Living to Leave a Legacy

November 14, 2011 § 4 Comments

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was in the midst of trying to figure out what her role in life is, her place in the world.

I don’t think I’ve ever determined the answer to these questions, with certainty, for myself, let alone be able to suggest to someone else what their destiny might be.

On one hand, it would be easy to get overwhelmed if we are really meant to find a way to stand out amongst the billions of people on the face of the earth.  On the other, George Bailey (played by James Stewart) in It’s A Wonderful Life learned that all the lives of those around him would change without him.

Therefore, I think it’s more worthwhile to consider how we can make our mark closer to home than examine ourselves on the world stage.

We can get great satisfaction out of volunteering in our community. I certainly have in many organizations and my son’s schools over the years.

Are we making special contributions in the workplace, like serving on committees? Are we challenging ourselves on the job itself? If someone were to ask our colleagues about us when we move on to another job, what would they really say?

How do our friends and family view us?

A few weeks ago, Jordan Skidnuk, son of Kathy Skidnuk Stoughton and the late Darrell Skidnuk, reported on Facebook that he’d received word that he is the youngest athlete to represent Canada at the 2012 Boston Marathon. I was really touched by the tribute he made to his dad, in the process.

Darrell, who lost his long bout with cancer in April 2004, was a consummate friend, parent and husband. He gave it his all to everything he participated in. And he was involved in a lot.

Jordan left no doubt about the influence of his father.

“This is a dream come true, I have never worked so hard for something in my life. This one is for you Pops, always with me every step of the way in spirit. Thanks so much to every person that came to watch a race, or encouraged me when I thought that this was impossible.”

As parents, we can hope to achieve nothing greater. I am sure Darrell, who also ran about 20 races, was smiling up there in the sky.

Legacies come in all forms and lengths.

In acknowledging the deaths of long-time community builder Bill Bowes and four teens killed in a car crash in late October, Grande Prairie Mayor Bill Given noted we are all capable of leaving a legacy, regardless of our age.

Mr. Bowes, who died at age 86, was instrumental in the development of the Daily Herald-Tribune, along with his brother, Jim. He was also a well-known Rotarian, instrumental in the success of the 1995 Canada Winter Games, the growth of the Grande Prairie Storm hockey club, and was active in the chamber of commerce.

In 2009, he received the Alberta Order of Excellence.

The four teens were members of the Grande Prairie Composite High football team. Their Warrior team-mate remains in Edmonton hospital with severe injuries.

The outpouring of sympathy and support for the families and the team came from near and far. Their story hit the national news.

Mayor Given noted that, in death, the legacy of the teens is that the community has been forged together stronger.

The bottom line is that whether someone is 15 or 86, they are capable of making a difference – that might be at the neighbourhood level or community wide. Only a handful of people rise to prominence on the national or world stage.

Encounters of the homeless kind

November 7, 2011 § 2 Comments

A man rummaging through a skip at the back of ...

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Over the summer I spent some time with someone who lived on the streets for a few months of his youth. Talk about time spent expanding my comfort zone. That experience challenged me to look at the streets of Calgary in a new way, and at the people who currently occupy them, from people in suits walking to work to people pushing shopping carts from one dumpster to the next.

It’s true that we’re afraid of the things we don’t understand. I don’t understand the world of the homeless, and admittedly, on the whole, it frightens me. I have a hard time even beginning to wrap my head around how they got there and why they’re choosing to stay there (there’s an entire other argument to be made, I’m sure, on whether or not it’s a choice).

Today I met one of the nicest, most friendly people I’ve ever met on the streets of Calgary. Yes, on the streets–that is, after all, where he lives. Well, technically he calls a city park home.

I’ve spoken with him before. Last time he was telling me about how lucky he felt because someone thought to drop off a new blanket for him. I didn’t think to ask him his name at the time.  Just politely conversed in return while I finished transferring my recyclables from my car to the large green bins. I remember him also saying how he had found a radio. The music was playing from somewhere nearby where I imagine he had found an outlet to power it. When I was done, he bade me good day and off I went without another thought to this man by the recycling bins.

I was out for lunch at Local 510 one day over the summer with some colleagues. We were eating on the patio and this guy walked up to our table and asked us for some money. He was near tears and told us he had HIV and that his parents had kicked him out onto the street. He was trying to raise enough money to find shelter. Skeptically, we all fished out some money for him. After he left, one colleague leaned in and said “I’m pretty sure I recognize that guy. He hangs out around 17th Ave a lot.” Is his story true? Who knows. Maybe parts of it are.

There’s also the guy who sits on a crate downtown day in and day out. I’ve passed him several times, but I’ve never stopped. The last time I walked by him, I spotted a loaf of bread tucked under his crate. Is that what this man eats every day? Where does he come from? Where does he go at nightfall? And why does he do nothing more than sit on that crate? Only in my last couple of trips by him did I make eye contact and smile. Why was that such a hard thing for me to do?

Today, I was back at the recycling bins. As I opened the door to my car, I heard a radio playing. I stepped out and saw someone rummaging around the bins like last time.

As I approached with my recycling he turned around and said “Hello! How’s your day going?”

“Fantastically! Thank you. How is yours?” I replied.

“Oh, I’m having the most amazing day! I slept until 2:10 this afternoon.”

“Really? That must’ve felt nice! I haven’t been able to sleep that long into the day in quite some time.”

“I don’t usually get that much sleep either. This was the first time in five years I’ve slept that long! And man did it ever feel great!”

And so on we conversed while I finished unloading my car. Another fabulous thing about his day was that one of the garbage men had given him a garbage picker. It was a metal rod with prongs attached to the end and a handle he could squeeze to bring the prongs together. He even did a demonstration of it for me, picking up bottle caps, bottles and bits of paper from the ground. Works wonders for reaching inside the bins too.

It was at this point that he paused long enough for me to ask him an important question.

“What’s your name?”

He looked up and said “My name’s Bart.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Bart. I’m Wendy.”

He smiled and kept talking. I learned that the park is his home. He takes great pride in keeping it clean. “You won’t find any garbage around here, no sir! I make sure I pick up every last bit of paper to keep the area looking clean. I hate dirty things. It’s not like the recycling centre over by the grocery store. That one’s a mess! People put stuff everywhere,” he paused. “Well, actually, it’s not the people bringing the recycling in. It’s all the pickers. They just don’t care. But me? I care.”

Last summer I went to find a geocache with another friend of mine. The one we picked to search out was in this very park. As we explored the shrubbery along the backs of the houses, I remembered seeing a sleeping bag up in a tree. I wondered now if it belonged to this gentleman.

After a spell, he said, “Well, you’ve probably got other places to be. I’ll let you go. Have a nice day!”

I got into my car, drove home, and haven’t stopped thinking about the whole encounter all evening.

I can’t get it out of my head just how happy he was to have a tool that made his job easier and how proud he was to be keeping the park clean. As I was pulling away, another man drove up to bring in his recycling and Bart started up again and asked “Hello! How’s your day going?” All with the same warmth and another big smile.

*Names used in this post are fictional… well, except mine.

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