Communication is Key*

Reconciliation=dead

 

A friend posted this photograph of a sign they have in their house. Simple, yet ever so powerful. Damning, despite the cheery background.

 

At this time, Wet`suewet’en protesters are blocking the construction of a pipeline on their lands. Indigenous people across Canada are blocking railways in support of this issue, crippling transport and passenger train service. Standoffs are occuring, people are being arrested. And this photograph has never felt more succinct.

 

I am a Nakoda Sioux, from the Carry the Kettle reservation near Wolseley, Sask. I am First Nations. I am  Indigenous. I am Native. I am Indian. And I am about a dozen or so racial slurs that have been invented for us over the years.

 

They are fighting…no, WE are fighting for control over our lands. For acknowledgement that this land was ours. We are fighting to reclaim the knowledge that was destroyed by colonization. We are fighting to recover the identity that was stolen from us.

 

My parents were taken from their reservations, from their families and homes, then placed in residential schools. What they experienced there was something they would never speak of, except in alcohol slurred whispers. The memories were far too much for them to endure.

 

They were children.

 

They were fragments of people when they returned. Bits and pieces of indigenous and christian teachings, jammed together, neither fitting well with each other. When they found each other and began a family, this little bit of knowledge was all they could give. They could understand their language, but my mother could not speak hers, and my father, only a little.

 

I grew to adulthood with this little amount of knowledge. I was native, and proud of it, though I knew so little of my ways. Practically none.

 

I was an adult when I first heard of the Canadian government’s attempt at reconciliation. Money. Lots of it, being thrown around at the survivors of the residential school system. Just money.

 

I spent my entire life watching my parents struggle with their experiences, with their traumas from living in a residential school. The government seemed to think that money would solve everything. But would it? Did it?

 

It didn’t. Reconciliation is a simply a word, a concept. Writing about it, making a speach and broadcasting it to the world doesn’t make it any more real than the positive effects of the phrase “Thoughts and prayers.”

 

Reconciliation happens when two groups of people finally open up about their experiences. The problem as I see it is that the government is essentially a faceless organization with multiple, sometimes contradictory, urges. Urges that are fulfilled by various levels of bureaucrats. How can true reconciliation begin when the faces of the government change as if with the season?

 

The leaders of these protests have perhaps learned from the lessons of the past. The protests and standoffs that are taking place across Canada are perhaps a new form of communication. One that the government of Canada cannot afford to ignore.

 

The government will listen. We will make them.

 

Reconciliation is Dead.

 

But communication is still possible.

 

*Credit to Rebecca Holm for the excellent photograph and the kernel of an idea.

Valentine’s Day Card Extravaganza

white black and red person carrying heart illustration in brown envelope
Photo by freestocks.org on Pexels.com

 

My memories of my past are ofttimes hazy, so here I will commit this story before I forget completely.

 

It was mandatory for the kids in my elementary school class to exchange Valentine’s cards. Usually, they would be harmless and cute cards featuring the cartoon characters of the era. We each had to cut and paste a large envelope to hang in front of our little desks so catch all of our received cards.

 

Convincing my mom to take me to the store to pick out a pack of cards was a chore. Ever practical, she thought it would be easier to purchase only one, and give it to the person I liked the most. Secondarily, they were not cheap, and money for us was always tight.

 

I was too young to understand her meaning, I was required to give a card to everyone, so that was my intent. She bought for me a large economy pack of Valentine’s cards. Much cheaper that way.

 

Once safely at home, I opened the box and began to sort through the selection of cards. I immediately encountered one problem. Well, two actually.

 

One, I had WAY more cards then I needed.

 

Two, I honestly could not remember even half of the names of the students in my class.

 

I was extremely shy and socially awkward. Friends for me were few and far between. And so, knowing each individual student’s name was not something I needed to know.

 

So I had this large stack of cards and a small amount of names to use. Keeping the leftover cards for next year was unthinkable. They would be worn out and out of style for whatever was new that year.

 

I am also somewhat literal. I had made my mind up to use the cards, all of them. And I did.

 

Using what names I remembered, I spent the day writing and writing. I wrote cards for everyone, everyone that I recalled. They each received 2 or occasionally 3 cards each. And some classmates got none.

 

The next day, my class spent a half hour delivering their cards. We all left the classroom and one by one, went in to drop off our cards. As I did mine, I noticed how many envelopes I left empty. I shrugged.

 

We all filed in and began looking at our cards. I was pretty impressed that I was able to use all of my cards. Then the looks began.

 

The children whose names I remembered looked at their multiple cards from me, then to me sitting at my desk. I blew several little minds that day, I think. The kids who thought I was wierd before now didn’t know what to make of me.

 

I just didn’t get it.

 

At least my social ranking couldn’t fall lower.

The Lessons of Valentine’s Past

silhouette photo of man leaning on heart shaped tree
Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on Pexels.com

There was a time that I had largely given up on ever finding love.

I was never bitter about it however. I never felt that the world “owed” me a lover. My self-esteem, my self-worth, was so catastrophically low that the notion was practically foreign to me. My life was a punishing reminder that it, and I, was unimportant. And I believed that. Wholeheartedly.

There were attempts made however.

I never knew how to express myself. I was extremely shy and socially awkward. I didn’t know what to do, and my mouth would fail on me, making me mumble and stutter. Few were patient enough to wait for me to work past my issues and I just came out of it looking like a creep. A wierdo. Someone that you would not want to spend time with.

As a child, my family once spent a summer in Regina, Saskatchewan. I met a girl there. Perhaps she was related to my family, maybe we were cousins. I no longer remember her name. She was tall, taller then me at the time.

As was usual for me, I didn’t know anyone there. My parents were being social, visiting their friends and family. I was by myself. But then she was there. She asked if I could ride a bike. I said no. She said no problem and took my hand.

Learning to ride a bike was exhilarating. In a dusty, hot alley in Regina, I learned. Crashing. Falling. Landing on unforgiving asphalt. Pedaling into garages because I hadn’t yet learned that you drive towards what you are looking at. She taught and I learned.

She was a tomboy, as they are sometimes called. Short hair, scuffed knees, dirty from playing in the street all day. She formed an ideal in my mind that persists to this day.

She also taught me about breaking and entering. Perhaps I will speak of that another time. Soon, our vacation ended and my family returned home. I never saw her again but I still think of her from time to time.

I met my first girlfriend in my last year of highschool. She was a year behind and recently transferred in from another school. My counsellor noticed a large influx of Native Canadian students and decided to put us all together to help us learn about our collected heritages. A brilliant idea I thought.

We went on several field trips together, and sat by each other. We started to talk, A rariety for me, I had precious few friends in highschool. I put up a tough exterior during those days: long black hair, black leather jacket though I recently traded that in for a long coat. I also started to learn to play the guitar, so I would be seen carrying it to and from class. I also started drinking that year, for which I was much the worse for.

We dated! My sense of self worth could not take it. WOULD NOT take it, in fact. In response to this new, unexpected influx of affection, I started to drink more. She wisely withdrew. I was convinced that this was the end of the world, that I would never recover. My heartache was only worsened by booze.

I wasted so much time like that. It took many years before I was even somewhat whole again. Then I met another woman. Was I ready? I wasn’t even close. There was so much healing that I needed to do, but I fell headfirst in love again.

And she rejected me. And I was crushed, again. More time passed.

In hindsight, it is curious to see the pattern emerge; a broken man, seeing a woman who can perhaps fix him. Make him whole. Failing must mean that I am worthless. Garbage. Unworthy. Such mistaken ideas. Only I can fix myself. I know that now.

In time, I met someone else. Kind, funny, caring. She too, turned down my clumsy advances. My heart hurt for some time, but there was a change.

For the first time, the thought appeared, “It’s her loss.” Those simple words changed things for me so much. Was I growing? Was I developing self-esteem?

The pain of rejection was diminished.

I realized that I was not ready. I came to understand that I needed to work on myself. I didn’t know how much I had to do, but it was a start.

I focused on my self. On my work. On my hobbies. On my friends. I got a new job, far superior to any I’d had before.

Then I met someone.

Both of us were in training for our new employment. We were both uncertain, but excited, about the path ahead of us. We connected, a smile from across the room, standing closer then neccessary to discuss the lesson of the day.

But we also knew it was too soon. Our employment demanded too much attention. We both chose to focus on that for the time being. We became friends.

Later that year, she asked what I was doing for my upcoming birthday. I had nothing planned, but with her looking at me with those green eyes, I determined to come up with something.

The plunge had begun.

Because I was no longer worried about being “fixed”, I could be more relaxed around her, more honest. I was myself with her, a first for that. I told her about my experiences, and she did the same. Our connection became profound and instant.

She loved me. Her strength gave me the courage to seek help for my trauma and finally make peace with my past. I loved her. I supported her through serious injury and a major career change.

It is not always easy, but it is in those small moments, where we lie in bed together and smile at each other, or sit beside each other on the couch to watch our favorite shows while holding hands, that love exists.

Those are the moments I live for.

A Letter Unsent

Dearest mother,

 

I hope this letter finds you well. I am doing well here in Calgary. My wife sends her regards. I find myself ill at ease of late. Mayhaps a visit from you would be a balm for my soul.

 

🤣

 

Who writes like that anymore? Well, you probably did. With pen and paper. Probably an ink well. Learning cursive and whatnot. I can clearly imagine you at a table, writing a letter to your brother or sisters, telling them about your experiences. I don’t ever recall seeing you write anything at any time however.

 

Who even writes letters anymore?

 

Now, through the technological magic of the digital age, we can do this:

 

happy birthday card beside flower thread box and macaroons
Photo by Giftpundits.com on Pexels.com

 

Happy Birthday!

 

85 years is a delightful milestone! You’ve seen so much history: you witnessed a World War, you gained the right to vote in 1960 or thereabouts, you saw the ending of the Residential school system of which you were a part of. You saw so much.

 

I wish you were here. Writing is so impersonal. Perhaps that why I do so much of it. Disassociating the self from the emotion. It’s easy to write of disturbing things. After all, it’s just part of the story right?

 

But no, you’re not here. You’re not anywhere. You passed away some 3 years ago.

 

Passed away. A nice way of saying you died. Deceased. Pining for the fjords.

 

Sigh. I can’t stop cracking jokes, even in the face of death. I must have gotten that from you.

 

Dammit, I miss you.

 

I am writing this letter to you as a means of therapy. Of maintaining the relationship I had with you prior to your exit. Connecting with people has been difficult since you left.

 

I mean, I understand that everything ends. Our time here is limited. Our very breath, once spent is never recovered. So why can’t I let you go? Why can’t I move on?

 

I digress. Pointless musings on the nature of death. We have had millenia to consider it and no answer is better then the other.

 

We die. We are done. The End.

 

Argh, more digressions.

 

I am doing this to update you, to keep you in the know of what is happening to me, your son. One of many of your offspring. But also, the last of your children.

 

So, where was I? The past year, right. It was a doozy.

 

Around christmas 2018, it hit me hard. Depression. Harder then it has ever been. I almost didn’t recover.

 

I’ve been dealing with depression most of my life. Almost all of it, it seems. It hounds me, creeping around my every thought. You must have seen me as I struggled with it in my youth. You had a lot on your plate back then.

 

Work. Money. Bills. Money. House repairs. Money. Missing you. Money. Missing you. Money.

 

I used to always visit you at christmas, either at home, or the senior care facility later. We would open gifts and share a meal, sometimes with tea or coffee. You always liked tea over coffee. I am kind of addicted to coffee.

 

But you weren’t there that year. And it hurt. The year before, christmas went by in a daze, I can barely recall it. The newness of your absence must have masked it.

 

So yes, depression called, and I answered.

 

I couldn’t sleep. I was overeating. I started having panic attacks. My heart would race, I couldn’t keep a thought in my head except to run. Just, run. A blind, mamillian response to stress.

 

I couldn’t work like that. I had to go on long term disability. The cut to my paycheque hurt even worse. But work had good programs in place to assist.

 

So I got help.

 

Cognitive Behaviour therapy. Very wordy, but it has been incredibly helpful to me. Medication helped as well. It is a wonder how changing how you look at things can change so much. I was so close mom, it frightened me.

 

Part of my healing has been to write. My teachers all said that I had talent, but I never had the belief in myself to take them seriously. But I am now. I think you would be proud.

 

I wrote a novel!

 

I want to be published. To make a name for myself. Recognition. I am afraid, but exhilarated at the same time about that.

 

I look to your strength for inspiration in this. You endured so much to bring us all, your children here. So much of it must have been abject misery, but you did it.

 

My cat, Wesley, has been a constant companion. You met him once. I think he liked you.

 

I have had the extreme fortune of meeting several strong women like you in my travels. I always mention you to them. They are suitably impressed by you.

 

So, it is your birthday, and I am writing this letter to you. I should burn it, it would be cathartic, possibly. I just need you to understand how things are, how I am doing.

 

I am better now. This last christmas, I thought of you, and was happy. You would have enjoyed it, you always do.

 

I should wrap this up. It is late, and I am tired. Writing is easy but at the same time, draining, if that makes sense. I want to continue this conversation with you though.

 

My wife says Hi! and Happy Birthday!

 

You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten. I will continue to speak of you to any who will listen. They will remember you.

 

I love you.

 

-Ellis

A Tale of Two Cats

As I write, there is a special location here at my writing nook. It is a rectangular space between the keyboard and the end of of the table. Here sits a fuzzy, comfy blanket. It is covered in cat hair. It is the home and throne of Wesley, my cat.

 

Or rather, I am his human.

 

Wesley

-Here he is, cleverly subverting the “No Cats on the Counter” rule.

 

When he came into my life, Wesley, or Bandit as he was known then, had a rough childhood. He was found abandoned with his littermates, all freshly born, left in a box over night outside of a animal care facility in the middle of winter. The winter was punishingly cold, and only he survived out of all his siblings.

 

The next few weeks were touch and go, as he had to be fed by bottle, without a cat mother to take care of him. He was very sickly, falling prey to many illnesses. Eventually, a brave foster mom stepped in to take care of him, taking him home with her.

 

Bandit stayed with her for some time, growing stronger and recovering. The foster mom did her best to make sure he was healthy and loved. In time however, she had to let him go. She had a medical condition that made it difficult for her to take care of him, so reluctantly, she had to find him another foster parent.

 

My wife had made his acquaintance and felt that we could handle him until he was adopted. I can clearly remember the day he arrived, his foster mom was busy giving my wife his medicines and food and one or two of his favorite toys and other information about his needs. I was standing in the kitchen drinking a coffee when he cautiously peered from around the corner. He was so small.

 

I heard the foster mom warn us that he was afraid of men.

 

We stared at each other for a moment.

 

That warning suddenly seemed unimportant.

 

We became inseparable. He followed me wherever I went. He would jump, often at the most unexpected moments straight up and into my arms. At night, he would sit on the bed with us and just wait, wait for one of us to crack an eye open at him. Then he would pounce. More then a few times, the giggling of one of us would wake the other.

 

Then, one day, his old foster mom called. She had recently been given new medication and wanted to adopt Bandit. She had fallen in love with him. I don’t blame her, it was a very easy thing to do.

 

When she came back for him, he was sitting upstairs with me on my bed. He was holding me and I was holding him. We do that sometimes. His foster mom was so excited. I was becoming increasingly sad. I looked at him for a while, then I said very quietly, so quietly that only he could hear, “I love you.”

 

He gently placed his paw on my face.

 

I picked him up and took him downstairs, and she left with him.

 

I was depressed for a long while after that.

 

Some time later, I had finally come to terms with his absence. I could now freely walk around the house without being jumped on at random. I no longer heard his querying chirp whenever he saw me after a long period of time. I was resigned.

 

His adopted mom phoned us. Her medication was not working. Crying, she told us that she had to return Bandit to us. She loved him, but she had to let him go. As I once did.

 

Bandit returned to us and he immediately leapt into my arms. His mother said a tearful goodbye and left. The house was quiet for a moment. It was just he and I, it seemed.

 

I turned to my wife and said, “I can’t let him go again.” There was a tear in my eye.

 

She smiled, and said, “I kind of thought so.”

 

We adopted Bandit shortly thereafter. Wesley became his new name. It suited him more, it felt.

 

We are rarely apart. Even as I write. he rests between me and my keyboard. Sometimes, he grooms himself, sometimes he sleeps, offtimes, he watches me as I write.

 

I promised him, my cat, my friend, a lifetime of love. A lifetime of peace. A lifetime of adventure.

 

Ell and Wesley 1

-But mostly this is what we do.

The Promise of Eden

The military transport rolled lazily through the plains. The gunner on watch duty lit a cigarette and laughed along with the joking going on inside the vehicle. The plains went on for kilometers, providing him with unrestricted line of sight. An ambush here was unlikely.

 

After another hour of travel, the vehicle stopped at an intersection. An ill-used road peeled off in a northerly direction. A lone passenger tossed a large dufflebag to the ground and disembarked, then waved goodbye to the driver and other occupants. A roar of goodbyes echoed from the transport as it roared away, covering the person in a cloud of dust.

 

Covering her face with her left hand, the woman easily picked up and shouldered her dufflebag with her other hand. She pulled out a cap from her pocket and settled it on her head, covering her short cut, blonde hair. Removing her hand that covered her face, she glanced at it. Already coated in dust. She sighed.

 

She did not miss dust at all.

 

Petra Sigurdson, first lieutenant in the New Eden Psychic Armed Forces, took out her favorite and to date, only pair, of sunglasses and was just about to place them over her green eyes when she stopped. She scanned the rolling plains around her, noting nothing out of the ordinary. Brown plants mixing with brown ground, then lifting up into a blue skyline with only a few clouds. Boring. Nothing changes around here.

 

She closed her eyes and focused her concentration. It came easily to her. She was a prodigy, her instructors proclaimed. She opened her eyes, and the world was lit anew.

 

Vibrant shades of colours, colours she could never clearly describe to others who were not gifted as she, danced before her vision. Life was coloured like this. She could see the tiny auras of insects crawling along the ground, rodents burrowing in the ground. Even the plants swayed with a hypnotic colour. Everything shimmered. It was beautiful. It captivated her every time.

 

She lifted her own hands into view and examined her own aura. Healthy. Happy. A small slash of anxiety? She looked towards home and the slash grew a little. She was wasting time. Blinking once or twice, the world shifted back to normality. She slipped on the sunglasses and began walking towards home. Towards the small village of Carter.

 

A brisk hour later, Petra crested a rise and the dozen or so houses that comprise the village of Carter came into view. Waves of nostalgia swept over over her. Memories of her childhood spent here, playing with her friends in the fields and pastures. Education in the small, cramped school house. Huddled around the fireplace during the cold winter nights, listening to tales told by her grandfather.

 

Her grandfather! She stopped suddenly, lost in reverie. She missed old Jesiah greatly. She focused her mind, and the memories became crystal clear, as though she were living them for the first time.

 

The wind roared outside, rattling the windows. A cold draft blew in through the bottom of the door. Ma and Pa were in the kitchen, cleaning up after a tasty dinner. She could hear their giggles as they laughed over something. Young Petra was sitting by grandpa Jesiah as he tended the fire. Petra loved the old man. He smelled…stale, but then her young mind imagined that all old people smelled like that. She tugged on his pant leg.

 

“Grandpa? Grandpa?”, she asked. “Can you tell me about Earth?”

 

Jesiah chuckled as he put the fire iron down. He sat back down on his chair with a groan. He motioned for his drink, which Petra ran off to retrieve. Moonshine. His own special concoction. He takes small sip and winces as the fluid burns its way down.

 

“All right, all right,” he rests the drink in his lap. Petra excitedly sits down in front of him, her back to the warm fire. He rubs his beard thoughtfully.

 

“Let’s see,” he begins. “Old Earth was the cradle, do you understand? We began there, all of us. But we were stupid, short-sighted. We used her up. Poisoned her sky, burnt the earth, drained the oceans, all in the name of ‘progress.’ We couldn’t live there anymore, we had to leave. So, we stip mined her for the last time, and she gave us the last of what she had left.”

 

“The old earthers, they were clever. They built ships. Space ships. Gen-er-a-tion ships.” He sounded out that last part. “Ships that people would live and die on, and their kids would do the same. And their kids, and their kids. All the while, the ship would fly through the cold dark of space. Twelve ships left Earth and aimed for the nearest galaxy. Do you know the names of those ships, Petra?”

 

“Of course Grandpa!”, she replied. She straightened her back and receited from memory the names of legend:”

“There was the Hope of Tomorrow,

The Starlost,

The Wayfarer,

The Longstrider,

The Song of Distant Shores,

The Light in the Darkness,

The Remembrance,

The Greater Good,

The New Dawn,

The Seeker,

The Stellar Eye,

and our own ship, The Promise of Eden.”

 

“Clever girl, very clever,” Jesiah says with a smile. “You’ll go far. But you missed one,” he says mischieviously.” Petra is confused, her teachers never mentioned a thirteenth ship!

 

“The last ship to leave old Earth, they spent years in orbit, holding prayers of remembrance, asking forgiveness for what humanity had done. They didn’t follow us, no. Instead they turned around and shot for the heart of the Milky Way galaxy, the home of old Earth.”

 

“That ship was The Mourners of the Lost.”

 

Young Petra’s eyes widened in excitement.

 

Jesiah continues, “the twelve ships scattered, each following it’s own course, a sliver of hope really, to find a habital world. For more years then I can count, our ship flew alone in the dark. Each ship was a marvel of science, holding everything we need to make a new home. It’s finest feature was an art-i-fic-ial intelligence. A brain, that ran the whole ship.”

 

“Somewhere in the long night, that big old brain went insane. It came to see the people on board as vermin that needed to be destroyed.” Petra shuddered.

 

“The brain was smart, but limited in what it could do. It couldn’t do anything big against us without harming itself, but it had control of all the drones, so it began a war of machine versus man.”

 

“The machines struck hard and fast, and before they knew what was going on, the humans were on the run. Hundreds, maybe thousands died, but the rest went underground, hiding in the shafts and tunnels that criss-crossed the ship. A different type of long night had begun.”

 

“Living like actual vermin, in the walls or any other hiding holes they could find, the humans fought with tooth and nail against the machines. They were losing.” Jesiah leans back in his seat and ponders. Petra leans forward, eager to hear more.

 

“Who knows how long they fought for? No one living now remembers. But, one day, the Godsend arrived.” Jesiah looks down at Petra as she reverently whispers, “The psychics.”

 

Jesiah nods. ‘Yes, the psychics. No one knows how or why the gift suddenly appeared in our people, but it gave us the edge we needed in our fight. We took back critical control points and deck by deck, we took back our ship.”

 

“On the last day of the war, our hero, the legendary psychic called only Grey, ripped open the bulkhead protecting the machine brain with only the powers of her mind. It’s defenses had been wiped away, but the machine had the final laugh. It attemped to deleted ALL of our historical files. Our past. Everything that we had brought with us on our journey.”

 

“Grey and the others with her raced to stop the machine, but they were only partially successful. Our history, the history of humankind, was scrambled. Fact and fiction, it was all combined. We saved our history, but no longer knew where or when or if the events actually happened.”

 

“The machine was also hiding a profound secret: it had found a habital planet.”

 

Jesiah went on about what happened after: the planetary landing, the exploration, the hostile encounters with the indigenous population, the folk they would call the Reapers, and the bloody civil war that happened amongst the colonists, and the tenuous stalemate that occurred. But young Petra was drifting away into sleep, warmed by the fire and a full belly. It was a dear memory.

 

Looking up to the sky, Petra spotted the small moon, Luna rising from the horizon. That means that it’s larger sister, Terra, would be soon behind. Her ears also pick up an unusual sound. Drums. That means Reapers. She adjusted her dufflebag and picked up her pace into town.

 

She needs to alert the town watch and check in on her friends. The ones she left behind when she began her training in Eden city, the capital. She hoped they were ok. Drums meant that the Reapers were preparing for war. The village of Carter was not prepared to resist, having been peaceful for years. With her new training at the psychic academy, Petra knows she can help.

 

She hopes her strength is enough.

The Magik of Christmas

blue white ribbon on pink box
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

I low key hate Christmas.

 

The monstrous levels of commercialism. The forced notion of “Happiness” and “Peace on Earth” on what is essentially just another day as we swing around the sun. Plus, the fact that it practically starts the day after Halloween.

 

I am also painfully aware of how depression levels spike during the holidays, increasing suicide rates. My own depresssion spiked, or sunk, to a new low last year, leading to a mental health crisis that took me the entire year to recover from. It’s an ongoing process that even now, I must work daily at maintaining.

 

In the midst of all this seasonal ‘fakeness’, I found one thing that helps to stem the tide of rising depression. I volunteer for a charity. I help people as they struggle through their own holiday issues.

 

I donate my skills as a professional bus driver to operate a city transit bus as it is temporarily transformed into one of Santa Claus’ legendary reindeer and loaded with gifts, plus a bus full of other volunteers dressed as christmas elves. We even have a Santa.

 

We drive across town,  delivering gifts to families that have been nominated by people in the community. These families have been selected because of various reasons: perhaps they have suffered a loss in the family and are still grieving during the holidays, or one or both adults in the family have been laid off and now the family is struggling, on several occasions, we have visited families that have newly arrived to Canada, after making a long and difficult journey.

 

I volunteer, I say to those who ask, because it’s easy and fun. I merely drive the bus, the other do all the hard work, going into houses loaded with gifts, singing and being merry, and dealing with overly excited children. I say that I enjoy the challenge of driving my bus to locations I am rarely allowed to drive, that I enjoy the test of my skills.

 

I say these things because it hides a deeper truth.

 

During my first year as a volunteer for the charity, I signed up as a driver. When the coordinaters saw me, they immediately made an offer that I step up as a Santa Claus. I am a large man, tall and robust. It seemed a natural choice. I felt a great deal of apprehension at the offer, but looking into the eyes of my wife, I felt that the choice had already been made.

 

I underwent strenuous, vigorous training to become a Santa. It would not be out of place in a comedic montage during a comedy film, finding the right suit, mastering the laugh, learning the songs. It takes a special breed of person to be a Santa, that much is true.

 

My assignment for that first year was hospitals. Our charity sends a team of Santas plus elves and a massive amount of small, stuffed teddy bears out to all of the hospitals and long term care facilities around the city. Our job was to make sure that every patient gets a delightful stuffed bear and some quality time with Santa and his elves.

 

For me, it was an intensely difficult time. I am shy and withdrawn in public and this was akin to diving headfirst into the deep end of public scrutiny. The costume helped, as it provided me with a ‘mask’ to hide behind, and a persona as well. I could be “Jolly”, even if I wasn’t actually. I knew then what it must be like to be an actor. My hat goes off to the people of that profession.

 

But the beauty and dignity I witnessed there has stayed with me all these years later. I was privileged to see all manner of people living as best they can in difficult situations. In the dementia wards, I saw so many people who could barely remember what day, or month, or year it was, but they always recognized Santa as I came in, singing with my elves. Their faces would light up with such joy that my heart broke every time I saw it.

 

My elves and I would break off and spend time with each person in that wing. We made sure that they each came away with a teddy bear and a hug, or a firm handshake for the non-huggers. We couldn’t stay very long however, we had a lot of people to visit and only a little time to see them all.

 

One room we entered was unnaturally silent. It was a meeting room, with a long table in the middle. There sat a woman with an elderly man in a hospital gown. The man was staring blankly forward. he didn’t react as I introduced myself, nor acknowledge the teddy bear he recieved. The woman explained that his dementia had taken him to the point of catatonia, he was able to eat and could be led around, but that was the limit. But there was one way that she, his daughter, could still connect with him.

 

She calmly took out a flute case and set it in front of him and opened it for him. She also took out a matching case and set it up for herself. She then took the flute from his case and handed it to him. Still staring forward, he took the instument and with must have been muscle memory alone, placed his fingers correctly along the flute. She then took up her own flute and began playing a few notes.

 

At first, there was no response. She began again, and this time, he started to play along! His eyes were dull and lifeless, but his playing was strong and sure. Their music echoed through the halls and several elves were drawn to the room. We watched and were witness to a daughter connecting to her father and it was the most beautful thing we had ever seen.

 

She did this several times, starting a song, then he would join in. It was wonderful, amazing. I think we were all weeping by the end. Two intruments together, making beautiful music. A rare treasure. We were all busy giving gifts, but we recieved a momentous gift ourselves.

 

This reason alone is why I no longer volunteer to be a Santa Claus and only offer to drive the bus. I am not strong enough. My heart cannot stand to bear witness to such beauty again, it would break.

 

Many years later, as my mother spent her last few years in a long term care facility, a Santa came to visit her. She was so excited! He spent some time with her, and left her a cute, cuddly teddy bear. She was so happy, she talked a length about the visit.

 

I still have a teddy bear from my time as a Santa. I look at it from time to time, and think of the man and his daughter. I also think of my mother. I believe now in Santa Claus, thanks to this charity.

 

The Magic of Christmas charity.