Today, I Just Want to Share Some Thoughts

It’s not my usual post. This sums up what I’m feeling these days.

12249713_10153827361778530_6810748367091844170_nI hope I’m not alone.

It’s been a week since the tragic, terrifying events in Paris. Just over a week since the devastation in Beirut. Days since the carnage in Nigeria, and hours since a bloody hostage-taking in Mali. And intermingled with our horror at these and countless other events, is a surge of fear, mistrust and hostility for Syrian refugees who are attempting to flee their own hell.

My mind is reeling at what I’m reading and hearing.

US politicians threatening to block Syrian refugees from entering their states.

GOP candidate for President of the United States Donald Trump talking about setting up a Muslim database, issuing special identification to Muslims, or even shutting down mosques altogether.

People signing petitions to keep Syrian refugees out of their cities.

And so much hate online, to the point where I can’t read any comments at all any more.

I was talking to a friend about this the other night, and we shared our thoughts on whether this hatred has been here all along, or if this is something new.

It’s not that that xenophobia, racism, intolerance and hatred haven’t been around since the dawn of time. The biggest difference for me is that not only is the horror and chaos happening before our eyes, but the vitriol is also immediate thanks to the Internet and social media.

As a result, we’re seeing fewer discussions based on an educated perspective, just heated arguments fueled by fear and ignorance. That scares me.

Please understand – I’m not a ‘bleeding heart liberal’ as someone called me with much scorn recently. I’m a practical person who believe in keeping our country and all countries safe and secure by doing everything we can to prevent groups like ISIS from infiltrating our borders.

But I also believe in compassion, in opening our hearts and our countries to people who have had their lives destroyed.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, and perhaps this opinion could result in some anger directed my way. That’s fine. I can handle that.

But let me leave you with a poem that I have shared a few times, and that continues to shake me to the core no matter how often I read it. I hope it opens some minds and hearts.

And if you’ve had the patience to read all the way to the end of this, thank you for reading

Home, by Warsan Shire
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well.
your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
no one would leave home unless home
chased you, fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.
it’s not something you ever thought about
doing, and so when you did –
you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet
to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that
you would not be going back.
you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.
who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey.
no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of
the boat because you are darker, be sold,
starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,
make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched, find prison everywhere
and if you survive
and you are greeted on the other side
go home blacks, refugees
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage –
look what they’ve done to their own countries,
what will they do to ours?
the dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who
look like your father, between
your legs, insults easier to swallow
than rubble, than your child’s body
in pieces – for now, forget about pride
your survival is more important.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home tells you to
leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.
no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now, i don’t know what
i’ve become.

A Special Day in November

Sometimes on certain days, events that touch us collide unexpectedly. Today, the 17th of November, is one of those bittersweet, triumphant days.

First, there is the reminder of someone no longer here.

My husband Dave would have been 71 today. That’s young by any standard, but he didn’t live long past his 66th birthday five years ago, when I tied a balloon around his IV pole in the hospital, and he was mortified about that.

His heart condition debilitated him a great deal, so on his birthday I always post a photo of him where he looked healthy and vital. He deserves that.

Photo by Cathy BrowneHappy Birthday dear. We miss you!

November 17th also affects me on another level.

It’s World Prematurity Day, which draws attention to the issues and challenges of premature births around the world. Prematurity is the world’s number one killer of young children – something that shocked me in this day and age.

But today I prefer to focus on the miracles, the triumphs, the joys that come after the early struggles, the sleepless nights in the NICU, the hoping and praying. There are kids who’ve defied the odds, who are living their lives despite limitations and challenges – or perhaps, because of them. There are kids who’ve grown up and are well into adulthood and even middle age.

There are kids like me.

Sixty one years ago, I was born very early, and weighed around two pounds. I was exposed to too much oxygen in the incubator, which thankfully saved my brain and lungs,                                                                                                                                 but destroyed the delicate eye tissues. But I survived, and thrived – due to a mother determined to keep me in ‘normal’ school, supportive teachers and family members, and a love of learning that spurred me on to become the first person in my family to graduate with a B.A.

I’ve had a long career in PR, I’ve become a familiar presence on social media, and I’ve found my passion in photography. Not bad at all, I’d say.

We’re a scrappy lot, we preemies. We’re survivors. And I am happy to celebrate all of you and your families today.

Photo by Cathy Browne

If you are the parent or grandparent of a preemie, or know of a special preemie who deserves to have their story told, head over to the World Prematurity Day Facebook page, where you can share stories and videos about your baby or a baby you love and learn from families around the world. The World Prematurity Day page also features a digital world map where the public can add their story to the interactive map.



Saying Yes

This is Day Nine of my 30-day #NaBloPoMo commitment to write a blog post every day in November, and I must say I’m a bit fried, but also pretty pleased with myself.

It’s definitely not an easy exercise, but I’ve managed to come up with a topic every day so far. And today, my thoughts are revolving around a little gift I received the other night from a good friend.

It’s a little metal disc that sits comfortablty in the palm of your hand, with the word “Yes” etched on it.CAB_8777

It’s a reminder to me to be positive, no matter what life throws at me.

It’s “YES” to celebrating victories, large and small.

It’s “YES” to reaching out to friends (and friends I haven’t even made yet) for conversation, connection and support.

It’s “YES” to continuing to set goals and succeeding beyond my expectations.

It’s “YES” to simple pleasures, like strolling Vancouver’s magnificant seawall.

It’s “YES” to more hugs, and more laughter.

It’s “YES” to pursuing what I love and sharing my world in photos.

It’s “YES’ to me.

Thank you, Marc Smith. You have a good and expansive heart!

Oh, by the way – there is a “NO” on the flip side. But I haven’t bothered to turn it over.


Surviving Winter

“November came roaring in with gusty winds and more wet weather. Mandy’s depression would not go away. Her garden seemed sad, too. It was virtually empty now, and the few brave flowers that remained there were flattened by rain, their yellows stalks sprawling in all directions. Most of the trees were bare, and the woods had a wet carpet of leaves.” – Julie Andrews, Mandy

“November always seemed to me the Norway of the year.”
– Emily Dickinson

It’s one of those oppressive, dreary November days in Vancouver when the rain is never-ending, and living in a basement suite means leaving the indoor lights on all day long. The cats are restless and cranky. And I’m trying to get up enough energy to put on some coffee.

The first few weeks of November that usher in that change from the blue skies and bracing air of October are always the hardest for me. I hate the heaviness, the grayness, and the sudden darkness at 5 pm that epitomize the phrase “night fall”. It sure does. With a thud.

I know I’m not alone, that the loss of sunlight and long dark nights is hard on many people. In fact, SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) affects as many as 35% of Canadians in varying degrees, from the winter blues to crippling depression. I was surprised to discover that as many as 80% of those people who experience SAD are women.

Here’s an informative clip fron the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) regarding SAD.

So, I need to work on how not to let November and the long winter to come get me down.

  • I need to keep busy. Luckily, this #NaBloPoMo exercise of a blog post a day for this month is already built in, and it is challenging me in a very positive way. And I also have many activities related to my advocacy work in the disabled community already scheduled for this month. It’s a good beginning.
  • I need to set a schedule. The last several months have been pretty unstructured, and while it did help me tremendously, I need to get more disciplined again. That means earlier to bed, and getting up at dawn, for a start.
  • I need to resurrect my job search. It’s no secret that I need paid work, badly. My months away have eaten into a concerted search, so I need to devote at least a few hours a day to that task.
  • I need to get out of the house every day, no matter how bad the weather is. My tendancy to hunker down in the winter months isn’t beneficial. I actually feel better being out in bad weather, rather than looking at it from the inside. So, it’s more walking for me.
  • I need to see more people. I’ve been spending too much time alone. I always blossom in the company of friends. I need to be more proactive and make plans with people I care about.
  • I need to pursue my interests more actively. I have tons of things I love to do. I need to hear more music, see more art, explore more of my city.
  • I need to take care of myself a bit more. A little self-care wouldn’t hurt, now would it? More bubble baths, and the odd bag of caramel popcorn!

So, that’s my short list. It’ll take some doing, and I won’t be perfect, but it’s a goal to aspire to.

What will you do to get through the winter? I’d love to hear from you!

The Me You May Not Know – Chapter Two

Day Three of my #NaBloPoMo journey…

Now, where was I?  Oh yes, I was just about to tell you how my life took a 360 degree turn after I was rejected for a teaching degree.

So, here’s what happened.

I got mad. Very mad. I had been through a lot in my life, and I had accomplished a great deal. I had already exceeded many people’s expectations. I was NOT going to let some official in a suit tell me that I was incapable of teaching ‘normal’ people.

So, I went to the university newspaper, and I made noise. And they wrote an article about my situation, calling me a ‘squeaky wheel’, which pleased me no end. And later, mid-way through the fall semester, the Education faculty reversed their decision, and accepted me. But I was long gone.

I had discovered the power of media relations. I left Montreal and moved to Toronto, and began what is almost a 40-year career in PR. It’s the best thing that ever happened to me.

I started in non-profits, most notably with The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and then, in the early 1980s, I started working in the emerging tech PR business – and it was my love and my passion for many years! And I couldn’t have started at a better time, as the world was evolving from electronic typewriters and press kits and news conferences, to computers, voice mail, faxes, email, and in the last decade, social media, tablets and smart devices.

Over the years, I’ve worked in Toronto, Ottawa, Silicon Valley and Vancouver. I’ve worked with the best PR practitioners in the business, for the best and most innovative companies in the world. I’ve been able to meet industry giants, world leaders, visionaries and the hard-working people who are the ones who bring ground-breaking products to life. My only regret is that social media came a few decades too late for me to share some of these memories with posts, tweets and selfies!

Thinking back, I can’t believe my good fortune. I saw and was part of the most incredible technology innovation we’ve ever seen, and embraced it all. As a result, I have both the traditional PR tools and the tech savvy that makes me the person I am today. I can’t help but think how much value I can offer a generation that takes so much of what we have today, but that’s the stuff of a later post!

Much has happened on the personal front, too. I got married to Dave Kane in 1981.

Photo by Cathy Browne

The Two of Us

And I was widowed in 2011, after watching Dave’s heart fail over the course of two decades following a near-fatal heart attack at 44.

We were bolstered by family and friends both online and off. Indeed, the love, friendship, encouragement and support of my social media community keeps me and my cats going to this day. I couldn’t have made it otherwise.

And then, unexpectedly, another door opened that changed my life yet again. I picked up a DSLR camera and found new meaning and passion, and the courage to keep going.

But how does a legally blind person take photos like these?

Photo by Cathy Browne

Rose after the Rain

Photo by Cathy Browne

Storm along the Seawall

Photo by Cathy Browne

Paris – Where Else?

That’s my post for tomorrow – stay tuned. It will be an #EyeOpener.