A Sweet Childhood Memory – The Littlest Angel

It’s less than a week before Christmas. I’m not a huge fan of the day (after all, I’ve spent more time in synagogues the past 15 years than anywhere else!), but I do have a childhood ritual that I have re-visited often over the years. And it all has to do with a grumpy little angel.

The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell.

The Littlest Angel

When I was growing up in Montreal in the 1960s, part of what made Christmas so special for me and my two younger sisters was lying in bed on Christmas Eve night and listening to the legendary Paul Reid broadcast The Littlest Angel on CJAD Radio. It was 20 minutes of magic that endures today for me, despite the fact that it’s obviously decades old and a bit dated.

Why does this story of a little angel who’s finding it hard to fit in stick with me? I’m not what you’d call religious, so it’s not that.

It reminds me of happy times. We didn’t have much, my mother was raising the three of us alone, but she always made sure Christmas happened for us.

And Paul Reid’s voice, a voice silenced too young, was unforgettable – gentle, comforting and with a hit of humour.

It’s a treasure. Give it a listen. I’m going to.



Busy Brain – From Nostalgia to Pet Peeve

It’s funny how the brain works. I started the day feeling nostalgic, and ended up a wee bit peeved.

It started with an exchange I had with a friend on Facebook about A Charlie Brown Christmas turning 50, which then had me going down memory lane about all the major events that are forever etched on my mind as a kid growing up in the 60s.

The assasinations of John and Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luthor King. The civil rights movement. The Vietnam War protests. The (first!) Trudeaumania. The first moon walk.

For me, all of them are in black and white – because in the 60s, our TV set was small, boxy and certainly not colour.

It’s memories like this that are burned in my brain…

As I look over at my big flatscreen TV, it seems hard to believe. So many things have changed in my lifetime. So many things we take for granted were unheard of when I was growing up.

There were no fax machines, no voicemail, no PCs, no email, no Windows, no Macs, no cell phones, no iPads – and no digital cameras.

There was no Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook, no Snapchat, no Pinterest.

Wow. When you actually list everything, it’s amazing, and daunting. Ancient history to so many people who’ve simply grown up with everything I’ve been lucky enough to adopt as they happened!

Our society has gained so much. I know for myself that technology has helped me navigate the world in ways that I could never dream of as a kid. My photography is a testament to that. And I absolutely love my gadgets. I can’t picture my life without them.

But there are downsides to everything, even amid such incredible progress. One pet peeve in particular has been gnawing at me lately, and that’s where my mind took me next.

I fear we’re losing our awareness of the world and people around us. I see downcast eyes glued to phones and ears stuffed with earplugs of every variety. What I’m not seeing is as much direct interaction between people, and because of that, I fear we are at risk of losing compassion and empathy for others. I see it on our transit system all the time. I just hate it when I see elderly, pregnant, and disabled passengers standing because people refuse to look up and offer their seat.

And you know what? This distraction can also be dangerous. Aside from the real and constant danger of texting and driving, people on foot are also in danger of hurting themselves and others. I’ve almost run into several people on the street or even worse – on a flight of stairs! – who stop dead because they’re texting on their phones.

I’m not alone. I’ve had a few conversations about this lately.

Believe me, I can get preoccupied with my iPhone too – but I’m making a very concerted effort to limit my use when I’m with others, and I never use it when I’m walking. I wish other people would do the same.

OK, rant over. I have no idea where this busy brain will take me next…

TEDxVancouver Memories – Mohamed Fahmy

I’ve been a fan of TEDxVancouver for several years now. I also photographed the event for fun a few years ago. This year, I offered to join the small group of volunteer photographers for two reasons. First, I always welcome the opportunity to showcase my photos. But I also wanted to hear Mohamed Fahmy speak. I’ve been drawn to this brave, passionate and articulate man and his struggles over the past few years.

Mr. Fahmy, you may recall, is the award-winning Egyptian-Canadian journalist and author, and former Egypt Bureau Chief of Al-Jazeera International who in 2013 was wrongly imprisoned in Egypt for more than 400 days for allegedly collaborating with and airing “false news” on the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood. He was finally pardoned by the Egyptian government in September of this year.

Here’s his conversation with host Riaz Meghji.

And here’s what I was able to capture on camera.

Photo by Cathy Browne

Photo by Cathy Browne

Photo by Cathy Browne

Photo by Cathy Browne

Photo by Cathy Browne

Photo by Cathy Browne

The capacity crowd was mesmerized, and Mr. Fahmy was given a standing ovation at the end of the interview. But it wasn’t all seriousness.

Near the end of the session, Riaz asked whom Mohamed would like to play him if a movie were to be made on his life. Knowing that George Clooney’s wife Amal Clooney was one of his lawyers, the audience broke up. Mr. Fahmy smiled, and said that he was grateful for everything the Clooney family has done for him – and left it at that. Riaz got a further round of laughter by offering to stand in if George was too busy! It was a welcome moment of light-heartedness during an intense discussion.

I’m thankful that this man who has suffered so much trauma can now enjoy a new life here in Vancouver, where he’s a Global Reporting Journalist in Residence at UBC. And I’ll never forget what a privielge it was to be there to capture these moments.

But there’s more!

This was hands-down the best TEDxVancouver I’ve attended, so I’ll also be showcasing some of the other speakers who enthralled me, motivated me and moved me to tears and laughter.

Stay tuned.

The Day One Tweet Changed Everything

Sometimes, my Facebook account surprises me. Today, it reminded me of a traumatic event I had tried hard to forget. But I had also forgotten how much good came from it. And all because of one tweet.

Three years ago today, on US Thanksgiving, I was robbed in the security line at LAX. My purse was spirited away in seconds, by someone who just as quickly disappeared into the crowd and was never seen again.

As usual, I had requested a wheelchair and an attendant to escort me through security. Their role is to help get me through the line, assist me in getting my belongings scanned and collected at the other end, and then get me to my gate. I usually have a decent experience – but not this time.

This attendent in LAX didn’t know how to escort a blind person through security, was rude, and worse, actually pushed me and the wheelchair into a cart of plastic bins to get them out of his way. I was appalled. Then, he chose not to stay by me when I was retrieving my belongings – instead, he yelled at me to hurry up and get back into the wheelchair because he “wanted to go home”. I guess he had a turkey dinner waiting for him.

Well, in my haste and confusion and with no assistance, my purse was stolen right off the line. My iPhone, iPod Touch, Surefire flashlight, wallet, cards, keys, sunglasses and my specially made reading glasses, all gone in a matter of seconds. Thankfully, they did NOT get my passport.

I was scared, devastated, crying, and helpless – and at the mercy of a negligent attendant who wanted nothing else but to go home on a Thanksgiving afternoon. I had no idea what to do.

But suddenly, happily, things began to turn around.

A very kind attendant relieved my surly guy, who apparently did go home. She then got her supervisor involved. Her name was Diane, she was an angel, and she ROCKED. She first apologized for her employee’s attitude and neglect. And in a kind act that astounded me, Diane reached into her purse and handed me $10. I KNEW she didn’t have that much money, and it was a big sacrifice on her part.

But the most important thing Diane did that day was letting me use her cell phone so I could do the best and most expedient thing I could think of. I sent out one desperate tweet about my predicament.

That tweet got the attention of friends and acquaintances, who offered help and moral support. My dear friends Lorraine and IdaRose sprang into action. Lorraine managed to cancel bank and credit cards, while IdaRose and her husband Neil arranged a cab (actually a white limo!) to pick me up at the airport to take me to their annual Thanksgiving feast. I was wined and dined and hugged many times that evening by a crowd of very supportive people, got to hang out with friends I love, and even had a night at a nearby hotel paid for so I could rest and recover from the day.

THAT is what I was thankful for on that Thanksgiving Day – and what I recall today with tears in my eyes.

Things are just things, life has its scary moments and hard times, but it’s people, in person and online, those in hugging distance, and those who offer them from afar, that make life worthwhile. 

Thanks again Diane, for making me feel I mattered when all I felt was lost. Thanks, Lorraine, IdaRose, and Neil, for being there when I needed you the most. Thanks to everyone who saw my tweet, tweeted, retweeted, and made my heart sing. Thanks also to my dear friends Dick (who left us this year) and Barbara, who have always given me a place to call home. I will never forget your love and support. And I’ll always try to pay it forward.


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.