Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

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Weekly Column: Remembrance Day Files – It Feels Like Family

‘In Flanders fields, the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,

That mark our place, and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below…’

It is impossible to describe the deep reverence the reading of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s famous poem conferred to the sea of people gathered around the cenotaph on Remembrance Day. It is one of those situations that can be summed up by an overused but adequate phrase: ‘you had to be there.’ The words of the poem are haunting, and the images they conjure stay alive in the hearts and minds of us all. Every single time.

Weekly Column: Is Our Justice System Letting Us Down?

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, October 29, 2018. 

Once again, I toss my midweek-written column. I had started writing about the troublesome aspect of our present-day life, which is the excess we have created. Put in the context of the growing mountains of garbage, plastic waste in particular, it seems ridiculous and irresponsible to add more to the pile. But we do, and every weekly flyer is proof to that. I was also mentioning the absurdity of seeing Christmas items already in stores (the story of garbage has many chapters indeed.)

I will save it for another week; nothing will change in the meantime, except for more flyers arriving in the mail tempting us to buy more so we can have more so we can actually have less. Among other things, less gratitude and a lesser sense of responsibility towards our future; our children’s future.

Weekly Column: Grateful in Kamloops

Originally published  as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on October 8, 2018.  

The first morning of October was cold and drizzly and the tall withered grass was wet and just as cold. Dog and I went on our daily hike, heading up the steep trail as fast as we could to keep warm. By the time we reached the plateau the wind had picked up. It spoke of winter, pretending that fall was not part of the schedule anymore.

Weekly Column: Stories Of Fall Magic And Why We Should Be Part Of Them

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday, September 10, 2018. 

Fall has a special place in my heart. When I was a kid, until I left my parents’ home to go to university, as soon as the grapes would start to ripen, I’d go around the yard and get myself a bunch of sweetest ones, usually by holding up the bottom of my T-shirt for an impromptu fruit-picking bucket. Then I’d sit in one of my special places under the quince trees and eat them. One by one, green, black and red spheres, all juicy and sweet, their flavour divinely irresistible.

Weekly Column: Back To School Should Not add New Debt

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops on September 3, 2018. 

There was a time when back to school shopping meant purchasing a fair number of notebooks – one for each subject ideally, pencils, pens (a fountain pen too, but that was back then!) and, if the kids grew an inch or two over the summer, which they tend to do, new clothes and shoes. A backpack too, if last year’s was not holding up anymore.

Compassion Builds A Better Kamloops

Originally published as a column in the CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on Monday November 6, 2017. 

It was almost midnight, almost Friday, when I started writing this. The house was quiet and warm and outside sudden wind gushes were throwing snow up in the air creating white ghosts that seemed unable to make up their minds which way to go. The heavy snow that started the night before draped thick over the city and surroundings.

It’s winter wonderland around us for sure, and I love the quiet I get immersed in during my morning hikes with the dog, and I love the swirls I see dancing through the window on a windy night. But I know all this joy would be obliterated, should I not have a warm abode to come back to when I am done.

Which is why the opening of the homeless shelter by the Kamloops Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association on November 1 is a timely, welcome event. I dropped in during the open house held last Monday in what used to be the gym of Stuart Wood Elementary School. It had been a while since I was there last, when the boys were still in school and my husband and I would go see the plays, usually held in the gym. It looked different now. Mattresses were arranged neatly in rows, dressed, and each with a blanket; waiting.

Staff members showed me around. ‘Here’s the kitchen, the laundry area which the staff will operate, the extra sleeping room for those who snore or have pets…’ There was a sense of accomplishment in the air. No one will be turned away, I am told. The shelter has a 50-person capacity but if need be, rearranging the space will make room for more. No one will be left in the cold… I go back to playing that sentence in my head. It is humbling to realize how lucky we are, all of us who never had to worry about a warm bed at the end of the day, more so in winter.

I cannot think of a better use for the old Stuart Wood school building. It is after all a building that sits empty at a time when temperatures are dropping to painfully cold. Once again, Kamloops shows its heart, and I know it will continue to do so with every opportunity.

Then came the weekend. If you happened by the Superstore on Summit Drive or the Independent Grocer on the North Shore on Saturday, you might’ve noticed some big army trucks and people in uniforms. The Rocky Mountain Rangers in collaboration with the Food Bank did a food drive which brought in 1,200 pounds of food and other needed items. More is always needed.

Truth is, our society sees a lot of stuff, perishable or non-perishable food items, and many other objects, go to waste. Many of us have long lost items that are in perfectly good shape yet lost among other objects in our home. We often see food end up in the garbage in our own home and in food stores too, and yet hunger is still a reality for many. There are initiatives that show the opposite is possible though and that’s where hope lies. The foodSHARE program by the Kamloops Food Bank helped divert 9 million pounds of food from the landfill and use it for food programs and, if expired, as animal feed.

I’ve heard some say that this time a year you cannot go anywhere without being asked for donations and it can become too much. There is even a name for it: compassion fatigue. Yet I encourage you to not give that thought too much room to grow. There are many people at the receiving end who count on our compassion to get a meal, the bare necessities for life, or a warm bed to sleep in. Many of them may be fatigued by life and its trials, yet they cannot step away from it just by looking the other way.

The Poppy Campaign conducted by the Canadian Legion (all funds go to veterans and their dependents) has volunteers stand many hours no matter the weather conditions, because every little bit helps, and they believe in it to brave the elements. There’s the Christmas Cheer Fund (all funds go to those in need), more food drives still, and hospital charity campaign. Then there is the stuff that comes in the mailbox or via petitions online.

Also, some argue that if money is donated, not enough goes to those in need but it is diverted towards administrative funds and such. That in itself is a whole conversation, yet if too much energy and time is put into in bashing some of the fundraising campaigns, there is a risk of not leaving enough consideration for those in need who are at the receiving end.

If that is a troubling thought, I encourage you to look for opportunities to help right in our own backyard. Whether it is food donated to the Food Bank, or items needed by shelters such as the newly opened CMHA shelter (twin fitted sheets and quilts, pillows, pillow cases, towels, changes of clothes, for example) or time you could set aside to help as a volunteer, please welcome the opportunity.

I’d argue that compassion is the most significant gesture that can make a difference in one’s life. For those who give, aware of the hardship people endure, and for those who receive the help in any form or shape, the bond of compassion is one that holds society together and puts one’s faith in humanity back into place. People in Kamloops have proved it many times and that is something to be fiercely proud of.

You Are Human Before Anything Else; It’s What’s Left Behind

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today Kamloops and Armchair Mayor News on October 16, 2017 

Saturday was a cold, wet, and slightly dreary day, though rain was such precious commodity during the summer that I cannot get myself to dislike it, no matter how much I miss the sun. On our way to the farmer’s market, my oldest son and I bumped into Vaughn Warren, who was as enthusiastic as ever about the time capsule that was about to be attached to the new Freemont Block sign he was recently commissioned to restore. Come by the Makerspace between 3 and 5 today, he said, so you can sign a postcard for the time capsule.

Most of the day had already been scheduled for a few activities but we made it there a few minutes before 5. The sign looked beautifully vibrant and the table next to it was full of cards, photos, and other mementos to be sealed in the time capsule. We signed the guest book and then proceeded to write something on the card before writing down our names.

I had to stop a while and think. This was something that someone, a hundred years from now, will read and think about for a few moments. Much like I was taking my time trying to stretch my thoughts to the other side of the hundred years, that person, or people, will be trying to imagine what it was all like here, now.

An exercise in humbleness if you will. A hundred years from now on I will be long gone, and so will my sons, most likely. Sobering indeed. It’s a thought that makes you hear all the noises in the room suddenly, and makes you see everything around in a different light. It makes you shudder, too. there is a finality attached to you and your life, and there’s no two ways about it. It’s part of the deal. A rainy, cold day is the day you’re in, a gift like no other, and not a dreary time slot you can’t wait to be done with.

The day was already inviting to a lot of reflection regarding the thin line between life and death we’re all due to cross at some point. It was my late friend Richard Wagamese’s birthday (he would’ve turned 62,) and it was the day chosen for Christopher Seguin’s funeral service. Their passing, as well as the passing of some many people I’ve known over the years, my parents and other close relatives included, left me with a cloud of questions: What matters after all, what is worth striving for while you’re alive and what will the others remember of you once you’re gone?

From all that I’ve seen so far, it’s not the material things but the heart matters that live on. They do not only linger, but continue to grow and fill that empty space one leaves behind once they’re gone. The things we do because we choose to show and wear our humanity with pride and gratefulness is what matters; it’s what will inspire those who miss us to keep on going, choose to act with courage and joy, and leave a mark on the world by allowing their humanity to shine through as they live their days.

It is the whole range of acts that count, not just the ones that are news-worthy. It’s the mark we leave behind us when no one’s watching. The gestures, big or small, that can restore someone’s smile, restore someone’s trust in humanity and change the way people around us choose their next steps, so that their hearts show through.

When we choose to live heartfully and with compassion, there’s glowing that transcends your immediate presence. It’s the kind of hopeful shiny stuff that guides those left behind you towards decisions better suited for the greater good, less judgment and more compassion towards those who need it.

A few days ago, I read about an incident in Williams Lake. An elderly man was lying on the ground in a parking lot after having suffered a heart attack, and though many people passed by, no one stopped. Eventually, a woman stopped and called an ambulance, informed the man’s family south of the border about his condition, and took care of his vehicle and boat (the man was on his way to an annual fishing trip with friends.)

Whatever accomplishments the woman who saved his life has achieved so far or will from now on, that she showed her humanity at a time when someone needed it the most is something she will be remembered forever by the man she saved and by his family. Perhaps she will inspire many to be compassionate rather than judge.

Visuals can be awfully deceptive at times. Wearing one’s heart to be seen as we walk through life never is. That’s what I hope a hundred years from now people will still value and strive for. Because before w are anything else, we are human. That is the gift that is handed to us when we’re born, the one we’re supposed to make the most of while we’re alive, and the one we’re leaving behind when we go. That’s what I’ve learned so far from those who lived letting their hearts walk alongside. It’s the kind of legacy humans ought to bestow onto humans.

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