Gemma, Olivia, Darren and Lessons of Love….

Returning from a week of magic I feel regenerated. Last week I posted about the event with Gemma Bostik – the young qirl we inducted into the Outer Rim Garrison:

http://www.delta-optimist.com/news/big-ladner-star-wars-fan-gets-special-honour-1.23305735

and then the young woman Oliva whom I also gave a hero medal to when I was visiting the north for a fancon:

IMG_0096mandy and olivia

 

Little did I know I would be presenting another medal that weekend. The third recipient of the “Hero of the Galactic Empire” medal was a young man named Darren. I was asked by the organizer for the 501st up there – Trevor – if I would be ok to do a hospital visit for the kids in the hospital. The 501st members who come up for Fancon make an appearance at the hospital as part of the “Spirit of the North” foundation. I was tired but of course I agreed. The one good thing with doing hospital troops when you’re “friends” with Vader is you have the added protection of wearing a mask. The mask hides the tears that sometimes flow freely with the accumulation of sweat inside the helmet. If you’ve ever done character work you will understand how hot and sweaty the costumes can be. Vader is particularly hot and moist because of the layers of leather, fiberglass and wool that make up the Lord of the Sith. The mask is a barrier between the character and the actor. While the dark lord makes kids laugh (yes, he does that – he’s not all bad) the actor behind the mask has the freedom to let the tears out. No one can see it, nor should they in these situations. I have always been amazed how Princesses can interact with everyone and withhold the tears – characters empower, entertain, enlighten and make magic – there is a time for them to debrief when they are packing the princess away out of sight of the people we entertain.

Forgive me as I am about to reminisce about something I’ve shared with a few people that further illustrate my poor attempt at a point I tried to make in the previous paragraph. Years ago I had a brief stint with making magic in Southern California. I was young, and I ended up dating another character performer I worked with. She was good friends with Princess Aurora. For those of you not familiar with this princess, she is commonly known as “Sleeping Beauty”. Performers are encouraged to create magic personified for each guest they encounter. One day Princess Aurora was visiting guests at a character breakfast. Characters rove from table to table signing autographs and taking pictures with the guests. Aurora approached one table. She greeted the guests with her usual happy demeanour and asked them what they were celebrating. The guests consisted of a couple and their daughter. Their daughter could not speak, was wheelchair bound , but she could express her feelings through her face. This young girl, balding from bouts of radiation and chemotherapy, was all smiles when Aurora approached. The parents explained to Aurora that she was their daughters favourite princess and that they made the trek to visit the park because it was their daughter’s wish. It was, in fact, her last wish. They were there to make her last months of their daughter’s life full of magic and happiness as they eased the transition of her life to the unknown. Aurora did not have the luxury of being able to hide behind a mask. Her training provided the tools she needed to withhold the tears that would otherwise stream down her face as she empathized with the family. Instead Aurora wished them the most magical time and took pictures with their daughter.

Aurora was at the end of her visit, and she asked her supervisor if there was something they could do for the family. The response was “no”. It is common policy that all guests should be treated equally, and that no one guest should be treated any differently – even when facing the end of life.

When Cindy had changed, she went to the Emporium and bought a Princess Aurora doll. She was able to find the family near the Plaza Inn and approached them. She introduced herself as Aurora’s friend and told them Aurora had told her how much she enjoyed visiting with them and wanted to give the young girl a gift. Cindy handed over the Aurora doll and wished them all well. Later that day she told me about her morning and what happened. We cried together. She was deeply moved by the experience, as was I hearing her share it with me.

A month later Cindy was asked to see her supervisor. The family had written to the company and mentioned to them that their daughter was a huge fan of Princess Aurora, and how her friend “Cindy” had met them outside the restaurant with a present for her daughter. They wrote how impressed they were with the present from Aurora, and how the doll became their daughter’s favourite toy, taking it everywhere with her. They concluded by writing that their daughter had recently passed away, and that they buried her with the doll.

Cindy’s gift was something she felt she had to do. It was a gesture of kindness. She was not expecting to hear anything back from the family. She wanted to simply do something to show she cared. It was something she did to make magic for the girl and her family. Her gift did that.

I have long thought about the Princesses and how strong they are. Cindy’s act of kindness has become a story I share with students. As a masked character I have the luxury of anonymity. Tears are hidden from view. I have the freedom to cry. I am so glad for that. However, the Princesses are my heroes. They continue to inspire me.

So – back to Fancon.

I had gifted a “Hero of the Galactic Empire” to Olivia the day before. As I shared what I had done with the other members of the 501st up there, Trevor asked me if I had brought another medal up with me. I had. He told me about Darren and hoped that he was still at the hospital. It sounded odd to me to hear that he “hoped” Darren would still be there. I learned that Trevor does the troop at the hospital only once a year, during Fancon. He was hoping Darren would still be there this year. I learned Darren had not left the hospital in years. I finally knew what he meant.

Years.

I brought the medal the next day. We changed in the boardroom at the Spirit of the North office within the hospital. The group consisted of a local Spiderman, a Stormtrooper, TIE Pilot, Captain Phasma, and Vader. We were brought to the ICU, Emergency, Pediatric and other areas. We were followed by the local news station. Here is their report:

https://ckpgtoday.ca/article/527319/special-visitors-unhbc

They left before we met Darren. We were brought into his room. Unable to move or speak, Darren communicates with his eyes. We visited with him and Trevor presented him the medal. He wanted to wear it right away. The doctors helped Trevor place it on Darren. He asked if we could take a picture with him. He agreed. We did. I am glad we did. Darren, like Olivia and Gemma, is a fighter. I continue to have much to learn from such people.

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We all count. We all deserve love. We all deserve respect. Here is the funny thing. I am not a religious person. In the book Les Misérables, Victor Hugo writes “To love another person is to see the face of God”. This line is echoed in the musical’s finale as well.

Gemma.

Olivia.

Darren.

These people were presented the award in that order. G-O-D.

Love. It is what we all have to offer.

Just.

Love.

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The Importance of Being Magically Earnest

It has been some time since I have made a new entry. I do not have a schedule for posting – I simply write when I am feeling the urge. The urge has struck. It is time.

Many things have happened since my last entry. I took a bold step and performed my one-person show, How Star Wars Saved My Life. Audiences were subjected to my story of being abused, and how one science fiction film did save me from destroying myself. I had no idea how it would be received. It was a success. Truly a success. I was humbled by the responses – here is an example:

 

The show had a short run. However, the message of hope was strong, and it appears that there will be a very exciting future for the story. I wish I could go in to more detail, but with NDA’s being signed I will have to wait until I am cleared to share what the future holds for my show.

This post is not about that, however. It is about magic – or more specifically – how magic can be a powerful tool for healing, creating and empowering. You see, I went dark after my show – I needed to take a break. I needed to recharge, reconnect, realign and rest. In doing so I realized I am truly happy when I am helping others. I am most happy when I am creating magic for others. I love magic. Please allow me to explain.

Two years ago I was part of a small group of troopers who went to visit a very special girl. Her name is Gemma Bostik. She is really something. I wrote about my visit with her in an earlier blog. It was titled “Beginnings, Z95.3 and Nick the Guy”. That visit changed the way I approach trooping with the 501st Legion. Here is a bit more on Gemma and her life’s adventure to date:

 

Gemma loved our visit, and this year we were asked to come back and help her celebrate her 8th birthday. It was a bigger event. I attended as a handler (a person who helps others get into costume, look out for them, etc). I was able to watch the characters interact with Gemma and her friends. She was having a blast. The troopers were having a blast. She made them all dance to her favourite song “Uptown Funk”. I watched them dance together: A Stormtrooper, Tusken Raider, Kylo Ren and Boba Fett. She had asked specifically for Kylo Ren to attend her party. She asked us lots of questions. I was not in costume. Instead I was wearing my black BDU Legion shirt with various Star Wars patches. She asked who I was. You see, she believes. She believes in magic – that these characters can visit her, that she is on friendly terms with the Empire. It is something that I believe gives her hope and helps keep that mystery and magic we all love as children. I was slightly taken off guard when she asked me who I was, but I responded that I was their “representative” on Earth. It was a feeble response, but it seemed to work. I realized after that if I was to be a handler for future troops I would need to create something that kept me in the realm of the Star Wars Uniform. An officer costume would be perfect – I could monitor the characters I was handling without being out of place. I now wear the uniform when taking on handler duties. It’s that extra effort that really goes a long way.

Later that night I received an email from Amanda – Gemma’s mom. In her email she wrote that Gemma had a fantastic time and that there was no way she’d be able to top this. Amanda and her husband Charlie go all out for their Gemma because she was not expected to live past one year old. She’s eight as of this year. I pondered over the comment “no way to top this”…..It was time to put magic into action.

I began with my fellow troopers. I asked them if they’d come out to troop a special troop for Gemma again – all replied they would! Great. I thought, we can’t wait for another birthday – it’s too far away. Maybe a few of us could come to their door and give Gemma a “medal of yavin” as a hero medal. Yes, I know you’re thinking “but that’s a rebel medal”. You’re right. It is. But the Empire doesn’t have any medals. I reflected on this. I belong to an international group who dedicate their appearances to raising money for many amazing charities for children. We DON’T have a medal. Giving Gemma a Yavin medal would not be appropriate. After all, they are readily available, easy to get. No. If we were to do this right we would need our own medal. An Imperial Medal. We often gift challenge coins to the children we visit but this has bothered me from time to time. After all, some children are tactile. There is a choking hazard with some coins. Coins can also be easily misplaced or lost. Children, like adults, need touchstones. They need talismans to reassure them things are going to be alright when they go back to the hospital for the umpteenth time. Many of the kids we visit are hospital regulars. Some never leave the hospital. Some don’t come back when they go to the hospital. They need something to let them know it’s all right. Challenge coins can be lost – and if you have ever been with a child when they misplace something they rely upon to calm themselves, to reassure themselves that things are not bad or not scary, then you will know that things can quickly get out of hand. Something that can not be easily lost, that can be nice to look at, that can be held in moments of needing extra reassurance, that is unique and makes them feel special, can be a powerful calming and healing tool. I decided we needed to have our own Imperial medal. Gemma would be the first recipient of the medal. But what would it say. It had to be something that looked like it came from the Empire. I created one that had the phrase “Hero of the galactic empire” forged in the alloy. The ribbon would have to be Imperial colors – so red and black were the obvious choice to me.

Now I had taken care of troopers and a medal. what would be next? I remembered a few years back we inducted a young boy – Wilson – into the garrison. That’s it. I asked our executive and they replied there would be no problem doing that for Gemma. I went over the check list:

Troopers. Check.

Medal. Check.

Honorary member of the Garrison. Check.

Not too bad for a young girl. What else could we do for her? What if she had her own patch and her own coin? Maybe we could create these for raising money for a charity of her choice. Ok, but now this was getting larger and larger. I tried to get a cartoonist to come up with a fun image of Gemma. He didn’t get it and the image was frightening. I posted my dilemma on facebook. Terry, our former Garrison Captain responded with the question “how can I help”. I shared with him how Gemma’s mom asked her if she was ever to have her own patch, what would she want on it. Gemma responded that she wanted to be in a stormtrooper costume, saluting in her wheelchair while Darth Vader stood behind her in front of a symbol of the new order. A bit of a Star Wars hot mess. Within the hour Terry had nailed the design. Things were coming together. I spoke with Matthew Purdy at Toy Traders. His store is huge and amazing and just happens to be Gemma’s favourite place to go when she’s looking for toys. Matthew didn’t even hesitate and offered his space, created a raffle, and advertised. I asked Amanda what Charity she would like to represent – Muscular Dystrophy. I contacted them. Tiffany, the representative attended the day of the ceremony. The troop became an official 501st troop with many troopers signing up. It became larger. I decided I would have to run the event, meeting Gemma at the door when she arrived and announcing her arrival. Stormtroopers filing in behind us as we approached Lord Vader, Boba Fett, a Tusken, Imperial Guards, TIE Pilots and our Commanding Officer. somehow it went off well. We called ourselves “Gemma’s Squad”. I presented Gemma with her medal.

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Gemma had an amazing time. We all did. Her joy and happiness is infectious. That was a few days ago. I then drove up north to Northern FanCon with the 501st. I visited my mom and she told me of another little girl who was a fan of mine (I am not making this up – she loves the Airbud franchise, as well as other Robert Vince movies that I have been somewhat of a regular in). She’s wanted to meet me for years. Just tonight she came by – my niece is one of her caretakers. Her name is Olivia – and like Gemma, she loves Star Wars. I happened to have brought up two other medals, so:

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I presented her with her “Hero” medal. Much like Gemma, Olivia is expressive, full of life and has so much to share and we have so much to learn from heroes such as these two. They inspire me to go beyond to create magic. Some say magic isn’t real. But when I see the joy and the happiness in others, it moves me. Gemma and Olivia have medals that are not common. They have medals that they can wear to their hospital visits and that can make them feel proud to be heroes. They are. Both of them are my heroes. I am so honored that I have had the opportunity to present them both with something that makes them feel special, something that is for them. At the end of the day, it’s not about the medals or the stuff, though. It’s about the things we do or say  and the actions we take that can make this world a more beautiful and magical place.

Gemma told me at her ceremony that she couldn’t walk. I told her, why walk when you can glide? She liked that.

Olivia doesn’t speak. But her movements and expressions say everything. She is full of energy and is a happy and joyful person.

I have learned a lot about love, joy and happiness in the past few days than I ever thought I could have. The magic that I thought I was creating was not what I expected it to be, for it seems in both these cases, these girls were making magic for me. Their magic, like mine, was earnest.