During my second year of University, I had the good fortune of enrolling in an early 1900’s Canadian Literature class. Although the content for the course was standard, the man who taught it was anything but. He was witty and sharp, with a larger-than-life personality. And he definitely wasn’t shy in challenging his students to think boldly about how we approached learning and living. Klay was the Canadian equivalent of John Keating (played by Robin Williams in the film, Dead Poet’s Society) and his unorthodox approach to teaching left an indelible mark on me.
Klay didn’t care so much about what we thought but he did care deeply that we truly examined the roots of our beliefs, and why they were so. Where our opinions were solid, he encouraged us to own them with enthusiasm. Where they were flawed and self-limiting, he called us out (often on the spot!) and challenged us to be better. To me, Klay seemed more like a Life Coach - who happened to be disguised as university professor - because beyond any curriculum he was required to teach, it was clear that his main passion was in getting his students to really explore what made them tick, what held them back and what prevented them from chasing the goals that would make their spirits come alive.
During the course, we discussed a historical fiction novel written by George Bowering. The story speaks of one man’s 4-year-long journey to chart the coastline of the fabled Pacific Northwest Passage, and it also details what he learns about himself in the process. One particular class, we explored what it really meant to take risks, as the character had been required to do during his voyage. Time and time again, what came up most in our discussion was the obvious: risks are much easier to take when there’s little at stake, yet, when the decision has some weighty significance to it...or when others close to you don’t understand your need to take a big next step...that’s when things get interesting!
From there, a central theme emerged. In writing, in our careers, in sport, in art, in creating... in life...it’s not really about what we risk but rather that we choose to risk something at all in the first place, that matters.
The next week, I came into class to find Klay giddier than usual. He had pulled out a TV and VCR cart from yesteryear, and popped in an old VHS cassette for us to watch. On it was a clip from his favourite ‘90’s TV show Northern Exposure. If you haven’t seen the show, it’s similar in style to the quirky Canadian comedy Corner Gas, where residents in a small rural community find increasingly bizarre ways to pass the time! In this scene, the community had come out to watch the launching of a grand piano. (Yes...they were actually getting ready to catapult a massive olde grand piano out into a field.) I hadn’t seen the full episode, so just like you, I was missing the context of why they would do something so odd...and... why Klay thought that this was relevant to our learning! Alas...
The pianist in me cringed in horror when I saw what was about to happen yet when I looked over at Klay, he was grinning as fully as one could grin. His favourite part of the episode was coming up and he 'shushed' us to make sure we took it all in:
The piano launched into the air in slow-motion. The crowd gasped. There was a colossal crash a few moments later... and then...roaring applause. When the dust cleared, a man stepped forward to joyfully declare:
"See! It’s not what you fling...but it’s the fling itself that matters!”
At that, Klay jumped to his feet, let out a hearty “YES!!!!” and with eyes bright and shiny, clapped with glee. As we would soon learn, he had been waiting for years to find the right moment to incorporate this weird and random clip into his teaching. I laughed and couldn’t help but appreciate his quirky antics.
This was Klay’s one strange but memorable way of reinforcing what we had been talking about: life is a series of opportunities and events that are presented to us - which sometimes make no sense to others, but speak to us on a personal level - and they almost always serve a purpose. In these moments, we can choose to retreat out of fear and stay stuck in our same circumstances, or we can launch ourselves into that risk (however crazy it seems!) because the simple act of living...or flinging... is ultimately why we are here.
From that day forward when I would see him around campus, Klay would often ask me what I was flinging next...whether this concerned an idea for an essay...or a project...or in life….and this metaphor would stay with me long after I left school. Now, whenever I’m faced with something new or overwhelming, I envision a piano flying through the air and Klay clapping with delight about “FLINGING!”. It’s a ridiculous mental image that makes me laugh every single time...and it’s always the reminder I need, to step into that challenge I’m facing, just the same.
I write about all of this, because over the holidays, I have been repeatedly asked how we achieved our ‘impossible’ fundraising goal to get to St. Louis. Reflecting back, I can’t help but smile because it occurred to me this morning that in the end, this journey - and 2018 in particular! - has always entirely been about “the flinging”.
At the start, I didn’t know how to explain what living with CP was really like as an adult. Though I thought about it constantly, I just couldn’t seem to articulate for others why the hope of SDR mattered so deeply to me at this stage in my life. Beyond my safe, trusted circle of friends, I had never spoken about either of these things publicly and I wasn’t even certain if I had a valuable story to tell. Yet...I began trying to find the words.
I hadn’t the slightest idea how to make a website or a fundraising platform, or a video to introduce this journey, either. The same was true when tasked with crafting information brochures, letters to businesses and promotional materials. I had also never created a blog or shared my writing in a public forum before but knew I wanted to document the journey somehow, while helping people to connect to what we were doing along the way. So in time - with guidance and feedback from friends - I spent hundreds of hours teaching myself how to build each of these projects from scratch... the content ultimately coming together to feel 'just right'.
I also didn’t know how to plan a fundraiser of this sort - let alone orchestrate enough of them in a year to turn this dream into reality - and I didn’t have a central committee of volunteers around me to sustain our energy as time went on. While this committee approach was a critical strategy for parents who had previously fundraised for their children’s trips to St. Louis, I learned very early on that it wouldn’t work for us - as I had moved away for school and work...with my closest family and friends now scattered all around the globe. So, for much of this daily process, I was a committee of one - which placed a tremendous amount of work on my plate for 14 solid months, all while my mobility hung in the balance. Yet, we soon found our own way to make things happen.
In time, as I tackled each day's to-do-list and navigated my way around a barrage of obstacles, my kind-hearted family and globe-trotting friends also each stepped up to help however they could in their own communities, too. And in the end - after a lot of creative collaboration between us - 23 different fundraisers were held in all! That single outcome still fills me with awe and gratitude every time I think about it, especially when I recall the skeptics who said our approach would never work.
I can say with certainty too, that I also hadn’t considered sharing my story in the form of a podcast interview or a mini-documentary video, either. I didn’t know the first thing about using these avenues for getting the word out. But I did know from the start that somehow, I wanted to move outside of traditional media coverage and reach others in a different way...because that’s how SDR found me in the first place! So, even though these projects were the most terrifying ones of the entire journey for me as a steadfast introvert, I am so happy that I took the risk to fling myself into those opportunities when they presented themselves. Doing so allowed me the joy of helping others to discover SDR for themselves, while also bringing people into my life who have forever empowered me to own my story and to finally make peace with CP. At long last in 2018, I have learned to not feel (as) awkward and self-conscious when out and about. The stares and ignorant comments made by others about how I walk will always be there, but their impact on me over this last year has been...less. And that's a really, really big deal for me.
In all, what dawned on me this morning (that I wish I had understood all along!) is that it really didn’t matter at all, that I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning of this fundraising process….or that I had never done any of those tasks before that I would soon come across. Rather, what mattered most was that for the first time in my life - with full conviction - I simply believed in my ability to figure things out, regardless of the fear I felt. I soon stopped worrying about how we would reach our big target and started following the pulls of my heart, instead. I trusted my instincts and devoted myself to the tasks that 'felt right' as my next best step. And that's when I found my groove - and my certainty that this would all work out.
In Klay-speak, I was "all-in" with the flinging.
So when I think about this past year and try to answer the question of “How did you do it?”, it's interesting to realize that there isn’t actually one clear, beginning-to-end road map that I can hand off to the next SDR family. Instead, I see several new skill-sets learned. I see many (really!) rough drafts of the tasks we took on...and... their evolution into a series of finished products that I’m quite proud of. I literally see each of the 406 daily ‘to-do lists’ I wrote, that helped me to inch forward from October 1st, 2017 to November 11th, 2018 (yes, I kept a log). I also see a lot of detours, failed attempts, lessons learned, hundreds of ‘thank-you’s’ sent, and a significant amount of worry and self-doubt overcome. I see risks taken, community connections made, friendships both strengthened and changed, and... new experiences, lived. I see in myself, a girl who got her spark back, who came out of her shell for good, who started living with purpose and joy again, and who had one of the most fulfilling years of her life.
Surely, too, I hold close to my heart a vivid recollection of the specific people who gave of their time, love and support to walk this journey with me through to the finish line.
I wish I could offer an easy “how-to” for those who will follow in my footsteps, because I longed for one when we first launched “Walk with Wish”. In the end though, what I’ve come to understand is that such a generalized guidebook wouldn’t work anyway since this process is as unique as the person who is at the centre of it in their time. All I can suggest is to fall in love with the process of learning. To follow your heart while not begrudging the work. And, to understand that it’s absolutely ok (and yes, in fact it's necessary!) for each of us to ask for help if we have any hope of bringing our lofty goals to life - because big dreams will never be realized in isolation.
Most important of all - whether you are on your own SDR journey or are dreaming of something else that is intensely meaningful to you - I encourage you to wholeheartedly FLING yourself into the opportunity that is on your horizon! No matter how much it scares you in this moment or how overwhelming it seems right now, I can say with certainty that you won’t regret taking that leap of faith to get started. And once you're on your way, you will likely surprise yourself with how empowering it becomes to conquer your fears.
Somewhere along the line, your act of courage just might inspire someone else to believe that they can 'create their possible' next year, too.