Day 357 - Dawn (4th person I approached)
December 23, 2014 - Sometimes when I ignore my ‘gut’ feeling, I’ll find myself later wondering why I ever did that. It was dark by the time I went out to find today’s story. I noticed a woman sitting outside a coffee shop, smoking a cigarette, and having a coffee. It flashed through my mind to ask if she’d chat with me. My immediate internal response was to discount the idea because it was dark, it was cold and she likely wouldn’t want to sit outside and chat with me. So I didn’t bother asking her. I had to go inside and find three people that all said they didn’t care to chat first. Then as I headed outside again, some ten minutes later, she was still sitting exactly where I had first spotted her.
I approached this lady and asked if she would chat with me, explaining what I was doing. She responded with a healthy burst of laughter. I couldn’t tell if she was laughing at me, or the suggestion that she might want to chat with me. I soon recognized that her laugh was full of joy, and amazement. It was also infectious. I laughed along with her, asking why we were laughing.
“How long would it take, Sir?” she inquired. I said perhaps five minutes. She turned her head away from me and exhaled the smoke from her cigarette.
“I’m sorry, I’m just always mindful of my cigarette smoke around others,” she said.
“Sure I’ll talk with you,” she said. Even in the dim light from the nearby street lamps, I could see the sparkle in her eyes.
Dawn was born in the interior of British Columbia (BC), near Salmo.
“My father was a customs agent and worked at a border crossing. The town I was born in was so tiny you’d be lucky to gather twenty people together from within a four mile radius,” she said.
“I am the middle child of three. I always felt invisible because of being the middle child. I invented a world of imagination and fantasy for myself. I was an introverted child, and definitely enjoyed my own company,” Dawn told me.
Travelling to school in nearby Salmo, meant catching a big, yellow bus to and from school every day.
“I loved the bus ride. I would invent games to amuse myself. I would close my eyes and imagine where I was, based on the twists and turns of the road. I’d open my eyes to see if I had guessed correctly. I travelled that road so frequently and knew that road so well, I could tell where we were with my eyes closed,” she said laughing.
“School wasn't the place for me, because of the population,” Dawn said. She pondered her response when I asked what it was she didn’t like about school.
“Too many people, ideas of grandeur, hierarchy. Thinking at sixteen that I knew everything, when really I knew nothing. Idealism,” she said.
“I left school. I was only short a few classes, French twelve and a couple of others, but I didn’t stay to graduate.”
“I met my sweetie, my man, and we got married very early. I was nineteen when we married. Then we spent the next ten years playing. We travelled all over, and enjoyed, and learned and we just played for ten years,” she said, with a fondness in her voice.
“We would go to work for the winter season in the oil patch. It was the 1970’s and in Alberta there were two resources, oil or lumber. My sweetie worked in the oil patch and I tended bars in town. We made excellent money and that paid for our travels during the rest of the year,” Dawn explained.
I asked Dawn to tell me one of her greatest memories of those years travelling. There was no hesitation, or stopping to consider her answer.
“I think about her often. We were travelling over land to Katmandu (Nepal). There was a young girl, maybe about five years old. She was making cow patties at the side of the road, and flattening them down into small round shapes. She was sticking them onto a wall to dry out, to be used as fuel. I’ve thought about her often over the years, like one of those photographs you might see in a National Geographic magazine. Wondering whatever became of her. Where she might be now, what she's doing. It was a moment that has stayed with me all these years,” said Dawn, describing the scene as if she’d seen it only yesterday.
“Driving into New Delhi. We germinated, and were inspired. I’ve always had a connection with spirituality, but it was more than that. It was the culture, the people and the humanity of it. It was where we grew,” she said.
“After all of our travelling and playing, we settled in Vancouver. I went back to school, and just did an undergrad,” she said casually. Dawn studied general arts at UBC (University of British Columbia), and her husband attended SFU (Simon Fraser University) studying business.
“I got a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Psychology. My husband continued on with his schooling and got his Master’s in business at UBC. I worked in social services, for about ten years. We moved around a fair bit, all over BC, Edmonton and twice lived in the eastern Arctic. I worked at a Women’s Resource centre on a First Nation’s reserve near Nelson (BC) as well,” she said. Dawn went back to UBC and got her Master’s degree in Counselling Psychology.
“I’m a registered therapist now,” said Dawn. We chatted about how more people are seeing the value in counselling and therapy. The stigma and barriers around mental health issues are finally starting to crumble.
“Not everybody is broken, and not everybody needs to be fixed. We can always polish and refine,” said Dawn, with her ever present smile.
“We’ve been married for over forty years now. He’s still my sweetie. We have a very good life. I’ve enjoyed the journey, and the way things have turned out. I love my life,” Dawn told me.
“I just finished work and I needed to have a coffee, and a cigarette, so that’s why I’m sitting here outside. I’m waiting to meet some dear friends. We’re getting together to go out and have an evening of celebration.” I asked if the gathering was in honour of Christmas.
“No, it’s not particularly for the holidays. It’s to celebrate each other.” #notastranger