A couple of weeks ago, I told you about how my friend Jim and his family had their basement flooded with sewage and had to evacuate their home, suffering a very frustrating loss, and living on fast food and hotel TV for the last little while. Well, the good news is, they’ve been able to return to their home — which means a lot to Jim and his wife Hailea, but more importantly, to two wonderful little girls who I’ve pretty much adopted as nieces — Big-Hearted Julia and Emily the Wonderfully Strange. Wonderfully strange because she loves to tease me about my various whims and projects — “Look, Mommy, Helena’s sewing her book. I’m sewing my book, I’m sewing my book. Doesn’t she know you can just buy books at the store?”
“Yes, honey, but your Aunt Helena is…. special.”
I chose to take that as a compliment, darlings.
When I say that these are great kids, I say it without a hint of irony or insincerity. For the most part, I don’t like kids. I realize that they are a necessary evil to keep the planet populated, but 99 kids out of a hundred often make me rethink my stance on justifiable homicide. Maybe it’s because they have amazing parents, or maybe it’s because they have an amazing Aunt — who knows — I think no one will ever be able to say precisely, so let’s just assume that having an amazing Aunt is part of it, okay?
When I visited them while they were, well, homeless, Julia and Emily were feeling pretty restless and it was obvious that they were homesick. When you think about the strain that an adult goes through when something like that happens, your heart goes out to them. You ask them what you can do to help, you offer your time, your money, your advice, a shoulder to cry on. Children often get treated with the attitude of “well, they’ll be okay if their parents are okay.” They often don’t get asked how they’re feeling, or if there’s anything they need. I don’t know why that is, but it is, nonetheless.
What I saw when I visited was two little girls who loved each other very much, and while they fight just as much as any other sisters ever did (I’m sure Jim and Hailea often consider their own stances on justifiable homicide from time to time) they were comforting each other. Emily, the younger of the two, was just tired and worn out and done. And she was getting whiny and upset. Rather than get annoyed with her little sister, Julia put her arm around her and told her it would be okay, that everything would be okay. That the problem in question was that Emily hadn’t gotten her ice cream yet didn’t detract from how much that touched me. Sometimes it’s the little things that mean the most, and sometimes it’s as easy as giving a kid a bowl of ice cream to make the world feel safer.
Speaking of a safer, better world, Julia dreams of one. I do, too, darlings, and I wanted to share something with you about an amazing thing that happened this week, all because of Big-Hearted Julia and her dream of a better, more tolerant and accepting world. I don’t know if you’ve happened upon THIS STORY yet, or perhaps the coverage over at HUFFINGTON POST, but Julia was given a school assignment to design a new Canadian coin — by, I think it important to mention — a Catholic school.
What she came up with on her own was a coin depicting tolerance for same-sex couples, and after her dad posted it on Reddit (he hadn’t even seen the assignment until she brought the finished product home to show him) it started getting all kinds of attention and ended up making news on both Yahoo and the Huffington Post. The story has now gone viral, and chances are you may have already seen this. Well, now you know — that’s my amazing little niece Julia, and I couldn’t be more proud of her.
This is a bright little girl — at nine, she’s likely more socially aware than most, because her parents do talk about social issues. That people think that this is odd or a bad thing boggles my mind, darlings, it truly does. I’m reminded of my favourite novel, Fahrenheit 451 (I’m reminded of this a lot, darlings — it has shaped my life). In it, Clarisse, seventeen and crazy, lives in a future where people spend more time watching banal TV or watching car races than actually talking or thinking. When she does overhear people talk, she says that they don’t say anything; not really. Sure, they mention some cars they like, or how so-and-so’s got a new swimming pool, and they say ‘how swell’, but they don’t actually say anything. Her family is a rarity – they stay up to all hours talking about ideas, about opinions, about what’s going on in the world. This isn’t strange or unusual to them — it’s just the way they are. But most of society has been dumbed down, and books have been outlawed. Society has done it to itself, because thinking leads to opinions, and opinions are offensive and dangerous. (Incidentally — I think this is an interesting point to make — Clarisse, and her family, “disappear” suddenly at a certain point in the book.)
This is just the way I am, too, and how Jim and Hailea are. I’ve been at their house dozens of times, and we never have banal conversation. We don’t always talk about solving all the world’s problems, either — don’t get me wrong — we engage in the silliest of banter imaginable — one time I thought I was going to choke to death I was laughing so hard. But it just seems natural to us to talk about our thoughts — be they on music, politics, religion, the existence of god and/or extraterrestrials, our likes and dislikes in comedy, in movies, and why we disagree on the topic of using samples in music. (Oh, don’t get me started, darlings!) But I know this family well, and I’ll tell you this — they do not spoon-feed her at all. About anything. They let her be her, even if the things she likes or dislikes are not what they necessarily like. I actually admire that about them — they’ve taken that girl to see music shows that you couldn’t drag me to tied to the back of a bus. But it was what she liked, and so they supported her. She’s not some brainwashed victim of the “gay agenda”, she’s just a sweet little girl who’s been taught that people deserve respect, and she hasn’t grown up in an atmosphere of hating those who are different than her.
When I spoke to her on the phone this morning, and asked her if she’d mind if I shared this, she excitedly consented, but as I showered praise on her and told her how proud I was, she was just speechless. I think this says a lot about the girl. Of course she’s excited (though I don’t think she grasps the fact that her coin is now globally famous) but in her mind, she didn’t do or say anything extraordinary. In her mind, this just makes sense. In Canada, we celebrate diversity.
Now for the ugly part.
Okay, Helena, take a deep breath, don’t let them see you angry…
Reading the comments on the posts where this story ran, it’s obvious why what Julia has said and suggested is actually extraordinary. It also demonstrates the ignorance and cruelty of people who feel free to attack strangers on the Internet. If you don’t want to feel sick to your stomach, you might want to, as I advised Julia, not read the comments.
They run the gamut from crying gay agenda propaganda and brainwashing to claiming that the whole thing is fake, or that her parents wrote/coached her and handed this in — one couche tard even calls homosexuality a health hazard, saying that we want to ban cigarettes, etc. but promote homosexuals, who he then calls (and I quote) “…walking diseases. Totally depraved, totally perverted, just disgusting wretched unconscionable sc(um)bags. Why not have coins that feature a kweer on his deathbed after a lifetime of a(s)s ramming?”
And of course, there are the “God hates fags” people, some talking about them being possessed by evil spirits as if we are living in a bad Exorcist sequel.
I was shocked at the disproportionate amount of hateful and negative and/or discrediting comments as opposed to supportive and encouraging ones. Perhaps that’s just the Internet, but it made me really sad.
It would appear that we have a long way to go, but if Julia’s generation shares an attitude of acceptance, and can grow up not learning to hate, then maybe — maybe this dream of a nicer world can come true.
Some may say that I’m a dreamer… but I’m not the only one.
Thank you, Julia.