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

Everybody has a story


I have been fortunate to meet many people from many places around the world. My job has blessed me with this opportunity. I work at the local library, which is a double blessing because I love books.  I like to read stories about people and places I may never get to visit. I love stories that tell the tales about the indomitable human spirit; about tragedies transformed into beautiful lessons that individuals bravely share; stories about conquering the walls that are built; stories that help me learn something new and precious about the innate goodness of humanity.

Someone asked me once why I write. I write because I must – not unlike the need to breathe. And I write blog posts hoping to share a little bit of what I have learned. I write because I cannot contain the wonder and the awe of the many and varied and wonderful things about people and the world we live in. I write in an attempt to express feelings. Some stories are enough to tear the heart out of me with their sheer sadness and horror. Some make me so angry I am consumed by rage. Others fill me with wonder and joy and contentment. Many inspire me to keep getting up and showing up day by day.

Perhaps author and story teller Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says it best in a Ted talk. Here is the link to her take on stories: https://bit.ly/2utmnE5

Sojourn into sadness


So, this past Friday was the day my family read their victim impact statements in court as proceedings continue until the day of sentencing. The day when the man who killed my brother will be lead off to serve time in a federal prison. That day is not far off now. Yet, it brings no peace. My brother will be no less dead. I think the worst thing about how he died is how totally preventable it was followed by the long drawn out process of the criminal justice system. I am struggling yet again with the fallout of one person’s decision to drive while impaired.

I have been talking with my sisters today about the difficulty of writing a victim impact statement and how no amount of words can ever truly express the devastation we all feel as a family and as individuals. I am confounded and deeply challenged trying to express it.

Chris’s daughter is soon to be a mama, but her child will never know her grandfather. This child is especially anticipated with joy and thanksgiving, for a part of Chris will live on. But there is a deep sense of sadness as well because Chris, who adored babies and small children, is not here to spoil his first grandchild. We will all do our best to step into the breach, but we are not Chris and never can be.

And so, I write this in the hope that it will strike home the message of “don’t drink and drive” for it has far reaching effects and endless sorrows for all involved.

A shout out and celebration of all the women I know on International Women’s Day


Today is a day set aside to acknowledge the achievements and efforts of women around the globe, whether political, social, cultural or economic and, of course, to work toward true equality for all people everywhere. Equality is far from a reality in many places and is a goal we continue to strive toward.

I cannot help but think of all the women who have been a positive influence in my own life and give thanks for them. Naturally my mother is first and foremost on my mind – the sacrifices she made as she worked to raise her family. She cooked, cleaned, sewed clothing for us, nurtured and guided us – for many years in a house without electricity or running water. She was a wonderful woman for whom I will always be grateful. I stand in awe of her every time I consider all she lived through and all she overcame. She was my first hero and remains an example of the kind of woman I hope to be.

And then there are my sisters – two older and one younger than I. My older sisters are the most giving, thoughtful, and wisest women I know. I cannot begin to describe the impact they have had on my life. In many ways they served as surrogate mothers helping to take care of all of us and nursing us through the pains of childhood and the heartbreak and angst of the teenage years. My younger sister was and is my confidant and my best friend. All three have been a source of loving support, friendship, and wise counsel.

On this day I celebrate all the women in my life who have given generously of themselves time and time again – my mother, grandmother, sisters, aunts, daughters, sisters-in-law, cousins, nieces, teachers, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. None of whom are famous, but all of whom I celebrate today. I thank them for their strength, their courage and fortitude and for the heroes they truly are. For it is the everyday hero who make the biggest impact and whose strength and support keeps us moving forward.  I hope they know how deeply grateful I am for each and every one.

Thoughts and Prayers


I have been thinking a lot about thoughts and prayers after the backlash following the horrific shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It is not hard to understand the anguish and the anger that follows such a senseless and tragic catastrophe.  My heart goes out to the people in this community and to the American people as a whole. “Thoughts and prayers” have become a terrible cliché after so many mass shootings. It seems trite and useless, I am sure. The phrase that is meant as an expression of sympathy; as an expression of unity and empathy has been viewed as an insult to many when government action is not taken.

I am a child of the 60s and well remember the student protests in regards to the Vietnam War; to racial segregation; to injustices in general. I remember the sit-ins that were met with armed soldiers in some cases. The movie, ‘The Trial of Billy Jack’ springs to mind. We were the generation that wanted real change – and many of us still do. Sadly, violence is too often the response to a peaceful demonstration for change in many places in the world.

Yet, we are God’s hands. However, we have to agree to be just that. We have to ‘put our money where our mouths are’ and take concrete action to give legitimacy to our thoughts and prayers.

I am Canadian, but the coverage of the most recent school shooting has been massive here. It has eclipsed the very real issues around human rights that we face in our own country. When a farmer can kill an indigenous youth and be exonerated something is terribly wrong. My heart aches for the American people, but it also aches for all Canadians and for humanity in general, for all those who are living with injustices of every kind.

“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of” – Alfred Lord Tennyson. I believe in the power of prayer; in the power of positive thought; in the inherent goodness of humanity. But our prayers must also incorporate the will to do something, to be God’s hands in this world.

The blessings of friendship


“The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing….not healing, not curing…that is a friend who cares.” Henri Nouwen

Refecting on life - photo by Anastacia Hopkins

I once read somewhere that ‘some people make life better just by being in it’ – that resonated with me.  I am blessed to have many such people in my life, but I am thinking of two friends in particular who have been loyal, caring, supportive and kind throughout the past several years; And the past two in particular. Friends may come and friends may go, but some become like family – people who have your back when you’re up against a wall. I am so grateful, so very, very grateful for these wonderful, warm, and caring friends. Naturally they seem to have no idea how special they are. The truly humble people never do, do they?  And the thing is they have so much stress going on in their own lives, yet are able to reach inside themselves to provide the support I need when I need it. Other times it is the shared laughter and pure joy in living that they abundantly share. The gift of time; the gift of self – that’s what it’s all about, right?  I am grateful. I am grateful for friendship; for people who are willing to sacrifice for others; for people who give me the strength to keep going – no matter what their own circumstances. God bless them all!

Ups and downs on life’s roller coaster


Well, it’s been a very bumpy month so far. But, on positive note, my husband is out of hospital and hopefully will gain back his strength. After a total of three weeks in hospital I am finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and feel more hopeful for the future, whatever it may bring. And I sincerely hope it is better health for my life partner, best friend, and spouse.

At the other end of the spectrum is the ongoing drama of the trial, which resumes tomorrow.  I have no idea what it may bring – I think my whole family will be glad to see an end to this painful journey through the criminal justice system. And, of course, I cannot help but think of Chris, and of his children.  It’s been a long, hard row to hoe. If you follow this blog you know that I am referring to the trial of the man who killed my brother when he crashed into his vehicle on Nov. 19, 2016. He faces several charges, among them impaired driving causing death.

The trial was slated to continue on the 8th of this month, but that date was cancelled due to the illness of the defense attorney. And so here we are, waiting to see what transpires next. It hasn’t been pleasant, this waiting game, to say the least. My heart goes out to my niece and nephew who have been going through the grief of losing their father compounded by the stress and anguish of the trial.  I know how difficult it has been for me, and I am his sibling. Yet, everyone who knew my brother well were shocked and deeply wounded when he died. It wasn’t only that he died, but the manner in which it came about – snatched from life in the most preventable of circumstances.; And so all the people who knew Chris, no matter what the relationship, have been deeply affected by the tragedy of his death.

What can I write that would make people think twice before climbing behind the wheel of any vehicle if their judgment is impaired in any way? Sometimes I wonder if my efforts mean anything at all. But, if nothing else, people will know that Chris lived and that his life mattered….and he is forever loved…. forever missed.

Choices, Consequences, and a personal Confession


I am old school. I believe that there are consequences to the choices we make. I was taught to own up to my “mistakes”. If I did something wrong I was expected to apologize and to make amends. I am glad I was taught this from an early age.

Like most children I had an innate curiosity about everything and (from my mother’s viewpoint) a never ending list of questions. I am sure I tried her patience considerably and I will be forever grateful for her enduring love and the lessons she taught me.

I remember when my mother caught me pulling the wings off house flies. I remember the frustration I had felt with the flies that were bothering me. I remember wanting to exact revenge on these creatures that were tormenting me. I remember my mother’s anger with me and her deep disappointment with my cruelty.  She killed the flies to put them out of their misery, and I, in turn, was horrified that she killed them. I hadn’t wanted them dead – I simply wanted them to stop flying around and pestering me.

I was very young; I don’t really know exactly how old I was. But I was old enough to be taught a lesson: A lesson about choices and about consequences. And although I don’t remember the words my mother said I do remember a long lecture.  And I remember the gist of the lesson: all creatures great and small deserve our respect; no creature should be abused in any way; life is precious, even the life of an insect. I learned that I, as small and as young as I was, could inflict pain. And I learned it was definitely not okay to do so. The consequence of my choice to pull the wings off the flies resulted in their deaths, for which I did feel very badly. That was my consequence – to feel the weight of my choice, my decision.

We each have an innate goodness and we also have a shadow side, a darkness that dwells within each, or so I have been told. And it makes sense to me. I lived it! But my point is not to dwell on the darker aspects of human nature; conversely it is to reflect on how we overcome it. There have been many books written on the subject by authors much wiser than I. So I will not attempt to answer this great mystery of good and evil in a mere blog post.

The events of the past year with its emphasis on death, on law, and the criminal justice system has caused me to think more deeply about life, love, and forgiveness. It has also given me much to consider as far as the consequences of our choices go. I think one of the reasons I have been so angry with the man who caused my brother’s death was his decision to plead not guilty, when it seemed abundantly clear to me that he was indeed guilty. I felt he should “man up” and confess to his decision to drink and drive and take his lumps.

I cannot speak for this man. I don’t know why he made the choices he made. But I do understand the very human inclination to self preservation. I am quite certain none of us want to know what the inside of a jail cell looks like. I am also quite certain that none of us want to experience what prison life might be like – from what I’ve seen represented on television and in movies it sure does not seem pleasant. So it makes sense that his man wants to avoid an education on life behind bars. Regretfully, by making this choice he has inflicted more pain on a grieving family.

Perhaps, like the small child I once was, I have wanted revenge; to inflict pain, as I have felt pain; to play God; to decide this man’s fate.

Thankfully that is not my job. Though God knows I have judged him harshly enough in my mind.

I still don’t have any answers. I am not God – I am not all-seeing or all-knowing. I just hope that as I walk this road I find the willingness to forgive – even if I can never forget.

Seeking Christmas Spirit


It’s hard to explain to anyone who has not experienced it – this dark cloud that has cast its shadow over everything magical and good. Christmas has always been my favourite time of year, but it is exceedingly difficult to get into any semblance of Christmas spirit this year. My brother’s death on the 19th of November last year did not conjure as  deep a darkness that following the trial of his killer has this year; The next court date is the 8th of January when the defense will do their best to plant seeds of doubt in the judge’s mind.  That date looms over me like a huge black mountain and seems impossible to scale, or to set aside. God knows I am trying. It is a bitter pill to swallow, this knowing that the defendant will be celebrating Christmas with his loved ones while we, the family of the man he killed, do our best to put aside the pain and anguish of our brother’s needless death. Life is not fair – but then who ever promised it would be?

I have read stories that tell us that we agree to certain conditions and circumstances before we are born on this earth. That is a comfort to me in a strange way. I can imagine Chris making the decision to be the one to die in order to save the lives of other people who were travelling the highway that day – one of which was a young mother with her three children in her car.

Chris possessed a generosity of spirit that is hard to convey. He was a truly selfless person in many ways. And he was very kind. So I can totally imagine him agreeing to play the role of victim in this scenario. Ah but he was more than the victim of an impaired driver. The many people who approached me and my sisters and brothers following his funeral attest to the mark he made on this world. And not in any big splashy way, but in the small acts of kindness he performed daily. It is this knowing that gives me comfort that no criminal trial or any amount of anguish can ever take away.

Sleepless night


I can’t sleep. I have learned more details about the violent results that occur when one vehicle slams into another at high speed – my brother didn’t stand a chance.  It is next to impossible to sleep with anger roaring like a wild beast in my head and in my heart. Toxicology reports document the extremely high levels of alcohol in that man’s blood when he drove his car head on into my brother’s. This whole thing is so crazy. He pleaded not guilty, of course. So each and every day until this trial is over my family is subjected to the consequences of this person’s decisions and actions; of having to hear testimony and see photographs of the aftermath. My older brother described the coldness of a courtroom with Chris referred to only as “the deceased” as if he was not a living, breathing human being before that fateful day adds salt to the wounds. Chris is more than a statistic, more than a victim of impaired driving. He was loved in life and he is loved still.

Chris’s daughter has been attending the trial and it makes me sick to my stomach that she is. She is so young. I worry about the effects this trial may have on her. His son has decided not to go, unless his sister needs him to. They are both dealing with the horror in the best way they can – in ways that feel right to each of them.  My niece feels compelled to go; to see it through. I suspect she does it to honour her Dad. My nephew feels that attending the trial will not change the fact that his father is gone and regardless of the outcome it won’t bring his Dad back. He is right.

Why do any of us subject ourselves to the pain and anguish of sitting through this criminal trial? I cannot answer that yet. I do know we all want answers and perhaps by attending the court proceedings we will. get them  This man claims to be “not guilty” despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  Had he pleaded guilty to the charges I may have felt more empathy and compassion for him, but it is hard to feel anything for him but animosity and disgust.

Tomorrow I will be travelling to Ontario to be with my siblings and all my nieces and nephews. I feel compelled to go – to lend what support I can to all of them, but especially to Chris’s children.  I am apprehensive about what to expect when I finally join them in that courtroom, and so, if you are a person of prayer I ask that you pray for me and for all my family. I like to try to find something positive in every experience, but I must admit I am hard pressed to find the silver lining in this particular cloud. Perhaps one day, in hindsight, I will .