Sunday, December 15, 2002

Christmas 2002

Wow, this is my tenth annual holiday letter! It’s enough to make me both laugh and cry, a little, to remind myself of that - considering how it all began. For any newcomers to my list, and there have been some every single year, a brief history might be in order as it may be a while before I compile them all into book form - if ever!

With the onset of winter 1993 my good friend, Jim, was dying of AIDS-related lymphoma. I wanted to try to put some of my perceived talent with words to good use for him as a holiday season gift. It had already become a bit of a tradition to write my former co-worker, Nancy, a year-in-review letter each Christmas so this seemed like something I might expand upon for a slightly larger audience. While I don’t recall exactly how many copies I sent out, and it was all done by “snail mail” back then, the list has grown to something like eighty names.

The first letter was, to a greater than lesser extent, one of those “in case I’m not around next year” letters. While I haven’t always been maudlin I am the first to admit that AIDS seemed to have me down for the count those first few years and I never failed to let my readers know that I was trying to be aware of that. This gave the letters, I think, a certain urgency about them with humour (hopefully) mixed in - sometimes deliberately, sometimes not. One thing is for sure, the sum total is perspective. This year, for me, has been about alot more than AIDS, particularly as it affects me! At the same time my worldview has continued to grow and I am enthusastically supporting The Beads of Hope Campaign of The United Church of Canada. I wish I could create such beads out of the rainbow myriad of pills and capsules I am privileged to take each day.

The history lesson is now over.

2002 in the Chaplin family has been dominated by the sudden passing of Dad on May 4. There can be no way of minimizing the impact this has had (complete with Mom’s understandable, active symptoms of a broken heart which landed her in hospital in September).

As celebratory as Dad’s memorial service was the reality of his physical departure has been much more difficult to bear. One comfort, which sometimes seems small and yet it endures, is that he died working in his garden on what he had earlier described to Mom as “a grand day!”. Something else we are all thankful for is that the entire family was in Perth for Dad’s 75th birthday on Easter weekend, just a month before. He had fully rehabilitated himself from a “slight” stroke last winter and was in wonderful spirits for the celebration.

It goes without saying that this Christmas just won’t be the same.

Mom has done amazingly well, being true to herself and her feelings as best she could. We have all tried to support each other over these difficult days, and I think we’ve done pretty well - all things considered.

One of the early hurdles on the calendar to cross, which I shared, was their fiftieth wedding anniversary in July. On a day-trip (which only later inspired me to begin the process of reacquiring my driver’s license) Mom drove the two of us to Ormstown and Valleyfield (Quebec). It had been twenty-five years since I’d graduated from high school and, as Mom can attest, we had a whirlwind tour of my infancy, childhood and youth that day - with pictures taken of the hospital where I was born, the church where I was baptized and confirmed, every apartment or house we’d lived in, and every school I had attended - even the monkey bars which hold a special place in my heart.

Mom hasn’t been without one of us “kids” around much more than a few weeks at a time, if that, since April. Speaking for myself, I have needed those extra visits.

My life has simultaneously taken on a whole lot more - or, at least, new - meaning over these months. I was in North Bay when Dad died, staying with friends Donna and Jim while I visited another friend who was in town for some intensive care. That friendship with J.B., the work associated with it, and the ensuing trips to St. Catharines where he was to settle for a few months, has led me to consider the possibility of furthering my education. It had been many years since I had been back to St. Catharines, part of my past which I had preferred not to dwell on. Much to my surprise a happenstance encounter (not really in the big picture) with an old friend, Doug, led me to being invited over for dinner with his wife Marjorie. Several other people from the 1980s also made themselves known to me while in St.Catharines. Obviously I have recently had the opportunity to see “The Garden City” through much clearer eyes. It has been healing on several levels.

J.B., himself a musician, introduced me to the music of Jann Arden. I know she’s been around awhile (I remember her from interviews with Peter Gzowski) but I’ve not been listening to much that could be considered anything close to “pop” for quite some time. Jann’s music, and writings on her website, speak to me. Now I’m a certified, if not certifiable, “jann fann”! Last month I spoke to her on a call-in show on TV (she kissed me through the camera lens) and then she signed copies of her book for me (and my friend) at Indigo the next day. I’ve even been presumptuous enough - heck, brazen might be a better word - to ask her if she’d be interested in reading my past holiday letters, so let me know jann, ‘k?

Mom’s aforementioned heart troubles seemed like a great opportunity for my sister and brother-in-law to tell us that they are expecting a brother or sister for my niece in April of the new year. This will be my second niece or first nephew. My niece is an absolute gem (need I say it) and she, her Mom and I - oh and Yukki the dog - had a terrific August car ride to Grandma’s in Perth for our own special 1st birthday party for her, while Daddy sanded and varnished the floors of their new (for them) home.

Perth seems to get prettier, and more appealing, as I grow older. Given its natural beauty and historic buildings it’s never been a tough place to visit and this year the town has become more familiar than ever. Never too far away from a camera, I have lots of photos of Perth and, for the first time in my life, I sold two such photographs during an arts festival - here in Toronto - at my ever-loving Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church. This has only encouraged me, as a photographer, all the more. Another friend, John, gave me access to a downtown office tower’s roof-top for some unique looks at the city. Who knows, by next year I might have holiday cards from my very own collection of photographs. That’s getting ahead of myself! Perspective doesn’t have much forward vision.

Last year I was beginning a volunteer stint with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. After completing the volunteer training program I co-facilitated a group for gay men who had recently completed a 28-day residential addiction treatment program. For a variety of reasons, and then Dad’s death, I left my position there in the Spring. Yet my restlessness continued as I was involved with a church member’s aptly-named “Discernment Committee” to see what area of ministry she might be led to explore. The irony of my own searching was not lost on me.

All of this appears to be leading me to furthering my education, at least on a part-time basis, beginning next Fall. I have a natural inclination towards Gestalt Therapy, first with my history as a client and, secondly, - the way I see it - as a practitioner of it more and more in my daily life. My love of photography, the ultimate in trying to capture “the present moment”, is just one example. The most attractive part of the program is that it would be part-time studies and practice over the medium-to-long term. I am not enamored with the idea of full-time education again, so this would suit my retirement lifestyle better. I have completed the pre-admission interview and await word on my acceptance into the program.

Friends have been so important along my journey. This has been especially true this year. Friends like J.H., J.B. and T.J. have given my days much meaning simply by letting me into their whole, sometimes troubled, always rich, lives. What a privilege.

This fall I treated myself to a subscription to both Tafelmusik. These will give me a taste of culture over the coming months, some of which I have already enjoyed. My commitment to the choir has also given me a nice musical outlet this year, particularly enjoyable as we’ve prepared for “Carols By Candlelight” in mid-December.

Have I missed anything? Of course I have. But that’s all I’ve got right now.

Please help give peace a chance in 2003!