Gratitude makes the journey better. Kindness, too.

Tag: kindness

What Does It Take To Keep A Promise?

Originally published as a column on Friday July 22, 2016 in NewsKamloops

TearsFew things are more disappointing than not keeping a promise. More so when the promise has to do with people who died under circumstances that ought to be investigated so justice can be served. More so when the people who died are all First Nations Canadian women, the majority of them under 45 and mothers.

On our recent trip to Prince Rupert we drove on the Highway of Tears and the overall feeling is one of uneasiness and sadness. There are big billboards warning women of the dangers of hitchhiking. As you stop along the way in some of the small towns, there are signs that grief has touched that community.

And yet… The promised inquiry into the death of murdered and missing Aboriginal women is still far from becoming a reality. It’s not a promise that should be made lightly. Our new PM Justin Trudeau has a full agenda, no doubt about that. But a promise is a promise, and when closure of some sort is at stake, then the promise should be kept.

The numbers are staggering, the grief and pain left in the hearts of the families who are still waiting for answers are too. British Columbia has the highest numbers of missing and murdered First Nations women, 160 of them. Approximately 63 percent are murder cases and 24 percent missing persons cases. The majority of them were between 19 and 31 years old, and 16 percent under the age of 18.

Each of those young women was someone’s daughter, granddaughter or sister before they had a chance to become mothers. One could argue that sadly enough, the system failed many of them before they were born. After all, the drug and alcohol addictions among First Nations people are rampant. So is domestic abuse. A vicious circle that chews up many lives leaving but grieving survivors and unanswered questions.

Which is where the government comes in. the authority that can say enough is enough, vioplence againt women (by strangers in most cases) is not condoned anymore and we will not only find what happened to these women and girls but also work closely with First Nations leaders and communities to educate, protect and offer a way out to those whose are in danger of being mangled by that vicious circle that indifference, political (in)correctness and plain old feet-dragging enable.

It is shameful to not hear the plight of those left behind. And yet…Let’s hope the many questions will be answered soon. Let’s hope that dignity and justice will take their place where they rightfully belong.

I might hear soon that the topics I’ve been writing on are depressing. Or just on the brink of sadness. True enough, yet sadness that crushes many or even a few cannot be ignored. Ideally, we should all be so happy that we’d burst at the seams.

By caring and lending a few minutes and a few thoughts to the side of life that is ungraceful as it is scary, we make it less dark for the ones whose hearts are pounding and crying at the same time. Compassion makes us all better. It’s in giving that part of ourselves which is so vulnerable in the face of suffering that we are afraid to show, that makes us better human beings.

So here’s the answer. For as long as there are indignities and pain, I will bring them up, as many as I can. Some will be screaming louder than others at me. Suffering does not know boundaries. It should not. Yet the case of the missing and murdered Aboriginal women shows that race boundaries exist, though many pretend to not see them.

It’s not negativity to bring these things up but respect for humanity and all its dark and bright bits. It’s not negativity to bring them up in conversations but the hope that one day communities can be safe for all who are part of them.

It’s by letting myself be humbled by people’s strength to carry on after tragedies and heartbreaks that I can be a better person and see beyond my immediate world. That is why I think promises should be kept. Because people matter. Every single one of them.

So… Kindness

‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’ Mahatma Gandhi

Suns to giveThe boys and I used to play a game. If you could have one wish… Or three. What would you wish for? One of mine was always ‘that there is enough kindness in the world’. The boys would smile and tilt their heads.

Of all the things you could wish for, Mom? Of all. Of any. Just like that.

Kindness. It’s what we crave. Smiles and warmth; the touch of brightness that someone’s kindness brings forth and makes into a hug. The thing that’s often the hardest to give.

Not because we don’t want to, but because we’re often locked inside. Because somehow, somewhere, when we were just about opening our eyes to the world, we were met, every now and then, with a cold breeze rather than the warm one our hearts were primed for.

So we learned to hide the wish we wished for. Kindness. We learned to say ‘perhaps I am not worthy of it’… Then, an even colder breeze took ‘perhaps’ away and the certainty of unworthiness spread like an algae plume taking over a lake. Clear becomes opaque and troubled. We’ve all been there, we’ve all lingered a bit too long at times in that realm.

Kindness reverses it. It is always a few words away, a hug away, from wherever we are, whenever… It’s what we need the most of, it is what we often give or receive the least of.

I will always remember the last conversation I had with my Mom. It was kind and warm like an embrace. The last moments I had with my Dad were hugs and tears. Kindness and forgiveness became the ground for later understanding that without them every day is a burden. But each burden becomes a lesson. Each memory too.

I carry mine as you carry yours. We ought to remember the occasional unkindness too. Loud voices, storming away from people, seeking a refuge. Wanting to be at peace with the world and yourself, but running away from both. We all do it until we learn that until kindness comes from within, it can never happen for real…

The parting words to last us into the next hour, or the next day, or the rest of our life… are they going to just echoes of the stomping and the shadows of frowns?… The regret of having let go of kindness for a bit becomes a sharp bite and then a healing wound.

We learn kindness from understanding that we’re all fallible, all humbled by how easy it becomes to bring our hearts and minds to a new start. ‘Try again’ is a soft breeze that takes us sailing farther than anger and resentment ever could…

To be kind is a choice. One that has us open our eyes to a new day and say ‘I want to be kind’. One that has us look into ourselves and upon seeing all the broken bits, we take a deep breath and think that all that we are – broken bits included – deserves kindness. We walk on the path where others walked too, we see the wells of their steps filled by the same: joy and sadness, hope – lost and found again, will to live and love, desire to be listened to and understood, the need for kindness. We gain compassion for the other travelers when we stop to soothe our own aching feet.

To be kind is a choice that powers more than our face muscles to open into a smile. It is what makes us reach to those who need a word, a hug, or no sound at all, but a listening ear. It is what makes us forgive and ask for forgiveness. It is us be willing to show ourselves vulnerable. It is what makes us soar, tattered wings and all. It is what mends them…

To be kind is a choice that allows us to build instead of destroy and see instead of turning a blind eye. To be kind is to come to the realization that we are the measure of kindness and through what we give we can make someone’s world brighter. And just like that, kindness fills the heart of those who give it.

That’s why I wish for it when I’m asked. Not because I am always kind, but because I need to remember to be. Because I can choose.

So This Is Christmas…

Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on December 25, 2015.

20151202_134554_001It is Christmas Eve and the four of us are tucked deep into the heart of Transylvania celebrating the winter holidays with family. Whether we travel or stay at home, this time a year is when we journey to a place that is always different no matter how much we repeat the rituals from year to year in an effort to make it just like the last one.

The thing is, try as we might, it is never the same. It could never be… With each year, I realize that it is not about the gifts but the presence we offer as we approach the day. Presence in more than one way.

It is about giving ourselves to serve others as much as we can, to be kind beyond expectations or at least to match them, to think of those who do not come close to joy because life throws them one too many curve balls, to be grateful not because we have what we want but to be grateful as we say ‘I have what I need’ because, in truth, many of us do.

It is never about material gifts.

The increased need for kindness in our immediate surroundings and beyond is evident. Times are rushed and pressing us into individual corners where we feel isolated and unhappy for it. Fighting back by reaching out seems counterintuitive yet it is not.

This is the time when we should evaluate our presence. In our family with those still present (as much as we believe in happy ever after, eternity is simply not a built-in feature of humans or anything alive for that matter), in our community in how we give time and help financially and otherwise, in what we leave behind as we move into tomorrow.

Since the boys have been born, we have spent many a Christmas time with my family whether in Europe or Canada. My Mom and Dad were there for some but not anymore. One could say that we are poorer with each Christmas as we leave behind slices of life that will never return as such and people who smile back from photos only. The gift that matters is that we once spent time together.

But then again, it is not about what we do not have any more but about what stays with; it is about how we grow from there. Christmas is, in truth, albeit not exclusively, a time of evaluating. In doing so we should go beyond the personal sphere and go far enough to see the bigger picture of our common ground.

This year, more than ever before, it became clear that we need to do so. As a country, we are fortunate to be on the side of those who can help (we can choose to while withholding judgment), just like we are also fortunate to have the kind of leadership that allows us to rewrite the story of our global presence. Gifts of social conscience to be precise.

As individuals we can make choices: to care more, to care enough to make a difference in someone’s life, to show our human side more often even if that means simply smiling to those we meet on our daily path.

During a recent beach stroll in Vancouver, I came across a bench carrying words that reminded me of my parents, my husband, my sons, and the rest of my family, including my close friends. It was about presence, about time, about realizing that we are shaped by what touches our heart.

‘Sometimes love is for a moment, sometimes love is for a lifetime. Sometimes a moment is a lifetime. May this place reminds us how precious life is.’ I would add; ‘may this day and all that follow remind us of the same. May that we not forget between now and the time we need to show it or remember it ourselves.’

Meaningful gifts are those that last long after the wrappings are crumpled up and the thrill of yet another object is lost from memory. It is perhaps the absence of material gifts that make us most aware of what’s really important.

It is when we make room for presence without any material strings attached that we can understand the ephemeral nature of today, Christmas day included. It is when we make room to remember that presence is where we show up many sunrises and sunsets past Christmas, no fancy duds, just as we are, hearts full as they are on the day defined by giving. In truth, every day should be shaped that way.

May your Christmas be an opportunity for gifts that will keep on growing and giving, and for presence that you can find and offer kind and warm each day from now until the next Christmas comes along. By then we will be wiser and even more mindful of life’s fragility and our immense responsibility to make our gifts, given and received, last. Merry Christmas!

Still, Hatred Is Not The Answer

Originally published as a column in NewsKamloops on Friday, November 20th, 2015. 

Few are those who have not heard about the latest terrorist attacks claimed by ISIS in Beirut and Paris. At the same time, many news outlets have updates on the refugee situation. It is not to be solved any time soon, and according to some political analysts, we have seen nothing yet. The crisis is not about to end anytime soon, nor will the deluge of refugee slow down.

In the wake of the Paris attack that shook the western world to the core, there are many questions that remain unanswered. Why would anyone do that and what do they hope to achieve? How are we ever to stop the deadly machine that creates countless ripples of violence and harm, directly and indirectly?

It is unfortunate that one of the consequences of such attacks is the increased resentment Muslims experience from people who are overtaken by hatred. Just like worry does not solve anything in case of a stressful situation, hatred will solve nothing but only breed more hatred.

Yes, we are steeped in a moral dilemma that may not have a solution, but hopefully there are steps to mitigate some of it as we move along.

Whatever your opinion is about Syrian refugees, one thing is clear: resenting Muslim people, the ones here or there or the ones in between countries, will do nothing to shed light onto the crisis we’re in.

As our children hear on the news about terrorist attacks and then they hear contradicting opinions about whether refugees should be accepted by countries like ours, truth is they have little to learn from news outlets alone or from opinions flying this way or that.

As with so many (all) issues of our troubled world, education is key and it should start with our youngest ones. Instead of being politically correct at all times while at the same times being plagued by contradictory feelings, we should have them learn and we can learn with them, that in many parts of the world people turn to violence to get the message through and they are, in most if not all cases, opposing the very thing that would otherwise enlighten them and see different solutions.

Playing into the hands of groups like ISIS and allowing them to make us resent other Muslims will only isolate people and communities and thus create in the end more breeding ground for more hatred-based reactions to appear. It’s a vicious circle of the worst kind.

The US Congress just passed a bill that will have every Syrian refugee’s immigration documents (those who make it to that stage) personally signed by the heads of the US intelligence and security agencies in order to prevent possible terrorists from entering the country.

But, as New York Times columnist Nickolas Kristof points out, it is worth taking into consideration that a terrorist might not come as a humble refugee but, say, a graduate student. The issue is already a thousand times bigger than a few seconds ago, isn’t it?

In a way, that is perhaps what an organization like ISIS aims to create: alienation at all levels, fearmongering and hatred between people, which in turn provides some of the most fertile grounds for more violence and more conflict.

Then again, albeit the Syrian conflict is the most present on the news because of its gravity and the ever-growing waves of concern relating the long-reaching arms of terrorism, there are other serious crises happening around the world that people are less, if at all, aware of.

A humanitarian crisis of big proportions is unfolding as we speak in Nepal, where the survivors of the earthquake in April are not only undernourished and in great need of medical supplies, but the country’s border with India has been under a severe blockade for the last couple of months, which greatly aggravated the many troubling issues that Nepalese people had to face after almost 9,000 of them died and almost 2 million lost their homes.

And there’s more. In 2014, according to UN High Commission for Refugees, there were 60 million refugees and internally displaced people around the globe, the highest number since the WWII. Almost half of them are children. To all of us who have the privilege to tuck our children in bed every night, that is unthinkable.

Placing the Syrian refugee issue in the context of global refugees and displaced people who find themselves at the present moment in great need of help may just add compassion to their plea, which in turn may reduce the resentment and stigma associated with various ethnic groups.

Time will tell and though desperately needed, an answer is far from reach. This is not a black and white issue. But if we judge a whole nation or religious group based on a few (or more, unfortunately) extremists, we are only making more room for negative outcomes and potentially pushing more people to seek acceptance on the wrong side of being human.

Because truth is, there are two sides in each of us. A compassionate approach to life is nothing but a matter of choice, despite the occasional temptation to give in and join the ranks of those who fear and resent.

Taking Care Of Our Vulnerable Ones Is A Matter Of Importance

(Initially published as a column in the AM News)

giftsBetween 1998 and 2002 when my oldest son was born, I spent every Saturday morning practising social skills with a boy who had autism. He had a very sweet face and big brown eyes, and, just like any other six-year-old, he was happy to have people visit. Because of his condition, he had a couple of visits every week and his parents were relieved to have the help and also that extra bit of time off.

I was a volunteer, part of a buddy program that the Autism Society of BC had to put an end to in 2000, regretfully (sad to imagine that a program that used free community resources of the best kind – willing people, could not be saved). I opted to keep working with the boy, despite the program being terminated until my son was born and my days underwent a new baby reform and time to spare became a dream.

The boy’s family had many concerns about the future because they knew that one day their little boy with autism will become an adult with autism and the somewhat limited resources will be even more limited. They were right. He is now 21 and part of the group of adults with developmental disabilities who have access to limited care and resources, if any, outside their home.

A ‘then what?’ situation that I have come to hear of more than one time, and not just autism-related.

The son of some of my close friends has Duchenne muscular dystrophy and their journey, challenging by default one could say, has been, at times, even more challenging due to closed doors and a rather undignifying message of ‘No, we cannot help you with that.’

The community they live in stepped up and organized fundraisers to help out. It meant the world to my friends, but the fact remains that their expectations to have an ‘official’ hand get them out of the murky waters of increasing financial burdens and a quagmire of worries regarding the future are being put to test too often.

It is hard to imagine that kind of anguish. It is shameful that there is not enough funding to support those most vulnerable in our society. An ever-growing group, by all accounts and unfortunately so, that includes many people, young and old, with different issues; from developmental disabilities, to genetic conditions to cancer and mental issues, we hear of waiting lists and dwindling resources, and at the same time we hear of willing staff trying to help but becoming equally frustrated at the limited amount of funds that provincial and federal governments allocate to those in need.

In our own part of the woods here in Kamloops, we have but one oncologist at RIH, which means new patients who need one are directed to Kelowna. Cancer treatments and traveling do not mix well but what to do if you have no choice? The local discussion forums have been rife with arguments over the allocation of (lots of) money for the new Performing Arts Center when matters such as lack of specialized clinics are more needed in our midst. Steamy pros and cons matches aside, those who have been under threat, or their loved ones, know that available care is vital.

In caring for the most vulnerable, a country shows its true colours one could say. Budgets are never easy to figure out and issues keep piling up. Yet at the same time, those of us who are most at risk and their caregivers cannot be pushed to the side and told to wait until resources, be it money or people, are available. Some simply cannot wait; they do not have the luxury to do so.

It is heartwarming to see that at an individual or community level many people care and are willing to help out, but that is not enough to get those who need help through the thick of it. With elections approaching, we need to ask those who want to take the lead to care for our vulnerable ones. Together with a much needed solid education agenda, a plan to revive services and set aside funds for those in need should be a must-do for our soon to be elected government. We will all be better for it.

As I already said, it is hard to imagine the anguish of those who desperately need help, yet we have to do it. Our humanity obliges us to.


Why Every Community Needs A Diner

(Originally published as a column in the Saturday edition of the Kamloops Daily News on November 30, 2013)

The one thing I remember about the diner that night is that it smelled like a home rather than a restaurant. Also, the invitation to sit wherever we wanted and being addressed with “dear.”

When you’re new in a place, “dear” sounds right.

An elderly couple smiled from across the room and nodded welcome — a remnant from the days when looking at someone you didn’t know was not rude but rather a greeting that meant just that, ‘welcome.’

We spent a tired first night in the attached inn and late morning found us in the diner again, for breakfast. In less than 24 hours, the diner had become a familiar place with familiar faces and “dear” was tucked motherly into every other sentence. Breakfast was good and warm.

Life rolled on and we moved into our house a few blocks away from the diner. Nightly walks had us by its red-lit OPEN sign often, and every time I looked inside I was reminded of our first night in Kamloops.

A sign outside the door says ‘Coffee and pie, all day, $2.95’ and you see it every time you walk by.

The first time we tried it we had just dropped off the boys at school. Coffee and pie sounded like an invitation and we said why not.

We sat by the window and got engrossed in talking.

The second time, we took the boys there after school and we each got different pies and a big blob of whipped cream on the side.

Someone sitting at another table waved at us, then walked over to say hi. It was one of the paramedics who helped during my youngest son’s asthma attack. He remembered us, my son’s name and the fact that we all have the same kind of boots.

When he left, saying “see you around,” we said the same because we knew it was true. It happens all the time.

The boys pointed at the black-and-white historic photos on the walls, of cars parked outside the same diner, of the inn, of people smiling. I wondered how many of them were still stopping by for meals and conversations. I wondered if the diner will still be when the boys have grown up.

Somehow I know it will. Many diners have been around for a long time and they have the best social-media platform there is: face to face conversations, people from the next table asking how your day has been and actually waiting for an answer.

But not all diners are like this. I remember one in Fort Langley where the old charm is all there but the young waiters who take your order and give you the correct change never ask about your day or whether you live close by.

Another diner near Kootenay Lake had a cold feel to it, literally and otherwise. People there did not connect the dots between visitors and food and you felt isolated.

So we ate and went on our way. It was a freezing sunny day in March, but the outside felt warmer.

Neighbourhood diners where people smile and say “hope to see you again” are a sign of a healthy community and a reminder of the good old feeling of never being far from a friendly face. Locals come and lean back on chairs as if at home, which is somewhat accurate, and travelers feel welcome.

The ladies who bring you coffee and pie and meals call you “dear” and “honey” and you’re tickled pink every time just because. They address children the way an aunt would, they carry smiles from table to table and they laugh with old customers over this or that with a familiarity that you want to be part of because it feels warm and good.

So I want diners like this to stay. Not because I cannot find coffee and pie or a good meal elsewhere, but because of that warm space that connects people to food, to other people and to the community they all live in, for a night, a few years or a lifetime.

After all, a place is a place. It’s the people that make it special.

The Pursuit of Kindness

We bought the pink shirts a while ago. I still don’t fully understand how a T-shirt will prevent or stop bullying but I bought the T-shirts so that the boys won’t stand out as non-wearers.

It made me think of that Seinfeld episode when Kramer gets bullied for not wearing the pink ribbon that everyone was wearing during an AIDS march. “Who, who doesn’t wanna wear the ribbon?…” Remember that one? A well placed sarcasm if I’ve ever seen one.

That Thursday morning was a noisy one. Sasha had yet another night of interrupted sleep and he was in a bad mood when he woke up. By the time we flew out the door, moods were bruised and we did not remember to take the pink T-shirts.

So I drove back to get the T-shirts. Tony that he’ll pass since he might face being laughed at if mom shows up with the forgotten item. The irony of that happening on anti-bullying day was striking.

Sasha wore his, Tony didn’t. Later when I picked them up he told me how a kid walked by him and swore at him. Some nasty words; aside from my sadness that he knows them, it’s even sadder to know that he was addressed as such.

What about going to the principal with it? Nah, he says. The worst of what a kid would face should someone inform the teachers or principal would be “You are not allowed to…” or “Don’t do it again…” Right. Like that would curb it.

I could not necessarily call it bullying. It’s a mean put-down remark, it’s swearing, it’s bad. But then Tony told me the kid is known to swear at people. Other kids do it too sometimes. They’re being told not to do it, if someone hears them, that is.

But then again, Tony tells me of adult supervisors who appear bitter and punitive for reason that elude him. They yell and get mad at kids for not playing their notes well during music class, for not wiping their feet when they come back. Often threats are used too. We’re all human you could say. We all make mistakes.

Where do we draw the line then? How do teach the kids what’s acceptable and what’s not? Who is responsible for setting and example and how should they do it? Help children be kind not out of fear of punishment but because they are aware they could hurt someone’s feelings, that sounds good and noble but that could only happen if we do it first.

Pink T-shirts or not, children should know that being kind is not a one day event. They should be able to trust the adults in their lives to help them deal with swearing or aggression of any kind. Yet in some of my darkest moments I fear that that’s simply not the case.

Kids are living the same rushed lives we are, they are bitter and angry at times, they forget to be kind. Most, if not all, do not know any better until later on, if then. But what excuse do adults have? If they choose to work with children they should set an example. No excuse and no exception.

Kindness is not the same with weakness just like discipline is not the same with meanness. As a parent, I can say that when I behave in a mean way the last thing my boys learn or feel is to be kind to each other. Would they trust me to solve any aggression that might occur between them if I handle myself poorly? I hope not.

I think no matter how many T-shirts we pile on children, pink or not, they will only learn to be kind to others when they see it happening. The whole teaching by example thing. It applies, it really does.

Your thoughts on this? Thank you for sharing should you decide to do so.


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