Right from the beginning there was something different about this speaking engagement. There was something even odd about the invitation.
I had met this lovely woman at a Living Books conference in Borden about a year and a half ago. We talked writing – we talked books – the relationship was cemented. Then I received an invitation from her almost exactly a year ago to speak at a Carlton Trail ProLife and AGM gala. I warned her that this was not my usual cause. I am pro life – on all fronts – but not exactly against abortion. It’s complicated - I am not an activist....
She insisted that my story was pro life and the talk that I had given in Borden was what would be needed.
I was intrigued. Not so much with the topic but with the place. My mother grew up in Humboldt I just wanted to visit – perhaps to feel her again. In any case, I said yes.
When I told others, I had been invited to speak at Humboldt – they shrugged. Where? Why? There was always a puzzlement about it – which I kind of shared.
Everything changed on April 6, when a bus carrying the members of the Humboldt Bronco Team players crashed into a semi-trailer killing 16 and injuring 13 others. It soon became an international story not only of the tragedy but about this Humboldt community – that responded so elegantly to such a tragic event.
After this tragic accident, when I told anyone that I has a speaking engagement in Humboldt, I didn’t have to explain where, why or what. Their eyes would soften. “We will pray for you,” they would murmur or something like that. I felt instant empathy and love flowing to this tiny heartbreak city of about 6,000 people just east of Saskatoon.
As it turned out, this wasn't an in and out kind of speaking engagement. I was chauffeured, billeted, hosted and toured through Humboldt. I met the students at the St. Therese Catholic Bible College (Bruno). Reminded me of my own Bible College days in Hepburn Saskatchewan. Same feel.
I noticed that there were wall crucifixes everywhere I went, a wonderful Catholic tradition.
The gala was held at the Royal Canadian Legion on Main Street. It was attended predominately by people of the Catholic faith who champion pro life the way Mennonites champion pacifism, I gathered.
After a lovely dinner, I addressed the audience. I’m really not sure what I said – it always becomes somewhat of a blur. All I remember is that they were very attentive – and that they stood up after I had spoken to tell me that I had connected.
The thrust of my message these days is that we all have a story. I believe that we are here not by chance but for a purpose and that we can’t interfere with someone’s story whether they be vulnerable babies or criminal. We might need to manage unacceptable behaviors - but never the story. And then I go on and on about the magic and power of words.
The next day, I had a chance to speak at the Humboldt Collegiate (Christian/Catholic Ethics) class in a building that is now famous because of the crash. It is all famous now – known – familiar. Beautiful students all connected somehow....
At the very end, I had a sushi luncheon with one of the organizers – who told me the story behind the stories.
Now - after two very meaningful days, meeting the most generous and courageous people, I think everyone should go to Humboldt.
Don’t wear shoes – the place is somewhat holy.
“No one is ever holy without suffering.” -- Evelyn Waugh