It's Thanksgiving Sunday here in Canada. I am up early, I look out the window beside me into darkness. I like the quiet of an early morning. I like the time it gives me to reflect. So much of how we live our lives is a distraction from how we live our lives. For me, moments of quiet, deep, dark quiet, allow time to take in, process and react to things that passed by me quickly, important things fly by. In the instant it takes to read a text message, to see a Facebook post, to read a line in a newspaper our worlds can change. But the next instant the millions of distractions can diminish the reality of living in a new and different world.
I've learned something important about working with people with disabilities. I've learned about contribution, about what it takes to provide support, about what happens which enables the whole system to do what it does. When I came to work for Vita, it had been a long time since I worked within an agency. Once there, I came to know, inside out, the work behind the work in front. I noticed that those of us who had, as part of our jobs, the incredible honour of being in the role of supporting people with disabilities received, to greater and lesser degrees, acknowledgement for what that work meant. I have said, and believe, that we provide support but also that we are always working to emancipate a people who have been captive to live freely. I believe that direct support staff are the key to making that a success. I celebrate, and am thankful, for the work that's been done, that needs doing and that will require commitment and focus and determination to ensure that what's been done, stays done.
But I've learned something else. That there are those, equally committed and equally passionate that seldom get any recognition at all. They are the people who work in the finance office, in human resources, in office support. These folks may never really be recognized for the work they do and their contribution to the community living movement may never be fully, or even slightly, acknowledged. I thought of this on Thursday when I received a quick email telling me that a lovely man, Chris Eden, had passed away. The news hit Joe and I pretty hard. This is a guy who we truly liked and who we truly respected and who we truly enjoyed working with and having contact with. Chris was, for a very long time part of the support team that brought Joe and I to the United Kingdom to do training and consulting. He was the finance guy.
There were several times we had to call Chris, or that we'd call the office to get information and Chris would answer the phone. He always, ALWAYS, brought calm to a situation and ensured that things got worked out. He had a way of making you feel that you mattered, that your concerns mattered and that everything would be fine. We face a personal emergency once when we needed to do some complicated things between a bank here and a bank in Canada. Chris helped us deal with that, giving advice and support, that made the emergency feel like, well, less like an emergency.
But more than that, it would be a massive oversight to see Chris' impact as simply from the point of view of those of us with whom he worked and those of us to whom he provided personal support. Chris' vision was much broader than that. He understood the very mission of Paradigm, the agency for whom he worked. He understood that his work, his support, through those of us who were consultants and trainers, touched the lives of people with disabilities. It mattered to him. It mattered that the vision, and the mission and the purpose of our work, was also his work.
There are those, maybe in the tens of thousands, whose lives were touched by Chris' work without ever knowing his name. He sat in his office doing what he did, doing it well, knowing that his work was important to the life of the agency and therefore the lives of those who received support or encouragement from the work done.
I know he knew this, because we talked about it once. On a long evening drive from Birmingham to Surrey when he answered instead of the answering machine. It wasn't long, it wasn't complicated, but it was clear, the work mattered and he was part of what made it possible.
It's Thanksgiving Sunday here in Canada, a perfect day to feel grateful that I ever got to meet Chris, ever got to hear how his accent somehow put an 'i' in Dave, ever got to know this kind, and generous and funny man. I am also reminded to feel gratitude for all those who, like Chris, work behind the scenes in making community happen, in making community change, in making lives better.
Though our contact, for the longest time, had only been over Facebook, time and distance hasn't even slightly affected our deepest affection for Chris and our deepest thankfulness for the support he gave us. We send our sympathies, our deepest sympathies, to Chris' family and friends. He will be missed, I know this because he already is ...
Farewell, Chris and thank you for the lives you touched, all of them, through all of us who worked for Paradigm.