How to be a Spark in the Darkness

You guys! We're on a stage! A really big stage!

You guys! We're on a stage! A really big stage!

There's a lot of scary stuff going on in the world right now. The last little while has left many of us reeling, like we've fallen into darkness and have no clue where we are or what to do next.

And here we are, staggering around in this darkness, arms outstretched and flailing so we don't walk into a wall. 

"Where's the light?" we ask, frantically. "Why is there no light?"

Flick.

Did you see that? It was there for just a second. But it was there.

That was a spark. My spark. And I'm sharing it with you so you can see the good in what seems, at times, like suffocating darkness.

We all have sparks. That's what I call them, anyway. They're moments when we share positive stories with others, bringing hope at a time when people are feeling hopeless, giving their minds a rest from the bad, even if it's only temporarily.

Brain rest is good. Positiveness is good. Sparks are good.

So here's my spark on a day when you might be feeling bleak. My happy story. The story about how my transgender daughter went on stage in front of over 18,000 kids and, despite some big fears on my part, was greeted with nothing but love.

Last week, on November 3rd, Alexis and I had the honour of speaking at WE Day Vancouver, alongside Anthony Salcito, Microsoft's VP of Worldwide Education. You can read the backstory on how and why we were asked to do this here. It's a good one, I promise.

From left to right: Marc Seaman (Director of Education, Microsoft Canada), Craig Keilburger (WE Day co-founder), my darling Alexis (incredibly calm), Me (beaming with pride), Anthony Salcito (VP of Worldwide Education, Microsoft.)

From left to right: Marc Seaman (Director of Education, Microsoft Canada), Craig Keilburger (WE Day co-founder), my darling Alexis (incredibly calm), Me (beaming with pride), Anthony Salcito (VP of Worldwide Education, Microsoft.)

This was my daughter's dream come true. About a year ago, I took her to her first WE Day. She met the incredible Hannah Alper, visited the press room with me, and was mesmerized by the hopeful vibe felt all through the stadium. "I want to be a WE Day speaker," she said to me. 

And just last week, Alexis became one of the first trans youth to grace the WE Day stage. Dreams really do come true.

We flew over the Rockies to get there. It was a cloudy day, but the mountain tops near Banff rose up to greet us anyway. It was one of the most beautiful sights either of us had ever seen.

We stayed at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver, right in the heart of the city. It's lovely, and the staff is incredible.

In fact, I may or may not have broken a tooth in half biting into a handful of M&Ms, gone down to the concierge desk in a panic, and within minutes had an incredible staff member by the name of David call back up to my room with a dental appointment for an emergency fix and printed out information to help me get there. 

You know, not that I'm the type of person to cram an entire handful of M&Ms into my mouth or anything. I'm way too classy. (Thank you, David.)

I was a ball of nerves from the moment we arrived on Tuesday to the time we stepped on stage on Thursday afternoon. 18,000 people! Bright lights! Controversial subject! Often uncooperative hair!

As a result, sleep and I had a falling out on more than one occasion. But also as a result, I got to watch the city come alive in the early mornings as I sat by the window and drank my coffee. It was peaceful and lovely. Whenever I go to a new city, I try and drink in the beauty of it. These were the quiet moments when I could take it all in. 

Vancouver just before daybreak. Brought to you by anxiety.

Vancouver just before daybreak. Brought to you by anxiety.

I worried. A lot.

I worried we would forget what to say. We would choke up. I worried we would let the people at Microsoft down, who believed in us and amplified our voices in a way we never dreamed could happen.

I worried we would let the people at WE Day down, who were now providing space for trans youth voices. This was important - so important - and doing it right weighed heavily on me. 

And as we stood backstage... 

(This is backstage.)

(This is backstage.)

... and then, as we stood next to the stage while a clip of our video played and Anthony introduced us... 

(This was our view seconds away from going onstage.)

(This was our view seconds away from going onstage.)

... I wondered, "Will the crowd accept my daughter?"

And, for just a moment, a dark thought crossed my mind. 

"What if they don't?"

I looked in front of me to the girl who risked everything to tell us, who now uses her voice to help others; the brave one who was about to walk on stage in front of thousands of strangers.

I can think of few other times in my life where I have felt that completely helpless to protect her, should something go wrong.

"Alexis and Amanda Knox!" Anthony announced.

And the crowd cheered.

We all hugged and sat down on some stools. "Hi, everyone!" I said into the mic. 

"Hiiiii!" thousands of voices replied. 

And I knew, right then, that everything was going to be okay. 

Our stage time only lasted about three minutes. Anthony asked us questions about how technology helped Alexis come out to us (because she did so in email), and how it's helped us tell our family's story to people all over the world. 

I decided to try something bold. Really bold, actually.

At one point, I turned to the crowd and said, "I think acceptance and understanding are finally starting to happen. What do you guys think?"

And the room erupted in cheers. Like the deafening kind. 18,000 shouts of encouragement and hope.

That's when this became one of the best experiences of my entire life.

Alexis closed by telling everyone to be themselves, and not who society thinks they should be. And I encouraged the audience to use the power of their voices to change the world, because you never know who's listening.

The rest of the day is kind of a blur. High-fives from so many kids as we walked offstage. Kudos and congratulations from both the folks at WE Day and Microsoft (We didn't let anyone down! Sleep and I made up that night in a big way.) Hugs from kids who met Alexis in the stadium and wanted to say they were inspired by her. So many people showing love to my daughter. 

"Your story means so much to so many. I hope you know that," one woman said to me with tears in her eyes. 

Thank you, whoever you were. I know it now. 

We walked the shoreline that evening, our first time visiting the Pacific Ocean, full of what I can only describe as bliss. Pure bliss.

We did something big and scary and wonderful that day, and we'll never forget it.

Me and my powerhouse of a daughter, WE Day Vancouver, 2016.

Me and my powerhouse of a daughter, WE Day Vancouver, 2016.

And that, my friends, is my spark today. One burst of light in the darkness.

Like I said earlier, there's a lot of darkness out there right now. But thankfully, most of us have at least one spark in us to share.

And you know what it looks like when a bunch of sparks go off at once? 

Fireworks.