Day 261 - Justin

Day 261 - Justin (4th person I approached)
September 18, 2014 - I had kind of a rough start to the day today. I left home earlier than usual, intending to go for a good walk and shake it off. I knew that meeting a stranger would turn things around, if even just for the time that I was looking for and chatting with, a new stranger. I’ve said this before; in my belief system, the Universe always gives me what I need. And sometimes, for me, the lesson isn’t always ‘right there’ either. Occasionally it takes time to settle in.


The first two people I approached both politely told me they didn’t want to chat. I spent a few minutes talking with Sharon, the third person I approached. Her only hesitation in chatting with me was that she was waiting for a telephone call, and didn’t know how long the call would take. We were sitting at the water’s edge in False Creek. It seemed like an ideal location to let go of some of the ‘stuff’ I was holding onto from this morning. I asked Sharon if she’d mind if we started to chat and she had to take a call, could we continue with the conversation after her call? Her phone rang. I sat a reasonable distance away to allow Sharon her privacy. She ended her call quickly, telling me she put the call off so that we could chat. Amazing. Then I found out that she wasn’t comfortable with having her picture taken. Nonetheless, it was a nice to have met someone willing to accommodate chatting with a stranger. I continued on my walk.


Justin was sitting on a bench, reading a book. He had his book in one hand, a phone in the other, and there was a bike leaning against the bench. He said he would chat with me, and he also let me know that he only had about ten minutes left before having to be somewhere. I was sure we could chat within that time. Then his phone rang.

“I’m sorry, I have to take this call, but hang on, don’t go away,” he said. His call lasted all of ninety seconds and then, Justin and I started to chat.


“I was born in Toronto (Canada). I have one younger sister. We got along okay. I think like most siblings, we’re closer as adults then we were as kids,” he said. When Justin was about ten years old, his parents separated.

“It was pretty tough on me, “ he said.

“My little sister and I lived with our mother. In conversation with my mother later on, she told me that she took out a lot of her angst on me,” said Justin. His parents got back together a year after separating.

“They tried again. That lasted for a year before they split-up and got divorced. My sister and I went to live with our Dad. That was a really hopeful time. My father spoke about us being a triangle and spending time together, the three of us. But he soon wanted to turn that triangle into a square,” he said.

“It got kind of chaotic at home. My father’s partner had two daughters. With the three of them and my sister, I felt like my life was being controlled by women,” he said, wit alight smile.


At the age of sixteen, Justin saw a video about Tibetan Buddhism.

“I remember feeling so elated,” he said.

“My parents hadn’t really gone to church beyond what was required of them as kids. I think that was just what their generation did. I didn’t have any information about religion or spirituality. I was curious.” He was with his mother for a weekend visit, and he told her of his interest in Buddhism.

“A good friend of my mother’s had some information, like a pamphlet, about a Buddhist Centre in downtown Toronto. She gave it to my mother for me to read. I went to the centre to check it out. It took about an hour and half by bus and subway to get there, but I started going a couple of times a week,” he said. When Justin was seventeen, he left home and went to live at the Buddhist Centre.

“I didn’t really ask my father, It was more of a ‘this is what I’m going to do’ conversation. I had a job and transferred schools and lived at the Centre and completed high-school.” Justin lived at the centre for six years. At this point in our conversation, he had to head to his next destination. We shook hands and I took his picture. I asked if I could walk with him and chat some more. He walked his bicycle as we chatted.


“About two years before I left (the Buddhist Centre), I started to think about what else is out there. I was comfortable where I was, and I felt I needed something more. I spent time looking around and doing research,” he said. After living at the Buddhist Centre in Toronto for six years, Justin left.

“It was difficult to leave. I had been there a long time and I had established very strong connections with the people who were there. I was nervous about opening my heart to others in that same way, after that.” His research lead him to Plum Village, a Buddhist Temple, located in Dordogne, in southern France. (*Fact Check - see link below). It was founded by Vietnamese Monk Thich Nhát Hanh in 1982.

“I didn’t speak much French, but there are at least 13 different languages spoken in the Temple. With English being an international language, it gave me an opportunity to help others with their English. I spoke enough French if I went to the store or needed something, I could get by” he said.

“At the centre in Toronto we had a dress code, but didn’t were robes. I just dressed in the appropriate colours. When I was at Plum Village, I became an ordained Monk and then I dressed in robes,” he told me.


Six years after arriving in France, Justin left the monastery.

“It was becoming very large. We still did retreats and education and I enjoyed it. I was happy that so many people were coming to the temple. What I was looking for was changing and I wanted to go deeper, more intra-personal and focussed. That was difficult with it becoming busier,” he said. 

“I was looking to find a smaller more intimate setting. I came across a retreat on Denman Island (British Columbia - BC). I had a few telephone conversations with the people there at the retreat. It was important to feel a good connection. I had also looked at a location in Missouri (USA), but I decided against that. I made plans to come to BC and visited the retreat on Denman Island,” he said. Justin spent the next winter in Toronto with friends and family, and then made the move to Denman Island. He spent six months there.


We were out of time and Justin had to get going. I asked him what happened after his time at the retreat on Denman Island.

“My life changed and went in a completely different direction at that point. I fell in love, and got married. We have a four year old child,” he said as he got on his bicycle.

“I’m a community mental health nurse now.” I thanked him for his time and told him where he could find this story. We said goodbye and he rode off. 


I caught up to him at the next traffic light. We spoke about my project while waiting to cross the street. The light changed, and as he hurried away on his bike, he turned around and said “Thank you for asking me to talk. I enjoyed it.” And with that, my rough start to the day seemed lighter. #notastranger

*Fact Check -