When life offers you a mixed bag of blessings

Sometimes, the universe works in strange but beautiful ways.

It’s been truly inspiring to hear of all the acts of kindness and sacrifice Albertans have undertaken in the aftermath of the Fort McMurray fire. This week, I also experienced an extremely unexpected act of kindness that left me awed and astonished.

Here is the story.

The year was 2011 and I was on a Toronto subway heading back to the Town Crier community newspaper chain’s office after having interviewed a poet and playwright. From what I remember, I was thinking of how I was going to frame the story as I stepped out of the train and walked out the subway station to my car.

That’s when it hit me. I didn’t have my camera bag. A feeling of terrible dread washed over me. I had left it on the subway. My bag had my camera (a Nikon D40), my external flash, my friend’s zoom lens, my iPod, recorder and notes. All in all, I estimated between $2,000 and $2,500 in equipment.

I remember sitting in my car and staring at the windshield for a long time. At that point the monetary loss was secondary — I was far more upset that I had lost all my photos, notes and recordings and had to report this to my editor. To make things worse, I had to tell my friend I lost his lens I borrowed.

I remember having to awkwardly call back many sources and explain to them that I had to re-interview them, for reasons I did not want to get into.

At the time, it felt like one of the worst days of my life. Looking back, I’ve gained some perspective and place far less value on “things”.

I never got the equipment back. I called the Toronto Transit Commission’s lost and found centre every day, to no avail. Eventually I gave up, replaced the equipment and moved on with life.

Fast forward to May 10, 2016. I wake up to an email with a vague subject line “I found your lost bag”. At first, I assumed it was spam, as I get emails like this all the time.

But when I opened the email, I knew it was real. It was from an engineer for the City of Toronto named Pat Scanga. Pat told me he had my bag. And everything was still in it, five years later.

It turns out Pat’s mother-in-law found the bag, wasn’t able to determine whose it was, ran into some medical issues and kind of forgot about it. The bag languished in a room for five years, before Pat came across it one day when they were doing some house cleaning.

He figured whomever it belonged to would probably be happy to get it back. So he did some digging and found a USB key in the bag, which happened to have an old resumé of mine. He did a quick Google search and found my email. I called Pat and was completely blown away when he told me “Omar, I have your bag, and everything’s still in it.” I assumed I was never going to see that bag again. The whole episode still defies belief. Pat is dropping the bag off at my parent’s in Toronto and they are going to ship it out to me here. Most of all, I’m excited to get back the photos and music I lost.

I really have no way to express my appreciation to Pat for this gesture, and I’m sure there are a lot of people in this province who can relate to this feeling. It just goes to show you that despite all the hatred, evil and conflict in the world, there are still some amazing people who can help rekindle our faith in humanity.

A tremendous thank you to you Pat. One day, I’ll figure out a way to repay you. And hopefully you don’t get mad for me printing your name in a newspaper without your permission.

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