We glorify our youth – young at heart, young money, only the good die young. It is something we take for granted and, like most things in life, it doesn’t last forever. Eventually, we must all trade in our pimple cream for pills and our cellphones for cellulite. None of us really want to get old but most of us have to.
I know I never wanted to get old. I thought there was no dignity in old age (I’ve read The Stone Angel) and so I was reluctant when, for one of my courses, I had to go volunteer at a nursing home in downtown Hamilton. Like clockwork, every Thursday morning I would peel myself off my bed, down a cup of coffee and sprint to the city bus stop (I was usually late). In all honesty, I thought the volunteer experience would be tedious but it has been transformative. You see, while I’m there, I get to play the piano for one of the coolest people I know. I, Kristen Salena, get to jam with a retired opera singer who has travelled the world. Her soprano makes Mariah Carey sound like Louis Armstrong. Her rendition of “Moon River” is sublime. And even though she is a fantastic musician, she is an even better person. While I’m in no rush, I’m actually looking forward to getting old.
You never know which gems you’ll find in Hamilton and I think that’s why I love it here. Musicians, artists, actors and writers are everywhere. Creativity is everywhere. Humanity is everywhere. So peel yourself off your bed, down a cup of coffee and sprint to the city bus stop because you’re probably late.
These were Helen’s unexpected words – whose sarcastic humour is not to be missed at our weekly Saturday classes at the Discovery Program – a community involvement initiative in its second year. We spend a lot of time reading about Hamilton through different mediums of expression: from history books to graphic novels, from fiction to annotated photography – we see Hamilton through the eyes of others.
Through John Terpstra’s Falling into Place arises the theme of our course. We talk about “space” and “place”, and what it means to us. How do we turn a space into our place? Where do we fit in the community? Or our own skin? In time, we find ourselves falling into place with each other. We joke, we laugh, we listen to each other’s stories, and we grow closer. In spite of the difference in age, ethnicity, background, and opinion, we have formed a steady, unique bond between an otherwise unlikely community. I must admit I didn’t expect the level of creativity, intelligence and personality embedded in this strange and lovely array of people. I wasn’t prepared for the raw emotions, passions, and the eagerness to speak and to engage.
There’s Peggy-Anne, with her eager readiness to express her thoughts. She recently discovered that it’s ok to take up space. We listen to Johnny, a Columbian refugee, as he recounts the story of his family fleeing the place he once called home. Lina, with a voice so soft yet so determined, spoke poetically about the local farmer’s market and her daughter’s recent struggle with cancer. Jeremy, with his sweet disposition, quiet intelligence and articulate speech, spoke about his unwillingness to let his mental illness control his life.
As students, we have become sheltered in our university life. We fundraise here and join a club there and we think ourselves involved in the community. Once in a while, we meet people, and we are reminded that life exists beyond our GPA and reference letters. I entered the course to support others, but came to realize just how much support I could draw from this wonderful community.
Karen Wang, Graphics Editor