Quality of Life


Angel holding bunny

I write this to honour a young man I once had the privilege of working with. He was confined to a wheelchair and spent his days alternately in his chair or laying in bed. He could not see well as he was partially blind. He also could not speak much and only uttered two words that made sense: “mama” and “No”. Mostly he uttered guttural sounds, but oh my, he could laugh. I remember describing him to friends of ours and the first thing they asked was, “what kind of quality of life is that?” And they felt sorry for him. Yet it was this young man who taught me much about what ‘quality of life’ really means.

No, he couldn’t walk and his limitations were severe and many. He could move his legs and one arm, and he could turn his head to a limited degree. He also had a feeding tube in his stomach through which he was given nourishment – liquid ‘meals’. I had been asked if I would come work with him as his usual care giver was going off on leave. I was scared. I didn’t think I could do it. I had never done this sort of work before and didn’t think it was a good fit, but his mother encouraged me and, in the end, I agreed to try. It has been a blessing that has had reverberations in my life.

Here is what J. taught me: He taught me there are many ways to communicate without ever speaking a word. He taught me patience. He taught me grace, endurance, forgiveness, and so much more. He taught me what real love looks like.

I would arrive in the early morning and he would be laying awake waiting for me. I would bend over and whisper good morning in his ear. He’d smile. He always smiled.

After the morning routine of bathing, dressing, and breakfast was done I would sit beside his bed and read stories to him. Sometimes I sang songs, he seemed to enjoy that. He also enjoyed games I made up as we exercised his limbs so the muscles would not atrophy. He laughed a lot. It was gratifying to hear him laugh, and when he would turn his head at the sound of my voice and smile his beautiful smile.

He loved it when his little brother, a toddler at the time, was placed on his lap. The little guy was very curious about this big brother and would often hug him and caress his face. J loved that. At other times though, he would slap J or inadvertently hurt him in some way. J would cry, deeply hurt by his little brother’s actions. But he never had the smallest inclination to strike back – he had no desire for revenge. He simply expressed his hurt and pain through tears. J never seemed to get angry – it was just not part of his makeup or personality. Thankfully these occasions were few and far between.

I worked with J for a little over a month, but the time spent with him was overall a joyous experience. He was endlessly patient with my fumbling in the early days and I came to look forward to my time with him. It was a time of great learning, on my part. And it was a time filled with grace, peace, and goodwill. J has many blessings to share with the world, and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to experience the benedictions he imparted.

 

 

One life that made a difference: Lt-Colonel Richard Alexander. A farewell and a tribute to a wonderful man


Seven years ago, I interviewed Lt- Colonel Richard Alexander for the Western Star, a daily paper published in Corner Brook, NL, Canada. He died on September 14, 2018, leaving behind many people who were touched by his life, myself included. He has been described as a hero, for he truly was a hero, and not only because of his actions during the Second World War as well as the Korean War.

When I went to his house to interview him I was a little nervous. I had no idea what kind of story I would write. I only knew a few small details about this man, but I knew he was a well-loved and respected member of our community. I remember his warm welcome when I arrived and his kindness and hospitality. I didn’t have a set list of questions. I had met and spoke with him briefly on another occasion and looked forward to a casual chat with this man who had intrigued me.

He had a way of making people comfortable, of easing any discomfort and making one feel like an old friend. Here is what I remember about that day that was not published in the story I wrote. You see, my editor had zeroed in on the Colonel’s heroic act in St. John’s during the Second World War – an act that was not recognized until sixty-six years later! But what stands out in my memory was his genuine humanity, his kindness, and his concern for all people.

Many people are horribly altered by the experience of war, the Colonel (as he was known locally) did not seem to be. What he seemed to most want people to know was that war is an awful thing. He had seen terrible atrocities during his assignments. He spoke about visiting schools on Remembrance Day and doing his best to deliver his message about the horrors of war and how it should be avoided at all costs. He became very sober, and sad, as he related this to me.

He showed me many photographs and he showed me his medals, of which he was rightly proud. He laughed when he showed me the citation from the government lauding his heroic actions that saved many lives in St. John’s. He found it amazing that he would be remembered for something that had happened so long ago.

The Colonel was a gentle man, humble, and down to earth. His life touched so many people, both at home and abroad. His courage and bravery are commendable. However, I think it is his faith, his kindness, and his intense respect for life that made the deepest impact. He was the kind of person who many seek to emulate, including me. I was blessed to spend time in the company of a truly great man.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet and get to know a little about the man we called the Colonel. He will be missed and remembered with great fondness. May he Rest in Peace.

http://www.thewesternstar.com/news/local/heroic-act-recognized-66-years-later-korean-war-veteran-richard-alexander-honoured-for-putting-his-life-on-the-line-115722/

 

Ancestry: My Search


The mystery of ancestry

“There are many people who could claim and learn from their Indian ancestry, but because of the fear their parents and grandparents knew, because of past and present prejudice against Indian people, that part of their heritage is clouded or denied.”
–Joseph Bruchac, ABENAKI

In 2013 I learned that one of my great grandmothers was a Mi’kmaq woman. This all came about in 2008 when the Mi’kMaq nation in Newfoundland & Labrador were finally recognized by the Canadian government and struck a deal to become a landless band under the Indian Act. Many families, mine included, began investigating birth, marriage, and census records. My cousin did much of the work and found evidence in the census of the early 1900s. It came in the form of my grandfather’s brother admitting he was a Mi’kmaq descendant. However, I do not know if it was his mother or grandmother who was Mi’kmaq. I know his mother’s name, but not my great, great grandmother’s. It saddens me.

In 1949 the Dominion of Newfoundland became a province of Canada. At that point in time the federal government was in the midst of negotiations with several First Nations bands.  Because the leader of Newfoundland & Labrador, Joey Smallwood, wanted to join confederation he vehemently denied there were any indigenous peoples there, in order to reassure the federal government they would not have to face the same challenges there.

For all intents and purposes indigenous peoples were discriminated against in every corner of the country. It was no different in Newfoundland, where indigenous people were forced to hide their identity in order to gain employment. This, coupled with past colonial biases, and patriarchy, meant that many Mi’kmaq people denied who they were and identity became a closely guarded secret in many families, including mine.

Unfortunately, I have little information regarding my native ancestors, their culture and ways of life are foreign to me. However, I have always held certain sympathies with indigenous peoples around the world, long before I knew the truth of my own heritage. This is partly due to the way I was raised, but also, I think, to the mysteries of ancestry. There has been much written about cellular memory and I cannot help but feel there is truth to the thought that our ancestor’s experiences are written in our DNA. It certainly explains the phenomenon of déjà vu!

I have learned more about the Mi’kmaq people since 2013, and have much more to discover. I am grateful to have made the connection, thanks to my cousin’s hard work and generous sharing of information.

I attribute my passion for nature, the environment and human rights to my Mi’kmaq ancestors. For although I never knew them their innate connection to the earth and collective cultural ways do live on through the mystery of ancestry.

“Oh Great Spirit, today I am ready for You to use me as a channel of Your peace. Let my walk today be visible so the people will say “There goes a Man of God.” I want to know what He knows. If they ask, I will tell them to go out into the wilderness and pray for You to guide them.” – Native Prayer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Birth of a Sunflower


peeking sunflower

Deep within your green folds you grow

Developing, stretching toward the sun that warms you

Slowly you peek out at the August sky

Not quite ready yet to make your debut

Sneaking furtive glances at the sun

For whom you are named

And like the earth itself you follow the sun

Reaching on green stalk toward the warmth

Of your namesake in the sky

Even before you burst forth in all your glory

we wait in joyful hope

Anticipating your beauty

Your wide girth

And brown centre

That provides a subtle base

To your golden petals

Soon, soon

To Build a Better World


“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving individuals. To that end, each of us must work for our own improvement, and at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.” – Marie Curie

When I was a child my mother taught me that we are all brothers and sisters – regardless of where we are born, the color of our skin, our religion or creed – we are all human and responsible for one another. Our words and actions affect others, whether those words are spoken at home, in the work place, or anywhere in public. Whether our actions are at home, or somewhere else. They make an impact. Are we acting or speaking in light of the dictates of our faith or beliefs? Where is our God in all of this?

I see images every day of the torment and pain people all over the world are facing daily. Whether here at home in small indigenous communities or on the streets of Syria on the other side of the world. People are suffering. Where are our leaders? Where are the champions of the poor and destitute; the tortured and wrongfully imprisoned? When did we become blind to the injustices, deaf to the pleas for help?

The daily reminders can make us hard of heart, or put up walls in self-defence. Unable to make a difference in a world that has too many problems it is easy to cave in to feelings of defeat and hopelessness.

Perhaps we cannot change the world. But we can make a difference in the ways we speak to others, in the way we treat others in our day-to-day lives. We can pray. We can donate to the charities of our choice. There are things we can do, choices we can make. Choices that may make a difference. To do nothing is to deny we are all human and all in need – in one way or another.

“Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained.” – Helen Keller

“In the last analysis, the individual is responsible for living his own life and for “finding himself.” If he persists in shifting his responsibility to someone else, he fails to find out the meaning of his own existence.” – Thomas Merton

“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.” – Bob Dylan

Warriors and the Red Road


Warriors do not carry rage. Warriors are kind, compassionate, understanding, and wise. Warriors know when to bind the wounds. They know life is never merely black and white, but an innumerable range of colours. Warriors are endlessly patient. Warriors know when to fight and when to retreat. They know they must pick their battles. Warriors make war on injustices and uphold the broken and disinherited. Warriors are gift and blessing. Warriors do not make war but promote peace. True warriors know the path of enlightenment and truth. They know the red road and will lead us, if we have the courage to follow. The red road is the path of honor and respect for oneself, others, and all life forms. Today, my Creator, help me follow the red road.

If you’d like to know a bit more about the red road check this out:

https://www.facebook.com/notes/red-road-warriors-walking-this-sacred-path/12-ethics-of-walking-the-red-road/422956514409102/

The Wall


“The last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you become the plaything to circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity…” – Viktor E. Frankl

The wall – an obstacle I cannot get beyond. There comes a moment in every life, I suppose, when we each are stymied by the wall. The wall of missed opportunity; the wall of misunderstandings; the wall of poverty; the wall of doubt and mistrust; the wall that is much like a steep incline where we are wearied by the effort of trying to mount it; so many walls.

And yet, are not most walls those of our own making? Did we not build them ourselves brick by brick? Or, if we did not do it ourselves, did we not contribute to their structure in some shape or form?

It is so easy to point the finger of blame, to avoid self-examination and accountability. Yes, I know there are some circumstances beyond our control. Sometimes the fates seem to align in such a way that we are well and truly trapped. But, for the most part, we do have a choice in how we live our lives – even if it is only how we respond to a given situation.

May we each be given whatever tool we need; meet whatever person we need, to dismantle the wall.

“Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.” – Elie Weisel

“There is meaning in every journey that is unknown to the traveler.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”  – Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

On the road to redemption


ROAD 2 ALTERED

On the road to redemption

You may experience pain like –

Like falling on an upturned glass bottle that is broken and jagged,

That gashes deep into your skin and bone

Tearing tendons and ripping away sinew

 

On the road to redemption

You may be rejected, vilified, and tormented

And that will hurt you, rob you of much-needed rest

As your thoughts tumble one after another

Like a cascade of frothing water

And you may feel unable to stop the leak

That drips incessantly and poisons your days

Like a dam full of holes

You may feel like you’re drowning – but you won’t

 

On the road to redemption

You may experience loss and grief

A death perhaps, or the tearing away of a life you thought was assured

A change that forces you to re-examine all you once held dear

And leaves you questioning your sanity

And your equilibrium

As your life spins out of control on some kind of crazy tilted axle

Until you barely know which way is up or which is down

 

On the road to redemption

You will be tested, time and time again

Your character will be formed as lessons are learned

As you are baptized in fire –

A fire that you think will consume you – but it won’t

 

On the road to redemption

You may be tortured by life, but –

Look for the helpers and they will appear

They will pour sweet balm upon your soul

And plant peace deep within your heart and mind

A peace that leaves you rested and healed

A peace ‘beyond understanding’

On the road to redemption

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day


Pow Wow at Flat Bay, NL Canada July 2013

Today we celebrate the rich diversity of our country’s First Nations peoples. From the shores of Newfoundland and Labrador to the beaches of British Columbia our native peoples offer a wide variety of culture and spirituality. Yet traditionally, all across this great land they share a love of nature and a deep respect for the environment. Several years ago, I learned that one of my great grandmothers was a Mi’kmaq woman. Unfortunately, due to patrimony and the colonial practices of the day, I know little about her, or the Mi’kmaq people. I have been doing my best to learn more ever since then.

Today I celebrate all indigenous people everywhere and especially those here in Canada. Let us dance to the beat of the sacred drum and give thanks to the Creator who gifted us with life.

The mosquito difference


Muddled thoughts and emotions; Stress and simplicity; Broken records; Up and down; Inside and outside. So, what is this all about? I am not sure yet, I am working my way through a maze that seems unsolvable. Do you ever have days like this? Where your thoughts don’t seem to have any clear path and are blown around like tumbleweed? Yeah. That’s me at the moment. Clarity is a wonderful thing, once you get it. But isn’t life just a fog of confusion at times? And that’s okay. We don’t have to have the answers. We are not responsible for every single thing in the universe. Like the plastic that is floating en masse in the oceans; like climate change, some things are just beyond our individual control.

Having said that I do believe that as individuals we can make a difference. And all those small changes in our individual lifestyles can and will change the world. A smile can make a difference. Taking a reusable bag to the grocery store can make a difference. Manners can make a difference. How we treat one another, our ways of being do make a difference. My thoughts are still somewhat muddled, but I do know this much: What we say and do matters – a lot! I hope today to make a positive difference in some small way – for each small positive difference has a ripple effect. May today bring a torrential downpour of small positive differences – a veritable tsunami of kindnesses to this world.

“Anyone who thinks that they are too small to make a difference has never tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.” – Christine Todd Whitman