Category Archives: Family

The Day We Arrived

I still remember the day we got on a bus in Belgrade which was taking us to Budapest airport, in an overnight trip. It was October 25th, 1993. My brother was three weeks away from turning one. My sister and I, ten and eleven years old, respectively. Our parents, unsure of their decision for our family, put on a confident face for us. I don’t doubt it was a difficult decision to make but there wasn’t another choice. I mean my parents were two different religions, our family was living as refugees in Serbia, receiving food and help from the Red Cross, with no secure job prospect for my dad, and no home to return to in Bosnia. At that time, Bosnia was the worst place to be – war doesn’t have a pretty face or a happy outcome…for anyone – and we didn’t have money. (I wrote about some of the feelings being a refugee brought on here:  http://wp.me/p1AZhb-1G )

I remember feeling sad about leaving yet another set of friends and another school. I was also scared – we were leaving to go to a country where people spoke English, not Serbo-Croatian, and although I had studied English in school for about a year, it wasn’t my mother tongue. (An irony of life – although I am fluent both in written and spoken Serbo-Croatian, I now for the most part communicate, and even think, in English.)

We weren’t the only family on the bus and I think I slept for most of it.

My first time of being at an airport was….weird actually. It was just a really big place and for some reason I distinctly remember the luggage carts and our own luggage. We were moving to a new country in two suitcases – one small and one medium size – and I think two or three white, blue and red square nylon bags (picture large reusable bags you can buy at a Winners or a Marshall’s), heavy with clothes and well secured all around with wide tape. It wasn’t even packing tape.

The plane was big I remember. If I remember correctly, it had three rows of seats – three seats together on either end and four in the middle – and there was a top-level as well at the front part of the plane. I remember my dad explaining the type of plane we were travelling on because my brother got a little plastic blow-up version of it to keep him occupied.

One important event that happened on the plane that day stays as one beautiful memory in my heart. Remember, I am eleven years old and on a plane for the first time in my life, en route to a strange country. We are coming from poverty, literally. Food was scarce, although we had help from neighbours and some friends, we hadn’t eaten anything ‘fancy’ in about a year and a half. (Side story: We were separated from my dad for about six months, and were reunited in October of 1992, less than a month  before my brother come into the world. During that time, my mom reached out to very close family friends in Slovenia for help who brought us baby clothes and necessities for my brother, clothes for us and tons of chocolates, candies and sweets! It felt like our birthdays were all celebrated on that one day we received these gifts.) So on the plane that day my dad purchased the most beautiful, wonderful, amazing gift we’ve received, to commemorate our journey to this new place we only knew of by name. I think it was the biggest Toblerone bar I’ve ever seen. It was heavy and in a triangular-shaped gold package. It was bigger than a gold bar for us. I don’t think we even opened it on the plane – we just stared at it in amazement of the promise this new place may bring to our family. That moment my dad was the greatest dad in the whole wide world.

Our flight to Toronto seemed never-ending. My brother, despite being only 11 months old, was a great little traveller. I remember being amazed at plane food – it was so cute the way it was packaged and how little it was.

When we landed, after collecting our bags, there was someone who was waiting for us and other families aboard that flight who also immigrated to Canada that day. The lady who welcomed us actually spoke our language. I remember we were ushered into a room that had all these polyester-filled coats of bright colours and black thick rubber boots and we had to choose one of each, for each of us. I remember thinking “Why are they giving us such heavy-duty boots?” but I understood once the first snow hit. (Side note: 1993 was a particularly bad winter for many parts of Canada. I remember snow being as high as my waist for most of that winter.)

All the coats and boots we were given were placed into clear plastic bags and along with our suitcases and taped white, blue and red nylon bags, thrown in the back of a school bus…which we boarded in the evening hours of October 26th, 1993, the day we landed in Canada.

That bus ride was rough…bumpy and it gave me motion sickness. When the bus stopped in front of a big house I wasn’t really sure where we were or what they were going to do with us there. I remember it was extremely cold when we stepped off the bus. All of our bags/luggage was added to everyone else’s who arrived that evening and it blocked the entry into the building. I remember feeling scared and unsure of these strangers who were smiling at us, and putting us through, what felt like yet another conveyor belt, while they figured out who was who and what room each family was to be assigned to. (Side story: Noah’s was the name of this particular reception centre for refugee immigrants to Canada. I believe it was one of three in Toronto at that time. Noah’s was located at Jarvis St and Gerrard St in downtown Toronto. In 1993, it wasn’t exactly the area you’d want to be walking around once it got dark. Noah’s doesn’t exist today. I walked along Jarvis a few weeks ago and in its place now stands a townhouse complex.)

The place smelled funny to me. I cannot associate that smell to anything describable except that it didn’t smell like home. Not that I remembered what our home in Bosnia smelled like anymore but I remembered what my grandparents’ home smelled like and this place didn’t smell like that. It was strange. There were people of all kinds of colours and cultures there. I didn’t understand this place at all.

Our room was dark but large. We had a set of bunk beds where my sister and I decided to sleep, a queen size bed for my parents and a twin size bed that was presumably intended for my brother but he was too little to sleep on it by himself.

After our things were placed in our room, we were invited to head downstairs to the cafeteria to eat. Dinner was over hours ago but the kitchen had left us plates of food from that evening.

I sat across my mother as plates of chicken and green sautéed peas was placed in front of us. The dinner was lukewarm. I didn’t like how it smelled. Bland, with a strange aftertaste, it didn’t taste like my mother’s peas. I placed the fork down. I looked at my mother as tears started falling down my face and said “I want to go home.”. I can look at that little girl now and understand what she felt and why she said that. I can also now appreciate how difficult it must have been for my mother to hear those words, to deal with them, and understand the weight it brought to her heart. We had no home to return to. We had no other place to go. We didn’t even have a choice at this point.

Those peas was my last memory of that day. I’ve felt out-of-place many times since then, while living here. I remember that the smells of different foods, the street, the schools we attended, the cafeterias were hard for me to get used to. It was all so strange. But nineteen years goes by in the blink of an eye. I look back and think, “I am SO grateful to our parents for bringing us here and giving us choices.”. War doesn’t leave people with much of a choice. But our parents gave us back that. We were given another opportunity for life. Another chance to have a go at it. I cannot even imagine who I would be or where I would be right now if October 26th, 1993 didn’t happen the way it happened. I thank you Canada.

T


Let’s Be One…

I gave birth to this poem this morning, en route to work, while listening to music on my iPod. I dedicate it to those who struggle to find balance, but still work on finding time for, ‘the little stuff’ that makes life, life…the stuff that makes it worth all the sacrifice(s). For those in conflict, I hope you are able to resolve it. For those in love, I hope you nurture it. And for those in hope, don’t ever lose it.~T

*****

Let’s be one…

under the moon

or the sun,

under rainbows

or clouds,

when the tides come in

and the oceans rise,

or when the flower petals

stretch their arms towards the sun.

Let’s be one….

when the leaves change colours,

when the ground starts glistening

as the fall rain washes it,

or when the first snowflakes

touch our noses,

and Jack Frost creates

funny patterns on our windows

in the mornings.

Let’s be one….

when our minds become hazy

from our crazy workday,

when time seems to escape us

and we miss our date night,

when we forget to call

and regret the fact that we

made each other think

we didn’t care enough.

Let’s be one….

in joy or sorrow,

for even the promise of tomorrow

cannot make us escape our moment

of right now,

as we stay in it,

live in it,

breathe in it,

love each other with all of our might,

as we look into each other’s eyes

and realize that

the world will be cruel

and take away from OUR time

but in the end we’ll return

to each other

and choose to remain

together,

as one.


LOVE, FEELINGS AND ALL THAT JAZZ…

“I’d like to run away
From you,
But if you didn’t come
And find me…
I would die.”
― Shirley Bassey

Some would argue the following but I think one big thing that distinguishes humans from other species is that we are emotional beings. Our ability to feel is precisely what drives us to do what we do – be it in our career choices, creative expressions, our interests but most especially the people who we choose to spend time with. So it is safe to say that we aren’t able to really and truly live if we don’t feel…wait, is that actually possible – not to feel?!

I have been blessed with an old soul which some have humbled me by equating it to wisdom. And T’s ‘wisdom’ has been taking some notes in the last couple of years as my own work on Self has been progressing. AND since sharing is caring….read on! 😉

I have become aware of the increase in the number of people who are walking around ‘not feeling’. Some of them walk around shuffling their feet, others putting on the biggest smiles, some yelling and screaming at anyone they can, but most of them are ‘normal people’ just like you and I, walking around doing ‘normal people’ things in ‘normal people’ ways. Yet I can never turn away from their gaze without seeing that glaze over their eyes which to me, just screams…well it screams many things – fear, pain, self removed from the world. Now remember, you would never be able to know what it is that that person has gone or is going through. The only thing that you will sense is their emotional disconnect which makes it hard for them and for you to effectively connect/relate to and communicate with each other.

Take a minute and think – have I just described you or someone you know? Don’t stop reading – you are not being judged. I still think that you are amazing. Take a big breath and remember, you are not alone.

Just like a person has many layers to them, some of which aren’t always complimentary but are actually contradictory, so do feelings! Every emotion we feel has its own truth, time and place. It’s not about breaking down the emotion and labelling it as good or bad, but taking it as what it is and allowing it to be expressed in an objective way – similar to different aspects of our personality, huh? The thing is, we’re not always taught how to deal with emotions, communicate our feelings or express them in a way that doesn’t consume our whole being so we take it to the extreme – either by getting completely lost in them and allowing them to control our actions and reactions OR by suppressing them. Being someone who has done both, I can honestly tell you that neither of them are healthy for any part of our being.

Getting lost in my emotions paved the way for draining, incoherent arguments which were damaging to the relationship and both parties involved. They would leave both people feeling absolutely exhausted and confused as to how things escalated to that point. I understand now that I was holding on to feelings from the past I hadn’t dealt with, which actually had nothing to do with the conflict I was dealing with at the moment, but because these emotions (past and present combined) were overwhelming for me, I couldn’t see myself outside of myself nor outside of my emotions….well until someone who I love and highly respect pointed it out to me and literally changed my life (shout out to S.A.M.!).

I’ve also suppressed feelings which…well to be honest I suppressed feelings which made me feel pain, embarrassment, anxiety, but I also suppressed love. You see, as a result of an unhealthy relationship, combined with unique childhood circumstances, death of my hero, and a splash of growing pains which I simply ran away from, I blocked myself from feeling. I didn’t think I did this of course because I was still social, and fun, and did things, and travelled, and interacted with people….except that I wasn’t really able to BE. It was as if, I kept myself busy with everything that I felt was good for me, just so I don’t have to feel certain things. ‘WHY?’ you ask? Because I was scared.

I feared feeling. Not only did feeling lead me to emotions that I didn’t understand how to handle in a healthy way, but it also led to pain – “Even when I loved, it sometimes hurt so why would I do that again?”, I thought. But the thing that broke my carriage was all that heavy baggage…and garbage. You see, we can only suppress feeling any emotion for so long. At some point you come to realize that something is just not quite right because that ‘success mountain’ (success could be any personal advancement, be it love, career or family) whose top you’ve been trying to reach has suddenly quadrupled in size because you have too much ‘stuff’. And then you realize that you gotta stop and take a break wherever it is that you are at that point to sort through all of that ‘stuff’ which you’ve been carrying around and not dealing with.

Now I’m going to keep it real here – sorting through your ‘stuff’ is NOT easy, it is A LOT of work and it’s NOT always fun! However, very quickly after engaging in the process (which by-the-way is unique to everyone), you start to realize how much lighter you feel, how much more meaningful your interactions with others become, and most importantly you realize how much you’ve grown. No longer is the ‘child’* inside of you, who does not have the right tools, experience or knowledge to deal with emotions, telling you to hide, but you’re actually consoling it and nurturing its growth and maturity. You took your ‘child’ emotional state by its little hand, and walked it along the path of love really.

I can already sense some readers thinking “Love?! What’s love got to do with any of this? We’re talking about not feeling here! Stay on point T!” but the truth is to truly love anyone, including Self, we have to love ALL – the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’, the ‘happy’ and the ‘sad’, the ‘angry’ and the ‘forgiving’, the ‘serious’ and the ‘goofy’….that’s called UNCONDITIONAL LOVE. And if we’re suppressing our emotions because some of them don’t make us feel good, then it’s the same as not accepting the multitude of layers of our personality – we cannot love unless we embrace and accept ALL. Our feelings and emotions are reflections of us and truths of who we really are. They’re not always going to be lovely and nice. They’re just going to BE. And we have to allow them to be and feel them in order to climb the ‘success mountain’ which has now become almost a flat plain with bumps and hills and mountains and valleys along the roads but it’s not so draining walking it anymore. The ‘stuff’ isn’t heavy now and we’re so much more fit for any rough terrains and weather conditions…well that’s been my experience anyway.

I would not be who I am today if I didn’t have all that ‘stuff’ but I would not be able to keep going if I didn’t deal with it.

Love yourself, embrace and feel your emotions, and LIVE your life fully.

T

*I use the word ‘child’ here not because it is a reference to things from our childhood but to highlight the fact that, in a way, not dealing with our stuff and not feeling OR allowing our emotions to control our actions and reactions, suggests that we are in a child-like emotional state and that there is a need for growth. It is not meant to be derogatory or bad or to make anyone feel bad – after all, that is how I would have described my young Self – but it’s just my perspective.


T stands for…Tough?

Have you ever been in a situation where someone, of the opposite or same-sex, be it a friend, a relative or someone who you’re involved with, who you care deeply about, does something which completely goes against your standards of how you want to be treated? Or YOU hurt someone because of something mindless you said or did or a mindless reaction you had to them thereby failing to meet their standards?

Two wrongs don’t make a right is what my friend B always tells me and it’s so true. Sometimes when someone hurts us we lash out because we almost want to impregnate their entire psyche with the pain that we feel, the pain which they placed on us intentionally or unintentionally, be it through their words, actions or lack thereof just to make sure that they know how WE feel. After all that is what our defensive ego enables us to do. And since we’re creatures of habit, unless someone lets us know, how would we become aware that we’re doing something negative and break the cycle we’ve been participating in for so long???? Oh yes, it does require us to be able to see ourselves outside of ourselves, which is very difficult if we’re consumed in our own pain, darkness or undisclosed and un-felt feelings.

The difficulty always lies in the involvement of the heart and the fear of loss. If we love someone, we want them in our life and therefore we want to forgive whatever it is that they did since we don’t want to lose them. But when someone does something which makes us feel disrespected, hurts us or breaks our trust, there has to be a time-out and a reassessment of the situation. For one, many ‘little’ things can add up to create a big problem in the future, for they create a precedent for what is acceptable if left as not addressed or ignored at the time of their occurrence.  The second part of it is that these ‘little’ things can plant seeds of doubt which cause cracks in the foundation of the relationship thereby making its future collapse almost inevitable.  The most important part though is in situations where we are faced with something that our gut or instinct tells us is wrong, we have to take a stance, uphold our standards and stand up for ourselves. A perfect, and unfortunately a very common example would be infidelity – if you forgive it because you love your partner, you are sending them a message that it’s okay and that they can (AND IN 99% OF CASES, THEY WILL) do it again. (Of course, some people cheat because they cheat but often the roots lie in the relationship itself, for we are the ones who ‘create the monster’ so to speak. Therefore in cases of infidelity, both people have to go away and take responsibility for the cracks in the foundation of the relationship which led to its collapse.)

Other side of the coin lies in our own reactions, replies and choices of words and actions, whether it’s in reply to something someone’s done or a mistake we made. In being real, we have to be mindful of and take responsibility for what we do just as much as the other person who is involved. And sometimes we don’t fully understand the impact of our replies, actions or words, until the storm has passed and we can now look at the field and view the damage we’ve contributed to.

Many times, our emotions take over when we’re dealing with a conflict and it affects how we handle and deal with the situation. Unfortunately, that is what gets us in trouble. Sometimes we get lost in our own emotional turmoil that we’re not able to fully and completely listen to the other person nor accept their truth. But if we do, it doesn’t mean that we are agreeing with whatever they did wrong (if they were the ones who did something wrong) or that we are lowering our standards and sending them a message that it’s okay, but we’re creating a situation where healthy adult communication can take place.By the same token, if we are the ones who did something wrong then we also need to be able to hear the other person’s truth and accept how what we did or said made them feel and the impact that it made on them and the relationship.

I do want to point out that this is not a tit-for-tat type of situation that I’m describing or endorsing at all. It’s about being mindful in how we deal. I’ll be honest and speak from my own experience – I have learned not to reply to or participate in a conversation when upset and emotional for it leads to things being brought up which are not only hurtful to the other person but also stray from the situation which lead to that conversation in the first place. (For example, sometimes we bring up things from the past, which may or may not have anything to do with the other person. The person who is bringing up old stuff may just be looking at it as examples of situations which brought up the same feelings but to the person on the receiving end, it can in fact be hurtful because they may feel as if we’re comparing new raisins and old coconuts – the magnitude of the situations being completely different. The end result is usually a ‘blowing up’ of sorts where the ‘conversation’ becomes so involved that it’s emotionally draining for both people.)

I realize that it’s hard to sometimes end a friendship or a relationship with someone who we love or care deeply about because they made a mistake and did something wrong, but if they’re not made aware of what is acceptable, then really would they even think that that is something they’d have to correct, work on or be mindful of in the future? And remember, the same goes for you – if no one tells you, then how will you know?

I also believe that time does make a difference and that people can come to a place where they are on the same page if they take an appropriate amount of time apart (this could be years for some!) and work on their own ‘issues’. True love is unconditional and it doesn’t stop if someone hurts us. Sometimes, love does conquer all…but only if you stand up for yourself, listen to each other’s truths and keep it real.

We all make mistakes, say or do the wrong things and fail many times. But from all of that we can choose to learn and grow, or to keep doing the same thing over and over and over again. Bottom line is that I believe in standing up for yourself and upholding your standards AND I also believe in being mindful in how we react to or deal with a situation.

T

“Courage can give voice to those who are voiceless. Those of us who have a little courage, we can develop more. I don’t believe courage is something that you’re born with, I think you develop courage and you can develop it in small ways.”
“Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination.”
“If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die.”
“People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But, people will not forget how you made them feel.”
“The truth brings the past into the present and prepares us for the future. That’s what truth does.”
All quotes – Dr. Maya Angelou

My Biggest Heartbreak

RIP Marko Bilela

I walked up the stairs of my childhood,

And it was the first time that it made me sad.

The memories that they hold are beautiful…

They are the greatest treasures of my heart.

It is not my return to them which is driving my tears.

It is the fact that you’re no longer at the top of the stairs,

smiling and waiting for me.

*

I walk into the room I saw you last,

The room where you took your very last breath,

And I sob for all of that you meant to me and to us all…

I cry for all of those who you left.

For they didn’t understand you

Nor did they feel what I felt.

*

Your trust in me gave me strength

And it humbled me to my core.

It came from a place of unconditional love

A connection that was strong between us, very strong.

*

I wish I had seen you again…

At least once before your soul left your body.

To hug you and talk to you for a little while,

To spend a few hours…just a little bit of time.

*

Here I am now standing in the room you took your last breath

Praying that you knew how I really felt.

I stand here sending you my love,

Knowing that it’s not enough

As the tears keep falling down my face

And I can no longer run for comfort into your embrace.

*

To the best grandfather anyone could have,

Please visit me in my dreams sometime….

So I can tell you how much your love shaped me,

and all of that it meant.

So I can walk with you once more,

sit close to you or just hold your hand.

*

I know my tears won’t bring you back

But they fall every time you cross my mind.

I hope that you are at peace now…

As I know you’re watching over grandma.

T


Baka ♥

I’ve not seen you in years

and you’ve changed.

Your hair is white now

it’s no longer gray.

You seem shorter and slower in your movements

but your face is still the same –

beautiful with only a few more wrinkles you got from laughing and smiling anyway.

I remember as a kid

you’d chase us around

when we were bad,

disciplined us and showed us how to behave.

But now I’m holding on to your hand

to keep you steady as you walk

instead of a walker or a cane.

When we were young and summer or winter holidays came

and our parents were too busy to keep us entertained

You took us with you and loved us in your warm grandmother way.

Breakfasts of tea and slices of bread with honey and butter spread.

Lunches were fairly elaborate and included home-made soup, salad and main course

a la love, grandmother’s special.

When we asked for something different

You did your best to provide and come through

Just to make us feel happy and…

maybe to keep us a little quieter too!

Your love for us shone and was always strong.

I remember it so well.

Those pictures are stored in my memory

and are dear to my heart.

Now we are taking pictures and I wonder,

Will this be the last one we take?

You’re getting older

and it’s hard for me to see you often

since we live on different continents.

So I stay in this now and cherish every laugh, hug, new memory made.

You may be my grandmother but I feel close to you…

sometimes closer than I feel to my own mother.

You truly are the greatest grandmother anyone could have

and I’m so happy , lucky and proud to call you my

Baka.

T


One fall day….

…in October of 2010, my friends and I went to the Toronto Zoo. I was very excited – it was my first visit to the zoo here and I had wanted to go for a long time. The weather was lovely that day – warm, sunny and dry. We had a great time walking around, seeing different animals and learning something new! We even went out for sushi after the zoo! 😀

My lovely friends drove me home after our sushi dinner. (I live downtown and my friends a little bit east of there. My neighborhood is fairly safe and quiet and, despite the fact that just a block from my building is an area which provides a hangout spot for some interesting characters, I really do love living here.) En route, I asked to be dropped off a few blocks away so that they avoid the construction madness close to my building which was interfering with traffic. I was also in the mood for a little stroll after sushi. As we approached the traffic light at the intersection where I was to exit, it turned red. After expressing my gratitude for the day and the ride home I got out of the car, and realized I was also grateful for the warm sun rays that were still reaching me despite summer being long gone. In reflection of that moment, I would use the word ‘content’ to describe it.

I may have walked no more than a few minutes when I saw a young man walking in my direction. He was quite slim, dressed urban but not flashy, a bit shorter than me and he looked a little lost. Although I wasn’t expecting it, I wasn’t surprised when he stopped me. I thought he might ask me for directions to wherever he was going but instead he said, “Excuse me, I just got released from jail, I’m really hungry and I don’t have any money. I was wondering if you would be able to buy me something to eat. I would pay you back when I can.”

I had to take a moment to reflect on what he said and on what he was asking of me. A young man, who was just released from jail, was asking me to buy him a meal. If there was ever a reason for a woman to be scared of being mugged or to be skeptical of communicating with a stranger, I was facing it. And yet there was something in his eyes – a pain intermixed with a lack of ego and a sense of truth and realness – which, without any hesitation, had me reply something along the lines of: “You won’t pay me back as I probably won’t ever see you again, but what do you want to eat?”

He suggested McDonalds and I immediately said “Hell no!” in my head – I have never eaten nor will I ever feed someone processed foods with no nutritional value. Instead I said that it was kind of far and out of my way but that there was a Tim Horton’s still open which was closer. (I admit I don’t eat food from Tim Horton’s either but I figured he could get something somewhat wholesome and unprocessed. I also thought that it would be at least a little bit better than the food he was fed in jail.) Although hesitant, with great humbleness he agreed to my proposal.

To my best recollection, this was our conversation as we walked side-by-side to our destination. Please note that I shortened it for the sake of space and that for me it felt like I was a Big Sister to a kid and this was us hanging out.

ME: How old are you?

BOY: 18 (I think that’s what he said)

ME: Why were you in jail?

BOY: This guy messed with my sister and I went and took care of it. (He said this in that it’s-my-responsibility-to-protect-my-sister tone.)

ME: How long were you in jail?

BOY: Nine months. (Not a happy reply. No sense of pride.)

ME: And do you think that what you did was worth going to jail for?

BOY: It wasn’t but it was what I thought was right. (Said with head down.)

ME: Remember that the energy you put out is the energy you’ll get back. Pause. Where are you going to go now?

BOY: I was told that there was a shelter around here. I am going to spend the night there and then go to the labor office first thing tomorrow morning and register for any work I can get. (A glimmer of hope and excitement in his voice.)

ME: Do you have any family?

BOY: I do but they don’t live around here. (I found out that his sister was in Mississauga.)

ME: Why don’t you go and stay with them?

BOY: Well I would go stay with my dad but he lives in Jamaica. (There was a sense of longing and sadness in his voice.)

ME: What about your mom?

BOY: She has her own life – a new boyfriend now and other kids and I don’t feel welcome there. (Said with an undertone of anger and acceptance.)

ME: Did you finish high school? Do you have plans of going somewhere after that?

BOY: I have a few more courses to take but I do want to go to college or university. (A glimmer of hope.)

ME: Good. You need to do that.

We walked into the TH’s and stood in line to place his order. I told him to order anything he wants and I was prepared to spend money on a few meals. After all he was a hungry and straight out of jail. To my surprise he looked at the cashier, who had already given us a few confused glances, and said “Could I please have a donut and a water?” As my heart was breaking after hearing those words I turned to him and said “No. Order FOOD. Whatever you want – sandwich, soup, chili, anything. You need to eat a meal.” He looked at me with these eyes which were now filled with disbelief and gratefulness and asked “Are you sure?” I confirmed and he expressed a sincere thank you.

The cashier suggested a combo or something as I stood there feeling completely humbled by this young man. From the interaction we had up to that point I realized that before me stood a soul in pain, who lacked parental guidance but knew right from wrong and displayed greatness which I hoped he would understand as he grows, lives and matures. Strangely (or not?) I felt socially responsible to encourage and support his growth journey.

I paid for his order and the cashier gave me a confused look. As he disappeared to get the food I turned to the boy and without any thought or rehearsal of it in my head said: “Go back to school and finish it. Educate yourself to enable yourself to do more. You can do it. And don’t forget that the energy you put out is the energy you will get back, so keep it positive. Good luck tonight and on your job search tomorrow.”

With the smallest of smiles and eyes which were filled with intense emotion he confidently said “I will go back to school and I will do more. Thank you very much for this. One day I will pay you back.”

I’m pretty sure I said “Pay it forward” as I rushed out before tears started falling down my face.

I felt gratitude and humbleness for a few different reasons. The first was for the fact that I trusted my gut instinct when I met the boy and that it was right. The second was for the fact that I was able to help a stranger and pay forward what many people have done for me and my family over the years, in many different ways. The third was for the fact that he chose me to be a little rainbow in his cloud for even a few minutes…

I remember walking into my home and thinking how amazing it is that I have a roof over my head, parents who were still married to each other and who I could reach out to anytime if need be. I also had food in my belly and I was living my life. I was enjoying the fruits of my labor – eight years of post-secondary education which resulted in a great job that enabled me to have a place I call my home and allowed me to not only afford the basic necessities of life, but also to experience more – different restaurants, concerts, travels….all the things I love which feed my soul.

I think about him sometimes. I hope that he is well and happy. Someday, hopefully, he will know that unexpectedly yet incredibly, he humbled and moved a woman who was on her own growth journey at the time, that one fall day in October of 2010.

T

Note: I have shared this experience with only a handful of people thus far. Writing about it took me right back to that day and it humbled me all over again. I hope that the story you just read leaves you with nothing less of appreciation for what you have and for what you are able to do in helping others…even if for a moment.


Amazing. Incredible. Soulfood.

I would describe my life as interesting. Every day brings something new – a lesson, a memory, a different point of view, a reflection – and I welcome it all with much gratitude. June 28th, 2011 was no exception…

My thoughts upon waking: Tonight is the Sade concert! Sade tours once a decade and her music has helped me through some rough times. AND I love music and I love going to concerts! I bought the tickets last October, before I went to India, for this much anticipated event. I’m going with my friend D. who loves Sade as well, and I’m very excited! I have my outfit together – off-the-shoulder black cocktail dress paired with my Michael Kors heels. I have a busy day ahead of me – go to work, hit the gym, then get ready for the concert! Whoohoo! I am excited although I didn’t sleep very well last night. My neck hurts and I see that I have messages to check on my phone.

I got ready for work, boiled a few eggs and left my house around 7am. I checked the messages on my phone as I walked to the elevator. One was from my aunt who currently resides in Bosnia, informing me that my grandfather had ended his short battle with colon cancer last night. I phoned my youngest aunt while walking to work. We spoke about her, my dad’s and their oldest sister’s departure later that evening for my grandfather’s funeral in Bosnia. We also discussed the importance of living life and not allowing certain things to stress us out. We had a similar discussion last week as one of her friends (whom I also knew) passed away suddenly, while at work, at the age of 50. The conversation ended with us agreeing that we need to live life to the fullest and do what makes us happy. When I got to work I emailed my dad after failing to reach him on the phone.

As the day went on I thought if it was appropriate it was for me to go to a concert of one of my favourite artists knowing that my grandfather passed away the night before. I talked to my friends, I talked to my mom, I even had conversations about it with people on Facebook and Twitter, and it was unanimous – I was to go to the concert and enjoy it.

My friend D. and I met up at the Air Canada Centre, and as her cab took her to the wrong entrance, we ended up walking in after John Legend was already on stage.  Our seats were in section Floor Left, row 13, seats 3 and 4.*** As we were ushered to our seats, sitting directly behind me in row 14 was my friend M! I hadn’t seen her in a VERY long time (her and I worked at a clothing store for some time, years ago but we keep bumping into each other randomly) and it was really lovely being around another person (who I knew!) who has a great energy. (I might not have mentioned but D. is really cool peeps!) We thoroughly enjoyed John Legend’s**** performance and I caught up with both M. and D. before Sade stepped on stage.

As you will see from the videos I took (links posted below), Sade’s concert was absolutely amazing…incredible…pure soulfood. I loved every second. It is so refreshing to experience an artist perform live and instead of a huge stage production (i.e. dancers, crazy  special effects, etc), the use of lighting and simple video projections which complimented the music, enhanced the entire concert experience. It is hard to describe what I mean, but I do think you’ll be able to appreciate this from the videos.

After the show was over, before I even left my seat, someone tapped my shoulder. I turned my head and met the gaze of a man who said: “I came all the way from Nova Scotia to watch the concert and my camera broke. I noticed that you were taking a lot of pictures and I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind emailing them to me.” Of course I said yes, and he handed me a piece of paper (he was well prepared!) with his email address written on it. I carefully put it in my clutch and bid him goodnight.

D. and I said goodbye to M and off we went in hunt of a taxi. Our taxi hunt was a challenge (imagine the number of people who just attended a sold-out concert and were also trying to hire one) so we decided to walk a little ways in our search. Five minutes later, a lady approached me and said “Excuse me, but were you sitting in row 13?”. I confirmed and she said: “I was watching the pictures and videos you were taking with your camera and you must share them! Upload them on YouTube or something!”. I told her that I plan on doing just that and I offered to email her the links once I’ve done so. She gave me her card, thanked me and we bid each other good night.

After getting home, I was filled with so many different emotions but sadness wasn’t one of them. Yes my grandfather was gone but I work in healthcare and I know what cancer means – great pain. Although death is never a happy thought, I was not sad as I knew that he was no longer suffering or in pain. People grieve in different ways and mine was a celebration. A celebration of life. In addition to all of that, I was also able to give to complete strangers. I felt incredibly grateful to have life and to be living. And this could be my own way of making myself feel better, but I think that my grandfather would not have been upset in how I celebrated his life…

As I promised to the two strangers who approached me, I’ve uploaded the videos I obtained at the concert and I’ve made a slideshow of some of the pictures as well. You’ll have to excuse my shaky camera work – I did my best! I hope you enjoy my compilation and I hope that you’re living your life.

T

***The October morning of last year that the Sade concert tickets went on sale, I had to be at the Indian consulate to apply for tourist visa for my then upcoming trip to India, and D. had to be on the road, so neither one of us would be near a computer. Thankfully I have great friends! My friend E. booked the tickets for us online and got up early that Saturday morning to do so! E. is often one of my rainbows in the clouds and I’m thankful for him and his friendship always. 

****I was fortunate enough to have attended John Legend’s concert at Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto in 2008. His live performances are incredible.

Sade in Toronto, Parts 1, 2 &3

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4WxvrFmjtMU

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=As7KopRduO8

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bEDM_KzJeWM

Slideshow of the pictures taken at the concert – unfortunately some of the picture quality was lost in compiling the video.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIcVUHlV1eA


A Few Stories About Veronika

My mom, my grandmother and her nephew

Veronika Sain, my baka (grandmother) was born in 1931 in Bosnia.  Although her mother** had actually given birth to fifteen (yes 15!) children, only five of them had survived. I suppose that’s not surprising considering the era in which they were born.

There are many stories I can tell you of my baka, but I’ve selected only a few.

VERONIKA’S WILL

I have always known my baka to be very strong (in mind, will and spirit) and very direct. Apparently, she was vocal even when she was only 2 years old. The story is, baka’s father* had come home drunk one night and asked her to do something. I guess even at 2, she was able to utter a “no” to his request. He got angry and as a result of his “discipline” (which involved either pushing her down the stairs or against a very hard metal bed frame, as no one knows for sure what happened exactly) my baka broke her back. The rest of the story is a little vague and the details of it are fuzzy but what I do know is that my baka was not expected to walk ever again. One day, when baka was around 3 years old, her mother had taken her to the cementary to visit the graves of the deceased children. As she couldn’t carry my baka all the way up the hill, her mother left baka by a grave as she went to her children’s. Nobody knows how and it’s still considered “God’s miracle”, but my grandma took her first steps and started walking at that cemetery that day and she’s been walking ever since. When I think of any obstacle I have to overcome I think of baka and I say these words: “Yes I can.”

VERONICA’S STRENGTH

Baka had met mama’s dad in the early 50’s and after she told him that she was pregnant, he enrolled in the army and left. Now picture yourself in that era, being unwed and pregnant knowing how much that was frowned upon. You can imagine how hard that must have been to live through. Especially in a small town where gossip is inevitable. My baka had educated herself and had a good job as a bookkeeper which is how she had sustained herself, her own mother and her daughter. (I can’t imagine it being easy having a child on your own in 2011 but it was worse in the 50’s!) Baka survived all the gossip and overcame all the challenges which were placed on her by society because of her situation. (Remember, although she was able to walk, she was also left with an obvious physical deformity in her back.) I suppose, eventually, people got over it and baka raised mama to be one classy lady. Apparently, mama’s father had come back some years after she was born, found baka and told her “Veronika I’m ready to be with you know. Let’s get married and be a family.” Baka’s reply went something like “I went through all the hard stuff already all on my own. I don’t need you now.” (I told you she was direct!)

VERONIKA’S FAITH

My baka is a devout Catholic (although she respects, and is friends with people of, different religions) who always told my sister and I to “do right by God”. She would pray every night before she went to sleep and encouraged us to do as well. I was not very interested in any religious practices but my baka is the one who introduced me to the concept of religion. One year around Christmas (or was it Easter?), my baka had arranged for a priest to come over and bless the house. The expectation of my sister and I, as we were told the night before and reminded at breakfast that morning, was to kiss the priest’s hand when he gives us his blessing. I did not even understand what a priest does or who he is so you could say that I was less than enthused. The doorbell rang and this tall (he could have been short but I was young then so to me he was very tall) older man in a long dark dress (men wear dresses?!) walked in the house. He looked scary to me and I felt that if he got too close to anyone they would die a horrible death. He did some weird stuff with water and some type of lantern which released smoke (who carries fire with them?!) as he kept making air crosses with almost every step he took. (I was only 6 or 7 years old and this is what I remember thinking then.) I sat in a corner far away from anyplace he had to be and avoided my grandmother’s gaze because I was scared. The priest was done his blessing of the house and I knew that the time had come. My sister went first and I felt so bad for her. I didn’t want her to die a horrible death! As much as I tried to avoid the stares, everyone was looking at me with the expectation of approaching the man in the dark dress and kissing his hand. I started crying as my grandmother took me by the hand and led me towards the priest. I don’t remember how, but I got out of her strong grip, ran into the small pantry/closet and locked the door. I couldn’t kiss this man’s hand, I just couldn’t! When the coast was clear and I was sure that the priest was gone, I unlocked the door. I am sure I blocked out anything baka might have said to me although I did listen to the phone conversation she had with mama shortly after the priest left. Mama got an earful about how her children should know about and respect religious practices AND how we all need to go to church and pray. (Although I still do not practice any religion, baka taught me spirituality which I am grateful for.) My baka still prays for me every night and sends little icons of different saints to keep close for protection and blessings.

VERONIKA’S SELFLESSNESS

For as long as I can remember, baka was a giver. She gave to those who didn’t have anything, to her siblings, to mama and to us, her grandkids. I remember this Muslim lady who lived across the street from baka and was one of baka’s regular coffee drinking companions, and probably one of her closest friends. (Coffee drinking is a very prompt, twice a day social gathering. The early morning round usually happened at baka’s and the afternoon at someone else’s home. This is how we knew who was cooking what for lunch or dinner, who has passed away, what is the best remedy for any illness, what is new in the neighborhood, the best crop to buy from what farmer that season etc.) Anytime that we were visiting baka, this lovely lady would make my favourite pumpkin or apple pita (a traditional Bosnian dish) and bring it over. No matter how long we were staying or how frequently we’ve come, she’d always come over and bring something. After we moved to Canada, our visits to baka’s were only a few before her friend passed, but during the last visit in 2006, I remember waking up from a nap to the smell of pumpkin pita. My grandpa (who was still alive then) and I inhaled it! You could tell that it was made with love! I went across the street to return the chef’s plate and to thank her, when I was given another gift – a small gold heart pendant. I knew she didn’t have very much money so I asked her “What is this for? You don’t have to give me anything.”  She said “I give you this because your grandmother always gave to me. When I had nothing, she’d offer whatever she had so that my kids were not affected. Anytime I was down, your grandmother offered her support and her friendship. But she didn’t do that just for me, she did that for everyone. Whomever she could help, she did. I know how much she loves you and this is a small way for me to show my appreciation to her by giving something to you.” Anytime I give or help someone, I think of baka and know that I’m adding to her legacy of selflessness.

*Baka’s father was an office worker who loved to drink and spent a lot of his pay on alcohol. He wasn’t a very happy drunk either and he expected everyone to cater to him. 

**Baka’s mother was a housewife. She was an excellent seamstress and a flute player. She also took in, and took care of her grandchildren when her children couldn’t. (My mama holds very fond and warm memories of her grandmother.) I never knew her as she passed away before I was born.

T


The Concert Goer Part 1

 

The Birth

Thanks to my parents, I LOVED music from before I even knew of myself. There was music sung or played in our home every day. When I was old enough to learn how, I played music on the record or cassette player or would tune in to the local radio station and just jam! No matter who was around, music was playing and I was singing and dancing…

The first concert I remember going to, I must have been 8 or 9 years old. It was the pre-war era in former Yugoslavia and I had big dreams of a solo singing career and a wild imagination. It was a warm sunny autumn day and, thanks to a radio station announcement, I found out that one of my favourite bands was going to perform that evening in our town . I was willing to do anything for my parents to let me go.  I remember there was a money issue my parents discussed and my dad was against me going (I think it had something to do with my age). But I just had to go as I was to be ‘discovered’ that night! I am sure that my then talent to produce tears quickly was utilized along with the well practiced pout.

Now I don’t remember the details (of who talked to whom, how we left the house or how anyone else felt about it) but I do remember my mom and I walking to the arena where the concert was to be held. I had the cassette cover of the band’s album in my pocket as I knew that I was going to get an autograph from the cute lead singer of the group. (This speaks to the faith and dreams of children which we should never lose. It also speaks of an era – do YOU remember having cassettes?) I don’t think mama or I knew how much this really meant to me nor how much it would affect me later on in life, but I do know that she was just as excited as I was!

After purchasing our tickets, we made our way through the massive crowd and finally entered the large gates of the arena. We found some space on the wooden benches and after we sat down, I felt like I was a grown-up. I mean, I was sitting amongst them all and I was at a concert! I sat up tall so that I could see the stage well and also to make my self better seen by these scouts who were to ‘discover’ me.

The band entered the stage and the concert started. Hearing live music…I was in awe. I was moved from within as my audio and visual senses were stimulated. I felt a little light-headed but that could have been because it was hot sitting next to all those people and I was overwhelmed by the energy and the smell of the crowd. I watched the musicians play their instruments and could now see and hear their talent for myself. I could feel each note that blasted through the large speakers in the middle of the arena (our seats were vibrating!); and I appreciated the way that these talented men moved, danced and sang together. It was magical.

I knew all the words and my mom and I sang along with the band. I, of course, knew that each band member saw and noticed me amongst the few thousand fans who were there. How could they not?! I was one of the youngest people there and my mom the prettiest!

After a couple of hours of pure goodness, the concert had come to an end. It was time to get my autograph! Except that I was too little to fight through the crowd which surrounded the band so mama did that for me. With the cassette cover in one hand and a tight grip on my own hand in the other, she walked up to a band member and said “Will you please sign this for my daughter?”. I know he replied with an “I’m sorry ma’am, I don’t have a pen.” but somehow a pen appeared and these men took turns signing my cassette cover as my heart filled with joy. My mom did all of that. As for my singing career which was to begin that night…although my body moved and I smiled, I had lost my voice! In a quick second I went from a girl who was going to sing and be signed on the spot for her talent, to a complete mute! (In retrospect, it was probably a good thing I kept my mouth shut. Not all of us possess the talent of voice with which to sing in public.) I remember waving to these lovely men as they walked away and exited the building and I remember thinking “Nothing beats live music!”.

That magical evening, thanks to my mom, is when the concert goer in me was born. With my little hand safely held in hers, and the very special cassette cover in my pocket, we walked home with smiles on our faces and our spirits lifted, excited to tell everyone about it.

T


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