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Why Vancouver? Why You?

Thank you to all entrants. Please visit the semifinalist page to view the top ten essays as determined by our panel and the public voting. Click here to view the top ten

To Be Free

By Melanie Stewart

The Pacific Ocean crashed over the rocky shore, with the hum of her spirit ringing in the salty air, as the seagulls dove down into the waters below; I looked out into the ocean and let out a long sigh. Embraced by the wind, and the knowledge of another chapter closed, I thanked my God for the future adventures’ and all that they would hold.
Growing up outside the city limits of Vancouver, my family would venture into the city for day trips, exploring the sea wall, learning about the ocean and her sea life at the aquarium. Once I became a young adult I enrolled for college amongst the city walls, enriched by the high pace rush of people flowing through the streets, I fell in love. Vancouver is alive with passion, and fire, embraced by people of all cultures, and nations. This City is a place where people are encouraged to pursue their hopes and dreams, no matter how much they may stand out.
I left Vancouver on January 1st 2014 in search for a new adventure, in Central America. As the plane lifted off over the Pacific, my heart sang a song of excitement, looking forward to the journey ahead, but also grateful that in six months’ time, I would be home again. Heading into Belize, I spent six months living on an island and learning about leadership and relationship in a growing world. For the first time, I jumped into the Caribbean and experienced a new sensation of the hard work it took to get to these waters. There was a team of fourteen of us that entered Morocco for an outreach. I was thrill at the chance to act out with meaning and purpose, to pursue my dream of being a light to others in this world, since for so many years I found myself lost in the darkness of anger, and fear.
At age sixteen, I found a feeling of freedom in that first drink, I became drunk at a friend’s place, and I felt like I had found my wings to fly away from my past and the pain that tormented me. In the later months of my nineteenth year, the party life really began to pick up and take hold of my life. I began building excuses, executing behaviours that would allow me to get away with the choices I was making, lying to my family, and myself. The resentment in my spirit was drying up every ounce of compassion that I had, the world, and the constant need for acceptance, was turning my heart cold and bitter. I hated the person I saw when I would look in the mirror, but I was trapped by the idea that this party life would be my ticket to freedom. When I turned twenty one, that delusion was smashed, I had turned my family away, and along with that, my bitterness drove away my friends, I was left alone, hurting from the pain that held my spirit down. In a moment of weakness, I called out to my creator and asked for help.
For seven months I lived in a recovery house, I stayed longer than the required time, because I wanted to rebuild my life on a firm foundation. It was there that I was taught, compassion is a form of strength, courage knows when to ask for help, and tears are the soul’s way of healing. For years I thought that I just needed to bottle up my emotions, hide myself from the world, so they would love me. Since graduating from that house, I have moved on to gain more life experience, helping others fight off the lies of addiction, publicly sharing my life story, encouraging others, expressing my love for people through charity in my community, and going on missions trips to embrace a new perspective.
Being in Morocco, I learned what it means to be a part of a culture that has immense value of relationship. I made friends, embraced by their ability to drop everything, in order to be there for my team. We got to experience the excitement of seeing Morocco through eyes of the locals, surfing the Atlantic, and riding camels’ down the beach. It is amazing how different cultures have vastly different appearances, but the heart of it is; we all want to be loved.
The past four years, I have become a new creation, from a lost and confused teenager fighting for air in a world built up of lies, I have become a young woman, passionate to follow Ghandi’s saying “Be the Change you wish to see in this World.” I have healed from the heartache of past regrets, and today I embrace my history as having the ability to change my future, while encouraging others. I have made mistakes, and grown strong in the process of filtering through the good and the bad. Something I have been taught is to make the most of today, live in the moment and love the life I have been given.
After six months of travelling the world, working in orphanages, encouraging people and embracing the reality that I have the choice to wake up every morning ready to make difference. I came home, and as I watched my cities lights come into view, the veins of our streets took form and I let out a deep sigh. This is my home, these are my people. Vancouver has stood by me, in my moments of chaos; she lifted me up in my bright moments. Every day that I walk through her streets, I am reminded of the people living in various parts of the world, that dream of the day when they can be standing in the heart of our city. I feel that I have the privilege of living in the best part of the world, right where the ocean meets the shore, of the Canadian West Coast. I am Free.

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