This is Life, Based on a True Story  

The Gratitude Project

When I was a 20-year-old in college, I lived in a downtown Edmonton apartment with a roommate.

While I was doing my practicum, I wasn’t able to work enough hours to cover my rent, utilities and food because my practicum required me to “work” (a.k.a.: volunteer) full-time hours to graduate.

I only worked a couple evenings a week and weekends. But since I didn’t have enough money to cover my basic necessities, every month I fell more behind in financial obligations.

One morning, I was leaving my apartment, stressed over my finances and had a teary moment in the elevator going down to my car.

Someone got in the elevator with me and I was so embarrassed by having a red-eyed, “cry-face.”  I tried to hide myself from this person’s gaze, to no avail.

He asked me if I was OK.

I said I was, happy when the elevator finally arrived at my — and as it turned out — his parkade exit.

As I walked to my car, I realized, my elevator buddy was following me. As it turned out, we shared neighbouring parking stalls. He looked at me as I was getting into my car and said some words that meant nothing to me at that time – that I just have to trust it will be OK, and it will be.

I never thought about that moment or him till a couple weeks later when I went to the apartment’s office to submit my half of my rent (that’s how we did it “back then”). The lady taking payments said my rent and parking had been paid for the month.

I was shocked. Was she sure? Who paid it?  She was able to tell me nothing more other than I just had to trust it would be OK.

And that’s when I knew. It was him. My elevator buddy. I never met him or ran into him again. And his car was no longer in the parkade next to mine.

That single, secret act of kindness made one of the biggest impacts on my life on me and is one I remember to this day.

Which brings me to this column …

I was so excited to write this column for so many reasons. Here’s why …

A few weeks ago, I said to my editor of this column I wasn’t sure I’d be able to continue writing as a regular columnist as I was running out of ideas. I mean honestly, if there’s no crisis or dramatic teenager thing going on, I struggle for a topic.

My editor said he’d hate to see me give it up and suggested I write about other topics – as in, he’s not limiting me to be able to write about anything and everything.

That made it harder. I sometimes like having my “box” to write in because it reins me in. It forces me to control my out-of-control thoughts.

And then it came to me … I’ve been formulating a book idea for a while. Why not use this platform I’ve graciously been granted to help achieve that goal?

And this is how my next life chapter begins.

I have a few ideas for books I plan to write over the next decade or so. But I’m going to start with the idea that not only energizes me, but is also one I try to emulate in my daily life.

I’m a firm believer in the “pay it forward” action and the necessity to be kind to one another. Media love to capitalize on the bad and terrible; and its oh-so-easy to get caught up in that cycle.

We can all be vicious keyboard warriors on social media and other websites — happily typing and tearing apart one another over a mere opinion, protected by the cocoon of a username and anonymity only the internet can offer.

We need less of that. We need is to be reminded of how much goodness goes on all around us daily, whether someone is there to catch it on camera or not.

We need to be reminded that an act of kindness can change one person’s life – even when it’s not posted on Facebook.

And this is where my idea originated.

My first book will be about gratitude and kindness – and how we receive it and give it.

If you’ve ever been witness to, participated in or started any sort of act of kindness, pay-it-forward, gratitude moment, I want to hear about it!

In the beginning, I was going to focus on just Okanagan gratitudes. Then I decided to expand it to B.C., but then realized it’s not something I’d want to limit to a region. Although, I plan to have a special focus on our community because there’s so much good that goes on right here in our valley.

If I’m being totally honest, I fear I might not have enough material to move past a couple of chapters. But the optimist in me thinks I’ll have enough to do a whole series.

I went to a workshop not long ago about living my brave life. This was the first time I’d spoken publicly to people who weren’t my best friends about this crazy book idea of mine.

Speaking it out loud to people who didn’t know me has now made me accountable to myself — and a roomful of strangers — to follow through.

And so now, I have to do this. Am I scared? Hell, yeah. But if I don’t do this, my regret will be bigger than my fear — even if this idea is a total fail.

So, how can you help if you’re so inclined?

I need you to send me any acts of kindness, pay-it-forward moments or gratitudes you’ve either witnessed, started, know of or participated in.

I’m also open to receiving drawings your kids have done that captures kindness (scan and send as a jpeg).

I also need you to share this as much as you can … put the power of social media to use in a good way. If you have a special Okanagan connection to the story, please be sure to include that as well.

Send your story to: [email protected]. Include your contact info so I can clarify or verify info if needed. 

My ultimate plan is that this will be published as a coffee table book and sold, with a portion of the proceeds going to a local charity or charities.

Now for the boring part … your full name, email or other identifying info won’t be published.

I would like to print first names only of people who agree, and if not, it can be anonymous, but I still need contact info for any clarification.

The most valuable thing I learned while doing my college practicum had nothing to do with my course of study … but rather how one small token of kindness can make a lifetime of difference. It did for me ...

Thanks for your contributions and sharing … and as always, thanks for reading.


Waiting for something better

One of my favourite writing topics is relationships. It’s something everyone can relate to and there seems to be no definitive right or wrong advice.

What works for one person may not for the other.

My friends and I tend to discuss our relationships ad nauseam. Whether we’re married, single or in an “it’s complicated” situation, there’s always tons of material to laugh about, stress over and advise upon.

This column is the result of an evening out with a newly single friend. Her marriage started falling apart a few years ago. My friend and her husband took turns fighting for it, but they couldn’t seem to get in sync with one another, despite doing everything “right.”

They went to counselling numerous times – both as individuals and as a couple. But it was to no avail.

They have mutually agreed to separate and are going through the motions of figuring out housing, kids’ schedules and who gets the silverware they received as a wedding present.

My friend is a myriad of emotions – happy one moment and in tears the next. She questions her motives, his motives and how the kids will handle their new lives.

She’s dabbled with thoughts of trying to resurrect her marriage, but then falls apart when she remembers the conversation she had with her husband that ended it.

Her life is a parody of the devil on one shoulder, angel on the other; filled with decisions she’s made and ones she has yet to make.

She recently made the jump into the dating pool – by doing what the vast majority of singles do – she signed up for an online dating site.

There’s a lot out there to choose from and she didn’t know anything about any of them – only what she’d heard. And one person’s good experience was often another’s horrible.

To be fair, she only went onto one to get a feel for it and to see if this was how she wanted to proceed. She wasn’t even sure she was ready to start dating again.

Her naivete in this venture made me laugh. She’s gorgeous – both from a physical standpoint and an intellectual one.  It didn’t take long – like maybe five minutes – before she was receiving messages and “winks” on her picture from interested suitors.

One of the men who contacted her was someone she knew from her school days. She followed up with him and they’ve since re-established a friendship. She says she’s interested in possibly pursuing more with him – and he gives off the same vibes to her.

But this is where she gets confused. And admittedly, I am too.

They’ve met a few times in person and text throughout each day. Everything’s a go when they’re together. But then after, he doesn’t respond to her texts —often till hours later, if then. She can see he’s received and read them, then when he finally replies, he’s evasive and short.

Apparently, it’s some sort of unwritten, secret “code” that everyone (but her) knows — you don’t want to sound too eager.

Her argument is yes, of course, she’s eager to meet and chat with him. Why does that have to be a bad thing?

She goes on to say that at her age of 40, she’s not interested in games. She’s focused on rebuilding her life and moving forward. She’s not looking for someone to take care of her — she can do that herself. She just wants a willing sidekick to go through life with.

I have to agree with her. My reasoning behind what she’s experiencing is this: at our age (40-something), we’ve all experienced love, loss and new beginnings — whether by our own choice or not.

Now we’re out in this big, confusing world of dating again — except we’re older and have kids in the mix. Plus, we tend to communicate from behind a keyboard — the very thing we love to criticize the younger generations for. 

But it’s still exciting and new and a much-needed reprieve from the real life struggles we just went through.

Many of us don’t want to make the same mistakes or re-experience what we just came out of in terms of relationships. So we’re cautious. We tread slowly. And … we’re inundated with other possibilities.

Sadly, it’s too easy now for anyone doing online dating, to not only see you, but continue to watch and wait for the next best thing. The whole philosophy of playing it cool and there’s always someone else out there, is hindering our abilities to make sincere connections with each other.

That, in turn, seems to make us play the games we all have no interest in, yet still take part in. I for one, think it’s ridiculous.

If you’re interested, then go with it. Stop waiting to see if someone better comes across your screen; just turn the screen off. You can’t fully expect to get to know someone if you’re still swiping left or right. 

Everything online, from shoes to relationships, gives us more options than has ever been available to generations past. It doesn’t mean you have to partake.

I find it odd that in a time when people complain about how hard it is to maintain human contact, we purposely sabotage the good contacts we do make — hoping, waiting and anticipating the next best thing — that may in fact, never happen.

Thanks for reading.

Even bullies feel regret

On the heels of my last column about bullying and how it affected me as an adult, I wanted to share with you the other side of the story – that of the bully.

My previous column struck a chord with a lot of people, and generated the second-highest number of emails and Facebook messages I’ve ever received in response to my columns.

It surprised me because I was just telling my story. But when I learn how it helps or affects others, it’s a reminder of why I push myself to share parts of me with you.

Among the messages I received were people from my past asking if they had bullied me. Wondering and worrying that this could be about them. In every case, the answer was no.

And despite their not falling in the “bully” category, they all apologized for being the way they were – stating they were different back in the days when we were kids and teens.

I totally agree. I look back at some of my actions and cringe. But you do what you at the time because it’s all you know. Experience will eventually help us see more than what’s in front of us — and most of us don’t grow into that until we’re decades older.

Every one of them thanked me for bringing this to light. A couple of people said they now know they need to reach out to those people whom they knew they hurt, to make amends.

The other “group” of people who contacted me were those who wanted to share their story and how being bullied affected them.

What that told me more than anything is how so many people share that experience, but never speak about it. One person actually likened it to being ashamed for not being cool enough to fit in. I found that sad.

I received a lot of messages from people who said they were bullies. And they knew they were at the time. Their stories are the reason I’m writing this column today.

The theme of their messages was regret. These people feel regret as adults, knowing they went out of their way to bully others when they were younger.

One person said the regret feels like their karma as their kid is now being horribly bullied. They said it pains them to see what their child is going through because they now understand the pain they consciously put another person and their family through.

Another person said they can see the same bullying tendencies in their own kids, but don’t know how to stop the process, despite their and others’ intervention.

Every single person said over and over how sorry they were for doing that to another human and putting someone through that, despite knowing better.

One person seemed to paraphrase everyone’s thoughts best. They stated that being able to say sorry to someone for a past action like bullying, is a gift.

“It’s humbling and oh so difficult.”

They went on to say that in most cases, the person who was a bully probably didn’t even deserve to be given the chance to apologize – let alone forgiven.

But if the person accepts their apology — truly accepts it — that’s even more of a gift. To the offender, it’s hopeful indication that person has moved on and has forgiven; even before the apology came.

For no one ever knows or expects the admittance and subsequent apology.

What I took out of all of this was the reminder that there are two sides — sometimes more — to every story. That we are all capable of and likely to change as we become more aware. That even the meanest bully realizes it one day. And that almost all of them wish for a do-over. To make things right, seek forgiveness and change the perception of who they were.

My favourite part of writing in general, is the platform it can give me to possibly help others. That’s my goal when I get down to the heart of it. I don’t hit the mark as often as I’d like, but when I do, it’s rejuvenating.

Thanks for reading — and inspiring.

After the bullying ends

What happens to kids who were bullied and are now adults?

What about the kids who were bullies and are now adults?

Are they still bullies?

I’ve written at length about bullying and its effects on kids. Countless news stories, studies and cases have been documented as testament to these effects.

No one disputes the negative impact of kids involved in bullying – whether as the bully or the person being bullied. It seems the problem is worsening, courtesy of social media.

Or maybe bullying has always been this bad, we’re just more aware of it now – once again, thanks to social media and its far-reaching capabilities to spread news, both good and bad.

I write this column from the standpoint of the kid who was bullied and is now an adult.

The inspiration for this column came in the form of a Facebook message.

Among many others, I was invited to participate in a class reunion of sorts from my elementary/junior high days. A few old classmates are organizing a get-together for anyone from the Grade 9 “grad” class wishing to catch up on the good ol’ days.

Except for a few of us, those aren’t the good ol’ days. In my case, far from it. The teasing and bullying during some of those formative years were bad enough that my parents eventually moved me to a different school for ninth grade, so I didn’t actually “grad” Grade 9 with that group of people.

I started at the school when I was in Grade 3 and everything was fine up until Grade 7. I’m not sure what changed or happened that summer between Grade 6 and Grade 7. All I know is that when school started again that fall of my first year of junior high, things had changed.

Friends who I’d previously hung out with were no longer friends, new groups and cliques had formed. The crazy thing is we were all still in the same school – as in the same building that we’d been in since the elementary days. So other than our locker room changing, the environment itself remained the exact same.

There were a few new faces, but the core group of students remained the same. Looking back, that is probably where things started to shift.

I remember a new girl coming to my school, whom I’d befriended the spring before outside school. Her family had just moved to the area, and I was one of the first people to meet her through the church we’d attended. 

Imagine my excitement when I saw her at school that first day of Grade 7.  I didn’t even know she would be going to my school until I saw her that day. I remember approaching her and being proud that I was the only one who knew her – that I’d get to be her tour guide and introduce her to all my friends and favorite teachers.

That worked for a few days. But then she met others who also thought she was as cool as I did. She formed bonds and friendships with others, and as the days went on, I saw less of her.

It soon became clear that she preferred to hang out with her newfound friends and nothing I could do would change that.

So I did what made sense to me at the time. I lashed out and tried to hurt her in a very public way. It worked too. She was in tears by my actions (not physical actions). I got satisfaction from being able to make her feel as bad as she made me feel when she stopped hanging out with me.

Was it right? Obviously not. I knew that then as well. But emotions preceded intelligence and I ran with that like a runaway train.

What I didn’t take into account was how my actions would affect me long-term. Her new friends all sided with her. I was public enemy No. 1 and things became quite miserable.

There was tons of verbal bullying and name calling. I was also physically bullied. I was on the smaller side as a young teen, so was no match for anyone. Plus, I was scared of getting into a fight.

I used to run to the school bus at the end of the day so no one could beat me up. I lived in fear for two full years of junior high before my parents mercifully pulled me out of that school.

Did I deserve it? Well, maybe to an extent. My actions toward that girl were uncalled for, mean and vindictive. I guess you could say I reaped what I sowed. Tough lesson to learn, but it was well learned.

The problem was, it went on and on. It never ended. People who had no affiliation with her or me still bullied me. I was being bullied simply because it was me. New people would come to the school and not even know me or talk to me, but would bully me because everyone else did.

So years down the road, how did this affect me? Both positively and negatively.

Negatively in ways such as my self esteem and confidence were non-existent for years. I don’t think I ever stood up for myself or my beliefs until I was in my late 30s.

It was afraid of being ridiculed. It was easier to be wishy-washy than assertive. And that way, I always fit in, no matter what.

But on the positive side, it made me more aware. I tuned in very quickly to how my actions can be used to either better the world or make it more sinister. I learned self-awareness at a young age and how to view things from as many points of view as possible.

I learned to nurture other people’s feelings because they all have a story to tell – that a bad encounter doesn’t make someone a bad person.

Most importantly, I learned we are all human and will make mistakes, but we all seek and desire forgiveness. It doesn’t make us weak – but rather, strong.

Will I go to this reunion? Well, the jury’s still out on that. Other than a few people via Facebook, I don’t communicate with anyone from that time in my life.

I guess I’ll make that decision closer to the time. And in the end, it will be what it will be. But the little, insecure junior high kid in me is glad they included me in that invitation.

Thanks for reading.

More This is Life, Based on a True Story articles

About the Author

Tanya Gunderson has been writing for the heck of it for many years. Her inspiration comes from her kids, their friends and the craziness of life. She takes great pleasure in exposing life for what it really is and has an open-book approach to her writing.

Her formal education and background include a blink-and-you miss-it stint in the radio and television industry, but it gave her an opportunity to write professionally on a few different occasions.

Email: [email protected]



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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