Who in your life has chosen a courageous path? It is valuable to call forth the quality of courage in our own lives, but to witness it is even more extraordinary. It reminds me of how much strength human beings have for coping with the unimaginable. Our resilience in times of struggle is inspiring. Though I felt courageous at times in the journey my late husband’s death has led me on and though others have taken time to remind me of the strength they see in me, there are greater tales to tell.
Being a witness to courage is a humbling experience, in a very good way. Some people and stories embody it so powerfully. They don’t ask to be acknowledged or rewarded for it. In fact, most of them are embarrassed at the idea of this. But their stories are worth sharing, even if they themselves do not always recognize the heroic quality of their choices.
Four weeks ago today I sat face to face with courage at a small diner on Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. Courage that day took the form of a beautiful friend of more than twenty years, Trice. We met originally back in Toronto where she was finishing up her degree at the University of Toronto while her husband, Voya, attended York University. I met Voya during my last year there in the class that would forever change my life and turn me into a filmmaker.
Voya was a talented stills photographer of Serbian descent. He was ten years my senior having returned to school to pursue his dream of becoming a director of photography in film. Visiting Trice and Voya, particularly after the birth of their first child, was like visiting the land of true grown ups. I was proud to have such established, mature friends.
During that year, I formed a deep bond at school with Voya who eventually introduced me to another film student with huge dreams, Peter. Together we became like the Three Musketeers. By the second semester, we were spending most of our life outside class together shooting or editing as we pulled together our final projects. The experimental skating and dance video I created and produced was shot by Voya and won the CBC Telefest Award.
I’d had a limited budget, which meant virtually no money for sets. Voya had seen professionals use glass plates painted to look like a real life setting so he took it upon himself to figure out how this could be our solution to the problem. I can’t begin to imagine the technical expertise he acquired to make it all work…lighting, angles, measurements, discussions with the fine artist who would paint the scene and arguments with our professor who did not believe we could pull off such a technological wonder. Voya did…to such an extreme that when I received the letter notifying me of the win, the CBC gave special mention to the incredible set design. Voya had fooled even the experts with his brilliant application of shooting through the painted glass.
During our last week at school, Peter, Voya and I met at Tobey’s Good Eats and toasted each other on our graduation as we made plans to head to Hollywood. The rest of our graduating class thought we were crazy. Why be little fish in a big pond when we could stay put and eventually be big fish in Toronto? Our response was who said we were going to be little fish in Hollywood. Our dreams, courage and naïveté were enough to fuel us to leave Toronto behind…though perhaps not enough to make those dreams come true completely.
Over the years, Voya and Trice came and went from my life as it can be with long-term friendships. Somehow, our paths always crossed again. The last time I saw Voya was just months after Gary died. We met for dinner. Then he took his son and me to an art exhibit. It was a welcome respite from my cocoon of grief. Voya didn’t tell me at the time but he’d just been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Eventually, he won that battle and once again, our lives went different ways.
Four weeks ago today, I sat across from Trice as she finished out the story of his life. Voya as we knew him is gone. He is lost somewhere in between life and death, sequestered in a coma, unreachable to those who love him. Trice has been by his side throughout his life. Their marriage was woven across cultures, country borders, from state to state and through the birth and living of two children. It has been nine months now…nine months to the day Trice and I sat together sharing a meal and the stories of loss in our lives. Yet there were no tears, just hugs and a common knowing.
Trice continues to be there for her children who are now growing into their own adult lives but who must balance this while dealing with the harsh reality that their father is no longer living amongst them. She is part way through an incredibly intensive program to become a Chinese doctor of acupuncture. In a single moment, Trice became head of the household, a single parent and the wife of a man who can no longer hold her or care for her as he did for so many years. Trice, who chose to take a more traditional role to raise their two children while Voya worked long hours on set and often traveled on jobs, has stepped into his shoes. Alone, she must make the decisions about his short and long term care, cheer when driver’s license tests are passed, watch as her daughter flies out of state for the first time since Voya was lost to them.
Each day, Trice wakes up to a reality I cannot fathom. Losing my husband was incredibly hard…there are no words to describe it. But when he was gone, he was gone. I could grieve his death, mourn my loss and slowly begin to put the pieces back together. Trice, like Voya, is to some extent living in the in between place. But she does not complain about this or allow it to hold her back. She has drawn on her courage to keep on with her studies so she can provide for her family. She has chosen to go through each day determined to live her life and step into her own path of becoming a healer.
I witness her courage and I am inspired. When others told me they thought I was courageous and strong, I couldn’t always picture myself that way. So, Trice, on those days when you can’t quite see it, know it is there, shining brightly for all of us who watch the you who is handling your life with grace and strength. As you continue to step into your own light, we will be there for you…witnessing your courage.
And to my friend, Voya, may you soon hear the call to let go and rest gently in the love we all carry for you in our hearts. Namaste.