I have a strange life. I like to think of it as full and adventurous, but I feel certain that I give some friends and family panic attacks just thinking about the state of, ummm, chaos, I tend to live in.
Recently, a good friend came over and asked “I need to meet a man that is potentially dangerous tomorrow morning and I really don’t want to die, can you come with me?”
“Yes” I answered long before asking the 5 w’s. Oh and whether my husband could babysit our daughter while I combed the streets of a strange neighbourhood looking for a reported criminal with psychopathic tendencies.
She is a New York journalist writing an important book about South Africa. I’m not allowed to talk about the details (but will certainly holler at the top of my lungs when it is published; I am, after all, in the credits). But in an oddly typical day for me (see paragraph 1), what started outside a brothel ended in an old folks home. It was riveting and powerful; full of sadness, but not dangerous at all.
That night I couldn’t sleep. I was given a glimpse into a man with a terribly sad story of neglect, ostracism and tragedy. His physical and emotional wounds are permanent. But that’s not what kept me awake. The insomnia came, and stayed, when it settled in that nobody cared.
I have seen plenty of hardship in my chosen path. Yet, this experience made me realize everybody I’ve met and everything I’ve seen has been because somebody cared enough to show me. Family, friends, teachers or an organization cared enough to get involved and know you and your story. The sadness of meeting someone who has suffered and endured wholly alone overwhelmed me.
I have spoken and written about what SHLF means to me and our family ad nauseum. But I am going to do it again.
I understand well that people get sick and die all the time and that being able to do it with dignity and surrounded by people you love is an enormous privilege. Still, our little pod has been forced to face, and live with, our single biggest fear. I have spent over 6 years reconciling how much importance we have placed on one life when there are millions who die every day, alone, with no fanfare, no legacy, no charitable foundation.
My conclusion remains simple yet resolute – every life SHOULD matter this much. We happen to be ridiculously privileged to be a part of a community that cares. We choose to share it and pay it back in as many directions as possible.
When Strachan passed my own community multiplied. His illness happened to coincide with the rise of Facebook and just like that, after 10 years, I became – and have stayed – re-connected with half of my high school. Through SHLF I have gotten to know and love my brother’s classmates and teammates, watched new friendships blossom, deepened some of the best friendships and mentorships in my life, watched neighbourhood families grow year on year and learned to care deeply some real heroes and the kids that they serve.
One of the times I knew we were doing something right was when I met Trevor Stokes, head teacher of Streetfront, on the eve of the 2008 Vancouver marathon. The meeting was rushed because 15 of his teens were running the next day and he had to get back to school where they were all spending the night. Many of them had unstable home situations and sleeping on the floor of the classroom was the only way to ensure they ate properly and got a good night’s sleep. As I saw it, no matter what followed (everyone finished and Trevor ran the whole way with the students), 15 kids fell asleep that night knowing that someone cared.
So there it is. By far the greatest reward that has come through my biggest personal loss is being a part of something that helps facilitate more people caring about more people. Whether it is about me, my family, one of our kick ass volunteers or kids that deserve a lot more than they get. And whether it is enough to give lots of hours, a few dollars or a Sunday morning in the rain, I simply cannot understate how much it means or how far your little or big bit really goes.
So if you are hoping that I would stop asking someday, I won’t.
PS These photos and stories could go on for days and days…..