Retracing footsteps through the dark

Ricardo emerged out of the rain and darkness of a Vancouver winter carrying with him a carefully wrapped box. It was a Tuesday evening – our regular time to gather as a community to share food and friendship at Kinbrace.

I hadn’t seen Ricardo for over six years. He’d lived at Kinbrace for several months in 2006 when he first arrived in Canada seeking refugee protection. Skilled as an artist and construction worker, he soon found work, moved from Kinbrace, and shortly after received refugee protection.

Then, we lost contact.

“I wanted to come back to say Thank You,” he said as we ate from our steaming bowls of soup.

Over the course of the meal Ricardo told me about his new business designing, printing, and selling T-shirts. He continues to work with a construction firm and has made downtown Vancouver his home.

Then he went on to tell me this:

“Coming here tonight, I intentionally retraced the footsteps I took the very first day I came to Kinbrace. I got off the Skytrain and walked up Commercial Drive, just like a did that first day. I remembered everything. When I got to Kinbrace, I stood on the sidewalk and looked up at the window of the apartment where I lived those first months. I was overwhelmed and overcome by my memories and emotions… it was such a dark time of my life. I am deeply thankful for Kinbrace and the welcome and support I received. But, honestly, Kinbrace has been a place haunted by the painful memories of that season of my life. I left a horrible situation in my home country, and my first months in Canada were so difficult. I apologize it took so long for me to come back to say Thank You.”

I was amazed at Ricardo’s courage to walk through the darkness of a winter’s evening, retracing footsteps, to stand face to face with harrowing memories.

And I am deeply humbled by his effort, so many years later, to say thank you.

As we washed our soup bowls and prepared for tea and dessert, Ricardo opened what he had brought – the small, wrapped box – to reveal a beautiful chocolate cake with the words “Life Is Good” lettered across the top.

On a global scale, Ricardo’s refugee story is, tragically, repeated hundreds of thousands of times each year as people are thrust into refugee situations, forced to survive and seek protection, and settle as exiles in new lands.

Knowing everything that Ricardo has been through, his choice of words – life is good – is no mere cake-topping: it is a powerful statement of hope.

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