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From park bench to human library

Their story begins similar to the scene in the film Forrest Gump when, sitting at a bus stop, Forrest speaks to a stranger reminding him of his mother’s words comparing life to a box of chocolates. Diane, volunteer, and her Great Friend Yvrande had found themselves sitting next to each other on a park bench for the first time, wondering “who” they were going to run into. As it turned out, it was a delightful encounter that made them want to see each other again.

Yvrande, soon to be 90, is a former Little Brothers volunteer in Quebec City. Following the loss of her husband and family members, she sometimes felt a loneliness she hadn’t chosen. Curious to share the benefits of giving of herself, she signed up as a Great Friend with her regional coordinator. She had given so much of herself to seniors, and knew the gift that comes from offering oneself to others. Now she wanted to discover the joy of self-development.

Diane, now retired and having moved from Montreal to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren near Quebec City, decided that one day she would like to “adopt” a senior. A friend told her about Little Brothers, and that through them, she would find more than one cradle full of years of life swaddled in memories that no one cradles anymore. No official document or contract of engagement could authenticate the signature deep in Diane’s heart, as she fell under Yvrande’s adoptive spell, promising for as long as possible to accompany her through good times and bad! Forget the metaphor, every encounter between these ladies of the heart is child’s play.

One admires the other for her cheerfulness, her humor, her foolishness, her curiosity, her thousand attentions and the stories she tells from another time, another era. The other never ceases to want to learn about what she doesn’t yet know, about subjects or fields that interest her, that excite her. Learning to see better in the other’s loving gaze. To feel accepted. Seen. Considered. Just as she is. They like to point out that they are different, and that they appreciate each other very much.

Yvrande is dynamic and cheerful. She spreads joy wherever she goes. When she first arrived in her building, people hardly said hello to each other, and gloom hung in the corridors like a thick gray fog. Yvrande dazzled everyone with her cheerfulness. Her smile stretched wide, piercing the clouds of the residents’ routine days. Like a compass, she knew how to redirect expectation and boredom towards full awareness of the present moment. Living in the here and now.

At Christmas, she takes it upon herself to collect vouchers and small gifts from local businesses to give to the building’s tenants. Something to warm their hearts. Everyone in the neighborhood knows her! And now, residents say hello to each other as they pass by.

Diane feels privileged to be in the company of such an inspiring woman, committed to spreading happiness around her. For her part, Yvrande is deeply grateful for the presence and attentiveness of her volunteer. “She doesn’t know how much she gives me,” explains Yvrande, “I feel like a blank page”. We understand that she’s writing the last chapters of her life. Long or short, who knows? But it’s certainly not the end! While we’re at it, let’s finish the story in our own way. Choose the characters we want to keep in our lives. Eliminate the unnecessary. Get rid of anything that detracts from the pace of the story. Get straight to the point. With a more precise choice of words. Of agreements. With hyphens that bring sentences together at the end of the line so as not to lose the thread of the story. And the presence of her volunteer Diane, who punctuates her life here and there with visits, conversation and cinema outings, makes it easier for Yvrande to compose herself. Seeing herself through kind eyes.Younger eyes that admire and respect the value of wisdom and the privilege of growing old. Isn’t this an extraordinary phenomenon of human development?”We are transformed by being who we are,” declares Yvrande in all her splendor and intelligence.Being social beings until the end of our days, isn’t this the basis of our identity construction?The gaze of others to better see, accept and love ourselves.

So many times, Yvrande and Diane have found themselves on a park bench in each other’s delightful company, like a box of chocolates, never knowing what they would stumble upon, what tasty memory they would chew on, what taste tomorrow’s hope would have, and one thing is certain, when they are together, the binding of these two human books tells us beautiful stories.

Thank you both for your years of volunteer work with Little Brothers in Quebec City. Your signatures will have put an end to the loneliness of the seniors who have been part of your life chapters.

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