Life is All About Moving Forward

Doesn't matter how fast.

italyTelling stories has always been a love of mine. It could be because I’m a Newfoundlander, or that I come from a long line of yarn spinners and learned from the expert, my father. Anyone who knows me could vouch for the fact that if a question can be answered in ten words, I’ll answer it in thirty because it is the story behind the answer that sometimes is more important in my eyes than the actual answer. When I read the first edition of the new 10th to the Fraser and saw that it was going to be about stories, and that the next theme was Movement, I couldn’t resist writing something.

My life has always been about change, reinventing myself, and moving forward. I’ve moved from one end of this country to the other, stopping in Ontario along the way. At 10, I left Newfoundland bound for Ontario. My father was chasing the dream of a better life, and dragged us along for the ride. We arrived in Southern Ontario in the early 70’s in the hey day of the Newfie joke, and I quickly became one. It was the first time in my life I’d experienced discrimination, and it was a hard pill to swallow after spending my early years surrounded by family, friends, and a sense of community. Within a few years I had trained myself to speak like someone from Ontario, and did my best to blend in. Fast forward, 25 years and once again I found myself starting over. This time my former husband, chasing his dream of a better life after arriving in Canada as a refugee from Africa, had us arriving in New Westminster with a 2½ year old and two suitcases in hand to start a new life.

It was 1996, and I felt like I had landed on another planet. After 10 years of living and working in downtown Toronto, New Westminster was definitely uncharted territory for me. My then husband jokingly referred to himself as an endangered species, and he was definitely treated as a bit of a curiosity because at the time he was one of a hand full of Africans in the City. And, he was related to two of them! I laugh when I think about this now because as a City we have come so far. But, back to 1996. We arrived in the rainiest October on record. Each day when my husband went off to work, I was stuck with my 2½ year old in a one-bedroom ground floor apt with no outside access. I foolishly kept waiting for the rain to stop, but finally a few weeks in I bundled my daughter up and off we went to Royal City Centre. At Zellers I outfitted us in rain gear, and got a rain cover for her stroller, and we literally started walking the streets. I knew no one and was bound and determined to change it. We covered a lot of territory walking from one end of the City to another. My daughter got to play in all- and I mean all – the City parks despite the rain. We found Family Place, and we fell in love with Tim at Motoring Munchkins at the Arenex. Slowly, we started to build a sense of community with the other parents we met. Fast forward a couple of years, our second daughter was born and I was fortunate enough to find work in the City with the school district. And, so began my deep connection to this community; a community that by then reminded me so much of my hometown, St. John’s.

I remember the turning point for me, I had been attending the New Westminster Inter-Agency Council as a school district rep talking about issues in the City, and the words from Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech kept ringing in my ears:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do… And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

I’m not a religious person, but the words inspired me to step up, and get involved. And boy did I get involved, between my work and my personal interests I can honestly look back with a lot of pride on the projects I’ve been involved in over the years. But, then things changed for me last year. I hit a wall when a proposed development had me demo-victed from my apartment. I should have stayed and continued to fight, but my sanity and my family’s safety was more important. I lost my home of 16 years, my neighbourhood, and my sense of community.

I’ve spent the last year trying to move forward, to heal, and rekindle my passion. There has been depression, a lot of anger, loss of friends, health issues, and finally, the realization that I have to move forward. I have also realized that at 54, I’m not alone on this journey. So many of us are empty nesters, or are about to be empty nesters, or are entering this new phase of our life single. We are questioning, dreaming, and trying to find the things that bring passion to our life. I’ll tell you that Facebook post advertising the Medieval castle with partial village and olive groves in Umbria, Italy for sale for $8.3 million dollars sure had me buying lotto max tickets! I don’t feel like I have a lot in common with the new movers and shakers in New West and, despite my qualifying age, I am not quite ready to get a Century House membership just yet. So, how to move forward? Only time will tell. In the meantime, I’ve downloaded a great language app on my cell phone and I’m learning Italian 10 minutes a day. I can always dream…

Betina Wheeler

Betina describes herself as a “Passionate Foodie, Mom to two strong young women, and squirrel whisper”. She works in Community Development with the New Westminster School District, and is the chair of the New Westminster Community Food Action Committee.

Betina Wheeler is a really valued member of the Tenth to the Fraser community. Interested in joining our pool of writers? Please see these submission guidelines.

Tenth to the Fraser