Attention Must Be Paid
Written by Eugene Stickland - December 1, 2020
A month out as we look ahead at the holiday season, no clear image appears and we find ourselves faced with a great degree of uncertainty. Not only that, some of us are also feeling a whole range of emotions we don't normally associate with Christmas - fear, dread, frustration and even anger.
Helen and the staff and volunteers at Stardale are aware that during this Christmas season in particular, our girls may find themselves in extraordinarily vulnerable situations. Let's just call it for what it is - a lot of our girls live in houses that Santa seldom finds on his big night out. It's bad enough when things are good with the world; this year feels like a looming disaster.
With this in mind, the women of Stardale are looking for ways to mitigate against the uncertainty of the times and to help give our girls the best Christmas possible. It's a tall order, but it's what we do.
In talking about this the other day, Helen reminded me of a blog post I wrote a number of years ago, back when things were "normal," about the Stardale Christmas party. (It is titled "Attention Must Be Paid" and the original version can be found on
my personal blog at eugenestickland.com)
When I wrote it, I was teaching a contemporary drama class at St. Mary's University in Calgary. On the reading list that term was Arthur Miller's classic play Death of a Salesman. The expression "attention must be paid" comes from an impassioned speech by the salesman Willy Loman's wife Linda towards the end of the first act:
. . . I don't say he's a great man. Willy Loman never made a lot of
money. His name was never in the paper. He's not the finest
character that ever lived. But he's a human being, and a terrible
thing is happening to him. So attention must be paid. He's not to
be allowed to fall into his grave like an old dog. Attention,
attention must finally be paid to such a person . . .
These lines rang true for me that year when I attended the Stardale Christmas party, and the rest of my blog post reads as follows:
Attention must be paid. Surely one of the reasons we go to the theatre or study literature is to come across lines like these that transcend their context and possibly become dictums that can influence our behaviour and how we go about living our lives.
But it won't surprise my readers to learn that I am not here to talk about Arthur Miller or Death of a Salesman, at least any more than I already have, other than this idea that attention must be paid.
Last night, I attended the Stardale Aboriginal Girls Christmas party. (I wrote about my teaching experience with the girls in October in the post titled "Do No Harm." You can find it in the archive section on the left side of the screen on eugenestickland.com)
The girls actually got up and performed some improv games. They've been working on theatre and acting with the folks from Verve Theatre and it was impressive that they could get up and perform in front of a bunch of people the way they did. Of some of them, an old theatre gentleman like myself could actually say, "She's got it!"
Their confidence and charm came through in all aspects of the evening. So much care and preparation went into the Stardale Christmas party that when I arrived and saw that all them had dressed up to the nines, I almost felt like running home and
putting on my best suit. (If I had a car, I probably would have.)
Many of the girls end up at Stardale after a horrendous journey earlier in their lives that would simply debilitate many of us. I'm sure they have their own bleak moments same as the rest of us. And I know they have many rivers to cross yet as their lives unfold. You have no idea how much I admire them for their courage. But last night, at least for a few hours, everything in the world seemed right.
Looking around the room at the staff and volunteers who help make Stardale work, my eye was always brought back to Helen McPhaden, the Director of Stardale, whose energy and enthusiasm for this program is nothing short of infectious.
I realized last night - and this is why Death of a Salesman and Linda's speech was going through my mind - that Helen more than anything pays attention. Stardale is not a government initiative or a program run by a board of education. It is, more than anything, one extremely well-intended and generous person paying attention to a group of girls that we, as a society, tend to ignore. To our shame. To her credit.
Attention, attention must be paid. And in this case, it is.
I wrote that in a year that was much more hopeful than the year we are in. Of course, there will be no fancy party this year. That doesn't mean that we can stop caring, or stop paying attention. This year more than ever our girls are in need of Christmas and all that it represents.
You can help by making a donation to Stardale, or by offering your services as a volunteer. Or both!
Thanks for reading.