Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Next Chapter

“Love is a canvas furnished by Nature and embroidered by Imagination.” ~Voltaire

I stood watching the energy of the ocean glisten with the sun’s emissions of light. I had come with intention- purpose that had taken over three years to culminate.
Reaching into the pocket of my shawl, my fingertips felt the surface and a wave of emotions matched the pounding surf… Let me paint you a picture. 

During the Christmas season, I made plans to ring in 2016 in Sidney- by the sea. I had acquired a ticket to see “The Timebenders” perform at the heart of the Saanich Peninsula community ~ Mary Winspear Centre. The theme was Mardi Gras and I found the perfect mask. 

Earlier on New Year’s Eve before attending the event, I spent some time at SHAW Ocean Discovery Centre

I lingered over the aquariums intently- with my eyes scanning all of the sea creatures. My connection to the sea was obvious, to one volunteer member. Tammy watched as I discovered everything that swam, moved or clung to their ocean environment. She came over and struck up a conversation with me. As a volunteer for three years, Tammy could pick out those who were absorbed by what the centre had to offer. 

After inquiring about my visit, I told her about my strong bond with my rainbow child- Shayla- and how the deep waters connect us to one another. She smiled, replying how listening to me, Tammy felt as if she knew who Shayla was. 

 In relaying to her the intent of my travels to the area, I was told about the glints of sea glass along the beach, uniting me further with the ocean.

In researching the ‘glass beach’ in Sidney, I found a story about a fire that happened long ago at a hotel, just behind the beach. All the stain glass windows blew out and were carried out by the ocean; overtime the colorful glass was polished by the sea and sand, finding its way to being discovered back upon the shoreline. I liked this legendary tale as it creates vivid imagery.
I also cherished the time spent talking with Tammy, who had sought me out on a day, that held monumental purpose for me. 

On my way out, I glanced into an open aquarium and noticed two starfish nestled up against one another. Taking a closer look, I saw one of the starfish was missing an arm. It struck me with profound sense of relation…how I felt like I had lost a body part- a piece of me when Shayla passed away. Yet, as time carried on, much like the starfish, I have regenerated new growth. I will not be the same as I once was- as now I am different- but I have been restored.

As I let the winter sun cast warmth upon the neckline of my shawl, my footsteps took me to a man named Bob. He had been capturing nature’s magnificence, through a camera lens. I spoke briefly with him, unaware our paths would cross later. 

I let my hand settle into my pocket again- thinking of the journey of what  inspired me to write this movement…

When I feel like no one understands, or like I'm not being heard when I try to speak, I just write-because my paper and pen understands me- Latesha
Since my hotel where I was staying at was right near the ocean, I checked in to Sidney Waterfront Inn & Suites

From the moment I encountered Julia, I knew my choice of accommodations was perfectly suited. In the time I spent there, I found refuge in those who listened to a mother…letting go.
As I went to my room, I saw behind reception, a whiteboard with a quote- as if written solely for my presence. 

Upon entering my suite, I found a full kitchen unit, an electric wood-stove and the softest hotel towels, my hands have ever touched! As my gaze was upon the artwork above my bed, I sat down and reflected what it meant to me. Two ships on the open waters, sailing in different directions.
It settled within me- how I had encountered the greatest love of my life- in a man I saw as my soul mate.
Over the past year, leading me to this point, I accepted the fate of how 24 months would have made all the difference to us. In granting forgiveness to him, I let all of the hurts laid upon me dissipate. In its place, the beats of drums carry us back to our greatest road trip together… to  visit the ‘three sisters- Sitka trees.’ 

Knowing there would always be questions where no answers would ever be found, I needed to place my mind elsewhere. Looking back on the photographs I had captured to this point, allowed me to move forward.
Grounding me to my thoughts was how I had begun this day; paying respects to someone I consider family. In wanting to remember I was not alone in my journey of grief, I went to visit Lindsay’s grave. My soul sister Judy did not know of my plans. I placed a special blue and white Hawaiian flower clip that I had worn on many travels to the Islands. I attached it to the blue rose I had laid on a previous visit. 

For me, to come and see Lindsay’s grave site, is to acknowledge how two fragile mothers came together in 2014- on Christmas Day; embracing a friendship created in the heavens.

Back at my suite, I collected my Starbucks gift card sent to me from my treasured friend, Michelle. 

Happy New Year Michelle- Cheers!
 As I walked past a fashion store, a mannequin display with a unique paper and feathers dress caught my eye, that my daughter would have adored!

Shayla was passionate about clothes, in addition to the latest designs-she left behind many eclectic sketches of things to wear. I have a drawing of a dress in one of her books. I would love for someone to fuse together the butterfly material I was gifted in Armstrong and Shayla’s imagery. Wearing a dress she created would be like receiving a hug from above. 

I was reminded how I have upon my skin, a tattoo of another one of her sketches. Once back at my suite, I looked at it when I was getting ready for my New Year’s night. As my fingertip went over the symbolism of my tattoo, I focussed on everything it encompassed-one word stood out that I had not delved into. L O V E

My focus has been on self-discovery and healing thru my writing. Previous in my life, I had been bathed in blue- a storyteller with an afterglow of sorrow.

“Even tales of loss and hardship give us Courage and open up the doors of Love”- The Book of Negroes

In keeping my mind wide open to all possibilities- I came to understand the unfinished story of my life never would find healing- if not pursued. Love is something I believe will find me… if it is left alone, it will be discovered at a time least expected. When it is rooted, much like the acceptance Shayla found in me, that one person will hold close the obscurity of who I am and never be disloyal to it. 

One thing I do miss is being able to trust in Shayla with all of my fears.

I loved her not for the way she danced with my angels but for the way the sound of her name could silence my demons ~ C.P.

As I prepared for the evening, I wanted some music to keep me company. Turning on the T.V. the start of Adele’s “Hello” blasted into my room. Now, I must confess how I would rather be covered in peanut butter, rolled in sparkles and put on display in city centre- than listen to this song again! Brilliant as the Adele 25 CD is, the overplaying of “Hello,” has it locked into the core of my memory. When Miss Piggy and Kermit have covered your song- it’s time to move on to your next No. #1 hit. 

Instead, I shut the television off and turned on the radio. Within minutes, I was overcome with emotion. The lyrics to “What’s Going On” by 4 Non Blondes brought me to one year ago, at the previous New Year’s celebration- where it had been performed by the band. This song was a favourite of Shayla and mine as we cranked it up in my old beater of a vehicle; we hit the road like Thelma and Louise, but with a different purpose. 

Music was a staple in our world- as the very breathe we took; it matched the flow of the soundtrack of our lives. When I could not express my grief, I let the songs of others resonate the brokenness I felt inside. Over the course of The Heart Pebble Movement, I created many videos that were a reflection of the pain I have endured. 

Shayla liked to listen to rap music and it took me years to connect with her taste of this genre. Recently, when I heard the songs that make up the video I did- I had stayed up till 2 am, working on it. My daughter loved the compilation of mash-ups…taking a variety of songs and putting them together. The special video created by myself has three songs that I know Shayla would have enjoyed. The tribute marks my healing journey and is peppered with symbolism.
The opening of the video is where my daughter’s ashes were scattered on the Island of Maui. In the Pinnacle Vodka snapshot, we were in an ice bar in Florida, on our Disneyworld vacation. Another part displays the green bird from Cirque Du Soleil’s La Nouba. I remembered watching this self-conscious character on stage in downtown Disneyworld and how much I could relate. She escapes the cage she has been bound in and is anxious to fly. Yet the green bird can't fly away and join the circus, because she is too awkward. She remains trapped in the urban world like a marionette with tangled strings. This sums up how I felt trapped in the concrete jungle for many years- desperate to escape- but not knowing how, until I found the strength needed to do so. There is also a glimpse of the Piper key I own, which is connected to my first novel, “Under the Sitka Tree.” While this video is coupled with my daughter, it is also a montage of moments in my life that echo who I am and how far I have come in my bereavement journey. I have called it, “Our Last Ride,” as I have reached a new stage of my grief- “ACCEPTANCE.” 

While I may dream of what Paradise is like, I am no longer wishing I was in the passenger seat, listening to the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s ‘other side’ when she entered the reservoir. I do not dwell on Shayla’s suffering on the day she perished, rather I focus on the Salvation she now has in Heaven. 

Back at the hotel, I was putting on the finishing touches…
My sequined silver and black top came with embroidered words that suit me well:
Perfectly Imperfect.”

Likewise, the ring I had bought represented the different directions my life has taken. One part, reaches back across the universe, indicating what is left behind; the other extends forward, to the unfolding of my life, in phenomenal ways. To honour The Heart Pebble Movement, each glitter stone signifies a pebble let go into this world- in remembrance of my daughter. Though there have been many more, it is symbolic of what the cause has meant to me. 

Before leaving, to attend the New Year’s Eve celebration, I thought of my Memory Jar. I had made it on the last session of our bereavement support group, GriefShare. Tucked inside the decorated glass container, are scrolls of paper with words I have written, sharing precious memories of Shayla. Whenever, I am missing my babygirl, I pull out a memory and read it to make my heart smile again.

Even when the darkest thoughts try to overwhelm me, I have to set them across the table and recognize the impact they had- in order to receive closure. Now in its place, there remains an empty chair, where I am free and a memory jar full of joy… is by my side. 

Once at the event, I sat with two other couples who welcomed me at their table. We were entertained by the fabulous “Timebenders,” who performed in costume to decades of songs from the 50’s thru to the 90’s. The energy of this five piece band, lit the place up with the beats of Michael Jackson, crooning of Stevie Wonder and flamboyance of Lady Gaga.

With every costume change, there were bursts of laughter- especially when the male lead singer appeared in a blond wig, pale dress and white go-go boots, to belt out a melody of ABBA tunes. 

Throughout the evening, I met a variety of people. 

One lady, Thea, danced to Footloose with me. Margaret, who works at the Mary Winspear Centre, made me feel welcome. Right before midnight, I realized no one was at my table. A couple came and poured champagne and I assumed they were going back onto the dance floor. I watched as husband and wife came over to my side, to stand right next to me. When I told her I thought I would ring in the New Year alone, she smiled, gave me a squeeze and said, “You’re not alone anymore!” I was thrilled that strangers would be so gracious to me. 

That night, I toasted the past and those who are a part of it, instilling in me- life’s lessons. It was followed by a toast for my future- one where I am pursuing my gifts as a writer and plans to thrive, within my own words that remind me "He was there all the time..."

After midnight, The Timebenders continued to perform. When they sang the last song, I realized it was in the realm of Shayla that this was a night to remember. As they belted out “Life is a Highway,” I felt goose bumps, as my daughter and I use to play it on every road trip we had taken together. I held close the profound moment- as I thought of everything which binds us to God- uniting me in His love and an abundance of memories. 

Getting into my vehicle, I turned on the radio to hear “Oceans” by Hillsong United- one of my favourite Christian artists. Much like the sea needs Oxygen, I need our Lord and Saviour to sustain me. 

Once back at the hotel, I met up with Bob again, who had his professional camera and tripod equipment. He was going out on the pier to capture the galaxy of stars. I hurriedly went to my room, changed and joined him outside, under a planetary night sky. We talked about our lives and I spoke of Shayla. Grabbing from my jacket pocket, a container of bubbles, I told him how I always loved to blow the soap suds. As he checked on his camera, I proceeded to release bubbles into the wintry darkness. I stayed there chatting with Bob until 2 am. I felt so alive, under the half moon cast upon the darkened waters, on the first day of 2016! 

Look at the stars, look how they shine for you…and all the things you do…Yeah, they were all yellow ~ COLDPLAY 

Once back at the hotel-inside my room, I sat on the bed and thought about what had taken place the day before, signifying an end to my lamenting and to The Heart Pebble Movement.
After three years of writing stories…opening the grief of my heart and spilling it out onto the viral pages of the internet, the devotion of this cause is complete for me. 

Let me finish the picture…

On the day of New Year’s Eve, I stood on a pier. Placing my hand into my pocket, I pulled from within, the polished stone that was with Shayla when she died. She had been gifted the Rose Quartz heart in White Rock, by a woman who told my daughter she had a vibrant, colourful aura. After Shayla passed, I went thru her purse- which had been with her at the bottom of the reservoir. Zipped inside a pocket was the pink heart that when you looked at it towards the light, it now appeared to contain frozen shards. 

The Rose Quartz meaning is to help someone through an emotional trauma of loss. It was part of the inspiration for this movement. My former boyfriend Paul also played a significant role in, The Heart Pebble Movement, as he was the first to release a stone in Shayla’s memory. All of these things had served their purpose and I no longer felt I had to cling to something that was bound for release itself. Looking outward, I saw a distinctive curving line upon the waters…as if it was another indication that Shayla’s legacy will continue on…no matter what. 

My storytelling has seen over 16,000 people read about the pebble releases. It has evolved from the tragic loss of my daughter into the journey of me- a grieving mother. I have shared endless photographs, videos, quotes and stories. 

I am reminded of this powerful verse:
It is a miracle that I should live long enough to carry on my work as a Jeli, so that my own stories can outlive me – Aminata Diallo

As my lips kissed the polished heart pebble, one last time... I let it slip thru my fingers as I tossed it back into the sea…no longer did it bind me to December 12th; my healed soul is a seeker of His light.  

Checking out of my hotel room at Sidney Waterfront Inn & Suites, I gave thanks to Julia, Anita and Jackie- all who I had shared about Shayla. Looking at the whiteboard, Jackie had posted a new quote which made me be in awe of the wondrous verse.

It was as if I could imagine Shayla looking back at me, her smiling face and nodding her head in agreement. 

As I type the last words on my blog, I extend a wholehearted gratefulness… to all those who have participated over the years, in The Heart Pebble Movement. Some of you were strangers who I met only briefly, others were friends whose paths crossed and then continued on their own way; one- who was the love of my life- saw our hot air balloon carry on, without us in it. There are those who have remained constant friends- my gathering of sisters by heart- one who has the Aloha spirit, a group of ladies whose Christian sisterhood uplifts me, while another Soul sister, is an angel to me.
Gift box from my friend Angie, that carried the Rose Quartz to its final release...
When I first began writing posts, I believed it was to honour the memory of Shayla. Yet as I complete this epic blog, I see how my beloved daughter’s shining light, blazed the way for extraordinary adventures and people to come into my world. The stories will remain forever for those to read about the travelling pebbles and the healing they brought me. 
I leave you with the one quote that connects me to my first novel, 
Under the Sitka Tree” …
We Are Bound by Our Roots~ Not by Our Feet 

By TL Alton  

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Restoration of Christmas

“Let your Light Shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven.” ~ Matthew 5:16

In December 2011- on our counter in full display- sat a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. It was feeble, uneven and sparse with only one red ball clinging to it- and I adored it! When you pressed a button it played the signature Peanuts theme song, "Linus and Lucy." Shayla passed away never seeing it and afterwards, I packed it away. Sometime later, I ended up giving the tree to her friend, Mindy. 

This year, when my seasonal job concluded, I was gifted with a substantial amount of Canadian Tire money. I hung onto it for quite awhile, until one day I was in the Christmas décor section of Canadian Tire and I saw something that melted my heart.

It was Snoopy covered in a string of blinking lights. When you pressed his paw, he shimmies and shakes, bopping away to the same song that the tree played. This was a gift for me that now sits in my room of where I am staying. 

The cycle of grief has played through its course and things that once caused me despair now trickle in with splendours of joy. When I shifted away from the sorrow, my eyes were opened to things, places and people who made this year’s Christmas magical. 

When I was working another job over the Christmas season, I met a lovely Hawaiian woman named Luana. We spoke of the Islands and I shared my special Maui connection with my Anela- Shayla. Luana means ‘enjoyment’ and I was fortunate to have met her as she has a caring heart. One day at work, I turned to find her with a decorated box that had a beautiful red sparkling bow. Inside were offerings of gifts that held revered memories for me. A yellow Plumeria flower now sits attached to my fir branches in my room, alongside it is the turtle carving necklace Luana gave to me. When I released Shayla’s ashes into the ocean, I scattered Plumeria flowers and also wore a headdress of them. In Hawaii, I was touched by the underwater blessing of swimming at a safe distance, alongside a turtle. This event was unplanned, yet I felt a spiritual connection, to one of nature’s graceful creatures. The kindness of Luana also saw her gift me a Kukui nut bracelet. The symbolism behind the nut is in Ancient times, they use to bring light into the world through their oil. 

The depiction of each gift was deeply rooted in the continual love for my daughter and our bond on the Islands of Hawaii. I also received a bright red and gold card from Luana that read:
Mele Kalikimaka
Me Ka
Hau'oli Makahiki Hou

- This means “Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.” 


Another customer who I served was wearing a shimmering top with a heart on it. As we spoke, I realized she was covered in hearts- from her earrings to the card she bought. When I commented on the wonderful card she said she was buying it for herself. I was intrigued by her and asked for her name.

“My name is Autumn.”

Upon her receipt I wrote “The Heart Pebble Movement” as I felt she was seeking things. In return she gave me the name of a doctor who sounded familiar. Once back where I am staying, I checked out Dr. Gabor Maté. It was when I saw the cover of one of his books that I was smacked with the connection to Shayla. Since she was pursuing Social Work as a career, she owned many University books. In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addictionis one of the books written by Dr. Gabor Maté.

I have also been searching myself- all the while understanding nothing is ever really as it seems- this was another indication that there are no happenstances in life.

All of these- connected the dot moments- led me to a Christmas, fueled with light.
Adding to the peace of the season was an interactive Victorian Advent Calendar, by Jacquie Lawson. It was another blessed gift for my wonderful friend Terry. Every day, I opened it and clicked on activities or read up on Victorian traditions, which influence our Christmas’s. I never knew what I was receiving. Upon clicking on Day 21- a hot air balloon appeared- my heart skipped a beat…another recollection of what never unfolded…I continue to march on.

I awoke Christmas day to find more presents under the tree I had in the loft. Sometime ago, I mentioned to Lilian how last year, I had decided to celebrate the season again. I spoke of my beautifully decorated tree and even how I hung up a stocking. Of course, on Christmas morning it still lay flat and unfilled. She remembered this and had a red velvet stocking packed full of a variety of gifts. Next to it were several nicely decorated gift boxes. These were in addition to my presents from my dear friend Judith, who was my co-facilitator for GriefShare

My new 2015 Christmas Anela
 I was overwhelmed with such genuine caring that I began to weep. Christmas is something that still makes my heart glow. I was happy to discover a package of tissues amongst my parcels.
I was brought back to a memory so treasured by me after all these years, it still exemplifies the meaning of giving from a place of sincerity. Shayla had come home to celebrate the holidays with my then boyfriend Paul and I. She beamed as I grabbed hold of the present she was passing to me. When I opened it, the tears began to form. On a previous visit, my daughter had been wearing funky purple Pajamas. They had trees with swirly branches in a multitude of colours and a saying: “trees-cuter than paper or plastic.” When I opened the wrapping of the gift Shayla had presented me, it was her PJ’s and there stood my daughter with the biggest grin.
Over the years, I have worn them out. As the words have started to fade and the colours grown fainter, I still go back to that place in my memory; holding tight onto the love bound within it.

Now, as I sat in the loft opening my gifts for this Christmas, I was about to discover a wave of providence come my way. One of the presents from Lilian was a heart decoration that has a key, which can be inserted into the back of it to make it stand up. The words “You Are My Sunshine,” are on it- that I use to tell my babygirl and sing to her.  The sunflowers, which are one of my cherished flora, also represent me; my spiritual faith and worship. This summer, I held the exact heart in a local gift store and pondered over whether to buy it. In the end I placed it back on the shelf. Chances saw Lilian come along and out of a wide range of hearts to choose from, she selected this one; with purposeful meaning. 

The next gift had me sit in awe of the likelihood I would be given it. Wrapped inside tissue was a tin that contained a lavender candle. After Shayla passed, Paul bought a lavender candle. He has lit it every year since my daughter’s death. Lilian had purchased the exact same one.

Lavender candle on the silk satchel Lilian gifted me

I also received from Lilian, my first woman’s devotional Journal titled, “God’s Calling.” Knowing it will guide my direction, as I walk through life’s upheavals, brings me great comfort. 

Journal from Lilian

There were many other gifts from her heart and I kept walking into the kitchen with tears of happiness, thanking Lilian kindly for every single present!

When it came time to open Judith’s gifts, I gave thanks for these women of deep faith, who uplift me in many brilliant ways! From jewellery, a gorgeous Pashmina shawl, books and luxury body crèmes, I knew every item bought was attentively selected with compassion. 

Books from Judith
 In celebrating the season again, I felt like Cindy Lou! At the end of my packages was a decorated box. Unwrapping it, I opened the lid. Inside was a black pair of Cobb Hill shoes. These were not just any pair of dress shoes…these were meant for my new job. Such a personal item to buy for someone and given my wide feet issues and no arch, the chance of them fitting me were slim. As I held them in my hands, I was overcome with emotions. The pair of footwear was my very own Christmas shoes. Gathering them, I headed back downstairs to show Lilian. We both felt such grace in Judith’s kindness. I slipped them on- it was as if I had been with my dear friend, when she bought them! I was reminded of a verse from the Bible:

Psalm 40:2 He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

"Have Faith"
 All of these touching moments set the tone for me to gather my donations given to me by Terry and other woman, including some from Saanich Baptist Church. Within the hour, I was on the streets of Victoria, ready to hand out warm clothing, treats and gifts that would bring some Christmas cheer.

My timing was a bit off as most homeless people were still eating their meal provided by various organizations, all over the city. Therefore, I had trouble with finding anyone in need- at the moment. I decided to eat myself and given I could only find McDonald’s; I ordered what turned out to be the ‘unhappiest meal’ I had eaten in a long time. The food was not what mattered, but the company I was keeping. When everyone else was avoiding the back alcove of McDonald’s, I went in and sat with three street people. When I saw the look of surprise on their faces, I knew it was exactly where I was meant to be. I began speaking to them. One of them frowned as he looked over at meal and asked hesitantly, “That’s not your Christmas meal?” I smiled and said, “Sure is.” He them commented how he had even eaten better on Christmas Day at the church, which made me laugh in agreement. One of the men who huddled in the corner, was clearly intoxicated and making growling noises, his face twisting and the smell of alcohol upon him. I began to choke up, as he reminded me of someone I know, who used to be the same way and for a moment- a flood of bad memories were upon me. Abruptly, the man next to me asked why I was out on the streets by myself. I shared about my desire to help others, while wanting to hear their stories. He told me he was a painter and carpenter. He had moved to Victoria, leaving everything behind for a new start. Sharing the difficulties with securing work, he fell on hard times and as the cooler weather crept in, he needed to shift his job focus to construction. It was interesting to note that while I was eating my cold, limp fries and flattened Chicken wrap, a security guard checked in several times. I caught him looking at me wondering why I was sitting there and my smile back showed him I was okay. Afterwards, I packed my donations up and two of the men wished me a Merry Christmas! The third stumbled over to me, with his contorted facial expressions, he put out his fist for me to ‘pound it’- which I did. 

Once back on the streets, I bumped into a man named Eugene. He was eager to chat and quickly let me know he did not need anything. He mentioned a woman’s name and if I knew her? I shook my head no and asked why? Eugene confided she had died of a drug overdose and just before Christmas, it tore at me. Another family was being impacted by the ravages of the addictions on the streets.

I carried on with my thoughts and wondered if I was going to hand anything out? My question was soon answered when a flood of people started to filter back, after their meals had been finished. Suddenly, I was chatting with a young man who had been on the streets since he was 14…now he was 26 years old and the concrete was forged with the brokenness he feels every day. I talked with a man name James and a woman called Michelle. After I gave them something- whether a box of Skittles or a pair of earrings, I asked them their names. I know some are running either from family, abusive relationships, addictions, or even from themselves, so they make up a name that suited them well. That was the case in meeting Queen, who was humbled by my offerings of anything warm and proudly declared her new street name.

As I walked up and down familiar streets, in the spirit of Christmas, there was absolutely no judgment… as it is not my role to cast authority amongst them and their way of life.

Passing St. Andrews Cathedral Church, something caught my eye. Bending closer to have a look, I was elated to see a vibrant pink flower- a Christmas rose defying all odds had bloomed.
It reminded me how out of the scattered dark ashes, God brings forth beauty. 

Coming around the corner was a man with a cane. He was not elderly and I noticed the great efforts it took for him to walk, at a steady pace. I went up to him, introduced myself and asked if he needed anything. It turned out, he did not want any winter items or other donations I had. All Douglas wanted was someone to listen. I stood with him- as the wind found our exposed skin- I let every drop of words from his mouth fall deeply into the crevices of my own hurts. Empathy is a gift to appreciate and I offered it to this man as a valued commodity in his life.
I listened intently as Douglas spoke of the Prairies, being a single man with a high spectrum of autism, he did not have a wife or children. He took me on a personal journey, where Douglas spent month’s unconscious at the local hospital, suffering from a debilitating Brain Aneurysm. One of his eyes was distorted and he had an operation to help partially correct it. Douglas shared his anticipation of another upcoming surgery, to further assist, with his eye problems. He spoke of the challenges of walking by the street people to his apartment. Due to his poor vision, Douglas would kick over other homeless people’s money collection cans and he was very concerned for his well- being. He showed me on his wrist a MedicAlert bracelet.  It states he had a Brain Aneurysm and has vision problems, which helps a great deal in bringing awareness. He spoke of how having good health is everything and if you don’t have it, life is full of challenges. I could not agree more.

It was at this point, my gaze made me look downward at his shoes. In doing so, I noticed once of his shoelaces were untied. I told Douglas and casually offered to tie his laces up. He seemed taken aback and then smiling, he replied “Sure, Thank You!” As I bent down on the concrete, I shivered, not wanting to imagine what it is like to sleep on the foundation every day. While Douglas was standing and patiently waiting, he wondered if I could double loop it and I made sure the laces were not coming undone when he walked. 

Wishing me a Merry Christmas, Douglas had one simple request. He asked, “If I see you on the street again, will you be sure to say Hi to me?” I beamed with joy and shaking his hand, I remarked, “Of course, I will…and I want you know I will keep you in my prayers for your next operation!” My parting words, made him smile the biggest grin and a last word of gratitude.
Going our separate ways, I marvelled in the stories of people that are passed by on a daily basis. 

After a few hours, I had given out almost two bagfuls of donations and was walking back to my car, when I spotted Susan. She was an Aboriginal elderly woman in a wheelchair, way under-dressed for the cold weather. I noticed her PJ bottoms right away as they were covered with images of Animal from The Muppets. I spoke with her and found out she has no teeth…they have all been pulled. Susan spoke of the embarrassment and how she just wants a new set, which fit properly. I opened my bag and she was drawn to a hand knit bright pink toque with a pom- pom on it. Happily, she set it upon her lap.
I stayed with her until the bus came.

Nearing the street across from my vehicle, I passed out the remainder of my donations, with one remaining bag left for January.

As I gave the last of my goodies away, a young girl offered me something in return. Opening her hand, she gifted me a small polished ‘pebble’ and it took my breath away at her simple gesture of kindness. 

Walking the streets with my donation bags, I never felt alone.  I imagined Shayla with me, her hand tightly clasped in mine and her beautiful smile, lighting up the night.
I decided to keep the tradition of seeing a movie of inspiration. I picked “Concussion” with Will Smith. While last year, I got lost and ended up at the local Odeon theatre, this year I decided to go to Silver City Tillicum Mall and watch the film. 

Driving past a bench, I saw a woman, all alone in the frigid night. I went to the local gas station and bought two coffees- one for her and one for me. Turning around, I headed back and approached her. She declined the coffee, but was gracious to say “God Bless and a Merry Christmas.” The time it took for me to do all of this lead me to the next person. 
Once at the theatre, it occurred how last year I had met Judy in a movie line, with our friendship blossoming into a deeply enriched union of two, long lost, sisters. 

Suddenly, when I looked up… I saw the most beautiful hair colours and style on a person only a few feet away. I knew I had to give her a compliment. As she turned around, I raved about her rainbow locks and she shared it was herself who had done the tedious job. In speaking with this young woman, I found out she works on the oil rigs in Alberta. Her partner Fawn was outside for a smoke and they were going to see the last Mocking jay movie together. 
I asked her name and she replied, “Victoria.” I spoke to her about Shayla and how much bullying she endured for being unique and different. Victoria was honest about what she has to tolerate in the workplace. From men wanting to assault her, to threats of violence, not all of those she meets want to embrace her. 

Victoria is Transgender. She struck me as someone who may consider conventional orientation labels inadequate. When Fawn came into the conversation, I saw two people who were madly in love with one another. Again, there was no judgment on my part as when I first viewed Victoria, I saw her as a beautiful woman. It made me think of our society and how others choose to hide in the shadows, while leading a deception life. Whereas Victoria and Fawn are living a life they feel acceptance in. It is essential- that those who are called misfits of our world are not judged by ourselves- solely because we feel their lifestyles do not mesh with ours. Where does one draw the line of approval? To some, homeless people are lazy lowlifes, while others feel the colour of your skin determines rejection. The mentally ill are stigmatized daily, while the division of religious beliefs which do not align with ours- causes wars. 

This Christmas, I encountered a deep level of humbled grace. While billions of dollars were racked up at malls, stores and businesses, I met a person who simply wanted his eyesight back. I spoke with a woman who wants new dentures, so her food does not have to go into a blender, to be sipped thru a straw. I met a young lady who would like her mother to accept her- just the way she is. 

These are the real gems I was gifted and an understanding that even though my daughter could not be here for Christmas, she left me the best gift of all- The splendour of TRANSFORMATION.

Christmas Day 2015

Holiday Video: "Lily and The Snowman"

By TL Alton