I became a writer because I wanted to change the world. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t overcome by an inflated sense of my own importance or a misguided naiveté about how this would work. But I’m a passionate person, and I believe that writers are given stories for which we are responsible. We’re responsible to tell those stories, to release them into the world to find their own way. As a writer who writes to make a difference, it’s enough to know that your words changed the world in some small way for the handful of people who read your article, or blog post or book. Literally, the greatest reward for many writers is knowing that your work made a difference for someone.
What I did not expect, after the release of my book, “Fireflies: Finding Light in a Dark World” last summer, was everything that would happen next. I did not expect to have launched the Jim Young Foundation so thoroughly in such a short period of time. I did not know that I would return to Prince George, several months in, and be so deeply, warmly welcomed. It was the last thing I expected. It’s hard to imagine writing honestly and critically about your experiences in your home town and also being able to go back to have so many, many people there to welcome you.
“Fireflies”, in part, tells the story of my brother Jim and his struggle with mental health and addiction. On May 28, 2016 — 24 years to the day after Jim’s tragic death — I read from “Fireflies” at Books and Co in Prince George and I shared the Jim Young Foundation with the people who came. I did not expect the room to be filled with people from our childhood, teary eyed and hopeful, some sharing for the first time their own experiences that paralleled my brother’s. I did not expect to be so forever impacted by the sight of this enormous room filled with caring people talking together, hugging and exchanging email addresses afterwards. But the most impactful and life changing moment for me was to stop and notice, in the midst of it all, the young boys we grew up with, now grown men, opening up their lives to one another, sharing and embracing their own stories together, lives that had been filled, like Jim’s, with many difficult twists in the road. I did not expect to be gifted such a day in my lifetime: a day in which you see right before your eyes something you’d written making a difference.
After that reading, an unexpected flurry happened. One of the “kids from school”, Allan Fox, who is now an amazing community leader, started a Facebook group and people rushed to join in, talking and sharing photos, remembering together in a joyful way. And because it was such a great opportunity to reconnect, he hosted a wonderful reunion party earlier this month in Prince George.
In the meantime, the Jim Young Foundation began to unfold its vision to bring the Australian project, “R U OK? Day” home to Canada. R U OK? Day is an annual day dedicated to reminding people to ask family, friends, colleagues and even strangers the question, “R U OK?” in a meaningful way. Connecting regularly and meaningfully is one thing everyone can do to make a difference to anyone who might be struggling. It’s a project that serves to protect against suicide by fostering social connectedness. The vision of the Jim Young Foundation is to see RUOK? Day become an important annual event all across Canada.
Following the reunion in Prince George, a very dedicated team of volunteers joined together to launch the first R U OK? Day in Canada with the support of the Jim Young Foundation. Because of those amazing human beings in Prince George — and because Prince George is a very special place filled with people who are go-getters and leaders and make-it-happen kind of people — on October 20, 2016, Prince George, BC will begin the very first R U OK? Day in Canada. The enthusiasm and joy that is buzzing around Prince George about this event is thrilling. On October 20, I will return to Prince George to speak at the dinner event at Fore Restaurant.
How on earth am I this blessed?
And here’s what I’ve learned: If you want to change the world, use whatever is in your hand. If it’s words, write. If it’s songs, sing. If it’s kindness, reach out. If it’s strength, lead. Step into the stream. Maybe the small thing you do will be the very thing that someone else needed to help them step in, too. Together, we will change the world.
Heather Gordon-Young is the author of “Fireflies: Finding Light in a Dark World. View the book trailer by clicking here. Fireflies is available through Amazon or any online book store in paperback or kindle and other e-formats, or ask your local bookshop to order in a copy.