E 37: I Lost My Daughter to Fentanyl

photo_032703_18446C1A0ca6823607ylV2A412E7_1_20160521

“I lost my daughter to Fentanyl”

Fernand Magnin of Victoria, Canada lost his daughter to a fentanyl overdose in May 2016. Bria Magnin Forster struggled with addiction for more than 10 years, but her death came shortly after she left a rehab program on the lower mainland. Fernand is sharing her story in the hopes of raising awareness about the need for better mental health and addictions supports for individuals who struggle. He is also working hard to dispel some of the myths about homelessness.

I believe a great number of North Americans have a skewed perspective on homelessness:

1) That it’s a choice

2) That it is solely a result of drug abuse

3) It’ll never touch our lives so we shouldn’t care about it.

For more information, check out my website [smallactbigimpact.com][1]
[1]: https://smallactbigimpact.com/

So, I Threw A Spatula…

Just last week, in a fit of quiet rage and a heightened sense of perceived injustice, I hurled a spatula across my kitchen.

IMG_2622

I cannot convey to you, by the way, how hard that sentence was to admit, write and publish.

Anger’s not cute

Anger is not cute. Rage…even less so. It’s not an emotion many people, women specifically, proudly tout. Lack of control, specifically expressions of anger, seems to run counter to the current culture of mindfulness and increased emotional intelligence.

I admit, I’m not proud of throwing that spatula in fury. However, I choose to share my embarrassing outburst on social media because despite being one of the least favourite emotions, anger is a human one. It’s part of the colourful rainbow of sentiments that contributes to the privilege of being human. No one is exempt or immune. Nor, should we strive to be.

Nevertheless, we rarely see examples of healthy, thriving women in their anger. Somehow, anger doesn’t fall into the parameters of what society believes a woman should exude.

As Soman Chainani, acclaimed author and filmmaker, asserts, “Social media has made it so that we are constantly judging ourselves and others. If we’re not careful, our social media feeds become a torture device, an assault of beauty and perfection designed to make you feel inadequate. It makes you intolerant of other people’s real imperfections, and it makes you start to despise the weight of real life, and invest in shallow, flimsy, two dimensional mirrors of it.”

Our growing understanding of emotional expression has somehow coincided with raised and often unrealistic expectations of how our emotions should manifest themselves, which can result in feelings of shame in moments we don’t present as calm, cool, and controlled. We can even tell ourselves the story that we’re somehow ‘defective.’

A bit of background…

I should mention, for the record, that I didn’t throw the spatula at anyone. I was standing alone in the kitchen, ruminating.

The rage had been fuelled by a recent article in Maclean’s magazine, titled I Regret Having Children. The article reported that an increased number of women across North America were expressing regret for having had children, a fact I vehemently DO NOT personally agree with.

Reading it made me angry for three reasons:

  1. Mental Load: Most mothers these days share a profound first-hand understanding of the day-to-day inner conflicts one experiences when trying to meet insatiable, constant, 24-hour needs of our little people, balance and manage a household, nurture a flourishing relationship, nail it in our ambitious careers, all the while attempting to maintain a stronghold on one’s own identity and wellness. Just look at popular posts like the recent work by cartoonist Emma, You Should Have Asked, which depicts the pressures of ‘mental load’ in a hilarious and all-too-familiar manner. It resonates. However, it doesn’t mean I REGRET the choice to have children. It breaks my heart that for a rising number of women, the only relief comes from wishing they never had children. I HATE that women feel like they need to choose some binary definition and experience of motherhood. And that a surprising number feel like they chose wrong.IMG_2650
  2. I felt set up: After finishing the article, I couldn’t help myself. I continued scrolling down to the comments section, anticipating the onslaught of inevitable traditionalist commentators. Sure enough, comments judging the “regretters” harshly, each one echoing the other, affirmed that our current cultural and family denigration is owed to women forgetting their place. Blaming and shaming women for being selfish in their pursuits. Declaring that they should only find fulfillment by filling their pre-determined roles. Where is the village? The lack of support, the sometimes-lonely nature of parenting, and the expectations of living up to some ideal make it difficult to be a mother. It’s unjust and unfair…and heartbreaking. The underlying cultural viewpoint that this is somehow a mother’s issue is infuriating. Really, this comes down to perpetuated societal injustices. This is everyone’s problem!
  3. A building sense of injustice: So, there I stood, staring at the piled-up dishes taunting me from the sink, the next day’s awaiting lunch Tupperware practically begging to be filled from the messy counter, and imagined the wet laundry impatiently admonishing me for my turtle’s pace…empathy, solidarity, heartbreak mounting. I just couldn’t help myself…

So, I threw the spatula…

We feel we should know better

As soon as it clattered against the squared edges of the basin, the heat of shame quickly replaced the rage. Shocked, I realized that in spite of regular journaling, meditation, gratitude practice, and exercise, I had experienced an uncontrolled, reactionary outburst.

At the time, I thought, I know better! What is wrong with me? What had made me react like that? More importantly, I wanted to know how could I stop it from happening again.

I believe some people turn to mindfulness as an inoculation against uncomfortable human emotions like grief, hopelessness, fear, anxiety, and anger. That somehow, there’s a perception that meditation is the answer to ridding us of these feelings.

Our current mindset seems to be that the more we know, the more we should be able to control ourselves. Ironically, I have heard friends mention that mindfulness just doesn’t “work” for them, dejected in their inability to get ahead of their unwanted emotions and the humiliating ways these feelings can sometimes express themselves. Or, some teachers impatiently lament that reflection and meditation in school doesn’t immediately cause tangible changes in behaviour. But, maybe, we’re all missing the point?

What is authentic mindfulness?

Here’s the thing, resisting negative emotions only exaggerates them. Genuine mindfulness comes from acceptance and deep observation. Observing all emotions, accepting their existence, and dropping the expectation that we should somehow be immune to negative feelings. Only through that acceptance, can we alter our, possibly inappropriate, reactions.

Simple concept, challenging to execute

As Shawn Achor, Harvard-trained happiness expert and author asserts, “common sense is not common action.” What he means is that even if we know what to do, actually doing it comes down to more than just our willpower or intellectual knowledge. That’s why experts in the field refer to mindfulness and meditation as a practice. Much like going to the gym, we can’t simply attend for a week and expect to reap it’s benefits for the rest of our lives. It’s an on-going labour of love. We win some, we lose some, and the overall trend keeps us headed in a positive, self-aware direction.

What happened on the brain-level?

IMG_2649

(Pic credit www.greenlightheidi.com)

In order to explain what happened, we need to talk about the two parts of our brain that duel for supremacy.

First, we have the emotional, limbic, reptilian part of the brain (amygdala). When we’re threatened, cortisol and adrenaline (neuro-chemicals) course through our veins throwing this ancient part of our brain into fight, flight or freeze. This reaction can prove tremendously helpful in protecting us from the perils of huge predators; however, it is not of particular use when employed in day-to-day stressors. Cortisol shuts down the body on a fundamental level and is only meant to be present in our bodies for short bursts. The problem is, every single time we get stressed, cortisol is released. The compounding effects of stress on the body has been linked to decreases in effectiveness of the immune system, cardio-vascular functioning, digestion, cellular growth, empathy, and increases in depression and anxiety. It’s toxic stuff!

The other part of the brain, the logical prefrontal cortex, is responsible for rational thinking. It takes into account a myriad of factors about a situation, risk-assessing as it goes along, before advising you on how to react.

It’s fair to say that after reading that article, my limbic brain hijacked my rational brain, and consequently, I jumped into fight mode.

And so, I propose, maybe it would be more useful to be calculating success in terms of our Recovery Time, as opposed to some unattainable obliteration of negative thoughts. Recovery time meaning, how quickly are we able to get to a place of authentic, self-forgiving, ego-free reflection after an emotional breakdown?  How long does it take for the rational brain to regain control?

What Now? How do we increase our recovery time after an emotional outburst, anyway?

The key is letting go of the ego-which says that if you’re not winning, you’re losing. Compromise and self-reflection are not the ego’s favourite thing to do. We have to have more patience of ourselves and others in the process, so we can move on and bounce forward. Mindfulness plays a big role in recovery time.

And, a little bit of reflection also goes a long way…

Five things you can do to increase your recovery time:

  1. Your story: Ask yourself, What story am I telling myself right now?
  2. Let it out: Find a way to express your voice through journaling or talking. Sometimes, those big feelings just need validation.
  3. List it up: Create a mental or written list of what’s inside your control and what’s outside of it.
  4. Small Steps: Create a small goal you know you can accomplish. Doing that has a way to building your confidence. The all or nothing mindset serves nothing. Small steps lead to big changes!
  5. Celebrate: Holding yourself to an unrealistic ideal, when it comes to any behavioural change is a recipe for disaster and failure. Celebrate small triumphs!

 

 

 

 

How Empathy Leads the Way for the Transformation from Victimization to Resiliency

IMG_7940Just this morning, I had a realization that stopped me in my tracks. It was one of those “Aha” Oprah-moments that sent a jolt of electric energy from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. It’s a very simple concept, but it’s caused a dramatic paradigm shift in the way I look at people-centred pain.

I have spent the last few weeks or so researching for my newest project which will provide tangible support to teachers embarking on the Small Act Big Impact 21-Day Kindness Challenge with their classes in the form of grade-specific lessons, activities, and free resources.

I have stolen early morning, caffeine-filled moments at my dining room table sifting through books, articles, videos, websites, and adapting classroom lessons.

Anti-bullying strategies.

Neuroscience.

Peer-reviewed studies.

Opinion pieces in major magazines.

Psychological theories.

All of it has reinforced my belief that teaching generosity and kindness though explicit means within the classroom is essential to creating classroom cultures that promote a sense of belonging and significance for our students.

The research process got me thinking about the concept of understanding those who hurt us. Nothing underscores the universal human experience more than the hurt we have all suffered at the hands of someone else. Painful break-ups. Conflicts at work. Family Feuds. Misunderstandings with friends. Falling outs. Bullying on the school ground. Childhood trauma. We have all experienced varying degrees of very real interactional pain.

The thing is, many people reflexively tend to demonize those who have hurt us. Dehumanization of perpetrators or those who cause us pain somehow makes us feel justified in acting outside of our integrity. We blame. We rage. We might even turn to hate. We might act uncharacteristically. We do so with the intent of protecting ourselves, and ironically, we wind up perpetuating the pain. We can get stuck in the story and the victimization. We might find it challenging to seek understanding, because retribution can be what we ultimately seek. For example, when I think of students in conflict, the “winning” mentality can make it difficult to come to consensus and seek positive solutions. For some students, retribution seems like the only answer.

But…here’s what I realized this morning:

The more we understand bullies and those who hurt us either intentionally or not, the less victimized we become by their actions. When we see the situation or conflict at arm’s length, from a different perspective, I believe the narrative can change. That is what we need to teach students in order to build resiliency in the face of conflict.

And here’s where I have to be very clear. Reframing the narrative by seeking to understand various facets of a hurtful interaction does not mean standing by passively and allowing it to continue!

It’s not about condoning the hurtful actions or statements.

It’s not about blind forgiveness.

And, it’s not about inviting hurtful people back into our lives in the hopes that things “change.”

It’s about preventing the hurt from weaving itself into the narrative that defines us as individuals.

I recently had a fascinating conversation with a close family member about the importance of recognizing what motivates people to hurt us and the value in having empathy for them. We discussed that people are fundamentally motivated by a variety of needs and that their actions directly relate to those needs, whether they are conscious of them or not. I believe that when people hurt us, their words and actions are motivated by unmet needs. It’s like they’re in survival mode, finding the easiest, fastest route to strengthening themselves. Ironically, like fast food, hurting people to meet your needs doesn’t fill you up at all. It leaves you emptier, hungrier, and lonelier than ever. I argued that understanding these motivators provides us with a broader, richer context though which to view the hurt. We seek understanding from our empathy as much for our sake as theirs. And, it allows us to view it through a less personal, victimized lens.

Through several defining moments of my life, I have had to set clear boundaries to ensure that I stay true to my integrity and to protect my soul and spirit. As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.” It’s not easy. It’s not simple. It requires a great deal of courage, possibly many attempts, and a boatload of help, but it’s possible to rise up against unfair treatment. When we look around us, we see so many examples of individuals banding together courageously to advocate against injustice.

By and large, we are creatures of habit and certainty. When we are thrust into trauma or hurtful conflict, we instinctively go into certainty-seeking mode. Our brains try to make sense of the interaction and search for the best path back to certitude. In the absence of tangible data, our minds generate narratives (whether they are accurate or not) that make sense because we are biologically wired to find patterns.  In his article on the Neuroscience of Story Gert Scholtz asserts, “Stories invoke the mind to fill in gaps and to anticipate future outcomes and as such it provides a safe simulation of reality.” This explains why many people who have been hurt, not only blame others but often blame themselves, consciously or unconsciously. If the pain is bad enough, they may apply this new narrative to redefine the way they interact and react to life’s stressors to avoid being hurt again. As we know, when our backs are against the wall, we fight, flight, or freeze.

Heartbreak and trauma may very likely be part of your biography, but it does not define who you are. We don’t have to own or accept the story our brains have set out for us. I believe that seeking to understand the motivations of an individual who introduced the hurt into our lives, gives us perspective and a new frame of reference through which to view the pain. We can be freed from the limiting beliefs that we are inextricably linked to our stories and that we are not only somehow at fault for what has happened to us, but that we ARE our stories.

When we realize that we are not our stories, that it is not our fault, we can experience the truest sense of spiritual and emotional freedom. Within the spaciousness of this newfound freedom, we become capable of writing our own endings.

How do we actually go about putting this understanding framework into action? Here are some powerful questions (from Rising Strong, Brené Brown) you might ask yourself or invite your students to ask themselves in conflict:

IMG_7941

  1. What more do I need to learn and understand about the situation in terms of what I know and my assumptions?
  2. What more do I need to learn and understand about the other people in the story in terms of information I’m missing and questions I might have?
  3. What more do I need to learn and understand about myself in terms of my response, my feelings, and the part I play?

 

Sources:

*https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/neuroscience-story-gert-j-scholtz/

Brene Brown (Rising Strong/Braving the Wilderness)

Elizabeth Gilbert (Big Magic)

Maya Angelou

Tony Robbins

Dr. Shimi Kang

 

Tantrums, Toddlers, Torrential Rain: How One Mom’s Decision Paid-it-Forward

child-throwing-tantrum-in-public

Just the other day, as the children in my household pressed pause on their play to catch up on some much-needed rest, I rested an elbow on the smooth surface of the kitchen table, my hand cupping the ceramic promise of wakefulness. I inhaled the delicious moment of silence for a few extra seconds before hinging open the silver lid to the computer that sat slightly askew before me.

 

As I opened my email, her message practically jumped off the screen at me.

 

“Thanks for your inspiration to step out of my comfort zone today!” she had written.

 

I was intrigued.

 

Tingling chills climb up my spine and spread across the surface of my skin whenever I hear about people helping people. When I hear that an individual has pushed themselves to take a risk in being kind to another person because of a story they’ve heard or an kind acts they’ve seen, it confirms my deeply held personal belief that kindness inspires kindness.

 

“I’m normally a very quiet, reserved person, and have a hard time initiating conversation. But today, I pushed myself.”

 

Happiness washed over me as I read on.

 

The message was from Denise, a teacher and mother, like me. We had both attended the same classes in university and graduated alongside one another. Although we had fallen out of touch, we would often see each other at the park, running errands, or chauffeuring our kids around town.

 

As a result of the Beacon Hill blog post I had published just days earlier, she had made it her mission that day to strike up a conversation when the opportunity arose.

 

That morning, as she spoke to strangers in line, smiled at passers-by on the sidewalk, and chatted with fellow parents at school drop-off, she felt rewarded in knowing that such a small effort positively impacts many people’s day.

 

But it was a decision she made later that morning, that would truly become a defining moment for her.

 

After drop-off, she hurriedly parked her vehicle near the entrance of a local grocery store. Glancing at the list of items she had written on a neatly folded piece of loose-leaf paper, she gathered her purse and keys, then fastened the buttons on her waterproof coat just as wet droplets began tapping at roof of her car. Within seconds the rain was pelting the windows; people scurried to their cars shielding their heads from the rain with anything they could find: flyers, clasped hands, and even boxes of cereal.

 

She took a deep breath, assembling her things under an arm as she pushed the door open, readying her legs to sprint to the entrance of the store.

 

Then, Denise stopped dead in her tracks, as her gaze fell on her.

 

The woman, whose face was plastered with soaked wisps of a messy bun, pleaded desperately in the assailing rainstorm as her one arm wrestled a coat onto the flailing limbs of a tantruming toddler. An unmistakable wail drew Denise’s eyes to the woman’s other arm, which held a new baby, red-faced, screeching furiously, and blinking as beads of water accumulated on her tiny body.

 

Denise immediately recognized the woman as one of the teachers she had taught with in the past.

 

Instantly, her mind went to the huge list of errands in her purse. She barely had time to get it all done as it was!

 

In that moment, a distant memory interrupted her thoughts. It was a dark, rainy night just a few years earlier. A new mother, Denise had found herself in the parking lot of a grocery store much like this one, a cart filled to the brim, her new baby crying, and her car keys were nowhere to be found. Frantic, she had searched for the keys, rain dripping from her forehead into her purse and onto her screaming baby, aware of her galloping heart as panic rose in her chest.  Right then, a stranger had stopped to help her find her keys. She remembered being filled with a such a deep sense of gratitude.

 

With a look of determination, Denise deposited her belongings on the seat, gently shut the door to her car, and headed straight in the direction of the woman and her children.

 

Pic credit: Fatherly.com

 

The Unexpected Detour That Landed Me Exactly Where I Was Supposed to Be

IMG_0257

Last week, I experienced an unbelievable moment that will stay in my heart forever.

Dampness permeated the air that morning.  As I hurried out the front door of my house and onto the driveway, I felt the impact of a big, fat raindrop on my forehead. The cold licked at the back of my throat and confirmed the conclusion of summer. I slammed the door to my car just as the clouds cracked open. A barrage of raindrops struck my windshield and roof.

I was all set to do a follow-up lesson for the 21-Day Challenge in my friend’s Grade One class downtown. The traffic from my house to the city centre can be unpredictable at best and excruciatingly slow at worst, so I planned ahead and left with plenty of time.

When I arrived downtown thirty minutes early, I was pleasantly surprised. I had brought a book to read and could have revisited the lesson to pass the time as I had done before previous school visits.

But, for some unexplained reason, I felt compelled that morning to do something different.

Instead of taking the more direct route to school, the one I had taken a million times over, something guided my car to the entrance of nearby Beacon Hill Park.

Crisp autumn leaves swirled, a dancing rainbow against the backdrop of the lifeless cracked pavement. Darkened bodies, shadows, emerged from the dew-covered foliage to my left and right as I continued along the route, to the heart of the park. One man, a statue, perched motionless on a bench gripped his shopping cart, which overflowed with accumulated treasures. My eyes settled on a woman shuffling along the adjacent grassy path, two enormous black garbage bags torn and cobbled together to serve as protection from the rain that had been pelting my car just minutes earlier.

Today, someone needs you.

Before I knew it, I found myself parking at a grocery store nearby. Arriving inside, I raced up and down the aisles, filling my arms with packages of English muffins, a jar of my favourite classic chunky peanut butter, some delicious raspberry jam, a bunch of perfectly-ripe bananas, and a bundle of plastic knives.

Heaving the substantial white bag onto the passenger seat, I hopped into the driver’s side and drove back to the entrance to begin my second tour through Beacon Hill.

The park was eerily deserted, now. Where people had stood just minutes earlier, there was nobody.

“Where could they have gone?” Perplexed, I drove further and further down the street, my eyes scanning for somebody. Anybody.

My face flushed and my stomach did a flip. Suddenly, I felt ridiculous. What was I doing? I didn’t have a plan. Who the heck did I think I was?

Ready to give up, I reached the edge of the park and heard it again:

Someone needs you.

Determined, I double-backed and set off for a yet another loop of the park.

That’s when I saw him.

A navy toque covered his curly sandy blond hair, as he rolled his soggy, limp sleeping bag with meticulous care. Two police officers, having just visited his encampment, were making their way up the crest of a small bluff to complete more wake-up calls.

Where does one move along to? Where does one find belonging here?

Once again, I parked the car and waited for the traffic to clear. I crossed the street. The white grocery bag swayed in my hand as I approached him, my heart pounding out of my chest.

Uncertainty barrelled into my thoughts. How would he react? No matter how disadvantaged we find ourselves, we all seek and deserve to conserve our dignity. My intent was pure, but I was fearful of offending him.

“How are you doing? Would you like something to eat?” I offered, tentatively.

“Please…yes. I am so hungry.” His eyes lingered on the contents in the bag and warmth spread across his face.

Relief washed over me, as I was struck with the realization that there something familiar about him.

I asked if he would be willing to share the food with others who might need it, too. Nodding his head, he stood up and motioned to a nearby escarpment behind us. “I have a few friends up there who would appreciate something to fill their bellies this morning.”

Handing him the bag with smile, I turned in the direction of my car. Just as my fingers gripped the coolness of the door’s handle, it hit me.

Indeed, we had met before.

Years ago, he and I had attended the same classes, in the same high-school.

Diapers, a Duchess, and the Disaster that Gained Me a Friend

The blood drained from my wearied face, as I stared at my smiling 8 –week-old son, sprawled precariously on the thin change pad barely separating him from the gritty and germ-ridden coffee shop bathroom floor upon which he lay.

Desperate times. Desperate measures.

My little man had just blown through his 5th diaper of the morning.

Through my “work” in the field as a mother and my own countless unfortunate, surprising, and embarrassing moments, I’ve come to an undisputed scientific conclusion:

Newborn babies are conveyor belts.

Nothing goes in without something coming out.

But, the real kicker?

As any parent knows, babies up their game when the stakes are excruciatingly high.

Public outings where finding any semblance of a change table becomes a veritable logistical-nightmare,

lengthy car rides,

and, my personal, much-revisited favourite, that moment when you’re about to put freshly changed Sweet Cheeks down for the night, visions of rest and relaxation dancing in your head.

My sister and I had chosen this particular sunny Saturday morning to venture downtown for our first shopping adventure, my then-two-year-old daughter in tow.

Coincidentally, Prince William, Duchess Kate, and their two children had come to visit our beautiful city on their Canadian tour. The crowd spilled out onto the streets. It was insane. Fanfare, celebration, and electric excitement was in the air.

Armed with idealism and naiveté, we walked amongst the people with a skip in our step.  We entered the first store, only to be hit hard within minutes by reality. Unyielding demands from the two-year-old for snacks, toys, and adventures behind sales counters combined with the very real need to feed a new baby, forced us to re-evaluate.

Shopping would have to wait.

We ducked into a popular nearby coffee shop chain and claimed the corner of a communal table for ourselves. We sipped, snacked, and scanned the room.

My eyes immediately met the kind eyes of a woman, busily tending to her own baby. Gentle-faced, warm, and open, she nodded and smiled at me silently signalling her solidary as a fellow mom.

Instantly, I was lurched back to the present by the unmistakable sound of The Blowout.

Clutching my black diaper bag close to my body and my son even tighter, I stood up, and painstakingly wove my way in and out of the bodies crammed in the serpentine queue for caffeine.

After an eternity, I reached tiny bathroom. There was a line up several people deep. When it was finally my turn, I shoved the door open, my eyes searching the room frantically for a change station.

“How is it possible that a busy coffee shop like this doesn’t have a change station?” I thought in frustration as I dug through the bag, retrieving a portable change mat and placing it on the greying, discoloured tile. This would have to do.

I couldn’t help but think how unlikely it would be for Duchess Kate to find herself in such a predicament, as I dug around for the diapers.

My heart stopped.

THE DIAPERS!

For a never-ending minute, panic and desperation washed over me in relentless waves.

I envisioned them sitting forgotten on the dark stone counter in my kitchen. In my state of new-mom-exhaustion, I had failed to actually pack them into my diaper bag.

Thankfully, having remembered the wipes, I cleaned my little guy up redressed him, and ventured out diaper-less. A scary, but necessary prospect.

Sheepishly, I made my way over to Solidarity-Mom. I felt stupid and exposed. Shame quickly followed suit. What kind of a mom forgets THE DIAPERS?

Smiling apologetically, I asked her to bail me out.

“Oh my goodness, of course!” She exclaimed with a warm smile, with neither pity nor judgement, but total empathy.

As she held out two diapers in her outstretched hand, I felt so grateful. It felt like she literally saved my life, or at the very least, my dignity.

That night, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I had to find a way to thank her.

I happen to be part of an outstanding mom’s Facebook group. These women build each other up, share stories without fear of judgement, and mobilize when tragedy strikes. In a world when motherhood can be a minefield of over-commitment, snotty noses, and unrealistic expectations, this group has been a beacon of strength for many.

I posted a short version of the story, exclaiming how impactful that moment had been for me, hoping to “pay it forward.” Numerous moms immediately commented, not only to reassure me that I was not alone in “screwing up”, but hoping we’d connect, becoming friends in the future.

Sure enough, within a few hours, Solidarity-Mom, Abbie, responded:

“That was me and you are more than welcome! By the way, my guy is 8-weeks old, too!”

As luck would have it, our baby boys were coincidentally born on the exact same day. After some back and forth, we made plans to meet up for a walk with some of the moms from the group. We hit it off, and it has become tradition to see each other as much as our packed schedules allow.

Because of the diaper disaster, not only have I gained a friend, but my son has, too.

Sometimes it seems hard not to believe that the universe works in mysterious ways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handfuls of Hope

Old-and-Young-hands

“Why would God make me this way?” he threw his hands up exasperated, standing in the middle of the grocery aisle as she stood beside him.

My 84-year-old friend, Kate, a devout Christian, had spotted Sam immediately upon entering the grocery store that day, hunched over as he squinted at the ingredients on a box of cereal.

A resident in her senior’s complex, he had been struggling with presenting his true identity to the world. Born a female, Sam had recently decided to bravely transition in the last act of his life, through hormone therapy, to the man with whom he had always identified.

Adversity was no stranger to Sam. He struggled daily with depression and anxiety. He could be seen frequently breaking down publically, shouting angrily at passers-by from the steps of his apartment. Other residents in Kate’s complex tended to avoid Sam, unable to grapple with the uncertainty and erratic nature of their interactions.

He was often solitary.

He walked alone.

Shopped alone.

Spent every holiday alone.

Kate was always good to him. She made sure to honour and call him by his chosen name. She always acknowledged him in passing.

This day was a little different.

“Oh, I just can’t today,” she thought initially when she saw him standing there. She was exhausted after a long week of medical appointments and the last thing she wanted to do was navigate unpredictable waters with her neighbour. She began to turn on her heel for the opposite direction, to avoid Sam before he could see her.

But, in that moment, something stopped her.

She knew he needed her today.

So, she angled her cart toward Sam, and made her way over to him, greeting him sincerely with a big smile and a friendly “hello.”

He looked up, surprised, then, upon recognizing Kate, his face broke into a wide grin.

As it turns out, it had been a particularly difficult day for Sam. He had been contemplating his identity, struggling with whom he thought he had to be for the world to accept him, questioning his worthiness and existence.

They stood together, for a long time. She listened. He talked. She validated him as he revealed his fears. He felt safe and heard. Sometimes, that is all we seek.

There were tears and even a hug.

Before he turned to go, Sam stopped her suddenly, grasping her hand, “You know, Kate, I was feeling miserable earlier, but after talking to you, I feel…hopeful.”

My 84-year old friend, leaned in a little closer, placing her freckled hand on his shoulder and whispered gently, “God doesn’t make mistakes.”

Giving Thanks for An Unexpected Encounter

sad_depressed_depression_sadness_young_person_stress_girl-778474.jpg!d

“What beautiful blue eyes!” her voice broke through my thoughts as I waited, admittedly impatient for the sign to invite us to cross the busy road. It was the Saturday of a hectic Thanksgiving weekend, we were set to catch the next ferry to our favourite gulf island, and I had just raced into a nearby pharmacy to buy some necessary supplies to ward off the beginnings of flu season, my blue-eyed-one-year-old strapped to my body.

I had noticed her.  A flat brown mop of hair, swaying slightly, speaking to everyone and no one, gaping darkness where teeth once stood, assaulting the big yellow button repeatedly as she urged the lights to change, so she too, could cross the street.

I had noticed her, but I hadn’t really seen her.

Until she spoke to me.

There exists a distance so expansive between truly seeing people, as they intend to be seen, and accepting the representatives they send forth into the world. First impressions seem easier to comprehend. We allow ambivalence to bubble up somewhere deep inside of us, born from the lack empathic connection. Ambivalence often leads to dehumanization. When we dehumanize people, scary things can happen: incidents of road rage, hateful anonymous comments on the internet, violence, and general indifference to human suffering. We tell ourselves the story that we are not responsible for others, that they have made choices to wind up where they are, that we are powerless to create positive change, and we shrug our collective shoulders, overwhelmed by our own lives, and let ourselves off the hook.

It’s easy to become protectionist, to turn away from that we don’t understand, to write people off based on our assumptions of who they are.

But, when we choose to be witness to the humanity in people, to see people’s truth, to will ourselves to see beyond the confines of their label, beautiful moments abound.

I could have ignored the homeless woman, who took a risk to tell ME how lovely my baby was. The woman who had nothing to give, but gifted me her kindness. On a weekend meant for giving thanks for the abundances we enjoy, I could have refused to speak to her out of fear.

But, I didn’t.

I chose to see her humanity. To hear the kindness in her words. To feel her need for genuine human connection.

I turned to her, looked into her eyes, acknowledged and thanked her authentically, as I would a friend. Her eyes widened, then her face broke out into a smile. I asked how her day was going and listened attentively as she told me.

As the sign turned, indicating that it was finally our turn cross the street, I wished her a heartfelt Happy Thanksgiving.

“Bless you,” she said and grinned before turning and walking away.

The funny thing is, I felt luckier for having met her.

As I walked toward my vehicle, I wrapped my arms around my baby boy, reminded of how incredibly blessed I am.