Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Spirit of Community

This article first appeared in this newspaper.

The entire world has held the community of Humboldt, Saskatchewan in its heart for the last nine days since the tragedy that took 16 lives too soon.

Support has come through one of the highest Go Fund Me fundraisers in history (over $11 million to date and still accepting donations).

#JerseyDay and, #SticksOut for Humboldt uniting Canadians from as far as Iraq – our soldiers lining hockey sticks outside their barracks there and from the world - millions of prayers.

But what this tiny Saskatchewan community of Humboldt has unknowingly given the world is the intangible and priceless gift of community spirit.

In a world where the gap is getting wider: politically, economically, environmentally – and in big cities where we no longer know our neighbours, community spirit is the very thread that binds our hearts together.
A thread that is thin, weak and frayed.

In Canada, hockey is as much a part of our culture as maple syrup and the red-coat wearing Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Many a parent remembers years of driving their child to six am hockey practice, then shivering under a blanket on the cold bleachers sipping coffee from a paper-cup dispensed from the machine in the hall.

Rural families remember home-made back-yard hockey rinks using a garden hose on the first freezing morning of winter. It became an annual ritual.

And for the observers like me, it meant growing up watching Hockey Night in Canada on Channel Three every Saturday night to see what flashy suit Don Cherry would be wearing this week.

The spirit of hockey runs deep in our communities both big and small.
It is a source of pride for this Great Northern country.

The tragedy of last Friday cuts deep and we can't imagine what the families have lost. It is unthinkable.
So many unanswered questions, so many what-ifs, so many broken hearts.

I began to look at young people differently that day.
Maybe Friday was the first time I began to really see young people.

In the grocery store I searched their eyes for hope, dreams. I smiled and sent a silent cheer and wish that screamed, Go for It!
It being life.
It being dreams.
You have your whole life ahead of you.
Or maybe you don't.
Because tragic, horrible accidents happen.
Too soon.
Too young.
To the best ones.

The Tuesday before the accident I went door-to-door with my Sparks troop of bouncing five-year-old girls fundraising by selling Girl Guide cookies.
After an hour and 19 door knocks we sold seven boxes of cookies at $5 each. Not bad for an hour's work.
One man bought four boxes, ‘You’re a miracle!’ one glassy-eyed Spark shouted while taking the $20 bill from his hand.
When we reconvened with our other troop leaders, there were many full cases left.
One group sold none.
Others sold very few.
The Sparks began telling each other about their cookie selling experience.
‘People slammed the doors on us.’
‘They looked at us out the window but wouldn’t open the door and we had cookies!’
‘If they don’t have money we should still give them cookies anyway.’
‘We met a Miracle Man!’

It's not a bad thing.
Rejection is a good lesson to learn young.
But still, a heaviness hung in the air.

We stowed the extra cases at our church hall.

Saturday an email from a Mom, ‘Any more cookies? We sold out so fast.’

Yes. Lots.
I delivered a case to her and brought the rest home.

My five-year-old did not want to go door-to-door again.
‘It’s embarrassing!’ she shouted.

Too bad, I’m cookie treasurer this year and we need to make some dough for Girl Guides.

Together, with my three-year-old, we began knocking on doors.

My daughter stopped at the gate of that house.
You know the house that’s always dark and unkempt? (Untrue) rumours say the old man who lives there gives kids IOUs when they rake his lawn or shovel his snow. And never backs them up.

‘Let’s go to the next house,’ I said.
‘Why not this one?’
Rejection’s a good lesson to learn young.

We knocked on the dark door.
He answered at once.
$5? he said.
He disappeared and returned with $4 in coins.
‘I owe you $1.’

It was soon evident that this week was different than the last.
At every house people opened their doors. And hearts.
They bought cookies.
But they did so much more.
One by one they got down on their knee and asked my girls questions then listened to their sweet mumbles with genuine interest.

I could be wrong, but I felt as each grown-up looked in their eyes, they were searching for dreams, for hope and, perhaps and especially – silently cheering them on. 

A car stopped in the street, the woman at the wheel rolled down her window and shouted,
‘I'll buy some cookies!’

One neighbour came running down the street with a reusable shopping bag shouting,
‘I'll take them all!’

I opened the case but there was only one box left. We had been selling cookies for 10 minutes.

The next day a beautifully embossed old-fashioned envelope was waiting in our mailbox.
On the outside, written in calligraphy, just our address, 3018.
A note inside on beautifully crafted card-stock paper:
To the Girl Guides at 3018, Keep Going! And with it a crisp five-dollar bill from the kind and generous man in that house.

The community spirit had returned to my community in a large city where most of us don’t know our own neighbours anymore.

I don't believe it's a coincidence.

I believe the young people on that bus brought the spirit of community back to our faceless communities.
Their lives are too high a price to pay for this priceless gift.

God Bless the Humboldt Broncos and everyone who was in that tragic accident, their families and their loved ones. 

And God bless all the young souls of our world.
They are the innocent, the hopeful and the dreamers who hold our communities together with their eternal spirit.

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