Paying It Backwards

For as far back as I can remember I’ve been interested in stories. Storybooks, the stories of other people, and the stories running through my own head.

Dr. Seuss and Ogden Nash were my idols, because to tell a story through rhyme while making people laugh was the absolute ultimate achievement in storytelling.

My father was also a storytelling idol of mine, but for a different reason. His stories were shrouded in mystery, revealed only partially and with caution on his terms. His stories held the key to my roots, and were so out of my own experience that the pull to know more was magnetic. I don’t know how I learned not to push him to reveal more at any given time. As an adult I can look back and the word ‘trauma’ comes to mind. As a child, I think I learned well to follow the rules, and the rules were: wait for when he wanted to talk, be careful about what you ask and how much you ask, and stop asking for more when he says stop. I now think he may also  have wanted to protect me. His stories weren’t lightness and fluff and rhymes. They were stories of survival during inhumane times. They were about everything that could be wrong and ugly and horrific in our world. They were ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ turned into ‘Mean Psycho Man.’

My father immigrated to Canada from Latvia with his parents at the age of 13. Prior to that there was running from the Russians and Germans and 4 years spent  in a displaced persons camp.The stories he’s told me are in my heart and are not meant to be shared. Except for one.The story of an American Red Cross worker with a Latvian background who met my father and his parents and in a true act of kindness, put himself at risk to ensure that they could have the chance at a better life. A stranger going above and beyond to help another stranger. Asking and expecting nothing in return. I have no idea who this person is. But this anonymous person, and this story, has had a profound impact upon my life. I owe an immense debt of gratitude, and all that my family and I have, to a man I will never know.

And so I pay my debt backwards. As has my father, as have my siblings. We are a family raised in Canada by a father who immigrated from a far off war torn place. Canada accepted my father years ago and I am Canadian born, but I will never forget the kindness of a country opening it’s door that made the amazingness of my life possible. I am incredibly grateful to live in a place of peace and democracy. I’m so grateful for the opportunities I have been given, and in my work and life I try (and sometimes fail) to emulate the lesson of that unknown Red Cross Worker…spread kindness and mercy…offer help…try and make the world a better place. He has no idea of the legacy he left in this world, nor does his family, but it’s been running since World War II and if I have anything to do with it, his legacy will continue to live on, while I work to pay it backwards. And I work in this field and love the work I do, because I’ve learned that trauma opens people up. It opens us up to our true values, our hearts deepest yearnings and loves, our humanity, and our kindness, our sorrows. It opens us to the opportunity of truly being humane, and that, I believe, is why we are here. To access the deepest parts of ourselves, the best and kindest parts, and to connect on that level with one another.

I can’t write this post without touching on the events in Ottawa – they have been the catalyst for my writing today. My thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo. To stand and protect the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – there is nothing better than that in my eyes. You were protecting so many untold stories, so much that stands for good and quiet courage in our world. You will be the known soldier, and rightfully so. Maybe it’s time that all those quiet stories  of humaneness come to life and are told. So that we all can pay it backwards.


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