Feel the fear and do it anyway – zip lining at Marble Mountain, NL


Photo credit: Jess Molnar

Several years ago, I was studying journalism at the local college. In the second year of the program we were sent to cover the Canadian Student Leadership Conference. It was an interesting experience, not least because during the conference we were treated to a free pass on the zipline at Marble Mountain. We had been split into several teams to cover various aspects of the gathering and it was my team that was chosen for this dubious assignment.

There were four of us on my team. I had planned to interview and photograph students from across Canada who were taking part during my trek up the mountain. One of my teammates was supposed to participate in zip lining while trying to capture photographs of the experience – she chickened out. That left us with a decision to make: who was going to bite the bullet and take the plunge?

Now, I had always had a huge fear of heights and initially I was adamant it would NOT be me.  However, one of the team was already fitted with a Go-pro camera that was attached to a helmet and she was geared up to go. Another member was struggling with the flu, which knocked him out of the running, so that left me!

I finally consented, for the good of the team. After all, I am nothing if not a team player. I remember praying earnestly that I would live to see another day and asking the Creator to take care of my husband and children. I would not look down. I concentrated on the harness that would fly me through the air and gauging the strength of the cables above that I would be sliding on. They seemed secure. I remember trembling as I stepped off the platform. I had never been so nervous or anxious in my entire life! However, by the time I stepped off the second platform (the zip line zigzags across a deep fjord) I was really enjoying myself and was yelling at the top of my lungs: Whoot! Whoot!

Coming in for a landing Whoot Whoot

Thanks to happenstance I overcame the fear and enjoyed the experience immensely. Part of the assignment was to write a story about the experience, which I did. I was pleased to hear my instructor chuckling as he read it. I learned a lot that day, not least of all was to feel the fear and do it anyway.

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.

School shootings

The other day my niece shared a news story about a school shooting in Kentucky; it saddened me and made me think of the drama, the pain, and the shock of another school shooting in Brampton, Ontario in 1975 at Brampton Centennial Secondary School. It was the school I went to and where several classmates had been hurt and three, including the shooter, died.

I knew the shooter, Michael Slobodian, and I knew the teacher that died, Margaret Wright, and I knew John Slinger, one of the dead, but only in passing. Michael had been the boyfriend of a girl I knew. He was also in several of my classes, including the English class where Mrs. Wright was our teacher. She had recently moved to Brampton from New Brunswick, if memory serves. And she was the mother of two young children.  I also remember Dean Naden, who lived a couple of houses down the street from the Slobodians. He tried to reason with Michael, but was shot for his efforts. I remember Ernie Nicols, whose family set up equipment in their yard for their son to practice for track and field events. Ernie ended up paralyzed after he was shot that day.

There are more, many more. Many people were hurt that day and many were traumatized.

It was an event that would mark me for the rest of my life. I think about it every time there is another such tragedy. I remember the sirens, the rampant rumors, the fear, and the panic. I remember gathering in our basement with my sister and our friends that evening. There was a lot of weeping and a lot of questions.

I remember going door to door with a petition to gather support for gun control legislation.  I remember the man who argued with me for a long time about the right to bear arms. He was a “new” Canadian and had emigrated from a country that offered few liberties. He felt government should not make such laws. I felt then, as I do now, that there is no place in society for the indiscriminate sale of guns, especially high powered rifles that are not needed for the hunting of game.

Michael Slobodian was sixteen years old – a child still. I think of him and still wonder, “why”?  I believe that children – all children – should be treated kindly and with respect. I read once that the way we speak to our children becomes their inner voice. Let our words to children be those of love, kindness, caring, and deep respect.

Never forgotten

I was 12 years old, my friend perhaps a year older; she was a year ahead of me in school. Her name is Gloria Scanlon. I think of her often. She befriended me at a time when I was experiencing culture shock after our family moved to Ontario. I was extremely homesick and missing my old school and friends. She defended me when the bully of the classroom would pick on me. In many ways she was my hero. She died when a drunk driver hit her and her pregnant sister-in-law as they were walking to a store.  I remember her face. I remember her funeral. And every year when the organization against drunk driving, MADD, go into high gear to kick off their red ribbon campaign, I am reminded once again of Gloria.

Today I have more reason than ever to think about the victims of drunk driving. Despite millions poured into a public awareness campaign to combat impaired driving people continue to climb behind the wheel of their vehicles while under the influence of alcohol. I don’t get it. Perhaps I never will. On November 19, 2016 my brother was driving home from work, headed north. At the same time a 36-year-old man who had been drinking was driving southbound.  There was a collision. My brother was killed. The other driver is facing charges. And my family is left to grieve. My brother’s children have been left fatherless. Why? Why, after decades of hearing and seeing the message, “don’t drink and drive” do people decide to do just that. Why?

I may never know why. But I do know this: Gloria will never be forgotten. My brother will never be forgotten. I will share their stories. I will work toward finding the answers, not only for my family, not only for Gloria, but for every single person affected by senseless tragedies such as this. They will never, ever, be forgotten.

The Importance of Teachers

“Teachers can change lives with just the right mix of chalk and challenges.” – Joyce Meyer –

I have been blessed with knowing many gifted and caring teachers. Growing up in Newfoundland & Labrador many schools were staffed by women religious, a.k.a. nuns. We called them ‘Sister’ and of the many I knew as a child I remember Sister Euphrasia best. She was a sweet woman who lived her faith through her actions. She was kind and unfailingly patient, and in my opinion epitomized everything a teacher should be. I don’t remember what exactly made her so special but I do remember feeling cared for, respected, safe, and nurtured in her care. She helped me grow on a personal level as well as intellectually. She helped me discover a love of books and learning and encouraged my childish curiosity.

Years later when our family moved to Ontario I switched to public school. I remember how my teacher helped me make the transition to my new school and helped me over the pain and grief of homesickness. Once again I was blessed with a truly talented and kind teacher.  His name was Mr. Guistini and he became my first real crush – fortunately if he noticed he never made much of it. I think the thing I most appreciate is the way he handled bullying in the classroom and helped each child feel special and unique; how he emphasized an individual’s strengths and moved heaven and earth to help any academic weaknesses.

Yes, my life was truly blessed by extraordinary and gifted teachers. Sadly this was not the case for two of my siblings. They experienced cruelty, mockery, and psychological torture at the hands of certain teachers. I wish they had known teachers like mine – people who enjoyed their work and looked upon it as more of a ‘mission’ rather than a job. It is easy to see how people who enjoy this work can make a huge difference in the lives of their charges.  I wish every teacher could understand what an impact they make on the lives of their students. I wish they could all know how important their work is, and therefore how important they are – and not only to their individual students, but to society as a whole.