(At the service marking International Human Rights Day and the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women.)
Good morning. My name is Gerta Moray and I want to bring some reflections, from my own experience, on violence, suffering and memory.
I want to start by thanking the Raging Grannies for sharing their song this morning. The Raging Grannies - now an international movement - began in 1987 with 11 women in Victoria BC. who felt strongly about the threat of nuclear powered and armed vessels in Victoria's harbour and on the BC coast. They developed humour and a disarming send-up of the older woman stereotype, to draw attention to issues of militarism and of environmental, social and economic justice. The Montreal gunman who shot the women engineering students at the Ecole polytechnique on December 6, 1989, had declared that he "hated feminists ... women were taking employment opportunities away from men. They were not fulfilling the role women were supposed to have.” The Grannies' song was devised in 1991, when they and other womens' groups were determined that the fate of these fourteen young women not be forgotten.
Fourteen women! Nine is the number of the African American women, and men, shot by a young white supremacist in the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston, South Carolina, just this year in June. One thousand and seventeen is the number of Indigenous women and girls that an RCMP report estimates to have been murdered in Canada between 1980-2012.
There is a Latin proverb once told me by a friend: "Sunt lacrimae rerum." It translates as "There are tears in things," or more loosely, "Shit happens."
The members of my Journey group, and of the Journey facilitators' group, will tell you that whatever the month's theme, Gerta is rather prone to remember that bad things happen.
I was born in Czechoslovakia, in 1940, the first year of World War 2. During the first 7 years of my life I only met my father, who had been drafted, on a few occasional visits. Then he was missing, presumed dead. I remember running into basements during air raids, and houses on our street not being there next day. We moved around a lot to stay with strange people. At the end of the war we were refugees, admitted to immigrate to England. My parents had been an affluent young middle class couple with a beautiful home in Prague - their world had vanished forever, save what my mother could carry in one suitcase. There was no Post traumatic shock counselling. My sister and I were sent to school - children beat our legs black and blue with hockey sticks and punished our dolls by making holes in their foreheads.
In my life, and for many others in the world, things after the war became steadily better. I ended up a professor of art history. Research on Emily Carr took me to First Nations villages in the 1980s. There I witnessed the vital leadership role of aboriginal women, and the burdens their communities bear. I taught in a Women's Studies program where I shared a long evolution - from amazement that what could not be spoken in public was now being named, to sisterhood, and empowerment, and finally to generations for whom it sometimes seems unnecessary to remember that bad things happen.
I have never forgotten my childhood world in ruins, nor the kindness of strangers. They have continually inspired my choices in life.
There are tears in things. I joined this congregation when I discovered that I cracked open and cried during services. I had found a home, a family where hearts and minds were open to all aspects of the world, where people were as committed as the Raging Grannies to try to prevent bad things from happening, and to assuage the pain. There are tears in things.