The Boy in Santa Marta

Beach in Santa Marta

The last couple of days, I’ve been thinking about a boy I met just over a year ago. We didn’t exchange anything like words, but there was another sort of exchange, one that is hard to describe. But I’ll try…

I’m sitting on the seawall of a Caribbean beach; not a fancy resort beach, but a public beach in the heart of the Santa Marta. It’s a gorgeous, glorious morning despite being as hot as hades, and I’m just feeling relieved it isn’t as blasting hot as yesterday – yet.

I’m alone because Brad is swimming. Various people wander by, and then this boy comes up and sits on the sand about ten feet away from me. He looks around 16 years old, and he’s truly dressed in rags. He’s as skinny and sick looking as some of the homeless dogs we’ve seen around, and almost as thin as the dead dog we passed on the street the day before, it’s ribs like hoops rising above its sinking body.

I am nervous. People who are desperate, do desperate things. People who are in pain, hurt others. I have a daypack that carries things this boy can sell to buy food, or drugs, or whatever he desires. All he has to do is grab it and run. No way can I stop him.

And then he looks right at me with the most haunted eyes I’ve ever seen. They simply defy description. A passage from Graham Greene’s book, The Quiet American, explains better than I can:

Suffering is not increased by numbers. One body can contain all the suffering the world can feel.

I simply can’t imagine the things this boy has gone through, the horrors he’s lived. I feel like my heart will break for him. I wish I had money to give him, but I’m not carrying any.

He motions to me, and I realize he’s asking for a drink from my water bottle. I toss it to him, and he gulps down about half of it, then carefully replaces the lid and goes to toss it back to me. I shake my head and motion that he finish it. He gives me a smile in thanks, then downs the rest. A minute later, he gets up, nods and smiles goodbye to me, and continues down the beach.

What I still don’t understand completely is why this encounter struck me so hard. Giving a homeless boy a bottle of water? It seems like nothing, and I’ve given to a lot of homeless people. Why does this time stand out?

I think it’s because of the exchange between us.

My gift to him was water and kindness and truly “seeing” him, and I believe he recognized and appreciated that.

His gift to me was a profound example of extreme courage, and a simply bizarre strength and resilience that left me in awe. So many of us in his situation would dissociate and go numb, or become bitter and hard. There was no numbness in his eyes. No bitterness. He was just quietly, openly bearing the pain in his life.

Even now, that encounter makes me cry. I hope and pray that his life is better now. I hope and pray that if it hasn’t gotten better, that he is strong enough to bear it. I know I’ll always be grateful for our encounter, and I’ll always remember him. True courage is a hard thing to forget.

The Indominable Power of Quiet Acts of Courage

I interviewed a woman last week, and WOW, was her story amazing. She is a lifetime volunteer, always giving, sometimes receiving, and so incredibly humble that she had a hard time reading the article that I wrote about her. One story she told really struck me:

She has volunteered for most of her life and continues to do so, but a compassionate act (to me, a form of volunteering) brought her to live on the island. She was part of the military, stationed in Ontario, when she heard of a single mother asking for help. The single mother, also in the armed forces, was about to be deployed to the west coast, and was desperately asking for a volunteer: would anyone trade postings with her so she could stay with her child and existing support system? The woman I interviewed volunteered to go in her stead, even though she was sacrificing her own home, her own connections and support system. Even though she had to leave a new relationship, a relationship that couldn’t overcome the distance between them.

This was told to me in her quiet voice like it was nothing, and it would have been easy to have taken the story in the way she presented it, like it was no big deal.

But it was a very big deal. That one act of compassion irreversibly changed the lives of at least three people in a massive way, and possibly four if you take the budding relationship into account.

In a world where the audacious gets the story, where the louder and more obnoxious the acts or words are, the more attention they get, I want to put her story forward.

Quiet acts of courage can change the world. None of us are powerless.

Racism, Residential Schools, and Hockey

indian-horse-coverIndian Horse, by Richard Wagamese

First thing I want to say: Richard Wagamese is an amazing writer. This book is so well written that I didn’t want it to end, despite the tough subject matter.

Second, this isn’t a book about a horse. It’s a book about racism, residential schools, and hockey. The residential school parts were as difficult as I expected, and then got a bit worse. The racism parts were just as tough to read, and as senseless and cruel as racism is today. The hockey part was pretty cool, even though I’m not a hockey fan. Yes, I’m Canadian. I also don’t drink much Tim Horton’s coffee. I’m sorry.

Though I don’t watch hockey and I thankfully have no experience of residential schools, I could still relate to the character in this book. This is because, at it’s root, Indian Horse is a book about connection. It’s my opinion that we are all born wanting to belong, to feel connected, and we actively seek it. The character, Saul Indian Horse, finds that connection with nature as a boy. Though he doesn’t feel it with his parents as much, because of their brokenness, he is strongly connected to his grandmother. Later, in the residential school, he finds connection with the game of hockey, and the priest that enables him to play – and he longs for connection so strongly that he blocks out the abuse inflicted by that priest until much later in his life. As an older man, after a heart-searing journey through an uncaring social landscape, Saul is finally able to return to the one healthy community he has a connection to, and rebuild his life among those he can trust.

What Indian Horse expressed so well to me is that longing we all have for home – and by home, I don’t mean a physical place. We long to be seen for who we are. We want that which is good and pure and unique within us, to be both recognized and valued by those around us. And sadly, the book showed how if we aren’t valued, for whatever reason, whether it be racism, sexism, ageism, religious intolerance (beliefism?), or any other ism out there, we tend to fall into shame and self blaming. We’ve all seen it happen, and, to varying degrees, we all know how it feels to be rejected and harmed by people who say they’re on our side.

But there is hope, as Saul Indian Horse discovered. When we confront our pain, we mature and grow wiser, and realize that maybe the society or group that rejects us isn’t where we belong – and then we go looking for that place where we are truly accepted. And in that way, this book is about courage too, because I don’t think anyone who hasn’t been decimated as a child can understand how much courage it takes to trust a safe place as an adult when you didn’t have a safe place as a child. Indian Horse gives us a view of that in one boy, then in one man, who had the courage.

To sum up, I found Indian Horse to be an amazing book. Very well written, wise, and compassionate. It was difficult to read in places, but worthwhile, even in the tough parts. In hindsight, maybe especially in the tough parts. A soulful book.

Indian Horse, by Richard Wagamese: highly recommended.

Epiphanies in the Night

Medellin, Columbia

Medellin, Columbia

A number of weeks ago, I promised a blog post outlining what I learned in Texas, and then I procrastinated. It’s not like I didn’t think about writing the post; I did, often. I also knew what I wanted to write.

The words came to me in the middle of the night after being in Dallas for about two weeks. I woke at 3 a.m., suddenly and completely, with an epiphany in my head. I grabbed my journal and wrote on what I hoped was an untouched page in the darkness. It was, and the words I wrote were mostly legible.

So why haven’t I put them here?

It’s not time. The epiphany is too fresh to share, too new in my life – so instead of telling you what I realized that night, I’m going to tell you how it has changed my life so far:

1. I am going to Columbia to teach English and do other social awareness projects for three weeks in 2016. Teaching: way, way, way out of my comfort zone!

2. I am in the process of becoming a member of the Sooke Sailing Coop. No, I don’t know how to sail. Yet.

3. I started a Facebook page for my writer persona. I know I should have done it long ago but it just seemed such a big step. Now it’s done. You can link to it here if you’re interested.

4. I have two new script ideas. Yes, TWO!

5. I have committed to doing what it takes to break in to screenwriting. If this means traveling to Hollywood and meeting with producers, agents, or managers, I will do it. I’ve accepted and embraced this necessity, which for reclusive me is a very big thing.

Obviously, Texas was a game changer for me, and a testament to one thing I believe: don’t back off from change because it’s usually a good thing. Not that I won’t be doubting how good it is in Columbia when I’m standing in front of a bunch of people, wishing I was somewhere – anywhere – else.  🙂