Friday, December 6, 2013

A Different Kind of Race

It always seems impossible until its done.
- Nelson Mandela

I always thought it was impossible for me to be in the same room as Mayor Rob Ford (please note the loose and approximate use of the word Mayor). That is, until last night.

While attending a charity function to raise money for the typhoon victims in the Philippines at Toronto's notorious Virgin Mobile's Mod Club, in walked none other than Rob Ford.

Deadpan and straight-faced, the woman next to me said of the three quarters filled room, “Rob Ford is here? He'll fill out the room.”

Rob Ford is here? I'll try not to crack up.” came another voice along the bench.

I couldn't help myself, I found myself laughing.

I turned around to see the Toronto Mayor standing but 6 feet away from me, larger than life (as the expression goes) and surrounded by an entourage of equally space-requiring mammals.

Never in a million-and-one years could I have predicted this set of circumstances even in my wildest dreams. Quite frankly, I just don't run in his crowd.

If nothing else, this was definitely a triumphant Facebook status opportunity if I ever saw one. Thank goodness (and Karen H.) for the modern miracle of cell phones.

"I am in the same room as Rob Ford…not on purpose, mind you."

The responses came fast and furious:



“Where are you and what at you doing??”

“Are you dealing now??”

Wow, this was a stellar status update to elicit multiple punctuation markings at the end of every entry.

I took a picture of John next to the mayor. Expecting John to give a polite “Thank you,Your Worship” or a nod and a “Mayor Ford” or even, maybe, just maybe a casual “Thank you, Mr. Ford” I almost catapulted into hysterics when my ears rang with a broad Cockney accent, a slap on the back and a cheerful, “Thanks, Rob” with a first-name familiarity often only shared by the likes of college roommates or fishing buddies.

Then guilt overtook me. I had been objectifying this man. He was so surreal to me he was like a cartoon character in my mind. But, standing there right in front of me I realized that he and I were in the same race—the human race. He is human, albeit a drug-using, lying, often crass, poor decision-making, sufferer from the illness of addictions, maybe (as in for sure) delusional, best friend of criminals, runs with gang members, extortionists and possibly murderers--human. But human, just the same. He is someone's husband, father, brother and sadly, still someone's mayor. Maybe I was laughing at him to distance myself from what he represents--that humans, my race, our race, are capable of such behaviour. Because if he is capable of such things and I am made of the same stuff, what does that make me? My mind doesn't even want to go there. Is it possible that we could all be painted with the same brush strokes?

My cynical self thinks he was there for good PR but his brother did make a donation (not sure if he used the City of Toronto stationary) but I don't know his heart and should not stand in judgement of that act. I am sure regardless of motive the money will contribute to the good of the people of the Philippines. And, God bless him for that.

Something else happened yesterday. Nelson Mandela passed from this life. What an incredible icon who lived life within the context of the “whole picture.” He dedicated his life tackling racism, poverty and inequity. He spent 27 years of his life imprisoned. But, the greater the grief, the greater the triumph and when he was released he later became the first black President of South Africa. He served one term and did not run for office again, instead, seeing the greater good and worked fighting HIV and poverty through his Nelson Mandela Foundation. Some say, and arguably so, he is the most celebrated political figure ever.

Mandela's life is good news for me because he is also in the same race as I—the human race. There is hope. If I only affect positive change to a miniscule fraction of what he did, I would have lived my life well.

True, we are all in the same race, but how we run it is up to us. We have a choice. I remember the first time running the Ottawa Marathon and noticing people in wheel chairs, another with only one leg, large people, small people, fit people, struggling people. But they were all moving.


With purpose.

With the finish line in mind.

Different paces, different resolve, some fast, some slow, some doing a good job, some not so much. We are all struggling in our own way.

We only have one shot during any given race...and at being human.

With communication being unlike any other era, we have witnessed unbelievable human depravity and selfishness. Likewise, we have also seen incredible sacrifice, love and compassion.

The human race has it all—the good, the bad; the in between. But, as Mr. Mandela said himself, “Man's goodness is a flame that can be hidden but never extinguished.”

He also said, “When a man has done what he considers to be his duty to his people and his country, he can rest in peace.”

You certainly can rest in peace, Mr. Mandela. Yes you can.

The human race—our greatest gift is that we get to choose how we run it.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Do Less, Be More

My dad has been helping (well, I use the word "helping" loosely. It is more like single-handedly spear-heading) the entire renovation of the ailing, basement bathroom. Taking a gamble on a Sunday night, we drove to a local big box hardware store, knowing full-well it would be closed.

Our pre-conceived notion was confirmed when we saw three lonely cars in the vast asphalt acreage the size of a small South American rainforest.

“Just drive by the doors just in case.” I suggested.

I couldn't believe my eyes when I looked at the posted hours. Not only was it still open, we had a full half hour to spare.

“It's not supposed to happen this way for me,” my dad said. It's amazing how incredibly happy you can be when you set the bar low.

It was definitely the most memorable and pleasant experience I have ever had in a hardware store. The weather was abysmal so the cavernous, empty store greeted us with 10 eager employees bored out of their skulls, competing at the chance to help us find an obscure mechanism for a toilet. It was kind of like a new reality show: “Survivor Hardware,” “Lowe's Got Talent” or “Home Depot Idol.” It was all about who could find a toilet flapper the fastest.

My birthday was just over a week ago and it was one of those days when all the planets aligned and all the cosmos complied. In the minds of many, a birthday reminds them of the day they were born. Since last year, my birthday is different kind of anniversary marker. It is, and will always be, in my mind, the day my mother came home from the hospital last year. What was supposed to be a day surgery lingered longer, but she was strong and kicking on my birthday and was released. It is a good day. In fact, I consider it lucky.

Since it was my birthday, I had to renew my license. However, I was suffering from a condition known as “Plate Denial”. Although it sounds like a mental illness, it has more to do with not paying your ETR 407 bill on time. However, one could argue that driving on the ETR without a transponder doesn't speak too favourably about one's state of mind in the first place. I was concerned. The bill was the size of the GNP of a developing country and I didn't think I could catch it up in a day.

So, I phoned the ETR and was told that I didn't have to pay the whole bill as only a small portion was overdue. In fact, I could pay it at the location where I renewed my license. Of course, this was the case. It's my birthday.

When I got to Service Ontario, they renewed my license without hesitation. Not even a hint that I was a seriously wanted criminal on the run from the authorities of the ETR. I couldn't help myself. I asked.

“Oh, that's just for sticker renewal, not for your license. And, you bought the two year renewal last year and don't need to renew this year.”

Of course I did. It's my birthday.

A friend awaiting biopsy results got great news and sent me a joyous email. Of course I expected this result. It's my birthday.

Lyndsay texted me from Walmart. She just heard from the vet. Her lovely cat, Eugene's results were favourable. His liver was improving. Of course I knew this would happen. After all, it's my birthday.

It simply was one of those rare days when the flow is all in one direction—mine. I realize that most days won't be like this and sometimes it is necessary to just lower expectations and become joyous for no real reason. We all need a time to re-charge, feel accomplished and whole.

My current goal with running is to just get out there three times a week. I am not worrying about how far or how fast. It is now week three and I'm pretty much on target and it's good. Karen, still spinning from her New York City Marathon, is now trying snow shoe running and Cross-fit. Lyndsay is attempting a ropes class and yoga (however, she informed me that it was more like paying a fee to try not to pass wind for 1 1/2 hours. She was pleased to report, however, that she was able to hold it all in well until the last five minutes of silent meditation, when she had squeezed so hard that the gas was now escaping internally causing a high pitched stomach noise.)

My niece, Terri Lynn, told me that her family was “trying to do less and be more.” I think that is amazing. I know one day I will be motivated and excited about training hard for a race—and so will Karen and Lyndsay. But not today, Today, like my birthday, is a day to regenerate—just a day to rejoice, reflect and enjoy what comes my way. I want to temporarily lower my expectations, and really celebrate the small, do-able victories. I want to just accept my current level of motivation and energy and just “be”.

Yep, 'tis the season to do less, be more!