Thursday, December 16, 2004

Christmas 2004

Greetings in the hopeful spirit this season is meant to evoke.

As I write this The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in favour of same-sex marriage. No matter how much this will, undoubtedly, continue to be a bitter political squabble the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is clearly on side and, while I have not yet experienced a love that I would want solemnized, it nevertheless feels like a personal validation.

From now on forest fires, floods, droughts and really bad mosquito seasons will surely be interpreted – by various Chickens Little - as God’s wrath on Canada.

If there is one thing the world still needs it is hope, no thanks to the pall cast by the re-election of George W. Bush. Of course I had wished that ‘Dubya’ would, like his Dad, be a one-term President. There’s something about an apocalyptic President, who so looks forward to The Rapture (to the point where he might make conditions supposedly right for it to happen), which is deeply unsettling. I can’t help thinking that his policies lend new meaning to his oft-repeated bluster, “Bring It On!” As so many have said since, though, perhaps it is better that Bush is left to clean up his own mess. A better government, for now, is left to the writers of “The West Wing”.

Not that I am into numerology but I had thought it might be a good omen for John Kerry when a blood test, relating to my pancreas, was 1600 (as in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) the night of his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. “Normal” is ten times less. What ended up being a five day visit to hospital was preceded by a night of tossing and turning in unbearable pain, although obviously bearable enough that I was determined not to call an ambulance. It turned out the pancreas was dangerously inflamed due to a jammed gallstone. A nurse later spoke of the pain as being worse than childbirth and, when I quoted untold numbers who have said nothing compares to that, she assured me that she had experienced both. The entire gallbladder was removed during day surgery in September with what seemed, in hindsight, like assembly-line efficiency.

The surprise hospital trip, brought on by the pancreas attack, left me quite disconnected for awhile. The fact that it happened on the eve of the Civic Holiday weekend didn’t help either. Not realizing I would be admitted – let alone stay for several days - I didn’t pack anything so, in addition to being without toiletries and the like, I did not have my list of telephone numbers. It is quite telling, as I mentioned to Karen later, that the only two numbers indelibly etched in my memory were Mom’s and the one for the church office. A call to the church brought two Sunday afternoon visitors (and toiletries) and Karen stopped by another day, found me sleeping, waited awhile, and then left me a note.

Mom spent the first few day of December in hospital after a case of angina that did not respond to the usual combination of “nitro” and rest. She left a few days later, feeling improved and with a better understanding of what it means to be living with a finicky heart and aging blood vessels. It’s not like we can just trade our bodies in like we would with a rusting car. Of course we are all relieved that she’s been given the go-ahead to resume her holiday plans which include having the grandchildren up to Perth for a few days, then returning home with them to Ancaster, where I will join them, to await Santa’s visit. This is all subject to change, however. Mom may prefer to stay at home after having had the commotion around the house for a few days. Either way, I will be with her.

Several construction projects are changing the face of my neighbourhood. A new library and community centre have been built on the former parking lots of the Wellesley hospital, while said hospital and its neighbour – the original, long-abandoned Princess Margaret Hospital – were slowly demolished. Even as demolition crews painstakingly knocked the Princess Margaret in on itself a new long-term care facility rose where the Wellesley had stood. Another part of the property seems destined to become a condominium development with Homewood Avenue being extended north across Wellesley Street. Just down the street on Sherbourne Our Lady of Lourdes School was torn down and promptly rebuilt, this time facing away from Sherbourne. By the looks of it I would say it will be ready for students by next fall. To the south of my building Carlton Street (and College, west of Yonge) have been completely rebuilt, with streetcar tracks now on concrete beds – presumably to make the road last longer. That project pretty disrupted a lot of businesses (imagine trying to eat on a patio while jackhammers were boring holes in the road!)

The year has been book-ended, in America, by moral outrage (with plenty during the in-between months as well). First it was the Janet Jackson ‘wardrobe malfunction’ during the Super Bowl last January. Recently a promotional ad for “Desperate Housewives” during Monday Night Football drew howls of protest. What is it about football that is so appealing to both puritans and those who would – if one buys the criticism - pull another thread in the moral fibre of America?

Then there was Ronald Reagan whose death resuscitated the body politic with a debate over stem cell research and an almost nostalgic wish for the days when the arms race was the main focus of world affairs. This was the same Ronald Reagan who presided over the deaths of the first few thousands of people with AIDS without mentioning the illness publicly until well into his second term – a point driven home in the late Randy Shilts’ book “And The Band Played On”, which came to mind as I watched a DVD of its film adaptation while the news channels were trying to out-flag wave each other on “The Gipper”.

Lest you think I am letting Canada off the hook politics gave us plenty to chatter about here, too. As anticipated at this time last year I was an active political viewer, voter and – in one campaign – a volunteer in 2004. Nothing went my way although a minority federal government, the closest thing we have to “none of the above” as a choice, came pretty close to satisfying me even if the local candidate, for whom I worked hard, ultimately lost. Given the performance of his government so far, I am wondering if Paul Martin regrets having changed careers.

The one year anniversary of my accident came and went in April, and I still find myself tending to divide my life into “before the accident” and “since the accident” segments. There have been some lasting effects, I know, but I remain thankful to have escaped with my life. A year-and-a-day since I was transferred from one hospital to the other the cab driver who hit me was in court this past May for “failing to yield to a pedestrian”. Thanks to testimony from the investigating police officer, and yours truly, said driver was handed a fine of ninety dollars and docked a couple of demerit points. (The civil case against his insurer continues.)

I took on the position of AIDS Editor for this year, something which has given my passions a very interesting, if not always hope-filled, sense of purpose. I have not only learned a lot about Africa; I have also picked up a few pointers about using computers. (Believe it or not I didn’t know how to “cut and paste” before I was shown by Don Nicol, an AfricaFiles volunteer!)

Following the busy days of the federal election campaign in June I retreated somewhat into some writing, which had become such an important part of the winter and spring as I attended a narrative writing group for people with HIV at Mount Sinai Hospital. So far this has not resulted in anything close to an autobiography.

I did manage to write a few letters ‘to the editor’ of a few newspapers and magazines. In one, to a rural paper in Quebec I referred to my high school music teacher in the past tense – as in passed away. The next week the paper ran a correction. He is not dead, so I wrote back with a lame apology, which also was published. No doubt there are some who probably think I’ve been dead a while myself.

While I will never have the writing energy of Pierre Berton his recent passing brings back many fond memories of how my interest in Canadian history was shaped by some of his books.

With so much turmoil in the world, I hope Mother Earth finds a way to get some peace and quiet in 2005!

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