Monthly Archives: March 2013

Shopping Cart Utopia

shoppingcart

We live in a world of why bother.  A society of not my problem, a system of why should I.  We see it every day, over and over, people doing things in such a way that creates minor to mid-range inconveniences for other people, to save us seconds worth of effort.

 We feel justified in this, because there are very few who are bucking that trend.  If nobody else is doing things to avoid disrupting the routines of MY day, why should I do anything to do that for others?  Really, everyone does it, right?  I’m not the bad guy here; it’s not that big a deal.

 But we see it, and it bothers us.  But it doesn’t bother us when we are the culprits, because in this great mess that we call civilization, its par for the course.  We must look out for ourselves, because nobody else is going to do it for us, and our time is precious. Spending it doing things to assist others on the piddling little details takes up our time.

 But what if we all did it?  What if each of us took the few extra moments to ensure life was just a fraction easier for everyone else?  This would include each of us, if everyone did so.  Can you imagine what it would be like?

 Life is hard.  So very hard.  Heartbreak, illness, stress, death, betrayal, disillusionment.  Our dreams all too often outstrip reality, and we find ourselves trudging through life with all the inconveniences just like sour cherries on top of our misery cake.  Imagine if we, as a people, collectively worked to take off those cherries.  To replace them with something that takes moments of effort, and tastes infinitely sweeter.

 I am thinking that people would think “nobody else would do it.” And “I don’t have the time for that.”

 Well, let me challenge you.  10 minutes.  10 dollars.  10 things.  Spend 10 minutes a day making the world a better place.  Spend 10 dollars a week doing the same.  And spend your life on 10 things to improve YOUR life, and the ability to do the same for others.

 Is 10 minutes a long time?  Not really. It’s but a third of your favorite sitcom.  It’s less than half of the average commute; it’s barely a blip during a movie.  I will grant that it’s an eternity when in the dentists chair.

 Too busy?  Can’t spare 10 minutes out of your day?  It’s not exactly like you have to string it together.  10 minutes, apportioned through various actions, don’t even add up quickly at all. 

 Let me give you an example.

 Let someone step on the train ahead of you.  2 seconds.  Hold the door for someone.  3 seconds.  Wave the driver trying to merge in heavy traffic to get in before you.  10 seconds.   Return your shopping cart back to the corral when finished. 30 seconds. Stop and help the stranger who dropped their papers on the ground pick them up.  30 seconds.  Give directions.  45 seconds. 

 When you engage in these tiny little slivers of time, you’ve made the world around you a better place.  In small imperceptible amounts, you have improved the life of those around you.  And it costs you all the effort of coming out of your whirlwind of existence for the time it takes your eyes to blink a few times. 

 And what about the 10 dollars?  It’s the same thing, using money instead of time.  Cover the few coins difference on the person ahead of you when they are searching desperately for a coin in their pocket.  Buy a coffee for a friend or coworker who looks like they could really use it.  Grab some inexpensive candy treats to share with your team.  Throw a few dollars in the homeless man’s hat.  This doesn’t mean that we should all do this. If you are someone struggling to feed our families, clearly you should be on the receiving end of this type of kindness.  Nor is it a maximum.  Those of us blessed with the funds to afford Hugo Boss suits, Louis Vuitton handbags or vacations on big boats… we should probably toss in just a little bit more in to the pot of good will.

 What does this gain us?  What is the monetary return for the investment of this time or this money?  Zero.  Not a thing.  But it’s like a glass of water to a thirsty man, and there is a great deal of thirst. As we alleviate the small, seemingly meaningless stresses and pains of each other, the world improves.  Life improves.

 And what about the last part?  The 10 things?  They are simply things that will make YOUR life better.  All of which cost you nothing other than the courage to do it.  Eliminating the bigger pains, makes the smaller ones so much easier to bear.  Making the path of your life better, makes it more possible to go through all the daily nuisances without as much worry and angst, and can even serve as catalyst for you to do it in the first place.

 This list is by no means comprehensive. There are innumerable things we could do to make our lives better.  But I focus on the ones nearest to me, and that cost nothing but guts and determination.

 

1)  Think of your worst habit.  Stop doing it.

2) Eliminate the toxic people from your life.  Do not allow those who would use you poorly, to remain.  You are worth more than that. Don’t give them a chance to do it to you again.

3) Allow the good people in to your life.  This will cost you time, but it is time well spent.  We only have so many years, fill them with people worth being around or with.

4) Rest.  Stop everything for a few moments every day.  Sleep just a few minutes more each night.

5) Play.  Don’t grow up all the way, ever.  Seek laughter.

6) Read.  Learn.  Understand more.

7) Express what you are really feeling to those you trust.  Don’t hide behind social niceties.

8) Do not allow injustice to stand.  If something is wrong, speak up.

9) Forgive yourself.  Each of you will know what you need to forgive yourselves of.  Then go on to deserve that forgiveness.

10) Plan epic things you want to do.  Do them.

 

I would be a hypocrite to say that I have accomplished any of this.  That I always manage to give 10 minutes up freely.  That I remember that I’m not the only one going through endless nuisance.  That I always remember that my money isn’t that valuable.  And that list I put only shows me how many things that I have yet to do.

 But close your eyes for 5 seconds (you can even take it from the 10 minutes for today) and imagine what life would be like if we all did this.  Then go out and be one of those who do.

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The Homecoming

soldier

My father is coming home today.

I don’t really know how to feel about it.  I mean, I don’t really know him.  I was only two years old when he left.  I don’t have any real memories of him at all.  His picture is on my desk, he sits smiling at me as I do my homework at night.  He’s dressed in his crisp army uniform.  It’s an old picture.  He was only a Corporal when it was taken.  He made it up to Sergeant while he was away.

 Fourteen years.  That’s how long he’s been gone.  Pulled into action because of a war I can’t understand, in a place I only know about because my mother showed me where it was on a map.  It’s on the other side of the world, pretty much, and it doesn’t mean anything to me other than it’s where my Dad went to fight.

 He didn’t come home with so many of the other troops when the war ended.  Captured, placed in a prisoner-of-war camp.  They didn’t even know where he was for years.  After the war ended, he was one of the many soldiers that were missing.  Peace was declared, but still he was missing.  They finally found him, along with some other guys from our side when they were patrolling, in a prison camp our side didn’t know was there.

 So like I said, I don’t know how to feel about it.  Should I be mad?  Angry for all the years that I missed with my father?  Mad at all the dance recitals he missed, all the school plays, all the things a dad is supposed to do with his daughter?  How about relieved, that they finally found him?  Perhaps both?

 He’s been in the news a lot – Him, and the soldiers who were with him in that prison camp.  How he was on a bombing run before his plane was shot down, and, as they now know, was captured.  They’re using a newer picture of him on the newscast.  He has his Sergeant stripes in that picture, But he has the same smile in that picture as the one on my desk.  He looks a bit older in that picture though. 

 My mother laid out my best dress for today.  We have to go and meet the airplane. It’s a great big photo opportunity, and the media will be everywhere.  My mom wanted us to be dressed nicely because”We’re going to be on television, nationwide.” She said.  All sorts of important guys in uniforms will be there too.  Something about being present when the last of our brave troops come home.  Apparently this war took a lot out of our country.  I wouldn’t know about that, I was a little kid through most of it.  But this sort of thing seems important to everyone.

 I don’t really care for the dress. It’s itchy and stuffy.  I’m far more comfortable in jeans and a t-shirt.  But my mother would never let me go to this thing dressed like that.  Everything has to be proper, neat and dignified, if we’re going to be seen on the news.

 It’s time to go. I quickly toss on the dress and run a brush through my hair.  The car is waiting to take us to the airport.  They’ve sent a limo to bring us even though it’s only a few minutes away. No expense spared, it seems.  My mother is already in the car.  Good thing it’s a limo, or she’d be behind the wheel honking the horn to hurry me up.

 As I approach the car, the driver opens the door for me.  I can see my mother inside, looking out the opposite window.  She and I never talked much about dad being away, so I don’t see much reason to talk to her now that he’s on his way back.  What is there to say, really?  Before I get in, I notice a man in a uniform approaching.  He hands me a box.  It’s then I remember that my father won a medal.  The army guys thought it would be special if it was me that brought it to meet the plane.  I think it’s just a good public relations stunt.

 I hop in to the car, and we pull away from the house.  To save myself from having to talk to my mother, I fiddle idly with the window controls.  It’s a fairly warm day, so the breeze passing by feels nice. Soon I can smell the airport.  It’s a unique smell of exhaust, tarmac and rubber that you can recognize in an instant.  I roll the window up so I don’t have to smell it, but it’s too late, it’s in the car already, and we’re pulling past the security checkpoint.

 The limo pulls up outside a hangar.  There are media personnel behind a picket that has been set up.  Cameras, microphones, cheap suits and over-styled hair are everywhere.  We don’t have to go near them though; there is a spot reserved for us.  They have set up a red carpet walkway with a matching red carpet for us to stand on.  No chairs; it looks like we have to stand through the entire thing.  I turn my head at the sound of engines.  It doesn’t look like we have to stand there for long; the plane is already taxiing up to the hangar.  I wonder if it’s our luck to arrive just in time, or if they timed it just right.

 I take my place beside my mother, and watch the plane rolling to a stop.  I can hear cameras snapping, reporters murmuring in to recorders or microphones.  The plane is loud enough that I don’t hear what they are saying, nor would I care to.  I find it so unfair that this day has to be a circus of media, so that the entire nation can take part in my father’s homecoming.

 The back of the plane begins to open, and I can feel my pulse quicken.  I don’t know why.  Like I said, I don’t remember this man at all.  Shouldn’t a daughter have some feeling though?  Maybe it’s because I’m my mother’s daughter. She’s never been much for showy displays of emotion. 

 The plane ramp finishes descending.  The engines switch off, and I can hear the reporters go from restless to silent.  It’s a military plane, which means the floors are nothing but metal, so I can hear the footsteps beginning from the depths of the plane.

 My father has come home.

 A drum starts rapping out a military beat.  It matches the steps I can hear from inside the plane perfectly.  The medal in my hand seems very heavy.

 My father has come home.

 From the top of the ramp, I see the six honour guards, carrying his casket down the ramp to meet us.  The medal falls from my hand to the carpet without a sound.  My mother begins sobbing quietly beside me.

 My father has come home.

 And I don’t know how I feel about it.

(Thank you for reading.  This piece was a challenge presented to me by a comment in my “rusty helmet” post, where I can be given topics to write on, and try and come up with either a story, opinion piece, or even a humour piece as a result.  Please freely critique this piece!  I would love to discuss it.  Also, please visit “The Rusty Helmet” and give me some more topics to continue to challange myself.  The suggestor in this case chose not to link their blog, so I won’t indicate it on here (even though I know who it is, in this case!) But I will mention the person who gave me the idea, and their blog, should you choose to give me another topic to write on!  I hope you enjoyed this short story, and I look forward to any feedback that will help me continue to improve!)


Magic Eight Ball Life Coaching

eight ball

It can be so difficult to figure out which way we should do things.  Career, family, financial investments, hobbies, retirement…

I never knew there could be such a simple answer to all of it though.  The Magic Eight Ball!  We can take thinking and decision-making out of the picture!  We can trip through life never stopping to think at all! (But the “Make life easier” kind, not the “become publisher for Twilight series” kind.)

So let’s throw caution to the wind, and employ the magical, wonderful, clairvoyant powers of the floating blue triangle!  But where to start?  Hmm. Well, there’s always my career.   We can start there!

So, Magic Eight Ball, you know I’ve been looking for that promotion.  What do you think?  Will it happen this year?

“Outlook not so good.”

Darn.  Well, I know it can’t be that far off.  How about the next year after that?

“Reply Hazy, ask again.”

Okay… I’ll try again. So, the promotion.  2014?

“My sources say no.”

Damn it!  what about 2015?

“Outlook not so good.”

We’re off to a depressing start.  Can you tell me if I’m EVER going to get that promotion?

“Cannot predict now.”

Oh, forget it.  Maybe I should just change careers then.

“Most likely.”

To what though?  Sales?

“Very doubtful.”

Uh… project management?

“My reply is no.”

You’re not being helpful. I may as well say elementary school janitor.

“Yes-definitely”

Perhaps this is the wrong area to be asking you in.  I know!  how about financial planning?  Yes, that’s the ticket.  So that stock I bought.  How’s it going to do?  Good long-term investment?

“Reply hazy, try again.”

Oh, come on.  You must have SOME idea.  Is it going to make me a bunch of money?

“Outlook not so good.”

Dang!  My broker said that those shares would do well.  So, should I sell them?

“It is certain.”

and buy something else?

“As I see it, yes.”

Ok, I’ve sold it.  But what should I buy now instead?

“Concentrate and ask again.”

Right, right. Yes and no questions only. um…. Apple?

“Ask again later.”

No, no, I only have so much time to buy before the trading day is over.  I stand to lose a bundle.  How about Samsung?

“Better not tell you now.”

Hey! Listen! I’ve got next to no time left! Stop being difficult and give me some help.  What’s this stock code here… NAS?  Oh! that must be NASA Advanced Supercomputing. I hear there’s going to be a LOT of action there when they restart some space programs. How about that? Buy it?

“Without a doubt”

Ok, done!  Wait.  WAIT!  that’s not NASA, that’s NASCAR!

“Yes”

Is this some kind of joke?

“You may rely on it.”

Oh, you stupid chunk of plastic, you just cost me a ton of money.  I’ll have to work longer before retirement now!

“Most likely.”

That wasn’t very nice.

“Yes-definitely.”

I should just throw you across the room.

“My reply is no.”

This may be the dumbest thing I’ve ever done, but…

“Without a doubt.”

Hey, I wasn’t done.  I was going to say, since we’ve come this far, I should ask a few more questions.  I have other goals and dreams you know.

“Concentrate and ask again.”

That wasn’t even a question!

“Most likely.”

Ugh!  Let’s just get through this.  So, I was thinking about writing a novel.  How do you think I’ll do?  Bestseller?

“My reply is no.”

uh… Kindle published?

“My reply is no.”

self published?

“My reply is no.”

is that all you can say?

“My reply is no.”

You aren’t very smart are you?

“My reply is no.”

Gotcha! Ha! Clearly I’m too clever for you.

“Very doubtful.”

Fine, fine. Forget it.  So no novel. Shoot.  How about short stories at least?  Surely I can get people to buy some of those.

“Don’t count on it.”

So cruel.  Not even “freshly pressed?”

“Ha, not in your wildest dreams.”

Wait. I don’t remember that being an eight ball response option…

“Er… I mean “My reply is no.”

Oh, forget it.  You’re not going to help me there either.  How about my dream to conquer my fear of heights?

“Cannot predict now.”

Ok…. becoming a world-class Chef?

“My sources say no.”

What, no new skills?  Just the same old same old for the rest of my life?

“Signs point to yes.”

I’ve lost my patience. It’s clear you’re not really out to help me at all! One last thing to try.  How about my plans to lose weight?  Will I lose the 70 pounds I need to lose?

“Very doubtful.”

Ok… fine.  But I know I can lose some.  how about 60?

“Don’t count on it.”

50? 40?

“Outlook not so good.”

you might be the biggest jerk of an inanimate object with magic powers out there.

“Cannot predict now.”

that’s it, I’m done with you.  If what YOU say is true, I’ll be fat, broke, and mopping floors.

“It is decidedly so.”

That wasn’t a question!

“Reply hazy, try again.”

Oh, shut up.

“Concentrate and ask again.”

You asked for it.

“My sources say…”


The Rusty Helmet

Helmet

 

“The helmet was rusty.”

That’s the first line in the novel that I have begun to write.  Writing a novel has long been a dream of mine.  One that I’ve started, stopped, started again, given up in futile despair, rethought, planned for, quit again, and set aside for more pressing concerns.

But I am determined that I write it.  I am determined that I write because it’s one of the few things that gives me some measure of happiness and peace.  Except that I destroy that peace by both quitting on the process, and worrying about whether or not I’ll ever be able to paint the picture I see in my head, in words for others to read.

But I must write it.  I have started to develop a “bucket list” upon which “write a novel” and “get novel published” feature strongly.

But I am not yet a good enough writer.  I have done passably well with emotion driven pieces of around 2000 words, but a novel seems a daunting task, unless I somehow find a way to be a better author than I currently am. I must add “Become a good enough writer to author a novel” ahead of the other two items on the list.

I beg assistance.  I ask for help.  Help me, gentle readers, to become a better writer.  Followers of my blog, visitors that are seeing it for the first time, either will do.

Comment.  Give me something you want me to write about.  Give me a topic.  Ask me to write about it.  Ask for humour, ask for reflection, challenge me. Inspire me.

and when I do write what your heart desires, critique it for me.  Tell me what would make it better for you, as a reader, to enjoy.  Perhaps you will like what it is I write.  Perhaps not.  I can make no guarantees that if you give me a topic, that my thoughts will mesh with yours.  I might be completely contrary.

But write I shall.  Make me ponder how to communicate my thoughts on the subject, make me sweat and agonize over the words, and make me see the flaws of it after it’s done.

Can any author be better without this?  I know that my novel will sit as nothing more than a line on a life’s to do list, if I don’t improve, so I implore any that would take the time,  Help me improve, help me aspire to that dream.

On the nitty-gritty, I ask only two things.  If I write on a topic that you have suggested I will “credit” the suggester, please help me get more critique by sharing it, or reblogging it for others to peruse, should your blog be the type that you are willing to reblog.

and the second?  Be as kind in your brutal honesty as you can afford me.  But don’t pull your punches either, tell me what it is that makes my writing poor, I will be richer for it.

And then someday… When the rust falls from my mind and fingers, and remains only on the helmet, I can tell you all about it.


Sad Superman

Image

I have been called a hero.  I’ve been called strong, amazing, heroic.  And I can say without the slightest of hesitation, I do not feel any of these things.  It’s mystifying to me that anyone could ever identify me as a hero.

And why, you might ask, have I been identified as heroic?  What feat of superhuman rescue did I perform?

I loved my daughter. 

It doesn’t get more complex than that. 

Perhaps I should give you some context.  Because calling someone a hero for doing what they are supposed to do as a parent, seems just a little odd.  My Father, after the death of my daughter, tearfully praised me for all I had done for her in the months leading up to her succumbing to the depression that ate away at her soul.  That I had taken the time off of work, had stayed with her, walked with her, tried to help and heal her.  He said it was heroic.

My friend called me amazing, and heroic, because after all our efforts to save her failed, I stood up and delivered her eulogy.  I planned her funeral, I walked behind her casket, and I didn’t fall down.

Yet another friend called me heroic for being able to walk in to her room, and begin the process of sorting through her things.  To seek people and places to donate my child’s belongings, just as I know she would want them to be used.

And even another called me Superman, for doing all these things, and for not falling apart completely.

To me, these are things that I can’t accept.  Trying to help Amber through her depression, trying to save her life, that was nothing more than what I SHOULD have done as her father.  Delivering her eulogy?  She deserved nothing less than her father being willing to stand up and tell her story.  And the rest?  That’s just the sad aftermath, that all who lose a loved one must ultimately undertake.

But let’s pretend for a second, doing all of those things make me heroic.  Let’s perpetuate that illusion for a second.

The only thing it means, is that I’m a failed hero.  I’m the sad Superman, who despite rushing in to rescue, watches as his efforts fall apart.  Hand desperately outstretched, trying to catch the falling victim, and missing. 

The Superman who can’t fly, so he has to run to try to keep up with what he can’t catch.  No super hearing or vision, no inhuman strength.  Just a bent man in a crumpled cape placed on his shoulders by other people.  Face in his hands, living with the regret of not being the superhero that he needed to be to get the job done.

Do I blame myself that I couldn’t save her?  Do I cast fault at my own feet that my daughter chose to end her own life?  No.  The depression that consumed my beautiful child was something that even the real superman couldn’t defeat.  It was the kryptonite of mental illness, and all efforts to change it met with failure.

But oh, how I wanted to be Superman.  I wanted to stop the speeding bullets of her self-hatred.  I wanted to stand in front of them and have them deflect off of me like nothing more than crumpled up pieces of paper.  I wanted to have super vision so that I could see when she was harming herself, and I could swoop in to stop it.

I wanted to be able to travel “Faster than a locomotive” like Superman. Faster still, than the train that brought me home on that fateful day, so that I could have been there in time to stop it.

I could do none of those things. And although I don’t accept the fault, I don’t shoulder the blame for it, I live with the regret, that the enemy was stronger than me, the super-villian was too much, too powerful to be defeated.

I can’t wear the cape.  I don’t deserve it, and capes are useless when you are unable to fly.


Her Story

Her story

(This is the eulogy that I delivered at my daughters funeral, just two months ago. We lost our wonderful child to depression and suicide.  I wanted to share what I have already shared, and tell her story.  Please understand, the grammar and structure, as it was intended for speaking more than reading.)

Welcome, and thank you all for being here. Amber’s mother and I cannot express in words the gratitude we feel for the outpouring of love, and the presence of family, friends, colleagues and loved ones. It warms our heart to see the faces of so many who knew and loved Amber, and those who know and love us.
Before I continue, I want to explain my strange attire. All too often, we put on a suit and a tie, and do our best to look presentable. I chose to dress in the manner that Amber loved me best. Frequently as I got ready for work, with my coat and tie, I would ask Amber how I looked. She would wrinkle her nose and shrug. One time, she said “that isn’t really you.” So Instead of Mark, the business man, I chose to appear as Mark, the daddy. I even skipped shaving, because Amber would kiss me on the cheek each night, and she liked it better when I was a bit scruffy. The only difference in what I’m wearing from what I usually would, are my mismatched socks.

First I would like to tell you about the Amber from a time before most of you met her.  Amber was full of surprises. She began her list of surprises and shocks by crashing in to the world on March 22, 1996, a full seven weeks ahead of schedule. Her mother didn’t even know she was in labour, until moments before Amber arrived. She weighed in at 4 pounds and 10 ounces. She came fast, tiny, wrinkly, screaming, and beautiful. Dad nearly passed out.
She continued her preference for amusing surprises. Like the one time she was up late at night and was being really fussy, until mom and dad were able to hypnotize her to sleep. Or, the first time that mom and dad decided to go out after her being born, she promptly vomited her last meal down the inside of her mom’s shirt when hugs and kisses goodbye were being given. And what parent didn’t have the little nudist stage? Always at the most inopportune times, off came the clothes, and the shrieks of laughter began as she ran naked and free.

Amber was mostly smiles and laughs. She warmed up to people so fast and played with any kid that came along, just so long as they weren’t meanies.  She was precocious, and ferocious in her protection of her mommy and daddy. Like when mommy was watching the news and crying about the events of 9/11, she stuck with her mommy, and then prayed that everyone would be safe and the police would get the bad guys. Or when she was just a few years old, and Daddy was pulled over for speeding. She promptly undid her seatbelt, stood up, and yelled at the police officer to leave her daddy alone, because he was taking her to Sunday school. Daddy still got the ticket.

The years of her as a little girl passed in a flash. Halloweens, birthdays, Christmases. Ten thousand, one hundred thousand memories of laughs and smiles and tears and temper tantrums only a privileged few of us were blessed to share in.  Those memories are something her mother and I will cherish and hold dear. But what I want to talk to you more about the Amber that many of you got to meet.

There comes a time when a child starts to turn to other people for companionship and laughter. Mommy becomes Mom, Daddy becomes Dad. And that is as it should be. It was with pride that we watched Amber develop friendships and relationships independently. Amber drew people to her. Her smile and personality made her instantly likeable. Many of you here today experienced exactly that, an engaging, unique and caring girl that was willing to be friends with just about anyone.

She had a maturity and intelligence beyond her years. In a time where you would expect her to care more about gadgets and shoes and video games, she asked questions about history, current events, politics and philosophies, questions that would leave you struggling to answer.At the same time, she expressed herself through silliness and fun. Most of the time, she did this to lift the spirits of those around her. She’d run and tackle hug people without worrying about dignity and decorum. She would tear out of the house without shoes on to greet her friends. Her mismatched socks would get filthy, and she simply didn’t care. She sang along to her music. She often complained that her own singing voice was kind of like a tone-deaf frog, but even though she felt that way, she would sing anyways. When we drove somewhere, and she managed to convince us to plug her music in, she would dance in the car. She didn’t care who saw her doing it, and laughed when people did a double take of her silly moves in the seat.

Amber dreamed of being a social worker. She could never decide though, what kind she would want to be. She didn’t know if she wanted to work with teenagers. Or the elderly. Or with those who had disabilities. Her indecision on that came not from uncertainty, but an unwillingness to choose one; for fear that the others would be left out.

Amber loved sports. Individual sports she excelled in were swimming, water-skiing, tubing and knee boarding. As to team sports, many here had the pleasure of seeing Amber play soccer, her first love. But she played at times basketball, hockey, and flag football too. She was never the most technically skilled player on the field, but what she lacked in training and skill, she made up for in sheer heart. She played her soul out. Her face would go bright red within moments of starting to play. A ferocious look of focus and determination would be fixed in her eyes as she chased the ball, shot the puck or tried to catch the pass.

She wanted nothing more than to help her team. In soccer, her chosen sport, she would be upset if she didn’t score a goal. And when she scored one, she would be unhappy that she didn’t score two. This was never because she craved personal glory. She just wanted to help her team win. Once, at a soccer tournament, she was awarded the team MVP medallion. She took it, put it in her soccer bag, and I didn’t see it again for months. It wasn’t until I was putting away some clean laundry for her, that I found it tucked in the very back of her sock drawer. Only the awards that she won as a team, like the Milton all-stars championship trophy, were on display in her room.

Amber had an artist’s heart. She wrote. She sketched and doodled, she acted in her drama classes, she sang and danced. She was never satisfied with what she produced. Her artistic ability far exceeded that of her parents, but she would always go back and erase, and retry. The goose that she was trying to draw, its feathers were out-of-place. That line of script for her drama presentation wasn’t delivered just right. Wasn’t there a better line I can write for this poem? Amber wanted everyone to see, in her drawings or stories or poems, what she was seeing in her heart.

It is impossible to offer enough of Amber’s life to truly paint a picture of what she turned out to be. But now I’d like to talk to you about the Amber we didn’t know.

When I say the Amber we didn’t know, I speak of some of the things that we learned about Amber in the last few months of her life, and what we have learned after her passing. We always knew that Amber was good and kind and compassionate. We didn’t know, though, and may never fully grasp, the extent of her soul.
Amber turned no one away. There were no losers in her eyes. No one was unacceptable, no one was unlovable. On her Facebook page, she posted a 5 second clip of herself. She does nothing more than smile, and then hold up a sign that says “you’re all beautiful.” And she believed this. That everyone in this world deserved love.

She gave of herself fully and completely. Her cell phone would buzz constantly, and she would carry on three, four, ten conversations at once. That always seemed like normal teenager stuff.  But what she was doing was helping people. She was offering words of comfort and support to people who were struggling. She would drop whatever she was doing, and go to her friends when they were in need. She did so regardless of how she was feeling. It would be raining cats and dogs, she’d have a bad cold, and she’d get a call. She’d be out in the rain and on her way to her friend in a moment.

And even seeing this… knowing how good and kind she was, it left us unprepared for the stories that have poured in since her death. Stories from people, friends, other young people, who told us what Amber really was. Stories of people who had given up all hope. Messages that said they were done with living, until Amber came and lifted some of their pain, so they could go on. Not one, not two. But many stories and messages from people of how Amber had rescued them. Or made their lives brighter.

When Amber was a little girl, I would lie on my back, lift her in the air with my legs, and she would spread her arms and fly. Pretending that she was a superhero. She dreamed of being a hero. She and I argued about who was the better superhero. I liked batman, she thought Batman was lame and that Spiderman was better.

She fulfilled her dream. She became a superhero. One that put Batman and Spiderman to shame. She never would believe that of herself, but the best heroes are the ones that don’t claim to be one.

The truth is, Amber saved lives. She made other lives better. She freely carried the hurts of others so that others could see their way through. She worked tirelessly and selflessly to make sure that her friends and others around her felt loved and worthwhile. She accomplished more good at 16 than many will in lifetimes of 60, 70, 80 years. As much as her loss hurts, as deep as the pain is, the greatest feeling is pride, and awe at what our little girl became, and what she did.

Amber dreamed of paradise. But she didn’t dream of it for herself. She dreamed of a world of paradise where everyone would be safe and happy and loved.
To everyone here, Mom, Dad, Grandpas and Grandpas, Nanas and poppas, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, Amber knew that we loved her. She never doubted this. Know that, and take comfort in the fact that she understood that we loved her. And take comfort in the fact that she loved each without reservation as well.  Do not doubt for a moment that she questioned that love. Amber understood how to love more than most of us ever do. For those who have come to support us, but didn’t know Amber, know that she would be happy that people were here to care about those she cared about. It’s exactly as she would want it.

We know that Amber is now free of fear or pain. We know we will see her again for tackle hugs and a kiss on the cheek.
But we may find ourselves asking, what now? With Amber gone what do we do? I can tell you she is not gone. She is in every smile given to someone who needs it. She can be in every hug you give a friend that is hurting. We can honour her memory by carrying out her heart’s desire. That everyone feel like they matter. That everyone be told, and feels, as if they are beautiful.

I say this to everyone here, but especially to you young men and women so close to becoming adults. Help each other. Lift each other up when you fall. Don’t suffer in silence when you are broken-hearted. Let no one be excluded or left behind. There are no losers; there are none unworthy of being loved. All Amber wanted for each of you is happiness and love, reach out and take it from people when you need it, and give it to those you know that are needing it now.

Thank you again, for Loving our little girl.


Mind Vomit

Exploding head

I’m trying something new, a bit of a writing challenge for myself. I have 15 minutes.  To write whatever comes to mind, and see where it goes.  I have gleaned the idea from blogs and forums that I have read about writing, and I’d like to give it a try.  I of course will be going back through it for spelling errors, but if I’m to do this, I’m going to follow the spirit of the exercise and write unbidden thought.

And the clock starts.

Instantly I find myself wondering if I even have 15 minutes worth of writing in me, without forethought and planning.   Is writing in this manner more or less communicative than thinking a piece through and trying to structure it for better readability?

I find myself looking at a picture of my wife, as she was walked down the aisle at our wedding, just over 5 years ago.  Before the Lupus.  Before the doctors and pills and aching joints and tired eyes.  She looks no different to me.  We didn’t know that the disease was lurking for her, waiting to strike.  I’d marry her anyways, even if we had known.  On a side note, I still like her Chinese wedding dress more than her classic white one.  I have a picture of her in both side by side, and I know which I like better, even though she looks otherworldly in both.

On the same desk I have a picture of my daughter.  She stares right at me, small smile on her lips, bright blue eyes.  My wife doesn’t favour the picture, she feels it shows the sadness that was in my daughters’ eyes, but then as long as she lived with us, she had some sadness there.  She looks like me in so many ways, and doesn’t in so many others.  It seems entirely wrong that such a beautiful creature should come from me… and that she should be gone while I remain.

I find myself thinking about a few friends of mine, and what they are going through.  I’m typing with my eyes closed (I actually find it pretty cool that I can do that) and I can call their faces to my mind.  I hope my one friend finds what it is she’s looking for.  I hope the other one can too, and that she realizes what she is worth.  Another comes to mind, and I hope that she succeeds.  I ache for all of them, that they can obtain or achieve what it is that they are seeking. Life is too short.

Is this all there is to life?

I am trying not to be jealous or envious of the successes of other people that I’ve seen lately.  I have a hard time with that though, as I have always been ambitious.  Perhaps that’s stupid.  Shakespeare said that “Expectation is the root of heartache” and I think he knew what he was talking about.  Of course it leads to doubts.  It seems that success is for other people, and some of us just grind our gears.  You find yourself wondering if you have made a sane estimation of your own skills, and are not moving on because you aren’t actually good enough to do so.  It is hard, though, being told repeatedly that you are doing wonderfully… without the commensurate evidence of it.

I am intensely aware of an itch behind my eye.  It keeps being drawn to the timer.  You’d think that a timer would be a detriment, how can you focus on what you are doing when you’re racing against a clock?  Running against a never ending crawl that seems to get faster and faster, while you slow down.  I think staring at the ticking seconds is contrary to the point of what I’m doing here.  I have 6 minutes or so left. And I find myself being asinine and worrying about whether or not what I’ve written so far is really 9 minutes worth.

I am thinking about the weakness that I’ve been feeling, while everyone around me has said that I’m so “strong.”  Losing sleep, walking slowly, unable or unmotivated to do the most basic of things outside of what I absolutely must.  I tire out in a heartbeat.  Things that take no energy before sap it so very fast now.  We’ve sought some assistance, and are now having someone come in once a week to clean our home.  I don’t know whether to feel ashamed or relieved.  But it’s desperately important that we have a clean place to live in, somewhere were we can let down our guard, and just BE instead of DO.

I’ve never thought that I’d be in a place where I’d be writing these things.  I never saw my life, and the lives of those I love, turning out as they have, or ending as they did.  The world laughs at our plans.  I find myself getting angry again… at all the people who somehow have things fall into their laps.  Their lack of planning leads to surprising success… all our planning has led to nothing but a dull ache in our chests and a resignation that it isn’t going to change.  I’m probably being unfair to many people… I doubt it comes easily to most of us.  I just only seem to see the ones that it does.

I want to say something less doleful though.  I quickly scanned the last few paragraphs, and realize how melancholy I seem.  So I am trying to bring something else to the front of my mind to type. But I’ve run out of time.  There are 10 seconds left, and all I can do is wish that I had of thought of something better to say.

And the clock stops.