I was challenged this week to look at the current year from the lens of courage.
My father died in September from complications that escalated after he broke his back. His cry for help went unheeded as he went from hospital to hospital and because of his age was dismissed. After five days he had a diagnosis and by then the time to successfully intervene had passed.
Because of Covid restrictions, only my sister, for whom I am grateful, was granted access to care for him in his final days, hours and moments. We could not say goodbye and even mother only had an opportunity twice to visit.
I reflect daily on his journey and honor the courage it must have taken to face the fear of dying, let alone dying without his wife and entire family by his side. I am deeply hurt by the knowing that he was turned away from an overburdened health system, that when help came it was too late and that we could not in person say what we carried on our hearts. It grieves me to confront the fact that Dad and many others who gave their lives to their families and their communities died alone or without their entire family present during this past year.
I think of all of our seniors and those with limited physical and mental opportunity who live in isolation and of the courage it must take to face each day. I care about them and other vulnerable persons who find navigating this new reality so profoundly difficult and lonely, just as mother now lives without the joy of her community dropping by to visit her.
This is my story, but so many stories have been shared with me. The call from the young family who for the first time experienced violence within their walls and it shocked and scared both the victims and the aggressor. They needed tools and support to learn how to cope with the stress of job loss and suddenly all living in the same tiny space. Across the miles, the young husband in Asia who has been confined in another country, one with military rule, while working since March, and has yet to leave his hotel or to get home to his wife and children. I have taken calls from Cuba, as families are desperate after the Trump administration shut out oil and gas. The farmers cannot plant or harvest and food costs have increased by four times. Our own small Canadian business owners look at their depleting margins while big retail, particularly in food, is reaping record profits and tapping into government support. I think of the families that cannot bury those who have passed and the children waiting to be held by distant relatives. And sadly, the calls keep coming from small rural communities across the world, which report an increase in suicide, depression and addiction.
I feel a great compassion for my global family and I too have a strong desire to see my children and grandchildren. Days are long, lonely and the constant concern for my family’s health makes for sleepless nights and anxious moments. But while my greatest enemy may be boredom, the challenges for others are deeply life changing.
Perhaps now more than ever we must strengthen our skills of listening with intent and acting without hesitation, and turn what could be described as a narcissistic lens back around to the needs of others. Taking the view that this is not about our-selves, but about our opportunity to help others, clears our mind and the path to action.
For myself, this has been a different project each evening in which I reach out to someone who needs support, send another what is needed to see them through, zoom with friends who are losing their business, virtually hold the hand of a weeping mother who is drowning in despair, gather gifts for the homeless or simply pray that my children are spared heartache and loss. I recognize that to give I must take responsibility for my self-care and be of mind and spirit to be of value.
Leadership in this time is truly listening with intent – the intent of walking beside those we see in our homes and in our communities and in our global sphere of influence – that are not coping. No solutions need be offered or even words of wisdom. Instead, it is the time to practise the acceptance of all people in all places and in their space. It is the grandest exercise in the implementation of being inspiring, authentic, empathetic and respectful, practising that “deep caring” that world leaders shared with me as a defining quality.
As you read this, you may not have seen yourself as a leader, but leadership is in my definition ‘one act of courage and compassion at a time’. This I am certain you have done and I thank you for your contribution to others. For it is our everyday actions, of compassion, care and courage that strengthens us and those whose lives we influence.