Every morning, minutes before sunrise, an orchestra of birds holds forth outside my bedroom window. Today, their melodic blend of pitches and tones, welcome me to an early sunrise on this late Spring day. Amidst the tweeting and chirping of the birds, I contemplate the peace and serenity surrounding me.
As I do, a stream of gratitude fills my heart. I think about the past year. How nine months ago, this moment would have been lost to me. That consumed by the happening in my life, I had no time for birds and sunrises. Could find no peace. There was no serenity. Only darkness, turmoil, and fear.
During the months that followed, behind a mask of daily living and the screen of social media, I struggled in darkness. Posting pieces about the importance of sharing stories and removing masks. Encouraging people to ask, “Hey Are You Doing Alright?” All-the-while, I, mask firmly in place, withheld my story. Sharing it with only a few people close to me.
I think about how, as the school year comes to an end, I am not ready to share my full story. But I am willing to share that during the ensuing months, I confronted my demons. Facing my fears, I accepted my vulnerabilities and addressed my self-doubts. I took off my own mask and reached out for help. I also gained insight from other women, who like me were living their lives in the shadows.
And I prayed. With all my heart I prayed for intercession. For the strength and courage to move on with my life. For compassion to understand and forgive those for whom I could not.
In the silence that came with the sun shining through my bedroom window, and the birds gone to get their early worms and seeds, I ask myself, “How do we measure a year?” I think about how for me, as a teacher, most years are September through June. But this one, began last July 17 in the early morning hours. My life changed then. When a vision, in the form of a dream, came to me. Its message through God’s handiwork — doors will be opened, the support provided and the freedom from pain, for which you have so long yearned, will come. I was told to believe, trust…go forward in faith.
Going forward in faith, I walked through darkness, trusting that a way would become clear for me. And, it did. The doorway opened and I made my exit.
Looking back, I now see that after years and years of praying for a sign, with none forthcoming, I felt forsaken, hopeless, defeated…alone. Did not understand that sometimes God works and speaks through others. Now, I understand the meaning of Footprints in the Sand.
This morning, lying here in bed, listening to the birds, feeling the morning sun, and reflecting on the past year–I know that I am here because of the strength of God, and the help of his spiritual guides on Earth. The gratitude now streaming from me goes to the Samaritans who nurtured me, when I was lost and needed to heal. The innkeepers who provided shelter when I had none. The wise people who sustained me with gifts of time, care and love.
I am eternally grateful for the friends, family, and colleagues who stood by me, prayed for me and worried about me. You carried me when I could barely stand. You were beacons of hope during my darkest nights.
The events of the past year, have helped me understand that on the trail of our lives, it is the people we encounter who give meaning to the journey. There are no accidents. They are there for a reason. Some of them, as Saint Teresa said, come to us as blessings, and some as lessons. All are important. Ignoring their contributions is perilous.
This year there were many footprints beside mine in the sand. Some people accompanied me for significant portions of my journey. And, there were times, when I was carried. To them, a special heartfelt thanks:
- Tania Gonsalves, my principal and dear friend of over 20 years, for standing by me, reassuring me and keeping me on track. You were my first point of contact and the epicenter of all that followed. Thank-you.
- Chris Nihmey, for his diligent presence and undying affirmation that I was never alone. You helped me understand my story. Your contributions to me and others are far greater than what will ever be returned. Thank-you.
- My must-stay-unnamed personal friends who stood with me at ground zero. Some I have known since our days at Immaculata High School. You provided me shelter in the storm. And serve as evidence that “Memories Ne’er Will Fade.” Thank-you.
- I was blessed to share the year with three incredible teacher candidates from the University of Ottawa — Isabella Visentin, Alessia Zaino and Adriana Pietrantonio. Amidst the turmoil of my personal life, I drew strength and hope for our profession from watching you co-teach, and seeing you bloom and grow. There was no sense of competition, only a quick, easy connection that honoured your unique talents. Thank-you.
- The OECTA CLC project was both a creative outlet and a vehicle to push my thinking on mental health issues. Thank-you OECTA and team members: Tanya Mirault, Julie Godard, Julie Nihmey and Chris Nihmey. Also, thank-you to our colleagues who took off their masks and shared stories for blog posts. As well, to Teresa Gross and Isabella Visentin for sharing their stories through guest posts. I learned so much from everyone associated with the project.
- My deepest and heartfelt gratitude goes to my Grade 5 students. I was blessed beyond measure to be your teacher. Every day you brought joy to our classroom, fellow students and me. Whatever stress and pain I felt outside school faded away during my time at school with you. You are God’s blessing to me. When we say goodbye on our final day of school, a piece of my heart will go with each of you.
When the buses are gone, hallways fall silent, and I shut the lights and close the door to my classroom on the final day, it will be a bittersweet time for me. As the hardest year of my life comes to a close, I leave school knowing that thanks to God’s grace and a support network second to none, I head into the summer with a renewed sense of hope, an eagerness to renew the focus of my life, and a palpable excitement about the school year awaiting me.
How to measure a year? Not in seconds, minutes, hours, days or months, but in blessings and lessons, and in peace, serenity, and love. By that measure, this past year has been my best ever. Thank you.