Saturday, May 7, 2016

Courage to Change Awards Gala, 2016

I met Barbara 17 years ago at the Alano Club at 7th and Granville.  I can still remember her incredible smile.  We’ve been friends ever since.  I’ve been blessed to walk along with her through her university years and share the gifts of recovery with her.  I’ve always loved her laughter.  It’s infectious.  A kind of inclusive, ‘we cheated death’ kind of laughter.  Everyday is then a gift.
Dancing with her is divine.  I complain that most Canadian women can’t dance with men and at dances seem to have forgotten their poles.  Barbara’s  a very graceful ball room dancer.  As a former teacher and student of the world champion I’m just so thankful to meet another who knows the language.  Ballroom dancers meet like speakers of a rich old language delighting in the opportunity to dialogue. .  Years later  going out for dim sun in China town  I  learned from Barbara that she  had once been a stripper and a pole dancer.
"It’s hard to believe I used to work there as a stripper,” she'd dropped as we walked past a still seedy hotel.  At a 12 step meeting in her honour I heard more of the dark side that makes her light so bright today.
Maybe only those who have known the absence of elegance can most truly reflect it and appreciate it.
There’s a lot Barbara doesn’t talk about unless she feels you need to know or if you are fortunate enough to be trusted.
I was once as private until the corrupt used my silence for naught. Perhaps that’s why I so appreciate that former UBC professor, Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverly Mclachlin is such an advocate for transparency. I was glad to see Barbara come forward to accept the Courage to Come Back Award.  In doing so she shared some of her story,  which combined with her studies, contribute to make her the  healer she is today.
I saw her guitar when I dropped by her apartment one day.  “Do you play?”
Sure enough she did.  Beautifully. She sang too.   Very accomplished. I was serenaded with a country classic, maybe Loretta Lynn. The song will ever be Barbara for me though.
Another night, I was so honoured to be invited to a university meeting with aboriginal leaders and social work faculty. One of those better times at the university when everyone rises above the politics, ego and money to actually reach for the pieces of Hesse's  Glass Bead Game.  I thoroughly loved Barbara’s mentors and profs.  I remember discussing sailing as a metaphor for life and society with a native professor who sailed as well. He told me how moved he was seeing Killer whales in bays where he anchored and knew his ancestors had camped generations before.
Barbara started her private practice in my offices. It’s a difficult transition time for young counsellors when they first begin,  gathering clients word of mouth, before they can even pay the rent.  I rarely use my office in the evening and some afternoons but the issue is trust. I’m particularly concerned about my files and my patients confidentiality.  There’s also sentimental mementos of my family and  travels which if lost or stolen insurance companies could not replace in kind.  Barb appreciated all this and in really little time had a full roster,  needed more space and time. Now her own practice continues to grow and flourish so she actually needs two offices.
During the Residential School Reconciliation we shared clients, doing countless assessments together. Dozens of chiefs, leaders, medicine men and women, and just the common everyday folk came through my doors to tell their stories. We put these oral tales of pain, betrayal and abuse down on paper, ‘documenting’. With Barb’s help then these individuals could take their place in the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions and receive their compensation awards  Apparently we helped bring a million or so back  to those who had lost so much more.
It was a great day when Barbara finally got her doctorate.  Dr. Barbara Harris.  Nice ring.  Hard work. Long hours. Determination. I am honoured that Barbara counts me as her friend.
Now her story is told in the Province newspaper and countless articles. It’s a story worth hearing.
It was really a privilege then to be asked to be apart in her Courage to Come Back Award.
For 18 years Coast Mental Health has held the Courage to Come Back Awards Gala.  This was the largest ever with 1600 people gathered in the Vancouver Convention Centre.  The 6 recipients were all in their own way like my dear friend Barbara, people of the light who had fought their way out to the light.  With courage,  faith and endurance they fought on.  Today they are the torch bearers.  The awards ceremony  celebrates their courage and overcoming adversity.
Dr. Barbara Harris’ award was in the category of Mental Health.
Tom Teranishi was in the category of  Medical. Christy Campbell was in Physical Rehabilitation.  Jamal Damtawe was in Addiction. Colton Liu was in the Youth Category.  Meredith Graham’s was for Social Adversity.  Each story is as special and moving in it’s own way as Barbara’s is.
Kevin Evans and Randene Neill were cohosts and really did make the evening flow.  The RCMP E Division Honour Guard’s presence was so appreciated.. I loved as well  the uplifting bag pipe music that heralded the arrival and seating of our beloved Lieutenant Governor of BC, the Honourable Judith Guichon.
So many distinguished guests were there this night.  Nearly a million and a half dollars were pledged.  The Segal Family generously gave $50,000. Minister of Health Terry Lake on behalf of the Christy Clark and the Government gave $100,000.  A table of students pledged a hundred dollars each.  While other philanthropist families famous in BC pledged hundreds to thousands more.  Looking at the spectacular view of the north shore mountains it was so inspired to see these individuals, families, corporations, and government giving to the work of Vancouver Mental Health.  The room radiated hope and fatih.
Each recipients story was shown with filmed vignettes  done so impressively by media geniuses with true empathy for their subjects.
When the presentations were done and the applause of 1600 people died down I couldn’t help but think, seeing those six on stage, that this is the real Oscars. This was truth. The other was fiction.
Lorne Segal, OBC, Chair of Courage to Come Back, ended the evening with a tribute to all those who had faith and courage and overcame adversity. He brought their message and example home to all of us individually.  His words truly captured the reason so many of us cried to see these life Olympians come forward to take these  awards and yet speak with such humility.  Their impossible journeys had been told so succinctly but Lorne Segal reminded us how arduous those journeys were.  His graceful words celebrated their stories.  He called the six “heroes’ and reminded us there were always  heroes among us.   As their stories had uplifted us, his words also left us all richer.
The applause that followed went on for a long time.
I hugged Barb one more time, said thanks and farewell to the other most enjoyable dinner companions I’d met that night.. The Vancouver Convention Centre dinner and service had been exceptional.  The view of the north shore mountains was hard to leave.  Looking out that amazing wall to wall window I felt like I was on a Starship. A  fitting location for a night that made the very best future possible no matter what adversity might come one’s way.
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