Friday, December 8, 2000

Christmas 2000

May I offer you the fondest greetings of the season!

Being the increasingly undisciplined journalist that I am, this is the only time of year when, since 1993, I have managed to take the time to view the preceding days and record my observations on paper. The exercise is, by its very nature, subjective. While I don’t talk to myself too, too often, this letter tends to be well kneaded in my gray matter – or what’s left of it – beginning in mid-November.

Musing about the possibility of taking a break from the choir, after Christmas last year, became a self-fulfilling prophecy and, while I enjoyed the break, I was sorry not to have been involved in the Missa Gaia(Earth Mass), presented in late spring. It was a beautifully executed work which I listen to again and again, thanks to it having been recorded on CD.

A much less happy occasion, the funeral of a fellow bass-baritone, brought me back to the choir and there I will stay – health permitting. Fred’s dedication to the choir through failing health, remains an inspiration to me.

My involvement with the church – the choir, the Pride Social Group, the Worship and Music Committee, as well as the worship planning group – has been a really important part of my life this year. There were transitions to grow through, with the departures of Frank and Joanne as ministers, in June and the subsequent arrival of Hal and Karen (who tells me Richard may remember her from her Outremont days) at the beginning of October. I have become quite fond of them both already, and I’m also pleased that Frank and Joanne were able to find placements in Toronto.

The Chaplin family’s year might well be summed up as “Four Stents, A Wedding and a Funeral” (It was Mom who actually planted the idea of this title in my mind.)

In reverse order, Grandmother McGinnis (“Gammy” to the grandkids) died in Perth on March 19 at the great old age of ninety-five. While not unexpected, Gammy’s death made for an unscheduled family reunion. Lynn flew in from Fredericton, Craig and Claude drove up from Montreal, while Janice, Randy and I came from Hamilton and Toronto. This remarkable matriarch, who had been widowed in her forties, was remembered in Craig’s eulogy for her strong faith and constitution, her long teaching career, and the value of family she imparted to us. Later she was buried to the strains of “Amazing Grace” and “Going Home”, played by a bagpiper in the shadow of an old stone schoolhouse, next to the Scotch Line cemetery, where she taught in the early days of her career. There was certainly no lack of symbolism in that moment. Although it’s been quite a few years since she was with us all at the Christmas dinner table, Gammy will be missed this holiday season (and there need not be as many chocolates to pass around!)

The weather, that week in late March, is the stuff of legends already. We were grateful that it neither snowed nor rained. As a matter of fact, it was mostly sunny and nearly 25 degrees Celsius (or so it seemed, hence the legend). In any case, it was so warm that Mom’s request to have the limousine’s air conditioning on “high” - going to and from the cemetery – went uncontested.

Mom, who was quite pleased with having kept her cool during the visitation and funeral, found herself in hospital for a good month or so around Mother’s Day. That old familiar “discomfort” in her chest had returned after several years’ grace. Most of the hospital time was spent in Perth, waiting for a bed at the Ottawa Heart Institute where she was successfully treated.

Spring and summer were very busy. In June I enjoyed my customary retreat on Lake Simcoe’s Strawberry Island, offshore from Orillia. This has become an early summer tradition that I look forward to each year. My Father’s Day was spent in Hamilton with Mom, Dad, my sister Janice and her partner Randy (who announced their heretofore secret plans to marry later in the summer). This happy decision made their planned trip-of-a-lifetime to the Mediterranean even more special. Later in the month I volunteered, again, during CJRT-FM’s on-air fundraising drive which – in turn – got me involved with TV Ontario’s campaign, as well as the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival (which followed on the heels of Pride Day). I was happy to be well enough to take part in all that!

It was during Pride Week, the Pride and Remembrance Run in particular, when I resolved to try to get myself into a little better physical condition. Ultimately I’d like to be in the run myself next June, rather than simply work behind the scenes as I’ve done the past few years. Having rejoined the “Y”, however, I have yet to make a regular habit of “training” for this goal! While I know it would be perfectly acceptable to walk or run, I’d really like to make a go of an all-out run now that, thanks to this fall’s AIDS Walk, I know I can walk a fair bit more than 5k. (Thanks to many of you, by the way, I was able to raise $650 at the walk.)

The small, intimate wedding in July was really something special for our family. Janice and Randy had been making plans with Craig for quite some time (he ultimately performed the ceremony). The two families, from points east and west, arrived in Montreal on July 26, Mom and Dad’s forty-eighth anniversary. We all met for an evening reception, hosted by Craig and Claude, then planned to be at the Botanical Gardens by nine o’clock the next morning. In fact, Lynn and Claude were through the gates before the gardens had even opened. There, in the quiet of this really beautiful setting, the marriage took place with plenty of laughter and tears befitting the occasion. The onset of showers rushed us a bit afterwards, but we had plenty of opportunities for great pictures and a tour of some of the gardens.

Following an authentic Japanese meal downtown – not without plenty of its own laughs – some of us retired to our beds until evening, when Janice and Randy hosted a dinner cruise in Montreal Harbour. What a memorable day! Upon their return from Greece some three weeks later (a trip which included jaunts to several of the Greek islands, and a full-scale cruise to Israel and Egypt), the honeymooners were welcomed back to Canadian soil with a McGinnis-Chaplin extended family gathering in Perth.

It wasn’t long after all this excitement that Craig was in hospital in Montreal, the result of a heart attack (these would be the second two of four stents I alluded to earlier!) This was quite a shock to us all. Following a double angioplasty, however, I’m happy to report that Craig is feeling better and was well enough that, as the only Chaplin family member left in Quebec, he was able to represent us at Prime Minister Trudeau’s funeral, albeit standing on the outside looking in!

Just when I thought I might get through the year with unremarkable (and therefore very remarkable) health, a December visit to my specialist has given me quite a bit to think about over the holidays. It seems that, after quite a successful run, I am now experiencing resistance to some of my medications (only obvious in lab reports), which means that the virus is able to be detected replicating itself. While the “viral load”, which measures such things, is low it has been consistently detectable over time and, therefore, the combination of pills and capsules I take is no longer working to its potential. This necessitates a decision – do I make radical changes to my drug regimen (and brace for a fair number of new side effects) or do I stay the course and risk potentially greater problems down the road, should a change in direction become more urgent. I don’t particularly like either option. However, to use the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? vernacular, I don’t really know how many more “life-lines” I can count on. Of course, as is the case with any mortal, there are no such guarantees.

The doctor reminded me – as he has a couple of times before - how close to death I had been seven or eight years ago, and how strong a comeback I have made. On one occasion earlier this year he told a group of visiting Russian doctors (with a growing AIDS problem in their own country) that I had nearly died in 1992-93 but have bounced back. While that sort of perspective invigorates me, I am still left with the present dilemma! Up to this point, my doctor hasn’t pushed me too hard. Even now he admits he doesn’t know which course to recommend (and, knowing him as I do, he doesn’t like being unable to give me a firm “if I were you…”)

I hope that this will not unduly preoccupy me over the holidays, which will probably include a great deal of visiting, eating and lounging in front of the fireplace. Much of the family will be in Perth between Christmas and New Years (since Claude’s nursing position calls on him to be in Montreal working at Christmas this year). This will allow me to participate fully in Trinity- St. Paul’s Christmas season – watching the children’s pageant and singing in “Carols by Candlelight” on the 17th, then two joint Christmas Eve services with Bloor Street United and Christos MCC, respectively.

Here’s hoping the quiet reflection, which I certainly hope to make time for over these holidays, will also be something you can experience amidst the busy times of the season.