The Meaning of
THE LAST WEEK before the start of a new year. It’s a time when people often reflect on their lives and make resolutions for the 12 months ahead. But as we look around at how differently other people have used and are using their lives – for an extreme example, Vladimir Putin versus Terry Fox – we sometimes wonder how best to use our own lives and what lessons we’ve learned as we travel this mysterious journey.
We start a new tradition this year by asking selected Comox Valley people to share their acquired knowledge. We begin today with the collective wisdom and belly smarts of five notable Comox Valleyites.
Nicole Minions is a Mayor, a Millennial and working through her own challenges
As a 39-year-old woman, I find reflecting and writing about the “Meaning of Life” is more about what advice I would offer to someone in their 20s.
Or what I may have told myself leaving high school.
I am the youngest Mayor in Comox Valley and the fourth female Mayor, a part-time single parent and a local small business owner. Recently diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), I have had my share of challenges and personal growth while learning how being neuro-diverse has shaped my life up to today.
While I have a wealth of experience and a unique journey, I recognize that I am a Millennial and now coming to mid-life. The majority of the growth and understanding with respect to the meaning of my own life has occurred in the past five to 10 years. I’m looking forward to seeing how I would answer this question in a decade from now.
I have come to accept and understand how perfectly imperfect our lives can be.
I have noticed “parallels” more frequently in the past few years. As we work through our own personal challenges, I accept and see that you can be happy and sad, hopeful and worried, experience joy and grief or any two opposing feelings at the same time.
In my own life, I have experienced great personal success while living with and working through mental health challenges. When someone asks how I am feeling, I am drawn or called to respond to those in my circle and community with an honest and open answer. Sharing more openly my own life experiences with ADHD, divorce and body image, for example, has been a way for me to both heal and normalize our sometimes shared human experiences.
Everything does not have to be “OK” in every aspect of my life for me to feel grateful or content and live with passion and excitement. Paradoxically, we can be okay at the same time that we are dealing with what could be stress, sadness or whatever life throws our way. In hard times, we can actively look for silver linings.
The best part of life is being a student. Opening our eyes to the lessons that mistakes teach us if we are paying attention. I am enjoying being a lifelong learner and a student of my own life, and knowing that I can have a paradoxical experience or have emotions across a broad spectrum has truly made my life more grounded.
My advice: Be aware of where you will likely regret NOT taking action. Learn to have confidence that if you make a mistake or fail, no matter what happens you have the strength to be “OK”.
The advice I would give to someone in their 20’s would be to take calculated risks, be curious, learn your passions, be very gracious to yourself and others and take care of yourself first, as that is the only way to take care of others.
And, enjoy the ride. You may be your toughest critic, but you do not have to be.
Leslie Baird has served as a mayor and councillor for the past 32 years in the Village of Cumberland
Over my 32 years on Cumberland Council, I will say it has been very rewarding for me to see Cumberland develop into the community it has become. I am reminded of the first impact I felt, not everyone would be happy with the decisions that I or Council made.
As a woman on Council, I had to work harder than the men. It was called the Old Boy’s Network that was alive and well in the Comox Valley. It was in every community, not just here.
Looking back, each Council I sat on had major issues to deal with that would have a profound effect on the residents. One was to keep our water and sewer system going or join the Regional District system. I believe we always made the right choice.
For me it was talking to people and understanding why they objected to various decisions made, sometimes we would agree to disagree but it was important for me to let people know I heard them. I had one individual who disagreed with comments I made and every time he saw me walking he would cross the street. I told him I would not be moving out of town and he would see me all the time, so let’s go for coffee.
Family played a huge role in my participation on the Council. I did miss a couple of family functions over the years, especially with the changes in Cumberland. The last five years on Council it became a full-time position with weekends taken up with events.
I enjoyed every event, getting to meet people for the first time, visitors and residents an amazing experience.
Over the years I worked with some very remarkable Councillors, those that worked hard and put in many hours. Some decided that it was not what they wanted to do for various reasons.
I believe I was very fortunate to represent the people of Cumberland over the years and I know I changed also.
I did and continue to look into my family history. My husband’s history is easy. He always knew his family’s history when they moved to Cumberland in 1885. My mother’s side of the family moved to Cumberland to build the first Mine tipple. My father and I am still searching for information as he was from the Shuswap First Nation Band.
What I learned on Council carried on to my private life: never give up, keep looking, get all the information you can before you make your decisions. Work with everyone, it brings you joy and energy!
And never forget to laugh, sometimes at yourself.
We are all blessed to live in this amazing place and at this time in history.
Bob Cain is a long-time Hornby Island resident and professional photographer
I moved to Hornby in 1972 with a brand-new baby. I left behind a house in North Vancouver, a managerial job in professional photography, and a part of the ever-growing advertising sector in Vancouver.
I did take part in the burgeoning street photography and hung out in Kitsilano, but I was just a little too old. Those photographers that dominated in Vancouver were mostly baby boomers. I was what they call a war baby and, although the difference in age wasn’t great, the difference in elevation was big enough that I couldn’t forsake my position.
But I wasn’t alone. Almost everyone I worked with (all freelance artists] eventually moved to Hornby as well.
Photography is more than a profession to me. Although my training and background include familiarity and execution of the fundamentals of the craft such as architecture, advertising, product and studio photography, my main interest and direction have been documentary and fine art.
In the summer I sell matted and framed landscape photographs from my studio and various other venues. On Hornby, I began shooting passport photos, weddings, group photos and, most importantly, photos of fine art.
I built a 20×30 foot studio where I could do all these things. I also made a connection with the editor of the local Courtenay paper (The Green Sheet, George Le Masurier) and began supplying photos.
Every late fall I would hold a photo show in the studio. I mounted copies of the various shots I’d done around the island on the walls. The show would go on for three days. The first night, a Friday, we would be entertained by local performers: poetry, music, etc. People could wander around with an order form and pencil and order favourite photos. I would then spend a few days and nights in the darkroom completing their orders.
As a side to my professional career on Hornby Island, I have been recording the faces, activities and lives of my fellow islanders. This seemingly lifetime project has enabled me to document historically the changes a small island has gone through in the space of almost 50 years. I have done a number of Photographic shows on this subject and pictures have been published in various venues over the years.
I suppose the ultimate goal for this project is a book; if only I could pick a cutoff date.
I grew up in a working-class neighbourhood. The family had some friends but they were in different parts of the city of Vancouver. Despite it being a suburb, Marpole was like a small town anywhere.
I didn’t realize what a community was until I got to Hornby. There, in the early ’70s, you knew everybody. We would have an annual feast at the community hall where everybody was invited and everybody came with their additions to the community dinner.
You knew your neighbours. You knew what vehicle they drove and what their troubles were. You knew when to offer help when needed.
I learned a whole new life on the island. I learned how to run machinery, how to build houses, and build anything for that matter. With a wife of 50 years (Kathi) and a successful son (Fraser Cain) I have nothing to lament and much to be thankful for.
Although the island is changing a lot these days – more people, more money – it is still a unique entity and I’ll never regret moving here.
Rachel Blaney is the MP for North Island-Powell River
I wanted to speak about kindness today in this “lessons learned in life” segment.
Throughout my personal life as wife, mother, step-mother, and grandmother and throughout my jobs as Executive Director of the Immigrant Welcome Centre and as Member of Parliament for North Island – Powell River, I have come to appreciate kindness as a life philosophy and as one of the most important things I’ve learned that I would want to pass onto the younger generation.
It is so important to remember that we all must be kind to the people around us every day and to hold our loved ones close. I am constantly thinking about this.
I know that we live in a society that doesn’t always value compassion and giving. Our country is dealing with a new reality that’s stressful. I hear stories about the struggles people face every day through the calls and emails we receive at my office.
There is also tremendous kindness, resourcefulness, and courage with people standing up to these struggles and taking them on.
Coming from rural communities and having lived in this region for over 20 years, I always love seeing the effect of people who grew up here and how effortlessly neighbors and strangers alike help one another and find kindness and joy to share even during difficult times. Whether this comes from helping with a major natural disaster or just needing some extra milk, I have seen kindheartedness and empathy displayed firsthand.
Those with love and joy to share contribute to our communities so much. This includes volunteers, workers, and our neighbors, family, and friends. I am often overwhelmed by the kindness here and the efforts to love and care for everyone equally certainly shine.
I will continue to advocate for our communities, which exemplify diversity, responsible resource management, and hard work and I will continue to work hard for them and for myself by focusing on the strength of the riding and the work that has been done through collaborative efforts.
Thank you to every person who chooses kindness even when it is hard. You inspire me to do the same. My heart is full of gratitude and respect for you all.
To conclude, if I were to share what knowledge I have gleaned from life and what wisdom I’d like to pass on to others, I would share to be kind.
Sheila McDonnell is a former SD71 school trustee and board chair
I’m not sure how I may have become a person with lessons to share. Although I have been known to say that all would be solved if people would just do what I say.
Most of the values I hold and the ways I live my life derive from early influences.
Born in 1954, a late boomer, I carry lessons from parents formed by the depression and world war. Other influences came from the great transition in society, the freeing impetus of women’s lib, the summer of love, Woodstock, the civil rights movement, marching against the Vietnam War, protesting pollution, James Bay flooding, gay pride. The shift from being a girl, wearing white gloves and ankle socks to being told we could do anything (the glass ceiling, sadly, is still far too entrenched).
All of these threads run through my life over the years. I didn’t look for the government, business or academic jobs I might have found, but I have no regrets in how the strands have woven together.
Act as if your life matters, that what you do makes a difference. In my youth, I had the usual existential angst and questions about the meaning of life. But one day, sitting on a sandstone cliff on Thormanby Island, I decided to take a leap of faith. I don’t think there is a God who put me here for some reason, but I can decide to act as if there is.
Nowadays, many young people say it is hopeless to try and stop climate catastrophe. But I KNOW that it is worth trying. We did stop the Vietnam War, although wars continue. We did end aerosol destruction of the ozone layer, although that risk is now largely forgotten. We did win abortion rights, although that is being rolled back. The leap of faith is to believe that we can make a difference, and build joy and beauty together.
Embrace eccentricity. Find your kindred spirits rather than seek to fit whatever the mainstream is marketing. I think it’s the duty of parents to be silly and spontaneous sometimes, to help our children get over being self-conscious.
Kindness matters, a lot. I haven’t always practiced this as well as I could and I thank people who helped me do better. What a difference it makes when you wonder what came before for the person who is hurtful or difficult to be with. Offering ways to trust and relate rather than laying blame changes the dynamic one teachable/learning moment at a time.
Build community and seek group solutions. I’ve been involved in non-profits, co-operatives and community development for over 50 years. It’s not enough for me to buy a generator for my house if everyone next door is freezing, or buy a bigger car when others are walking. If I have a problem, maybe others do too. I can put what skills, money and time I am fortunate to have into projects that build common solutions that lift us all up.
Go for the adventure. What’s the worst that can happen? If something really doesn’t work, you can always leave. I have had wonderful experiences from taking a chance. I did Masters’s Degree fieldwork in a remote Inuvialuit community. I was totally unprepared for the poverty, alcohol and trauma. It took several years to process the culture shock and what I learned.
A few years later, I went north again, this time with something useful to offer, as manager of Ikahuk Coop in Sachs Harbour on Banks Island. I experienced racism and the pain of people damaged by colonialism and residential schools. I stayed for five years. I might have had other adventures but I cannot regret the ones that have come from the paths I chose. And it helped me encourage my children in their choices to step off the well-worn paths to find their own adventures.
Happiness is found in doing something for, and with, someone else. That adventure led to Hornby Island Coop and other ways of building community, people working together, environment, growing food, all the strands coming together again. Sixteen years later, we added a Comox Valley residence so our kids did not have to commute to school. I found more community with LUSH Valley, the Sustainability Report, the Lake Trail Community School, Musicfest and more. How could I not want to be part of these amazing endeavours?
Be the person who will be missed. I’ve had the privilege of working with some truly amazing people who are mentors and role models. I want to be someone people are glad to see, not the one they wish would miss the meeting. I want to be the Wayne Bradley, the Randy Wiwchar, the Bunny Shannon who were kind and caring and led without grandstanding. Moira Armour, for whom we cried and danced under her glitter ball at her celebration of life.
Somehow, I find myself with everything I need. I find myself being happy making pies to give away. I do what I can and I dance in the streets, even when I am the only one hearing the music.
I want to be someone who adds “More Cowbell” to whatever we do.