Sleeping with an elephant

On Tuesday, Americans will go to the polls in what some are calling the most historic U.S. election since Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.

As the tiny mouse living next to the mammoth elephant*, Canada is holding its breath to see who will be President when all the votes are counted on Tuesday night.

There is so much at stake, but I won’t waste time recounting the issues that have filled our airwaves and papers for the past six weeks.

One thing is certain, I have never been more happy to be Canadian.

Over the past decade and the past year in particular, it feels like the great divide between our two countries has deepened to a wide chasm.

We have been physically divided by a closed border due to COVID-19. Our countries have been divided on foreign policy, racial injustice and climate change. The greatest divide, I’ve come to realize, is cultural.

If America had a motto, other than America First, it would be “every man for himself”. In Canada, it would be “all for one, and one for all.”

I don’t think it would have mattered who was President during the pandemic—the country would have wound up in exactly the same place. The culture of, I’m going to do what I want, it’s my god-given right and no one can stop me, has resulted in the U.S. having the highest infection rate in the world.

So as we hold our breaths and await the results Tuesday night, let’s collectively give thanks and continue to cherish and hold dear what makes us uniquely Canadian. We the north, all for one and one for all.

*In 1969, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, in a speech to the Washington Press Club, described living next to the United States by saying, “Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

Watch your thoughts

Lao Tzu quote on thoughts

“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny”—Lao Tzu 

For the better part of 2020, many of us have been alone with our thoughts, and understandably, those thoughts have been more dark, troubled and worrisome.

I think this quote in large part explains what is happening in the United States right now. Alone with their thoughts, people have lashed out and acted out. It makes me wonder about America’s destiny. I truly believe they are at a turning point in their history.

Every event of historical significance has begun with a thought or difference in thoughts: the American civil war, Aryan supremacy and the Holocaust, communism.

Our thoughts can be a friend, giving us hope, comfort and fortitude, and urging us to do and act better.

Or they can be our enemy, closing our ears and hearts to differing opinions and causing us to act in shameful ways.

We may feel like the world is out of control right now. But we always have control of our thoughts.

Start with the main in the mirror

Black lives matter mural in Washington

For the past few weeks, I’ve watched the world raise a collective fist on bended knee in support of #BlackLivesMatter.

I have not publicly spoken about the protests and George Floyd until today.

I needed time. Time to process my feelings. Feelings of disbelief that in 2020, systemic racism continues to exist. I am dumbfounded, stupefied, appalled, and ashamed. As Barack Obama said this past week, “This shouldn’t be ‘normal’ in 2020 America. It can’t be ‘normal’.

I also needed time to think about my response and what we need to do to effect change.

I believe change will come from two driving forces. The first will be companies, organizations, police bodies, justice systems and governments that will begin the slow process of addressing systemic racism, gender inequality, ageism and other forms of discrimination.

The more powerful change will come from us as individuals within. It all starts with the man in the mirror.

Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd but there were three former police officers who stood by and watched and did nothing. If even one of those men had intervened, George Floyd would be alive today. What do those men see when they look in the mirror each morning? What change will they make within themselves to make the world a better place?

Some are shaming individuals and brands for not speaking up and showing their support for the #BlackLivesMatter movement, saying if you don’t speak up, you are part of the problem. Not only is that not helpful, it is hateful and perpetuates the same type of ignorant assumptions that the anti-racist movement is fighting against.

One of the reasons I’ve remained silent until now is I didn’t want to be a hollow voice in a chorus of “convenient outrage” as the son of Royson James, a black journalist with The Toronto Star phrased it. Royson, who admits he is “jaded, exhausted” having lived through too many promising moments and forgotten promises asked his two sons their perspectives on this unique period in history. One sees progress and opportunity but fears “convenient outrage” will ebb as in past moments in the history of the civil rights movement.

I am also shocked and frankly a little frightened of how people are vilifying every word, syllable and utterance that can be perceived negative towards the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Many celebrities who wanted to show their support and posted black images on their feeds on #BlackOutTuesday were criticized for not using their platforms to educate people.

Wendy Mesley, a respected 40-year veteran of the CBC was suspended last week after using a racist phrase. It was not on the air, and it was not her own words. She was quoting a source or fellow journalist in a staff editorial meeting. A Toronto Sun column hailed this despicable move by the CBC as the “death of modern journalism” saying Wesley was offered up “as a human sacrifice to vultures on a diet of cancel culture.”

We need to change. We need to commit. We need to act.

But the commitment and actions must be pure and swift, not hollow platitudes or hateful criticisms. There are important conversations taking place right now about anti-racism and discrimination in boardrooms, police organizations, governments, and households. The most important conversation is the one with ourselves.

Because it all starts with the man in the mirror.

The week the world stood still

My thoughts this week have turned to Anne Frank. For two years, Anne lived in hiding in a small attic with five other people in a secret annex at her father Otto’s work to escape Nazi persecution during the second world war. She was discovered by the Nazis in 1944 and died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in February 1945 from exhaustion.

All Anne had to occupy her days and her mind was a diary.

For many of us, the world stopped turning this week, save for the insidious march of an invisible enemy moving stealthily through our midst.

It has been horrific to watch the images from Italy.

Overflowing hospital wards, newspapers with pages and pages of obituaries, and lonely lines of hearses outside cemeteries as mourners remain in isolation in their homes.

We are all anxious, scared, uncertain.

And yet.

In the midst of all this chaos, there have been moments of unparalleled compassion, humanity, and sacrifice.

The Italian tenor who serenaded his neighbours from the safety of his balcony in self-isolation.

Neighbours helping neighbours.

Big corporations doing the right thing, looking after their employees as best they can and donating money, food, and rejigging production models to manufacture much needed medical supplies.

A group of kids performing a front porch concert for their elderly neighbour.

And the heroes on the front lines, health care workers coming out of retirement, working long hours in grim conditions and jeopardizing their own health to take care of the sick.

History has challenged us before. It will challenge us again. If the worst most of us have to face in the coming weeks ahead is boredom and uncertainty in self-isolation, we should count ourselves blessed.

Stay well.

Ed. Note. If you haven’t heard of an app called Nextdoor, download it now. It connects people in neighbourhoods and is full of people offering to help higher-risk individuals in their community right now with whatever they need in self-isolation.

 

Eat from a dish with one spoon

It has been inspiring to see how reconciliation has finally become more than just a word in this country.

Every conference and event now starts with an acknowledgement of the First Nation territories and their land upon which the event is being held.

When I was at Queen’s University a few weeks ago to hear presentations from graduate students in their school of public health, covering one wall was a string of flags hung by the students declaring their personal act of reconciliation.

I was especially proud recently to view a special work of art done by the students of Loughborough Public School, where Clare goes to school. The piece called “From What Dish Do You Want to Feed Your Grandchildren From” is 13 feet long and spans one of the foyer walls. The artwork was chosen as the Ontario entry for a special gathering in Winnipeg as part of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation.

It was inspired by a treaty signed between the Anishinaabe, Mississauga and Haudenosaunee First Nations in 1701 where they agreed to share the territory and protect the land, its animals and bounty around Lake Ontario. The philosophy these young students are trying to pass down to future generations is we all share the same land and eat from the same bowl with the same spoon. We must respect the land, its inhabitants and take care of it so it continues to thrive and reap bountiful harvests for future generations.

There are no knives at the table—an equally powerful message about acceptance, harmony and living in a peaceful society without war.

children's messages on artwork

I’m always amazed at the creativity and talent of young people. They used natural elements like beaver pelts and birch bark stitched together with modern symbols of how we are harming our environment in a beautiful tapestry, then overlayed personal messages and artwork for a powerful mosaic that reflects Canadian and First Nations values and principles.

This week’s #HappyAct is to ask yourself and answer the question these young minds are challenging us to answer: what will be your personal act of reconciliation?

artwork

Toronto the good in photos

Airplane over Toronto skyline in the 1960s

Yesterday as we were cleaning up the basement, I found an old Kodachrome box filled with 50-year old newspaper clippings. They were clippings of my Dad’s articles and photos from the time he was a reporter and photographer for The Globe in the 1950s and 60s.

My Dad never talked about his days with The Globe much. He was more likely to talk to you about the Blue Jays or the weather. But as I gingerly read each faded newspaper clipping, his life work washed over me and I marveled at all the famous people he met and photographed, from prime ministers and celebrities to royalty.

Here were just a few of the stories and photos I found yesterday

A Cosmopolitan View of a Cosmopolitan Centre (shown above). Dad had close ties with the Canadian International Air Show. For this picture, he must have been in the air and snapped this shot of an RCAF Air Transport Command Cosmopolitan airplane flying “past the new Toronto-Dominion Centre” highlighting a very different Toronto skyline from what it is today.

Quakers cross border with medical goods

The Vietnam War monopolized headlines in the late 1960s. This photo was of US quakers who defied US authorities to carry medical supplies across the border into Canada to send to Vietnam.

Go train pre-fabricated tunnels from the 1960s

Go tunnels part of Lakeshore commuter service

I grew up minutes from Port Credit Go station and passed through the tunnel to get to the other side of the tracks almost daily. This is a picture of the prefabricated tunnels they installed in the late 1960s.

In another story called, “Biggest town to get name, council on December 9th”, Dad covered the pending amalgamation of the villages that formed the City of Mississauga. The other name being considered was Sheridan, “a small pioneer community on the township’s western border. Mississauga is favored to win, although a police officer once moaned: ‘Oh, no. We’ll never get it all on the door of the cruisers.”

George Chuvalo newspaper photo

Family wants him to quit, but Chuvalo still has hope

This picture of five-time Canadian heavyweight and two-time world heavyweight boxer champion George Chuvalo with a patch over his right eye was taken after losing a heavyweight fight to Joe Frazier in New York City.

These next four photos showcase some of the fascinating people my father got to meet and photograph. From top to bottom:

Coretta Scott King at Toronto City Hall

Coretta Scott King, the wife of Martin Luther King Jr speaks to Toronto controller Herbert Orliffe at a reception at Toronto city hall.

Prince Philip in Toronto

Prince Philip chats with RCAF officers on his arrival at Trenton yesterday. The Prince piloted the British built jet (background) on flight from New York lasting an hour.

John Diefenbaker

On his way back to Ottawa after fishing trip to British Columbia, Conservative Leader John Diefenbaker confers with Davie Fulton at Toronto International Aiport.

Bobby Vinton

Crooner Bobby Vinton. In the caption, Vinton is quoted as saying “An entertainer’s job is not to get involved in world problems.” How times have changed.

There was one photo I wish I had to this day. I remember my Dad showing it to me. It was of the Beatles when they landed in Toronto in either 1964 or 1966 when they played at Maple Leaf Gardens. Dad photographed them for The Globe, but gave the photos to some teenage girls who lived up the street from us. Oh, but what I would give for those photos today.

Thanks for the trip down memory lane into Toronto the Good’s past, Dad. Miss you.