So, this blog post is going to be a little different from what you may be used to coming from me. And that is because I had the privilege of being asked by a good friend to co-author a piece. I think it turned out really well and I am happy to share it with you all.
Have a read. See what you think. Have you ever received such a thoughtful gift?
A friend of mine reached out to me a while back to tell me about something that had happened to her. The conversation took place over text. It is important that you know that, because often times emotion does not permeate well via typed lettering to a screen. This was not one of those times! Quite the opposite, in fact. Not only was the emotion of the chosen lexicon palpable, it was highly justified.
I heard my phone chime to life with news of an incoming message. I finished taking a large swig of tea while simultaneously reaching for the beckoning phone. And I’m glad I did…
It was a message from a dear friend, Christine. Christine is one of those individuals that possesses a deeply burning passion to better the world and those within it. Always a pleasure hearing from Christine. I swiped along the surface of my phone so as to unlock its secrets and reveal the hidden messages. I began reading and was instantly hooked on what I was taking in…
Christine informed me that she had recently attended a dinner with some good friends and police officers. Truth be told, some of her dearest friends are those whom hold the line… Christine sent two pictures to our message thread along with some more prose. The image she sent was powerful in and of itself, but the story behind it is one that melts even the most insulated of hearts – it was a picture of a pillow; not just any pillow, but a hand-crafted pillow in which the covering was made from a uniform shirt belonging to a police officer. And not just any police officer; a female officer with over twenty-five years of service to her community and country. She is also only the fifth woman in the history of her service to have risen to the rank which she now proudly holds!
This hero’s name is, Cathy. She was the officer sitting beside Christine. Now, again, I was not there, so this is all imagery conjured from the power of Christine’s written word. Cathy had made this pillow out of an old uniform shirt that she had worn on many an occasion during her time in her previous rank.
I said before that this was no ordinary pillow, and it’s not – because it was a gift. A gift from Cathy to Christine. Cathy took the time to have a uniform shirt of which she wore during a great number of trying times for certain, made into a pillow and ultimately passed on to a worthy friend.
I was completely blown away by the symbolism of this selfless gesture. I mean, on the surface and perhaps to the average reader it comes across as a ‘nice gesture’ sure, but to those whom have worn a uniform, like myself, it is so much more than that… A kind gesture? Yes. But one of deeply-seated meaning. As a first responder we wear the uniform of our trade. On our shoulders are embroidered crests that hang with the weight of a community. From the moment you put it on and square it away, you become humbled in the knowledge that you are standing for something much greater than self. Upon learning that, the uniform becomes less like thread and fabric and more akin to that of a second skin. It becomes part of you. The duality of what it stands for and the person wearing it. That uniform follows you everywhere. It is there when you make a difference in someone’s life. It is there when you hold the hand of someone on their worst day. It observes, the same as the wearer when we see life born, leave or be saved. It is witness to the things that we lock our doors for. It holds the tears of the newly bereaved. A stain from that time we didn’t get to finish our lunch – there was a call to get to. It is a uniform that is there at weddings, funerals, parades and celebrations. And sometimes, that uniform can even follow its wearer to the afterlife. Hugging the body until it gets there.
This gift was not just a kind gesture; it was someone choosing to give a piece of themselves to someone they felt was ennobled enough to receive it.
What a gesture, indeed…
The uniform is not just a uniform. And that pillow is not just a pillow. It is a symbol of love, courage, honor and devotion. It is a symbol of everything good in this world and those willing to keep it that way. And you know what? Christine, will no doubt keep that safe.
(Click on Christine’s name to get sent to her blog where you can read more of her stuff.)
When I had returned home that evening, my mind was running at top speed, and the question was who can I relate the events of the evening to who will just “get it”? Ah, yes, my friend Matt!! If anybody will understand what a significant evening this was, he will most certainly understand it, having served in the military and as a paramedic on the front lines with all other first responders.
Four of us met for dinner that evening. Initially we had planned simply to meet up for coffee and conversation, but, Cathy was the one who had the idea, let’s go for dinner, and we can sit and relax and chat easily. Granted, the weather leading up to this evening had been horrid, and the major ice storm on the weekend before had left things challenging until the rains hit and the temps rose on Monday.
One of the things I do enjoy is bringing together people and watching the interactions happen. I just knew that it would be a magical evening once the conversation began. It was such a great group too, our favourite elementary school teacher, Melanie, a sergeant from transit enforcement, Jessica, and a senior level officer from a police service, Cathy. (This comical curmudgeon rounded out the foursome.) All of us had had various contacts with each other over the past year, and we supported each other online, but had never met in person. This would be an exciting night! And to top it off, we were a week past Melanie’s birthday, so we had a belated birthday celebration planned as well.
In the months leading up to our dinner get-together, we had been having longer conversations, sharing our own personal stories with each other, this way, we had a common knowledge base to work from at dinner so we could leap directly into conversation that evening. That worked out better than I had hoped for, as I sat and watched connections made, offers of working together come to fruition, and truly amazing conversations and so much of our lives shared at that table. Again, what I had hoped would happen, plus even more.
And so much in common amongst us. Cathy and I had been sharing stories with each other, and in the process discovered mutual friends that we had, so even more things to plan for later in the year when our favourite friend/sister is off beating her time again in another IronMan Triathlon. The nifty thing was, as we talked, we dug down a little further into our histories and shared more of our stories, and I just knew that Cathy would become as our mutual friend had, not only a friend, but a sister. Family.
We had been discussing some little things we could do to make Melanie’s birthday that much more memorable with some little things from our group as well, and we took care of that as well as the usual trading of pins and items that happens whenever a group of us get together. I figured we were finished with that part of the evening, we had already placed dinner orders all around the table, so it was a matter of digging into the conversation in the meantime. Not quite yet. One more thing to take care of.
Cathy pulled up this big bag and began to tell us about what she had done. In her years of service, and having been a trailblazer for all of that, she had kept the occasional memento of what she had to do to get to that next step. You see, people forget, women in law enforcement is still a relatively new thing, there were some, but not in large numbers, throughout the 20th century, and those who entered policing as a career have been and continue to be trailblazers in that field of work. One thing she had was an old uniform shirt. It had seen much time on duty, and for a number of years too, before finally, after having to be twice as good as anyone else to prove women can do it, she had been promoted. This had a lot of significance and meaning for her, as you can imagine. These things do for anyone who has ever worn a uniform of any kind, particularly first responders.
So, this old uniform shirt, with patches and rank insignia, had been made into a pillow. A gift. To me. Because we have both had our struggles, and she wanted me to have this from her as her recognition of those battles fought and survived/won. Melanie would tell me a few weeks later that I was speechless and looked shocked by it all. I was!
As Matt has told you, that is not just a shirt. It is more than cloth, it is many years of service, of hard work, of struggle, of leading the way. If it could talk, could you imagine the stories it would tell of shifts that left a mark, shifts that left a smile, and more. You might say it cemented the bond of not only friendship, but sisterhood between us. I was then, and still am, beyond honoured to receive something this significant. There is a lifetime in that gift. And what an amazing life the woman who wore it has led to date.
Allow me a moment to give you a bit of history. When you look back through my family tree, you would find that every generation has had family members in uniform. Whether in branches of the military or in first responder careers, in the U.K. and here in Canada. I had expected to keep that tradition going. My top three career choices coming out of high school had included policing. Small world then, that the summer between grades 12 and 13, I would land a summer job through the Ontario Experience Program, the provincial government’s summer jobs for students from high school through university. I had applied through as many ministries as I could, and was hired to spend my summer at Toronto’s 22 Division, working on a crime prevention program.
Now, to dig down a little further. I had come out as trans when I was 16, but only at home, not publicly. And the summer after, when I worked at 22 Division, was 4 months after the infamous bathhouse raids. I thoroughly enjoyed the people I was with, the two Constables we spent all our time with were a joy to work with, and Friday lunchtimes with stories from the road was all of our favourite time of the week. But, I also heard the conversations inside the station, and outside as well. And the more I listened, the more I knew, this was not going to happen, not for me. And women were almost invisible then too, so it was a double hit. This job ain’t for you, you definitely don’t belong here. I ended up in infotech and telecom instead when I graduated school and headed into the workforce.
People have asked why I do the work I have, particularly partnering up with Danielle, the TPS LGBTQ2S Liaison Officer for the past 6 years. Because, there needs to be those people who can sit at the table and have the tough conversations while speaking truth to power, as Deputy Chief McLean regularly reminds me. Because, not only do we work together, but Danielle and I are best friends outside of the work too, and when we get together for laughs, we don’t talk shop. Because I was raised in the environment I was, I can relate to both veterans and first responders at the human level. I don’t speak to the uniform, I relate to the human wearing it. And there are people inside the headquarters building who can tell you that I don’t pussyfoot around, and I have no qualms about blistering the ears of those at the table when something has occurred that only has one suitable response – DAFUQ?! I am definitely no fangirl, but I will sit and have that conversation and get to know the people involved and look at all sides of a situation. And yes, some of my closest and most treasured friends wear a uniform at work. Not a big deal, I enjoy the people (and the humour!).
I have long had an interest in seeing women in uniform have full equity and equality and opportunities for advancement. It is why I work with some of the organizations that I do, because dammit, it’s the 21st century, people are equal, but the memo hasn’t gotten around yet. And I will say this: the people I have met and worked with, the friends I have made, the people I consider family, all welcomed me with open arms. Never had that experience anywhere else, let me tell you.
And that is why Cathy’s gift was so significant for me. We have shared many things from our lives with each other, but this, took the friendship to another level, we most definitely will always be friends and sisters. I only hope that one day I can share something of equal significance and importance with her too. I shared the story of this gift with a few friends, those who, like Matt, I knew would get it right away. Some had tears, some had smiles, but everybody got what a significant thing this is. It’s not just a shirt, and not only a pillow, it is a connection between two warriors who are still leading the battle to leave the world a better place than we found it.
And I adore you beyond words, Cathy… Sister… it is truly an honour to be your friend.
Love, sunbeams, and kitten dreams.