Lighthouses of kindness are scattered among us
by Ted Slavinpublished in St. Catharines Standard
St Catharines, ON: 2010-12-11
"Thou art My lamp and My light is in thee." -- Bahá'u'lláh
I first met Beth McKenty in Toronto 10 years ago while she was visiting the "south" for some painting supplies.
Though she's handy with a paintbrush, the paints were for the new friends she had made in Iqaluit, Nunavut.
Having recently returned to Canada after several years in China teaching English, Beth, at the young age of 70-something, decided to move to Iqaluit to fill the need for a custodian of a house owned by the Bahá'ís of Canada.
Days after her arrival, Beth heard a disturbing thud on the roof. Then another. Looking outside, she saw two young boys unsuccessfully throwing rocks over the house.
Contrary to what most of us would do (tell 'em to scram), Beth invited the boys inside for hot chocolate and offered them some paint and paper. The boys painted a few pictures and went merrily on their way, only to return a short while later with some friends.
The painting visits became more organized with fruit for snacks and hot chocolate, turning Beth's house into a hot spot for Iqaluit's kids and the base for the Arctic Youth Art Initiative.
Inspired by her story, I asked Beth if I could volunteer my help for a week, which led to my arrival in June, shivering and chattering on Iqaluit's tarmac.
Beth took me to the house and, glowing with joy, showed me the samples of the children's art.
One painting she was particularly fond of belonged to Jessica (not her real name), a talented teenager who had been clean for several weeks from an alcohol and drug addiction after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Each day during my stay, Beth and I worked non-stop. The doorbell rang, followed by kids pouring into the house and around the tables to patiently await the paints and paper. I passed around bowls of fruit and mugs of hot chocolate with an equal number of marshmallows lest we have a marshmallow inequity revolt.
Then everything was cleaned up in preparation for the next wave.
My most memorable moment there happened during a bout of insomnia.
Though some locals block the midnight sun with aluminum foil in their windows, the sun didn't bother me -- I just needed a walk. Having toured the town's hills, I returned to bed, only to be startled by the doorbell. It was 2 a.m.
I hoped to hear Beth's footsteps going to answer. Nothing. The doorbell rang again. I tried to ignore it. Ding-dong. Ding-dong. I went and opened the door. Doorbells are very persuasive.
Teetering before me was an intoxicated Inuk girl. She asked for her grandmother. Certain she was lost in her stupor, I told her she had the wrong house.
We repeated the question and answer over and over.
She wouldn't leave. Then she asked if she could call a cab and, grateful to think that it meant her leaving, I led her to the kitchen. She called a cab.
Then she called a friend ... then another friend. The cab waited outside. The cab left. She was still on the phone. I was getting frustrated that this girl was taking advantage of my patience. My voice became firmer, insisting for her to leave.
That's when Beth finally woke up, walked out of her room and exclaimed, "Jessica!"
Astonished, I looked to Jessica's paintings on the wall and made the Grandma connection. It was a matter of heart, not relation.
Jessica broke down in Beth's arms and narrated a disaster of booze and peer pressure. She had fallen off the wagon and came to the place she felt safe. She wasn't lost at all.
I try to remember this episode during times I think I'm lost or that others are lost, that there are lighthouses of kindness, like Beth, scattered amongst us, even created within us to serve others if we choose.
Keep those lamps polished for all to see.