-Be the change you want to see in the world
Mahatma Gandhi’s powerful, albeit edited, words are well known and used as a call to action within service learning books, over doorways of schools and even Jeff and I use it often to drive our business.
But not everyone out there is a hero like Gandhi, Mandela, or King. Most of us are just trying to get by each day, go to work, do the laundry, eat a good meal and get some rest.
Ain’t nobody got time for changing the world!!
My name used to be Tosca Throness, really it did. This is the story of how I got my name and how I met a real-life hero that changed the world.
When I was five I had taken my stepfather’s last name to make it easier for people to deal with our large blended family. Thanks to it being 1980 no one batted an eye. My step dad never adopted me and my assumed name just became part of my identity.
At 15 my parents divorced. My stepfather… well, he wasn’t my legal guardian and my mother moved away to another province. I stayed in Alberta eager to finish my high school years and graduate. At first, I lived in the empty (save the infestation of mice) apartment I had shared for a short time with my mother, after the rent ran out, I couch surfed at several friend’s houses, after their generous parents’ hospitality ran out, I lived in my car, and later when the -40 degree Celsius winter months in Canada loomed on the horizon, I lived in a barn and made my way through high school.
It wasn’t easy. Every morning was filled with feeding the horses (we had close to 100 at that point), cats, dogs, the donkey and Albert the llama, then trudging to school for the day. In the evenings, I would come home to teach riding lessons to earn my room in the barn. Late in the night, I tell people that I worked on homework, but mostly I went out parting with my friends (hey, I was teen and had no parents!!) It was exhausting.
My teachers must have known. I was begging for food in the cafeteria. When there was a school election, I painted anarchy signs on the posters. It was hard to keep up with my changing identities, Rasta, gangster, grunge, punk, and cowgirl- all in a week. I made irresponsible choices that shouldn’t have been a teenager’s to make. In grade 12, my grades dropped and I lacked the percentage in 3 of the 5 major courses I needed to get into the University of Alberta.
I was screwed.
Enter the hero of our story.
A middle-aged man, in corduroy slacks, worn at the knees. Polo shirts that always seemed untucked at the back, glasses in frames that hipsters would die for nowadays. Soft-spoken, he was a mouse in his hole of an office, tucked away on the ground floor of the high school. This was Mr. Tjart, the quintessentially mocked school counselor, m’kay? (I am still convinced he wore a full lycra costume and cape when he was just lounging at home watching the Cosby Show).
One day in passing, Mr. Tjart asked me if I was ok. Simple, but he asked. And he asked everyday for weeks. And everyday I gave him the, ‘I’m too cool for school’ brush off. But one day, tired and at the end of my tether, I walked into his office, sat down, and asked for help.
Mr. Tjart spent hours just chatting with me, then looking over the requirements for university, then designing the next year of my life as a returning grade 13 in order to boost my marks for entrance to higher education.
We had a plan. But it all hinged on me getting money, so I could focus on school instead of working, and trying to find food.
Desperate, I went to Social Services Canada and told them my story. I was informed that in order to get help from the government I needed to drop out of school and try to find a job. The caveat was that I didn’t actually need to secure a job; I just had to be looking. I was incredulous. What? The government of Canada was telling me to quit school? Just so I could get a dead end job and live below the poverty line? Seriously? Even as a teenager I saw the complete stupidity of bureaucracy.
But I’m no dummy. I knew there had to be away around it. As school ended for my grade 12 year and I prepared to be a returning 13, I went to records Canada and obtained my birth certificate, which still held my legal name, Tosca Killoran. The following week I entered my high school and requested all my school records be changed to my legal birth name. That included all back documents of my schooling. Then I shared my secret plan with the secretary of the school.
You see, my driver’s license and other identification still retained Tosca Throness, and with those documents I went to Canada Social Services and applied for aid. When they phoned the high school to see if I was enrolled, they were met with the somewhat honest answer, “No, there is no Tosca Throness enrolled here.”
And that is how I got my name.
Once a month I received a few hundred dollars from the government of Canada that was immediately put towards food and rent. Once in awhile, I would rock up in plastic hot pants and purple hair to a job interview and report back to Social Services that, for some reason, people just didn’t want to hire me.
At the end of grade 13, Mr. Tjart and I sat down and he helped me fill out the university application as well as the financial assistance papers I needed to get funding. My marks were so high I could’ve entered any number of programs, but I chose Education.
Now, I am in my doctoral program at the University of Bath. I have taught close to 300 students in my career and hopefully made an impact on some of those children's lives. Mr. Tjart was no Gandhi, but he was the change he wanted to see in the world.
Really though, if you look closer at this story there are many heroes. The secretary who risked her job and lied for me, the social services agent who certainly overlooked my enrollment at school (I mean, how many Tosca’s do you know??), the woman who let me live and work at the farm and gave me a safe place to stay when I was destitute- and so many others. I will never get a chance to say thank you to those heroes, but the way I live my life is the thank you I give each and everyday.
The point of this long and rambling note is that you are a hero too. You are Mr. Tjart to someone out there. It was one question, “Are you ok?” that changed my world. What a simple thing to do. When we live mindfully, it is not only the marches, or the sit-ins or the protests but the small, unnoticed moments of kindness that add up to impact the globe.
Gandhi is a hero (of course). Girl has a difficult teen life (don’t we all?). Super cool dude helps her out (yae!). She turns out ok (phew). We can all do the same (what?). Be nice, yo (oh, ok).