up. That is how we all become who we
are. The process doesn't end when you turn 18, or 19, or 20, or 21,
or 25 or 30 or 50. Ideally, it never ends. But it has to begin
somewhere.

Anya has been dead for nearly a decade now, but she is still
influencing my life. She brought Tosher and I together as friends
(little did she know how her death would forge the deepest and most
meaningful friendship I have ever known), and it is her words that are
helping me articulate things now that I'd begun to worry were
ineffable... just like the peace of mind that overwhelms me whenever I
pick up a cloth and start putting a dent in the dirty dishes after
dinner at Tosh and Sal's place.