In Honour of Chris Bearchell:
Remarks by Carroll Holland
Memorial Service, SGI Ottawa
February 26, 2007
Thank you for coming tonight to honour the memory of Chris Bearchell, an extraordinary lesbian whose heart was as expansive as the most beautiful February sky, whose fighting spirit was legendary and whose courage simply knew no bounds.
Injustice appalled Chris. Her passion for equality fueled more than two decades of pioneering activism in Toronto that encompassed writing, community organizing and community service delivery in the fields of lesbian and gay rights, sexual rights, reproductive rights, prostitutes' rights and the rights of persons with AIDS. She was particularly well known across Canada for her writing in The Body Politic, at one time a unique and highly influential publication of gay and lesbian journalism.
An eloquent speaker, Chris was equally at home delivering a presentation to a House of Commons Committee drafting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or giving a workshop on sexual orientation at Grindstone Island, the retreat for social justice dialogue where I met her in1980, soon after I came out as a lesbian.
We became lovers and I had the immense good fortune to discover, through Chris, a way to live with dignity as a member of a stigmatized, marginalized and mostly invisible part of society and that was as a lesbian activist. We weren't able to stay together long, but her contribution to my life is of a magnitude that I could never repay. My debt of eternal gratitude to her is beyond measure.
While I was care-giving for my aging parents and returning to work in Ottawa, Chris continued to blaze trails in Toronto. Most of you will have seen the notice for this memorial which outlines some of her many contributions then.
Twelve years ago Chris moved to her beloved Lasqueti Island in the Georgia Strait between mainland British Columbia and Vancouver Island. For the past eight years she waged a determined battle against cancer, continuing to live with a strength of spirit, humour and a passion for each additional day of life that will inspire me forever. I visited her in 2004 and maintained close contact since then, mostly by phone. Many in our Buddhist community supported her with our chanting, which she greatly appreciated although she herself was not a Buddhist.
There was nothing timid about Chris' whole-hearted approach to life, regardless of the state of her health. To the end she remained infinitely humane, generous, interested in others and engaged in the world.
The delicateness and vibrant beauty of the fragrant purple frescia in the adjacent reception room are symbolic to me of Chris' remarkable gentleness and strength, a rare combination; she was a truly outstanding human being who remained true to her rich humanistic principles until the very end.
My sorrow at losing Chris at the young age of 53 is assuaged by the knowledge that the measure of our lives is in the way that we have lived, not in the accumulation of years. And it is measured by the degree to which our lives have supported and encouraged others who will continue fighting for bedrock principles of respect, equal rights and dignity for all.
It is our custom in the SGI to celebrate the achievements of all outstanding human rights activists, to encompass all traditions including Chris' religion of hospitality.
In Buddhism, compassion means to free from suffering and bring joy, which was the essence of Chris' being.
Buddhism also places great emphasis on dialogue, as did Chris.
I'd like to quote from an article on dialogue we've copied for everyone to take away as a form of continuing inspiration from Chris.
"Dialogue is a process through which we uncover and reveal our human grandeur. Dialogue withers when our hearts are closed to the infinite possibilities of the other and we assume we already know all we need to know about them. Dialogue flourishes when it is conducted in an open-minded spirit of discovery based on compassion, on the desire to build on what we have in common and transform our differences into rich sources of value."
I am told that Chris' last word was "Wow." I trust that her compassionate essence was beginning to merge into the compassionate centre of the cosmos, and that our journey with her continues forever in the cosmic weave of eternity.
I'd like to thank Irit, Andrew, Will, Penny and others who were Chris' constant companions during her last two weeks, which were in Vancouver General Hospital.
And I'd like to thank my dear friend Heidi, who lives in Vancouver, for visiting Chris in hospital on my behalf.