An Angel

168719_10150129946161195_7401208_n(a Facebook note from 10 February 2011 at 14:51)

they say angels walk among us – well, sometimes they don’t walk.
sometimes they go whizzing past you in their wheelchair, laughing with glee at your startled reaction.

i met Gerard in such a fashion, in late 1992 or early 1993 when i worked at Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener. i had just come out of my darkest days, after losing a much-loved and longtime friend to suicide. i was so far gone i didn’t even think i needed help – but Gerard knew otherwise, and i think he was sent my way for just that purpose.

we became fast friends; i loved his laugh and he told me i had a cute bum. not kidding! we would eat together in the food court, and he often visited me in the store. when i became pregnant and was so scared, he promised me everything would be ok. he said he would be my friend forever and wouldn’t let anything bad happen to me, that he’d always be there for me. and he has been.

he has always been very honest, whether talking about how having been born with Cerebral Palsy has affected him, how he has felt at any given moment, or if asked his opinion about something. i have never seen him embarrassed or angry, and his patience knew no bounds whenever i struggled to feed him, drive the van, or just understand him when he spoke. he would always berate me for being so hard on myself.

the level of happiness and compassion for others he demonstrated were always a source of inspiration for me. he never felt sorry for himself, and often took on the role of confidante and encouraging friend for me. prime example of this was when we took a trip to Vineland to an aviary (his passion is birds) on a snowy day in 2006. he had just gotten a new van, one that i had never driven – and i was white-knuckling it on highway 6 south in whiteout conditions. can you imagine being strapped into a wheelchair, the chair locked into the van with a heavy-duty restraint system, at the mercy of an inexperienced and near-panicked driver? well, Gerard took it all in stride. as a matter of fact, he calmly reassured me the entire way – and i relaxed to the point where we were cruising with the oldies blaring and both of us singing and laughing. he just had that effect.

Gerard should have been able to dance and run in the park with his dog Buster- all of the things we take for granted. his shiny energy and joie de vive make his limitations all the more heartbreaking. but he never complained. if he needed help, he would ask matter-of-factly. he trusts those around him at all times, sometimes to a fault. he has told me of incidents where his kind heart has been taken advantage of.

i really wish that somewhere along the line, a nice lady had seen that kind heart and taken it in her hands to hold. Gerard has had lots of friends, but i know he has always yearned for a true love.

his beautiful black lab Buster was a constant companion who brought him a lot of joy. when Buster was a pup, i met them at a park one spring day for a walk. i will never forget Gerard’s gales of laughter when i untied the dog from his chair to go for a run with him, and nearly had my arm ripped out of its socket as he dragged me through the mud! we laughed about it for years, and after Buster died we would remember that day so fondly.

despite all of the challenges he has faced, Gerard has always been upbeat and unafraid. and now that cancer is taking him away, i still can’t find within me the strength he has. i wish i had been a better friend. i hope he knows how much his friendship has shaped me into a better person. and i can’t bear to think of him struggling any more than he already has. it is just so unfair to me, that his later years were cut short and maimed this way.

i am thankful that my daughters both met him. Abby’s time spent with Gerard has taught her alot, i think. and while Bryce is too young to understand, when her eyes focused on his the other day i know a connection was made. some of Bryce’s expressions remind me of Gerard, actually.

and i guess that’s just another wonderful thing about him.
that while so much was taken away from him at birth, he retained some of the most beautiful qualities that babies possess; those precious things that fade quickly and forever.
Gerard never lost them – and i’m so thankful that he shared them with me.

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She Shoots…?

(a Facebook note from 4 January 2008 at 12:48)

At times it seems like we are “on hold” “until” this or that happens…
when we experience feelings like envy, or resentment, or feeling hard done by.

I’ve always been a pro at feeling sorry for myself – ONCE I get in that mode, which thankfully is not too often. But wow sometimes once I get going on a tangent – any tangent, really – it’s hard for me to pull my head up and really take another look at things.

“Stick down, head up” is what my daughter’s hockey coach always used to repeat – and it’s good advice for life. I’ve had my head down for a while. And sometimes my stick is there, ready to strike at the perfect moment – but other times I forget what it’s there for, and sometimes even forget what game I’m playing. Next thing I know I’m swinging wildly, feeling inundated – only to look up and realize that everyone is looking at me and I’m not even wearing the right equipment.

Last night I felt totally exposed on the ice. No helmet, no protection – without my team. It was the worst I’ve felt in a long long time.

Today I can see the net, and I know how to move towards it. If I have to I’ll skate solo, and hope my shot doesn’t go up into the stands and hurt anyone.

Remembrance Day

Remembrance Day
A Facebook note from 12 November 2008 at 23:26

One of my favourite people of all time is Ted Scaysbrook. A decorated war veteran who was a staple at the mall every November. He stood for hours on end, always with a smile on his face, in full uniform, including his purple heart. But that is not where we met…it’s just the last time I remember seeing him.

Ted had been a staple in my life for many years; he was employed by the York Region school board as a janitor. He remains to this day one of the sweetest, happiest and most influential people I have EVER met.

You can ask most of my schoolmates over the years – Ted will be someone they can recall very fondly. He made a point of talking to EVERY kid he saw – he knew hundreds of us by name, and had nicknames for many that he remembered and used – for years after. I don’t know if his intention was to model kindness and love, or if it just came naturally. Whichever way it happened, to me he is probably about as close to an angel as I ever expect to meet.

The best thing about Ted was that he never had favourites. He treated everyone with the same amount of enthusiasm and interest; we were all special. I remember playing the Tin Man in our rendition of “The Wizard of Oz” in 1978 or 1979. My costume was made of sheets of Bristol board that had been spray-painted silver. I was unable to bend my knees in this getup, so Ted carried me up & down the stage stairs every time I was on – which was quite a bit! He was also there every night to provide the scary thunder sounds, using a piece of sheet metal.

People in high school would sometimes laugh at me when they heard Ted call me by my nickname – Squeak – but I was proud of my name. I was proud to know Ted.

Despite all of the horrors he must have seen during the war, he never wore it as a burden. Instead he used his life experience to help enrich the lives of others in thousands of small ways; grasping your hands in his as he lowered himself to look straight in your eyes and say with a big smile “How are ya today?”. His positive energy made it impossible to be anything but as happy as he was – even if just for that moment.

He was also never shy when asked about the war. He would tell you with tears in his eyes just how awful it was and how we should all work hard towards caring for one another instead of fighting. And he walked that talk every day.

Every year at this time I remember Ted and give thanks for not only his sacrifice as a young man, when he went off to fight for every freedom I have, but also for the gift of having known such a fine human being. He shaped me perhaps more than any teacher.