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January 27, 2008

A Great Friend

It was my friend Colleen's birthday on Saturday. To celebrate the special day some friends of hers scored some VIP tickets to Macy Gray at the River Rock and I had the pleasure of being invited to go with them.

I met Colleen about 10 years ago when we both worked for UBC Continuing Studies. I don't know a lot about the first half of her life except that out of high school she joined the army and spent some of that time teaching people how to drive army vehicles. In fact, Colleen taught the friend we were with last night how to drive some sort of large truck and her friend took over as driving instructor when Colleen left the army.

She travelled a lot when she was in her 20's living and working in Australia and England.

She's very into language and the origin of words, dance, world music, different cultures and new age spirituality.

She loves to dance and knows quite a bit about Hip Hop. She's a natural teacher and had she gone to university I think that's what she might have done. She likes to do research and she's a very detail oriented person.

She once told me this story about being in some mainstream music store and asking some young guy about some current Hip Hop artist at which point he automatically assumed she was asking for her kid or something. When she got into a conversation with him and it was clear that she knew a lot about current Hip Hop artists and it wasn't for her non existent teenage son, I'm sure she gave the young clerk something to mull over in terms of stereotypes and judging people based on their age.

She's a fellow Aquarian and characteristically she's a humanitarian. She is the rare person who lives creatively on a daily basis. Her life is her art as far as I'm concerned. She never ceases to amaze me and when I was going through some really rough times in the late 90s she always had a knack it seems to me looking back, for showing up and just being or suggesting we do something and just getting me out and helping me feel better just because of her presence.

For the last several years she's really been into Indojazz and takes a weekly class even performing in some annual Indian dance performance that takes place out in Surrey in which mainly children and women from South East Asia participate.

When she was in her 30s, she took a course in Chinese herbal medicine and acupuncture and travelled to China to observe how acunpuncturists and herbalists did their work in hospitals there.

She returned and opened her own acupuncture and herbalist clinic and even renovated it doing the drywalling herself. She was to discover however that it's tough being a Caucasian doctor of Chinese medicine, especially in a culture that is steeped in instant gratification. People expect instant results and they don't have he patience to accept and participate in the iterative process that is Chinese herbal medicine.

She has taken courses in Mandarin and Cantonese and it wouldn't have been unusual in the past to get into her car and be bombarded with some Learn to Speak Mandarin lessons instead of music.

I recall once when we were on our way to a hike but hadn't had breakfast, we stopped in for Dim Sum in some hole in the wall restaurant on East Hastings and after she greeted the waitress in Cantonese we were treated like royalty because the woman was so amazed that some born in Vancouver Caucasian woman could speak any of her language.

She took an African drumming class some time within the past five years and she used to spend her Saturday nights with some well-known drumming teacher and a bunch of guys in the basement of a place on West Broadway playing her jembe into the wee hours.

We had great fun taking a course on Indian culture and cooking a few years back in which we did nothing but travel around to the different Indian restaurants in Vancouver with a small group learning how the cuisine differs depending on which areas of India you are in. The class finale was to cook at the home of our instructor and we made this fabulous Indian feast with our insructor's mother showing us how to make chapatis, gesturing to us as we did our thing since she couldn't speak English.

Her most recent volunteering was in a palliative care unit in Burnaby visiting people who were terminally ill.

She never stops learning, and has done a lot of reading about New Age spirituality and most importantly translates that insight into how she treats people, especially her very lucky friends on a daily basis.

She has inspired me to do more and to think more about learning and living each day more fully. She is generous and giving and caring and she is an example of why what someone does for a living is never a measure of who they are as a human being and never will be, in spite of how much emphasis is put on that in our world.

She managed to scrape together money a few years ago and bought an apartment on the east side only to find out a couple of years later that like so many condos built in Vancouver, this one's envelope needed replacing. Money has always been super tight and since then it only got tighter as a result of every tenant having to cough up what amounts to a second mortgage.

The thing is, lately I keep thinking, if some guy can trade a red paper clip on e-Bay up until he got a house in Saskatchewan, there must be a way to help Colleen get to Cuba, a place she's been wanting to go in the last few years. In fact, in spite of her love of travel, she hasn't been on a plane in nine years.

It makes me think that there should be an adult Make a Wish website where people could then donate money to help someone do something that is out of their reach financially; something that really wouldn't take that much money but would make them so happy. Especially when, because of who they are and all they have done, they really deserve it.

Colleen deserves a vacation! She deserves to visit Cuba. There's got to be a way to help her make that happen through the power of intent.

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