Every once in awhile I cry. It doesn’t happen often but last week was different; last week I found myself crying almost every night while I lay in bed. I was thinking a lot about two close family members that passed away very suddenly a couple of years ago. I am not sure exactly what made me think of them…maybe it was the cyclist whizzing by in his racing suit on the street…maybe it was one of the photos around my house that happened to capture my gaze…or maybe it was someone’s familiar smile on the streetcar. Whatever it was, both my brother-in-law, Kevin and my Uncle Ed were on my mind.
Kevin was one of those guy’s that everybody loved. He was tall, handsome, athletic, kind…but most of all he was funny. He had a dry sense of humour – a quick wit that often caught me off-guard and took me several moments to catch…then when I finally got his joke, I would really laugh. He was also a genuinely good person. You always knew exactly where you stood with him and he never pretended to be someone he wasn`t. He was well-loved by everyone he knew. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and passed away within 6 months at the much too early age of 43.
Kevin’s memorial service was standing room only. It was a testament to his life – a life well-lived and a man well-loved. Kevin had made the world a better place in the short time he was on this planet. If you could write the story of your life, it would likely include wanting to make a difference in people’s lives, wanting to inspire others, wanting to be remembered as a person with honesty and integrity and wanting to love and be loved. These were all things my brother-in-law Kevin did before his life ended much too abruptly. I thought about Kevin a lot last week. And so I cried…
Just over a year after Kevin passed away, I answered the phone at work to be notified that my Uncle Ed had suddenly been killed. Uncle Ed was the glue that held our extended family together and his death rocked our family to the very core. His house was often our meeting place; many years ago, we had a family reunion over the December holidays at his place and there were so many people he had to clean out his garage and buy heaters so we could all eat together.
There are so many great memories I have of Uncle Ed – of going for sushi with him, going Steelhead fishing along the banks of the Thompson River in British Columbia, and playing card games with 14 people at one time at his dining room table. Uncle Ed had the kind of laugh that was totally infectious; it started low in his tummy and was so entertaining that soon enough, no matter if they’d even heard the joke, everyone around was laughing too. Our family is still reeling from the loss of a wonderful, loving, kind and funny uncle. This week I was thinking about Uncle Ed and how much I miss him. And so I cried…
In my line of work in the area of Indigenous issues and Aboriginal law, my colleagues and I often cry. It is a rare week when I don’t well up at least once with tears in my eyes at the pain and suffering of many Indigenous people and communities. I don’t cry out of pity. I don’t cry out of sympathy. I cry because the injustice in this world hurts my heart. I cry because there are children who don’t feel valued enough to want to live. I cry because I see the pain in the Elders’ faces as they talk about the dehumanizing abuses they suffered at residential schools. I cry because Indigenous women and girls are lost and never found. And so I cry…
I think one of my great strengths is that I feel deeply. People I know well and work with know this about me. I feel many things in the work I do. I feel guilty. I feel sad. I feel angry. I feel frustrated. I feel shocked. I feel surprised. I feel overwhelmed. I feel happy. Most of all though I feel inspired… I feel inspired by the amazing Indigenous people I meet, by my colleagues who are living within colonization while fighting against it, and by others who are making their voices heard and ensuring their strength, pride and resilience shine through. (For a great dose of inspiration, check out this inspiring music video from the youth in Grassy Narrows!).
The most important thing that I’ve learned is that after I cry, I need to be able to wipe away my tears, dust myself off and keep on going. I keep on working to heal my body from the personal losses I’ve suffered. I keep on working to strengthen relationships with Indigenous people. I keep on working to educate non-Indigenous people – my people – about the legacy of colonization and the on-going violence facing Indigenous communities.
It’s absolutely right to feel deeply and, when emotions well up inside, it’s absolutely right to cry. And once those tears dry up, it’s important to be able to turn all of those emotions into what Todd Henry calls “productive passion:” the kind of passion that fuels my soul, that propels me to think creatively about how to affect significant change in this world, and that motivates me to call on others to help me in this life’s work so that people do not continue to die on our watch.
So by all means, let those tears flow, but afterwards use those tears to fuel your life’s work – to fuel your productive passion. As Mahatma Ghandi (and the youth of Grassy Narrows) said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.“
P.S. If you didn’t watch the music video, watch it now and if you like it buy it on ITunes for $0.99!