Tuesday, December 11, 2001

Christmas 2001

What a year!

My delay in getting this letter out is partly due to my difficulty humbly acknowledging how the events of September 11 have brought so many of the world’s horrors close to home. I defer, for the most part, to another “Queen’s Message” to summarize this year from a global perspective although it will come as no surprise to most of you that I don’t disagree with what I have heard reported of John Ralston Saul’s controversial new book.

I’m sure I’m not the only baby-boomer to remember “The Chipmunks” Christmas album. It occurs to me that it is one of the few CDs being re-released this season that doesn’t include a version of “God Bless America”. As horrible as the events of that sunny September 11 morning were – and they certainly were unspeakably horrible – I hope, in the long run, they will have done more than just stir up warmongers. Such troubling times. This seems to be an occasion to at least look at crisis as opportunity. The December 17 edition of Maclean’s has an interesting set of articles on the spiritual fall-out from recent events.

I’ve been so late getting my thoughts down that I decided to email this to as many people on my list so equipped. (If you’re reading this it’s because you’re on the “snail mail” list! I apologize if this arrives after Christmas.) This late edition, however, allows me to report on a very successful “Carols By Candlelight” service, last night as I type this, involving my choir, great congregational singing and a beautiful string quartet.

It’s been another exciting year in the family with the birth of my niece in August. She is the first grandchild for Mom and Dad and, therefore, the first niece for my siblings and me. I am certainly one proud uncle!

As 2000 was wrapping up I faced a big decision about my course of treatment. (In hindsight I should not have hesitated to try what many would consider a “salvage regimen”.) By April, having given the new daily routine of some thirty-two pills or capsules time to start their work, I learned that they had, indeed, had the desired results. The virus, at last check, was the quietest it has been (on paper) in several years. This has not come entirely without side effects – thirty-two of anything every day, even popcorn kernels, would have some – but overall the picture is good. I’ve gained four kilograms and, while a gust of wind can still push me over, I am feeling better than I’ve dared to dream in quite some time. This year I have been part of a couple of interesting hospital studies related to HIV/AIDS which, hopefully, will do the world some good. I wish the relative good fortune here in “the west” could be shared more readily with people with AIDS in southern Africa, Asia and eastern Europe. As expensive as it is for just the deductible on my medications it’s a problem that doesn’t compare with those who have little or no hope of getting effective treatments of any kind.

One of my wishes for the year was to take part in the five kilometer “Pride and Remembrance Run” in June. My goal, when I first started training at the end of April, was simply to make it across the finish line on my own steam. Then I thought it would be nice to do so without stopping. Even with a swollen tendon, pulled while I recklessly dismounted my bicycle, I successfully completed a “fun run” in Central Park in New York in May, non-stop, and so pushed my goal up some more to see if I could cover the course in under half an hour. It’s the first time I can ever recall pushing myself in a way that full-time athletes appear to sometimes. My result, on race day, was 28:44:06 and, thanks to generous pledges, I raised thirteen hundred dollars for charity. Not content with this accomplishment, however, I began preparing for a ten kilometer run almost immediately and would have entered such a race had I not taken the training into my own hands somewhat and re-injured the tendon. I was to learn later that my arches had collapsed as well and I’ve been wearing orthotic insoles ever since. That injury, and needing quite awhile to adjust to the insoles, brought my running to an abrupt end or, at least, suspension. (For the record this happened after running, non-stop, from Hanlan’s Point to Ward’s Island – and back – a distance of slightly more than ten kilometers! As previously stated, however, this had been done without proper training to build me up to such a distance.) More recently my physical activity has been a little more stationary, using dumb-bells and a couple of machines in a gym downstairs.

The trip to New York City (my first) in May was very exciting and, of course, became more meaningful, in hindsight, in the fall. A friend drove three of us down for the Memorial Day weekend. I’m glad we were there before the patriotism industry– and security - got cranked up as thick as it has been since September. I fretted, all the way to the border, that my medications would be found in my luggage but only one of my bags was opened and the pills were not found. Had they been I would have been asked to turn back, since HIV is grounds to bar admission, even of visitors, to the United States. Moreover had they known that I was aware of this prohibition I could have been arrested! Yet another bone to pick with my American friends! Unfortunately a second trip in the fall, this one with the choir, was cancelled. This was a disappointment for the choir, to be sure, but once I knew the borders would be tightened up I was not eager to push my luck one more time. I had pretty much decided I didn’t want to put the choir through unnecessary stress due to any deception I might have had to try at the border.

I saw the city under fog, in drizzle, and finally in brilliant May sunshine – although the changes in weather conflicted almost entirely with plans. For example whenever I was anywhere near the World Trade Center, such as on the ferry to the Statue of Liberty, I couldn’t see much more than a third of the way up. Still one of my favourite pictures is one I took of the Chrysler Building’s lights through the fog the evening we arrived. (Later, walking past the public library, I bought a pen-and-ink of the view of the Chrysler from that very vantage point.) Times Square and Broadway, buzzing all night, were the stuff of old song lyrics to be sure. As if to show I hadn’t grown up one iota, since a high school trip to London, I had a just-off-the-turnip-truck adventure involving my camera in Greenwich Village the next morning after taking the subway over to Brooklyn and walking back into the city across the Brooklyn Bridge. Suffice to say that I had to retrace some of my steps on Sunday in order to take a few pictures over again, with a new camera! Central Park is definitely everything – and more – that I had imagined it to be. Just standing where countless wide-shots of the city have been filmed seemed so magical. It is an amazing oasis in an otherwise very busy city. I saw the Dakota Apartments on Central Park West, as well, and – more topical lately since George Harrison’s death – Strawberry Fields, dedicated to the memory of John Lennon.

The year ends with me embarking on a new adventure. Having completed a facilitator training program this fall I’ve just recently begun co-facilitating a weekly group for gay men with substance abuse problems at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. It’s humbling to see the scale of the problem sometimes but I hope I can make even a small contribution towards helping someone find his way out of such despair. The exercise has already helped put some of my own life struggles in perspective. It’s also been one of several things to remind me to make the most of my life. (Some of the other factors included being involved on someone’s “Discernment Committee” at church, helping - in a small way - with the local launch of the Ecumenical Alliance Campaign on HIV/AIDS, and the usual number of increasingly uncomfortable “…So what do you do? ” inquiries.) I’m not sure where I’m being led, but I’m just “putting it out there” – trying to be mindful that my volunteer work is, hopefully, somewhat of a vocation in itself and that my physical stamina is not something I can take for granted every day. Still, it’s a dilemma – something I’ve heard described as being between the dog and the fire hydrant.

Speaking of the animal kingdom, this fall marked the passing of a longtime companion, my Siamese cat “Blue”. She lost a lot of weight quite suddenly and when I took her to the Humane Society to investigate the decision was made to have her put down. She, and her late sister Tiger, had been through a lot with me in some of my toughest years. Blue’s adopted younger sister, Emma, now rules the roost on her own – and has become much more friendly as a result.

Well, with hopes for peace in a warring world I’ll close and wish you all the best in 2002.