At a time when connection is a challenge, our book club enjoyed a thought-provoking “zoom” chat with Canada Reads, long-listed, author and professor, Jesse Thistle, this evening. We appreciated his time, his humour, his honesty and openness as he shared his experience and answered our questions. For anyone who has not read From the Ashes, it is an impactful read. It tells his story of struggle, resilience, support, perseverance and hard work as he overcame abandonment, foster care, addiction, an assault, crime and homelessness. It makes readers question their own biases, judgement and reconsider the experience of others who struggle.
I LOVE that Jesse joined us, in his housecoat, from his cozy office. Although we had a few internet challenges, it was great to come together, on the screen, and learn more about Jesse’s experience. He was asked what it is like to have so many people know his story and shared that it feels like he is “singing naked in front of a crowd” and that it is an unusual feeling for readers to know his story when he knows nothing about theirs. He does acknowledge that sharing his story with universal themes of love, family, adversity and triumph has created a fellowship in his life which is a “beautiful thing“.
We were so happy to hear about the wrap around support that he received at Harvest House and that he has been clean for almost 12 years. He said that he had finally realized that he was going to die which gave him a “real clarity of life” which helped him to rehabilitate his life.
Since sharing his story, he has been asked to speak across the country; he not only teaches at York University but is working with a physician at St. Michael’s hospital to develop protocols to help the homeless, paying it forward!
His eyes lit up when he spoke of his wife Lucie, saying that she is “cool”, that they are “star crossed lovers” and that she is “the only thing I’ve ever gotten right in my life”. We challenged him on that comment and think while has has a wonderful relationship with her, he is also making a huge difference by sharing his experience and opening readers eyes to understanding, compassion and caring rather than judgement!
As a family who share our 3 best things at dinner, I love that he makes a gratitude list each day (thanks to Oprah) and takes care of his own mental health. When asked about advice he may have, he shared the teaching of his elders to see everything (each other, trees, the river, the environment) as relatives and that we need to treat all of our relations with respect. We couldn’t help to draw parallels to COVID19 and he said that we can think of this virus as an “angry relative which is disciplining us and telling us to smarten up”. I couldn’t agree more with this sentiment – after social isolating/distancing, the impact of this virus is making us all think about what is important in life – being grateful for our family, our friends, our health, having shelter, food… and even toilet paper!
Our book club is so thankful to have spent part of our evening with Jesse Thistle and wish he and his beloved Lucie health and happiness. We wish him luck in Canada Reads (when it is rescheduled) and look forward to meeting him and getting our books signed when book events begin again! Thank you Jesse!
Fun fact: Did you know that Jesse narrated his book in just 3 days?