Below is the speech I gave at the Uxbridge Book Lover’s Ball and Benefit Gala on April 14, 2012:
It’s really heartwarming to see so many book lovers here this evening in support of the Uxbridge Public Library. The book gala committee asked if I would speak a little bit about my family’s connection with Uxbridge. However, seeing so many familiar faces here tonight, I think most of you already know that Vi Tu and I come from a family of seven kids, and that our family fled Viet Nam as boat refugees. Most of you know that we were sponsored to Canada by a group of extraordinary people here in Uxbridge. A group led by Barb and Ted Murphy to whom we are forever indebted. We’ve been touched by many people like The Murphys and The Ball family who helped us stand on our own feet. I could be up here for hours telling you all about our angels in Uxbridge.
But today I only have five minutes, and I’d like to spend that time telling you about one individual, someone who’s had a profound influence on me personally and my family. Her name is Doris Muckle. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting her, you’ll understand how blessed I feel to have such a beautiful human being in my life. It’s because of Doris that I developed my own joy of reading. Every time we would visit her, without fail the first thing she would ask me is “What have you been reading lately?”. Just like some of my patients who floss right before their dental appointments (because they know I’m going to ask), I made sure I was always reading something before we saw her. I never wanted to disappoint her, so I kept reading. At first, it felt like a chore. But just as with flossing, I found that the more I read, the more I actually began to enjoy it. I have Doris to thank for my deep appreciation of books and reading.
However, Doris’ connection with my family started much earlier than that. When we first moved from Uxbridge into the city in 1981, we lived in government subsidized housing in an area called Jamestown – this is a neighbourhood where gangs and crime were all around, not exactly a place where any of us would choose to raise our kids. Even today, I would be nervous to walk in this neighbourhood in broad daylight. Yet, we lived there for three years because that was all we could afford. In 1984, my parents decided it was becoming too dangerous and we had to move out. So Ted Murphy drove my family around to see some homes and they found one that my parents thought would be perfect – a small 4 bedroom house that could accommodate the whole family. There was one minor problem though; my dad was making $4 per hour at the time and there was absolutely no way he could afford the $20000 down payment. But, just as our hopes and dreams of owning this house were escaping us, Ted Murphy told my dad that someone in Uxbridge had anonymously agreed to give us an interest-free loan for the full amount of the down payment. This was at a time when mortgage rates were 12%, my parents had no credit history, spoke very little English, and there was no guarantee we could ever repay this loan. Yet, somebody out there was willing to vouch for us. My dad accepted the money gratefully with one condition – that the donor’s identity be revealed. We found out it was none other than Doris Muckle.
It’s not often that a complete stranger touches your life like that, but when it happens you’ll never forget it. Money can always be repaid, but gifts of kindness can never be paid back. They can only be paid forward, which is what my family and I will be doing for the rest of our lives.
I went to visit Doris a couple of weeks ago. She just turned 92 this year. Her eyesight has deteriorated to the point where she can no longer read – the very thing she cherished so much and taught me to enjoy. Her body has become so weak that she is forced to spend most of her time in bed. Yet, despite all the challenges she has been going through personally, I was completely amazed to see that she is still putting others before herself. From her bed, Doris has organized the nurses in her retirement home to collect used stamps which are sold to raise money for The Leprosy Mission of Canada. Doris is living proof that the giving should never stop.
And just as I was leaving her that day, she asked me “What have you been reading lately?”
In honour of Doris Muckle and the Uxbridge Public Library, which she has enjoyed so much over the years, may you all never stop giving of yourselves and never stop asking “What have you been reading lately?”
– Dr. Michael Banh