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This week is World Pride in Toronto, a time to celebrate diversity.  The weekend, which culminates in the Pride Parade, is known to be a spectacle of beauty, freedom and sexuality.  The first Pride parades, held in 1970 were protest marches commemorating the Stonewall Riots, the night in 1969 that gay people fought back against discrimination and intolerance.

As a married, gay, Christian, young woman, I owe a lot to the forerunners of the Gay Rights Movement.  And that’s why Pride is important to me.  It’s not the spectacle or the taboo that draws me in, it’s the chance to see two male police officers walking hand in hand, declaring their love without fear.  It’s the chance to see young people like me who never knew what it was like to be jailed for our orientation.  It’s the chance to see two moms, or two dads pushing the stroller of their small infant, showing me that what I once thought was impossible for myself is in fact happening all around me.  It’s a chance to honour those that fought for my safety, my freedom, my right to be who I am and love the girl who captured my heart.

I am one of the lucky few who live in an accepting society.  In many places around the world LGBTQ individuals still aren’t safe.  They risk harassment, sexual violence, imprisonment and even death because of LOVE.  Because of the most powerful, beautiful, life-changing force on the planet.  Because of who they love, and who they are, they are treated as other and not equal.  This breaks my heart.  And this is why Pride matters.  Someone fought for my freedom, now I must use my voice to demand the freedom of all people.

If you agree with me, if you believe Pride matters and is more than the spectacle created by media and corporate influence, please honour those who suffered for freedom by lighting a candle tonight.  Light the candle and know that it burns to remember the cost of freedom in all its forms.

And remember the candle burns too with hope.  Hope for the day when all people will feel safe to be who they are without fear of harassment or judgment. Reflect on the freedoms that you have that were fought for by others. Think also about freedoms that others around the globe are still fighting for.

For a moment, be present and aware of your freedom.   And for a moment, be present and aware of the pain of those who lack that freedom.

For about three weeks my brain has been spinning out of control.  I can’t really recall if it built up slowly or started all at once.  The last clear thoughts I had were sitting with my wife and niece in a movie theatre.  Movies and literature have always caused my mind to quicken, analyzing symbols and making connections with other stories.

But this was unlike any experience I’ve had before.  My friends and family know me to be hyper, energetic, and super talkative a lot of the time.  And I have always struggled to settle my brain for sleep.  But this spinning, maddening pace of thoughts had me behaving in ways I was ashamed of even as they happened.

A couple of weeks ago I started posting some pretty negative stuff on facebook and some concerned friends reached out and asked if I needed help.  I can’t say thank you enough to these people, for their awareness and compassion.  I felt like I was having rapid fire existential crises and resolutions repeatedly.  It made me feel deliriously happy and terrifyingly hopeless at the same time.

Kathryn, being the rock that she is, recognized we needed the sort of help only mental health professionals can provide and she took me to the hospital.  Initially I resented Kathryn for making that choice for me and I fought with the nurses to be released.  I tried refusing being admitted, refusing medication and forcing myself to not eat or sleep.  Lack of food and rest just made my mind spin faster and I faced negative consequences to coming off of my medication so abruptly.

I don’t know how long things would have continued like this if it weren’t for Kathryn, her sisters who supported Kathryn, and two specific nurses here.  These two nurses have a great ability to listen and connect to patients, to inspire hope and to ask for honest answers regarding intense negative thoughts.  The compassion and concern they showed without judgement helped me to begin making healthier choices for myself including resuming my medication and meeting with a psychiatrist to find a more effective way of stabilizing my mental health.

Things are still difficult at times and I’m frustrated to have very limited privileges.  I know the medical team is doing the best they can to work with me.  Going forward, my hope is that they will be able to help me find a more effective medication, and create a follow up plan for after discharge.  For now, I’m trying to remember to be still and focus on small joys like playing the piano and finding chocolate pudding hidden in the back of the fridge.

It’s in stillness that I find peace.

I’ve spent the last two weeks building a friendship with an elderly man.  We have very little in common other than our current location, and the agonizing wait we both endure before we can go to our next location.

In the evenings, after dinner, when the psych ward is at it’s quietest, I often go into the dining room to play piano.  It began as nothing more than time filler as I wait for K to return in the evening for an hour or two before I go to bed.  Now when I walk past the nurses desk with my green duotang filled with sheet music, they will often ask this man if he would like to listen to the piano, pushing his wheelchair into the dining room beside me.

Our friendship is little more than the sound waves produced when I move my fingers on the keys, that reach his ears and are translated to music in his mind.  Sometimes I don’t even know if he’s aware that I am the one playing, or if he is merely there to listen to the piano rather than the player.   I am okay with this.

One song I play over and over again is “Let it Be”.  Its one of the few songs I find my vocal range can handle and in places like this, the serenity of the chorus feels life giving.  I always think of my friend Charlie when I play it, who could belt out this song more beautifully than I’ve ever heard.

It’s easy to sing the words.  It’s a lot harder to live them.  I see my new friend waiting day after day, without visitors, and with little understanding of why he is here or where he will be next.  The system is broken.  Our needs are so high and the resources so few.  I worry for my new friend, and myself, wondering what will happen when the resources run out?  And what about the unknown sufferers, those who can’t access the system for whatever reason, who are forced to scrounge for their own survival?

These questions can lead to hopelessness.  Fear the system will never improve, fear the needs of the many are too great for the few resources available.  The brokenness of the world crawls into my heart and I am broken.  If we “Let it Be,” will the world magically begin to heal on its own?

But surely giving up is not the answer?  Where can we find hope?

 

I want to tell you part of my story. An intersection of stories really. Today my 14 year old niece and I saw The Fault in Our Stars along with my wife. In an effort to buy less stuff, and shape a little reader, I have been giving my books to her since she was little and only last Christmas realized how capable she was of reading good literature, analyzing it, talking about it and sharing a love for it. It’s as if she has suddenly stopped being a kid in my eyes and become (albeit a very young) little adult. So the latest book I gave her was The Fault in Our Stars and we both knew it was completely necessary to see the film together.

She lives just over an hour away from me, with my brother and sister-in-law (her parents, of course). We see each other often enough, I suppose, at family gatherings once every two or three months. I have always, instantly, loved her from the day I met her and will continue to do so whoever she becomes as she grows and changes. This is not an experience I have had with love for anyone else but her, I fall in love (both romantically and otherwise) slowly. But she was so new and so pure and so full of potential and even though I am one of her many aunts, she is special in my life as the only kid in our family (for now).

I was seventeen when my brother married her mom. She was two. I was in the midst of a struggle with depression and mental illness that would only worsen before I found a way to recovery. In a world that I saw as very dark, she was this bright, pure, sometimes cranky and whiny, but altogether wonderful little light. I held onto that light when despair was closest to me, she saved me in ways she’ll never know.

Two years ago, my parents, two brothers, sisters-in-law, my wife, myself and my niece gathered together for what I expected would be a typical hilarious and energetic weekend away together at a cottage. I did not know that we were all together because my brother and his wife needed to tell us that his doctors had recommended he begin the lengthy process that leads up to a double lung transplant surgery. He has Cystic Fibrosis and being my older brother, I have never known life without knowing that he may not live as long as any of us want him to. He is ridiculous and hilarious and loving in all the ways an older brother should be and has taught me so much about living in this present moment. Sometimes I believe him to be a superhero, at other times I realize he’s just my brother and there is nothing more remarkable about him than most people.

But this is about my niece, not my brother. On the afternoon that he told us, the childhood fear I knew too well rose within me and I was scared. Somewhat scared for him, but to be honest (and this might sound selfish) I was mostly scared for us. His wife, my niece, our parents, my second brother, and me. If he died, when he dies (as with any one of us), it will be the pain felt by those still here on Earth that will cause my heart to swell and strain.

I watched my niece as my brother and sister-in-law described the details and next steps involved, the potential risks and benefits of undergoing a massive surgery. I wanted to ask her how she was doing. I wanted to tell her I love her. I wanted to somehow take a tiny bit of pain from her, knowing I would never know what she feels and will feel being his daughter. I knew I couldn’t find words, so I simply leaned forward and kissed the top of her head.

While he was in the hospital at one point, my wife and I invited my niece to hang out with us for the day instead of sitting around for another rather uneventful day at the hospital with her parents, and off we went to the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair. My niece has always loved animals and has found a way to connect to the vast universe through that love. As I watched her feeding goats and sheep at the fair, I put my arm around her shoulders, another gesture that I hoped contained all the words I could not speak.

Today, as we sat in the theatre, as tears rolled down my cheeks and I could hear the sounds of a room full of strangers crying in silence, I realized we were crying because of the story, but we were also crying because we too know that fear, that pain and that love. It matters to us because we can understand the emotions even if we haven’t lived the story. This is true of all stories that connect us and make us care about someone else’s story. “The miracle of non-literal communication.” As I saw my niece wipe tears from her cheek, I reached over to her knee and just let my hand sit there for a minute.  A gesture containing a thousand words.

Today, our family is well. My brother had his transplant surgery in January and is doing very well and we are all grateful to God and his donor’s family and the doctors and all else that played a role. I don’t worry about my niece the way I did that first day my brother told us. I have seen that she and her parents are surrounded by strong, caring people. There are many adults and friends of all ages that are shaping her life, and I am just one of them, one who plays a relatively minor role, but I love her fiercely and even if she doesn’t hear all the words I am trying to say through these gestures, I hope her soul understands.

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