Thursday, January 14, 2010


Beauty isn't just in the face. It's in everything.

Kearstyn (age 14)

He is fourteen. A member of Canada's First Nations. His home life is not ideal. He has 'seen it all'. Witnessed man's cruelty to man. Man's despair laid bare by alcohol and drugs, by decades of abuse. It doesn't make a difference. He is fourteen and he is determined to make a difference. He is convinced he can create a different world.

I am ... older. A mature woman. A guest presenter. In his classroom to talk about the shelter where I work and things that lead to homelessness. It's part of my job. A part I love. Speaking up to prevent, however I can, youth from falling through the cracks and onto the street. I use my story as a tool to demonstrate how unhealthy relationships can lead to unhealthy places.

"That relationship was really unhealthy," I tell the class. "And I had to be unhealthy to be in it."

It is the same truth with homelessness. Shelters are not the 'healthiest' place to be. We do our best. Absolutely. But we cannot be healthy if only because, the people who come to us are unhealthy in where they're at in life, what they're doing, how they're doing it. Unhealthy people create unhealthy spaces. Unhealthy spaces foster unhealthy people.

I talk about being unhealthy and the journey back to well-being. "It must have been hard," one student states.

"It was neither hard nor easy," I reply. "It was a decision. A choice. To create more of what I wanted in my life. Every day. Joy. Well-being. Happiness. Love. To get more of what I wanted, I had to choose things that lead me closer to my goal. And that meant doing things that were healthy for me."

He listened. Intently. He asked questions. Pointed. Deep. He observed and listened and participated.

And when I finished he came up to me and asked. "Can I give you a hug? I think you're a really courageous person."

"I'd love a hug," I replied.

We hugged and he stepped back. "Thank you for what you said. You inspired me."

It was a long day. Back to back presentations to three Grade 10 classes. Back to back story-telling, to ignite, inspire, challenge their thinking.

The hard part is looking at some of those kids and seeing the effects of unhealthy parenting in their lives. The lassitude, cynicism, despair. Not in all of them. Most were engaged. Interested. Questioning. Thoughtful.

But those handful who sat watching, their eyes wary, their minds shut off, their bodies hunched forward, chins dropped to their chests. They disturbed me. They saddened me. When did their light go out? Where did it go?For some of them, the classroom is the only place they could feel safe. Safe from the violence and abuse and drugs and alcohol in their homes. Safe. and numb. For some, to cope with what goes on around them, they feel compelled to numb themselves. To cut themselves off from feeling. Knowing. Seeing. They have already learned the safest place to be is in that place where they sit, empty eyes staring out sightlessly at me.

They are the future clients of shelters across the country. Of prison cells and halfway houses. They sadden me.

We should be able to do better for our children. We must.

And then this young man walked up and offered me a hug and I remembered. If all I do is touch one life, I have made a difference. One life is enough.

Yesterday, I was blessed to touch many lives. One, this young man. Another, the young girl who's quoted above. She too was engaged. Eager to participate. Challenging and challenged by the conversation. As she left I thanked her for her participation. "I really appreciated your questions and input," I told her.

She stopped packing up her backpack. Hesitated. A shy smile lifting the corners of her mouth. "Really?"

"Really." I replied.

And then she started to share. A messy relationship that ended two weeks prior. "He was only using me," she said. She is fourteen. How can a fourteen year old know so much about what no one should ever have to learn? "How long does it take to be able to talk so easily?" she asks.

I smile. There was a time when speaking in front of groups made me nervous. Made my voice quiver, my mind go blank.

"If you're passionate about what you're doing, it's easy," I reply. "Like your story. You've got the power to touch other girls. To awaken them to being their best."

"I do?"

"Absolutely," I reply. "Use your story or it will use you. Use it to create a changed world and the world will change."

She too reminds me that, changing the world begins with one.

One act.
One thought.
One idea.
One person.

Changing the world begins with each one of us doing one thing to touch another, to tell them how amazing they are, to validate their presence in our lives, in the room, in the moment.

I went in search of the video below in honour of these young people who will change the world because they are changing themselves. They are challenging what is, with their belief they can create the world of their dreams by being who they are meant to be.

I was validated yesterday. It felt good. I hope this video validates you too.

I hope you feel good about yourself today. You are amazing.


i am storm. said...

I put that clip on my facebook and twitter! I think everyone needs to see it. Brilliant!

How amazing you are!


M.L. Gallagher said...

And how amazing you are!


Maureen said...

What a wonderful video!

And you are wonderful for finding it and helping to spread the message. I'd love to see Obama and other world leaders, ambassadors, people at the State Department, everyone just try validation one day.

Maybe we could start a "People Validating People Day" or better, a worldwide movement. That and the Compassion Charter might just do it.

One day it could happen.


Anonymous said...

Brilliant! Putting it on my facebook as well! Loved it. Love you!
Salaam Ali BA

Joyce Wycoff said...

It's on my FB page now, too ... what a find! You are definitely the Validator!