Yesterday I had the privilege to volunteer at my son’s annual “skate the canal day” with his school, Churchill Alternative. Every time I walk into the school, I have this sense that I am in the presence of something special. Aidan’s teacher, Ray Kalynuk, is one of those rare people who just come across like he has found his calling and I am always in awe of his energy and his intention.
So, in one of those twists that the universe throws at us from time to time, it turned out that I was not giving of my time but rather receiving an education. An education in gratitude.
This is what is so wonderful and unique about Churchill Alternative. Somehow, it’s this little island of humanity that has cultivated a culture of gratitude in a world that, at times seems to have one of entitlement.
Grade sixers are some really cool people. There is the wisdom of a teen marinating in the background and that innocence of a child bubbling on the surface. I had such a good time because you know you are in the presence of truth and hope. Many thoughts are shared without the filter or fear of condemnation that can so characterize the journey into teenage hood. Nat taught me how to properly initiate a skater’s stop. Ryan taught me a new virtual world of dinosaurs where you evolve. Taylor assured me that she was the most awesome hockey player on her team and much better than Ethan. Ethan shared the same story in reverse. Felix teased that my son might just might have a crush on a girl.
Our little group ended up skating the whole canal. We were the last on the bus and maybe a few minutes later than we should have been. Somehow we just got it in our heads that we had to finish what we had started and well, we left it all on the icy mat so to say.
So, last group on the bus and I have to admit, I was more than a little apprehensive of the reaction we might encounter from the 60 odd kids, teachers and volunteers that had waited for us to finish our journey.
What I was greeted with was acceptance, curiosity and gratitude. My little group was thankful for the photo op, the sense of accomplishment, and for the couple of pushes and pulls of encouragement that I had lent on the way back with the gusts of wind on our frosty faces. Lots of kids were curious about why we were last on the bus, how far we made it, and how we managed to get past the gate keeper. As cool as all this was, what really blew me away and made me pause was the moments of gratitude. From my vantage point, I did not hear a single child exit the bus without offering words of thanks to the bus driver. There was a rousing cheer for the volunteers on the bus. There were thanks from my little group for helping push us along. There was sharing of clothing and water on the way. There was even a moment of sacrifice where one child in my group offered his hat to another for the last kilometre as the hockey helmet was just not cutting it any longer.
The kindness and the gratitude in the words and gestures I witnessed on my skates yesterday blew me away and rivalled the gusty winds that we faced. I was on cloud nine all afternoon. One of my colleagues told me that I looked lighter and happier on my return. Wow. Imagine if we could infuse this gratitude into more than this beacon of insight known as Ray Kalynuk’s grade sixers?
I am grateful for the education that Churchill Alternative offered me yesterday. Giving truly started the receiving process and I was the recipient of many lessons and reminders that a very special school has infused into a very special group of kids.