One year ago today, I drove up from Ottawa to Victoriaville through a nasty snowstorm. I remember people thought I had chosen to stay home because of the weather, but no, I had completely ignored the weather and made the arduous trek through the blinding expanse of white. I remember the first place I stopped when I entered town was the very library I happen to be in right now (when I started writing this, at about 3:30 PM). I guess I just saw the pretty sign outside and said “Hey, this looks like a good place to stop”. Eventually, after driving around town for a while, I ended up at a payphone outside a Tim Horton’s, calling the people I was supposed to stay with because I had somehow misplaced their address (either that, or I didn’t have a map). Eventually, through the curtains of snow, I found the place, and I met Maurice and Marcelle, two really great people and really kind souls. Jolly people, too, who have a strong sense of family and love a good laugh. I stayed at their place on rue Rouleau for about a month after I moved to Victoriaville for good on April 8th.
The first week I was here, I had brought very little. Basically, it was a suitcase full of clothes, a suit, and a bag full of resumés, newspapers, and the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh. Oh, and a journal. The week or so I was here in March was action-packed. I was roaming here and there around town, walking into people’s businesses and asking if they needed to hire anybody. I literally was. My dad told me he did this a few times when he was younger, too. I think it worked, too. Unfortunately, not in my case. It took me a while to find work. All the while, I was attending Bahá’í activities, including the Naw-ruz party on the 23rd — two days after I arrived — and a few other things. On the 27th, I met Sylvie Gendron (my current landlady) at a presentation where they were screening a movie about the civil war in Guatemala. Sylvie is very active in social-justice causes, ecological and environmental causes, supports fair trade and organic farming, and many other such causes. It’s quite inspiring to see someone who believes in something so strongly and makes a point to act on it. That’s how heroes are made, you know. Acting to better the world.
And on the 28th of March, I drove off in my dad’s old Mazda to Montréal, to attend the Bahá’í Youth Conference about the book Century of Light (which is a great book). That was a nice drive. I left around noon and was somehow convinced that it was absolutely essential for me to be there at 2 PM, which was when registration started. But then, I decided to get lost in the countryside, thinking I could find a shortcut. Then I started to smell strange fumes from under my hood and I realized that I had no coolant left, so I put a whole bunch of coolant in without mixing it with water. Then the smell started to get more and more wack, and basically, I ended up driving halfway to Drummondville praying that the car wouldn’t suddenly die or burst into flames on the highway, or that I wouldn’t choke to death. Things went okay up till I got to Montreal, where I missed my exit. Instead of taking the exit onto the 20, I went through the tunnel and then somehow ended up on rue Sherbrooke. I thought, okay, this road takes me from one end of the island to the other, why not? Sure, but I had to wait for the stop lights. I got impatient and turned off into Westmount trying to find another shortcut. The speed limit in Westmount is around 30. (’nuff said.) By some miracle, I found my way back to a highway and continued my journey to Pierrefonds (quite a detour eh?). When I reached the Louis-Bourgeois Bahá’í Center I was practically on my knees singing Hallelujah. I ran up to the first person I recognized and hugged him. And of course, the rest of the conference was phat too.
The thing I remember the most about starting my year of service was how utterly unprepared I was. It was as if the gravity of my choice to move to Victoriaville completely escaped me. I didn’t change my driver’s license (until the grace period expired, in june), I didn’t change my health card (until I got sick, in july), I never found a serious job until the end of august… and it wasn’t just being physically unprepared, it was being spiritually unprepared as well. I knew I would go through some extremely trying times, but again, the gravity of it all never hit me. I was never fully conscious of what exactly would happen. Maybe that was a good thing, though — maybe if I’d known, I wouldn’t have wanted to go through with it.
Gah. The tests. First, there was the adjustment to living away from family, in a different town, province, and culture. Then, there was not being sure how much longer I would have a roof over my head. I was shuffling from house to house at one point until I finally moved into Jacinthe’s basement. Next, there were all the cards and papers that I had to change. Then there was my dwindling savings and wondering whether I would be able to afford to live. I had a website contract, and I was picking cucumbers for a while, but man… cucumbers? For a living? Anyway. I cycled through three jobs in quick succession until I finally decided to get serious and look for a real job through a job search club. That was a really big test. It had to do with self-esteem and self-confidence issues. I basically had to put on my cleats, metaphorically, and eventually it paid off with a job — thank God — which I’m just about to finish. And then… there were the cars. THIS WAS THE WORST. First to go was the Mazda, after I tried to get it plated with Québec license plates and it got a big fat F for all the major structural failure it had. So then I brought my sister’s car down and started to drive that. Then just before the new year, I had an accident and totaled it. Gaaaaaahhh. That was perhaps the biggest test of them all, combining shock, loss, remorse at busting up someone else’s car, remorse at busting up such a nice car, and lots of other mental trauma that just isn’t real nice to go through. Anyway, you know what I mean. Eventually I got over it, though I do still have adrenaline flashbacks. Anyway, then I started driving around in a courtesy car (thanks to the cushy insurance), which was okay. Eventually I had to return it though, and borrowed THE K-CAR. The K-Car was doing fine until I took it to Montreal, at which point the seal on the engine popped off and I started to run on no oil. At which point, well, I stopped running. That gave me a nice big seven-hour day that I had to make up for the rest of my contract, along with the other seven-hour day I burned picking up my insurance check in Sherbrooke. So anyway, bang went the K-Car, upon which I just started taking Taxibus to work — and that was until I got so fed up that I just went over to Toyota and leased a vehicle, the nifty green Toyota Echo that’s sitting in the driveway right now, and which everybody loves. Count the cars, friends! One, two, three, four, five! Five cars, in less than five months! Ha ha ha ha ha!
There were times when the only thing that kept me sane was prayer, and this blog of course. In the first month or so after I came here I was so lonely. Victoriaville is wilderness compared to Ottawa. Plus, all the people I knew, almost every support network I had (besides the Bahá’ís) was suddenly swept away just like that. Sometimes it seemed like I had nothing but prayers.
In order to understand this better, you should know that I was always a very shy kid who didn’t relate well with others. Perhaps part of this was because my family life wasn’t always very happy when I was young. We had our difficulties, like many families do, and I think it was probably worse than most people get. So I always had a lot of things on my mind and kept my feelings deep inside me. I had few people to open up to and few people to trust. So when I came to this wilderness where I had nothing to hang on to, it forced me to either open up to the others around me, or die. That was very difficult for me. In many ways, it still is difficult for me to open up like that, and I suffer because of that difficulty. Many times over the past year, I’ve felt crushed by these tests and difficulties and that has led me to act less than I otherwise could. I’ve gone into action, sure — but in familiar ways. I’ve served on Bahá’í committees. I’ve offered study circles. I’ve offered people rides back from meetings. Great! That’s better than nothing. But God knows I could do more. I could host prayer meetings. I love prayers, and besides, I’ve held prayer meetings before — what’s stopping me? I could teach children’s classes. I love kids — what’s stopping me? I could invite people to my place for tea. I could teach them about the Bahá’í Faith. I could offer people a hand with shoveling the walk. I could bring my favourite dish to a potluck. Sometimes I see that people are feeling something that’s hurting them. I could ask them if they want to talk about it. I could listen and help them deal with the tough feelings we all have sometimes. I’ve been through lots of those feelings. Sometimes I wonder when they’ll pass, but I know they always do. They always pass. I could share my hope with people who are despairing. I could share my strength with people who are weak. I could share my experience with people who might not even know what’s coming around the corner. I could start a volunteer organization or a sharing circle or something. I could feed the cat. I could feed someone else’s cat. I could invite my friends to events that are important to me. I could let them into my life. I could participate in their lives, too. I could share my life with other people. I could share my time with them without expecting there to be some grandiose purpose behind it — just to be there, you know? Just to listen to whatever they have to say, no matter what it is, and to ask them to explain it if I don’t understand what in the world they’re talking about, instead of clamming up and sort of sitting by the sidelines wondering what I could say. I could laugh. I could show how interested I am in their lives. I could buy them a cup of coffee. I could encourage someone to go for what they want. I could encourage someone to believe in themselves. I could help guide people to the light of truth. I could share the water of life with them. I could help them transform their whole lives. I could change a whole town, and uplift a whole continent.
And nobody can tell me I can’t, either, because I just happened to have slipped a few things in there that I already have done in the past. So there, I can do it. And I can do it again. I guess my style is getting a bit too melodramatic, maybe I should simmer down 😉 I don’t know. I’m just pissed off at myself. I know this is going to make my family email me (or call me) and tell me not to be too hard on myself, but I’ve got a right to be pissed off at myself because in order to effect change, first you have to want to change. And I’m scared of change. I don’t want to be, but that’s the way it is. And maybe if I get pissed off enough from not changing… I’ll change 😉 Of course it entails prayer and knowledge and effort and will. Okay, okay, so just let me be pissed off for a while, I like it 😀
But I bring this back to the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh — in the Long Obligatory Prayer (one of three prayers Bahá’ís choose from to recite daily), we read:
O Lord of all being and Possessor of all things visible and invisible! Thou dost perceive my tears and the sighs I utter, and hearest my groaning, and the lamentation of my heart. My trespasses have kept me back from drawing nigh unto Thee, and my sins have held me far from the court of Thy holiness. Thy love, O my Lord, hath enriched me, and separation from Thee hath destroyed me, and remoteness from Thee hath consumed me.
When I look back at my life and see how far I’ve come, I have to admit, I’ve made progress. But it’s clear as day that I could have made so much more. What stopped me from reaching out and taking my portion of the ocean of God’s grace? Who is it that kept me back? Who held me far from His court? It’s me. I did it, because I was afraid to go that far. I was afraid because I was trying to do things I had never done before, and I didn’t believe I could do it, and I panicked. And what lamentation now that I look back and see how far I could have gone! What groaning, and tears, and sighs! If only I had believed in myself and in all the assurances of victory and confirmation! I might be a thousand times richer, a thousand leagues closer to God than I am today! Who knows. Maybe I might have saved someone’s life!
Perhaps I am being a bit hard on myself. But perhaps I need it. It’s better than making nothing out of my life and yet pretending that I’m all nice and righteous.
One day at a time. It’s just that some days you have to face the music. Bring thyself to account, before thou art summoned to a reckoning.