Wireless weirdness

A few anxious moments preceded the opening ceremonies of the “100 Years of Anne/Tribute to Lucy Maud Montgomery” festivities in Uxbridge, Ontario, recently.

Our event chair, Coun. Pat Mikuse, got a distress call on her cellphone. The caller was Durham MPP John O’Toole, one of the dignitaries expected to speak at the event. As Coun. Mikuse explained to me later, our guest inquired: “Where are you?”

“I can’t hear you,” Coun. Mikuse said. “I’ll move away from the stage.”

“Where are you?” MPP O’Toole repeated.

“I’m behind the stage,” she answered. “Where are you?

“I’m in front of the stage.”

Service under fire

I never met “the SARS lady,” but she met me through my fears.

Early in 2003, when a stroke debilitated my father, he was admitted to Scarborough Grace Hospital in east-end Toronto. Within days of his admission there, the first cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome popped up around him. His was the SARS ward. The resulting quarantine made it impossible for us to enter the hospital or see Dad. My family panicked. How could we be sure his aphasia would be adequately treated? We found some solace in the demeanour and words of then Medical Officer of Health for Toronto, Dr. Sheela Basrur. Responsibility for the city’s health recovery fell to her and nursing staffs across the Greater Toronto Area.

“If you’re sick, you should seek treatment,” she told a terrified GTA. “If you’re healthy you should live your life.”

The questions of Remembrance

On the seventh day of our trip along the path Canadians followed to liberate Italy, 65 years ago, I learned a valuable lesson of remembrance.

One of our tour guests, the mayor of Shelburne, Ont, asked if he could address the group of 50 Canadian travellers my wife and I are accompanying. Ed Crewson, 48, carefully unfolded several fragile-looking newspaper clippings that clearly meant a lot to him. He explained that the mementos came from the Second World War effects of his father – Pte. William Crewson of the Saskatoon Light Infantry.

“My dad got bone cancer when I was eight,” Ed Crewson told us. “I didn’t look through these wartime papers and read them until long after he was gone.”

The Longest Day – in Pachino

If you asked young Valentina Distefano what life is like in her hometown, she’d probably tell you that nothing ever happens.

She’d probably add that most days she doesn’t meet many new people either. Midday on Tuesday, however, things changed dramatically at her high school – Instituto D’Istruzione Secondaria Superiore Michelangelo Bartolo – in the small Sicilian coastal town of Pachino, Italy. You see, during a special assembly at this school of 400, Valentina met 50 visiting Canadians. They (with my wife and I as hosts) had just begun retracing the trek of Canadian soldiers who liberated Italy 65 years ago this year. And the Sicilian teenager actually got the chance to interview one of those visiting Canadians, 88-year-old Gordon Major.

“What did you feel like after you landed?” Valentina asked.

“I was too young to feel anything,” Major said. “It’s a very long time ago.”

How things work

During a recent editorial meeting with a class of journalism students, one young woman didn’t have a news story to offer. She asked if I could assign one to her, one that would offer her a challenge. I thought a second and suggested she cover the Ontario finance minister’s introduction of the provincial budget. She cringed at the thought and then looked to me as if to say, “Why would you choose that as an assignment?”

“It’s important that you learn how things work,” I said to her.

She nodded and said, “I’ll check the Queen’s Park website for the phone number of the Finance Minister’s office.”

“Well, the learning curve has just begun,” I said. “Have you ever tried using a telephone book?”

In sickness and in wealth

I did something this week I don’t think I’ve done in years. Monday, I woke up hacking and sniffling. I battled through the day. I loaded my pockets with tissues and throat lozenges. All day long, I consciously sneezed into my sleeve and not my hands. I succeeded in getting through the workday with little or no damage to my routine. Still, by evening, I felt worse than in the morning. I woke up the next day feeling beaten and threw in the towel.

“A cold has me by the throat,” I wrote in my e-mail to the program co-ordinator at the college where I teach. “I don’t think anybody wants to share what I’ve got. I’m taking a sick day.”

Faster, higher, more political

While catching my breath between shovelfuls of snow, this past storm, I had a conversation with a neighbour. She told me about her son was now studying at Dalhousie University and training in an elite swimming program. Naturally, she was proud of his accomplishments. She told me he currently ranks among the top swimmers in the country in the backstroke. In fact, in April he’ll compete in Montreal at an Olympic qualifying event in hopes of going for a medal in Beijing or beyond.

Then, I noticed the news from Tibet. Chinese authorities had cracked down on human rights demonstrators there. And the angry reaction of people, such as Australian senator Andrew Bartlett, could conceivably sink the Olympic dreams of my neighour’s son.

“I think we should boycott the Olympics,” Bartlett told reporters this week. “We can’t just turn a blind eye because we all love our sport.”

Facing the cheaters

The movie "The Paper Chase" featured a hard-nosed Harvard law professor versus a practical, legitimate study group of his students.
The movie "The Paper Chase" featured a hard-nosed Harvard law professor versus a practical, legitimate study group of his students.

It was back about 1973 that a movie caught my attention.

The Paper Chase, based on the novel by John Jay Osborn, depicted a group of first-year Harvard Law School students. Like so many university freshmen, the movie frosh ran scared from nearly every class. Then they banded together into a study group, pooling their notes on civil law discussions, criminal law tutorials and, in particular, the contract law lectures of the dreaded Prof. Charles Kingsfield (played by John Houseman). Lead character James Hart (played by Timothy Bottoms) described the study group as an act of self-preservation.

“We band together,” he said, “or we fail!”

An essential holiday

I celebrated Family Day with some who couldn’t.

Early Monday afternoon, I drove to an appointment about 200 kilometres from home. Partway down the highway and into the early afternoon of Ontario’s first Feb. 18 holiday, I was diverted to my elderly mother’s Toronto apartment. She had suffered a recent fall, was experiencing a lot of pain and her 84-year-old body wasn’t responding to over-the-counter treatment.

An ambulance arrived about 3:30 p.m. and I met my first Family Day non-celebrants, three EMS paramedics.

“On a scale of one-to-10, Mrs. Barris,” the paramedic asked my mother, “how much pain is there?”

A Valentine’s card

the one you
We two are the best of friends.

Nothing is more difficult. Few words do it justice. And despite valiant attempts, through centuries of civilized life, even the greatest minds and hearts – those of princes, poets and just plain folks – never seem to capture it completely. And frankly, this Valentine’s Day, I’m not going to sit here and suggest that I am the only one who can define it. Greater women and men than I have tried to answer the question:

“What is love?”