One Native Life: Don't have to look far for heroes
- Richard Wagamese | March 11, 2017
Originally published August 5, 2014
The older I get the more I discover how little I really know about the world. Sure, I've accomplished a lot and there is a line of my books on library shelves across the country, but just when I think I have it figured, people come forward and astound me. I like that. I like the feeling of being surprised, awed, shocked sometimes and humbled by what human spirit can accomplish against long odds. It's what keeps me going and keeps me writing.
People are amazing. We've had the opportunity to travel across the country and participate in a variety of gatherings, conferences and events. What make those jaunts memorable are the people we meet. We hear an incredible number of stories from a pastiche of sources and they never fail to astound me. For me, the idea of Canada lives in the rich mosaic of voices that make up the great, grand clamor of her. That, too, keeps me writing.
The thing is that you really never have to look very far for a heart-warming story. They are all around us and all we really need do is open ourselves to the possibility of them. When you do that, great stories literally walk up and knock on your door. For instance, I have a great friend named Cheryl. I've known her for five years now and I've watched her literally evolve and take shape in front of me. It's been a real pleasure and though sometimes I've have had to hold her hand to get her through things it's been a special process.
See, Cheryl came to live in a rooming house I used to help manage. She arrived with enormous black eyes and bruises. She'd been beaten by a so-called street friend. She was a month off a chronic crack cocaine addiction and she looked small, defeated and lonely. Her hands trembled when she spoke and she had a lot of trouble making eye contact. But there was a light that shone through the bleakness.
It didn't take long to be able to see qualities in Cheryl that made her unique among her peers in the house. She wasn't a quitter for one thing. She wasn't about to lie down and let life run rough shod. She wanted more and she was determined to get it. Cheryl had been married for a long time to a military man until her addictions took that marriage away. The addictions sprang from horrific childhood sexual abuse and shaming. Where she came from required a long, arduous climb up.
But despite all that she began to treat the rooming house as a community. She took time to look out for other people even when she had so little herself. She was savvy and street smart and could spot a game player yards away and was always alert to tell me when someone shady was looking for a room with us. She cared about her home and it wasn't long before Cheryl became the caretaker.
After a couple years she tried a university prep program. She hadn't been in a classroom for decades but she wanted something more and better for her life and she took the risk. But Cheryl came from a history of abuse and trauma. Her childhood continued to haunt her and all that accumulated pain made it impossible for her to finish the program. But she was determined to go back.
So she went back a second time. Still the old wounds and trauma stood up against her. She left the program again. She worried about that but I told her what a marvelous thing it was for her to try it again. I talked to her about the example of courage she was showing all the people around her. The third time she went she finished the program.
Nowadays, Cheryl is in the Human Services program as a full-time student. She's been clean from her addiction for over four years. She got As on her first few tests and when she's come up against tougher material shes bore down and gotten through. She found a tutor and joined a study group. She set up a whiteboard so she can map out every assignment and project that she needs to do. It's hard work but shes there everyday fighting for her life. When she graduates, as we're certain she will, it will be a testament to a colossal and enduing spirit.
So we don't have to look far for heroes in life. They're as close as the person beside us on the bus or the in the grocery line. Everywhere there are heroic people fighting to reclaim their lives - and doing it. Cheryl is one of my heroes. Look around you. They're everywhere.