Kindness. Contemplation. Creation. Connection.
Words elude me. That’s as far as my capacity for language takes me right now after day 2 of Restore and Reconnect. Just: “Wow”.
As I don’t know where to begin, I’ll begin at the beginning. It’s a very good place to start, as Julie Andrews would sing to us in The Sound of Music.
Janice and I met at the church around 9:00am to set up our table. I had brought signage and easels for them, and Janice made some lovely sign boards out of cut-up cardboard boxes and wrapping paper that even Martha Stewart would envy.
As we were working on setting up, a lovely woman named Carole dropped by and asked what we were doing. We told her, she made some flags, we talked, laughed and…
…the chemistry between the three of us was perfect. New friendships were born.
Carole helped us build a table out of plywood and sawhorses that I had brought with me to go outside. It was fun and I showed Carole how to use a screw gun! She loved it!
The day gently moved onward, we talked with people, made flags – Janice and Carole outside, me inside. Eventually it dawned on me as morning turned into noon that Carole was still helping us!
Carole is a visiting lecturer at UBC from China, researching ESL for Chinese learners, arrived in Vancouver in May and is here for a year. She had seen an ad on the Internet about the Restore and Reconnect event and thought she’d come down. She was familiar with the riot and wanted to see what this was all about. It was one of those coincidences that brought her to us: she had an appointment scheduled with her adviser during the day, but he cancelled at the last minute, leaving free to explore. She came down to the church, met us, we all got along really well, so she stayed to help. She’ll be back on Sunday to help some more. Lucky us!
Janice and Carole and I enjoyed a brief quiet moment to ourselves where the three of us were able to just sit and talk casually without interruption. It was a really interesting conversation. We talked about language, specifically dialects, and the differences between the numerous Chinese dialects. They gave me examples of how something is spoken, and I was able to hear the differences between a phrase spoken in Cantonese, which is Janice’s dialect, and Mandarin and a dialect of a specific village, which are both Carole’s. What I find fascinating is that this rich culture, that is many thousands of years old, has retained such distinctive dialectical differences, even in regions where villages may be only a few kilometers away.
By noon the Celebration of Community Spirit kicked off, and I spoke briefly on a panel that consisted of a Downtown Vancouver business owner, Peter Raptis, and the Chair of Vancouver Association of Restorative Justice, John DeHaas. It was quite an honour to be asked to sit with them, and shows the appreciation that an individual community member can make a difference.
After the event, a photographer whose name is Harrison Ha, came up to me and asked me for the spelling of my name. Then we started talking. We talked a lot. Janice and Carole joined in on the discussion. He told us he was in the epicentre the night of the riot. He saw the whole thing begin. Two men started it, he said, but hurling flaming beer bottles at the jumbo TV screen. Others rocked the screen back and forth in an attempt to topple it. Some people fled. Others joined in. He showed us pictures of young men, posturing, being brazen, attempting to display their bravado and fearlessness. One picture showed a group of men on top of a police cruiser that had been burned, flipped over and destroyed. They are carrying a Canadian flag and a BC provincial flag. On the ground, a man stands with a “Go Canucks Go” sign while another does a gangsta pose. Beside them a young Asian girl is laughing, her hand in the air, apparently relishing the moment with her friends. Harrison pulled out his iPhone to show this photo to us. He called it “sarcastic”. Harrison Ha Flikr photo
I asked him if he was afraid that night and he said he wasn’t. Compared to other riots he’s covered in Asia and other parts of the world, where the rioters organize and riot with intention, he said the difference was that this was for attention. They wanted to pose for him, to get his attention. People were caught up in the moment and followed along. He thinks people in our culture are easily influenced, whether it be negatively or positively.
It was really interesting hearing his perspective. The more I meet people from other parts of the world, from other cultures, the more I realize how little I know. They give me a snapshot of another way of acting and thinking, but from their perspective. What I took away from our conversation was that our differences are really just superficial.
I spoke with a young man about his experiences last year during the riot. He remembered the riot in 1994 when he was in elementary school. This time, he was watching the game at St. Wesley’s Church. Game 7. It was a big deal. Then the riot broke out. I asked him if he was scared, and he said yes, he was very scared. He and his friends were sent home as soon as word broke that there was trouble. He got home without incident, but it made a big impact on him. He came downtown the next day and wrote on the walls. I can’t remember if he made a flag. He was such a kind, gentle and respectful young man. He carried a skateboard. We were all enamoured by him.
We asked him if he would make a flag while we weren’t there because were heading downstairs to celebrate with the VARJ, BIA and Christ Church group. He was happy to do that, we were gone a long time…
And then we met Jim.
I can’t possibly summarize in a pithy statement the profound impact Jim made on us. I think the only way to share his power is to let him speak for himself. Please visit his link here Jim Mandelin.
Janice, Carole and I spent almost two hours talking with Jim. We listened to him tell his story, we asked questions, we share some of our own experiences. We were all profoundly moved. After reading his business card, Carole noted that I was destined to meet Jim. His card reads, “A Life Worth Dying For, The Jim Mandelin Story: An Act of Kindness”, which is the title of the book he is writing.
Jim’s story is one of incomprehensible suffering. Four distinct random acts of kindness saved his life, literally. He embarked upon a long and painful journey of healing, self-discovery and compassion. Eventually, he is able to help others and help the most vulnerable. He speaks at schools about bullying and has offered students a safe haven to tell their stories, whether they are bullied, or are the bully.
Jim’s story is humbling.
And I feel humbled, so humbled. There is so little I know and understand. There exists such deep suffering. But there is also deep equanimity. Humans can be so terrible, and compassionate; so cruel, and so kind. We work so hard running from extreme to extreme, like running up and down a teeter-totter. There is a balancing point though, a place where we can live with ease. Where joy and happiness are possible. Where we can love ourselves and each other.
Kindness is the way to these emotional states.
The day came to a close, we all packed up the Kindness Flag Project materials to stow them away for the following day. We worked cheerfully together, the four of us, enfolding Jim into our little tribe.
Then the young man with the skateboard, Johanne, walked up to us. He lingered and waited for us; he wanted to show us his flag and hang it up. Such a patient, kind young man! We were so grateful and happy that he had waited. He was like a little candle, shining gently, illuminating.
Then Carole, Janice, Jim and I hung the few flags that were made during the day along Georgia Street, hugged warmly and said our good byes for the day.
We all felt enriched by meeting each other. Deeply connected at some level, protective of each other, the warm and deep river of compassion flowing between us, we are united in our shared experience.