Almost 100 years after Fatima, an unexplained belief in Mary and three shepherd children

Not so long ago, I was settling my bill at a local eatery/watering hole when my server, Kandice, noticed a shiny, oval-shaped piece of jewelry dangling on a thin, silver chain that reached just below my bust line.

patti dawn swansson

“That’s very pretty,” she said. “What is it?”

“It’s Our Lady of Fatima,” I replied as I looked down at the medallion I now held gently in my right hand. “I wear it whenever I leave home. It gives me a nice feeling of comfort and calm. I think of myself more as a spiritual person than a religious person, but I have certain beliefs. I believe Mary appeared before three shepherd children at Fatima and before Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes. It’s hard to explain…I just believe it.”

“I think I understand.”

That’s the rub, though: I’m not sure I understand it myself. I struggle to explain belief. I don’t know how to explain belief.

I think most, if not all, of us look for something to believe in, whether it be god, religion, miracles, an honest politician, UFOs or the Loch Ness Monster. Some of us want to believe, others need to believe. I don’t know if I want or need to believe in Marian apparitions—at Fatima, Lourdes or anywhere else. I just do.

That, of course, is difficult for some to grasp.

I mean, tales of Marian apparitions seem nothing more than the notions of religious zealots, hopeless romantics, or flights of fantasy launched from a child’s fertile imagination. Surely Walt Disney had a hand in all of this. Fatima and Lourdes are really Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty adorned in the frock of religion, no? So let’s just accept them as fairy tales and move on, right?

Oh, if only it were that simple.

I truly wish I could articulate my belief in, and connection with, the Virgin Mary, Bernadette Soubirous and the three shepherd children, Lucia Santos and her cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto who, 100 years ago this May 13, were visited by Our Lady of the Holy Rosary in the first of six Marian apparitions at Fatima.

I have given pause to ponder this matter often during the two weeks since Kandice mentioned the Our Lady of Fatima medallion that I wear. I still cannot explain it in any definitive way, except to say that Mary is a feeling. She is an inner truth. Something within assures me that the events of Fatima and Lourdes were real. They are real. And Mary delivers peace and joy to my soul. And that’s all that truly matters. If I feel it inside, authentically, then it must be so.

Oh, for Christ’s sake, it’s the most wonderful time of the year no matter whose face is on your green coffee cup

I sent out 15 Christmas cards on Monday with greetings of “Joyeux Noel et bonne annee.”

At no point during either the design or delivery of the cards did I devote a second of ponder to the possibility that they might put some noses out of joint. I mean, it’s a card. It’s a greeting. It’s my way of telling someone that they’re dear to me and I’m thinking of them. Can’t get more harmless than that, right?

Except it has come to my attention that card-sending can be a risky bit of business.

United States President Barack Obama, for example, is again under heavy fire from conservative extremists because, in keeping with the tradition of his eight years of residency at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. NW in Washington, D.C., this year’s official White House Christmas card is not a Christmas card. It is a “Happy Holidays” card that makes no mention of a messianic birth in a Bethlehem barn some 2,000-plus years ago.

This omission, apparently, qualifies him as President Bah Humbug and aligns him in league with the Devil.

“Merry Christmas…er…scratch that. We are the Obamas and it’s Some Random Holiday,” was a sarcastic, snotty, how-dare-he tweet from that noted still-wheezing Alaskan gasbag Sarah Palin, a self-described “Bible-believing Christian” who, along with her hard-core conservative ilk, ignore the reality that the winter holiday/festival season is not the sole province of Christians.

There are approximately two dozen celebrations between Nov. 1 and mid-January that involve Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other religious or secular groups. Yet President Obama must, must, must give Christmas top billing, otherwise he has launched a scud missile at the very heart of America.

“Protecting the heart of Christmas will lead to protecting the heart of our nation,” is how Palin puts it.

Yes, by all means, in his quest to “make America great again,” surely president-elect Donald Trump’s first order of business once he’s hunkered down on Pennsylvania Avenue NW must be to put the words “Merry Christmas” back on White House stationary. ISIS, terrorism and building border walls can wait. The war on Christmas must be won first.

But is there really a war on Christmas? Well, there must be. I mean, this year’s Starbucks holiday cup is green. Yes, green! With a bunch of squiggly faces on it—and not one of those faces belongs to Jesus Christ. The devil, you say! Must be the work of that Obama fella. After all, he sent out all of those non-Christmas Christmas cards.

Look, although raised Roman Catholic, I confess that I have difficulty with the Christian nativity narrative.

A virgin birth? In a barn or cave or stable? Three wise men following the brightest star in the sky and travelling many miles on camelback to pay homage to a messiah in a manger? Angels whispering in Joseph’s ear (or the virgin Mary’s ear, depending on whether you choose to believe Matthew or Luke)? Quite the flight of fancy, I dare say.

Having said that, however, if I’m walking the streets and notice a nativity scene displayed in a neighborhood yard or in a store-front window, I take no offence.

I don’t look at religion-themed Christmas displays or a brightly lit evergreen tree as sales pitches to lure me inside a church for the first time in decades, and it matters not if I believe the Christian nativity narrative to be historically accurate, or if I believe it to be as bogus as most of the Trumpster’s outrageous claims during the U.S. presidential election campaign. To me, a Christmas tree is no more a religious symbol than Santa Claus is an Olympic hockey champion. It’s a symbol of the holiday season.

Similarly, my knickers are not twisted into a knot if someone wishes me a “Merry Christmas” or I’m given a “Happy holidays” greeting. I’m good with it all.

You want to celebrate Christmas because you believe it to be Jesus’s birthday? Go for it. You want to dance and argue around the Festivus pole with George, Frank and Estelle Costanza? Grab your partner. Just enjoy it. It really is the most wonderful time of the year. No matter whose face is or isn’t on your green coffee cup.


Delbert Wagner and Percy Haynes made black beautiful for me

When I was a sprig, I was taught that black equaled bad.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

That had nothing to do with skin color, though. It had a lot to do with cowboy clothing. The bad guys on Saturday afternoon Horse Opera, you see, more often than not wore black hats. The good guys wore white lids. Or brown. Or grey. Anything but black.

The Lone Ranger, for example, wore a white hat and sat in the saddle of a stunning, white steed (Hi-yo Silver! Away!). His white hat never knew a speck of dark stain. Even after roiling about in the muck and guck during hand-to-hand combat with the black-hatted bad guys, the Lone Ranger’s Stetson was whiter than a saint’s soul. And, of course, Kimosabe would eventually gun down the outlaws with silver bullets, not those copper things the bad guys used.

Religion also played a part in my black-is-bad upbringing.

Subjected to the questionable but unchallengable natterings of the 1950s and early-60s Roman Catholic Church, fear-mongering nuns cautioned that for each sin I committed there would arise on my good, white soul a spot. A black spot. The more grievous the trespass, the larger the black spot. The way I had it figured, stealing a cookie before dinner earned me a black spot no bigger than one of the tiny freckles on my cheeks, whereas swiping a pack of baseball cards or a candy bar from the corner store got me a black spot the size of a hockey puck. Bad, bad, bad, bad Patti. I was convinced that my soul looked like an ink blotter. I suppose it still does.

But black blotches on one’s soul, like black hats on cowboys, was pure symbolism. At no time during my formatives did I equate good and evil or personal worth to the hue of one’s skin.

Oh, sure, the Catholic con was very much about white-skin-is-good-skin. I mean, the Virgin Mary, the saints, the angels…all lily white. Even depictions of Jesus were white (still are), a confusing and misguiding bit of business. I’m quite certain that the historical Jesus’s skin tone would more have resembled that of President Obama than that of Pope Francis. At the very least, Jesus would have had a tan to die for, given that he spent the final few years of his brief adult life baking beneath the hot Middle East sun while roaming the countryside or wandering the desert. Ditto his dozen disciples, also usually depicted as white dudes.

Misrepresentation of reality aside, the nuns and parish priests couldn’t pull their white wool over my eyes. I knew better because of the few people of color who came into my life at an early age.

Delbert Wagner represented Ground Zero for me in race relations and revelations.

I recall my parents inviting Del to break bread with us. A wonderful man and quick to smile, he was a very talented jazz musician and dancer and the first black person I had ever seen up close and personal. I was five, perhaps six years old and Del was sitting across the dinner table from me. I couldn’t stop staring at him.

“Is something wrong?” my mother asked.

“He’s a black man,” I replied. “He’s not the same color as us.”

The grownups laughed at the impish simplicity of my discovery. But once I had established and confirmed that Del and I didn’t share the same pigmentation, it became a footnote of no significance. I gave it not another thought, instead going about the task of gobbling up my mashed potatoes, green peas and roast beef.

Percy Haynes
Percy Haynes

Similarly, my parents would, on Saturday nights over the years, deliver us to Haynes Chicken Shack on Lulu Street in Winnipeg. The proprietors were the husband-and-wife partnership of Percy and Zena Haynes, Del’s step-father and mother. My, oh my. Mmmm, mmmm. What a treat. The food was unmatched. Ditto the atmosphere. There’d be more black folks in that small room than I ever saw in my entire neighborhood. And white folks, too. Yet there were no black and white folks. There were just people, dining and having a good time listening to Percy play the piano and, on occasion, Zena croon. Once our order was taken, Percy would join us at our table.

This, keep in mind, was during the 1950s and early ’60s, a period when racial unrest was amped up and Rosa Parks was pushing civil rights toward the front of the bus in the southern U.S. That seemed so distant, though. In another galaxy.

In my corner of the world, white cops weren’t using fire hoses and German shepherds to terrify peaceful, marching black civilians, and I somehow managed to blot out the paradoxical reality that my father would invite Del Wagner to our dinner table one day then refer to one of my favorite entertainers, Sammy Davis Jr., as a “dirty, little, n_____ Jew” the next (yes, my dad was that disgusting).

My older brother, Richard, took drumming lessons from Del. A buck 50 an hour. A black man and a white kid. No big deal.

To me, there was racial harmony and I harbored a healthy fondness for the few black people I had met.

I now realize, of course, that that belief was a Pollyanna-like blend of naivete and youthful innocence, yet it’s an idealism that never did abandon me to wander off into the forest.

I tend to think this explains my great difficulty with divisiveness. I don’t get the concept of exclusion just because. I don’t get the concept of one person disliking another just because. I don’t get the concept of one person wishing, or inflicting, harm on another just because. I don’t get the concept of one person slandering another just because. Not if the just because is skin color, faith, gender or sexual orientation.

Delbert Wagner and Percy Haynes were my first black influences and role models. They were like the mighty oak, whose many branches are accepting of all the birds of the sky. Just because.

I thank them for it.

Paparazzi Nightclub being proactive in making a gay ‘safe space’ safer

Let’s make something abundantly clear: Attending a gay bar does not mean you are gay. It does not mean you will become gay.

patti dawn swansson
patti dawn swansson

You might be gay. You might be bisexual. You might be curious. You might be transgender. But in and of itself, walking through the portal of a gay nightclub does not mean you are gay any more than passing through the doors of St. Peter’s Basilaca in Rome makes me the Virgin Mary. (It would make me the Virgin Patti, but enough about my non-existent love life.)

Thus, the disclosure that Omar Mateen had been observed in Pulse prior to turning the downtown Orlando, Fla., gay nightclub into his personal killing field neither confirms nor disqualifies the possibility that he was gay.

Let us, however, for the sake of discussion accept that he was straight. He was, after all, twice married and had a child. Those investigating his habits, movements and possible motives for the shooting spree in which he murdered 49 innocent people and wounded another 53 advise us that, on at least one occasion, his wife accompanied him on a visit to Pulse. That, clearly, raised a red flag vis-a-vis her culpability in the slayings, and it certainly lends credence to the notion that Mateen was casing the joint.

Similarly, he is known to have visited online gay chat rooms. Again, that doesn’t make him gay. Cozying up to gay men and transgender women might have been part of his master plan of mayhem and murder.

This is among the reasons numerous people in the LGBT collective advance the argument that gay clubs should be the exclusive province of their community. Outsiders need not apply.

Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.

First of all, it’s illegal in Canada to bar anyone from a nightclub based on, among many other things, sexual orientation.

Second, how could you possibly monitor it? I don’t walk around with an L or a T tattooed to my forehead. I don’t carry a card that certifies me as lesbian or transgender. My gay friends don’t wear G arm patches.

Third, the stewards of Paparazzi Show/Nightclub in Victoria—Attila Bassett and Terry Bex—would not contemplate turning anyone away from their doors at the corner of Broad and Johnson. It is my experience that they, or their staff, have ushered people from the venue only for bad/illegal/threatening/dangerous behaviour.

paparazzi-night-club“We,” Bassett told me today, “are an LGBTS bar, meaning we welcome everyone.”

The ‘S’ stands for straight. They’re welcome. If you’re among those in the LGBT collective who don’t support inclusiveness, get over it. It isn’t going to change.

Here’s what will change, though: There will be heightened awareness and caution at Paparazzi. Like most, the Mateen massacre last weekend in Orlando “horrified” Bassett. It rattled him to the core and he recognizes the distress and uncertainty it has imposed on the gay community. People are nervous. Frightened. They wonder if Orlando could happen in Victoria.

“Paparazzi is enforcing strict rules,” says Bassett. “No bags in the club. They must be checked at the door, no ifs, ands or buts. Backpacks and hand bags will be checked. We are also getting a metal detector wand and security will be trained on it. Increased staff as well. All staff will be watching for unusual behavior, actions and aggressive behavior. We are a safe, welcoming, no-violence-tolerated club.

“I just don’t want them attacking us. We need to be safe. The metal detectors are mandatory, whether (patrons) like it or not. There will be one at the door and one in the club. Safety first.”

I recognize that I am at risk each time I step outside and walk the streets of Victoria, even though it’s regarded as a very gay-friendly city. I don’t necessarily feel at risk every time I leave my home, but I am at risk, nonetheless.

My friends Brian and Sean, a married gay couple, are at risk each time they feel a mite frisky and share a moment of physical affection in public. Ditto Michael and Paul. Allegedly, this was among the trigger points that set off Omar Mateen’s trigger finger—he observed two men kissing on the street and it offended and angered him.

So, we need safe spaces. Sanctuaries, if you will. Bassett and Bex have been providing that for more than eight years. Now they’re being proactive and making Paparazzi a safer safe place.

Bassett’s sole concern is that his increased safety measures will “anger” patrons. Nonsense. The new policy should be met with applause, not anger.

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