A Mission to Remember (Jan Vanderstelt, @Jan4Ward1)

A Mission to Remember (Jan Vanderstelt, @Jan4Ward1)

After loading my canoe with 400 simple pine crosses, I pushed off the ice from the north bank of the Grand River one cold February night. A full moon greeted me as I paddled furiously for the opposite bank. The island at D’Aubigny Creek was 40 metres away and I was on a mission to remember. I paddled with the emotional and physical weight of 400 simple pine crosses. It never occurred to me what was about to happen.

Driven by the memory of all those we had lost over the years, and the awareness of an eternal hope, I placed the crosses in four sweeping rows across the entire width of the island. One cross stood for each of the ten Canadians we had lost that year. Mothers, fathers, cousins, children, all as a result of suicide.

Two weeks later, the river had risen and swept 1/4 of the crosses away. A strong wind and driving snow had toppled scores more and the deer had worn two narrow paths through the rows. Life goes on. Memories fade. After restoring as many of the markers as I could, an unexpected fog rolled in from the south and an eerie feeling settled over the island. One after another, the living memory of my lost friends and family members hit in a wave of tears. Simply beautiful people. Talented, intelligent, selfless, and wonderful in their own unique ways. All worthy of care, hope, and love.

More crosses went missing and the remaining ones began to fade from their healthy yellow, to a blend of brown and grey. The natural growth overtook the meadow in the spring and uprooted many more memories. No matter how long I searched, only a few dozen remained. Finally, by the fall, I could not find a single cross.

It is stunning to imagine the magnitude of the loss we suffer every day, all year long. So many half lived lives, without hope, and so much pain. I wanted them to be remembered. The entire experience of honoring their memories while losing the little wooden crosses led me back to my favorite word. Hope. Hope inspired me to start writing a book.

Hope is a human condition. Get used to it. It’s available in every color of skin and in every language. It is timeless, ageless, and cannot be bottled. Although many have tried, it has never been controlled or killed. Hope never dies. It can disguise itself and arrives at a time when all else fails. Hope breaks all the rules, pushes all the barriers aside and shines like a beacon during your darkest times. Hope accepts your warts and stupidity. It understands stubbornness and patiently waits. Hope will never judge you but will fill you with comfort if you promise to trust her. She will protect you from the day’s worst moments and carefully holds your heart in her hands until you realize that you are not alone. She will whisper strength to your muscles and breath to your lungs when you can no longer hold on.

Hope knows the machines of your own making and the bars of your own prison but pays no attention to them. She is the heartbeat of a premature baby and the eyes of a drowning victim, she is always there. You may recognize her in the voice praying on the plane, or the last hand on the rope. She lives in the posture of women covered with bruises and in the sweaty hands of children hiding in the closet. She will stay with you until you let her go. These are not the words of an idle spectator in the stands of a Hope concert. I can write with enough authority to grab the mike. She stayed with me during all of the abductions, rapes, and beatings of my early childhood. Everyone abandoned me. But she was there. She is with me now as she was then, just to my left, constant. I will never let her go.

Invite her in. Call for her as the car crashes into you. Ask her to stay as your teenage daughter has her stomach pumped, she will keep you wrapped, love-safe, in arms of care. Listen to her voice. She’s in the van as you transfer to minimum security and step into another cold room. Just one more round of chemotherapy and then it won’t hurt so much. Just one more step. One more push. The tracks on your arm spell out the word H. O. P. E. This time the graft will take. The shaking will stop. Ask her to stay. She will never let you go.

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