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:
First it was the Sunday football game. Then it was all the primary results on Tuesday. But most of all it was the attention, the rhetoric and the seemingly continuous hype of everything American, this week. Between coverage of the presidential race, rants on the U.S. recession-watch and the apparently billions of people following all this on television and the Internet, it drove a colleague of mine to distraction.
“When is all this U.S. ‘super’ nonsense going to stop?” he asked.
It comes from readers now and again. Sometimes I expect it. Most times – because of the very nature of “The Barris Beat” – I never anticipate it at all. There are times, however, when phone calls or e-mails seem to arrive non-stop. The message is simple:
“Why don’t you write something provocative?” they ask. “Why aren’t your columns more critical?”
They were right about one thing. The outdoor NHL game at the Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. (where the NFL Buffalo Bills play) Tuesday afternoon got plenty of winter. Despite all the technology to make the playing surface seem as if it were just another Hockey Night in Canada game – heated benches, regulation boards and glass, pyrotechnic fanfare and over 70,000 screaming fans – a heavy and constant snowfall reminded everybody that nature often determines the game’s outcome. Even Don Cherry recognized that fact.
“You can see the players are happy,” he said before the game. “But they gotta be careful. There’s a lot of money out there.”
They’re everywhere in my life. I have them in my briefcase. I put them by the telephone. They occupy plenty of space on my desktop – my electronic desktop as well as the wooden one. I generate them at the beginning of the day, before I go to bed or whenever I sense I’m losing my way through the day. They give me a sense of security. They often make me anxious – if there are too many of them. And since it’s that time of the week to write my column, the Barris Beat has risen to the top of one.
Last Wednesday began in an ordinary fashion. I rose early – very early – to sit-in on the air for the regional CBC Radio host who was ill. As I often do in that situation, I checked the broadcast wire service to see whose birthday fell on Nov. 21 in years past. For example, it was pioneer broadcaster Foster Hewitt’s date of birth. It was also philosopher Voltaire’s, shipping magnate Cunard’s, musician Dr. John’s and actress Goldie Hawn’s birthday too.
It was also the anniversary of a number of historic events. I noticed it was the occasion of the first hot-air balloon flight in 1783. It was the 130th anniversary of Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph. It turned out to be the date – in 1973 – on which authorities first noted the 18 1/2 minute gap in Richard Nixon’s Watergate tapes. And on Nov. 21, 1995, the Dayton Peace Agreement ended the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Later last Wednesday night, however, all that history dissolved into a darkened waiting room at the Port Perry hospital.
Politicians live by them. Banks and their customers’ accounts die by them. The military invented them. And writers are most creative because of them. But I didn’t realize how critical they were in my life until this past weekend. I was out walking the dog and passed a neighbour raking leaves on her front yard. (Yes, I know, it is an odd fall to be raking leaves a month before Christmas, but that’s the problem.) Anyway, I commented on her task.
“Got to get them done,” she said. “Pickup deadline is Tuesday.”
The twelve of us had been at it for about an hour. Half going one way. The other half going the other. It was late. There were only a few minutes until the end. I was there in the middle of it – chasing, racing, working as hard as I could. Now I was in a foot race with one other guy. In the tussle to get there first, he went down. The referee’s arm went up. Blew his whistle.
“Two minutes,” he indicated to the scorekeeper, “tripping.”
I attended an emergency meeting, last Friday. Some of this country’s greatest history thinkers and writers came from all over Canada to attend. Part of the assembly took place at Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s residence; the rest took place at the Carleton University in Ottawa. Presiding over the gathering was indeed the Queen’s representative, Michaelle Jean. She addressed the several hundred delegates present.
“I worry about how little importance our society places on history and how we fail to recognize the past,” she said.
One day last summer, as I passed through Leaskdale, I saw them. About a dozen people had gathered beside the historic plaque in the town. There were just as many cameras present, as all members of the group snapped photographs with the entire entourage standing in front of the manse. The visitors were Asian. I can’t be sure, because I didn’t stop to ask, but they drove a rented van, so I imagine they had come from the United States, some other part of Canada or possibly even Asia itself.
For them, the Lucy Maud Montgomery manse was like Mecca.