Sometimes the inspiration we need is right in our own neighbourhood.
And when I think of those who have inspired me, I only have to blink and their faces and stories come to my heart.
China was hit by a drunk driver as a child. Paralyzed on one side with slow speech and movement, one would label her handicapped. I met China at a women’s conference in Victoria and our friendship grew into one of the most fascinating and rewarding journeys of my life.
She did not finish high school but despite her limitations, she cared for her mother during her long and terminal fight with cancer. Her money was never her own and her body was often violated — she had limited means of fighting back. She could have thought of herself solely as a victim.
A remarkable artist, China expressed her true self in the vivid colours on fabric she painstakingly created. Her apartment was like a walk through a vibrant forest of colour, shape, texture and design. She also harboured a dream, and that dream was to attend the bachelor of fine arts program at Concordia University in Montreal.
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How, you might wonder, does a girl with sparse education, limited movement and a complete dependency on her cane and scooter get into a prestigious fine arts school? We talked about this. Her talent was evident so it was up to her to put a portfolio together and apply. She drove herself hard to produce an amazing application.
A little help from friends, myself included, was needed to provide a case for her to be admitted despite her lack of education. I did not think about her failing and neither did she. She started packing months in advance. By June we were eating takeout, sitting on those packed boxes, celebrating her acceptance into university. By July, she was sending me pictures from Montreal of her school, her home, her street and her dream come true. China is 38 years old.
Last year and for the first time, Anne won top prize at the fair for her written story. She was elated. Life took its tips and turns, but she quietly and humbly kept her dream of writing in play.
It was tough. Her computer didn’t work at times. Her hands shook. She moved. She suffered loss. But even during times of grief, Anne kept writing and categorizing her art.
Our friendship started the day she gave me daffodils from her garden and has blossomed ever since. She never wavered in her love for me and I never lost sight of her even during the busiest of times. She cheered me on to school and I cheered her on in her self-expression through the written word.
This year, Anne, who is from Ponoka, was presented not only with first place in non-fiction creative writing but she was awarded the Alberta Women’s Institutes Mrs. A. H. Rogers Creative Writing Award for her lovely submission ‘Spending Time with My Memories.’
A true inspiration for a fellow writer, she continues to inspire me with her grit and spirit. Anne is 88 years old.
Holly was a legend in the horse racing circuit. Small, lovely and talented, she knew her craft and understood her horses. And then one day — in what she describes as happening in slow motion — she fell. Holly was paralyzed.
This started the beginning of what could have been the end for Holly. Abused by her husband, she often feared for her life. But she never left her Alberta farm. She never stopped loving her boys. And she always held hope.
I have one of Holly’s originals — a small oil painting of a candle in the window. Candles were often put in windows during a storm so a weary traveller could find shelter. This is a symbol of hope and hospitality. I see Holly in that flame, for whatever her challenges she continues to bring light.
When her husband died, Holly had choices, and she chose to live and live fully. She continues to train stock dogs, paint, run the farm and play with her grandchildren. Her true story was later published in her bestselling book No Way to Run.
There are many inspirational people around us: It could be the child that defies all odds, the man who conquers his fear, the woman who lives a dream, or the neighbour who is always at hand.
It is not age, gender, economic status, stellar careers or even farm gates that define us. What defines us is what we bring to the world from deep within us.
It could be a story or art, an act of kindness or a long-term commitment. It might take curiosity, change or courage, faith or unfailing support.
But in all cases being an inspiration is choosing not to be a victim in our circumstance but to keep believing in ourselves and our dreams.