2013: Magic Moments From Around The World


2013 was not a good year for me. After a reasonable enough start, I lost my job in May, at around the same time one of my best friends passed away. Throughout the summer I fought an uphill battle with depression as life dealt me one blow after another. Fortunately, though, I am a natural optimist. I go through life with the attitude that no matter how bad things are, they will always get better, and there is always something for me to be thankful for. I have my husband and children, a roof over my head, clean running water and autism services for my son. That alone puts me way ahead of many people in the world.

Among all of the loss and heartbreak, there have been some shining moments this year. I had a very enjoyable and much-needed break in Niagara Falls with my family, I ran a half-marathon personal best for my autism run, and after years of procrastination I wrote a book in thirty days.

I posted a message on Facebook asking people to share their best moments from 2013, and I got some great responses. There was a lot of joy going around this year.

My friend Patti, for instance, has been dreaming of going to Europe for a long, long time. This year, she finally got to go.

Margie, who never fails to inspire me with how spectacularly she has turned her life around over the last few years, got married to the love of her life.

In January, Debbie from South Africa became a Grandma! She has also been rethinking her attitude to life by surrounding herself with inspirational people, things and activities.

One of my favourite responses came from liver transplant recipient Bill. He says, “I am alive. Every day above ground is a good day. Everything else is just icing on the cake.”

Noella sent one of my other favourite responses. She lost her beloved husband to cancer – a scary and sad time for her – and yet she is focused on how her needs have been met to the extent that she can help others. Here is what she says: “I am amazed at the outpouring of love and help from my local and internet community. I thought this season would be extremely difficult, but I have felt Bill with me almost every day these last several days, and he says to me, “It’s okay, I’m okay, and you’re going to be okay; it is the way it’s supposed to be.” There was even a moment when I was taking a shower when I remembered him walking in on me and joining me. Made me giggle as he seemed so close like he was doing it again. Gives me great comfort.”

Then there is fellow Canadian Jacquie, an online friend who I had the absolute pleasure of meeting this year. Jacquie is a special needs mom like me. Her younger son is adopted. Jacquie’s highlight was going to an adoption conference and learning that she is not “a bad and crazy mother”. I could have told her that for free, but you know… Adoption is not easy – as an adoptee I can testify to how challenging it was for my mom as I was growing up – and it gave Jacquie great comfort to know that she is not alone.

Kane used to live in Michigan, where there is lots of snow. This year, he moved to Texas, where there is – well – not a lot of snow. His reason for moving? To be with the love of his life. He says, “This is the most awesome I have ever been.”

Tawnya, another fellow Canuck who has been a great source of friendship and support this year, didn’t have a great year. Her husband contracted a very serious lung infection – so serious that doctors told her to call family members. She received overwhelming support from family and friends during a very scary time, and her husband survived.

Finally, my crazy New Zealander friend Karyn (whose initiation as a runner I totally take credit for) shares another story of survival. Her father-in-law had Stage Four bowel cancer. Anyone who knows anything about cancer will know that this is not good. But he got the all-clear, proving that sometimes, miracles do happen.

I am truly grateful to the people mentioned in this post for sharing their stories, and for giving us a slice of happiness to take with us into 2014. I wish the best of years to every single person reading this. If you have your own gem from the last year to share, please do so in the comments!

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle, with input from some pretty awesome people. Photo credit: jenny downing. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.


The Queen Of The Stage

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

I sit in the darkened theatre, holding my breath with anticipation. I have been waiting for this night for weeks. My husband, who has seen this performance before, has promised me that it will be the theatrical experience of a lifetime. We are not in one of the big-name theatres in London or New York. We are not even in Toronto’s theatre district thirty minutes’ drive from where we live. We are at the Herongate Barn Theatre in the Pickering countryside, and right here, in this gem of comedy and culture, I am going to see a performance like none other. The audience’s collective heartbeat pauses, the curtain is raised… and I am instantly transported into another world.

The performance of Shirley Valentine that I saw that night defied imagination. When Margaret St. John-Francies took the stage in the role of a middle-aged housewife disgruntled with life, I did not feel as if I was sitting in a chair in a theatre. I felt as if I was sitting at Shirley Valentine’s kitchen table while she cooked chips and eggs and wondered aloud what had happened to her life.

It was so real that I wanted to cry. My heart twisted for this woman who felt trapped in an unsatisfying life, and I almost got up to give her a hug before reminding myself that this was just a play.

When the action of the play shifted from the Liverpool kitchen to a beach on a Greek island, I went right along to Greece as well. I could feel the sun on my back and the sand between my toes as the unhappy housewife was transformed into a fulfilled woman with romance in her life and hope for the future.

I wanted to stay on that beach, gossiping about the lover, asking Shirley what she was going to do next. I wanted to tell her not to return to her old life,because she so clearly deserved more. I wanted to be her friend, her confidante.

Instead, the play ended, and I went to the bar with my husband. A few minutes later, Margaret walked in – no longer in her role as Shirley Valentine, but as herself – and that was a different kind of magic.

Margaret graced many theatrical productions with her immense talent, usually alongside her husband Paul. The pair of them were perfectly matched not only on the stage, but in life. We shared many laughs with them in the bar after the shows we saw them perform in.

Margaret could fill a room with her presence. She was larger than life but down to earth. She touched everyone she met with her own special brand of magic.

On April 22nd, surrounded by the love of her family, Margaret passed away. To realize the impact of her death, you only had to look at the number of people at her memorial, which was held at the theatre. People were parking in the driveway because all of the spaces were taken, and extra chairs had to be brought into the room.

The Queen of the Stage has taken her final bow, but the memory of Shirley Valentine will forever remain.

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”     ~ Dr. Seuss ~

(All pictures are reproduced with the kind permission of Paul Francies)


Remembering the Captain

Captain Snuggles would have been one year old today. His mom, Amy, should be wiping birthday cake off a sticky face and cursing about how difficult it can be to get new toys out of packaging these days. Instead, she is going to the cemetery to visit a tiny grave.

Amy, if you’re reading this, my thoughts are with you today. I am sending you love and hugs, and wishing for a day of peace for you.


Remembering the Captain

Captain Snuggles would have been one year old today. His mom, Amy, should be wiping birthday cake off a sticky face and cursing about how difficult it can be to get new toys out of packaging these days. Instead, she is going to the cemetery to visit a tiny grave.

Amy, if you’re reading this, my thoughts are with you today. I am sending you love and hugs, and wishing for a day of peace for you.


Reflecting on 9/11

Nine years ago, I was working as a consultant for a small company that developed software applications and websites for businesses.  A lot of my time was spent either at client sites around the Greater Toronto Area or traveling to various locations within North America.  My home base was the office serving the eastern half of North America, located in the west end of Toronto.  My workspace was near the windows facing east towards the city centre.  We had a nice view of the Toronto skyline with its distinctive CN Tower, then the tallest free-standing structure in the world.

I happened to be in the office on September 11, 2001.  I was walking from the kitchen to my desk, armed with a cup of fresh coffee, when one of my coworkers handed me a printout from the CNN website.  It showed a picture of the World Trade Centre’s North Tower, with smoke billowing from the top half.  My immediate reaction was that this must be one of those elaborate Internet hoaxes involving Photoshop.  When I realized that this was actually a legitimate photograph, I thought the same thing everyone else did: that a freakish and tragic accident had occurred.

As I scrutinized the printout, I heard a shout coming from the direction of the conference room: someone had been able to get the temperamental TV to work, and we all spilled into the room just in time to see live footage of the plane hitting the South Tower.  An hour later, we were still sitting in the conference room.  We were incapable of speech; someone muted the sound on the TV because the frantic commentary of chaos was violating the silence that we all needed.  I don’t think anyone moved for about ten minutes.  Eventually, someone at the back of the room whispered, “Oh, my God.”  That utterance was a catalyst for everyone to rush to their phones to call family members, pausing on the way past the window to see if the CN Tower was still there.

There was no question of any work getting done that day.  We all spent the day on the phone, contacting loved ones South of the border to find out who was alive and who wasn’t.  My parents called from South Africa, unashamedly relieved to hear my voice.  Toronto is not that far from New York, especially to people watching the chaos unfold from the other side of the world.  After talking to my parents, I went crazy contacting people on Instant Messenger and by phone.  By late afternoon, there were two people in New York who I had not been able to reach.  I went to bed that night not knowing whether they were alive or dead.  I didn’t sleep.  I suspect that most people didn’t that night.

The husband of one of my missing friends emailed me early the following morning.  As soon as the South Tower had been hit, she and all of her coworkers had been evacuated from their office a block away to some hall somewhere.  Phone signals were jammed: for several hours, my friend’s husband did not know whether or not she had been buried in the rubble of collapsing towers.

I never connected with my other missing friend, Jason, who had an office in the North Tower.  At lunchtime on September 12th, I spoke to a mutual friend, Mark, who had commuted to work with Jason the previous morning.  Jason had dropped his dog off at the vet on his way to work, so he was late.  The two friends had gotten off the subway at the same stop, and then they had gone into a Starbucks for their morning coffee.  With coffee in hand, Jason had gone into the North Tower, waving goodbye to Mark, who had to go a few blocks further.  The time was about 8:35 a.m.  Eleven minutes later, the North Tower was hit.  Jason could have left the building in those ten minutes, I said to Mark.  Not likely, was Mark’s reply.  Jason had said something about a 9:00 meeting for which he had not prepared.  He would have been sipping his coffee and working on reports at his desk, which was right in the flight path of American Airlines Flight 11.  I said to Mark, “I hope Jason got to finish his coffee.” People say the oddest things in times of stress.

Now, nine years later, I reflect on that day along with the rest of the world.  I think of Jason and hope he died instantly, with no pain or stress.  I look at my two children, neither of whom was alive on 9/11, and I pray that the world will be a habitable place for them when they are adults.  I watch coverage of bigotry and extremism on TV and wonder what’s wrong with people.  I look at the world around me and wonder if we have really learned anything.

Something that’s a bit odd is that right at this moment, for the first time since learning of Jason’s fate, I am wondering what became of his dog, the one he dropped off at the vet on that terrible morning.