The Courage to Be Your Beautiful Self:
The Legacy of Darcy Belanger
Words raced through my mind as I lay in the dark. I couldn’t sleep, even though I only had an hour and a half to do so. The moment I settled into my pillow, I was flooded with grief. I used the time as best I could to run through my day ahead: back-to-back interviews to speak about Darcy. I was to be the voice on the public record for why he had been on Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. I went over my key messages, what I needed to say. It was important to me that I do Darcy’s life justice and his family proud at this tender time. I needed to honour his legacy, wife and family, and selfless commitment to MAPS, the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary and all it meant to him and the world. Every word would matter. Anxiety fluttered in my belly like a million butterflies.
My alarm did not have to go off at 3:30am for me to get up.
I swung my feet off the bed. Before they landed on the wooden floor, I instinctively rolled forward to touch the ground with my hand in reverence for mother Earth. Since the healing of my spinal injury and the miracle of walking again, I have always started my mornings this way. Then I sat in stillness and sensed the gift of being alive to set the tone for the day. Feeling connected with the whole is what animates my body and gives me purpose. I was far from my best, still in acute shock. I knew that meditation, however short, and a meditative mindset would best support what lay ahead.
Usually, after meditating, I would go to my music studio and warm up my singing voice. But today my studio was a TV set. Adam, Kate, Eric and Joy, friends and MAPS colleagues at the vigil the night before, had helped set it up for media interviews. Having quickly dressed, I walked down to the transformed space, bypassed the vocal warmup and started my computer to review my key speaking points.
The interview schedule demanded focus and energy, two things I had in shorter supply than usual. And the stakes felt high. I knew from experience that spoken words can so easily be misinterpreted. I needed to be precise. And there I was, raw and emotional, holding together the organization I had founded, while discussing the events that led to my friend and colleague’s demise, with a complete stranger.
Those who interviewed me varied from the sincere and compassionate, to the ill-prepared and self-serving. But I always gave the fullest heart and clearest mind. I could not bear the idea of Darcy’s voice being silenced in the rubble. After all, that is what MAPS is about: giving voice to everyone equally. We each have the right to a healthy world.
These were news outlets in search of current stories that would pull at people’s emotions. But I had an important message to convey and it needed to be heard. While I sensed that reporters hoped for teary answers, I would steer the conversation back to what I was there to speak about. This was not about how I felt. This was about Darcy and all he lived for. And I knew that if I were to open to a single tear, many would follow.
In each interview, I shared the same message and made sure it was heard and recorded. Darcy’s legacy is what MAPS is about: the courage that recognizes our inherent interconnection and the action that arises out of compassion for all. I also shared Darcy’s sister’s moving words: “My brother died a hero and I want the world to know what he was doing on that plane. It shows one person really can make a difference if they are committed to making meaningful change in the world.”
I felt Darcy was with me through it all. I would pause at times before answering a question to ask him, “Is this what you would have me say?” The answer was always the same: “Keep being your beautiful self.” So I did.
By the end of the day, I was starting to lose my voice, something I have never experienced from speaking. As a singer, I know how to take care of my instrument. Skipping my usual vocal exercises that morning could not have caused this. What was going on?
But I would not have time to find out. As soon as the last reporters left my home, I turned my attention right away to managing our volunteers. Everyone was suffering from loss, and people needed direction. I wanted to make sure our presence at the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi was successful and that the core Parvati.org team was still clear and doing all they could to ensure the swift realization of MAPS, the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary.
Then the news stories began to go live. I started to see what producers had edited and what had been chosen to air. In some instances, they respected what I had said and what we had agreed would be told. In others, none of the important points I voiced were included. I was misquoted, names I had articulated were mispronounced, and footage that was promised to be unlikely “b-roll” became the main clip.
Exhausted, wrung out and now hoarse, I was enraged.
My commitment to truth is central to my life and all I do. I had been in the press many times before–from live TV or radio appearances to intimate, sit-down print interviews. But I had never represented the life of someone who was dear to me, and all he gave for MAPS.
When I inquired into the cause of my anger, I realized that I felt used by the media, as though I had been sucked into a feeding frenzy. I started to question if I had fulfilled what I was asked to do and set out to achieve. But by then, I had been at work for over 22 hours straight. I needed a moment of rest so I could be present for another full day.
I got up Wednesday at dawn with virtually no sleep. My voice was still hoarse and there were more interviews to hold.
Pranada had heard that Darcy’s family was happy with the coverage. I remember expressing a huge sigh of relief. The last thing I wanted was to add any stress to the grief they were living.
In between interviews that day, I also met with everyone on each portfolio at Parvati.org. I was trying to find my footing as CEO without my quarterback and ensure MAPS was moving forward at the necessary speed. Since the vision and direction for MAPS first came to me, I have regularly gotten insights on our next steps. Over the years, I would meet with Darcy and Rishi to share them, and they would activate. But Rishi was now building our MAPS education strategy. And without Darcy, I was unsure where to funnel this catalytic energy.
By the end of that day, I had no voice at all. I was still unclear why something I rely on all the time and is so central to my life had disappeared, especially at this critical juncture. I knew it was related to unexpressed grief, but I also felt there was a spiritual lesson here for me. I just did not yet understand what it was.