The Last Narration

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First time in years I will post something on this date. I prefer to avoid it as best as I can. I wrote something years ago, but have no idea where it went. So, rather than answer the question dozens of times today, sit back with a coffee and I’ll tell you a story, and it will be the absolute last time I will share this.

The pictures are a few that I had without people in the foreground. Those folks are memories that are mine only.

I had a new camera, it was the 90s, and this fancy-arsed bit of gear could take photos in three different sizes by flipping a switch on the bottom of the camera. Film was in a sealed container, you put it in the camera, pressed a button, everything auto-loaded. The negatives were still in the container when you got your prints back, you had a 3×5 print with thumbnails of the photos on that roll. Pretty nifty technology for the times, considering digital photography was still some ways off, and cell phones made phone calls and that was all they did.

It’s why I avoid the 24 hour constant drumbeat of the various things today, that will flood the media and online sites.

I used to work in Tower 1, and had actually been there the week prior to 9/11 because of a last minute change in scheduling, otherwise I would have been making my way that morning from the World Trade Centre Marriott, out for a coffee and a cigarette with the usual crew, and then heading upstairs to get busy. It was one of two companies that I worked for at that time.

Liked the corner we had, if I leaned back in my chair at the right angle, I could look out the window, through the gap between two other buildings, and watch the ships in the river.

That fountain, I recall it being put in a park after the attacks, as a place for people to meet up and check in. It’s where we would gather for lunch or breaks, or if working late enough, dinner, and enjoy the sights and sounds and the multitude of languages that sounded like a chorus in the area. And always the space for all of us smokers (we were many more in that era!) to gather and laugh and could spare a light and a cig for someone who came out without theirs.

Or the guy behind the counter at a local deli, at the old offices in Murray Hill, saying to my friend Tas, “c’mon sweetheart, I ain’t here for my good looks, pick up the pace!” That typical New York ‘tude. Little did he know that she could give as good as she got, and they became fast buddies and would razz each other mercilessly when we popped in for a bagel and a coffee. The move to the WTC was such a big thing for everyone, bright sparkly new office space, all new furniture and equipment. You know the drill.

This morning, 9/11/01, nice sunny day, clear skies, into the office in the financial district at home extra early, had a technician from one of my vendors in, and we were hard at it in the computer room from early in the morning.

I had popped out to get something out of my desk drawer, and my phone was ringing, and saw it was Mom’s office number. I answered, and she said, “is there a radio near you?” No, nothing like that, open concept. “How about a television?” Lunch room beside the computer room, it should be on by now. “Good, go put CNN on and call me right back!!”

I walked into the lunch room as the second plane hit, live on the news.

DAFUQ??!!

Immediately, my thought was, what the hell are they running some SciFi movie at this time of the morning for??

Then they replayed the first plane strike and the fireball, then the second, then the first again.

If anyone wonders, when they share pictures of the planes exploding into the towers … that’s triggering as hell.

I went back to my desk and was just reaching for the phone when my vendor’s tech came out and said, they were just paged, everybody to evacuate downtown and return to the offices north of the city. Sent him on his way and called Mom back. “When are you leaving? I’ll meet you at the train.” They haven’t said shit about anyone leaving yet… far as I know, we’re still working today. “Fuck!! Okay, the second they let you go, call me and I’ll meet you at the train!” Mom’s offices had moved from near the airport out to the very west end of Mississauga in those years.

Some people said bollocks, and weren’t going to wait for management to get their finger outta their asses, packed up and split. Just to be sure, we had a quick meeting for the key peeps in I.T. to go over having to do a rapid shutdown of the computer room. Called up to the call centre and told them to re-record the panic button announcement. As I would discover in the next hour, they all split without doing it, and put up the standard holiday announcement. UGH!!! By this point, there are a handful of I.T. folks still in the offices, as we start the orderly shutdown of all the gear.

At one point, we figured, we may be quite a while, may as well split into shifts and go downstairs and grab some lunch. They had just renovated the food courts and had these fancy-arsed new flat screen televisions and we could see what the hell was going on while we wolfed down some food. We were startled by people running at top speed while screaming at full volume, through the PATH system towards transit stations. Really? Likely too much mania and misinformation on the media causing it.

By this point, back upstairs, spot the developers manager, ask him to stand by me and listen, I’m going to record an emergency closed announcement for the phone systems, main number and call centre, soon as I finish, I’ll pass you the receiver, say what I just said, only in French. Another crisis handled. Oy! Working in I.T. on Bay Street for a few decades, you get used to speaking in a dull monotone while dealing with shit happening all around you.

Then an e-mail hits every computer in every office worldwide. A storefront office of ours near the WTC has sent a message to GROUP: ALL.

Is there anyone still alive? We have a class of grade 1 kids and their teacher locked in the store with us. What do we do? Is there anyone there? Help!

Even now, that memory sends chills throughout me. Cellphones are down, voice lines are jammed, data circuits are sketchy… much of NYC ran through the WTC site. Because our systems had redundancies built upon redundancies, we had multiple back-ups. Reply sent from the UK head office, “Stay in place, NYPD or NYFD will come and get you and the children… we will get a message to them. Stay safe. London out.”

Computer room brought down, ready to leave. The two of us remaining walk through the building lobby heading for Bay and King Streets. We get outside, and there is NOT A SOUND. The streets are empty. The only thing we see are police cars parked on angle in the intersections, and officers with long guns in hand. That’s when things got weird, because you just don’t ever see that in Canada, at least, at that time.

Union Station is a complete madhouse. We both are on the same line going west, and they post a train on the board. Probably wise that we waited, it took some time to get crews in to get the trains rolling again. Call Mom and let her know we’re due to leave downtown.

Meet her at the station, we head home, and between answering my pagers, making phone calls, and dialling in through the lock and key modems to wake up the phone system, you just sit stunned and watch things unfold.

And the media played those scenes over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

Finally crash around 3 when the phones and pagers go quiet. Up at 5, back on the road downtown, have already started a remote power up and boot process, should be just about finished when I get to the office, fire up the UNIX systems, and we’re good to go… and remember to talk to the call centre manager about the epic clusterfuck from the day before.

We were due to launch a new teleconferencing and video system that week. Call from US law enforcement, can we use your servers? Absolutely, I’ll call the vendor, they’re yours for as long as you need. Calls from our east coast offices, we have plane people, can we get approval for expenses for necessities. Yup! All the big brass (aka mahogany row) were overseas for meetings, so, we did a lot on our own initiative from Toronto (because it’s easier to ask for forgiveness after).

Three weeks after the attack, a few of our folks had not returned to work, there was no word on their missing family member who had worked in the upper 20 floors of Tower 2. And then, the new owners, with 9/11 as their excuse, laid off 85% of the staff in Toronto and New York.

Talk about a corporate rogering, and we never even got kissed first.

Snapped up by a headhunter a few months later, on the promise, sworn oath, that I would not have to travel. No, only once a year at most.

I was on a frigging plane every other week. Until SARS hit. Then they canned any staff under quarantine who could not travel. Grandma was declining rapidly and was on death’s doorstep. Paramedics scooped and ran with her multiple times until the hospital finally admitted her, and we were quarantined in case of SARS-related illnesses. So much for that job, but at least no more flying for me.

Two French brothers were making a documentary and were in the midst of all of it. Watched it twice when it aired. That was enough. That desk in the lobby, I recall laughing with the security guard there. The church where they took Father Judge after the first collapse. Have sat in there in quiet thought. Twice was enough, no more.

I recall meeting the wife and daughter of a gentleman lost in the towers that day, all from Toronto, and his wife’s words have stuck with me to this day. As soon as we start to get past this nightmare, the annual grief orgy comes up again, and we are stuck reliving every single horror of that day, while people obsess over every detail.

I get it. She had a good cry, and we had a few laughs, and went our separate ways, and her words have stayed with me ever since.

So, that’s why I don’t write about this, this is totally making an exception, and I will never hash it out at length again. I will have my memories from there with me always, and we remember those lost on that day, and in the intervening years from the most horrendous illnesses from working on “the pile”.

I haven’t set foot down there since. Had a message from a treasured friend this morning, “The Girl Tribe will take you back when you’re ready.”

Those who are silent today, are reliving memories, and still dealing with stuff. Give them space, they’ll be back to themselves tomorrow. Trust me on that. One long-time friend relives the moment as the second tower collapse was happening, running away from the growing dark cloud. They prefer not to have to relive it constantly either.

With love, sunbeams, and kitten dreams, and, in memory of those no longer present in this realm.

Christine 🙏🏼💙💙

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On Being a Survivor

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This will not be an easy read, kittens. Let’s get that out there right up front.

Before I begin, I must give you multiple TRIGGER WARNINGS.

This post will discuss violence, sexual assault, trauma, rape, bullying, and, suicide. If any of this might trigger you, I would strongly suggest that you close your browser window or scroll past quickly to another post.

If you have ever sat in any of my lectures, at colleges and universities, you will be familiar with much of what I am about to discuss here. Why publish it now? Because some people need to hear this to be able to understand. Some to understand that they are not alone and that I, and my soul sisters, we get it, and as much as we wish the club would never add another member, we know that it does multiple times per hour. Some to understand that violence causes trauma which in turn can cause other issues, and people will act or react in certain ways because of it.

There are certain aspects and things from my past that I have never discussed and likely never would in any environment. Literally I have one or two people (thank you Katherine 💙💙) who I feel comfortable with discussing those things because they’ve been there too.

Before digging in, again, I’m reminding you of the TRIGGER WARNINGS.

Let us begin.

Let’s drop in the first slide for discussion…

From the first day of school until I graduated from grade 13, bullying was a constant. Daily, hourly, without end. I dreaded school, hated every single second of it. It was due to this that between the ages of 9 and 10 I was diagnosed with anxiety. My memory is not what it used to be, so if you want the term used in the 70s, feel free to hit Google. High Strung. Nervous. “Sensitive”. Ugh. Add in a diagnosis of depression in my teens. When I look over the top of my glasses at some “expert” it’s usually because I’m thinking, “listen cleverarse, I’ve been living with this for fucking near 40 years now… been there, done that, didn’t want the fucking t-shirt, ‘k?” Was there any peace at home? No. This was a time when my Mum was working 2 jobs and she never knew what went on until many, many, years later. What one teacher did discover, for years, the ring leader behind it had been my sister, egged on by her father (he had a psychotic hatred of both Mum and me). They offered to move me to another school to finish grade 13. Hardly worth it by that time… just get to June, give me my diploma, and I’ll never darken the bloody halls of this place ever again.

Oh, the anxiety and depression? Treated, but not really successfully at all. Other physical issues began to show up over the years. More on that later. Suffice it to say, being physically ill before having to leave for school was a daily thing. And the thought of it on Sunday nights would cause multiple issues.

There was the usual nonsense over the years, and one evening in my 30s, the anxiety went off the charts without warning, and I was gasping for air. I didn’t know it in the moment, but I was having a full-blown panic attack. I literally felt like I was about to die. I’m used to them now, if there is such a thing as becoming used to that, but, I have tools to manage them now that I never had access to then. What would lay you out on the floor curled in a ball, I may get a slight twitch in one eye while I’m talking myself through it.

8 years ago, January 2010, Mum had been sick, but couldn’t figure out what. Waking up to her paralyzed down her right side one morning set off a cascade of events. Two weeks later those words. “You have terminal brain cancer. You have 6 weeks to live. Unless you sign up for this experimental program, you should go home and get your affairs in order.”

It had always been just the two of us, and that’s how she would slip away quietly in July of that year, just the two of us in her room, I was holding her hand, she gave it a squeeze and she was gone. I still have all those what if’s in my mind, and the if only’s. Mum wanted to die at home… could not do that for her, by May she was beyond what I could manage for her medically at home, with a visiting nurse in every day. I spent days and nights with her in Palliative Care, as my voice was the only one she would respond to. While I was busy taking care of her and hoping she would have an easy path to the next life, I never knew that family were busily emptying her accounts and stripping anything of value from the apartment. I had to stop working to look after her, and once she slipped away quietly after midnight, I went into automatic mode.

My friend of many years said he was surprised I was so emotionless throughout it all. I had to be. It was my natural state of being functional, I turned all that off in my childhood. Mum would say I was 40 since I was 5, and 50 since I was 20. It’s true. Experiences over the years pushed me further and further back into my shell, and it’s rare that anyone caught a glimpse of me, let alone see behind the defences I had been constructing for years to keep people at a safe distance. I had learned, if you let them in, you will get hurt, and not just a bruise, but fucked up in multiple ways. The people who are close to me now, who have seen behind the mask, behind the walls, they are indeed special for me to let them get that close. That’s the emotionless part, the being “terribly English, stiff upper lip and all that…” and the rest of the assorted sillybuggers that goes with it. I needed to function and get things done, that was what mattered. I could have a meltdown later when there was nobody around to see or hear me.

By the time I had wrapped up the estate, I had been out of work for over a year, and people forget you exist quickly in my old career field. There was no fast way back to making a buck, and I ended up losing our apartment. Where we had lived for 35 years. The place Mom had begged me to promise her that no matter what I would stay there. Yeah. Stellar. First suicide attempt. Ended up on the street with a bag of clothes and my cat. Family stood on the sidelines and watched it happen and never made a move. But I hear they had a field day when they could take the remaining contents and made a big show out of dumping photos in the garbage dumpsters out back.

After a couple of nights out on the street, make it to a shelter where I can keep my cat with me… she’s all I have left, adopted her at 6 weeks old, and she’s 8 at this time. Then I discovered the hell on earth that is our city’s shelter system. Violence is a daily fact of life. Street drugs were everywhere and used openly in front of staff who just didn’t care. Being assaulted in the bathrooms was standard procedure. And there is no easy way to couch this, so I’ll just drop in the next slide here…

I was raped. At knifepoint. By somebody wrecked on drugs. I reported it to the office the morning after. They did everything shy of laugh about it. What I was told though, “You can call the police if you like, but you’ll lose your bed, and your cat will go to the Humane Society.”

I said nothing. Did nothing.

After the third time being raped that week, I stopped caring. I could not safely sleep in my room, and I would sit up all night long in the common area. I knew there was no help from the staff. After being awake for almost 72 hours, I took an overdose. Suicide attempt #2. I was apparently discovered convulsing on my bed. Taken to hospital, and they did whatever they had to do, and once I could stand up, I was given a bus token and discharged and sent back. Without shoes. In a rainstorm.

I shut down completely.

I stopped talking, functioning, eating. I was so full of medications prescribed by ER doctors from recent panic attacks, I was like a zombie. It was the only way to get through it, I knew there was zero help available from staff, I just kept looking for a place to escape there. Even my cat was not spared abuse. And again, taking her to the office, missing her fur and skin above her right eye was not enough for them to do anything. Her vet made an emergency appointment when I sent them an e-mail, and she took pictures and reported it to the OSPCA. Staff didn’t want to believe that one of their frequent flyers would do this. My vet confirmed it.

Finally find a place, but would need a roommate to cover the rent. Fine, don’t care, just let me out of this hellhole. By the time the fourth roommate had moved in during the first year (they didn’t last too long, either new girlfriend and move in together, or in one case I asked one to leave, and two others skipped with unpaid rent). Roomie #4 was “entertaining” one evening, and I had gone to a local coffee shop to wait it out. The coffee shop employees decided they were going to close up early because the owner wasn’t around. Go for a walk to wait for a text message that all is clear, I can go home. Not fully paying attention to what was around me, never heard somebody come up behind me… and here’s where another slide goes…

I don’t have much memory of it, beyond being hauled down to the sidewalk from behind by my purse strap… I had during this, dissociated, from what my therapist told me. The incident was enough to turn off, step outside of myself and watch it from a distance. I managed to make it home that night, and within a day or so was bruised from shoulder to hips down one side. I was getting pressured to report it, but, without much detail to work from, why bother? I already had the seeds planted from before that you can’t report this, or else. (Goes back much further than I’ve ever told before.) And as many times as I was urged to file a report, I literally had next to no memory of it, beyond the bruising and a few little snippets here and there. Of course, in the interim, any Canadian woman can say one name to you, and when you hear it, will instantly understand why reporting is dismal — Ghomeshi. Reference that case and see why reporting doesn’t happen.

And yet, here I stand, 4 years later, still functioning, still teaching, still lecturing, still writing, still doing the work I do best with the people I enjoy being around most. Know what? They all wear uniforms. Of all my experiences in 55 years on the planet, the one place that I have consistently been welcomed with open arms has been where I spend my time and energy working to make change happen.

And one more thing, I was able to be weaned off all the medications I was on at that time. Over 30 pills a day to just get through another 24 hours. I was lucky, I had an amazing therapist, who wanted to help out before she retired. If not for her, I am sure there would have been a third suicide attempt. Also where I was diagnosed with PTSD (later on Complex PTSD as well, but I just use PTSD, it’s simpler). And after years of zero success in managing all the various physical ailments on top of anxiety and depression, once we started treating PTSD, the physical issues went away, and the anxiety and depression became manageable. Do I still struggle some days? Absolutely. But, my chosen sister, my soul sister, Natalie, has helped so much (love you forever and a million days more, Sis). She encouraged me to speak about all of this, not just the highlights, but the ups and downs and the struggles, to lay myself bare to help another. She battles PTSD, as does our other sister. And we are all still standing, still battling, and we all fight the same battles every day. We are still here. We are winning. We are survivors. We are warriors.

I love this graphic, the Survivor Psalm.

I have used it in lectures, seminars, and talks.

It helps me to distinguish the difference between victim and survivor.

I have friends who have been through similar hells on earth. And I know exactly what moment that something has triggered their traumas and they have gone from survivor back to victim. And we gather and lift them up until they can move forward as a survivor again.

Please, I’m asking you, never refer to me as a victim. I have seen hell and made it to the other side. I’m a survivor, and don’t you forget it.

For those whom I hoped would see this and be able to make it through to here: I see you, I honour you, I understand you. I am proud of your bravery. You are a survivor too. You can get there, I know you can. It seems impossible now, but persist, I can promise you, it is better when you can claim your survivor status proudly.

For the rest of you, kittens, I send my love, hugs, and a hope that you can take something from this and make the world a better place.

The one thing all humans want is to make a difference. I hope somebody gets that from this post.

I love you. Stay safe. Spread some kindness and happiness around, ‘k?

Love, sunbeams, and kitten dreams.

Christine 🙏🏼💙💙

Circle of Light

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My treasured friend Melanie and I were in the midst of a conversation last evening, when she said, I’d love it if you would write a piece about the Circle of Light. Let’s begin with Melanie’s words in a tweet this morning:

Good friends can come together to form a #CircleOfLight. Picture a circle of people holding hands & connected together to give strength & support to someone in the centre who is feeling low. The person in the middle changes depending on who needs the most light! #StarfishClub

Today’s post is dedicated to Melanie, for the inspiration, and as a thank you for being such a superb friend. I am proud of you and honoured to know you, I’ve got your back.

We have been discussing in recent days how, naturally, when a member of our circle of friends is in need of help, support, an ear, a shoulder, a healing touch, or love, that we all gather around that person, and the light grows in strength to support that member of the circle whose light has dimmed temporarily. It demonstrates that connection that we have with each other. We gather and stay with the part of our circle until their light is shining brightly again, only then do we all continue on our pathways. It is not something you can read in a book, learn in a classroom, or be taught how to do, it comes to you naturally.

As Melanie and I delved further into this topic last night, I was reminded so much of something I had first encountered around 30 years ago, “The Goose Story”. I don’t have occasion to bring it up all that often, but, in this case, it seemed to be so perfect for the conversation we were engaged in. I have included it with today’s post so you can pick the relevant points from it as well.

Let’s have a look at a few examples which may illustrate this clearly for you, dear reader.

One group, there are four of us, I call us the Fierce Female Foursome. One of our group recently experienced the sudden death of an extended family member, and she was absolutely devastated. Nobody needed to say a word, we were her circle of light, we joined together and supported, listened, cried with, spent time with, and did everything we could for a week until her light was shining bright again. In fact, bright enough to take a huge step into the unknown and take a chance at something entirely new for her (I will tell you that story in another post). And while we were her circle of light, we also supported each other to maintain the circle. My own sister, Natalie, sent me a message, a reminder that she had my back and was my support while I was supporting the circle. Once all lights were equally bright, we went back to our usual lives and routines, but aware, that when needed, that circle will instantly form around who needs the light.

Another group, we are truly soul sisters. Take three women, all who battle PTSD daily, and all of us are high level Empaths. There are days that we don’t need electronic communications, we just feel it instantly when one of our group is off. Two of us had known for a while that our third member had been struggling, and was really up against it in recent weeks. Now, if you were to ask her, she would paste on her mask, give you a toothy grin, and tell you, everything is great. We knew differently. We had been discussing how best to support her, and it finally hit a point when we were both hit with a wave of overwhelming sadness coming from our third. We created a story to make sure she would be home the next day, and cleared everything off of our schedules, got in the car and drove up there. She only knew a package of self-care items was coming and she needed to be there to receive the package.

We were the package, the delivery company, and more. In that first moment when she saw us, let out this teeny tiny squeal and launched herself at us and wrapped us both up in a hug; she knew we were her circle of light. There was love, hugs, conversations, coffee, lunch, more conversations, a few tears, more hugs, dinner, coffee, conversation and laughter, and an overflowing amount of love that was present throughout that day and beyond. By the time we had left to drive home, we both agreed, her light was shining brightly again, but we are keeping our circle around her, we just have a feeling that we have more love and support to give, we are not done yet, and we are both honoured to be able to provide the support. This is not a temporary thing, not a fleeting moment, it is a lifetime commitment to be there for each other. And how do we know as much as we do? Because we all do the exact same things, the same coping strategies, etc. We either do it, or have done it, and with two of us, we don’t hesitate to call each other on it when we see we are falling back into old habits again, once we have our third soul sister shining brightly and steadily, then we will re-form our circle, ready to step in and support again as soon as one of our group needs us.

Over the past week or two, three friends, all teachers, have experienced a loss. One was a sudden death due to unknown medical complications, the other two were students claimed suddenly by suicide. For all three, we combined circles to support them with a circle of light. Whether just for a day, or for a week, we merged our circles into one large circle to support all three until their lights could once again shine brightly.

It’s not always the same person who is surrounded by the circle of light from their friends either. As people encounter moments of struggle, the circle re-forms around that person until their light can shine brightly again. It is a constantly shifting and changing form, but the light remains steady.

Who in your life can you be part of the circle of light for? Have you noticed times when without asking, your friends surround you and support you and lift you up when you fall. You may not even be conscious of it, but when you get to the other side of a struggle, you notice, you were not alone.

That circle of light, that support of the other people in your circles of friends, the world definitely needs more of that, every moment of every day. It is a major message in our mental health advocacy work, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

And, if we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that, always and forever. Remember the three most important words spoken (after “I love you”) are always “I’ve got you.”

Be good to each other, stay safe, and let your light shine, kittens!!

Love, sunbeams, and kitten dreams.

Christine (CityMom) 🙏🏼💙💙

The Goose Story

Next fall, when you see geese heading south for the winter, flying along in a V formation, you might consider what science has discovered as to why they fly that way: as each bird flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird immediately following. By flying in V formation, the whole flock adds at least 71% greater flying range than if each bird flew on its own.

People who share a common direction and sense of community can get where they are going more quickly and easily because they are traveling on the thrust of one another.

When a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to go it alone and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird in front.

If we have as much sense as a goose; we will say in formation with those who are headed the same way we are.

When the head goose gets tired, it rotates back in the wing and another goose flies point.

It is sensible to take turns doing demanding jobs with people or with geese flying south.

Geese honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.

What do we say when we honk from behind?

Finally, and this is important, when a goose gets sick or is wounded by gunshots and falls out of formation, two other geese fall our with that goose and follow it down to lend help and protection. They stay with the fallen goose until it is able to fly, or until it dies. Only then do they launch out on their own, or with another formation to catch up with their group.

If we have the sense of a goose, we will stand by each other like that.

— based on the work of Milton Olsen

The Dinner and The Gift

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Hey folks, there are two of us who co-authored this piece, Matt from A Medic’s Mind, and myself. We will be publishing this on both of our blogs, and we plan to do this more often in the future as well. Sit back and enjoy!

Matt:

A friend of mine reached out to me a while back to tell me about something that had happened to her. The conversation took place over text. It is important that you know that, because often times emotion does not permeate well via typed lettering to a screen. This was not one of those times! Quite the opposite, in fact. Not only was the emotion of the chosen lexicon palpable, it was highly justified.

I heard my phone chime to life with news of an incoming message. I finished taking a large swig of tea while simultaneously reaching for the beckoning phone. And I’m glad I did…

It was a message from a dear friend, Christine. Christine is one of those individuals that possesses a deeply burning passion to better the world and those within it. Always a pleasure hearing from Christine. I swiped along the surface of my phone so as to unlock its secrets and reveal the hidden messages. I began reading and was instantly hooked on what I was taking in…

Christine informed me that she had recently attended a dinner with some good friends and police officers. Truth be told, some of her dearest friends are those whom hold the line… Christine sent two pictures to our message thread along with some more prose. The image she sent was powerful in and of itself, but the story behind it is one that melts even the most insulated of hearts – it was a picture of a pillow; not just any pillow, but a hand-crafted pillow in which the covering was made from a uniform shirt belonging to a police officer. And not just any police officer; a female officer with over twenty-five years of service to her community and country. She is also the fifth woman in the history of her service to have risen to the rank which she now proudly holds!

This hero’s name is, Cathy. She was the officer sitting beside Christine. Now, again, I was not there, so this is all imagery conjured from the power of Christine’s written word. Cathy had made this pillow out of an old uniform shirt that she had worn on many an occasion during her time in her previous rank.

I said before that this was no ordinary pillow, and it’s not – because it was a gift. A gift from Cathy to Christine. Cathy took the time to have a uniform shirt of which she wore during a great number of trying times for certain, made into a pillow and ultimately passed on to a worthy friend.

I was completely blown away by the symbolism of this selfless gesture. I mean, on the surface and perhaps to the average reader it comes across as a ‘nice gesture’ sure, but to those whom have worn a uniform, like myself, it is so much more than that… A kind gesture? Yes. But one of deeply-seated meaning. As a first responder we wear the uniform of our trade. On our shoulders are embroidered crests that hang with the weight of a community. From the moment you put it on and square it away, you become humbled in the knowledge that you are standing for something much greater than self. Upon learning that, the uniform becomes less like thread and fabric and more akin to that of a second skin. It becomes part of you. The duality of what it stands for and the person wearing it. That uniform follows you everywhere. It is there when you make a difference in someone’s life. It is there when you hold the hand of someone on their worst day. It observes, the same as the wearer when we see life born, leave or be saved. It is witness to the things that we lock our doors for. It holds the tears of the newly bereaved. A stain from that time we didn’t get to finish our lunch – there was a call to get to. It is a uniform that is there at weddings, funerals, parades and celebrations. And sometimes, that uniform can even follow its wearer to the afterlife. Hugging the body until it gets there.

This gift was not just a kind gesture; it was someone choosing to give a piece of themselves to someone they felt was ennobled enough to receive it.

What a gesture, indeed…

The uniform is not just a uniform. And that pillow is not just a pillow. It is a symbol of love, courage, honor and devotion. It is a symbol of everything good in this world and those willing to keep it that way. And you know what? Christine, will no doubt keep that safe.

Christine:

When I had returned home that evening, my mind was running at top speed, and the question was who can I relate the events of the evening to who will just “get it”? Ah, yes, my friend Matt!! If anybody will understand what a significant evening this was, he will most certainly understand it, having served in the military and as a paramedic on the front lines with all other first responders.

Four of us met for dinner that evening. Initially we had planned simply to meet up for coffee and conversation, but, Cathy was the one who had the idea, let’s go for dinner, and we can sit and relax and chat easily. Granted, the weather leading up to this evening had been horrid, and the major ice storm on the weekend before had left things challenging until the rains hit and the temps rose on Monday.

One of the things I do enjoy is bringing together people and watching the interactions happen. I just knew that it would be a magical evening once the conversation began. It was such a great group too, our favourite elementary school teacher, Melanie, a sergeant from transit enforcement, Jessica, and a senior level officer from a police service, Cathy. (This comical curmudgeon rounded out the foursome.) All of us had had various contacts with each other over the past year, and we supported each other online, but had never met in person. This would be an exciting night! And to top it off, we were a week past Melanie’s birthday, so we had a belated birthday celebration planned as well.

In the months leading up to our dinner get-together, we had been having longer conversations, sharing our own personal stories with each other, this way, we had a common knowledge base to work from at dinner so we could leap directly into conversation that evening. That worked out better than I had hoped for, as I sat and watched connections made, offers of working together come to fruition, and truly amazing conversations and so much of our lives shared at that table. Again, what I had hoped would happen, plus even more.

And so much in common amongst us. Cathy and I had been sharing stories with each other, and in the process discovered mutual friends that we had, so even more things to plan for later in the year when our favourite friend/sister is off beating her time again in another IronMan Triathlon. The nifty thing was, as we talked, we dug down a little further into our histories and shared more of our stories, and I just knew that Cathy would become as our mutual friend had, not only a friend, but a sister. Family.

We had been discussing some little things we could do to make Melanie’s birthday that much more memorable with some little things from our group as well, and we took care of that as well as the usual trading of pins and items that happens whenever a group of us get together. I figured we were finished with that part of the evening, we had already placed dinner orders all around the table, so it was a matter of digging into the conversation in the meantime. Not quite yet. One more thing to take care of.

Cathy pulled up this big bag and began to tell us about what she had done. In her years of service, and having been a trailblazer for all of that, she had kept the occasional memento of what she had to do to get to that next step. You see, people forget, women in law enforcement is still a relatively new thing, there were some, but not in large numbers, throughout the 20th century, and those who entered policing as a career have been and continue to be trailblazers in that field of work. One thing she had was an old uniform shirt. It had seen much time on duty, and for a number of years too, before finally, after having to be twice as good as anyone else to prove women can do it, she had been promoted. This had a lot of significance and meaning for her, as you can imagine. These things do for anyone who has ever worn a uniform of any kind, particularly first responders.

So, this old uniform shirt, with patches and rank insignia, had been made into a pillow. A gift. To me. Because we have both had our struggles, and she wanted me to have this from her as her recognition of those battles fought and survived/won. Melanie would tell me a few weeks later that I was speechless and looked shocked by it all. I was!

As Matt has told you, that is not just a shirt. It is more than cloth, it is many years of service, of hard work, of struggle, of leading the way. If it could talk, could you imagine the stories it would tell of shifts that left a mark, shifts that left a smile, and more. You might say it cemented the bond of not only friendship, but sisterhood between us. I was then, and still am, beyond honoured to receive something this significant. There is a lifetime in that gift. And what an amazing life the woman who wore it has led to date.

Allow me a moment to give you a bit of history. When you look back through my family tree, you would find that every generation has had family members in uniform. Whether in branches of the military or in first responder careers, in the U.K. and here in Canada. I had expected to keep that tradition going. My top three career choices coming out of high school had included policing. Small world then, that the summer between grades 12 and 13, I would land a summer job through the Ontario Experience Program, the provincial government’s summer jobs for students from high school through university. I had applied through as many ministries as I could, and was hired to spend my summer at Toronto’s 22 Division, working on a crime prevention program.

Now, to dig down a little further. I had come out as trans when I was 16, but only at home, not publicly. And the summer after, when I worked at 22 Division, was 4 months after the infamous bathhouse raids. I thoroughly enjoyed the people I was with, the two Constables we spent all our time with were a joy to work with, and Friday lunchtimes with stories from the road was all of our favourite time of the week. But, I also heard the conversations inside the station, and outside as well. And the more I listened, the more I knew, this was not going to happen, not for me. And women were almost invisible then too, so it was a double hit. This job ain’t for you, you definitely don’t belong here. I ended up in infotech and telecom instead when I graduated school and headed into the workforce.

People have asked why I do the work I have, particularly partnering up with Danielle, the TPS LGBTQ2S Liaison Officer for the past 6 years. Because, there needs to be those people who can sit at the table and have the tough conversations while speaking truth to power, as Deputy Chief McLean regularly reminds me. Because, not only do we work together, but Danielle and I are best friends outside of the work too, and when we get together for laughs, we don’t talk shop. Because I was raised in the environment I was, I can relate to both veterans and first responders at the human level. I don’t speak to the uniform, I relate to the human wearing it. And there are people inside the headquarters building who can tell you that I don’t pussyfoot around, and I have no qualms about blistering the ears of those at the table when something has occurred that only has one suitable response – DAFUQ?! I am definitely no fangirl, but I will sit and have that conversation and get to know the people involved and look at all sides of a situation. And yes, some of my closest and most treasured friends wear a uniform at work. Not a big deal, I enjoy the people (and the humour!).

I have long had an interest in seeing women in uniform have full equity and equality and opportunities for advancement. It is why I work with some of the organizations that I do, because dammit, it’s the 21st century, people are equal, but the memo hasn’t gotten around yet. And I will say this: the people I have met and worked with, the friends I have made, the people I consider family, all welcomed me with open arms. Never had that experience anywhere else, let me tell you.

And that is why Cathy’s gift was so significant for me. We have shared many things from our lives with each other, but this, took the friendship to another level, we most definitely will always be friends and sisters. I only hope that one day I can share something of equal significance and importance with her too. I shared the story of this gift with a few friends, those who, like Matt, I knew would get it right away. Some had tears, some had smiles, but everybody got what a significant thing this is. It’s not just a shirt, and not only a pillow, it is a connection between two warriors who are still leading the battle to leave the world a better place than we found it.

And I adore you beyond words, Cathy… Sister… it is truly an honour to be your friend.

Love, sunbeams, and kitten dreams.

Christine 🙏🏼💙💙

It Only Took Four Words

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The morning of 8 May, I did something totally out of character. I actually slept in!

If you know me, you know I battle insomnia constantly, but the night before, I had crashed hard around 9 pm, and did not move a muscle until after 8 am the next morning. 11 straight hours, I think I was overdue to get caught up on sleep. And typically, whether dealing with insomnia and that constant tired feeling, I usually am awake between 5 and 6 am without fail. Don’t even need an alarm clock. 30 years of getting up early to get ready to head out the door to work, it becomes a habit, even when the time changes twice a year, I still manage to wake up in that early morning hour.

My friend, a teacher east of the city, had not seen me up and about in our usual online spots in the morning, and had left a note to check in to see all was well. Yes… I actually felt rather like “spring in my step” mode that morning (see what a proper night’s sleep can do?). We proceeded with our usual morning banter and conversation and a laugh here and there. She is a truly inspiring poet, I love to read her work, and am always encouraging her to write more. What she brings to the classroom is amazing every single day. I have teachers whom I recall fondly even after decades have passed, and I just know that she will be that teacher that her students will remember with a smile years from now.

In response to something I had said that morning, she replied:

Aww, thanks. And one more thing. I believe in you.

Wow! I literally stopped right there and re-read what she had written. I ended up with this huge ear-to-ear grin, and a few happy tears too. I wondered to myself, what could we cause this week, if every time we had a conversation with someone, particularly with all of us empaths, if it is someone we pick up is having a hard day, and we told them four words and sat back and watched what happened.

Later that morning, I was chatting with my sister, Nat, and said those four words to her and she had a similar reaction to mine. I then told her what led up to it, and we said, hey, let’s both of us take this on… with people we meet today (we later extended it to the full week), let’s say those four words and see if we can spread some love around! So, as both of us always do, we ran with it for the rest of that day and were both bursting with news when we spoke at bedtime that night.

How was it for you? AMAZING!!! How was it for you? OMG, so emotional!! Let’s keep doing it! YES!!

Now kittens, keep in mind, this is not something like those little throwaway phrases that we all hear daily “have a nice day” and so on. No. This is different. This is part of a conversation. There is a lead up to the point that you can look somebody in the eye, or send them a message that says, “I believe in you.” But, when you do, wait, say nothing, just watch what happens.

Now, there have been a few, who when I have reached that point in the conversation, and I either send that graphic or say those four words, and they look down, and tears begin streaming down. Why are you crying sweetie? Because, I have been having the worst day ever, nothing has gone right, everybody has been on my ass, and you’re the first person who has said anything nice or positive to me all day.

My gawd, that would be a soul-crushing day, would it not?

Or those who have broken into a huge grin, and a few happy tears snuck past the defences, and they literally have lit up entirely. You either sense it via message, or you see it in person. And they come back with something about you, and they repeat back to you those four words, “I believe in you.”

This is a poem (reprinted with her permission) that my friend Melanie, the teacher who launched this quiet ripple, wrote and published recently. As I related the results to her the next morning after she started with the initial four words, I mentioned this poem she had written. I told her, not only can you point out examples of what your students do when they set off a quiet ripple, but you can tell your own story to your students about what you started with a quiet ripple yesterday morning, and it only took four words.

What could you do this month kittens, that could create a quiet ripple, that can bring something amazing to another person’s day? Give it a try, trust this City Mom, it is really a lot of fun, and you will get back everything you put out. Saying four words, reminded me of the acknowledgement exercise we used to do in a course in the 90s. You would pair up, and to each other acknowledge that person fully; for who they have been in the past, for who they are now in the present, and for who they will be in the future, and in that moment creating a large possibility for them to step into. We knew when we had acknowledged our partner properly, either smiles, tears, or hugs happened.

And a note for my sisters (Nat, Katt), and all my fellow mental health warriors, I know you can handle anything that comes your way today because:

Remember to LOVE each other INTENSELY.

Christine 💙💙


PostScript:

I received this note from a treasured friend after this post was published. I wanted to add it here as additional proof that four simple words can cause great change to happen in somebody’s life:

I said “I believe in you” to someone after you had told me that last week. I have a friend who is dealing with a ton of stuff in his life from every direction right now. I told him that I believe in him on Friday. Today, all that stuff is way better and he’s in a totally different place. It really works!