It was the last few minutes, of the last day, of the final weekend of my Fall/Winter season, before I closed up Shavasana Gallery & Café for the year.
On this particular day – unlike all the others – I was shutting down an hour early, at 3 o’clock, to give myself enough time to do a detailed cleaning of the Gallery in anticipation of hosting my family there the following weekend, for Christmas dinner. It was Sunday Dec. 18, the first day of Hanukkah, exactly a week before Christmas, and I could see a light snow falling through the steamy single pane windows. The few customers I had left were fine with an earlier closing, except for my neighbour Billie who had just sat down to a plate of cookies and a Brown Betty teapot full of English Breakfast & Mint. “Don’t worry Billie, you’ve got a pot of tea there”, I said, “you can hang out while I do some cleaning”. After all, it was “Island Time”, the loose rules and flexible schedules that seem to govern any notion of time on the Gulf Islands. Billie could sip and nibble and chat while I dusted, swept and mopped. I brought in my roadside sandwich board, and my Easel Signage, and put up my “Closed” sign to dissuade any latecomers.
As the light began to wane, and the flurry of snow gathered pace, Billie noticed, out of the corner of her eye, a couple walking towards the front door and said, “Oh oh…here come some people, I’ll tell them you’re closed.” She got off her chair, opened the door and said, “Sorry, the café is closed for the day.” I couldn’t see who it was outside but I could almost feel their dismay at being turned away. Realizing that I still had a supply of hot coffee in the Zojirushi, and lots of hot water on hand for tea, and the ever-present supply of cookies, I said, “Hang on there a sec Billie, maybe they’d like a hot beverage to go” I went to the door and greeted a 30ish couple – dusted in snow – and invited them in, explaining that I was indeed closing down but could set them up with a hot coffee or tea – if they liked.
Thrilled to be invited into a warm space with the prospect of a hot drink, they joined us inside, expressing thanks and gratitude for not having been turned away. They had no car and – despite the weather – were on a walking adventure around Mayne, cherishing a chance to get away from the city and unwind a bit. I would soon find out how far they had come to unwind.
Shavasana Gallery was the third place they’d gone that was either closed or shutting down – an unfamiliar experience for a young urban couple having their first foray to a Gulf Island. As I prepared a couple of hot chocolates for them, Billie decided to pay up and go so I wished her a Merry Christmas and gave her a little hug as I was unlikely to see her when I returned the following week.
While I stirred their hot chocolates and chatted with them about a myriad of things, I could detect accents that I was unable to place, so, as is my nature I asked where they were from. “Kazakhstan”, replied the young woman, “And Ukraine” replied the young man. “Wow”, I said, “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone from Kazakhstan, very nice to meet you”,…”and Ukraine”, I said, momentarily at an, uncharacteristic, loss for words. Although I have known Ukrainians, and had Canadians of Ukrainian descent as friends all my life, I don’t think I have been in the presence of a Ukrainian since the horrible invasion of their country began earlier this year. All that I could do was place my hand over my heart and express my profound sympathy, support and compassion for the suffering that he and his fellow Ukrainians have been going through…”I’m so sorry for what has been happening to Ukraine since the invasion” I said, “how are you doing?” “I am doing OK thanks”, he said, “I’ve been in Canada for a while now, and have recently managed to bring my family over – so for this I am happy” he said, smiling
I can only try and imagine his relief.
“Even though Mayne Island is far away from the war in Ukraine,” I said, “the people here do care and try and help where we can.” I drew his attention to a book by Julie Emerson which I had on display for sale on the main table. “Julie created this book of stories and illustrations – all about Ukraine – and we are donating 100% of the sales to Ukraine Relief efforts.” He picked one up and flipped through it, admiring Julie’s work. “And another one of my artists, Famous Empty Sky, donated 10% of all sales of her art to Ukraine Relief …I think we raised several hundred dollars”. “That is wonderful,” he said, “every little bit helps…”
As I was handing them their hot chocolates and preparing to send them on their way – back out into the snow and gathering dusk – I found myself hit by a case of “the feels”. “Can I give you a hug?” I asked, “Yes, of course,” he said, smiling, arms outstretched. As we embraced, his lovely Kazakhstani wife – smiling broadly – opened her arms and said, “Me too!” As a hugger, it doesn’t take much convincing for me to hug everyone in a room. I gave her a big hug, shook both their hands and wished them all the best for a peaceful, gentler 2023….and said goodbye.
Here’s hoping and praying, that all of our wishes for Peace in Ukraine 2023 come true.