Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on Friday, January 22, 2016.
There’s always a bit of a dilemma in my head about what to choose for a column topic. This week’s could’ve broached on many subjects: the recent statistic about homeless veterans (about 2,250 of them) as an unacceptable but sad reality, or the fact that many Indigenous communities in Canada still struggle with deplorable living conditions, or that the incidents of suicide, teenagers and children included, in many of those communities, is shockingly high. Or that we still do not have tough enough laws to address drunk driving, which often means that people, often children, get killed, and few of the guilty ones get jail time.
After some thinking I came to realize that they all have a common denominator. Human life and how precious it is, so we’d be well advised to stop a moment longer and let that sink in. Every time I find myself thinking about it I come out richer and humbler. And I take an extra moment for the night hugs I give my sons or add extra smiles and time to share with those I love.
Opportunities never lack; it’s but a matter of reminding ourselves to slow down to see them. Unless life does it for us abruptly, in which case we’re forced to stop and take a deep breath before we pick up the pace again. That comes with regret though.
During my family’s recent trip to my hometown in Romania we took a walk through the downtown area, which holds so many memories of times past. Like the time when an old guy was selling bunnies at the farmer’s market and enough pleas made my mom yield.
I carried my bunny home with a few stopovers in stores where I carefully hid the wee bundle of fur in the cradle of my elbow. My mom’s accomplice smile was nothing short of a gift, a memory just the two of us held from then on… The memory of fuzzy, innocent days when everything seemed to be possible and infinite.
That was then. This time, my stop at the farmer’s market was to get wreaths and candles.
The four of us then made our way up the hill where I grew up and from there to the cemetery. We lit candles and laid wreaths for my parents, for all my grandparents, for aunt and uncle and one of my cousins, and for my godparents too.
That the sky was rather grey and heavy is not important, or relevant. For once, the sun could do nothing to cheer me on. There is nothing more sobering than standing by my parents’ grave to put things in perspective. Life and death tied in a braid that none of us can unravel.
I learned that early enough when I lost my grandparents. The story repeats in my heart and mind every time someone I know and love bids goodbye to the world we know.
That’s when everything becomes relevant and, at the same time, relevant only if we choose to make it so. Occasions like the ones where you stand and read the names on a tombstone, feeling every letter with the fingers of your soul, soft and unprepared still, teary… Reading names of people that life tucked away too soon.
For years I tried to understand what’s to understand from losing my precious people so early on. There is a lot. It’s a trade you see. We lose people but are given awareness in return. There are people to love still alive, there are people to know, there is still time to make a difference.
We are being given the gift of knowing that each step we take should not be for nothing, should not be unkind, should not be wasted on dismissing life as a gift, or the present as the same. The gift of people while they still are. I know that much.
Hence the common denominator of at least the topics enumerated above. Choosing to make a difference in the world we know, be it a word, a smile, a gift of time, presence, a helping hand when most needed… In doing that, we acknowledge the fragility and preciousness of now, and we have opportunities to build on it the tomorrow that will matter.
We only make sense as many, though it is as individuals that we make that shine true. While we have time. While those who can benefit from it are still around, and while the world as we know it exists.