Category Archives: Inspiration

He Still Lives Mightily

John Merriman of Keremeos, BC
John Merriman of Keremeos, BC

After our conversation with 97 year old John Merriman in his Keremeos home, Linda was reminded of counsel offered by the ancient Israeli King Solomon. In his Old Testament book Ecclesiastes, Solomon urged “whatever your hand finds to do, do it mightily.” John has certainly packed a lot of living into his years. He lived in a time when men doing physical work often needed to contend with daunting expectations and challenges. His lean, still robust frame and resolute attitude suggest the inner steel required in those early unforgiving decades.

John was born near Des Moines, Iowa, then at age 5 was taken by his parents to England. In 1927 the family emigrated to Canada and settled on a farm in Birch Hill, Saskatchewan. Here he developed a rugged work ethic. “I clipped sheep, castrated hogs and worked on machinery,” he said. “I was mechanically inclined.”

Later, as a young man I got a job on a farm working for $100 a year.” According to “Stories by John Merriman”, a book written by a great grand daughter, he had a deep religious experience during this time and it shaped the rest of his life.

He subsequently worked on a road building operation. “We were cutting spruce timbers into cord wood, using swede saws, cross cut saws and axes. This is where I first saw a man working with a chain saw. Two men with a cross cut saw could buck logs faster than he could.”

They were working in muddy terrain and often up to 4 layers of logs needed to be laid down. “The earth sucked them under,” he explained. “Somewhere there is probably still a D6 cat buried in the mud out there.”

On a sawmill job he displayed resolve and steady nerves. “A man had his hand cut off by a big saw,” he remembered. “We applied a tourniquet and bandaged the wound. I put him in my car and we set off to the nearest doctor. Every few miles my car came to a stop. The points were corroded so I’d file them. When we met a police car, I stopped in the middle of the road so he couldn’t pass. We put the man in his car and I returned to the mill. All work had ceased because no one would go near the hand still lying there. I buried it.”

In 1942 he enlisted in the Canadian army and was assigned to the Signal Corps. “They paid me $1.10 a day. The food wasn’t so good though, mutton day after day.”

They were each given a “house wives” kit and expected to darn their own socks, or pay for new ones. “As a boy I had watched my mom darn,” he said, “so I could figure out how to do it. Most of the men smoked. I chewed snuff which cost me 10 cents a can. It damaged my teeth and gums though and when it went up to 75 cents, I quit.”

In Italy the truck he was driving was hit by German artillery. It burned up and he suffered burns to his face and arms. “They covered the burns with vaseline and put me in a tent with other disabled men. The tent smelled so bad the food was delivered to the door in a tub and left there. Some men had lost their arms and we helped them eat.”

While John was away, his father lost the family farm due to medical bills. John had saved his army pay, and upon discharge he bought another farm so his father could be on the land again. John began putting together a mill business and also a very successful trucking and construction company.

In March 1945 he went to the local improvement office to pay his taxes. Here he met Doris. “I never had time to fool around, so I married her in June,” he said. They had seven children, and enjoyed 60 years together before she passed away.


Now, deep in retirement he remains active. In 1989 he began driving for the Citizens Patrol. In recent years he has been driving people to medical appointments, to buy groceries, etc. He looks after the 50-50 draws at OAP functions. “After you’re 90,” he said, “they give you a free membership.”

Today John Merriman’s strong hands continue to find things to do, and he does them mightily.

Fulfillment From Service To Community

Art at anti-SE2 rally
Art at anti-SE2 rally

 With children back in classrooms and the benign sunny days of summer largely a fond memory, autumn is a good time to make a decision that will reward us with deep satisfaction and fulfillment. Experience has demonstrated to Linda and myself, and to many others, that being active in our community can stir up a surprising sizzle of adventure. Of the approximately 80 individuals with whom I’ve had conversations for this space over the past 2 years, most have been, or still are ardent contributors to their community. Whether helping in a thrift store, driving seniors to appointments, or rallying to a larger issue, whatever their age, I have found them to be upbeat and vibrant.

Linda and I have learned that being active in our community brings useful insights, powerful memories and lasting friendships. While living in Abbotsford in the 1990’s, a U.S. corporation proposed to construct a highly polluting gas fired power plant, Sumas Energy 2 (SE2), just across the border from our community. Due to the prevailing air flow, most of the plant’s dirty emissions would migrate to our side, endangering the health of humans, animals and crops. Citizens were aghast.

SE2 applied to the National Energy Board (NEB) for permission to build a power line across Abbotsford to access the B.C. Hydro power grid. Our provincial government could have opposed this but in spite of many promises during the election campaign, it remained on the sidelines, mute and indifferent.

With hordes of SE2 and NEB attorneys ready to advise and direct the proceedings, Linda and I, like most in our community, decided this issue was well beyond our experience and capability.

The NEB invited citizens to participate in the hearings as intervenors but when the local newspaper published the list of those who had signed up, there were only 17. Linda said, “that’s not enough. We’ll have to get involved.” She meant I would have to sign up and she would support me.

Several letters to the local newspaper expressed the prevailing gloomy sentiment. “Don’t waste your time. The Yanks always win.”

Linda and I invited 8 friends to our home to discuss the issue. I asked city Councillor Patricia Ross and future mayor Mary Reeves to come and tell us what they knew. Several concerned individuals we didn’t know phoned and asked to attend. At a subsequent meeting a week later, we had 21 people, mostly strangers, in our livingroom, some sitting on the floor. Desperate to create some momentum, I said, “would anyone object to setting a goal of 10,000 letters from this community to the NEB?” I offered to write a form letter people could use.

The group enthusiastically endorsed the idea. We came to be known in the media as the SE2 Action Group. MLA John van Dongen supplied paper and the use of his photo copier. Several businesses made the letter available. Attendance at the meetings in our home swelled, with many people willingly sitting on the floor or standing. Our little group became a potent catalyst that gave people hope. Many citizens picked up copies of the letter and distributed them. The Berry Festival provided a booth, and there were line ups to sign the letter. This also happened at a huge community rally. The big city media took notice and showed up.

In the SE2 Action Group, close friendships were developing. We were coalescing into a tightly knit bunch, growing bolder in our strategies and tactics. For Linda and me it was fascinating to observe the community gaining hope and coming together. Defeatist letters to the editor ceased.

The NEB came to town and hundreds of citizens crowded into a large hall. So many had signed up as intervenors, the hearings required several days. We had reached our 10,000 letter goal but even so, NEB staffers cautioned us not to expect a favourable decision. To everyone’s amazement and SE2’s consternation, the Board ruled in our favour. Then the Federal Appeals Court also sided with us.

Countless citizens had worked tirelessly to accomplish what many had considered impossible. We were rewarded with feelings of deep satisfaction, fulfillment, and incredible exhilaration. Also with lasting friendships and an understanding that the impossible is possible.

Autumn is a great time to get out of the eddy of our own complacency. A time to begin reaping the rewards that come when we do something positive for our community.

Rhianfa Riel Of Crimson Tine Players

Rhianfa Riel
Rhianfa Riel

Rhianfa Riel had her home painted a deep purple, and the front door yellow. “I like to come home to bright colours every day after work,” she told Linda and me during a conversation in our home. Initially it seemed a tad bizarre but we would learn that her decorating preferences are not motivated solely by a fondness for radiant colours. They reflect an aspect of her life that most of us would attempt to keep secret.

Rhianfa and her husband Martin moved to Princeton in 2008 after working at a youth camp on Gambier Island for 8 years. In time they were hired by the Copper Mountain Mine. “That gave us the opportunity to have our own home,” she said smiling broadly. “It was something I had thought would never happen.” With 2 children (twins), a stable income and a comfortable home, their neighbours likely considered them a typical middle class family. The positive, upbeat aura about Rhianfa makes this an easy assumption. There was however, a troubling shadow constantly lingering over the family.

I was diagnosed with chronic depression in 2004,” Rhianfa said. “For years I felt victimized, frustrated, angry, and impotent to do anything about it. At times I was overcome by rage.”

Most of us know little about depression. It’s tempting to believe it’s a condition we can overcome by an act of the will and adopting a positive mindset. “It isn’t like that,” Rhianfa assured us. “Depression isn’t a choice. It isn’t just a bad day. It isn’t something you can talk yourself up from or out of. Mostly it’s a feeling of great sadness that clings to you and tries to pull you down into a dark hole.”

Listening to her, it became evident to me that depression has no compassion, no willingness to accept a truce, and no redeeming qualities. It crops up when it chooses and runs amuck in the mind. It can ravage a day, even a life.

For Rhianfa the healing of her life began with medication. Then she found a couple of knowledgeable, understanding counsellors. Also, several allies were already standing by her. “Martin believed in me. He listened and he told me he loved me. He is the reason I was able to deal with the rage. Also, my faith in God buoyed me up. It taught me I was loved unconditionally.”

Martin & Rhianfa Riel at their front door.
Martin & Rhianfa Riel at their front door.

Even now, depression comes to do battle with her psyche and emotions virtually every day. Fortunately she’s not apathetic or complacent.

Several years ago I joined the Crimson Tine Players,” she told us. “It’s an outlet for tension and creativity.”

They write the scripts and make the costumes and props. “We do 2 big performances each year. Also occasionally we present a murder mystery at the Vermillion Forks Restaurant. We write the scripts for that ourselves.”

Rhianfa Riel looking out the stage curtains. (photo supplied by Rhianfa Riel).
Rhianfa Riel looking out the stage curtains. (photo supplied by Rhianfa Riel).

Theatre has become a mainstay, a means of giving back. Every 8 weeks she takes 4 youths to watch a live production at the Kelowna Arts Studio. They pay their admission, she buys the gas.

This year we joined Theatre B.C. and entered the OZone Festival. We performed “Rabbit Hole”, a Pulitzer prize winning drama. It was serious and quite difficult, but we did well.”

She is president of Crimson Tine Players and sees it as an opportunity to challenge herself and help others develop confidence and social skills. “I’ve never been in the forefront of anything before. Now I’m meeting people from outside my comfort zone, from every philosophy and walk of life. Theatre is a great way to explore our potential. Anyone can learn to act.”

Rhianfa has practical counsel for individuals besieged by depression, discouragement, loneliness and other difficult conditions. It is, in fact, excellent advice for all of life. She said, “don’t fight it alone, and don’t give up. Eat well, sleep well, exercise, be with people, and chase sunshine. Practise kindness for no reason but kindness. Pray, or find some way to feed your soul. And, allow yourself to be loved.”

At the end she said, “I hold on to my family, to the love I have for them. I make that my reason to keep going. When it gets hard I thank God the hard days aren’t every day.”

A purple house and yellow front door probably aren’t essential for healing, but getting help and taking action are.

Princeton Traditional Music Festival

Jon & Rika in front of their home in Princeton, BC. Joyfully expressing in song their enthusiasm for music.
Jon & Rika in front of their home in Princeton, BC. Joyfully expressing in song their enthusiasm for music. (click on photo for close up)

Jon Bartlett and Rika Ruebsaat don’t receive even token remuneration for the hundreds of hours and enormous energy they devote to the Princeton Traditional Music Festival. Listening to them talk about the event and the underlying sizzle of excitement in their voices, Linda and I realized there must be compelling reasons behind their uncommon dedication. Jon gave us at least a glimpse of this when he said, “We want to recover the traditional music of B.C. Music that reflects the experiences of men in logging and fishing camps, of miners, Irish immigrants, French Canadians, and many others.” For them much of the reward stems from the joy they see in musicians and attendees.

Both Jon and Rika are immigrants to Canada. Rika came as a child in 1952. Jon arrived at age 21 in 1969. Their pre Festival lives could hardly have followed a more apt trajectory as a preparation for the present significant enterprise.

As a young woman, Rika’s first career was in theatre. “I began studying theatre at UBC,” she recalled. “Before I was done though, I quit the program, went to England and hitchhiked around Europe. I connected with a bilingual theatre group and we performed in Europe and Canada.” For her it was “an absolute passion, totally engaging and transformative.”

Jon had been a paralegal in England, frequently investigating railway accidents. He also did pre-trial court work. On arriving in Canada he initially followed a similar career path. Later he supported himself, in part, by singing in Gas Town.

Each had a consuming interest in music and this led them independently to the Vancouver Folk Circle. It was here that their relationship and collaboration began.

Jon Bartlett & Rika Ruebsaat
Jon Bartlett & Rika Ruebsaat

Initially it was a relationship of respect and suspicion on my part,” Rika said. “Jon was demanding and challenging. You couldn’t just say something. He expected you to explain. I found that attractive.”

For Jon, Rika met an important expectation. “I couldn’t be with someone who wasn’t political,” he said.

Their story suggests they were restless, always seeking involvements they considered important.

We thought there would be a big change,” Jon said, “a revolution.” He meant a revolution in the thinking of Canadians. “We were hoping for people to wake up and realize we need to work together to make the world a better place. We were looking for decency in public life. We wanted people to accept responsibility for their own actions and not just fall into something. To make a choice. The revolution didn’t happen.”

Combining their talents they forged a potent partnership, performing on stages across Canada, including school class rooms. For some time they sang and told stories “from around the province” on the CBC radio program, “North by Northwest”. They also wrote 2 books. One was short listed for the prestigious Roderick Haig- Brown prize and also the Lieutenant Governor’s Medal for Historical Writing.

They settled in Princeton and in 2007 were invited to perform on the Racing Days Weekend. “We had so much fun,” Rika remembers, “we wanted to do a festival. Over the years we had connected with a world wide circle of musicians. We invited our musician friends to come.”

Although they don’t get paid, over the years their friends have responded enthusiastically. “We do fund raising,” Jon said. “Also we receive some support from the town, the Gaming Branch, the RDOS and the federal government, but not enough to pay performers. We provide billets and we also give them food vouchers to local restaurants.”

For the musicians, it’s a total immersion,” Rika observed. “They love it. It provides an opportunity to perform music that comes from the community, the kind of music you make with your family. It’s music you might hear through the wall.”

Linda and I were deeply impressed by the sense of mutual respect, the commitment and the incurable optimism we saw in Jon and Rika.. They were lavish in their praise for the committee that has worked with them since early this year to make the coming festival a huge success.

Although it’s named the Princeton Traditional Music Festival, it really is for the entire Similkameen Valley. Actually, the province and beyond. There will be at least 140 performers, joyfully singing, playing instruments and telling stories. It’s a major musical event, running from August 19 to 21. Admittance is free. A great gift to us all!



Grads Can Learn From Pro Athletes

grad symbols
grad symbols

While thinking of students graduating this month, I was reminded of the words of renowned former basketball coach John Wooden of UCLA. He said, “if you’re through learning, you’re through.”

Grads now bursting enthusiastically from the halls of learning have laid a solid foundation for their future. My experience suggests though that most of their important life education still lies ahead. Looking back, I realize that although my BA in political science and sociology opened doors of employment, I still had plenty to learn. I did not yet have the thinking necessary to do important things.

Later, when I was working with adolescents sent to us by a judge, I sometimes asked a particularly obstreperous boy or girl, “do you want to do something important with your life?” Usually the answer was hesitant, but almost invariably it was “yes, I do.” Then I asked “do you know how to do something important?” Without fail, the response was “no, I don’t.”

I began reading the writings of individuals who were highly successful. I wanted to know how their thinking, attitude and actions differed from mine. Although I’d never had the talent, speed or strength to excel in sports, I became intrigued by those who do. I discovered several coaches and athletes who have achieved high levels of success and have written about their philosophy and practices. From them I gleaned concepts and ideas that helped me to more ably answer the “how to” question for myself and also for the youths we worked with.

Coaches and players at the professional level receive remuneration the rest of us can only dream of. They’re also showered with the adulation of adoring (but fickle) fans. They know there is fierce competition for their positions. Coaches can be fired and players traded if they don’t perform at an exceptionally high level.

Rick Pitino, photo by

Rick Pitino, photo by

Rick Pitino has been a winning head coach at the universities of Providence, Louisville and Kentucky. He has also coached the New York Knicks and the Boston Celtics in the NBA. He has never slackened his pace of learning. In “Success Is A Choice”, he says “I’m constantly looking for new role models who can teach me new things.” Like other high achieving coaches he believes little things, focusing on fundamentals, plays a determining role in whether a team will win or lose. He was one of the first coaches in the NBA to emphasize the longer 3-point shot. His books outline much of his “how to” thinking.

Tony Dungy in November 2007 as coach of the Colts, photo from Wikipedia
Tony Dungy in November 2007 as coach of the Colts, photo from Wikipedia

When Tony Dungy was hired as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the National Football League, he knew the team’s thinking was dominated by a losing culture. They had won only a handful of games the previous season. In “Quiet Strength”, he tells of his first meeting with the team. To change their thinking, he said “what you focus on is what you will become. I want you to think like a champion.”

Dungy then elaborated on this by saying “Be a pro. Be on time. Do what you are supposed to do, when you are supposed to do it. Not almost all the time. Not most of the time. All the time. No excuses. No explanations!” He built the Bucs into a winning team. Then, in 2006 as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, he applied the same philosophy and became the first African American coach to win the Super Bowl.

Elite coaches and players study, observe, experiment and risk. In the process they learn to think more creatively. They discover methods that work for them.

Serena and Venus Williams believed their mother when she told them they would become their vision. Even at a young age this thought prodded them to rise early and go to the tennis court with their father before school to practise. Michael Jordan routinely stayed after the team practice and shot baskets. In “Float Like A Butterfly”, Muhammad Ali says “What counts in the ring is what you can do when you’re exhausted. Early in my career I learned to run until I was tired, then run even more. That was when I began to count every mile as extra strength and stamina.”

Muhammad Ali, photo by
Muhammad Ali, photo by

Undoubtedly most Similkameen Valley grads hope to accomplish something significant with their lives. If they commit to continuous learning and focus on worthy goals, they will make their life journey a fulfilling adventure.


A Father’s Challenges & Opportunities



While working with Young Offenders in Hedley, I sometimes said to our staff “the students can close their minds to what we say, but without realizing it, their minds are recording everything we do. It’s as though they have a mental camera running continuously. The images can’t be erased and when the students graduate from our programs, they’ll replay them again and again.” Then I added, “for many of them, we are their only example of how to live productively.”

With Father’s Day approaching, I returned in my own mind to those days. Linda and I had 2 teenage children at that time, and because of my work I felt I had an understanding of how to prevent them from going off the behavioural rails. I was to discover, to my immense chagrin, that I had no magical insights or powers. Quite unexpectedly our 2 beautiful, obedient children began associating with a crowd that embraced partying, smoking drugs and alcohol. Almost over night our previously well ordered lives were thrown into emotional disarray. There were several visits from the police and at times Linda went to bed with tears on her cheeks.

teen in turmoil photo by
teen in turmoil
photo by

Coincidentally, during this period we became acquainted with Herman and Clarissa. Herman had not developed emotional maturity and several times he deserted the family when their teenage daughter and son angered him. In spite of his erratic parenting, he demanded exemplary behaviour from them. Determined to win release from his unreasonable demands, the daughter schemed and in time moved in with a man much older. Not unexpectedly, she was soon pregnant. The son, distraught and bitter, ran away. The family disintegrated and we lost touch with them. I was reminded of Immanuel Kant’s statement, “out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”

Adolescence is frequently a time of upheaval and despair, for both parents and children. The future appears uncertain and bleak. Genuine communication becomes almost impossible. Anyone who has gone through the experience, or is even now in the midst of it, knows how humbling and excruciating it can be.

Fearing our teens would spiral out of control, Linda and I began seeking divine intervention. During one particularly unnerving episode, we went for a walk in the rain and came to the understanding that whatever happened, we wanted our children to know they were loved. We wanted them to have a place of sanctuary in their young fragmented lives. A place of respite to which they could run when they got deeper into the mire than they had intended.

We hoped that by assuring them of our love and providing an atmosphere of stability, we could still be influential in their decisions, even if only by example. In The Road to Character, David Brooks contends that “Example is the best teacher. Moral improvement comes most reliably when the heart is warmed through contact with people we admire and love. This consciously or unconsciously bends our lives to mimic theirs.”

Although I felt vulnerable and inadequate when the issues entered our home, I began to understand that for Linda and our children, I needed to retain an inner sense of equilibrium. My words and demeanor must assure them this time would come to an end and whatever was happening, the family connections would again be strong. Our children needed to know we believed in, them loved them and would wait for them to escape the quicksand that threatened to pull them under.

We didn't have this plaque, but agree with the philosophy. Photo from
We didn’t have this plaque, but agree with the philosophy. Photo from

Looking back now, Linda and I realize the difficult experiences actually came with a bonus. The relationship we had with each other deepened and matured. It gave us greater understanding and compassion for parents with challenging adolescents. Also, when our children look back now they recognize that we didn’t give up and our home was always a place of sanctuary when they needed it. They emerged intact from their time of upheaval and now have jobs and families.

When chaos enters a home, it’s a time for adults to be patient, stable, loving and accepting. If we choose to be strong and stay in the game, the percentages are in our favour. This Father’s Day will be an opportune time for us Dads to renew our resolve to be a positive leader and role model in our family and community.


Garry Jespersen, Beating Expectations

Garry Jespersen
Garry Jespersen

If a child psychiatrist had been asked to  predict Garry Jespersen’s future, the prognosis might have included life on the street, years in prison, mental illness, even suicide. Having worked with adult prison inmates and also young offenders, I know that neglect and abuse in childhood is a potent recipe for failure, despair and anger. Garry’s life hasn’t followed this usual trajectory and I wanted to hear his story.

Sitting at our kitchen table recently, he surprised Linda and me with a warm smile that seemed to say, “I welcome you into the inner recesses of my life.” Then, in response to my question he grew serious. “My mom walked away when I was 3 months,” he said. “Social services took responsibility for me and my siblings. At age 1, I was placed in the home of a single woman who put me in the attic of her home. There was a bed and 3 potties. Until age 4 I was never allowed out of that attic. She came up in the morning to give me breakfast and in the evening she brought supper. I was terribly lonely. Often I cried. She would come up and slap me. She’d order me to be quiet and go to sleep.”

Garry’s only connection with the world outside was a small window high in the wall of the attic. He never saw a dog or cat or a man. Also, he never played with other children. No social worker checked on him.

“Not having people in my life, my speaking was limited,” he said. “When the Jespersens adopted me at age 4, I didn’t know how to express my fears or desires. Everything was strange to me and I was scared.” The neglect had stunted Garry emotionally and he couldn’t grasp the Jespersen’s love and compassion for him.

He was taught to do chores on the family farm. One day, at age 9, he got something wrong and his father reprimanded him. Garry didn’t have the emotional understanding to interpret his intent. Feeling rejected, he hitchhiked to another community and stayed away 10 days.

“When my Dad saw me coming along the driveway,” he said, “he cried and hugged me. He was so glad I’d come back.”

Inspite of the all-embracing love of the Jespersens, Garry continued to be an emotional cripple, a frequent condition of children and adults who have been abused. There was one positive in his life. Listening to his mother playing the piano, he became intrigued. His parents enrolled him in lessons with the Toronto Conservatory of Music and he discovered that he had talent.

Garry persuaded his dad to buy him a Harley Davidson motorcycle for rounding up the cows and bringing them to the barn. “When I was 15,” he said, “I had another emotional meltdown and again ran away, this time riding the Harley. I joined a biker gang and stayed away 2 years. When I returned, my family welcomed me with much hugging and crying.”

A few years later he became a realtor and his earnings surprised him. “I was living with 4 guys. There was a lot of drinking. One night I dropped off my date and drove to the High Level Bridge in Edmonton. I had no sense of purpose in my life. The money wasn’t giving me satisfaction or meaning. I intended to jump.”

A name began running through his mind repeatedly. “The name was Herbert Hiller. I remembered he was the pastor of the church my parents attended. I phoned him at 2 am. I was crying and I asked to see him right away. He agreed.”

Garry had a profound spiritual experience that night and once again returned home. “My Dad urged me not to go back to my job and friends. I told him I had debts to pay. He said give me a list and I’ll pay them. He also made arrangements for me to attend a Christian college.”

Garry Jespersen enjoys playing his sax
Garry Jespersen enjoys playing his sax

The healing that began in the pastor’s home was not an instantaneous event. Undoubtedly, music has contributed to the transformation. In addition to the piano, he has picked up the saxophone and also sings. He and wife Vi now live in Kelowna and he does 40-50 performances a year. His warm smile, firm handshake and positive message of hope are a clear indication that miracles are still possible.

When Garry Jespersen plays the piano, he uses the entire keyboard.
When Garry Jespersen plays the piano, he uses the entire keyboard.

Did Edward Greenspan Think Differently?

Edward Greenspan en.Wikipedia
Edward Greenspan

I’ve sometimes wondered if exceptionally successful individuals like Jimmy Pattison use their brains differently than the rest of us mere mortals. Books like “The  Success Principles” by Jack Canfield suggest they do. In “The Case for the Defence” legendary attorney Edward (Eddy) Greenspan (1944 -2014) provides some helpful insights.

One case he cites involved Anthony, an Italian shopkeeper who had confessed to the shooting of 2 youths, both age 17. When the police arrived at his shop they saw the boys lying side by side on the floor, a total of 8 bullets in their bodies. In answer to their questions, Anthony was reported to have said, “they come in my shop. I shoot them.” Considering it an “open and shut” case, they charged him with first degree murder. The Crown Prosecutor agreed and opposed bail.

Retained to represent Anthony in court, Greenspan realized it would be extremely difficult to convince a jury to acquit a man who has shot 2 innocent youths from good families. He did not, however, assume it was hopeless and wondered if the police perception might be overly simplistic. It was his practise to question his own assumptions and those of others. He wasn’t a fan of easy explanations and applied a relentless work ethic to uncover the facts.

Having a curious mind, he felt somewhere in this tragic situation there might be information that would assist him in defending his client. Patiently questioning Anthony, he discovered the man had been born in Italy and because of his father’s ill health, had gone to work after grade 5. Upon emigrating to Canada he married a girl from his village in Italy and they had 2 children. To support his family, until the day of his arrest, he had worked 14 hours a day, 7 days a week. His English was rudimentary.

Greenspan felt he must gain an understanding of why a hard working man with a family might have shot 2 apparently harmless young men. Working tirelessly, as was his habit, he delved into every possible nook and cranny.

Examining police notes, Greenspan concluded his client had not understood their questions and they had not understood him accurately. They had written in the notes what they thought he had said.

What, he asked himself, would have led this seemingly harmless man to pull the automatic 32 calibre Beretta from a shelf behind the counter and shoot the boys? His questioning revealed that the 2 young men had entered Anthony’s shop on numerous occasions. Usually they harassed him with threats. One had stolen 5 gallons of gasoline. They had also thrown snowballs at his shop and broken a light bulb. They were big, strong boys and he was scarcely more than 5 feet in height. He admitted he had feared them.

Greenspan’s meticulous, unstinting research revealed that the youths had earlier threatened, bullied and physically attacked others. On the night of the shootings, they had entered Anthony’s shop just before his closing time of 10 pm. One took a swing at him, then reached for the cash register. When Anthony said, “I call police,” the youths said they would kill him before he could make the call.

Greenspan knew that in court, the Prosecutor, a skillful litigator, would almost certainly play hardball. Unlike Greenspan, he had accepted the police version of events. Greenspan understood fully the Prosecutor’s role and purpose was to tenaciously argue for a guilty verdict. He would not ferret out mitigating information. Believing Anthony deserved a harsh sentence, the Prosecutor would use every possible device to convince the jury he was of unsavory character.

In court, the Prosecutor argued that Anthony had shot the boys in revenge for the gasoline theft. However, Greenspan convinced the judge to allow him to present the bullying history of the 2 youths. He argued Anthony had become psychologically distraught by their threats. He had believed they intended to rob him and then kill him so he could not identify them later. Anthony testified “in all my life I have never been so afraid.” At the end of the trial, after 5 hours of deliberation, the jury found him “not guilty.”

Observing Edward Greenspan, Jimmy Pattison and others, I’ve concluded that along with their various skills and positive attributes, highly successful individuals possess a deep seated conviction that what others deem impossible might in fact be possible.


The Tulips Are Blooming!

Waves of Tulips photo by Terry Friesen
Waves of Tulips
photo by Terry Friesen

I have long  been an ardent admirer of Terry Friesen’s photography. Recently he sent me a couple of his photos with permission to post them. His note accompanying the photos said, “the Annual Seabird Tulip Festival is no more, but the growers of the tulips are now leasing land from my friend Frank Pauls in Greendale. The blooms are really coming out now.” Terry has posted more photos on his Flickr site Hope you enjoy them as much as Linda and I do.

Pink Upshot by Terry Friesen
Pink Upshot by
Terry Friesen

Mexico Trip With A Purpose

After 3 days on a Greyhound style bus, Ayrelea and Zion Nimchuk of

Ayrelea & Zion, at our home
Ayrelea & Zion, at our home

Hedley arrived in Zapata, an impoverished village in Mexico. They were part of a contingent of high school students on spring break. In four days they would construct simple houses for 2 families living in tiny one room shacks. Sitting at the table in our sun room, drinking tea and munching on Linda’s home made chocolate cookies, they talked with evident fervour about the poverty, the people and the building project. They seemed deeply humbled, and also excited by what they had experienced.

“The family for whom we built a house was living in a shack about the size of this room,” sixteen year old Zion said. I wondered how a family of 4 could live in a home measuring approximately 12 ft. by 12 ft. “They don’t have electricity or running water,” Ayrelea, age 14 added. “They cook meals outside on a 2 burner propane stove. One of the burners wasn’t working. They wash clothes by hand. Their bathroom is an outhouse.”

Ayrelea , along with 2 other volunteers, taking care of young children.
Ayrelea , along with 2 other volunteers, taking care of young children.

Neither of the Nimchuk youths speak Spanish. Zion has studied Japanese in school and Ayrelea has focused on sign language. It wasn’t a problem though, they agreed. They feel they came to know the family. “We learned a few simple words, like how to say dog,” Zion said. “This helped us to explain to the people, with gestures, that we would build a little house for their dog.”

Zion, making good use of his carpentry skills.
Zion, making good use of his carpentry skills.

Wanting to learn more about organizational details concerning the project, I called Les Clark, pastor of the Community Church in Kaleden. He has gone to Mexico 11 times and is the local organizer. “It’s done under the auspices of Live Different,” he said. “We draw youths from local schools. The cost is $1500 per individual. This covers all expenses for travel and staying in Mexico. It also pays for the materials to build the homes.”

This year they did a major bottle drive in Kaleden and hosted 2 spaghetti dinners to raise funds. A number of people in the community see the value for the students and the recipients. They contribute funds. “When a home is completed,” he said, “we furnish it with beds, mattresses, a 3 burner propane stove, a table and chairs, plus a fruit tree and other items.”

Shannon Beglaw of Keremeos again made the trip with her 2 children this year. “We want the kids to see that it’s possible to make a difference by showing kindness,” she said. “We are really grateful to the community for helping make this happen.”

According to Live Different, the sponsoring organization, “what we do allows our volunteers to see first hand how two thirds of the world lives. It expands their world view and gives them the opportunity to consider how they can build hope and change in their own lives.” They state further that “our programs are designed to inspire students to take immediate action to make a positive difference in their world.”

Volunteers working together, erect a wall.
Volunteers working together, erect a wall.

I wanted to know what impact the project had on Ayrelea and Zion. “We developed relationships with the family,” Ayrelea said. Zion nodded and added, “to really understand the conditions the people live in, you have to go there and see the one room shacks. We know now that they all need help.”

Ayrelea then offered another thought. “Even though they have so little, they are happy. They smile a lot.” Zion agreed, then added, “we have so much. We really are blessed in this country.”

Were there any significant interpersonal issues in the group? “Yes,” Ayrelea said. “The boys were getting to do all the hammering on the roof, while the girls painted. We wanted the experience of hammering too, so we brought this up at the evening debriefing. The next day the boys were painting the house pink, as requested by the family. The girls were on the roof hammering.” She smiled at the memory.

Ayrelea, on the roof.
Ayrelea, on the roof.

Do they hope to go again? Once more Ayrelea responded without hesitation. “Yes, I really want to go back and see the family.” Zion was equally certain. “I want to go back every year.”

At a time when challenges abound around the globe, the Live Different emphasis on being grateful and helping others is enabling local youths to make a positive difference internationally.