Ba-Bear

Most children have a favourite toy; a “comfort toy”, if you will. For my youngest daughter, Sophie, her comfort toy was a small beige bear that she called Ba-Bear. In this photo, you can see her holding Ba-Bear in her left hand. Ba-Bear has been part of our family for many years now; entering our world inside of a coffee mug as part of a fundraiser for Breast Cancer research. The mug made its way into our kitchen. Ba-Bear was claimed by Sophie and became her constant companion. It went wherever she went; squished at the bottom of backpacks, covered in sticky finger prints from snacks Mommy wished she had not had, on airplane flights to see her Nanna in Nova Scotia, cuddled next to her neck as she slept at night, sharing her dreams and, sometimes, the sweat from her fevers and fears. As treasured companions go, Sophie and Ba-Bear were quite a pair for quite awhile.

But, Sophie grew up. She is no longer the child who played dress up and……well…..I guess she still has an eye for fashion. But, she has grown up, just the same. Today is her 10th birthday. I couldn’t be prouder of the fine, young lady she is becoming. She is an environmentalist, a good cook, a creative crafter, a funky dancer, a hard worker and someone who her mother and I can depend upon to be responsible and honest. She is funny and she is smart and she is simply wonderful. But, as you can see from her latest photo, the process of growing up has caused her to part ways with Ba-Bear.

Sophie and her sister are both good to regularly go through their bedrooms and purge away those items that are no longer needed, have become broken or obsolete or else, things they feel they have outgrown. A few months ago, Sophie quietly went into her room one morning and emerged a few hours later with a pile of items ready for us to donate to worthy cause. Among the items was Ba-Bear. Normally, I take a causal look at whatever is in the pile and then, move on with my day without too much trouble. But, I have to admit that, when I saw Ba-Bear in the giveaway pile, my heart cracked a little.

Ba-Bear was as close to being real as a toy could be. Ba-Bear was loved and hugged and sucked on and sat upon. Ba-Bear was with us when many of our cherished family memories took place. Ba-Bear helped me read stories and act out plays for Sophie. For me, nothing comes close to symbolizing Sophie’s childhood as does Ba-Bear. So, when no one was looking, I snatched Ba-Bear from the giveaway pile and took it downstairs to my bedroom. It is now all nestled in my bedside table, beside a box called “My Dad Rocks”, which is all decorated with rocks, that I got for Father’s Day a few years ago from Sophie. That box holds drawings and cards that both girls have given to me over the years. Now, it holds Ba-Bear, too, and helps it sit up straight.

The thing about this is that you know and I know that things like bears and photographs and locks of hair are not the real person. They are objects with warm memories associated with them. But, they are not the real person. Sometimes, we cling to our memorabilia when we have lost our time with our loved one because of death or a separation of distance because they have moved away from where you are. But, that is not the case with Ba-Bear and with Sophie. Sophie is very much still a part of my life. It may be her birthday today but, I am the one who still is blessed with the gift of Time.

While Ba-Bear sits downstairs in a cosy nook, I get to go to Sophie’s school later today. They are having a Book Fair and I have been asked come in and help set it up. Sophie is hoping to be excused from class to come and help. If she does then, we will set up the Book Fair together. She is a good organizer and a hard worker so I know she will be a valued helper during our time together. When we are finished, we will have created a new memory to share with ourselves and others as the years continue to unfold. That is time well spent.

So, Happy 10th birthday to the girl who completed our family on this day in 2009. I have loved every minute of your first decade on this planet and I can’t wait to see what wonderful things you will accomplish in the next ten years. I love you, Sophie and am proud to be your father. Who knows what adventures await but, whatever they may be and wherever they may happen, I am glad that we get to share them together. And, luckily for us, if either us should ever need Ba-Bear in the future, we will know where to find him….downstairs, next to the My-Dad-Rocks box, where I lay down to dream.

Choose Your Choice

I am lucky enough to still get to walk to and from school with my youngest daughter, Sophie. She is just starting Grade Five so, I know it is a matter of sooner, rather than later, that one day she will tell me that she wishes to try walking home from school on her own. My heart will crack a little at the moment but, such is life as your children leave their childhood behind and enter their teenage years.

But, for now, I still get to pick her up each afternoon. On nice days we walk. When we walk, we talk about all manner of things to do with her day or with mine. This past Wednesday, we had the following chat:

Me: So, Sophie, how was your day?

Sophie: It was hot, Daddy! It was soooooo hot! I nearly died from the heat!

Me: Come on, now. Its not that hot. Its barely 23 degrees out.

Sophie: You don’t understand, Daddy! Its so hot in our classroom and then, for Gym, we had to run laps! I’m gonna die from dehydration! Would you like to die from dehydration?!

I did not answer her question. She waited a beat and then asked if I preferred the temperature to be hot or cold. I said I would pick cooler because I can add layers in the coolness and be fine but, there is only so much one can do in the heat. She jumped on that answer and declared, “So, you would rather die from hypothermia than dehydration!? Ha!”

I replied, “I wouldn’t like either one because they are both bad choices.”

Well,” she said. “You have to pick one. Choose your choice, Daddy. Choose….your….choice!

We had that conversation on September 11, 2019. The Anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy has become a day of reflection and introspection for a great many people, whether we wished for it to be or not. As my eldest daughter Leah wrote in her blog, “As you know, today, September 11, is a very sombre day.” *You can read her blog here. As each anniversary rolls around, there is a small part of me that feels sorry for anyone having a birthday or anniversary on 9/11. How can you go out in public and be happy and celebrate when those searing images of dust and fire and death are flooding TV and social media and, consequently, the thoughts of most people around us?

But, Life is like that. Sometimes, you don’t get to choose. Sometimes, the choice is made for you. That seems to be the case with 9/11. It was a day in History filled with choices made and choices taken away. A day that began like any other day and ended like no other. It was a day that continues to reverberate around the world, all these years later.

So, let’s play “Choose Your Choice: 9/11 Edition”, shall we?!

Here we go. I am playing the role of God and I am offering you a choice of how you are going to die. Cheery choice, eh? Would you like to (a) die instantly, in the blink of an eye, without even having the time to feel any pain or to even realize that your end is coming or, (b) be granted an additional twenty years of life but with the realization that over the course of those twenty years, your health will suffer, breath will become precious, your body will begin to rot and decay and that pain and suffering will be your constant companion…..but, you will live to see children grow up, your team win a championship, perhaps and, best of all, you will have those years to spend with the one you love. Choose Your Choice.

As the years have gone by since that day when the Towers fell, the nature of our remembrance has begun to evolve. Initially, and rightly so, we focussed on those who lost their lives that day. The victims of the attack. This included the First Responders who raced toward the burning buildings as everyone else ran from them. The victims, also, included those regular folk who were earning their pay cheques that day in offices of The World Trade Centre. Finally, the victims included those airline passengers who boarded their flights that morning, confident in the knowledge that they would safely arrive at their destination in mere hours and then, would go on to enjoy the rest of their day. For all of these victims, the choice of how to die was made for them. When those planes crashed or when those buildings fell, death was unavoidable. In fact, it was as close to instantaneous as it gets. The mere fact that so many of the bodies of those killed in the Twin Towers were never recovered, speaks to the violence that comes with being buried in an avalanche of concrete and steel. That their deaths were tragic is a given. But, as time draws us ever further away from that fateful day, the question that begs to be asked now is, were these victims the lucky ones that day?

On that September morning in 2001, fate or circumstance instantly divided random groups of people into two categories: those who died and those who survived. For those who survived, they were given God’s second bargain. They lived. But at what cost? So it is, with each passing 9/11 Anniversary, I am finding myself increasingly drawn to the stories of the people who lived and how they were affected by what happened that day. It is a different type of tragedy that, unlike the collapse of the Towers, is happening entirely in slow motion.

One of the most striking aspects of all of the images from that terrorist attack was the massive amount of dust that was thrown into the air when the buildings fell. That dust then fell in such a dense fashion that it covered anything and everything in its path. The dust helped give NYC a ghost-like appearance and has lead to many striking, haunting photographic images.

But, as time has come to reveal, that dust was every bit the killer that the falling concrete was. Tests conducted on the World Trade Centre dust revealed that it contained many toxic carcinogens including asbestos, as well as, a laundry list of construction chemicals. This dust, also, contained pulverized glass, insulation fibres, as well as, human bones. In many ways, the toxicity of the dust created when the Twin Towers fell was no less in danger to humans than was the radiation released in Chernobyl or Fukushima. And yet, as thousands upon thousands of images clearly depict, those who survived were exposed to this dust on a massive scale, as it became their oxygen as they attempted their escape to freedom and to life. None of these survivors chose to be in this situation but, they chose to live. They accepted God’s second bargain because of sheer will power and adrenaline. In the passing years, they have come to realize at what cost.

Those who reap the greatest glory are often the ones who pay the greatest price. First Responders are all very special people. They sign up for careers that ensure they will experience the darkest that humanity has to offer. It takes a special type of person to willingly run toward what others seek to flee. Bravery and courage are part of their uniform. We throw the word, Hero, around too cavalierly, at times but, it applies to all of those who attended the fires at The World Trade Centre that day in 2001. It applies to every person who helped another to safety down those stairwells. It applies to every person who entered Ground Zero, digging through smoking rubble, desperately trying to find anyone who may have survived. It applies to everyone who brought water to those people wandering the unrecognizable streets in the aftermath of the collapses, dazed and confused, choking on dust. The word, Hero, is a label universally-applied and justifiably earned by all First Responders that day.

These men and women got to make their choice. The consequence of that choice, however, is a slow and painful death. Such was the exposure to the toxic Tower dust that entered their bodies in such large amounts, that it was only a matter of time until the tumours appeared and the cancer began to spread. Lung cancer is one of the most prevalent of the diseases afflicting First Responders. Many have suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since that day, too. As you know, medical expenses can quickly pile up in the U.S. and many of the men and women who were First Responders that day require much in the way of expert physical and emotional treatment. Thanks to the efforts of people like Comedian/Talk Show Host Jon Stewart, the United States Government has agreed to pay for the medical bills that these heroic people are incurring.

While First Responders were compelled by their sense of duty and their brave hearts to put themselves in danger that day, not everyone had the luxury, as it were, of making such a choice. For many people, they were simply doing their jobs in banks and offices and then, suddenly, found themselves experiencing the unthinkable. Their exposure to the toxic Tower dust and to the unbelievably high levels of personal stress they underwent that day, has changed their lives forever and, not for the better. One of the most famous examples of this is a woman named Marcy Borders. She was working as a Legal Assistant at The Bank of America that morning. As she ran for her life, after the first Tower fell, she became coated in dust. A photographer named Stan Honda, from the Agency France Presse, snapped a photo of her in an otherworldly setting. The photo became one of the most iconic images of that day. Borders became known to the world as “The Dust Lady”.

But, fame does not always equal happiness. Mrs. Borders was a real person; a wife and a mother and a skilled worker. But, to most people who only knew her from a photograph, she was an unknown figure covered in dust, almost statue-like and, she was soon forgotten. There were many survivors of the 9/11 attacks like Mrs. Borders. They were real people with real lives and they all experienced real hardship as a result of that day. In Marcy Borders case, PTSD manifested itself in the form of Clinical Depression and Drug Addiction. Her marriage collapsed and she lost custody of her children due to her mental illness and addictions. She developed cancer a few years later, eventually dying alone in 2014. There were many people like Marcy Borders whose lives were forever altered because of 9/11 but who have been forgotten by the world. They did not choose their choice. They were given life but, their lives were scarred and painful.

NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 07: An American flag t-shirt covered in ash and dust from the destroyed World Trade Center towers is seen at a media preview of the ?Elegy in the Dust: Sept. 11th and the Chelsea Jeans Memorial? exhibit at the New York Historical Society September 7, 2006 in New York City. The exhibit features racks of clothes covered in dust from the Chelsea Jeans store in Lower Manhattan that were preserved by owner David Cohen as a memorial. The fifth anniversary will be obsserved of the September 11. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Two summers ago, I went to NYC and took my family to the 9/11 Memorial. We were completely unprepared for the emotional impact of being there. The atmosphere was so reverential. The respect accorded to the victims who lost their lives that day was evident everywhere you turned. I always tell people that it is the place most like Church that I have ever been in. Among the many excellent exhibits there is a wing dedicated to artifacts recovered from the debris that rained down from above or else, from the downtown area adjacent to where the Twin Towers were. In that wing of artifacts is a display of a flag and some clothing that appeared in a clothing store window on the day of the attack. Everything in that glassed-in display is covered in a layer of toxic ash. To view that exhibit is to understand how little choice survivors had that day. There was no escape from the dust that caused/is causing slow, lingering, agonizing deaths. God’s second bargain is no bargain for those people. But, some survivors beg to differ and they accept their ailments and view their survival as a testament to the strength of America and as a rebuke to an alien enemy from the other side of the planet. Marcy Borders claimed that one of the things that most inspired her to quit drugs and alcohol and become sober in her later years was the assassination of Osama Bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.

Which brings us back to our game. What choice would you make, if given a choice at all? Would you opt for a quick, almost painless, sudden death or would you claw and scratch for every extra minute, regardless of the cost to your mind and your body?

One never knows when God or Fate will intervene in our daily affairs and present us with such a question. For me, for now, I choose to publish this post. Then, I choose to mow my lawn. Finally, I choose to go to Sophie’s school and walk home with her together. For now, I have that choice. One day, thanks to Sophie, that choice will not be mine to choose. But, for now, it is.

So, for this moment, on this day, I am happy to be able to choose Life.

Better Man

I follow many different types of people on social media. About 20% of those I follow are people I actually know; friends, family, acquaintances. The next 20% would be work-related contacts from when I was a professional educator; other teachers, Union representatives, parents and so on. Of the next 30%, there is a healthy mix of people whose lives I simply find interesting, such as athletes, musicians, artists, writers, historians, etc. Approximately 10% are people who followed me first and then, upon checking out their profiles and finding them to be nice people, I gave them a follow back. The final 20% of the people I follow are politicians from Canada and around the world, as well as, leaders of organizations that affect our daily lives.

Catherine McKenna is a Canadian politician. She is the Minister of the Environment for the Liberal Government, serving under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. I follow Mrs. McKenna because I have an interest in environmental issues. These are crucial times in our world when it comes to things like global warming, climate change, the burning of the Amazon Rainforest and so on. Many scientists, who know much more about these things than I do, say that the planet is at a tipping point when it come to being able to sustain itself. So, needless to say, Mrs. McKenna and the work she and her team do, is of interest to me so, I follow her on Twitter.

Now, I am not writing this post to pump Mrs. McKenna’s tires. She is a politician to me, not a family member or friend. Sometimes she makes announcements or tweets about things I agree with. When she does that, I click the heart icon or the LIKE button. On occasion, I have made a motherhood-calibre comment on things I agree with, too. Something like, “Green energy is important. I am happy to see Canada moving in that direction. Well done.” Although my politics lean to the left, I have not completely consumed the Kool-aid being served. Sometimes, I disagree with her posts, such as when the government invested so much money on pipelines in Alberta. When I do disagree with a social media post of hers, I usually just say nothing. Just like the old saw of “If you have nothing good to say then, better to say nothing at all.”

Recently, Mrs. McKenna made news for reasons that had nothing to do with the environment. Last week, after being verbally harassed in downtown Ottawa when out with her children, Mrs. McKenna formally requested…and was given….a personal security detail. On the eve of a national election, cynics were quick to say that Mrs. McKenna was playing the sympathy card and that the nature of her attention is nothing more than any ordinary public figure receives and, as well, because she is a public figure, she should expect attention both, pro and con.

Well, as someone who has followed Mrs. McKenna for several years now, I can attest to her claims of needing protection. Whenever Mrs. McKenna posts on social media, regardless of the topic, she is inundated with scores of hateful, vitriolic comments in reply. I have seen her called every profane name imaginable. I have read multiple comments wishing her harm or illness or, even, death. I have heard her integrity questioned, her honesty impugned and her intelligence doubted. For an American comparable, think of what Hillary Clinton went through during that election and what New Green Deal advocate, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez deals with on a daily basis now. I encourage anyone reading this who thinks I am simply playing politics to check out Mrs. McKenna on Twitter, especially. Read any post at all and the comments that go with it. The bile sent her way is not in the form of intelligent debate. It is just hatred, pure hatred, one keyboard stroke at a time.

On occasion, I check out her comments. A lot of those who post are, without question, programmable troll bots. For those not familiar with trolls and bots, a troll is someone who harasses someone else by constantly criticizing what they post, filling their comment boxes with negativity and so on. A bot is an automated, fake account that is programmed to respond to certain people when they post and/or to certain phrases or terminology being used. A troll bot is an automated stalker or harasser. Mrs. McKenna has certainly been targeted by those.

However, there is a second group of people who post on her site. They are people who routinely called her ” a stupid C*nt”, “a lying B*tch” and things even worse than that. These people are almost exclusively, white men. Being a white man, it pains me to say that but, it is true. That these men need to calm down and develop some social skills is not even a question. Misogyny is not a virtue, although these men wave it like a battle flag. Men; especially, white men, need to do a better job of interacting with the world around them.

I know that such antagonistic behaviour is not the exclusive domain of people in the public eye like Catherine McKenna or A.O.C., in the States. I know that many of you, my regular readers, experience such behaviour, too. You don’t have to tell me. I see it happening to you when you post an opinion on FB. I see male family members challenging your assertions and refusing to concede, even the slightest validity to your thoughts and experiences. I have seen more than a few of you become exasperated and eventually submit to the onslaught by abandoning your position so the fight can end. What I have witnessed borders on abusive behaviour at times. It shouldn’t be that way for women. You should all be safe to have a public profile, to think your thoughts out loud, to make your own choices and to like what you like, without fear of being attacked. Men…..white men, especially, have to do better.

I consider myself lucky. I was raised by a strong, compassionate woman. She came from a family of thirteen! Her sisters/my aunts were all strong, smart, compassionate women, too. I spent my professional career at schools populated mostly by women. I can say for a fact that I learned so much about having a strong work ethic, a fiery passion for children and education, and a sense of tolerance and patience and respect for others from the wonderful colleagues that I taught with at school. I am a better person for the example that they set. I married a strong, smart, intensely loyal woman. Together, we have helped raise two independent, creative and inspiring daughters. Whether it is family, friends, co-workers or social media “friends”, I do not fear strong women. In fact, I am drawn toward them. I admire and respect women and how much of a difference they make in the lives of others. I am an ally, as allies go. If this makes me a feminist then, it is a badge of honour that I proudly wear.

I am not sure what it is that makes such big men act in ways that make them so small. My mantra of manhood, if you like, has always been to lift up those who have fallen, to protect those in times of trouble or weakness, to build up not tear down, to be a dependable friend/ally/mentor/student, to be the best, most supportive husband I can be and the best role-model and father for my children. As a man, I will stand along side the women in my life in normal times, I will lead when the time calls for that and I will be a staunch support when it comes time for them to lead the way and shine their light on the world. I believe that we are all in this together….as equal partners….so, let’s be helpful and supportive of each other. That’s how we grow as humans and make our world better. Men….especially white men, need to learn this lesson.

I suspect that what I have just said will not come as much of a surprise to those who know me, in person or on-line. But, I think it is important for men…especially, white men….to publicly state their support for equality of the sexes and to advocate for more decorum and restraint in how men treat women; in person or on-line. At present, the on-line world is as dangerous a place for women as real life can be. I am sorry that this is the case. I long for better, safer, saner times for everyone.

I know these are no easy answers to the problem of “haters gonna hate”. That phrase brings no comfort when the blows are raining down. Many men are jerks and worse. That is the simple truth. One of the reasons I wanted to teach small children during my career was the sense of responsibility and opportunity that I was presented with to be that positive male role-model; for both, boys and girls. Boys need to know how a gentleman treats women and girls need to know that being treated with courtesy and respect is possible for each of them. My promise to all of you, dear readers, is to keep being that gentle man, that supportive ally, even though I no longer have my classroom platform to act upon. I now have my online presence, for what that is worth. I, also, have my day-to-day conduct to hold up to scrutiny. I promise to never let you down as a man.

The bottom line is that no woman should be less than she can be or wants to be because of the smallness of white men in this world. Women deserve better and men need to evolve from the low station they presently occupy. I pledge to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

The Men They Couldn’t Hang

I love live music. I love the energy of a band as they dive into a treasured song. I love the way a crowd of strangers unite in response; jumping and swaying and fist-pumping in time with each note. I love it when a crowd sings as a choir and becomes as one with the band; a shared journey made possible through the poetry of song. I have been to many concerts that have left me sweat-soaked and emotionally-drained. That is my kind of fun!

CINCINNATI – JUNE 23: Iggy Pop of the Stooges rides the crowd during a concert at Crosley Field on June 23, 1970 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

The best concert I ever saw live was Iggy Pop at The Warehouse in Toronto in the mid-90s. Iggy ripped through a set dedicated to his seminal album, Raw Power! That music was as loud as I have ever experienced. My ears rang for days afterward. But, it was an amazing time, just the same. This concert was my first real experience with a mosh pit that teemed with violent mayhem. Sweat and beer and testosterone; a potent combination, especially when soundtracked by the driving beat of one of Rock’s sonic pioneers. I truly believe that a Rock n’ Roll Show should have elements of violence and sex in it. After all, if you are not worn to the core by the end of it then, what really was the point of it all? Iggy Pop at The Warehouse was definitely a Rock show, in all regards. Music, as catharsis. Visceral and muscular. Fun beyond measure.

When it comes to great Canadian live acts, the best I have seen in person was The Tragically Hip. They were a tight, five-piece band out of Kingston, Ontario. Some describe The Hip as playing straight-ahead guitar-oriented rock. But, that does the band a disservice. What elevated The Tragically Hip to the top of the musical mountain in Canada was combination of the poetry of the lyrics to Hip songs and the showmanship of lead singer, Gord Downie. Simply put, Downie was one of the single-most electrifying frontmen for any band, anywhere in the world. With Gord, you never quite knew what to expect on stage. He sang. He primped and pranced. He played excellent guitar. He offered monologues that, may or may not, have had anything to do with the song being played. He sweated and wiped that sweat away to theatrical effect. He made eye contact and bore his thoughts into our brains. He was amazing. A hint of the intensity of a Tragically Hip performance can be seen in their performance of “Grace, too” from a concert in London, Ontario. That clip can be seen here.

A Tragically Hip performance was only part of their package. Their enduring legacy will be the songs they sung. It is, somewhat, cliche for us as Canadians to say that we have an unnatural relationship with that cultural juggernaut to the south of us called America. We bathe in their references, their personalities while, at the same time, revelling in all that makes us different and separate from “them”. Gord Downie and The Hip wrote songs about Canada and about Canadian things in ways that made them seem like secrets that we could hoard. Like school children, we liked looking at the pictures of ourselves that The Hip painted. A Hip concert laid our Canadian souls bare. We danced to our History. We shouted out our stories. And, at the end of it all, as sweaty a mess as we physically were, we all felt proud of being who we were at the moment. We were Canadians in the presence of beautiful artists and storytellers. Like the weather, we were all affected by the experience.

So, in 2015, when it was announced that Gord Downie had an incurable brain tumour, it shook us all to our core. To have Gord taken away from us seemed unthinkable. As we digested the news reports, it was almost as if we could all hear the Gods laughing. In response, Gord and the boys announced a final, cross-country, ten concert tour. It seemed equally unbelievable that someone with a brain tumour could still summon massive amount of will and physical energy required to perform at the level of intensity that we had all come to expect from a Hip show. But, there he was. For ten nights, Gord Downie stood on that stage and gave every last bit of himself. At each venue, paramedics stood on guard should Downie collapse. But, at each venue, the band played on. Every song a parting gift to a grateful nation. Canada was never more unified than on the night of The Hip’s final show. It was played in their home town of Kingston, Ontario and was billed as a “National Celebration”. Our national TV broadcaster, the CBC, aired the three-hour concert commercial-free. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau donned a Canadian tuxedo and attended in person. People gathered in arenas and parks, taverns and town squares, back yards and living rooms to give thanks for everything Gord Downie and The Hip had done. It was all coming to an end and, when it did, with “Ahead by a Century”, the tears were real and they flowed freely. McLeans Magazine did a good job of capturing this emotion by filming the reactions of Canadians as they gathered in various locales across the country. This video ALWAYS makes me cry and leaves me spent; like all good music should, I suppose. It can be viewed here.

One of the things that happened during this farewell tour was that more scrutiny was given to the lyrics of The Hip songs. One of the most appealing aspects of their songwriting was that they often welcomed us, as an audience, into their stories by starting off with recognizable, universal truths. But, as often was the case, they would proceed to confound us with symbolism and/or obscure references that, at first blush, didn’t always connect with how the song began. Thus, their music invited you in but, if you stayed, you had to prepare yourself to think and engage. As a fan and as a reasonably intelligent person, I enjoyed learning more about these stories being shared. I will conclude this post by talking about one of their most popular songs, “Bobcaygeon” and how I am still learning new things about it even now, long after Gord has gone to walk among the stars.

Like many of the people, events and settings referenced in Hip songs, Bobcaygeon is a real place. Located about two hours northeast of Toronto, Bobcaygeon is situated in a part of Ontario affectionately known as “Cottage Country”. The Kawartha Lakes region is where city dwellers come to get away from the noise and congestion of city life. As cultural myths go, Canada conjures images in the mind of lakes and forests, soundtracked by the cry of the loon, illuminated by a firework of sparks from a thousand camp fires. Bobcaygeon is that myth brought to life.

The song “Bobcaygeon” contains one of the most beautiful and popular verses in their entire musical canon. “It was in Bobcaygeon, that I saw the constellations, reveal themselves, one star at a time.” *(When I retired from teaching, the staff at my school gave me a framed print of those lines.) Even the most beer-swilling of Hip fans recognizes the beauty of those words. You only have to experience country-darkness once in your life to know how lovely the stars can be. This was the universal truth that pulled listeners, like me, into this song. But then, as I said above, The Hip added elements to the second half of the song that had always puzzled me….until recently.

The first half to two-thirds of the song has a peaceful, cottage pace-of-life feel to it. But then, the final third roars to life, “That night in Toronto, with its checkerboard floors, riding on horseback, keeping order restored, until The Men They Couldn’t Hang, strode to the mic and sang, and their voices rang, with that Aryan twang.” I never knew what this had to do with being in Bobcaygeon and under the night sky. I had always thought the “Men they couldn’t hang” part and the “horseback/order restored” lines were talking about an outlaw and the police. I was wrong. Here is what I have learned about what they were really singing about. The Bobcaygeon video is here, for those who wish to view it.

In Toronto, there is a legendary bar called The Horseshoe Tavern. It has “checkerboard floors”, as you can see in the photo. Also, if you watched the McLeans Magazine video of The Hip’s final song, The Horseshoe Tavern was one of the spots they filmed at. Anyway, The Men They Couldn’t Hang is an actual musical group from the UK. The are described as being folk-punk. Like The Hip, they sing about History and real people, places and events. And, like The Tragically Hip, they are amazing live. I am going to share with you a live performance of theirs singing a song called The Green Fields of France. It is, simply put, one of the single best live performances I have ever seen! First of all, the song is gorgeously written and speaks of the senselessness of War, as seen from the perspective of a fallen soldier during The Battle of the Somme in World War One. I had never heard of this song before this past week but, it is easily one of the best anti-war songs ever, I am certain. But, along with the glorious lyrics, if you watch this video, you will bear witness to a band and an audience as one…..and, I don’t just mean singing along together. Such fantastic trust on display. You have to watch it for yourself to appreciate it. If they played at The Horseshoe Tavern for The Hip members, the way they do in this video then, I can see why The Hip name-dropped them in one of their most popular songs. you can watch this extraordinary video here. I get goosebumps watching this; especially the rousing chorus. This is what live music is all about.

So, who inspires those who inspire us? For professional musicians at the level of an Iggy Pop or The Tragically Hip or even, The Men They Couldn’t Hang, they gain inspiration from their fellow musicians, as well as, the time and the place they find themselves. “Bobcaygeon”, for me, is now a song about finding inspiration; be it from the stars above or from the close, sweaty confines of a tavern where the poetry of song oozes from every pore of every human there, as well as, dropping down in balls of condensation from the ceiling to the floor. Inspiration sounds like a story and smells like a beer. It is sticky and sweet and, if your are fortunate at that moment, it will leave you changed.

I love live music. Do you? If so, what are some of your favourite memories of watching live music being performed. I would love to hear your stories. Feel free to leave them in the comment box below. Thanks for reading my work. Your willingness to do so inspires me.

The Gift of Encouragement

We are all human. We all appreciate being told, once and awhile, that we are doing a good job, that we are a nice person or that we are important.  In today’s frantic, multi-tasking society, it is easy to lose sight of the right path as we struggle to maintain our sanity, let alone, live a life of character and integrity. So, hearing words of encouragement is important. They not only nourish our souls but, they act as an affirmation that maybe, just maybe, we are actually on that correct path in Life.

In Ontario, Canada, where I taught, we are no more immune from Life’s pressures and stresses than anyone else in any other walk of life.  Most teachers care deeply about their profession and try their best to do right by the students entrusted into their care each day.  Most parents seem to understand this. My experience working in partnership with parents has, almost completely and totally, been positive and respectful. Being a parent has helped me appreciate the hard work that goes on in the homes of my students. Watching their children grow more knowledgable and skilled, while enjoying their school experience, has caused parents to respect who I am and how I conducted my classroom affairs.

Ordinarily, a heartfelt hand shake at the end of the school year between parent and teacher should be sufficient to recognize the contribution both have made to the life of the child in question. However, in Ontario,  a tradition has taken root that sees the parent bestow a gift upon the teacher during the final day of school.  In my career, I started many a final day of school surrounded by smiling students, arms outstretched, all holding a gift bag or an envelop and begging me to please, “open mine first, Mr. MacInnes! Open mine first!” Those gifts of mugs, boxes of chocolates, gift cards for coffee shops and crafts made with care and love from home, all were appreciated and all were displayed and/or well used once taken home.

However, there is one gift that I have gotten many times over the years and, in my eyes, it is the most important gift any parent could give to their child’s teacher……..it is the gift of encouragement that comes in the form of a simple card or letter.  Having a parent take a few moments to write that they appreciated the time I had spent with their child and that they believed it had made a positive difference, is like gold to me.

In my bedroom, on a shelf in my closet, I have a photo box.  In that photo box, I have EVERY card, letter and note of encouragement I have ever received throughout the entire course of my 30 year career.  Each letter is precious to me and each serves to remind me that, yes, I did, indeed, have a purpose in life that was worthy and that, indeed, I was making a positive difference in the lives of children.  I can’t ask for more than that.  Whenever I find myself feeling down, for whatever reason, I haul out that photo box and bask in the warm glow of the affirmations it contains.  

In most cases, regardless of the state of education in the public school your child attends, you can count on them being cared for by a teacher who is working harder than you may realize to help their students be the best people they can be.  However, there are times, in the course of their busy days, when teachers can become just as frustrated and discouraged as the students that they teach.  If you ever want to make your child’s teacher’s day, I humbly suggest that you write a simple note.  Your words of encouragement and appreciation will turn out to be the best part of that teacher’s day….guaranteed!

And, maybe, just maybe, your words will help fill that teacher’s photo box of memories, too.  🙂

We all appreciate hearing a kind word from someone else.  Have you ever written a card of thanks to your child’s teacher?  Have you ever received such a note or card from someone else, telling you that who you are or, what you do, matters?  If so, I’d love to hear about it in the comment section below.  Thanks for reading. 🙂

Exultation Is The Going

Exultation is the going of an island soul to sea. Past the houses, past the headlands, into deep Eternity.

Bred as we, among the mountains, can the sailor understand, the divine intoxication of that first league out from land?

Emily Dickinson

Have a wonderful day, everyone. Enjoy each moment as if it was to be forever and a day this way.

Of Things Lost and Those Still Around

I was recently asked to pen a speech to be read at a rally to commemorate/protest the one-year anniversary of the election of the Progressive Conservative Government in Ontario. I was asked to make the speech into a eulogy for all that has been lost during this past year. Believe me, the list of what has been lost is quite extensive. Anyway, the rally was held this past Friday, outside the local constituency office of our PC MPP, David Piccinni. Needless to say, Mr. Piccinni did not appear at the rally to listen to the concerns being expressed.

I was not, initially, going to post this eulogy but, the response to it from those in attendance was very positive and it was suggested it would be beneficial for a wider audience to read it for themselves. So, here comes the eulogy. At the rally, the eulogy was read by Sarah Whalen, who is a teacher and a member of the Kawartha Pine Ridge District Local of the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario. **All photos that appear in this post are from my good friend, Wendy Goodes, who helped organize the rally.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here, together, to mark a solemn anniversary in our Province’s history. For it was on this date, one year ago today, that a minority of our fellow citizens voted in a Majority Government for Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario. Since that election day in 2018, much has changed in Ontario but still, much has stayed the same. Let’s, first, take a look at the latter.

Please take a moment and look at your fellow mourners who have gathered along side you today. Look at the banners they wave, the signs that they hold, the buttons and t-shirts they wear; their hearts on their sleeves, quite literally and figuratively. You are here today because you care. No matter what has been lost this past year in Ontario, you have not lapsed into defeat or self-interest. You still care. That is your superpower. You are an army of compassionate warriors and your unwavering belief in goodness, kindness and social justice for all makes you the truly worthy defenders of the slogan, “For The People”. For if there is anyone in this province capable of restoring hope to those parents of autistic children, it is you. If there is anyone capable of speaking up for the trees, as Dr. Seuss might say and, protecting our environment in a time of crisis, it is you! If there is anyone capable of maintaining our systems of Health care and Public Education for the common good of everyone, as opposed to the bottom lines of anyone, it is you. You are here today because you still believe in a better province for us all. There is power in believing in something greater than yourselves. In your belief, there is Hope. And when there is Hope, we fight on and we never give up.But, as proud and strong-minded as we all are, we have not gathered here today to celebrate but, instead, to mourn our losses, of which there are many. The minority of citizens who have elected a majority of PC MPPs have unleashed a terracotta army upon the province. They are an intimidating-looking force, filling over half of the seats in the Legislature, drowning out all inquiries with jeers, catcalls and mocking laughter. Like Siri and Alexa, these MPPs know how to retrieve their talking points well. But, don’t you dare try to strike up a conversation. They are a confederacy, not of dunces but, instead, of submissives; all standing up and sitting down on command, all speaking words that have been put into their mouths for them, all promoting ideas that are not necessarily their own. It is easy to be judgemental of people who so willingly subjugate themselves at the altar of another but, to do so would be to under-estimate the damage they are capable of creating.

It seems as if @Fordnation is attacking everything, everywhere, all of the time. Like a cruel game of real-life whack-a-mole, we are forced to battle back on multiple fronts at the same time. Our outrage, perpetual. But, while we fight to preserve our libraries, our Legal Aid system, our Greenbelt areas, our schools and hospitals, to broaden and strengthen our bonds with the Indigenous Peoples of Ontario and to protect the sanctity of a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body and so much more, an insidious and troubling battle is going on that could, when all is said and done, be the biggest loss of all and that is the War on Truthfulness.

For most of us, we have been raised to believe that “Honesty is the best policy”. We have held this belief as one of the foundations of living in a democratic society. We have grown accustomed to holding our politicians to certain standards of accountability, all built upon the premise that we expect them to tell us the truth. But, with this new Government, truthfulness is rarely a consideration in anything they do. In fact, it could be argued that lying is what Doug Ford and his minions do best. They lie about anything and everything. They lie even when they don’t even have to. They lie about the price of gas on holiday weekends. They lie about job security in a time of massive cuts. They lie about not opening debates on abortion, even as their MPPs give speeches at Pro-Life rallies. They lie with the ease that most of us breathe. The ability of PC MPPs to lie is breathless in its audacity. I am sure that they laugh about it all behind the closed doors that they tend to stay. @FordNation is not at all acting “for the people”, of that I am sure we can all agree. The lie that this government cares about the common citizen is among the most fundamental of all the lies they tell. They do not care in the least about any of us standing here today. We are not profiteers or privatizers of the public good. We do not have their ear for an airing of our concerns. They have no time for us, as seen in how hard it is to get an appointment with your local MPP, have a question answered to a phone call or email. They are their own social network and they have stopped answering to us. It is almost as if democracy doesn’t matter anymore.

But, as long as we have hearts that beat in our chests and minds that see through the rhetoric being served then, the fight must go on because democracy does matter. It isn’t a perfect system of living but, it is worth fighting to protect. Truthfulness and honesty do matter. Words matter. The integrity of those who serve our society matters, still. And so, we stand here today, one year in on the most profound and fundamentally important challenge our province has ever faced.

I stand here today, with you, filled with the conviction that our Ontario is not lost yet. That there is still Hope for a return to those days, just 365 days ago, when beer cost more than a buck and nobody really cared about that, anyway. I long for time when our leaders recognized that Love is Love and parades are fun for everyone. I believe in an Ontario where reading and books are valued and Grandparents are venerated, not incarcerated. I believe in an Ontario where compassion and empathy are not just words but mindsets and that our everyday heroes have the resources and time to help those most in need. I believe in protecting our children not profiting from them. More than anything, I believe there is still time and that there is still Hope. Much has been lost but all is not lost yet. So, wave your banners high, hoist your signs into the air and join me in the greatest battle of our lives; the fight for democracy in Ontario……for the people of Ontario……our Ontario……..ours to re-discover.

Thank you very much.