It's my privilege to bring greetings on behalf of the teachers of Red Deer Catholic. It's good to be back is it not?
Personally, I am thrilled. With a four and 1.5 year old at home all summer, dropping them off at the day-home was a sweet blessing. Raising others people’s kids is way easier than raising your own.
Last year at our opening Mass, Dave Khatib shared with us a touching story of his father passing. Sitting in the pews, at that time, I thought how hard it is for us to deal with such events. I certainly struggle with them. Dave’s story reminded me to love those closest to us at all times. With that, I put the thought out of my head. I did not know that death would come knocking for my daughter just a day later.
Before I get to that story. Let’s talk a little about me. I grew up in a very traditional Ukrainian Catholic home. Pierogies, perishke, Divine Liturgy (instead of Mass), no working on Sunday.. unless there was fencing to do, which there always was, so it was really more of something we just said then did. But you get the point. I also grew up memorizing the Act of Contrition. The Act of Contrition is an absolving of sin until you can get to confession. Being a teenager is a tough time for everyone, parents included. At that age you are really racking up the venial sins by the hour, and the odd mortal sin here and there. An Act of Contrition can wipe that all away, albeit, temporarily. So, it was instilled in us that should our lives ever be in peril, an Act of Contrition should be said to ensure eternal damnation was not our final act.
Driving much to fast down the gravel roads at 2:30am to meet our 12:30 curfew? Act of Contrition.
Borrowing Neil’s dads truck, a six pack, a couple Captain Black’s, and going gopher hunting at 14? Act of Contrition.
Getting into the bull pen to encourage said bull into a smaller pen further from the cows? Act of Contrition and a Hail Mary.
So, it was in our family, that frequent conversations with God were not only part of who we are but also necessary.
As I got older, and the foolish scenarios I used to often find myself in became less frequent, so did my last minute pleas with God.
University found God and I embroiled in deep philosophical conversations. Fundamentally, God and I just did not see eye to eye on certain issues and topics. None the less, mutual respect was always a staple of our conversations.
As I moved out of the transformative years of higher education, the conversation mostly turned to casual observance and appreciation.
When kids arrived, that would become the most frequent topic. As a parent you worry, you hope, and you love. Who better to help out with that than God? A quick prayer to say thanks that our child didn't catch his upper jaw on the slide as he flung himself off the top, a pondering question from one parent to another as to why a child thinks it best to rub spaghetti in their hair rather than put it in their mouth, and a quiet plea every now and then in the hope of divine intervention to make bedtime go smoothly. If I'm being honest I actually request that nightly. Sometimes I start the request shortly after they wake up.
So when Dave spoke last year, I said a quiet prayer. I thought about my own parents and my children, and counted my blessings.
Lindsay and I had planned to have some friends over for a BBQ the day after that opening mass. One last hoorah before school started in earnest. As we prepared for the evening, our daughter, Mackenzie, sat on the couch quietly watching her stories. Too quiet actually. A three year old is never still for long, regardless of how ridiculous and annoying Toopy and Binoo are being, or how whiny and helpless Caillou is acting.
Walking over to the couch we found her very warm and quite lethargic. Now, that's my normal state when I lay on the couch and watch the Backyardigans, but certainly not her’s. Shortly after, she became sick and we moved her to the bathroom. This wasn't normal. Mother's intuition kicked in, and Lindsay asked if she should call the ambulance. Not wanting to tax our under-funded health system, I suggested it wasn't a big deal. Then she stopped breathing. As it turns out calling an ambulance was probably prudent. As Lindsay called 911, I tried my best to get any reaction out of our daughter. She had become unresponsive.
She wasn't breathing and she was limp. She had gone from pale to purple in seconds. I took her outside, in hopes the cool air would bring her around. No luck. We would have to wait for the ambulance.
Seven minutes. Seven eternal minutes. Lindsay paced around the house answering the questions of the dispatcher, requesting updates, and shouting orders at me.
For most of those seven minutes I held our mostly lifeless daughter in my arms. I combed her hair. I told her stories about frogs jumping on lily pads, her new favourite narrative. I kissed her forehead.
For seven minutes I wasn't aware of my surroundings.
Of the past, or the future.
I was simply in the present. I didn't think about anything other than comforting our daughter.
Two ambulances and six paramedics arrived at the end of those seven minutes. They hooked her up to fancy little machines in briefcases, poked her, prodded her, and brought our little nugget back to life.
Lindsay rode with her in the ambulance to the hospital while I strapped our son, Lukas, who had been sleeping through all of this, into his car seat to meet them there.
When I arrived, Mackenzie was sitting up in the emergency hospital bed, eating a Popsicle. Purple, her favourite colour. The best the Dr. could deduce, was that due to an exceptionally high fever in a very short period of time, her body shutdown.
When it was all said and done, later that evening, as I lay in bed awake (sleep would not come easy for quite some time), I finally remembered God. The words I said to Him, are best kept between us. I was angry. But also thankful.
It donned on me then who is to thank. Plainly, the six paramedics that showed up and took care of Mackenzie are to be thanked. They did all the work. Yet, as I spent time reflecting on this experience, you see it is not something that easily leaves your conscience, I started to think there was more at work. More people need to be thanked for saving my daughter’s life.
Those people are you.
Without public education, those paramedics could not have done their job. That's Gods honest truth. The likely hood that some of them attended our schools is high. So let me be clear:
Thank you to the Patricia Cejs who taught these folks how to read and play nice when they were to young to know what important role they would fill later in life.
Thank you to the Bill Duries who drove these young kids to school on a yellow bus.
Thank you to the Monica Hopkinsons who insisted other students return their texts, so these students would have the resources they need.
Thank you to the Hulio Chadis for ensuring these students had meaningful access to technology with which to learn.
Thank you to the Glen Traquirs, for putting up with their likely inability to make music, and hence they focused on sciences to become paramedics.
Thank you to the Fred Franks who instilled a love of mixing compounds together to watch them explode or start on fire. This would push these students further into science classes in post secondary. Little did they know that their jobs would never require them to mix substances together to make explosions.
Thank you to the Guy St. Martins who ensured these students had a safe and maintained building in which to learn.
Thank you to the Dan Flannagan’s who counselled these students, both in career and personal choices.
And while I often try to include intentional humour in these speeches, I am not trying to be funny with this next one, thank you to the Paul Stewarts for hiring qualified individuals to fill these rolls.
You see,.. the whole setup relies on you.
It is quite possible my daughter would not be alive today if it were not for the intervention of the paramedics. The paramedics could not have done what they did without you.
From the bottom of my heart,.. thank you for saving my daughter’s life.
Remember that when we walk into our classrooms on Tuesday. It’s not just literacy, inclusion, faith, and technology. It’s people’s lives that we hold in our hands. It doesn’t get any more important than that.
I owe you much. More than I could ever hope to repay. To honour this debt, I can only think that come Tuesday, and each day after it, I will do my best to educate the students that come through my door, because someone else's future might very well rely on their’s.