Gemma, Olivia, Darren and Lessons of Love….

Returning from a week of magic I feel regenerated. Last week I posted about the event with Gemma Bostik – the young qirl we inducted into the Outer Rim Garrison:

and then the young woman Oliva whom I also gave a hero medal to when I was visiting the north for a fancon:

IMG_0096mandy and olivia


Little did I know I would be presenting another medal that weekend. The third recipient of the “Hero of the Galactic Empire” medal was a young man named Darren. I was asked by the organizer for the 501st up there – Trevor – if I would be ok to do a hospital visit for the kids in the hospital. The 501st members who come up for Fancon make an appearance at the hospital as part of the “Spirit of the North” foundation. I was tired but of course I agreed. The one good thing with doing hospital troops when you’re “friends” with Vader is you have the added protection of wearing a mask. The mask hides the tears that sometimes flow freely with the accumulation of sweat inside the helmet. If you’ve ever done character work you will understand how hot and sweaty the costumes can be. Vader is particularly hot and moist because of the layers of leather, fiberglass and wool that make up the Lord of the Sith. The mask is a barrier between the character and the actor. While the dark lord makes kids laugh (yes, he does that – he’s not all bad) the actor behind the mask has the freedom to let the tears out. No one can see it, nor should they in these situations. I have always been amazed how Princesses can interact with everyone and withhold the tears – characters empower, entertain, enlighten and make magic – there is a time for them to debrief when they are packing the princess away out of sight of the people we entertain.

Forgive me as I am about to reminisce about something I’ve shared with a few people that further illustrate my poor attempt at a point I tried to make in the previous paragraph. Years ago I had a brief stint with making magic in Southern California. I was young, and I ended up dating another character performer I worked with. She was good friends with Princess Aurora. For those of you not familiar with this princess, she is commonly known as “Sleeping Beauty”. Performers are encouraged to create magic personified for each guest they encounter. One day Princess Aurora was visiting guests at a character breakfast. Characters rove from table to table signing autographs and taking pictures with the guests. Aurora approached one table. She greeted the guests with her usual happy demeanour and asked them what they were celebrating. The guests consisted of a couple and their daughter. Their daughter could not speak, was wheelchair bound , but she could express her feelings through her face. This young girl, balding from bouts of radiation and chemotherapy, was all smiles when Aurora approached. The parents explained to Aurora that she was their daughters favourite princess and that they made the trek to visit the park because it was their daughter’s wish. It was, in fact, her last wish. They were there to make her last months of their daughter’s life full of magic and happiness as they eased the transition of her life to the unknown. Aurora did not have the luxury of being able to hide behind a mask. Her training provided the tools she needed to withhold the tears that would otherwise stream down her face as she empathized with the family. Instead Aurora wished them the most magical time and took pictures with their daughter.

Aurora was at the end of her visit, and she asked her supervisor if there was something they could do for the family. The response was “no”. It is common policy that all guests should be treated equally, and that no one guest should be treated any differently – even when facing the end of life.

When Cindy had changed, she went to the Emporium and bought a Princess Aurora doll. She was able to find the family near the Plaza Inn and approached them. She introduced herself as Aurora’s friend and told them Aurora had told her how much she enjoyed visiting with them and wanted to give the young girl a gift. Cindy handed over the Aurora doll and wished them all well. Later that day she told me about her morning and what happened. We cried together. She was deeply moved by the experience, as was I hearing her share it with me.

A month later Cindy was asked to see her supervisor. The family had written to the company and mentioned to them that their daughter was a huge fan of Princess Aurora, and how her friend “Cindy” had met them outside the restaurant with a present for her daughter. They wrote how impressed they were with the present from Aurora, and how the doll became their daughter’s favourite toy, taking it everywhere with her. They concluded by writing that their daughter had recently passed away, and that they buried her with the doll.

Cindy’s gift was something she felt she had to do. It was a gesture of kindness. She was not expecting to hear anything back from the family. She wanted to simply do something to show she cared. It was something she did to make magic for the girl and her family. Her gift did that.

I have long thought about the Princesses and how strong they are. Cindy’s act of kindness has become a story I share with students. As a masked character I have the luxury of anonymity. Tears are hidden from view. I have the freedom to cry. I am so glad for that. However, the Princesses are my heroes. They continue to inspire me.

So – back to Fancon.

I had gifted a “Hero of the Galactic Empire” to Olivia the day before. As I shared what I had done with the other members of the 501st up there, Trevor asked me if I had brought another medal up with me. I had. He told me about Darren and hoped that he was still at the hospital. It sounded odd to me to hear that he “hoped” Darren would still be there. I learned that Trevor does the troop at the hospital only once a year, during Fancon. He was hoping Darren would still be there this year. I learned Darren had not left the hospital in years. I finally knew what he meant.


I brought the medal the next day. We changed in the boardroom at the Spirit of the North office within the hospital. The group consisted of a local Spiderman, a Stormtrooper, TIE Pilot, Captain Phasma, and Vader. We were brought to the ICU, Emergency, Pediatric and other areas. We were followed by the local news station. Here is their report:

They left before we met Darren. We were brought into his room. Unable to move or speak, Darren communicates with his eyes. We visited with him and Trevor presented him the medal. He wanted to wear it right away. The doctors helped Trevor place it on Darren. He asked if we could take a picture with him. He agreed. We did. I am glad we did. Darren, like Olivia and Gemma, is a fighter. I continue to have much to learn from such people.


We all count. We all deserve love. We all deserve respect. Here is the funny thing. I am not a religious person. In the book Les MisĂ©rables, Victor Hugo writes “To love another person is to see the face of God”. This line is echoed in the musical’s finale as well.




These people were presented the award in that order. G-O-D.

Love. It is what we all have to offer.



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