Category Archives: Inspiration

Undaunted In Life’s Last Chapter

Anna’s life changed when she fell out of a cherry tree.
(photo from Mercer Orchards)

During the 6 years my Dad was in a longterm care facility, I observed that the dynamics here were similar to what I had seen in prisons. Some residents lost all hope and just sat inertly in their wheel chairs, unwilling to participate in group activities. A handful of undaunted residents demonstrated surprisingly purposeful responses to this final, difficult stage in life.

After Dad fell and broke his hip, he never walked again. The facility in which he was placed had about 200 residents, all in wheel chairs. The perimeter doors were securely locked and the long hallways were impersonal and uninspiring.

A lifelong fascination with music helped Dad become one of those who decided to employ the time profitably. He played the cello and on every visit I carried the instrument to the piano in the dining room and we made music. It was the beginning of a drama that pulled together some of those who refused to give up. Because I arrived on almost a daily basis, I had considerable opportunity to observe the interactions and in some cases to be drawn in.

I occasionally chatted with Edna, a petite, fragile appearing woman with long white hair. In her late seventies, her alert mind still craved stimulation. Wanting freedom, she had seven times cut the belt staff affixed around her to ensure she would not fall from her wheelchair.

One day during the music time she parked her chair immediately behind the piano bench on which I was sitting. When we finished playing, I stood up and turned toward her, quite unaware of her devious intent. Grasping my wrist firmly, she fixed her mischievous blue eyes on me and said, “kiss me.” Dumbfounded, my mind scrambled, searching for a way to extricate myself from this awkward situation. I said, “what did you say?” “Kiss me,” she repeated, but with greater urgency. I didn’t want to embarrass her with an outright refusal. Studying her face, which still retained vestiges of earlier beauty, an idea came. Leaning over, I pecked her lightly on the forehead. Apparently satisfied, she smiled impishly.

Elsie, an independent minded resident, had earned a reputation with staff as a troublesome agitator. Over the years MS had trapped her questioning spirit in a body that no longer responded to commands. She guided her electric wheelchair by manipulating a steering device with her chin. Each morning she adeptly maneuvered the chair into Dad’s room and said “good morning Jacob, how are you?” After a brief chat, she backed out and roamed the hallways and dining room, searching for issues to take up with staff. Sometimes she literally cornered me and talked about the latest injustice she had uncovered. The Head Nurse became wary and uneasy when she saw Elsie trundling down a corridor on a sleuthing expedition. She attempted to discourage Elsie’s ceaseless roaming, but Elsie could not be stopped. She saw and heard things the Head Nurse didn’t want exposed. Elsie was delighted at each opportunity to tell institutional secrets.

As a teen, Anna had fled with her parents from a Mennonite village in Russia to escape Stalin’s purges. Now 83, she had been confined to a wheelchair for several years after climbing a tree to pick cherries. When a branch broke, her aged body had not been able to withstand the hard landing.

Day after day she sat in her wheelchair in the dining room, observing, meditating, often smiling. A woman of deep faith in God, serene and wise. One day as I was about to leave after a brief visit, she placed her hand gently on mine. In her native Low German, she prayed a blessing on me. As I walked away, I wondered if Anna had a premonition that we would not speak again. Several days later she wasn’t in her usual place. I went to her room where she quietly lay, very near to drawing her final breath.

Now, some years later, I still think often of these stalwart individuals. They had been stripped of health, material possessions, the freedom to go where they pleased, in some cases even of family and friends. Still, though the flesh was weak, the spirit was willing, and they were undaunted in this last difficult chapter of their lives. To this time I continue to feel privileged to have been in their company and to have learned from them.

The Passing of Hugh Hefner and John Boersma

Hugh Hefner (April 9, 1926 – September 27, 2017) photo from Wikipedia

My friend John Boersma and Playboy empire founder Hugh Hefner had both attained the 9th decade when they passed away in September. This was pretty much all they had in common. John’s exit received little attention outside his very loyal circle of friends. Hefner had a following around the globe and for a couple of days, local and international media avidly interviewed anyone who had ever known him. I wondered about the impact of their lives.

Hugh Hefner is principally known for his Playboy Magazine and the 29 room Playboy Mansion. The former was first published in December, 1953, with Marilyn Monroe on the front cover. It became famous for its centerfold. Each issue featured a dazzlingly lovely young woman sporting an exquisite, flawless, totally nude body.

John Boersma (November 29, 1922 – September 17, 2017) photo from Dignity Memorial.

When John Boersma was a young man, a woman exposing her body publicly was considered unseemly. This was certainly true in the conservative culture in which he lived. He attained a trade, worked diligently, got married and with his wife Theresa raised 3 children. They sought to instill sound values and modeled stability.

In the mean time, Hugh Hefner was embarking on an amazingly, hedonistic life style. He established the Playboy Mansion and surrounded himself with “bunnies,” gorgeous young women he invited to live with him in the mansion. He dated up to 7 women at a time, had 5 partners over the years, plus numerous girlfriends. Into this confusing mix, he added 3 marriages. His third wife, Crystal Harris, was 26 and he was 86 when they married.

John Boersma was already in his 80’s when I met him at a longterm care facility where he visited Theresa daily. She had drifted into dementia, which might have persuaded some men to part company. Not John though. Even when she lost all speech, probably didn’t recognize him, and needed to be fed, he continued to call her “sweetie” and spend the entire day with her. When she rested, John cheered up other residents, encouraging them, often whistling a tune, adding his deep baritone to a musical group, sometimes taking a female resident’s chair and dancing with her. His zest for life raised morale and brought joy.

Hefner’s Playboy magazine lured men into a very different lifestyle. The centerfold caused their hormones to flutter erratically and dance in excited anticipation. I never did buy a copy but as a teen I occasionally slipped into the local pharmacy and surreptitiously viewed the beauty of the month. Payment of $25,000 persuaded many cash strapped lovelies to disrobe for the Playboy camera.

There’s a meticulously crafted sense of mystique around the mansion, the magazine, and Hefner himself. The Playboy empire is deliberately portrayed as a glamorous, magical kingdom with Hefner in the role of Playboy Prince. The alluring imagery is calculated to lead people to believe they’re missing something essential, and to long for that elusive ingredient.

As seen from outside the Mansion, it is indeed a glamorous and enticing lifestyle. According to several former Hefner playmates however, the reality was not as enchanting as the public image. Holly Madison, for 6 years Hefner’s #1 girlfriend, presented a more somber view in Down the Rabbit Hole. In its promotion of the book, publisher Harper Collins wrote “What seemed like a fairy tale life quickly devolved into an oppressive routine of strict rules, manipulation and battles with ambitious, backstabbing bunnies. Life inside the notorious mansion wasn’t a dream at all, and quickly became her nightmare.”

In Bunny Tales, Izabella St. James, another former Hefner girlfriend wrote, “ Every Friday morning we had to go to Hef’s room, wait while he picked up all the dog poo off the carpet, and then asked for our one thousand dollar weekly allowance. He used the money to control us. We all hated the process.” St. James described the mansion as decrepit. “The mattresses on our beds were disgusting – old, worn and stained. The whole business was built on the bodies of nude women.”

There are always some who push the bar lower. Flamboyant individuals like Hugh Hefner are able to have a destabilizing impact on our society, because the media love to feature them and we are willing to be tempted. People like John Boersma do not exude the same charm or charisma, but they set for themselves a high standard of morality and decency. They are worthy role models for us all.

 

My Dad’s Guatemalan Summer

Elderly Guatemalan Woman, photo by nationalsterotype.com

My gentle, white haired Dad didn’t actually go to Guatemala that summer in 1994. It just seemed that way. When the Mennonite Central Committee told him about Hugo, a 36 year old Guatemalan man who worked on a hog farm and lived in his car, Dad knew someone must do something. “I have much to be thankful for,” he said. “I’m living alone in a 3 bedroom home. He is welcome.”

Hugo walked in that first evening carrying his few belongings. Dad had supper waiting and over the meal they began to talk, but Hugo’s sketchy English made communication difficult.

During the first couple of weeks they collaborated in developing a simple system of signs and words. They were like 2 kids who haven’t yet learned communication requires a common language.

Jake, you want?” Hugo would say, holding up his offering. Sign language was unnecessary when Dad said, “Hugo, you want coffee?”

On work days Hugo got up at 5 a.m. and prepared breakfast for himself and Dad, often a fried egg, unbuttered toast, a spicy green pepper and coffee. By the time Dad woke, the food retained not even the slightest hint of warmth. Only the green pepper was hot. Dad ate all but the pepper, without complaint. “I lived through the Dirty Thirties,” he told us. “I was taught to be grateful for whatever was placed on the table.”

At supper it was Dad’s turn to cook. His specialty was vegetarian soups and pies. Except for Guatemalan foods, Hugo had a teenager’s palette. He loved greasy foods, especially burgers and fries. He always praised Dad lavishly, smiling broadly and saying “good food, Jake. I like.” Dad noticed though that Hugo ate little. “I don’t think he cares for my cooking,” he said. “I’m sure he stops at McDonald’s on his way home.”

At the beginning of summer, Hugo said, “Jake, my mother, my sister. They want come visit Canada 2 weeks. Is alright they stay here?” Dad knew Hugo’s family ties were tenuous. This might be an opportunity to mend fences. “Yes, Hugo,” he said. “They are welcome.”

The mother and sister soon arrived. They spoke only Spanish, so Hugo needed to interpret in his still skeletal English. The two women quickly commandeered the kitchen. Soon the fridge was stocked with ingredients to prepare tortillas, tacos, burritos, enchiladas and more. Dad was pleased.

Virtually every day, while Hugo was at work, the old mother and her daughter visited local thrift shops. They returned with bulging shopping bags. Because Hugo left early in the morning and usually returned late, Dad was often at home with the two ladies. They were learning English, but initially communication was primarily by signs and gestures.

We remembered that Hugo had told Dad the ladies wanted to stay two weeks. The time passed rapidly and when we expected they’d be leaving imminently Linda and I invited Dad and his “Guatemalan family” for dinner. Over coffee and dessert, Linda innocently asked what day they were planning to leave.

The Old Mother’s response provided insight into Guatemalan time and culture. “In our village, when someone goes on a holiday,” she explained, speaking through Hugo, “it is necessary to bring a small gift for everyone. I have too many presents for the plane. I will buy a truck and my other son will drive it back. We will go with him.”

When Hugo’s sister unexpectedly left for L.A., Dad faced a new challenge. It was not considered proper in his Mennonite culture for a man and woman to live in the same house outside the bond of marriage. How would he explain this woman, almost his own age, living in his house? He devoted many hours to working on his yard. It was looking pretty spiffy.

Several weeks later Hugo arrived driving a red 1979 Toyota pickup truck. “Brakes no good,” he said. “My brother Otto fix when he has time.”

In the eighth week Otto arrived in the pickup. When he had loaded the truck, the Old Mother came to Dad and gave him a large straw hat with a red ribbon. With tears in her eyes she said, “In my village you welcome to visit.” Then she added, “Please, you take care my Hugo.”

Yes,” Dad said. “He is like a son.” She climbed into the truck, tears on her cheeks. And so ended my Dad’s Guatemalan summer.

Jeff Lakey, Healing With Music

Jeff Lakey

Sitting under a lush canopy of green leaves in a Cawston orchard last week, I asked musician Jeff Lakey, “What has surprised you?” He replied, “I’m surprised I’m still alive and healthy.” After hearing his story, Linda and I were surprised too.

The setting was a neighbourhood gathering of orchardists, farmers, fruit pickers, and anyone living in the area. A long table was laden with tempting, sumptuous dishes. I lost count of the many people seated at tables scattered among the trees.

Jeff was there as one of the entertainers who would perform on the spacious stage. He had asked us to meet him here for the conversation we had arranged when he was in Hedley with his band, the Black Birds. As we were eating, a succession of individuals came around to greet him. Some shook hands, some hugged. It was evident they were delighted to see him. I thought there was a sense of poignant nostalgia in some of the greetings. He was one of them, and yet different.

We learned that music has been a constant thread in most of Jeff’s 53 years and has almost certainly buoyed him and kept him alive. “I play drums, guitar, strings (key board), piano, bass guitar and I do vocals.” He writes much of the music he performs and has produced 2 albums. When the first musicians appeared on stage, Jeff was asked for help with the elaborate sound system.

Now a warehouse supervisor in Keremeos, he earlier worked 10 years at a center for children with mental disorders. “I introduced music therapy,” he said. “I brought in tambourines and shakers and we made music together.” He still cherishes the memory of hearing children say, “I feel like I’m actually worth something.”

He also did music therapy at Portage. “One day I heard a girl singing in her room. She had a beautiful voice. I urged her to come out and sing for everyone. She told me she didn’t sing for people. I offered to accompany her on my guitar and she agreed. She went on to sing ‘True Colours’ at a concert in Vancouver. About 30 musicians came out of my program at Portage. I always recorded them and gave them a copy.”

Personable and energetic, Jeff has loyal friends and has enjoyed considerable success as a musician. But, it almost didn’t happen. “My dad left when I was 3,” he said. “I’ve totally lost track of him. Fortunately Mom married again. This man became my father. He was my friend and mentor.”

For reasons Jeff doesn’t fully comprehend, his life began to unravel in his early teens. “I was carrying a lot of resentment,” he recalled. “I got into drugs, anything I could get my hands on.” In 1999 his parents intervened. They brought him home to their farm.

“I continued with the drugs though and hid this for 2 years. Later people in Cawston told me they knew. They accepted me anyway. During that time I teamed up with a friend and started the Black Birds band. Then my father died at age 56. He was my rock. With him gone, that was it. I couldn’t do anything. I crashed.”

A friend came looking for him and found him in a drug house. “I was lying on the floor. He took me away from there.”

In 2001, at age 38, he understood his life style was leading downward to certain failure and destruction. This wasn’t what he wanted. Within him was a desire to do something of value with his musical talent. He entered treatment at the Cross Roads Centre in Kelowna. This cleared his thinking. It was after this that he produced the 2 albums, worked with mentally disadvantaged children and then persons with addictions. He has written and performed numerous songs. When his mother died 3 weeks prior to our conversation, he wrote a song for her. It says in part, “Images of you in my heart, keep me satisfied.”

Jeff’s life experiences enable him to write realistically about addiction and homelessness. “My message,” he said, “is that sometimes when you are knocking on a door, asking for help, people don’t understand. Keep knocking and in time someone will answer.”

Recently Jeff Lakey auditioned successfully with an all-star band in Vancouver. He’ll have a bigger stage for his message. The people in that Cawston orchard will be cheering him on.

 

 

 

Mark, A Vision For Cycling Adventure

Mark from Germany, cycling in North America

I invariably experience a twinge of envy when I meet an individual with the vision, courage and will to do something that is a significant challenge, whether it’s physical, mental, or emotional. Linda and I met Mark in Manning Park this past week, on our way to Abbotsford. He told us he had flown from Frankfurt, Germany to Anchorage. From there he had come by bike, cycling most of the way but occasionally hitching a ride with a pickup truck. I noticed that the bike was heavily loaded. Four saddle bags hold everything he requires on the way. He is hauling, food, tools to repair the bike, and clothes.

He said, “At first I carried mostly Snickers for food.| (I gathered he meant junk food in general.) Then I met someone who was eating only vegetables. We exchanged ideas and he started eating Snickers as well as vegetables. I added vegetables to my diet.”

Mark, taking a break from his cycling in Manning Park, BC.

In Frankfurt he teaches English and Spanish. He will be traveling for one year and two months. I noticed that in spite of the Snickers in his diet, he carries no excess pounds on his body. There are side benefits to his life of adventure. Upon leaving Manning Park, he planned to ride to Whistler, B.C. We’re not sure where he will travel beyond that, but Linda thinks he may have mentioned South America.

For the time being at least, Linda and I will let Mark do the cycling. We are supremely satisfied with our Hedley adventure.

Duane Fritchie, Aquabike World Champion

Mary & Duane Fritchie

I suspect a lot of macho males have cast envious glances at Duane Fritchie’s Triathlon sculpted physique. It’s the type of body men’s magazines delight in featuring on their front cover. When I first saw him, for a fleeting moment I actually wondered what I would need to do to achieve that trim waist and V shaped torso.

Linda and I met Duane, a World Champion Triathlon competitor, and his wife Mary in Hedley last week. They had driven from Lee’s Summit, Missouri so he could compete in the prestigious 2017 Penticton ITU (International Triathlon Union) Multisport World Championships this past weekend. We liked them immediately and invited them to our home.

Duane began his triathlon adventure after watching a man from his community compete in a race. “I felt it was something I could do,” he said. “I was already riding my bike and running. I wasn’t a good swimmer though, and at age 31 it was a bit late to become great. Fortunately the swimming coach at the high school where I was a teacher offered to help.”

Now 67, Duane’s rigorous commitment has produced gratifying results. “My first triathlon was in Hawaii in 1982,” he told us. “At that time you didn’t have to qualify. Since then I’ve participated in about 200 competitions in places like Australia, New Zealand, England, the U.S. and Canada.” In response to my prodding he said, “In 2001 I won the World Triathlon Championship in Edmonton. My whole family was there. It was fantastic.”

I asked about his training regimen. “When Mary joined Weight Watchers,” he said, “I noticed she was shedding pounds. Following her eating pattern, I cut back on carbohydrates and added protein, mostly lean meat. My mental preparation includes visualization. I mentally see myself doing the swimming strokes just right. I set goals. I try to stay positive and always believe I’ll do well.”

In regard to what he hoped to achieve in the weekend event he said, “ My goal in the Penticton race is to place first overall, not just in my age category. I know it’s a long shot, but I’m strong in windy conditions. If there is wind, it’s not impossible.” He is definitely a believer, but also pragmatic. “I’ll still be pleased if I finish in the top 3 in my category.”

Until recently, Duane raced mostly in triathlons. With the introduction of the aquabike event, 3 km swimming and 120 km cycling, he dropped the running. “Aquabike is geared to individuals 50 and over,” he explained. “A lot of men aren’t eager to run after hitting 50. It’s hard on the joints. Aquabike makes it easier to continue competing. This event in Penticton is the first World Championship in Aquabike.”

Talking about his bike, Duane said, “Competitive racers use deep dish wheels. They’re designed to shed wind. These wheels alone cost $4,000. I have about $10,000 invested in this bike.” I observed with chagrin that the wheels on my old mountain bike bear little resemblance to the wheels on his bike.

Duane Fritchie showing the Cervelo P5 bike he rode to become the 2017 World Champion in Aquabike in his age category.

“A good bike is essential,” Duane said, “but you need people to support you. Mary is my greatest source of encouragement. When I’m riding with others, she drives the support vehicle. Also, our 3 daughters urge me to train with them. I ride 200 to 400 miles a week. Along the route, I watch for places to swim.”

For Duane and Mary, their efforts are not just about being fit, racing, or winning world championships.

“We hope our example will persuade young people and older ones to believe for more,” they agreed. “And,” Mary added, “we’re involved in enabling people with MS to ride.”

The MS involvement began when Les Gatrel, a champion wrestler and businessman, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. “The wrestlers supported him and we worked together to get Les on a bike,” Duane said. “Initially he rode tandem with me. Now he rides his own bike, 4,000 miles in the last 3 years. Along the way, Wrestling MS was established. Now the organization provides MS patients with bikes, hope and support to help them regain balance, strength and freedom. All at no cost to them.

When we talked with Duane and Mary last Wednesday, their close bond was evident. On Saturday he finished strong overall and captured first place in his age category. We are proud to have had these world champion partners in our community.

 

Aunt Mary’s Commitment Shaped Lives

Aunt Mary celebrating her 90th birthday.

I wasn’t really surprised there was no mention in the national, or even the local Manitoba media, of the recent passing of my 98 year old Aunt Mary. She had not battled for social justice like Supreme Court Judge Bertha Wilson. Nor did she have Emily Carr’s remarkable ability to create inspiring scenes on canvas. What she did have was an understanding of the importance of commitment. Especially a commitment to living in a manner that positively impacts the thinking and actions of the next generation. In my opinion, she lived in a way that is as beneficial to our country as the lives of more well known citizens.

Working with young offenders in Hedley, I saw repeatedly the unfortunate results of careless, self-indulgent, neglectful parenting. Almost without exception, the youths sent to us came from shattered, dysfunctional families. The parents seemed to not understand that their values and attitudes were exacting a toll on the future of their children. Apparently it did not occur to them that without constructive examples to observe and learn from, their offspring would be ill-equipped to participate productively in the life of our nation.

When Aunt Mary’s husband, David, lost a battle with cancer, she could have become immersed in self pity. David had been a strong man, physically, mentally and emotionally. He had brought order and stability, as well as a sense of humour. At age 46, with 2 young sons still at home, she now needed to be the one who was strong for them.

For many years I had not had much contact with Aunt Mary. To learn more of her life, I called each of her 3 older offspring, all living in Manitoba. Sara, the youngest of the 3 said “mom loved to be with people and to serve them. She was very thankful, and she knew how to laugh. She lived on the 6th floor in a residence for seniors. When a group came to provide music, she always went down to the entrance to open the door for the guests and welcome them. She would often say ‘we should be thankful for people who come to sing.’” Sara also said, “I did everything I could for her. I’m so grateful for that.” She had been inspired by her mother’s example of service to others.

Elsie, the eldest, said their mom walked a lot until she was 95. “If it’s not raining,” she would say, “I’m walking.”

As long as she could walk,” Elsie said, “she volunteered in a care home for the elderly. Often she pushed people in their wheelchairs. When there was a potluck in her residence, if someone wasn’t well enough to attend, she would bring them a tray laden with food.”

Ed said, “Mom often wanted to visit relatives in Barkfield and Gruenthal. These relationships were important to her, so I would take her there. Sometimes there were functions in her church that involved a meal. When she finished eating, she’d get up and help with clearing tables.”

In the Fernwood residence where she lived, people place a yellow card on the outside of their entry door before retiring at night. In the morning, by 10 am, they take it back in. “For many years Mom would walk the halls on all the floors, checking for cards,” Ed said. “If there was a card after 10 am, she would knock on the door and inquire if there was a problem. She was still doing this in her nineties.”

Aunt Mary did all she could to foster strong relationships in her family. “Toward the end of her days,” Ed told me, “she encouraged us to always love one another.”

Having received only a rudimentary education in a remote one room rural school, Aunt Mary never achieved the renown of Canadian icons like Bertha Wilson and Emily Carr. After listening to members of her family and others though, I decided her commitment to service had positively shaped thinking and actions in her limited sphere of influence. She encouraged people with her smile, a cheery greeting, sometimes by noticing they had a need. Aunt Mary demonstrated that if we are alert and willing, there are many little actions that can bring a ray of sunlight and a reminder someone cares. Fortunately she isn’t the only one doing this. Our country needs many more.

Cyclists Mission To End Poverty

Cyclists on a mission to end poverty.
Cyclists on a mission to end poverty.

Traveling the Hope-Princeton Highway spring to autumn, Linda and I usually pass several hardy cyclists laboriously ascending the grueling inclines or controlling their speed coming down the other side. On our return from Langley to Hedley today, there seemed to be a few extra bikers. Then, about 25 kilometers from Sunday Summit, we understood why. About a dozen cyclists had congregated around an impromptu table in front of a small recreational vehicle. Curious, we stopped, hoping to learn what kind of venture this was.

They welcomed us warmly and were pleased we wanted to photograph them.

John (left) & Bill (right)
John (left) & Bill (right)

 

Two of the cyclists, Bill (from Ottawa) and John (from Michigan) told us the group’s name is “Sea to Sea” and its purpose is to fight poverty. It consists of about 140 members from diverse points in North America. One is from Taber, Alberta, where Linda was born.

They are riding from Vancouver to Halifax, raising funds to combat poverty in various locations around the globe. According to Bill and John, about 90 members will participate in at least one stage of this expedition. It is my understanding that some will go the entire distance. They must be in pretty decent condition, planning to be in Halifax on August 28, ten weeks after departing Vancouver.

These cyclists were riding recumbent bikes.
These cyclists were riding recumbent bikes.

Each cyclist is expected to raise $ 12,000 prior to the trip. They are also inviting donations along the way and have raised $1.5 million to this time. Funds will be given to 2 organizations (co-hosts), active in the fight against poverty.

According to the cyclists’ website, one of these organizations is Partners Worldwide, a global Christian network that uses business as a way to end poverty. They partner with local businesses around the world to use 4 methods. These are mentoring, training, access to capital, and advocacy.

The second organization is World Renew. It envisions a world “where people experience and extend Christ’s compassion and live together in hope as God’s community.” It equips people with microloans, community development, and savings groups. The sponsoring body is the Christian Reformed Church, which has Dutch roots. Anyone desiring further information can go to seatosea.org

Redemption Of Two Abused Boys

Shayne & Jennifer with Curtis & Dallas, April 2006.
Shayne & Jennifer with Curtis & Dallas, April 2006.

Having observed first hand the way abused children often turn out as adults, I’ve come to consider their redemption as virtually miraculous. This was certainly my conclusion after Jennifer told Linda and me the story of Dallas and Kurtis, the young sons of Shayne, her second husband. I feel her account might be of interest and benefit to others.

Shayne was a trucker,” she began. “He wasn’t home enough to look after the boys and their 2 half- sisters, so they were living with their mother Cassia. There was a lot of alcohol in the home and Cassia’s boyfriend was abusive to her.”

Jennifer’s face grew serious as she continued. “Cassia moved her family into a house with 16 people. Then she moved out on her own again, accompanied by the boyfriend. The boys’ family life was chaotic and we suspected they were being abused. We thought the boyfriend might be a crack addict. I decided we couldn’t just stand by and watch their lives being destroyed.”

There was conviction in her voice and I sensed her keenly honed understanding of right and wrong. “We got permission to take the boys to our home for 3 weeks. This became a pattern for some time. Their bodies were usually bruised when they came. We always took them to be examined by a doctor when they arrived and before we returned them. The boys feared repercussions if they talked about their home life so they kept quiet about that.”

During one visit, Shayne became troubled by something Cassia was planning for the boys. He threatened to not return them. A few days later, Cassia and a friend arrived from Prince George with a court order for their return. They waited down the street while the police went to enforce the order. The boys cried. Kurtis sat on the step and said, “I’m not going back!” “It was a terrible day for the boys and for us. We were powerless to prevent it.”

When the boys were 5 and 6, Cassia agreed to let them live with Jennifer and Shayne for one year. Three weeks after arriving, they began to divulge the mental, emotional and physical abuse they had endured. “Things were bad with Dallas,” Jennifer recalls, “he was diagnosed with FAS and ADHD. Being older, he had seen and experienced more.”

Both boys were enrolled in counselling, with a good deal of play therapy. In their own way, each arrived at a unique understanding. One day the counsellor invited Jennifer into the play room and pointed to a play house. Opening the doors to the little house, she said, “Kurtis removed all the furniture and people. He even tore out the carpets.” The counsellor explained that when he had completed gutting the house he shut the doors and said, “I’m moving out. I’m done.” He was leaving his old life and memories behind.

About 7 months after the boys moved in with Jennifer and Shayne, Dallas asked them and also Jenae, Jennifer’s daughter, to sit in the living room. Then he quite formally addressed them all. “Cassia isn’t our Mom anymore,” he pronounced. From now on we’ll call her Cassia. Jennifer is our Mom.”

After the agreed upon year, Cassia didn’t show up in court to contest an application to give Shayne full custody and Jennifer guardianship over the boys. Since then Dallas has many times asked to see these papers, wanting assurance he and Kurtis would not be returned.

Cassia has never even asked about them in our occasional telephone conversations,” Jennifer said. “Recently she did request to speak with them. Dallas absolutely refused. Kurtis reluctantly agreed, but only by phone.” As the day for Cassia’s call approached, he wanted Jennifer to tell her he had changed his mind. Wanting him to grow strong, Jennifer told him, “I can’t protect you anymore. You’ll have to tell her yourself.” Cassia didn’t call.

Shayne, Dallas, Jennifer & Curtis in 2016
Shayne, Dallas, Jennifer & Curtis in 2016

Dallas is now 18 and has completed his first year in a construction electrical program. He is apprenticing with an electrical contractor. Kurtis is 17 and enrolled in an architectural drafting course.

Dallas summed up their experience recently. “If you hadn’t rescued us, we’d have lived in foster homes and on the streets. I’d be in jail.”

The redemption of Dallas and Kurtis came only with Jennifer and Shayne’s love, patience, and unwavering commitment. It is indeed a miracle.

Living To Be Remembered

IMG_3685

Tramping through the high brown grass of the Hedley cemetery with Linda last week, I wondered how the people interred there are being remembered. Did they do something to positively benefit their family and community, even their country? Or did they live only for their own selfish purposes?

In “The Walk”, Paul Evans suggests that “in each of us is something that, for better or worse, wants the world to know we existed.” We have a longing not to be forgotten. We want our life to have meant something, to leave an indelible mark.

It was while working with young offenders in Hedley that I became aware of what I feel is a universal desire. I asked a number of these often intransigent youths if they wanted to do something important with their life. Almost invariably they weighed the question thoughtfully for a long moment. With only one exception, they all said “Yes, I do.”

For some individuals, the need to be remembered becomes an obsession, driving everything they do. Donald Trump is a prime example. The Trump name is emblazoned on his towers. Maybe the inspiration for this comes from the Biblical Tower of Babel. Its creators also feared they would be forgotten.

There are less expensive, less pretentious means of creating a significant legacy. Mother Teresa didn’t need a tower She inspired millions by simply caring for people who could give nothing in return, except their eternal gratitude. By doing something she considered important, she created a legacy of great value to a global audience.

I am impressed by individuals who give with no expectation or even a possibility of recognition or reward. My friend Simon, a high roller former heroin addict and trafficker, had years of jail time in his past. In the final year of his life, he was reduced to delivering pizzas. Sometimes late in the night there were undelivered pizzas at closing time. Simon asked for these and searched the dark streets and alleys for hungry homeless people. He received no reward except the inner knowledge that finally he was doing something for others.

People create legacies in a variety of ways. Bob and Diane Sterne and other citizens of Coalmont have enriched their community by lovingly restoring the nearby Granite Creek Cemetery. Each year the Princeton Traditional Music Festival, spearheaded by Jon Bartlett and Rika Ruebsaat, brings together the Similkameen community in a joyous celebration of music and dance. Jennifer Douglass and Andy English have devoted many hours to historical research, thereby inspiring support for the restoration of the Hedley cenotaph. The Keremeos Community Church blesses local people by operating a soup kitchen each Monday and Thursday. The soup is both nutritious and delicious. Lee McFadyen of Cawston was the first to establish an organic farm in the Similkameen Valley. She is committed to preserving a healthy environment for future generations.

In “A Leader’s Legacy,” James M Kouzes provides an important clue as to how we can be remembered for doing something important. He says, “when we are gone people will not remember us for what we did for ourselves. They’ll remember us for what we did for them.” He adds that “it’s the quality of our relationships that most determines if our legacy will be ephemeral or long lasting.”

In the mid 1980’s a 14 year old boy of indigenous descent was placed in the care of our organization in Hedley. One day, in the midst of some personal turmoil he was experiencing, I invited him to have coffee with me at the Nickle Plate Restaurant. During our conversation I asked if he wanted to do something important with his life. He was somewhat young to understand but when I explained, he quietly said, “yes.” At the end of his time in Hedley he was put on a Greyhound bus for the return to his home. I went to see him off, expecting we might shake hands. As I walked to the rear of the bus where he was already seated, he rose to his feet. Stepping toward me, he threw his thin arms around me. It was a warm embrace I will always treasure. Possibly I had given him a new understanding of who he was and could become.

Paul M Kouzes believes that “by asking ourselves how we want to be remembered, we plant the seeds for living our lives as if they matter.”