Honoured guests, members of the charity, ladies and gentleman: My name is Christopher Wallace and I speak on behalf of my gal Melissa and our two children, Charlotte and Howard. It’s a privilege to be here this evening in front of you.
I want to begin by saying what an adventure life is. One minute we are sailing along, wind at our back, and in another moment, a storm rises, testing our limits. Although, I’d helped many others during my lifetime; until the Jennifer Ashleigh folks helped my family, I’d never given it much thought.
But I’ve been around long enough to realize that you just never know what kind of impact you might have on others. It could be a grand gesture or a small act of generosity, or just a heartfelt conversation, any of these can serve as nourishment for someone’s soul in a time of need.
These factors had a big impact on the way I now see the world.
Just after I turned fifty, my missus started to think about us having kids. So I did what any reasonable guy in love would do: I got her a dog. Looking at her reaction at the time, I felt I needed to add that if she did well with the dog, we’d have a child together.
Soon the dog could roll over. Then you could pretend to shoot it and it would play dead. It fetched a toy for me the first time I threw one across the room. In the coolest way, I was being set up. And I loved it.
My father once told me that babies are like little miracles—they’re small so don’t take up much room; somehow, we always find a way to accommodate them into our lives. Mel and I had our first child, Charlotte, and she was as robust as baby’s come. Though we hadn’t planned on having another, when Charlotte was two, along came her little brother.
Mom and dad had five sons and four daughters–plenty of little miracles. However, no grandchildren were named after dad, an honour that then fell to me. (He was a drinker in his early years, so it may just be it took that long for one of his kids to forgive him enough to provide him with a namesake.)
After my dad, our new our baby was called Howard Thomas William Wallace. His second name came from my first Canadian ancestor, Thomas Wallace, who came over to fight for the British Crown in the War of 1812 and later settled in a little place called Oshawa Village.
Baby Howie was born in September of 2013. He was in difficulty from the start, our joy turning to grave concern when he was whisked away from us moments after birth. He had but one kidney, his lungs compressed completely as he fought to suck in air, and his heartbeat was erratic. He couldn’t feed well on his own. What normally would be a few days to make sure mother and child were ready to go home, turned into an indefinite stay. No one prepares for this.
At the time, I worked on commission selling newspaper trials. Although I had accounts all over Canada, income was shrinking fast as readers migrated online. The creative destruction in the print sector caused by the Internet hit hardest just as Howie was born. Immediate family needs meant I couldn’t look for other work.
Mel stayed at the hospital or at Ronald McDonald House, pumping breast milk every three hours around the clock for months. During the week, I’d take my two year old home to Cobourg and give her all my attention during the day, often taking her out on the sales crew in the evenings when I couldn’t find a sitter. Then we’d join Mel on Saturday evening or Sunday at the hospital. Melissa stayed at Howie’s side most hours of the day, lest she miss an opportunity to feed her boy and hold him near. Her only respite was Sunday when I was there, with her breastmilk in hand.
A month after his birth, we were still there. Howie’s trachea was too narrow to breathe or feed so surgery was done to widen his throat.
On occasion, Howie’s heart would go off and a code blue would sound. Mel would be pinned up against the wall of his room as up to twenty-five specialist would address the emergency. Life often hung in the balance as his heart went over 300 beats per minute for over an hour or much more.
On top of the rest of his issues, he was a hard poke—his circulatory system too underdeveloped to get an intravenous line into him to facilitate emergency meds. More than once, Mel watched horrified as they took a common household drill to her screaming baby’s legs to try and put a line into the marrow of his bones—a tactic later abandoned when it was found that the medications took too long to reach the heart that way. The kid was like a pin cushion. Mel was traumatized.
But he had nephrologists, urologists, geneticists, cardiologists, ophthalmologists and occupational therapists because of his feeding tube; plus physiotherapists, ear nose and throat, child development, plenty of nurses and a pediatrician. We were very grateful.
Into months two and three, we soldiered on, our energies taxed but spirits strong, all of our time devoted to assisting in the care of our baby. Our life was on hold and my finances suffered. I had more expenses but couldn’t devote the time I needed to ensure I had a business, especially in the critical fall period where I build my teams to get through winter.
Adding to that list of specialists, were social workers. Two stopped by to see the missus one day, offering to help carefully qualify our situation. It was they who applied to you on our behalf.
It was to be a lean Christmas for us, our priorities elsewhere. But one day in December a substantial cheque came in the mail from your fine charity. It wasn’t going to solve all of our problems, but boy did it help.
And it came at just the right emotional moment. We were trying to get Howie home for Christmas–but it never happened. When he did come home in the New Year, we had to return him a few days later by emergency ambulance. It wouldn’t be the last of our visits.
In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, Mel and Howie spent nine days at Sick Kids, but he’s been stable since. He doesn’t seem to be cognitively impaired and he’s tearing around our house like a normal boy. In fact, Mother Nature has given him a sunny disposition, perhaps in compensation. It took until that first Christmas for Howie to smile, and he hasn’t stopped since. Of course, Mel is his greatest champion. It’s true what they say: there is no love like a Mother’s love.
But your gift of kindness also made me rethink my life. It’s why I’m here. The fact that perfect strangers reached out to people like us in our time of need with tangible support caught me unawares. The more I looked at it, the more I was influenced.
I’d been trained in the behavioural sciences and worked in the addictions and counselling field for a time back in the 1980’s, but drifted back into sales for the money. Now, with a new family to support and the second half of my life to consider, it came to me that I was not living my highest purpose. That despite looking like a guy who was defying the odds and living fully, my life lacked meaning.
I needed to figure out how to live in a way that serves other people. I still do newspapers, though I’m not sure for how much longer. Since that fall and your gift, I’ve been transitioning to a new role, one that answers in me a truer calling.
How we lose ourselves in service of the greater good is one of the best expressions of human spirit. People say we all have a story to tell, one that is unique and compelling. I recently wrote a book that solves the riddle of substance use. Often, I spend a couple of hours with someone and later find that they moderate or stop completely soon after.
It could be, as philosopher Douglas Hofstadter says, that we are all strange loops, reverberating endlessly back toward each other through time. The creative ways we find to celebrate what it is to be human is our connection to life. We live on in each other, in the legacy of spirit that we leave behind, and in the ways that we touch others emotionally while here.
So I want to thank you not just for the generosity you showed my family. I also want to thank you for something else: for showing me the way. For letting me know that the reward is all in the giving. All the rest is in the hands of the universe.
True and Free.
Bless all of you.