Pride and Prejudice, YMM

In 1984, an obscure British band named Bronski Beat released a song called “Smalltown Boy”. On their debut album, the song not only went on to secure them fame in the 80’s New Wave scene, it also became an anthem for millions of young adults coming of age in that era. And for some, like me, while it wasn’t my anthem, it opened our eyes to the stark reality of the world: young people felt forced to leave their homes and communities for one sole reason – because they were gay.

In 1984, I was in my final year of high school. Growing up in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, I had friends who were gay, although the letters we now use (LGBTQ or some variant of) were not yet in common use, and in my limited understanding I believed people were either gay or straight; it’s all I knew at the time. And thanks to my parents, who might have been older, hard-working German Canadian farmer types but yet the very embodiment of never judging others on anything other than their actions (were they kind? Were they friendly? Were they good?), I never judged my gay friends and in my clear naivete thought this was true of others, too.

I left home at the age of twenty, leaving Saskatoon behind as in my existential-crisis-white-suburban-middle-class-straight mind, I knew the answers I sought couldn’t be found there. I went to Toronto for the adventure and the mayhem, to grow up and grow smarter, to finally begin to realize how fortunate I was compared to those who left their families and their communities solely because they were not accepted due to their sexuality.

I never experienced that, as even though I had perfected the 80’s goth-before-it-was-a-thing look, the discrimination I experienced was so mild it was laughable, and in reality it was all a faux-rage based on an appearance I could change in a heartbeat, unlike my friends who would remain gay as long as their hearts beat.

It was Smalltown Boy that woke me up, and as one after another of my gay friends left my city, I knew it was because they felt that had to and not necessarily because they wanted to. To find acceptance and a community, they would go to cities like Toronto and Vancouver and Montreal, places where they could blend in instead of standing out, and hopefully minimize some of the discrimination they experienced on a daily basis.

And I suppose that is one of the reasons I find myself somewhere on the verge of angry and sad tears every time someone questions the need for things like Pride events; because while we have come so far, my little city of Fort McMurray still has a very long way to go.

There are people who claim being LGBTQ is no longer a big deal, and that therefore there is no need for events to celebrate it; and yet I KNOW that there are still smalltown boys and girls in our own community who turn away and run away from this place because the answers they seek will never be found at home in a community where prejudice still exists.

And it takes me back to 1984, over three decades ago when an obscure band wrote an anthem for a generation, and I feel heartbroken that even now the song has relevance instead of seeming dated and reflective only of the past and not the present.

There are so many examples of this; the people who say they are tired of “gay lifestyles” being shoved in their face, and yet who don’t blink an eye at the landslide of heterosexuality in movies, television shows, books, songs and advertising; the people who object to student-led GSAs, which may be the only safe place for our smalltown children to express who they are; the people who suggest there is a gay agenda, despite never being able to articulate what exactly that might be; the people who think being LGBTQ is somehow contagious, as if they can catch it and as if it somehow in some way impacts their own existence, which it does not and cannot unless of course they happen to be LGBTQ.

My parents were simple folk. I don’t know if they know how many of my friends back then were gay; I doubt they cared. What mattered is that I loved my friends, and so they did too, feeding them and helping them fix their cars and giving them a glimpse of the kind of home some of them did not have; and when they turned and ran away from my community, my parents felt their absence, as did I.

And that is why I have become such a staunch supporter of events such as Pride YMM and GSAs in local schools and our LGBTQ community; because until no smalltown boy or girl feels the need to run away from our community, we have failed. Until the day when they leave only because they want to, and not because of prejudice, discrimination and lack of acceptance, we have failed them as the adults upon whose shoulders the present and future of this community rests.

And I refuse to allow us to fail. I believe my home is one of the most amazing places in the world, but it is not perfect, and the ongoing exodus of some of our best and brightest because their sexual orientation differs is sharp evidence of that. And please don’t try to tell me this isn’t happening, as I know it is. I have witnessed it, and no matter the strength of your denial, the truth prevails.

This month we will celebrate Pride YMM. I will be there, as will my daughter. And while I will take great pleasure in the smiling faces and the positive atmosphere, I know I will still on occasion hear the strains of that Bronski Beat song running through my head as I reflect on how much has changed and yet how much has stayed the same; and I will know that true success will only be found when there are no more smalltown boys or girls who need to turn away from their homes, because instead of prejudice all they see is welcoming and acceptance – and pride.

Regaining Vision: New Cornea, Part Two

When I began to formulate the telling of this tale, I realized I wouldn’t be able to truly do the story justice in one post. As I prepared for my own journey through this experience, I found myself doing long internet searches not for medical articles but rather stories from those who had traveled a similar path; and so I hope my story perhaps helps someone else who is googling late into the night, searching words like “corneal transplant”. I also hope perhaps it opens a dialogue on organ and tissue donation, a topic I didn’t give much thought until the day I learned I would be the recipient of a gift from a total stranger: a cornea. This is my story; and the story of two corneas. You can find Part One here.

The Surgery

You can find fairly detailed accounts of the actual corneal transplant procedure online; much like any other surgery or hospital experience what stands out is that there tends to be a lot of waiting, with long periods of inactivity and sudden flurries of intense motion. Perhaps that’s why once we don one of those gowns we are called “patients”?

I arrive at the hospital in the late morning accompanied by a dear friend who has not only volunteered but insisted on being my support for the experience. After finding our way through the maze of a large multi-faceted hospital complex I am assigned to a room and a bed; my stay will be brief though as this transplant is a day surgery.

The nurses are invariably kind and seem amused by the running patter between my friend and I; the truth is that neither of us is particularly reverent and can find any situation amusing, even a hospital room pre-surgery.

My specialist has explained the procedure well; it will take place under a general anaesthetic which is a relief to me as my last two eye surgeries were done with local anesthetic and I found the entire experience rather traumatic.

And of course my quirky sense of occasion must be met, and so along with my gown I wear socks emblazoned with Wonder Woman, which in the end is met with much merriment from everyone who sees them, from nurses to the OR staff.

I wear them because they make me smile; but I wear them too because of the implicit message. I can do this, they say. I’m Wonder Woman.

When the time finally comes to be wheeled down to the OR, my friend departs, as she will be called when I am ready to go. I watch her walk down the hallway as I am on the gurney behind her; she departs down one elevator into the world while I am taken down another into the pre-surgical area.

This is where the real work begins. The placement of an IV, the donning of a blue surgical cap, and once again I wait. A quick visit from my specialist reveals that the cornea I’m about to receive is, in his words, perfect and beautiful.

A perfect beautiful cornea.

It is there in the pre-surgical area, lying on a gurney, waiting for my turn in the OR, that I take a moment to think about the gift I am about to receive. Tears fill my eyes, and then suddenly a flurry of activity surrounds me. A charming Scottish nurse who sees the cat scratches on my arm and comments that I must own dragons, not cats; a stunningly beautiful anesthesiologist who makes a surgical cap and scrubs seem fashionable; my own corneal specialist quietly making jokes as I arrive in the operating room. Just before they begin, the nurse asks what I do; when I tell them I am a writer she laughs and says they will try to give me something to write about; and so they have.

An injection in the IV, a mask over my mouth, a voice saying night-night, and I am out.

I wake a couple of hours later in the recovery room, surrounded by several nurses chatting; as soon as they realize I am awake I am wheeled back to my room. I feel groggy, but okay; the worst part is my sore throat from being intubated. My left eye is covered with a patch but I feel no pain; a few hours in the hospital room and I am released for the night, to return to see my specialist in the morning for the big moment: the removal of my patch, and using my new cornea for the first time.

The Reveal

The next morning my dear friend and I stop at Starbucks for coffee; and then we are off to the office I have been visiting regularly for the past almost four years. This time, though, is different.

When we are called into the examining room I am nervous – and excited. I don’t know what to expect, but I know I expect something. The ability to see, even just a little bit; nothing huge as I know it takes time for vision to adjust with a new cornea.

The assistant enters the room and removes the patch…and then, after years of waiting, I see…

Nothing. A dark grey mist fills my left eye, and I feel at first confused. Perhaps this is normal, I think, although it does not match what I have read and heard from others.

When my specialist arrives, he examines my eye, and then gently explains that during the surgery, hidden behind all the glue, he discovered a large cataract; and to make matters a bit worse, my pupil has attached to the cataract and is now tightly constricted.

A second surgery will be needed in the future.

And until then, no vision.

The disappointment washes over me. I balance it with the fact that for the first time in years, despite the surgery I have just gone through, my eye does not hurt. And so I say to him that even if this is it, even if it is just a blind eye with no pain, I am okay with this outcome.

His words?

“I think we should aim higher.”

And so we will.

The Realization

It took a few days for it to really hit me. It was about three days post-surgery when I allowed myself to really feel anger, sadness and disappointment.

Have you ever received a Christmas gift and while it was wonderful and fantastic, it wasn’t quite what you wanted? You don’t want to seem ungrateful, as it is a really great gift, but you thought you were getting something else; and for a moment you must manage this disappointed feeling as you let go of what you wanted and learn to celebrate what you have received.

Not all of this was directed at my eye, but rather at myself. Over time I have learned to minimize my expectations and instead accept life as it comes; but this time I had allowed hope to transform into expectation, only to have it crushed.

I had come to believe I would have vision again, an “oh my god I can see” moment, and I was devastated to have been robbed of it; but the truth was this had never been guaranteed. This was just the ending I had wanted; but I am old enough and finally wise enough to know that things rarely end the way we want them to.

One cannot live in a state of anger, sadness and disappointment, though. As I have done so often before, I picked myself up, brushed myself off, looked at my new cornea in a mirror and admired the tiny sutures holding it in place and remember the words of a friend when they saw it for the first time:

“This is a miracle.”

And so it is.

The Recovery

It is astonishing how our body works to heal us. Ten days post surgery and my new cornea is settling in nicely. Truth be told, the worst part was likely the recovery from the general anaesthetic. My eye has continued to show daily improvements, and for the first time in years I am pain-free.

And there, under my left eyelid, is a blue eye, the one I inherited from my parents, but now with a “windshield” cornea gifted from a total stranger.

I think it is beautiful.

Regaining My Vision

What is vision? It is the ability to see, but it goes beyond the physical.

Over the past few years as I lost my vision I discovered an ability to truly see; to see what matters, to understand the uncertainty and fragility of life, to celebrate the small things, to focus on the positive and to see beyond what our eyes can process.

Through this corneal transplant I did not regain sight in my left eye, although we still have hope for that in the future after cataract surgery.

But my vision was sharpened once again.

We can allow our experiences to break us or build us; we can decide to give up hope or we can find it renewed every where we look.

I have hope. I will always have hope, because I have learned it is who I am. I am unable to view the world in any way but through a lens of hope; and so despite still being blind in my left eye, my vision is crystal clear.

Much of this hope is thanks to the generous gift from a stranger; it is hard to put into words what one feels as the recipient of a transplant, but in the pre-surgical room as I waited to be wheeled into the OR I did my best to give it voice.

There are a few things that have come from this experience; some have asked why I am so very open and honest about it, and the truth is because I want people to consider organ donation. I tell everyone I know about the transplant because I want them to see that organ donation affects people they know; and I want them to sign donor cards, register with their organ donor registry and let their family know their wishes.

I hope that through my experience they understand the impact they can have on the life of someone else; even a total stranger and even after their time on this earth might be done.

What would I say to my donor? These are the things I thought just before my surgery, and they are even more true now as this beautiful, perfect cornea heals. There are moments when I still pause, overcome that at this very moment a tiny piece of another human being is stitched onto me; it is in indeed a miracle. But it’s more than a miracle – it’s a miracle performed by a person, the one who gave me this gift. And these are the words I thought as I waited to accept it:

Dear Donor,

I don’t know your gender, or your age. I don’t know what you did for a living, if you had a family or how you died.

And I don’t know if you were what we would consider a “good” or a “bad” person.

But none of that matters, because what you are is a hero.

Today for a brief moment I shared an elevator with another patient, and it turned out she was also receiving a new cornea. And I knew that in that tiny elevator were two people whose lives you were about to change with your precious gift. Two people. And very possibly many more.

Thank you doesn’t seem nearly enough for this kind of gift, so instead I will make a commitment to you, dearest donor.

I will take good care of your precious gift.

I will use it to view the world through a lens of optimism, kindness, positivity and hope.

And I will never forget that you chose to give this gift even though you would never be there to see someone receive it.

I don’t know what you’ve seen in your life, dearest donor. I hope whatever you saw, it was beautiful; and I want you to know I plan to continue to use your perfect, beautiful cornea to see that beauty as often as possible. 

Thank you, dearest donor. Thank you for the gift of hope.

TW

New Cornea, Who Dis? Part One

When I began to formulate the telling of this tale, I realized I wouldn’t be able to truly do the story justice in one post. As I prepared for my own journey through this experience, I found myself doing long internet searches not for medical articles but rather stories from those who had traveled a similar path; and so I hope my story perhaps helps someone else who is googling late into the night, searching words like “corneal transplant”. I also hope perhaps it opens a dialogue on organ and tissue donation, a topic I didn’t give much thought until the day I learned I would be the recipient of a gift from a total stranger: a cornea. This is my story; and the story of two corneas.

The Beginning

There was something in my eye. Like an eyelash, but sharper, pointier. I scan my painful eye with a flashlight and can find nothing; my then-husband looks but also sees nothing. My daughter is a newborn, 8 weeks old, and life is a blur of breastfeeding and diaper changes and laundry. I am exhausted; but after 24 hours the something-in-my-eye feeling has not subsided and so I head for the family physician.

It is a small town; there are no eye specialists and even the optometrist who doles out prescriptions for glasses only visits on a monthly basis. A cursory exam from the physician, who is not my own but the one on call, a diagnosis of conjunctivitis and a hasty prescription and I am out the door to deal with my weeping eye and shrieking baby.

A few days later and the eye has not improved but worsened; now it is shockingly red and so light sensitive I cannot be outside without significant pain. Despite my general new-parent exhaustion, I begin to realize something more is going on. I decide to return to the clinic the next day.

Then, I wake up the following morning and it is like I am inside a snow globe. Despite it being early December and snow gently falling outside my northern Ontario home, this particular snow storm is inside my left eye, and I see through what appears to be a drifting of heavy grey snowflakes as they cross my vision.

The optometrist is in town. I am on my way to his office, and what I learn there will forever change my life. It was not conjunctivitis, but rather herpes simplex Type 1 that has attacked my left eye. The delay in diagnosis means that my cornea has already suffered significant scarring; the pressure inside my eye is shockingly high, and I risk damage to my optic nerve. All the inflammation has triggered iritis, a painful condition which further risks my vision.

A quick view through his lamp, and the optometrist has me scheduled with an ophthalmologist in Winnipeg, over seven hours away. This is now an emergency, and my vision is in peril. We begin the long drive, never anticipating how long this trip will truly be.

I don’t know it then, of course, but these are the early days in an almost nineteen year journey with a chronic eye disease.

It is probably better that I did not know then what I know now.

The Backstory

From that fateful day in 1999 to now has been quite the journey; anyone who has suffered a chronic illness for any length of time will understand this well.

The last two decades have been littered with appointments with specialists; a variety of medications; flares of the original virus and of the ensuing iritis; an emergency surgery designed to address the glaucoma in my eye; and just under four years ago waking up with a startling bad headache and a left eye that seemed to be weeping uncontrollably.

Another visit to a local optometrist; another quick view with his lamp and another emergency trip as he discovers, for the first time in his forty years in practice, that he is seeing a perforated cornea which is slowly leaking fluid and again risking what little vision I have left (now blurred at best due to the scarring of the cornea).

In Edmonton his diagnosis is confirmed; and once again I find myself in the operating room at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, this time to have medical grade crazy glue inserted in my eye to stop the leak and preserve my eye.

I leave the hospital with a bandage contact lens and glue in my left eye, now totally blind in that eye due to placement of the glue; and I begin life as a person with monocular vision, once again unsure what the future might hold.

The Decision

I am so fortunate to have a corneal specialist who is one of the best in the province; perhaps even the country. Over the course of the last four years, he and I have watched that glue in my eye to make sure it held the seal, like the patch on a rubber tire; and finally, we began to discuss the options.

Even though I could not see because of the glue, I retained light sensitivity, meaning I was not entirely blind in my left eye despite all I had experienced. And so, because the glue could not stay in place forever, a decision needed to be made. My eye, which had now had glue in place for almost four years, was uncomfortable most days. Some days it was quite frankly painful. It was often red, sensitive to everything and I had tired of the constant questions about why my eye looked “sore”. It looked like there was a glob of glue in my eye, because there was.

It was time to make a choice.

The choices were few. In fact, only two.

I could opt to have my eye entirely removed, thus closing the entire saga but also of course ending any hope of ever regaining sight; or I could opt for a corneal transplant, with a potential for vision.

Neither option seems particularly appealing; the evening after the appointment when we discussed it was long and dark one as I contemplated the options. There is a book by Douglas Adams I quite like, not so much for the content as for the title; and I call those moments of my life “the long dark tea times of the soul”. That night was a particularly long and dark tea time.

After a sleepless night googling words like “enucleation”, I call his office.

In this case, hope was better than closure.

I opt for a transplant. He says he expects there’s an 85% chance of regaining some vision; reason enough for hope indeed. And so a small seed of hope, one that was always there, began to take root.

The Delay

The wait list for corneal transplants in our province has decreased dramatically in recent years. Thanks to the importation of corneas, the wait is now 6-12 months as opposed to the 2-3 years it once was. One can only imagine how increased donation rates would lessen this even more; in my case though it took a bit longer as I opted to delay it slightly when I took a new job. As my case was not considered urgent and my eye was stable, this was a reasonable course. This spring, though, I told my specialist during a routine visit that I was ready, and I was hovering at the top of the list. His advice?

Keep my bags packed. It would be soon.

The Call

It is a Friday afternoon, around 4:30 pm. I am just getting ready to leave my office and glance at my cell phone. I’ve missed a call just moments before, and I recognize the number on the call display immediately.

It’s hard to capture my feelings in that moment, as I know what the call means. I am excited, and afraid. I’ve come so far on this journey and now, finally, after almost four years of blindness in my left eye, I have come to hope – maybe even believe – that I will have vision again. Maybe not perfect vision, but maybe enough that I will again have the ability to see depth, where the world does not seem flat, where depth perception saves me from the perils of uneven stairs and sidewalks.

I dial the number; there is a cornea. It’s mine if I want it. And I do.

On Tuesday I’ll meet my new cornea in the operating room. And we will become very, very attached.

I am almost overcome; first I attend to the practicalities, the people who need to be notified and the things that need to be done.

As the weekend passes I find myself more introspective, and as the surgery draws closer more hopeful.

Maybe, just maybe, this journey is finally reaching a destination.

What I Learned During Part One of the Journey

  • A unilateral sore, red eye should always be examined by an ophthalmologist (or at least an optometrist who can refer). Anything that affects only one eye is unlikely to be conjunctivitis or allergies, and may have a more sinister cause. Regular physicians are not trained or experienced in diagnosing eye disease; and to delay diagnosis is to take a significant risk with a tender body structure that is easily damaged.
  • Even if you’ve never experienced a cold sore, HSV-1 may be dormant in your body (it is in the vast majority of adults) and in some when it activates it takes a wrong turn in the nervous system and heads to the cornea. If you do experience cold sores, practice good hygiene and never touch your eyes after touching your lips as you can inoculate the virus directly into your eye by doing so. HSV-1 is a leading cause of blindness; and since my diagnosis I have met dozens of other people who have experienced an HSV-1 infection in their cornea. It may be unusual, but it is not rare.
  • One rarely thinks about organ donation until one needs an organ. In my case, it’s a quality of life difference; for others, it’s simply the difference between life – and death. Please sign your donor card. And tell your family your wishes, too.
  • Often when you have a chronic illness people talk about how strong or brave you are; to be honest there aren’t really a lot of other options. And no matter your strength or bravery, chronic illness sucks. Being in pain sucks. Constant visits to doctors sucks. Uncertainty sucks. In fact, everything about it pretty much sucks, but what really sucks is there isn’t a damn thing you can do except – you guessed – face each new challenge with as much strength and bravery as you can muster.
  • Sometimes, you just learn to fake being strong and brave. And that’s okay, too.
  • Never google the word enucleation. Just trust me on this one. Seriously.

Two

I pull the dress out of my closet and stare at it quietly.

I haven’t worn it in two years, not since a bright and sunny day in May when my world changed. It was, of course, the day that I saw my community in flames.

Sometimes it is hard to believe that it has been two years. There are days when the memories are so fresh I can still see the burning when I close my eyes.

And yet there are days when it seems such a distant memory.

Unlike last year, there have been no phone calls from radio stations wanting to check in on the anniversary this year. Not the radio station from New Zealand that I spoke to the night I evacuated my home, not the radio stations from Toronto or any of the others who checked in with me last year.

It’s been two years. They have moved on to new stories.

As I look at the dress I think perhaps I will wear it on May 3rd. Maybe that will be my act of defiance, my moment of showing that I have moved past the memories of that day.

But the truth is that the dress has nothing more to do with that day than any other decision I made on May 3rd, 2016; what I wore, what I ate, what I said – none of it would’ve made a difference.

And so I quietly put the dress back in my closet and I pull out another one. It is quite new, although I’ve worn it once or twice before. I pull out a pair of favorite Fluevog shoes and I feel satisfied.

In fact I feel at peace.

Perhaps moving on for me means no longer needing the acts defiance, the moments of commemoration or any act other than treating May 3rd like another day.

The memories will always be there. I know they will burn as brightly in my mind as the flames did that day. There is no escaping an experience of that magnitude; if I’ve come to realize nothing else I’ve come to recognize that.

But the memories no longer own me. Now, two years later, I own the memories. And instead of being the central character of my story, they are only a bit player.

I know that time does not heal all wounds. I have experienced the death of both my parents and I know that those are injuries that do not heal; but I do know that time lessens the sting.

And so two years later from a day that I will never forget I find myself instead remembering the day I came home and not the day I left. I will never forget how grateful I was for all those who fought for my community, all those who reached out with such kindness and generosity, and how we came together to rebuild, recover and reconnect.

And that is my story on May 3, 2018. Two years from the day of a bright, sunny morning when I put on that dress, went to work and never for a moment thought that my life would forever change through an experience I could’ve never predicted.

But that is life. Unpredictable, unexplainable, occasionally painful and yet so incredibly wonderful.

I look at the dress I have put back in the closet and then I close the closet door. I have finally come to the place where I can put the memories away and instead of looking back, look forward.

It is a good place to be.

What A Drag…Show

I actually didn’t entirely know what to expect.

I had never been to a drag show before; and I’d certainly never been to a drag show in Fort McMurray.

In fact, I haven’t given drag much thought in my life except after my daughter came home from University for Christmas break. She said: “I need to show you what I’ve been watching to relieve stress during exams”.

And that’s when she introduced me to RuPaul’s Drag Race.

It took exactly one episode to get me hooked. Yes, it was about the glamour and the drama and the drag queens, but it was also about much more than that. It was about a group of men who have experienced tremendous discrimination in their lives based on a variety of factors, from their sexual orientation, to the color of their skin, to the fact that they chose to dress up as women and perform on the stage.

One of the things I have always taught my child is that despite our differences as people, we are all so very much the same. The things that make us different should be celebrated, because they are the things that give life flavour and make being alive interesting; how dull the world would be if we were all exactly the same.

I am happy to say that my daughter has embraced this, and in fact has taken it so much further. As some know, when she was in Grade 10, she cofounded the region’s first GSA. The GSA – or gay straight alliance – was formed to ensure that all kids in her school felt welcome and safe, no matter their sexual orientation or how they identified. She was passionate about the cause, because she felt keenly that not all kids feel safe in our community, and she wanted to address this inequity.

Last night I had the opportunity to attend the Oil Royals Amateur Hour Drag Show. When show co-host Billi Gold welcomed us to the show, “he” commented on how this was a positive, safe space.

And when he did, I thought about how the term “safe space” has somehow become an insult in our world. You often see comments online telling people to retreat back to their “safe space”, as if this is some tremendous insult when truly nothing could be further from the truth.

After all, as humans we have struggled for thousands and thousands of years to establish safe spaces. In a world in which we have always been vulnerable, whether to other people, other species, or the weather, we have built structures, built entire communities, and found ways to make ourselves safe. And yet somehow when we suggest that work still remains to establish “safe spaces” for all, there are some who seem to think that somehow this threatens them and choose to use this term in a derogatory way.

My daughter and the flag I brought her to hang in her university residence; the flag was originally on display at the Pride YMM event in Fort McMurray.

One of the reasons my daughter formed a GSA is because she felt a lack of safe spaces in our community for people who identify as LGBTQ. Things have come a long way in our community in just the three years since then. Pride YMM celebrated their first event last summer, a rainbow sidewalk celebrating diversity has been painted (although this sadly attracted some controversy) and there has been a sudden surge of positive and supportive events taking place in our region, including last night’s drag show.

Last night wasn’t really about how anyone identifies or sexual orientation; it was about men and women dressing up as the opposite gender and performing on the stage to an appreciative and supportive audience. It was a place where everyone felt not only accepted, but welcomed.

And perhaps at the end of the day that is what a safe, positive space, or a safe positive, community is about. It isn’t really about acceptance, because that implies that we are “tolerating” or “accepting” something that isn’t the norm. Perhaps it is more about not only welcoming but celebrating our differences, and focusing not on those differences but rather on what makes us alike.

Last night as I watched all of the performers I thought about how I wished this had existed when my daughter had grown up here. Maybe she would have felt there was a supportive, positive place in this community where everyone could simply be who they are without judgment and without fear.

All drag show photos credit: Paul Jen

Because this is what I want for my community and where our children will grow up. I want them to know that their community welcomes them, embraces them and celebrates them. Not “regardless” of anything, not “despite” anything but just because they are our children and they are perfect just as they are and who they are.

Last night it was a pure pleasure to sit in a room filled with fellow community members who knew the value and need for positive, safe spaces for every single person. There were moments of laughter – a lot of laughter – and there were moments when I couldn’t help but reflect on how far this community has come in the 18 years I’ve lived here and yet how far we can still go.

My sincere thanks go to the Oil Royals for creating this event, which I know took so much work, and to all those who attended and celebrated diversity in our community. I sincerely look forward to the next drag show and the upcoming Pride YMM events as we continue develop positive – and yes, unapologetically safe – spaces in our community for everyone who calls this home.

The Oil Royals

The Bus

How many times did I wave good-bye to her as the bus drove away?

I sit in my office and ponder the answer; over the 18 years of her life I have lost track of the school trips, ski trips, sport trips…all the times I watched as the bus rolled away.

And that’s when the tears that had been hovering in my eyes since first hearing the news finally began to fall.

15 lives lost, several of them young men not much older than my own child. A strip of road in a province I know well, the province of my birth and still in possession of a large piece of my heart. A tragic accident that every parent fears and which we all know could have happened to us, as in this vast country travelling by bus for school or work or play is a simple factor of life.

I spent a good part of the weekend wondering if I would learn that one of those lost was somehow related; that’s how Saskatchewan is, you know, deeply interwoven and the smallest big province you’ve ever seen.

But in the end them being related by blood didn’t matter, as when I heard the news of the misidentification of one of the victims, that cruel final twist of the knife, all I could think was how it must feel to be the parents of hope found; and the parents of all hope lost.

I kept thinking back to an accident that occurred over thirty years ago, in another small Saskatchewan town where I was friends with many of the students in the Grade 12 class. A late Saturday night, some alcohol, no helmets, two dirt bikes; two dead on impact when the bikes collided, one lingering in a coma for months before life support was removed, one with devastating injuries.

That town was never the same, and the impact of that crash rippled far beyond town limits, changing the lives of every person it touched.

It changed me, as death entered my life when I was seventeen, and it altered the way I saw the world forever.

I think about the survivors from the accident this weekend, and how they too will be forever changed. I think of all that lies ahead for them, and how what lies behind them will never seem the same, either.

Because one single moment in time can change absolutely everything.

All those times I put her on a bus.

It could have been her.

All the times I was that kid on the bus.

It could have been me.

Perhaps that is why this touches us so deeply; we know it could be any of us, at any time, and the tragic reality that it was fifteen of them at one single time is almost unfathomable.

Unbearable.

As I sit in my office and allow the tears to fall, I reflect on the fragile and fleeting nature of life. I think about how someone close to me once said I was far too sensitive to these things, how they didn’t understand how I could feel so deeply about tragedies that aren’t my own. And I remember questioning what the point of life was if you couldn’t feel these things; and knowing that for me being able to feel these things is the very point.

I have experienced personal sorrow and sadness; and I have experienced the kind of sorrow and sadness you feel deep in your heart and head when it has moved into the realm of almost unbelievable.

On Friday, twenty nine people boarded a bus. For fifteen of them, it would be their final act.

How many times did I put her on a bus? I try to remember, but it is all too far away in memory and to be frank it is too hard to think about just now.

I put on my coat and head out the door. I will call her, I think, and tell her that I love her.

Live life, I will tell her. Laugh more than you cry, praise more than you criticize, celebrate more than you despair and live every single fucking day like it could be your – or their – last. Never take it for granted.

And I will remind her of all the times I watched the bus roll away.

 

My heart is with a hockey team,

a small prairie town,

the families and friends of those who have been lost,

the survivors who continue to fight for recovery,

and an entire country in mourning.

 

AP CANADA HOCKEY BUS CRASH I CAN SK

(Liam Richards/The Canadian Press via AP)

The Accidental Kitten

He says he will go for treatment but he’s worried about trouble, she texts.

“I couldn’t figure out what he meant about trouble until he sent a picture”, says the next text.

It seems Trouble comes in the form of a small kitten.

I sit for a moment at my office cubicle contemplating. There are already three cats at home. Plus one dog, three ferrets and a hedgehog.

Affectionately I refer to them as the triple MMM zoo, because they are quite the menagerie.

It is a moment of pure impulse undoubtedly. She asks if a shelter might take a kitten for a indeterminate period of time; I say I think it’s possible but that it’s not necessary because I will take Trouble.

There’s room at the inn, I text, and my daughter is home right now on spring break from University.

Trouble can come to stay for as long as he likes, I text, fingers flying across the iPhone keyboard even faster than I can think.

I realize I have agreed to take a kitten I’ve never seen. He could be any colour, any personality and he could have myriad health problems. I have no idea but I’ve agreed to take him.

And then she texts a picture of Trouble – a small orange and white tabby curled up asleep, and the synchronicity of the of the universe strikes me.

I text the photo to my daughter and say “this is Trouble, he’s going to come live with us for a while”.

She texts back: “What do you mean – I thought we talked about getting a kitten this summer when I’m home for longer?”

I respond that I know we had but that sometimes the universe makes other arrangements. The funny part is she and I HAD talked about getting a kitten and I had expressed my preference – an orange male tabby. How unusual it was for suddenly an orange male tabby kitten to drop into our laps.

When Trouble arrived, he came in a soft sided carrier and you could hear the noise before it was even open. The noise was a loud kitten purr.

While my daughter and I quickly came to see how his name was Trouble, as he is a rambunctious kitten, we decided to rename him after one of her favorite podcasts: Nightvale.

And so Cecil Gershwin Palmer, or Cecil for short, has joined the zoo.

Cecil is a remarkable cat. Even though my other cats don’t always get along and two in particular become quite fractious with each other, Cecil has integrated completely and did so within a matter of hours.

He is friendly with all the cats.

He seems to enjoy the dog, coming nose to nose with her, her tail wagging and his little orange and white frame vibrating with purrs.

In fact it hasn’t taken long for Cecil to become a fixture in our household and in some ways a bit of an inspiration. He is the kind of cat who trots around the house purring at top volume. He’s the kind of cat who is curious about everything, pre-judges nothing and seems to love everyone.

He is the most cheerful little character I’ve ever met.

He’s been in my home for just over a month now and he greets me whenever I arrive no matter how long I’ve been gone. His rough little tongue licks my face and he purrs every single time.

My daughter went back to university after spring break but we FaceTime regularly and I text her pictures of the cats including little Cecil. And Cecil is growing both in physical form and personality.

We call him the accidental kitten. I hadn’t planned to get a kitten that day and there is a chance that one day Cecil’s owner will reclaim him. But for the period of time that he resides with us, whether for months or a lifetime, we will enjoy this cheerful little character and celebrate the accidental nature of life. That his time with us may be impermanent is a reminder to enjoy every moment of wonderful you have in life, because none of us know how long they will last. And you never know when something remarkable will simply drop into your lap, as if the universe has planned it.

And sometimes that bit of wonderful and remarkable will come in the form of a tiny orange and white accidental kitten.