When I was in Grade Four I played a music box in my school’s Christmas play. I wore a decorated cardboard box that hung from my shoulders and black tights that I was always tugging on. I don’t recollect everything about the plot, but I do remember the song I had to sing and how it summed up the moral of the story: “Christmas is for giving, it’s not for getting things…”. I recall being nervous until I stepped onto the masking tape x on the stage, looked out at the audience, and opened my mouth to sing. I fell in love with performing as a result of that elementary school experience. At the time I thought I had discovered what I would do with my life: theatre.
Life is funny. I didn’t end up on the stage, though for many years I wholeheartedly pursued it. That was, until I found myself sitting on the pavement beside a man who was living in the entrance of the Royal Bank Tower parking lot in downtown Toronto. That person, along with so many others I met outside at night, changed the trajectory of my life. At the time it wasn’t clear what a life spent working with people who know poverty would look like. I just knew in my gut that it was right.
Twenty-ish years later I find myself reminiscing about those early days of connecting with the street. I was so young. Here I was, a girl who grew up in fairly affluent North Toronto, suddenly hanging out with people teaching me how to make a house out of a cardboard box, telling me stories about all they’d lost, and inviting me into their lives. They even asked me to sing before I left to go home. I’m certain there were many people who questioned my sudden change in vocation. I had many difficult conversations about my choice to give up what I had, until that time, always been working for.
Now I find myself the Executive Director and Pastor of The Dale. I only bring up those titles because they are truly not what I ever aspired to and yet now hold. I guess when I was invited into this role I felt much like I did as the music box: a little uncomfortable, tugging at my clothing and only strangely confident once I stepped onto the proverbial masking tape x on the floor and looked out at the community. I’m grateful that people took, and continue to take, a chance on me.
If you had asked me what I’d be doing as an adult when I was in Grade Four, I would not have imagined this. Though as I think about it, maybe there was a part of me that knew. As the music box I was asked to sing about finding joy and discovering what you wanted to give and receive from your heart. When I met that friend in the parking lot I witnessed a great deal of pain, but more than that I saw joy rooted in a life deeply felt and lived. I was taught about what it means to give out of whatever it is you have and be willing to receive out of whatever people have to give. That first solo was a life lesson in more ways than one. I am so glad for its lasting impact.