Flag Flap: Is Canada a Flag?

I am a proud Canadian.

That shouldn’t even need to be said, but before I launch into the rest of this I think I should make it clear right off the hop. I am third generation Canadian, and I have never taken for granted this incredible nation or the people who inhabit it; but this week I found myself both disheartened and disappointed by the response to my most recent blog post.

In that post I shared my excitement at the Pride event coming to Fort McMurray this summer, and I mentioned a controversy I had noted regarding a flag that has surfaced at other Pride events across the country. It is a modified Canadian flag, and as there is no prohibition on modifying the flag it breaks no laws; and yet it has become quite a lightning rod for dissension.

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What was most disheartening to me was that when I chose a photo of the modified Canadian flag to accompany my blog post on my professional freelance writing Facebook page, what readers focused on was not the content of my post but rather that image; and while there were a few flag purists in the crowd who simply believe the Canadian flag should never be modified, it became increasingly clear that for others the problem was not with the modified Canadian flag, but rather with LGBTQ Canadian people. And it was very clear that many did not even bother to read the accompanying blog post, reacting solely based on the image that accompanied it, displaying a knee-jerk reaction that was rooted in something far deeper than a simple attachment to the flag.

Within a period of 24 hours, I was forced to delete more comments and ban more people from accessing my Facebook page than I have done in the entirety of the last five years; and the comments deleted and individuals banned were not because they disagreed with me as I am quite okay with that, but rather due to the sheer level of hatred and anger expressed by them. It was an appalling thing to witness in 2017, and it simply reminded me that even though so much has changed, we have a long, long way to go to truly end discrimination based on sexual orientation.

It is intriguing that during the discussion taking place on my Facebook page, another was taking place on the page of a well-known beer manufacturer. This manufacturer was using the Canadian flag to promote beer sales, and in cases of beer purchased one could find one of two flags: one was the traditional Canadian flag, and the other a modified Canadian flag.

It was fascinating to see that for the vast majority this did not seem to raise any sort of concern, and even for those who thought it wrong to modify the flag the response was rather more muted than the virulent expression of disgust I was seeing with the modified Canadian flag displaying rainbow colours.

The dichotomy was striking. And it was very clear that many of the comments expressed about the Canadian Pride flag were rooted not in concern over the flag, but in bigotry and hatred for the people it represented, although those expressing these concerns often tried (in vain) to wrap themselves in the Canadian flag in an attempt to hide their hatred.

It didn’t work. These individuals expressed no concern over the hatred and discrimination faced by LGBTQ people as I mentioned in my post; they showed no outrage over the fact that LGBTQ people continue to face physical violence in our country simply due to their sexual orientation. All their concern and outrage was reserved for the flag, in this version not red and white but rather a rainbow of colours. What was exposed was the undercurrent of bigotry that remains in this nation, and it was deeply troubling to witness it so closely. If I am to be very honest, it broke my heart as I thought of my many LGBTQ family members and friends, who are as Canadian to the core as any of us are.

I am a proud Canadian.

If I walk down a street and see a Canadian flag burning next to a Canadian person burning, let me be clear: I am not going to save the flag. I will save the person, as flags do not have feelings and nor do they feel pain or injury; and yet in this country it seems we are willing to see other Canadians burned through discrimination and even physical violence with nary a peep, yet we will raise a ruckus over a modified flag.

People must come before symbols, no matter what the symbol happens to be. As much as I love the Canadian flag, I think it serves us well to remember that flags are fundamentally “brands”, a way of identifying and unifying a group, but as with all brands they can change. In fact, the Canadian flag (or “brand”) changed in 1965:

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And the adoption of the maple leaf flag we now know and love was not without controversy, as my parents told me many resented the change to the current flag and protested it with vehemence, claiming it desecrated and disrespected the “real” Canadian flag. Yet over time we adopted the maple leaf, and in fact few who were not alive in 1965 would even recall that once there was a different flag flying over our nation.

Flags matter. They act as symbols of national pride and unity and they have relevance and importance, but know what matters more?

People.

Living, breathing people of every colour, religion, sexual orientation and every other thing that makes us different and yet somehow also makes us exactly the same. Every single thing that makes us Canadian, in fact.

Canada isn’t a flag.

Canada has a flag.

Canada is the people.

Perhaps we can try to remember that.

Pride, Fort McMurray Style

At the end of August this year, Fort McMurray will welcome an event unlike any other we have welcomed before; on August 26, Pride will arrive in Fort McMurray.

Several other communities recently celebrated Pride events. For the most part, the events were greeted warmly and openly, although there have been some troubling incidents that should be seen as evidence as to why Pride events are still needed.

In Lethbridge, a rainbow crosswalk was the target of vandals, who looked to mar the symbol of LGBTQ pride and solidarity with black paint.

In Edmonton, the rainbow Pride flag at a local school was cut down and removed, undoubtedly serving to further marginalize LGBTQ students who already face challenges in feeling safe in their school environments.

And in our own community I have seen dissension about the Pride flag (and whether or not it dishonours the Canadian national flag), and this despite the existence of many flag modifications we seem to accept or tolerate without much controversy or even comment, like the following, as well as the national flag appearing on every imaginable item from mugs to underwear with nary a whisper of outrage or offense:

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And sadly I have seen comments like the following:

  • So, when is straight pride day?
  • I don’t think those people need to rub our noses in their lifestyle.
  • I have no problem with gay people, but this Pride stuff is bullshit.

And here’s my questions for all the straight folks in the crowd:

  • When was the last time you were threatened with physical violence for your sexual orientation?
  • When was the last time you were assaulted due to your sexual orientation?
  • Have you ever felt you had to hide or lie about your sexual orientation?
  • Have you ever been afraid to hold the hand of your significant other in public because of the potential reaction of others?

The reality is straight pride day is every day, 365 days a year. And I say that as a straight white woman who answered “never” to the questions above, and who sees heterosexuality celebrated by popular culture in every single way on every single day.

The truth is that those who identify as LGBTQ continue to face significant challenges in our society. We have come a long way in terms of acceptance, but we continue to have a long way to go. And mere “acceptance” and “tolerance” aren’t the benchmarks we should be seeking; until we can say we genuinely celebrate diversity of every kind, we cannot claim to have achieved equality.

It is a bit startling that in 2017 we remain so preoccupied with the lives of others, including their sexual orientation. Our interest in it betrays our discomfort with it; and if we truly have “no problem with gay people” as some claim then we should have no problem with Pride flags, crosswalks or parades. These things shouldn’t even be a blip on our radar if we really have achieved the kind of equanimity we like to think we have.

The reality is we haven’t. Vandalized crosswalks, controversy over flags and dissension over LGBTQ events betray the truth: we haven’t come nearly as far as we think we have, and a lot of straight folks still have no idea what it’s like to be openly LGBTQ in today’s world.

Pride Fort McMurray has my full, unequivocal and vocal support. My daughter’s involvement in co-founding the region’s first GSA opened my eyes to issues I thought had been laid to rest long ago: discrimination, hatred and, if we are to be honest, fear. Every time we express our discomfort with some aspect of Pride we betray our own discomfort with LGBTQ individuals and we portray why rainbow flags, crosswalks and Pride events are still very much needed.

Pride sums it up well; I am proud of those who not only find the courage to be themselves but who support others in doing so as well. I am proud of those who are unafraid to celebrate our diversity and who seek to develop welcoming communities. And I find great pride in those who can empathize with others despite our own narrow experience of the world and understand that they may face challenges we cannot and will not ever know.

Take pride, Fort McMurray. Take pride in our tremendous diversity in this region, including our LGBTQ community that has chosen to join with others across the country in celebrating. Know that rainbow crosswalks, flags and parades are celebrations of our country, our people, our diversity and our unity. Take pride in us – in ALL of us, no matter our religion, the colour of our skin or our sexual orientation – and truly feel the joy and wonder and yes, pride, in simply being Canadian, part of the true north strong and free.

    

Sustainival: A Success Story

One day in September, 2012, my daughter witnessed something that helped her to form the future trajectory of her life.

When we have kids, we never know what might have the most profound influence on them; and I certainly never expected a carnival would affect my daughter’s entire career path, but then again it wasn’t just any carnival. It was Sustainival, the world’s first green carnival, on their inaugural visit to Fort McMurray.

That year the creative minds behind Sustainival offered local media like me the chance to see the magic and witness the biodiesel being used to fuel the rides be made on site. This biodiesel, made from used cooking oil, meant that the very oil used to fry the mini-donuts one day could be fuelling the Tilt-a-Whirl the next, and it was a bit of a mind-boggling introduction to innovative and creative sustainability.

And while it impressed me, it had even more impact on my daughter.

A few days after she witnessed the cooking oil conversion and spoke with Joey Hundert of Sustainival, she asked me if I thought renewable resources were being used in space exploration.

I, of course, had no idea.

A few months after that, she advised that after years of moaning she had no idea what to do with the rest of her life, she had decided: she was going to pursue mechanical engineering, followed by aerospace engineering with an eventual goal to work on developing sustainable technology for aerospace exploration.

Aside from being somewhat stunned by this suddenly very detailed career path, I found myself completely humbled as I knew what started this train of thought for her.

You see, when she went to Sustainival it was like watching a tiny baby bird begin to find their wings. They flutter them gently at first, stretching them out to see how far they go, and slowly and gradually they begin to gain strength and courage until one day they glide from the nest, only sky above them and the ground far below.

On that day the concept of sustainability and innovation went beyond a dry subject my daughter had heard taught in a classroom and discussed on television; she saw how innovation, creativity and a desire to simply do something differently could actually change history, like developing the world’s first green carnival.

My daughter graduated from high school this spring. She has worked hard throughout her academic career, and has racked up the impressive grades to prove it. She applied to several universities and was accepted to all, and from one received a very generous scholarship. And so this fall she will enter mechanical engineering, right on target for her future plans of a career filled with innovation, sustainability and creativity.

And it all began at a little carnival called Sustainival in 2012, where she found inspiration and encouragement to not only dream, but do.

So if you visit Sustainival, I want you to remember something. We never know what will impact our children; I certainly never predicted a visit to a carnival, even a green one, would determine the future my daughter chose.

And yet it did. I am so grateful to Sustainival and all the people behind it, because while my daughter has always had wings, it was they who showed her how to fly.

Sam Wells, Sustainival 2012

I am so delighted to share that since 2012, Sustainival has experienced great success, and has returned to Fort McMurray every year. And while I consider them to be a tremendous Albertan success story, they helped to create another success story: a young woman who found her future while eating mini-donuts and riding the Tilt-a-Whirl. I will always feel not only deep gratitude to them, but pride in their continued success just as I find deep pride in hers.

Sustainival is in Fort McMurray this year from June 15-18 – you can find more information here: Sustainival in Fort McMurray

Of Bison and Babies; Have We Lost Our Minds?

A plywood representation of a bison created from small pieces of wood; trying to define what qualifies a child as a “fire baby”; what do these two things have in common?

They are moments in time when I had to step back and wonder if we have entirely lost the plot on the concept of community, and if the critics are right and the idea of “Fort McMurray Strong” really has kicked the bucket.

The plywood bison are small pieces of art created from inexpensive wood, added to some of the municipal planters around town. Apparently they were created by municipal parks employees in the off-season – you know, the guys and gals who work their asses off trying to keep our city public spaces looking presentable. Well, someone noticed one of the bison was sporting an additional tail; instead of simply appreciating the piece as a nice if subtle addition to the landscape, they posted a photo with a snarky comment, which evoked further snarky comments about the waste of money (plywood) and using the money not on public art but to instead build Willow Square (yep, that $50 of plywood is gonna go a long way to that goal).

Never once did the armchair critics consider who might have spent time making the pieces or the pride or enjoyment they might have derived from them; nope, a small error on one was enough to unleash the hounds.

And then there are the “fire babies”, an ill-defined term for babies born or conceived during the wildfire of 2016. The parameters on this are loose indeed, as who is in a position to judge what child is and is not a fire baby? And yet the topic enraged people who argued about what constitutes a fire baby and whether or not some children deserve this title.

It is enough to make you weep, my friends.

Have we become a town of curmudgeons?

Or to put it more bluntly, have we lost our fucking minds?

OMG, the plywood bison has an extra tail. And can you believe those people are calling their kid a fire baby when clearly it falls outside of the imaginary timeframe I devised in my own head for that qualification?

I fear we are becoming a city of complainers, whiners and arguers. We sit back on social media and type out our criticisms of everything and everyone. But if we have these concerns, do we really step up and do anything? Are we involved on the boards and committees that make decisions on things like public art? Do we volunteer our time? Do we go to public engagement sessions? Do we fill out the surveys?

Bro, do you even vote?

And do we ever consider that maybe sometimes we should just shut the hell up and think that other people might have feelings, too?

As the next few years pass by, I can guarantee we will face enough challenges coming at us from outside that we do not need to be creating any internal drama to supplement it. If ever there was a time to begin rowing together, this is it. We need to begin from a place where we assume every person is doing their best and means well; and while we may be wrong some of the time in that, for the most part we will be right. And if we can come from that place then we can also begin to treat each other with kindness, consideration and understanding. And maybe before we fling out criticisms and nasty-isms we would pause and consider there may be things we simply don’t know.

There is something I do know; the unkindnesses I have witnessed recently left me not only deeply sad but discouraged. In a time when there are real battles to be fought, like the one for the rebuilding of our community, we are instead punching at plywood buffalo (OMG did I just call the bison a buffalo? In the immortal words of the Pet Shop Boys, “call the police, there’s a madman in town”) and fire babies. If it wasn’t so disheartening it might almost be funny. Almost.

And if you are reading this and feeling angry at me and indignant and thinking that this is about you…well, if you think this is about you maybe that’s because you have been involved in the conversations I have mentioned or similar ones of equal unkindness. These conversations are mean-spirited at best and embarrassing at worst; if I saw them happening in another community I would have serious doubts about the people living there. And I don’t mind you being angry at me if it makes you think for one moment about these acts of unkindness and whether they move us forward as community or if they simply serve to make others angry, miserable or sad.

I actually don’t believe the concept of Fort McMurray Strong is dead; I think like all of us it has taken a bit of beating over the last year and is feeling a little weary as a result. But I also believe that with our conscious decision to be kinder, thoughtful and come from a place of optimism and belief in others that we can breathe new life into it.

And I know that if we spend our time gnashing our teeth and flapping our gums over plywood bison and fire babies we are going to have one helluva time claiming the name Fort McMurray Strong.

She’s So High

Any minute now, I think.

Any minute I will feel them pricking the corners of my eyes, that painful feeling of impending tears you are trying to snuffle back and failing. After all, there she is in her cap and gown, looking somehow very similar to the way she looked for her kindergarten graduation and yet in some way more than a decade has passed and she looks different, too.

Older. Wiser. Sort of like an adult, which makes sense as she is just months shy of her 18th birthday.

But as I sit in the uncomfortable seats for the hours in which it takes over 500 students to walk across a stage (and as her last name begins with W I have plenty of time to contemplate) I find myself not even close to tears. Instead, I feel overwhelmingly proud and excited, not for me but for her as she steps from one path onto another.

When my daughter chose to finish her final two years of high school education in Calgary, I was devastated as it meant she would leave my home to live with her father. It was both the most difficult and best thing I have ever done to let her go, as she has always been mature for her years and she knew she was ready for a new challenge and different opportunities. It was a hard transition for me as I was not prepared to see her go, but as someone said to me once, what good are wings if you are afraid to fly?

And for my daughter’s entire life, my goal has been to help her find her wings.

Until the age of thirty I did not want to have children; in fact the idea seemed foreign to me and my life was completely centred on myself. But when I turned thirty for some strange reason the idea of raising a child became more and more compelling, and at the age of 33, my daughter was born.

People told me it would change my life, and they were right, far more right than I ever could have anticipated. The arrival of my daughter changed everything.

When my daughter was two, we left the small town in Ontario where she was born and moved to Fort McMurray; it was a place I had never even seen, but there we were. And so it was she grew up in this northern community with dancing green lights in the sky above and lush green boreal forest all around.

As I sit there and wait patiently for her name to be called to accept her diploma, I think about what it takes to raise a child. And the truth is that it takes far more than a parent; it takes a community. It takes a village, as the cliché states.

In our case, it took Fort McMurray.

I am so deeply grateful for all of those who participated in raising my daughter, whether directly or indirectly.

There were the teachers and administrators at the Fort McMurray Public School District: Beacon Hill Public School where she was a Bear from kindergarten to Grade 5, one year spent at Timberlea School, three incredible years of growth at Ecole McTavish Junior High and one year of young adulthood at Westwood Community High School. There are so many unforgettable moments at each school, principals like George Decker who told me once that she would change the world one day and Scott Barr who shared with her and I the vision of every student becoming a global citizen; teachers who shared with her their passion and enthusiasm and taught her not only to read and write and multiply and divide but to think; and school environments filled with a desire to do what is best for kids, my kid being one of the many to pass through those doors and be forever better as a result.

There were all those who provided her with opportunities I could not, like the time it was “take your kid to work day” and she declined to accompany me to my job as she deemed it dull (!) and instead spent time at a local radio station and the food bank. I will never forget picking her up that day and being told how Jerry Neville taught her about radio advertising demographics, Ferne Wynnyk talked politics with her and Arianna Johnson took her to a bank appointment to discuss finances for the food bank. When I commented that I had assumed she would be sorting cans at the food bank, she looked at me with exasperation and said: “You know, there’s a lot more to running a food bank than food.” Indeed.

There were the extracurricular activities, like figure skating with the Noralta Skating Club which eventually gave way to piano lessons and then to things like helping to co-found Fort McMurray’s first GSA, her passions changing and evolving as she did.

There were the political campaigns she worked on, delivering flyers and knocking on doors, celebrating the successful election of her candidate; and there was the time she was given the opportunity by a local magazine to interview Justin Trudeau, then the Liberal Party leader who gave her thirty minutes of his time and a memory for her entire life.

There were the meetings with famous musicians and with Chris Hadfield, one of her most thrilling moments given her keen interest in space exploration.

And all those moments, every single one, happened here in Fort McMurray.

And perhaps some of the most powerful for her was when my life changed and she watched how I embraced this community through my written work and it welcomed me, giving me the kind of opportunities others could only dream about. She saw how I was able to grow and evolve, and how I was determined to give back to the community which has given me – and her – so much.

When she chose to relocate to Calgary, I considered moving there, too. But when I approached her with the idea she looked at me and said: “I think I will be happy in Calgary, but I think you will be happy where your heart is – and that’s Fort McMurray.”

And so part of my heart went with her as she moved on and part of it stayed here, still being her mom but parenting from a distance while she grew even more…

Finally leading to a stage in Calgary where her name is called, and she walks across, accepts her diploma, smiles for a photo, pauses to have her tassel moved to the other side and then exits the stage, beaming the kind of smile of accomplishment and wonder I have come to know so well over the last 17 years.

Not a tear was shed that moment, not by me or her as we celebrated the end and the beginning. In the fall she moves on to her chosen university with a generous scholarship, ready to pursue her degree in mechanical engineering and then perhaps on to aeronautical engineering and maybe one day, just maybe, working in a space exploration program.

That I am proud of her should come as no surprise to anyone; but I am also so proud of Fort McMurray and grateful, too. While she did not graduate here, she is undoubtedly a Fort McMurray success story, and when asked where she grew up the name of this northern community will be her response.

It takes a village.

It takes a community to help a child find their wings, and this incredible community helped my daughter to find hers. She took flight before even I was ready, launching herself from the safety of the nest in Grade 11 when she chose a bold new adventure, and she has been flying high ever since.

So to all of you I say thanks: to the community leaders and builders, to the educators and administrators, to everyone who touched her life directly and indirectly: thank you. I know there are moments when we wonder why we are still slogging away at what we do, occasionally feeling defeated and wondering what our purpose is; the purpose can be found in the success of every child who grows up here and finds their wings, even if it means they one day fly away from us.

And as my daughter flies away, she takes with her so many of the lessons she learned here: integrity, strength, perseverance, resiliency, enthusiasm, responsibility, tenacity, courage and determination. She is the very reflection of the place where she grew up, and now she shares a bit of who we are with the world; and I believe the world will be better for it, too.

She meets me after the ceremony, cap in hand. She looks at me and grins, saying: “Did you cry?”

I wrap her in my arms and whisper: “There is nothing to cry about today,” and at that very moment I suddenly feel the tiniest of tears in my eyes as I watch her soar ever higher once again.

This is the song that came out around the time of her birth;

I played it again and again as I held my infant daughter,

never realizing how high one day she would fly.

    Sam Wells, Class of 2017

Hope – and Home – in the Dark

Hope in the Dark, 2012

When I open my eyes, I can see the green shimmer of the Northern Lights dancing above me; for a moment I consider pulling out my cell phone to snap a photo, but decide instead to simply enjoy the show before hunkering down once more in an attempt to sleep.

My pillow has gone askew again and my neck hurts; one of the mittens on my hands has gone missing, and I think my right hip is now on top of the flashlight I have tucked inside my sleeping bag to ensure I can find it during the night. It is my fifth adventure at Hope in the Dark, and like every other year it is both the most uncomfortable and humbling experience I have ever had.

In 2012, I attended the first Hope in the Dark event hosted by the Centre of Hope, the daytime drop-in facility for the homeless and at-risk-of-homeless in our community. My decision to participate that year was one made due to some new connections I had found through the team at the Centre of Hope, who welcomed a fledgling writer into their midst to learn about what they do. What I discovered was not only an incredible team of professionals caring for some of the most vulnerable in our community, but also an entire culture that until then I had only known from the very margins. Through conversations with local homeless individuals I came to understand the many reasons for homelessness: mental illness, physical disability, substance addiction, domestic violence, child abuse and more. I heard the kind of stories that opened not only my mind but my heart, and made me realize the line between those who were homeless and all the rest of us was a thin one indeed.

The opportunity to take part in Hope in the Dark was a chance to learn, for just one night, what it was like to sleep rough in our community. And the experience was so compelling that I have done it every year since, with the exception of last year when the event was cancelled by another event that, for a brief moment in time, perhaps helped us all understand what it might feel like to be homeless.

In May, 2016, we fled our community with only what we could fit in our cars, forced out of our homes by a fire so ferocious it threatened our entire city. There was a period in which I suspect all of us wondered if we would have our homes to return to; and for that split second of time, that fraction of a moment, I think we saw a slight glimmer of homelessness. For most of us it was  brief and replaced by gratitude that our homes had survived; for some the worst came to life and their homes were snatched from them by a fire so animate it earned it’s own nickname. Suddenly all of us, no matter the outcome of our personal experience, were reminded of the power of home.

On May 27 last year, I was preparing for my return home, stocking my car with supplies and steeling myself for whatever lay ahead. This year on May 27 I drove home to Fort McMurray from a trip to Calgary to see my daughter graduate from high school, anxious to be here in time to sleep rough in a park. Yesterday morning I loaded my car with my suitcase loaded with dresses and blazers, a separate bag loaded with shoes and all the bags and bags of shopping I had done in Calgary; yesterday evening I loaded it instead with two small bags carrying only what I needed: a sleeping bag, a tarp, some warm socks, some mittens, a flashlight. The contrast was stark indeed. When you are homeless you travel light, with only what you can both carry and protect.

This year at Hope in the Dark I was missing the sidekick I have had for the past few years, though. For the past three years my daughter has attended the event with me, often doing her homework late into the night inside a cardboard box lit only by her flashlight. This year she was in Calgary studying for her diploma exams as her life moves into the next phase: university.

Last night the team from the Centre of Hope extended an invitation to me to speak at the event, and it was truly an honour to do so. And when I did, I spoke of the remarkable work they do in our community, and of how grateful I am for how they welcomed me so many years ago and taught me about homelessness in our community.

And I spoke of my pride in my daughter, fresh from celebrating her recent graduation. I spoke of how I am proud of how she has done throughout her academic career, but also how proud I am of her compassion and her keen in interest in social issues. She moves into the next part of her life journey knowing that she has a responsibility to make a difference in this world, and I spoke of how I believed her participation in events like Hope in the Dark fostered this understanding in her.

I spoke of how I would miss her last night, and so I did, missing seeing her cardboard box beside me as it has been for several years, knowing that inside the box lay a small human creature who cared for others and who understood that as a human who had been the beneficiary of much privilege she now had a duty to pay forward to others what she has received through her life.

When I awoke in the middle of the night and saw the dancing Northern Lights, shimmering far above me and yet seeming so close I thought I could touch them, I thought of all I have learned since 2012.

I thought about how in 2012 we held a memorial moment for the 32 lives of homeless individuals lost on the streets of Fort McMurray since 2005; I thought about how now in 2017 that number has sadly climbed to 83.

I thought about how I began my adventure at Hope in the Dark in 2012 sleeping on a cold metal bench in an inadequate sleeping bag and how in 2017 I had found a far more ideal formula of a tarp, bedroll and far warmer sleeping bag, learning more every year about how to survive a night sleeping rough.

I thought about how in the last year the concept of home has taken on new meaning and poignancy for me because at one point in time I thought my home might have been lost to a fire that I could not control or change.

And I thought about the other homeless individuals sleeping rough last night, but who would not have the option to leave that park in the morning and drive home to crawl into their warm beds in their real homes, something I knew I would do and this morning did.

I thought about my daughter and how proud I am of her in every way.

And I thought about the nature of compassion and understanding, a gift every single one of us can give freely and that costs us exactly nothing, but enriches us and others in a way we might not even understand and yet is of more value than gold.

After  few moments of watching the green lights dance above me, I adjust my pillow and find my other mitten. I move the flashlight from under my hip and pull the sleeping bag over my head, slipping into the darkness of sleep for a few more moments.

And as I drift off I think of how sometimes hope is all we have, the kind of hope I have clung to since May 3, 2016 when I hoped the best for my home and my community. But what I have learned over the last year is that hope isn’t always enough; most times hope needs to be accompanied by hard work and belief in your ability to make a difference to really be fulfilled.

So it is at the Centre of Hope, where they invest that hard work and belief in their patrons, and where they allow people like me to share in their stories and witness them breathe life into hope. In that humble building on Franklin Avenue, they dispense not only hope but dignity and courage; and I am so very proud to say I have been able to see the difference it has made and maybe over the years, just maybe, add a bit of my own hope to theirs.

And in my final moments before sleep overtakes me I think about my home and am filled with the same deep gratitude I have always felt for it, but renewed powerfully in 2016 and every year at Hope in the Dark. Once again I feel the hope to be found in the dark, the kind that shines as bright as the Northern Lights but can on occasion be just as subtle and elusive; and I fall into sleep, seeing green dancing lights behind my closed lids and holding hope – that elusive, subtle and burning-brighter-than-a-wildfire hope – tight in my heart.

 

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

Today is the day we celebrate moms. And while it seems it might be about cards and flowers and brunches, it’s really about celebrating the person who has a tremendous influence over our lives.

I am so lucky you are my mother. I didn’t always feel that way, of course. There were times when I wished you were more or different or other; but as I’ve grown up and become a mother I’ve come to understand that anyone else wouldn’t have been you.

You weren’t the perfect mom. Oh, you baked and cooked and cleaned like the cliche “perfect mom”, but you had flaws, too.

And thank you for having them.

You taught me it was okay to be an imperfect mom.

You were the mom who taught me compassion, to love freely and without condition and to live and embrace without judgement.

In this judgemental world, that’s a tremendous gift.

And when my daughter came along 17 years ago, I worked to bestow on her the gifts you gave to me.

She’s not perfect either. And she knows it’s okay to be imperfect, too.

Today on Mother’s Day I reflect on the woman who gave me not only life but pure love and the ability to believe in myself. There were times the role you took in comforting me was reversed; the final of those moments was when I held your hand as you slipped from this world seven years ago.

But even when you left the world, you didn’t really as your legacy lives on in me and in your granddaughter, who is both remarkably like me and completely different, much like you and I.

I miss you every day. I miss our twice weekly phone calls. And even after all these years there are times I forget you are gone. 

When you died I slipped a letter under the pillow where you laid your head for your final rest; it contained all my love and gratitude, as I wanted you to go wherever you were going knowing that you went there loved. I believe you did, even when I was an imperfect daughter who struggled to express it.

I wish you’d had more time with my daughter. I wish you’d had more time with me. I just wish you’d had more time at all.

But in the end I am just so grateful for all you were and all you did and the time I had with you and all of you that still lives on in the children you raised. You made a difference in the world.

You made every difference to me. 

Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. 

Love,

Theresa