September marks my last full month in Toronto, and I carry my sentiments through this month, rolling them over in my head as I walk to complete errands, grab a coffee, or watch traffic.
I came to Toronto in the slushy pre-spring of 2013, with no job prospects and no place to live, only the whim of "I'll try my best".
I was running away from Edmonton, fleeing heartbreak and brokenness. I could not live there any longer, and it had taken all my perseverance to stay through the year before.
I had planned to go to Kenya and volunteer with a program for youth in detention centers. I had hopes of hiking Mount Kilimanjaro for my birthday. But a serious leg injury left me limping, relying on Canada's slow, but free health care as I awaited the final verdict if I would need surgery or not.
I needed to stay in Canada, but I wouldn't [couldn't] stay in Edmonton. And all my other, previous homes: Calgary, Winnipeg, surrounded me with such love and support, but my independent streak wanted to stand on my own as soon as I could physically stand and walk alone.
This weekend I had dinner with friends and someone brought along a guest who was brand-new to Toronto, first night in the city. I, and all of my friends, were also new to this city at one time, we all shared our stories of our first day in Toronto, and I felt so much excitement for her on this new venture in her life. I saw some of the anxieties of moving to this metropolis melt from her face as we shared our first day in Toronto.
I knew I would love Toronto even from the first day. This bustling, booming, people-packed city would be home.
The traffic would bother me, but I would find a way to drive a car when work required it, and brave biking until I became a cyclist who beeped, and occasionally screamed, just like all the others during rush hour. And would find I loved biking, even the adrenaline rush of the danger that is posed daily that makes me call it an "extreme sport".
The morning commutes would also bother me at times. I would look around at all the suit-clad, construction-hatted, report-reading people all around me and consider the 'rat-race' to success that had these others awake and moving before 6 am and be thankful that I was spending the day taking care of a baby, not competing in an office. And as the subway crossed the Broadview bridge, and the underground train entered the light for that flash, I would always take a moment to pause and catch the colors of the sunrise reflected in the Don River below.
I would have to find ways to trim-down my days, as they were always jam-packed with activities, events that this city has in endless supply.
High Park: Summer evenings watching Shakespeare from a picnic blanket, or the time I went for a bike ride through the park 30 minutes before the Para-PanAm athletes were scheduled to practice their cycling. I rushed out of the park to cheers of the mistaken crowd.
Kensington Market: My favorite of Toronto's markets, the best place for pupusas, second-hand clothes, bulk spices and funky jewelry, or just a good area for a stroll and people-watching.
Rock Oasis: hardly a week went by I didn't attend this gym. For climbing, bouldering, sweating, sometimes swearing, and laughing. I learned to lead climb, and took my first intentional falls, leaving me shaking. I made many new friends from all age groups and walks of life; you really do need friends older than you and younger than you, it's true. I can walk in without a partner, positive I will see someone I know who will invite me to climb.
The Beaches: I walked the boardwalk countless times, pushing a stroller, or arriving before work to jog at sunrise, running through the fog coming off the lake. Pushed my toes in the sand, prayed as I watched Lake Ontario.
St James on Church: This beautiful church, with a well-tended garden, situated on my way home was a place I regularly stopped off. I would enter inside to pray, the high stained glass windows drawing my attention up, up. In the summer, I would sit at the park and pray while watching the birds splashing in the fountain. This year, I'm close enough that some Sunday mornings I attend, feel the huge bells ring on schedule every hour, and sing, stand, pray with the congregation.
I lived on St. Clair the first three years I lived in Toronto. That little taste of Italy, Portugal and Brazil all mingled together as bakeries, cafes, pizzerias, and gelato shops, with the various flags of the owners displayed in front windows, and banks that greet you first in Italian or Portuguese and lastly in English. The street shut down during the World Cup, as people came out to spontaneously celebrate and dance in the streets - someone even carried their drum set to the side walk. There was no shortage of soccer - across the street, or displayed on television at the sports bar below our little apartment.
And then, I moved to Riverdale. I had always hoped to live in Riverdale or Cabbagetown one day, in one of the little duplexes stacked side-by-side along Gerrard street, beside the Asian fruit and vegetable markets, with the street cars whizzing by at all hours.
After a whirl-wind return to Toronto and an initial housing plan that fell-through, I was connected to the landlord of a cute little house kitty-corner to Riverdale Park, only fifteen minutes away from work. And it took me about a week to find which days a group of guys played soccer at the park and if I missed a week, I was questioned with concern as to why I didn't come to play.
I buy fruit and vegetables to last two days, knowing the little market is just around the corner from my house and I don't need to stock my fridge full.
The other day I watched the sunset from the hill of Riverdale Park, took in the skyline of Toronto, accented by the famous CN tower, reflecting orange and surrounded in a fading purple. And thanked God for all the times he said "No" to some of my plans, placing me where I am, and directing me to where I am going.
I'm not leaving Toronto as I left Edmonton.
I am not running away, I am not putting a stake in the ground, determined to start afresh. I am saying goodbye with a smile, thankful for how I've grown in this city.
Thankful for the friendships that deepened, the faith that spread, me who grew in so many ways.
Thankful for the lessons in life, the professional training that I will never forget.
Thankful for a city that encourages new starts, is brimming with people from all over the world who are accepting and friendly.
Thankful for employment that I've been so blessed with - as one job ended, another popped up, always in my career field.
Thank you, God, for Toronto. Thank you for this city and all the ways you used it to grow me. I say goodbye with a lightness in my heart, full of energy and optimism.
And I'm thankful for my future, for what you've planned and promised, for what is to come.