Kindness. Contemplation. Creation. Connection.
Today we had our first day at the Restore and Reconnect event at Christ Church Cathedral. Janice, a wonderful woman I got to know during last year’s events, will be volunteering her time to help for the whole thing! I’m very grateful to her, because I don’t think I could do it all by myself. Even though today wasn’t very busy, I spent a lot of time talking and listening to people, engaging them in the project, coaxing them to feel comfortable to express themselves, explaining what the project is all about and why it exists. With Janice there, we can both keep things going, and today I was interviewed by CityTV, Omni and Global News, and Janice was there, hovering around me, being extremely supportive and kind.
I have seen the link to the Global News item. It’s a very nice piece, recounting the feelings people had last year and the gratitude felt for the thousands of volunteers who helped to clean up the city, and the idea of restorative justice for the people who committed the crimes.
I’d like to elaborate on the clip of me, though. There’s more to the story, and the clip was just a part of the origin of the Kindness Flag Project.
Yes, like so many others on the night of the riot, I watched in shock and disbelief as events degenerated into absolute rioting. Shock turned to frustration which turned to anger. I felt hopeless.
A Facebook page had been started encouraging people to join together and clean up Vancouver. I signed on. There must have been 10,000-20,000 people who joined in a matter of hours. The plan was to transform the city, to restore it. To do so, an army of kind-hearted souls were needed.
I went to bed that night, and by morning when I logged back onto Facebook, I was surprised to read that the city was pretty much clean already! The lion’s share of the work had been done starting early, early in the morning.
What was I going to do now?
I walked around my apartment feeling frustrated. I had to do something. And that’s when it came to me: The Kindness Flag Project.
I was inspired by the UBC Museum of Anthropology’s Peace Flag Project in 2004. So I gathered together fabric and art supplies and went downtown.
I wanted to participate in a positive, transformative way. I wanted to encourage people to transform anger, fear, frustration into feelings of calm, equanimity and compassion. Kindness is the path to these emotions.
I recognized that a force is a force, positive or negative. The practice is to take a negative force and transform it into a positive one. I think the act of cleaning the city did the same thing. There was so much transformation taking place, so much learning, so much sharing, the Kindness Flag Project was just one part of a much larger whole.
A transformative movement had already started by the time I got to the site.
So… there’s the rest of the story: I wanted to help whoever was interested, to move from anger to equanimity through creativity, effort, awareness, and consciousness.
And the power in the day went deeper than the interviews…
Earlier, a man from Saskatchewan who was here for a convention, stopped by the church and came over to ask us what we were doing. His name is George. I explained what we were doing, and mid-way interrupted myself to comment on his beautifully beaded name-tag lanyard. He was First Nation, with a gentle voice and beautiful smile that reminded me of my mom’s friend Mrs. Mayo. He was so interested in what we had done then, and in our intentions now. Listened intently and suddenly he took his name-tag off his lanyard, pulled it over his head and put it over mine. A rush of gratitude flowed through me, a contradictory feeling that I am not really deserving of this beautiful and spontaneous gift, while at the same time deeply honoured and humbled that someone who doesn’t know me sees in me something that invokes this generous and meaningful gift. We hugged, long and warmly. Two souls, brother and sister, in an embrace spanning the cosmos. As I write this, tears once again well up, and I am filled with a profound happiness and sadness. Yin and yan spinning in it’s endless rotation, buried in my solar plexus.
We talked a little longer, but then it was time for my friend to leave. My gentle friend, who just before he left embraced me once more and prayed to me. A prayer that I melted into. I’ve never melted into prayer, I usually resist. This time, I melted into it, in the warm embrace of this lovely soul, while Janice, whose presence I could feel nearby, radiated over to us. A triad caught momentarily in the sparkle of Life’s diamond, shining brightly for each other and all those we know.
I wore the lanyard all day, sometimes looking at it, studying it, and tomorrow will wear it again, and the day after, and the day after. I’ve found a plastic sleeve to put my name in. Lanyard and name card.
Thank you George, I will never forget this exquisitely profound moment. The physical gift will always be a reminder of the spiritual one you gave.
What do you tell someone when they tell you that they don’t have the capacity to draw? You ask them, “Do you have the capacity for language?”
That’s what happened when an elderly woman approached us and we explained what we were doing. She seemed perplexed at first. She understood the concept of practicing kindness, but to express that on a flag? As a drawing? No, she said, I don’t have the capacity to draw.
I asked her if she had the capacity for language. I think that caught her off guard. She paused and claimed that yes, she did think so. Most definitely. I asked her if she could perhaps share something, a quote, a poem, a phrase, that she might have used to get through the difficult periods in her life. Something that inspired her that might inspire others as well.
She quickly jotted down God is love. That’s all she wrote, but then told us more. The only thing I remember is “practice what you preach”. That has gotten her through. Then her friend who’s a Shakespearean actor came over. They were about to go for lunch so he didn’t have time to make a flag. I asked him to come back in a few days with a suitable quote from the Bard. I’m certain there is a poem or play that sums up acting and living out of kindness. I hope the man will come back. I look forward to reading what he has to say.
I turn, and a man is standing there smiling at me. He says, “Do you remember me from iCommunity?” Within moments, I most certainly do. The smile, the twinkle in his eyes. But he looks different now. The last time I saw him, he had a generous handlebar mustache and a tussled head of hair. Not anymore.
Ward Grant wrote the iconic “On behalf of my team and my city, I’m sorry” poster. He has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. His spirit is as strong as I remember it, and we sat and talked for a little while before he had to go to his oncologist. He said you have to give up some of your humanity – anger, hate, frustration, fear, in order to make room for love and kindness to grow. He was pleased to see the flags being made. The boards brought up vivid memories and feelings for him and the flags help to soften these feelings. But his perspective was balanced. We sat and talked, and I could see that he patient and kind.
He told me he’s in the process of creating a treatment centre. He wants to see it done before his end. There’s lots of paperwork and hoops to jump, but he’s resolute in completing this task. He’s not giving up. He even has a name for it, REHTONA YAW. What does it mean? Well, it’s a bit of a riddle and he gave me a hint which I’ll happily share for you, “There’s always another way.”
I really hope Ward achieves his goal. I also hope that his treatment works, that he can live pain-free while he achieves it. And I hope for a miracle.
He is an inspiration.
And so ends the first day of the Restore and Reconnect at the Christ Church Cathedral. Tomorrow is the official opening, and the weather looks promising so that the Kindness Flag Project can be outside where we can invite lots of people to make flags.
Kindness spreads from the flags like oxygen from leaves. What we do with it is up to us.