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Archive for January, 2012

Once again I have been away from the page for much too long. How much time must pass before I can say I’m finished processing all that has happened in the past year, and all that continues to happen now? It still feels surreal.

If I were to carry a tape recorder with me all day long, you would at least know the myriad of thoughts that run through my head. There are so many: all connected in theme, but disjointed in time, in emotion. Often, bad memories make me relive some of the panic I felt then. I am like a person who’s been miraculously transported from one country to another, one culture to another. It is really that foreign, that new. Over and over, the words “what a difference a year makes” play in my head.

People say “everything happens for a reason.” When your life is gaining speed on its downward spiral, their words make you want to scream. They sound far too simple and condescending, and though meant to comfort, they don’t help. But the odd thing is that when you get to the other side, and realize you’ve survived whatever mess you were in, you also recognize that something inside you has changed. And it’s what you do with that change that sometimes gives meaning or purpose to the suffering you endured. You find your “reason.”

That’s where I’m at right now. I feel altered, made stronger by what we’ve been through, yet more vulnerable to the suffering of others. I’ve been on the same playing field and it’s not something I can forget.

I can think of no better way to explain it than to share something that happened just before Christmas. First, allow me give you some of the background details. It involves a man who lives in a nearby low rental apartment. I often see him walking his two dogs. His blonde, straggly hair reaches his waist. He appears to be in his early forties. He has a speech impediment and is very nervous, which can make him seem simple-minded, yet I have seen him riding a bike to MacDonald’s to use their WiFi, an old laptop under his arm. His poverty is obvious. What isn’t obvious is what’s caused it. A neighbour has said that he has had some very “hard luck.”

On a very cold pre-Christmas afternoon, I saw this same man crossing a “big box” store centre’s parking lot on foot, a shopping bag in each hand, and my reaction surprised even me. There are some people who would see such a man and immediately think “he’s a bum, he’s on welfare and spending taxpayers’ money on Christmas gifts.” In the past, I might not have been so harsh, but at the very least, I would have pitied him. It would have saddened me.

But at a time in my life when I’ve just “come through the other side,” I found myself celebrating his strength. How wonderful that despite hardship, this man’s spirit soared and connected him to the most joyous of seasons. It brought tears to my eyes, but they were happy tears. It reminded me that when all is said and done, maintaining your dignity despite life’s trials is probably the biggest achievement of all.

Perhaps it is all transference. Maybe my pride in persevering and my gratitude and euphoria over our fresh start lends a gossamer brilliance to the simplest of situations and circumstances around me. But I will tell you this: there, in that moment, there was no person I respected more than that solitary Christmas shopper trudging through the parking lot.

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