The Definition of Luck, The Ability to Love

I grew up in a single parent home where we knew of, and took advantage of, every social care that was possibly available to us. I am only slightly embarrassed by this, as the circumstances in which I was raised were not under my control in the slightest.

Sometimes this meant living on “welfare”, and often it meant regular visits to the food bank, breakfast programs, snack programs, sponsor a kid for camp programs, Christmas gift programs for underprivileged kids, and other services offered by a mixture of the government, the school system, the Boys and Girls club and the community, among many others.

Sometimes this meant calling food companies to complain about a product to get free merchandise in return. Sometimes this meant writing cheques we knew were going to bounce. Sometimes it meant trying to back claim on strange government forms because we thought we might be somehow entitled to money from years ago.

There was a while when we would have a yard sale every weekend, just to get some spare change.

Until we left the city around the age of 12, we were among the percentage of people who were likely poorest in the country – and yet we always had food, always had healthcare, and always had a bed.

Being children who grew up in poverty, on social assistance, and on strange looks from family members and teachers, we were used to being seen as different.

What I have learned from those years, and from my now middle class, educated, and average life – is that there is always someone around the corner to lend a helping hand. Whether it’s one of many, many government programs, whether it’s an estranged family member who feels guilty or even just generous, whether it’s a kind neighbor, or whether it’s the local church…there is help to be had and people willing to do good for those in need.

Between the kindness and generosity of everyday Canadians, the incredible social programs our government provides, the education system, the church, and the overall culture of the people around us – we as Canadians basically couldn’t have it any better. Whether you were born into the poorest of families, or the richest of families, you’ve still got opportunities. You can get a loan to go to school, you can make your own choices once you become an adult, you can choose to serve whichever God you like, you can be totally disabled, or entirely lazy. No matter who you are, you have every opportunity to make something of yourself, and at very least, you will at least have bed to lay in, and food on your table.

Soon after my father was born he went entirely deaf. Due to circumstances in the 1950’s he somehow went under the radar and his parents thought he had a mental condition. It wasn’t until he was 19 that he was diagnosed, finally given hearing aids and sent to a school for the deaf. This means he never learnt to read and his communication skills are hugely impacted. It affects his everyday life now in ways you wouldn’t possibly guess. He has had a very tough life. He lives on a government disability program and always has. The man does not have much. At the end of each month, after paying his bills, he is lucky enough to have $100 to spare – and he is the best budgeter I have ever met. The point is that he still has a $100 to spare – and he is grateful. Not the same can be said for many people in similar situations, even though our government chooses to support them and many others in various other situations in this country. It is not a lot of money, but the fact that we live in a country where you are able to support yourself without having to work (if absolutely necessary) is utterly incredible.

Some see it as a right. I see it as a privilege. I am able to say this because in my life I have known difficulty. I have seen what my government can do, and does do for its people. I have lived in other countries, travelled to many countries, and known many people who were born and raised under very different circumstances. It truly is a blessing to be here. I count my blessings.

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There are some countries where babies are aborted just because they are a girl. In some countries you will be disowned or even killed if you try to leave the religion you were born into. There are places in this world that believe you should not know what’s happening around you, where they monitor every single piece of news that is printed. There are places on this planet which are so underdeveloped and poor that children die every few seconds because of hunger. There are countries where, no matter how hard you work, how hard to try, how long you save for, you will never go to school, never own your own business, and never get to choose the path for your own life. There are countries not far away that do not allow freedom of speech. There are people right now who have no bed. There are people who have worked harder and longer, saved longer, did more, and tried harder than you or I will ever try for something in our entire lives for anything – and yet they are still in the same place, doing the same thing, surrounded by the same tragedy they were born into.

This is not to mention the places in the world where children are beheaded and women are raped in front of their husbands because they happen to believe in different God from another person.

Depressing right?

The thing is, it’s not their fault they were born there. It’s also not your fault, or mine.

It’s also not our fault we were born here. Should we feel guilty? No. Should we feel grateful? Yes. Should we feel entitled? No.

We as Canadians (and other first world countries) are the luckiest 1% on the entire planet Earth. So why do so many of us feel we “need to take care of our own” so badly? Are not all humans “our own”? Are the people who are born in this country so much more important than other humans that were born into such terrible circumstances? Are we so far deep into our bubble of first world comforts that we can’t see that these people we discard as “other”, feel the same deep, drowning, horrible emotions about the scenarios in which they find themselves that we would find when we are in trouble? Who do we think we are?

It is so easy to compare ourselves to those who have more. We’re always looking up, always looking ahead. What’s next? How can I better myself? And though there is nothing wrong with the notion of become better, or doing more, I find it often comes hand in hand with the dismissal of those around us. Those who have less.

“We’ve earned what we have”

“I’ve worked my whole life for this”

“I paid into this”

“I deserve this”

“I have a right to be here”

“I”

“I”

“I”

…as if every person who is “below us” or wasn’t born here hasn’t worked hard and doesn’t deserve a good life. What about all the work they did before their homes were possibly blown up or their families were murdered?

We forget that there are many men and women who died for the rights and freedoms we so easily partake in. We forget that many have earned, deserve, and should have rights to these very same things and yet because they did not win the birth lottery, they are immediately disqualified from the luxuries we receive.

It is by no merit of our own that we were born where we were. We made no choice in the matter. It was luck of the draw.

I often try to imagine what my life would look like in another time, or in another place. What choices would be available to me? What would I want for my life? I can’t possibly imagine working in a rice field from the time I was a child, knowing full well that all of my days on earth would look exactly the same no matter what I did. I can’t imagine getting a curable disease where it was almost certainly a death sentence because of lack of a healthcare system. I can’t imagine being forced into marrying my uncle at the age of 11 years old, having to bear his children, and know that it was physically impossible for me to ever escape the life I was forced into. My mind couldn’t comprehend the emotions I would feel to see my children taken from me or my village burnt down, and then having to live with that – all the while fleeing for my own life.

My heart aches for the world around me. There is pain, death and suffering everywhere we turn – and yes – even in our own country. But I dream of a world where this simply isn’t the case. And though I know that we won’t achieve world peace anytime soon, I also know that we as people, as a human race, are better than that.

We are capable of incredible love. It’s been proven.

We are capable of practical, real, life altering love. Not the kind that you feel. Not the kind that we write about on canvas prints and hang on our shabby chic walls. Love that does! The kind that fills tummies, clothes the naked, and comforts the grieving. I believe that we are able to sacrifice our own comforts to see the needs of others met. I believe that one life is no more valuable than another. We must not let fear overcome us. If no one ever leant a helping hand for fear of its repercussions where would we be? We have made it this far as a human race, I think we have it in us to do what is necessary and love those around us, to love those who might make us afraid. That’s what would really make us great.

That’s what would make us brave.

 

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Photo credit: Yumi Mariane Momoi via Foter.com / CC BY

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On Becoming Stable, On Becoming Able

When I was about six years old, I stayed in a women’s shelter with my brother and my mom. We’d left home on very short notice and didn’t really understand what was happening or why- but I remember it was a scary situation. I have three things that I took away from the experience.

  • They cut the crusts off my bread if I asked nicely (THE BEST)
  • We watched The Land Before Time on VHS repeatedly and I loved every second.
  • Everyone there treated us like gold, and I was overwhelmed by love and attention.

There isn’t much more that a six year old can take away, or remember from a situation like that, but over all it was a really positive memory from my childhood- as strange as that may seem.

Although my shelter experiences may be limited (lucky me), my childhood experience with first world poverty, constant upheaval, and day-to-day struggle was not limited. I used to walk by houses much smaller than my current home and wonder how rich people really lived. I didn’t know any of the people who lived in them, and they seemed a world away from me, something I would never experience.

I knew (or thought) the rich kids got to bring fruit rollups for snacks to school. The rich kids got to wear those tear away Adidas pants (it was the 90’s okay?). The rich kids probably had never been to a pawnshop- never mind to pawn away their Christmas gifts. The rich kid’s parents drove cars. The rich kids got to stay at the same school with their friends year after year. That was the thing that was harder than any of the other things…knowing that other people didn’t have to made new friends almost every year.

By no means did I grow up surrounded by tragedy. There are stories much more tragic than my own. I saw a lot more in my first 17 years than most of the people I spend time with these days, but it’s nothing compared to the poverty, abuse, violence and uncertainty that many women and children experience everyday. In this very moment, there are families in my community who are struggling to keep it together, struggling to get through the day.

I share part of my story with you to show you that poverty, abuse, and struggle is not as far away as you think. There is no “us” and “them”. We are all the same. We (the lucky, the blessed, the fortunate) are no better a people than them (the struggling, the hurt, the poor). I have learned that life can change in the blink of an eye; with one decision, with one event, with one relationship- for the good, and for the bad. We have all likely arrived at our plenty by a mixture of good fortune and hard work. But there are many people that work hard and do not arrive at plenty. They could be us, and we could be them, so easily.

I am beyond blessed to have a home to come back to at the end of the day that makes me feel warm and loved- not frightened and afraid. As a wife, and a mother my heart is full to brim with the love I receive from my family on a day-to-day basis. I know what to expect from those around me everyday and they know what to expect from me. I am respected by my family and I respect them. Not every woman has that luxury.

There are women around us who are struggling in this very moment. Women who are afraid to tell their husbands they made a mistake. Women who are ashamed of the lunches they send their children to school with. Women who have to lie to their children to keep them safe. Women who have been victims of emotional, physical and psychological abuse. Women who are told they are fat, unworthy, and not good enough. There are women in your city who feel they are failing everyone around them. There are women who have been handed a really crappy deck of cards in life.

Lucky for me, the abuse and poverty I endured as a child and teen is a far off memory that I joke about with my friends sometimes. Stories they can’t believe are true. But for these women, their lives are no joke. It is tremendously difficult to see an end to the misery they face everyday.

Some of these women have to stay in shelters at some point or another-either by themselves, or with their children. As you can imagine, this is a very difficult thing for them to do. They are displaced from their families. Often, they have nowhere else to go. They have no support group. They have no means to help themselves. They have lost their homes, lost their jobs, lost their confidence. Sometimes, they are in hiding from those who pose a danger to them.

I never imagined that I would shop at The Real Canadian Superstore, never mind go to the checkout without first calculating my total to see if my card would decline or not. I never thought that I would get gas without looking at the price. I never thought that I would own my own home. I never thought that I would go on a vacation. I never thought that I would look forward to going home because that is where I feel most comfortable and most loved. My home is my biggest blessing, and not the wood and shingles, but the people in it.

I’m not rich. I’m “middle class”, and if you’re reading this than maybe you are too. That means you probably work, you probably have a car, you probably go on vacation sometimes, and you probably don’t visit foodbanks unless you are donating. You probably wonder what to get your parents for Christmas because they usually buy what they want or need, and you probably set limits on your kids gifts because you don’t want them to grow up to be spoiled.
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You might be wondering why I’ve shared all of this. It’s because I wanted to share with you why I am personally interested in what I am doing. My personal experiences have shaped my passion. I’ve reached a time in my life I thought might never come. A time of stability, a time of ability. I am able to help those around me, and so I will do that because I too have been helped along in my journey.

I want to see women around me who are struggling in different areas of their lives reach their fullest potential. I want them to know how incredibly valuable they are- to their families, to their communities, and to themselves. I want them to know they are loved.

I started volunteering for a charitable organization called “The Shoebox Project” http://www.shoeboxproject.com this month. I am now the Local Area Coordinator for the Norfolk County area. The Shoebox Project is a charitable organization that provides gift-filled shoeboxes during the holidays to women who find themselves in shelters and resource centers.

The shoeboxes are to be filled with various items you think a woman might like -lotion, hair care, makeup, personal care products and gift certificates– items she doesn’t have access to or the means to purchase during a difficult time. Things that make her feel special. We believe that a small gesture can make a big difference. Creating a shoebox worth roughly $50 can be done alone or with friends. It isn’t a lot when you think about it, and can make a world of a difference to those who are receiving them. Customizing the shoebox with decorations and images makes creating the shoebox as important as the contents. For more details on what to put in a shoebox and how to get started you can click here. http://www.shoeboxproject.com/make-a-shoebox.html

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to coordinate the Shoebox Project for Norfolk County this year and I love that I have the chance to volunteer for such a unique and essential charity. The women in my community who have found themselves in difficult circumstances over the holiday season deserve to receive a gift that can give them a glimmer of hope and a message of love. That is my goal, to spread hope and love.

If it’s something that interests you please contact me!

Not only do we need people to lovingly make shoeboxes but we need volunteers and people to spread the word.

Do you have a storefront business in Norfolk County? Would you be interested in being one of our drop-off locations for the shoeboxes?

Would you like to get together with co-workers or friends to have a shoebox making party?

There are so many ways to get involved and make a difference this holiday season. What a blessing we can be to those living so close to us. Please join me!

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If you aren’t from my community check out www.theshoeboxproject.com to see what you can do to get involved in your area.