December 13, 2010

“I played my drum for Him, pa rum pa pum pum
I played my best for Him . . .
“Then He smiled at me, pa rum pa pum pum
Me and my drum . . .
When we come . . ."

Like The Little Drummer Boy we have few material gifts to bring this season of Advent. But we are blessed.

Kenna was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia in 1978. She first showed symptoms of mental illness in 1975, progressing to troubles with the law, frightened, alone and unmedicated. Thank God for postmodern medications and more knowledgeable mental health practitioners than were available in 1978.

Kenna was told at that time she would never work and that she’d be in and out of mental institutions for the rest of her life. She was told “coping” was enough.

Then he smiled at me

Kenna startedabusing alcoholic beverages in 1978 as a means to “self medicate.” She began smoking in 1978 as well, also as a means of relieving stress. She stopped drinking completely in 1993, almost 18 years ago, with the help of a 12 Step program that led her to God. She stopped smoking in August 1984 after a two-pack-a-day habit for six years.

She is convinced were it not for the intervention of God and “God with skin” in the form of helping hands, and her own innate will to live, she would be dead today.

Although her lifestyle today is simple, there is joy in living. Kenna feels that she lives like a millionaire compared to most people in the world. She doesn’t have a vehicle, lives in a rented studio suite, stays fit and eats well, is a freelance writer and supports herself as the owner of a medical transcription business since 1999.

There are charities she supports monthly in a modest way: the Arthritis Society, The Hervey Foundation for Cats, the Wilderness Society, the Canadian Cancer Foundation and others.

Kenna remembers the story of a Western missionary in a poor African village who noted that the villagers gave a few cents as gifts or donations, and they weren’t ashamed to give only a few cents of what they had.

We in Western society sometimes think we have to give a lot or it isn’t worthwhile. We take a lot. We live in houses that are too big for us, own more than one vehicle and pollute the environment, we eat too well and are overweight, we spend more on entertainment than many peoples of the world spend in a year on clothing, food and housing.

We are blessed to overflowing. Thank God for a free life in Canada and the opportunity to give.

Austin invites his friends and family, including the homeless, to share Christmas Eve at his modest condo on Alberta Avenue, and a festive New Year’s Eve at his place as well. We all share what we have with one another. We are rich with love.


This is the season of Advent: peace, joy, hope, love. The lighting of the four candles and, at the end, the most important, the Christ candle. We are blessed indeed.

Kenna’s mental illness has taught her compassion for those less fortunate and for all humanity, and gratitude for what she has, which is abundant. Jesus and his love. Isn’t that the reason for the season?

I played my best for him . . .
on my drum

All Austin promised his wife when they got married beyond the promise of living in poverty is that he would do his best to remain healthy by taking his medication faithfully.

He stares out his window each day and sees drummer boys drumming in the footsteps of the addicted and mentally ill walking down the alley. He is grateful for his wife and his health, but along with that comes the guilt of hearing the drumming of the unwanted footsteps. Why should he not be out there instead of inside in the warmth?

(Austin Mardon received the Order of Canada for advocating on behalf of those with schizophrenia. He lives in the Alberta Avenue area and goes to St Alphonsus Parish.)

(Kenna McKinnon is a freelance writer in Edmonton and lives downtown.)

(Lyrics courtesy of Josh Groban,