Staying true to who we really are, in a world that is constantly pulling us in different directions is tough.
There are days of doubt and, there are even days I feel like giving up!
So what do I do?
On the days I feel this way, I close my eyes and picture myself as a girl. I see little Jamie. I see the light within her, the special little girl, who wanted to be an author. When I do this I envision a book jacket I made in grade three on a story I wrote. I wrote in the author section, “When Jamie Lee Dunlop grows up, she wants to be a writer.”
I think about my high school mentor
In addition, another person that comes to mind quite often is a very special person from my past. She was my teacher/guidance counselor in high school at an alternative school in Vancouver. She truly made an impact on me, leaving an imprint on my heart, and unfortunately, she is no longer here today.
The first year I began this blog I felt this teachers presence with me. I could feel her while I was on my morning jogs. It felt like she was running along with me. Her presence felt like wind blowing past my ears, whispering, “Keep going Jamie, I’m proud of you” My eyes would well up with tears, while memories of her would come flashing before me. I would picture us sitting in her office for hours; laughing, talking about our favorite quotes, discussing poets like Maya Angelou. Our most popular topics of conversation were usually based on confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth. She always said the right things to make me feel better. She made me feel loved, especially when I wasn’t loving myself.
Her name was Maureen.
Maureen had blonde, curly, shoulder-length hair. She had beautiful, bold, brown eyes, a pointy nose, and her smile…her smile grinned from ear to ear, with prominent laugh lines on each side. She ate a multigrain piece of toast with organic jam spread on it, every morning. She lifted weights, and always took care of her physical and mental health.
Maureen was a feminist and hated when guys at school referred to girls as “chicks.” She despised the word, even more, when she heard girls calling each other this. She would always say, “You girls are comparing one another to a baby chicken. You are so much more than that.”
One time, she took us on a field trip downtown on International Women’s Day, to a rally where women were fighting for equal rights. She always said, “Women, hold up half the sky.” She didn’t own a car and took the bus from downtown to East Vancouver every morning. I recall asking her why she didn’t have a car and she replied, “If I had a car, I wouldn’t be able to afford to live downtown, and I love living downtown. Plus, this job doesn’t pay me enough to have both.”
She was very passionate about the topic of safe sex and even showed us the movie, Kids. A very graphic movie about teenagers having unprotected sex and doing drugs.
She wrote me positive inspirational quotes on post-it notes to stick on my mirror.
She loved butterflies.
The butterfly reminded her of transformation.
She took us on camping trips, which she referred to as retreats. I’ll always remember our class trip to Tofino, B.C. She gave each of us a hardcover journal. I still have mine. It’s white, with colorful butterflies scattered all over the front and back cover. She left a note on the inside, “Jamie, a girl with wisdom beyond her years. Always be you. Love, Maureen.”
One night, on this camping trip, she came upstairs to our two-story cabin, in her robe and pajamas to check on everyone. She found me, curled up in the corner of the closet, with the light on, writing in my butterfly journal. She kissed me on the forehead and went back downstairs.
Another very vivid memory I have with her is of a date we went on. I remember taking the bus with her downtown. We had plans to go and visit her apartment and walk around English Bay. Before we went to her apartment, we stopped at St. Paul’s hospital because she said she had a few tests she needed to do. I remember sitting in the waiting area, wondering if everything was o.k. As we left the waiting room and walked down the hallway of the hospital, I asked her if she was o.k, and she replied, “Oh yeah, just running a few tests.”
When we arrived at her apartment, on Davie Street, it had one bedroom and a spectacular view. The kitchen resembled a small hallway, and there was a round table in a little nook. She had rows and rows of books in her living room on a low shelf that wrapped around the room on the floor. I looked through the books, mesmerized by how many she owned. I picked one up. She told me I could borrow it, and I placed it under my arm.
I walked towards her kitchen and gazed at the photos on her fridge. On the center of the fridge was a photo of herself, held up by a butterfly magnet. She was sitting on what looked like different patterns and textures of cushions. She was wearing black, round framed sunglasses, and was laughing out loud. She held one beer in her right hand, and her left arm lay across her stomach touching the inside of her right arm. I told her I loved the photo of her. And she told me it was her favorite photo of herself, and it was taken in Jamaica.
Maureen and I kept in touch after I left the alternate school, and she always made an effort to call me to see how I was doing. She always seemed to call when I needed someone to talk to the most. It was like she knew I needed her.
One day, it was Thanksgiving of 1999, to be exact, I sat down and wrote Maureen a letter. I wrote her a two-page letter telling her how thankful I felt to have her in my life. A few months later, I got a phone call telling me she passed. I found out she passed from AIDS. When I found this out, I recalled the hospital visit with her, all the safe sex lectures, and her healthy lifestyle. It all began to make sense. She lived the last years of her life, helping us! Helping troubled youth, realize their worth. She loved us like we were her own children. I never got the chance to give her the letter. I did bring it with me to her Celebration of life. I folded it up and placed it in my pocket, but never mustered up the courage to stand up and read it.
At her celebration of life, there was a long white table with pictures of her scattered all over. They were meant for us to keep. The first picture that caught my attention was the one I saw of her at her apartment, laughing and holding the beer in Jamaica. I kept the photo, and put it in a special book, dedicating it to her with a quote she always recited to me.
“If you know your own heart and think the truth, you will always have a friend who doesn’t lie”
The first year of blogging, I reflected on my past year feeling proud of all that I accomplished. However, I couldn’t shake this feeling of incompleteness. In other words, I felt like I couldn’t move forward into the new year because I still had something to complete. I always wanted to write a post dedicated to Maureen, especially since I could feel her strong presence with me all year-long. And then, on December 27th, I received a message from an online Canadian magazine, asking me if I would like to enter a writing contest, thanking a teacher who made an impact in my life. When I woke up to this message, I took it as a sign.
I always wanted to write a post dedicated to Maureen, especially since I could feel her strong presence with me all year-long.
Although I can’t personally reach out to her to thank her, I hope she knows how grateful I am. I think I felt her presence more than ever during my first year of blogging because I began living my truth.
I think she was there in my thoughts to push me to keep going. To tell me she’s proud of my transformation.
Although Maureen didn’t teach me academics, she taught me some of life’s most valuable lessons. And the most important life lesson of all: to truly love oneself.
These lessons left a profound impact on me. Now, I strive to pass these lessons on to other young girls, especially my precious daughters.
Coincidently, I found the thank you letter I wrote to Maureen the other day. It was tucked away deep inside a little pocket inside the memory book I made for her. In this letter, I wrote many words of gratitude for all the ways in which she affected my life. One part of the letter brought me to uncontrollable tears, and this is what it said:
When I’m older and wiser, I think I want a job like yours. I love lending a sympathetic ear to others and helping them out. I think I get it from you. If not that, I want to become a writer.
Maureen was my life teacher, my friend, my mentor, and in many ways like a mother to me. She inspired me to use my life to touch and inspire others. I’m forever grateful for the time we had with one another. I miss her, however, I still feel deeply connected to her. She is always close to my heart, fluttering like a butterfly flickering her beautiful wings.