By: Christine Smith (McFarlane)
On November 26, 2013, I had the pleasure of going to the "Letters Lived: Radical reflections, revolutionary paths" Launch party at the Centre for Social Innovation at 720 Bathurst Street in Toronto, Ontario.
I went in part to support the editor of this collection Sheila Sampath, because she has always been very supportive of me and what I do. I wanted to show the same to her. Sheila is also the Editorial Director for Shameless Magazine, where I am also an editor for the column Beyond the Books.
At first, when I went I wasn't sure how I would feel about being there. I had the assumption that I would be out of my element because my career as a freelance writer has always been First Nations oriented. But the assumption I went in with, very quickly disappeared. There were other Shameless Magazine staff there and the speakers for this event in particular just blew me away.
The speakers included teens, and young adults, who read letters to themselves. In these letters, they reflected on the incredible journeys they have taken since their teens and what they wish they could have known back then. Often those who were reading their letters showed a wisdom way beyond their years-( teens reading from their perspective futures) and that was just amazing.
The wisdom and insight I heard inspired me greatly. I left the event with a sense of optimism and hope that I definitely needed to hear and witness. It also had me seriously reflecting on what I wish I had known when I was a teenager myself and I wrote my own letter which I will include later in this post.
"Letters Lived: Radical reflections, revolutionary paths" is a new collection that is edited by Sheila Sampath and features a foreword by Grace Lee Boggs, and includes chapters from Victoria B. Robinson, Shea Howell, Juliet Jacques, Selma James, Elisha Lim, Rozena Maart, Lee Maracle, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Nina Power, Coco Guzman, Cristy C. Road, Rae Spoon and Kit Wilson-Yang.
It is a book that in the words of Grace Lee Boggs " is an effort to reach across one of the most destructive divides in our culture: the isolation of one generation from another. It is a reminder of how much we have to learn from lives committed to advancing our humanity."
And its a book that gives a voice of inspiration and hope. This book is published by Three O' Clock Press. It is 131 pages and sells for $14.95.
Below is the letter that I wrote to myself after reading Letters Lived!.
Letters Lived: A Letter to Myself
Dear Christine, or is it Chris or Chrissy?
I don’t know what you go by these days. I know if I were to say “Christina,” you would get mad and turn all silent before sternly saying “I hate being called that, don’t ever call me that!”
I can see it now, your eyes would squint behind your coke bottle glasses (aren’t you glad glasses are so much nicer these days?) and your mouth would turn upside down into a huge frown. I would have to apologize profusely and swear, “I won’t do it again,” before you looked me square in the eye again.
In all seriousness though Christine, the first word I would want to say to you is WOW! Then I would reach over and clap you on the back because damn it girl! You reached 40 this year. Did you ever think that would happen? Did you ever think that you would graduate with an Honours Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto or that in your final year you would get all A’s (you nerd!) and win the President’s Award for the Outstanding Native Student of the Year for 2010-2011.
What about writing for as many places as you are and being able to keep your head on straight? You’re doing a lot and I want to tell you “I’m so proud of you. You’re kicking ass!” So much for those naysayers who always put you down and said “you’ll never amount to much!”
Your childhood was really rough Christine. You were a part of Canadian history that was called the Sixties Scoop. This was where First Nations children were taken from their birth families and communities and adopted into a non-native families. The children were effectively cut off from their cultures, traditions and languages, and it took you years to get it back. You were also adopted into a family that did almost everything to try and destroy you. But you fought back, even though it meant they gave you up and you lost any sense of family when you were a mere child.
Remember when you were ten years old, and you were told “You’re going to boarding school?” and you got all excited because your imagination ran wild and you thought it was some place exotic? You told your classmates and they seemed happy for you. You later found out, it wasn’t a boarding school you were going to, but a school for troubled kids. Shortly after getting there, your adoptive parents gave you up, and cut you off from the last link to your real family for the next seven years-your sister.
I remember, Christine. You tried so hard to be brave and tried to nonchalantly tell your grade six teacher’s assistant that “I don’t care that my parents don’t want me,” when really you were aching so much inside that you would cry yourself to sleep at night and wonder “why, don’t my parents want me, what is wrong with me?”
You ran away so many times Christine, yet you always survived those times. Every time the police brought you back to your place, the person taking you back, though they were angry, would give you a hug. You just wanted to tell them “please just love me, because I don’t dare love myself. I'm afraid.”
You drove some people away because you were so needy. You didn’t recognize this until years later after a few years of being in therapy. But you did recognize that if it wasn’t for those teachers, social workers, and later on nurses who took the time to try and understand you, you wouldn’t be here today. They took the time to sit with you, listen to you and showed you someone cared, when there was no one else around for you. They gave you the loving and caring human contact that you needed in order to tell yourself that you needed to survive.
Christine, I always admired that you loved to read and write. Your head was always buried in a book, and if you weren’t reading you were writing. Others would tease you mercilessly for that, but I would tell you “don’t give that up, because your thirst for knowledge and other experiences is what will get you through your toughest times.”
I admired that you saw nothing in picking up a book, getting lost in a characters life, analyzing it and saying, “hey, I can identify with that!” It didn’t matter if the book was fact or fiction, you saw something in everything, and would try to relay it to your life and see if you could apply it to your life in one way or another. You did and do the same thing with music. You listen to the lyrics in a song, and apply them to your life too.
I loved it and still do when you listen to ABBA and their song “I Have A Dream.” The song speaks of how you have a song to sing, and when you’re ready, you’ll cross the street because you have a dream.
Your dream in life was to overcome the trauma in your childhood, and work your hardest to overcome the mental health issues that continue to plague you-depression, anxiety etc. You became a role model for CAMH and mental health when you won the Transforming Lives Award from Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in 2012. Your motto, as you stood in front of 900 people accepting your award was
“Obstacles can be overcome.”
Christine, you are always working towards overcoming obstacles that pop up in your life, and I must say, “Keep at it!”
Years ago, you only wanted to get better for somebody else, and never for yourself. Struggles ensued with your therapists or the groups that you went to. But that all changed when your niece was born, and you struggled through her first few years. At first you said, “ I’ll get better for her.”
But slowly you realized in your recovery that in order to be the best that you could be, you had to be better for you too. Your recovery has meant encompassing a strength and courage that encompasses everything you touch in life. You learned to stand up for what you believed in, and went after it. You have an important message to give people, so keep it up.
If you get discouraged and feel like giving up, remind yourself of the many people who are in your life that love you and support you. Remember your sister, and your nieces, and the generations behind that can benefit from someone with your story, and who has turned things around for the better. You are a survivor, and your people need to become survivors too, and not let anything destroy them no matter what happens.
There’s so much more I could say, but then this letter might turn into a book. So, lastly, remember this- you’re 40 years old, and though you are a late starter in life in many ways, you are a trailblazer in your own right. Continue to read and write what drives the passion in your life- knowing your truth and letting others know it is okay for them to have a voice too.
P.S. save this letter, don’t destroy it and don’t be ashamed that you wrote it. After all, its all good, it’s all good!