To Jack.

My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Dear Jack,

You don’t know me. But – like many people – I know you.

We’ve actually met, albeit in a professional capacity – you, speaking out on an issue you felt strongly about (as the exuberant leader of a political, party trying to make a dent in the political landscape); me, as a young ‘un in the TV news business, doing my job in getting your reaction to whatever story I happened to be helping with.

I remember once having to escort you to an interview. And as we strode down the hall (and I think using “stride” is appropriate; you weren’t a “walker”), I tried to engage you in small talk – pertinent to the subject which brought you to the building, of course. And you engaged me right back.

Whenever I remember that short encounter, I’ve always assumed you were just humouring me. Most of the guests I’ve had to handle or interview, do. But given all the things I’ve heard people say about you over the last five days, I’ve thought about that instance often, and I wondered if maybe you weren’t. Maybe you WERE actually talking TO me.

And on a handful of occasions, I was sent on assignments, to go to your news conferences and small scrums, and ask you questions. Even when you were just doing what you did best, you obliged, with that trademark energy, looking all of us dead in the eye with every answer. Every so often, I could have sworn I saw your eyes twinkle.

For the longest time, I seriously thought, that can’t be real all the timethat’s gotta be just showmanship.

Apparently it wasn’t. It was ALL you.

There was one time – possibly the last time, months and months ago – I got to interview you on a reporter’s behalf. Near the end, you asked me how much longer it would take; you had an appointment to get to. I was taken slightly aback, because it seemed a bit uncharacteristic. But you weren’t rude about it. I figured you had a function to get to.

Maybe it was just that. Or it was a foreshadowing of the personal battle that was to come.

I think my respect for you blossomed into full-blown admiration while watching you on the campaign trail this past April. It was hard NOT to watch you win over parts of Canada, one stump speech or walkabout at a time. And I’m sure the reporters following you loved getting the chance to do so.

And on election night, as I watched the results from home, I felt the goosebumps on my arms as history was made before my eyes. I actually couldn’t believe it! And I was genuinely happy for you, Olivia and your party. FINALLY.

You’ve been such a fixture, it’s difficult to comprehend that you physically are no longer here. I realize that death is a part of life. But it’s still surreal.

I know a lot of people – yourself included – did not believe your work was done.

But perhaps this was it. This was your two-fold masterpiece: to punch, not dent, a hole in the Canadian political establishment; and to inspire young people (by whom you were inspired) to answer the call to service that you answered a few decades ago.

What has personally moved me more than your contribution to federal politics, has been the number of anecdotes from people with whom you’ve worked, whom you’ve helped, or who you’ve taught.

I never had the chance to pay you my final respects at City Hall. I never got to leave my thoughts in chalk at Nathan Phillips Square. And sadly, I won’t get to witness your funeral in real time. As it happens, I’ll be at a wedding. (I’m sure you’d understand.) But I’m sure it’ll be big and grand, with many a tear shed, but also a few laughs and a lot of music.

And when the pomp and ceremony is over, when your ashes are spread, and when your family and friends get a chance to privately mourn and heal, I truly hope for a couple of things emerge from your passing:

First, that all of us who respect you and your vision pick up where you left off, and continue striving towards what you wanted – for this city, and for this country, in all sorts of ways. I know here in Toronto, the election of this present City Council has angered and energized people enough to take an interest in city affairs. I hope we can find a way to expand upon that.

Secondly, that in your death, we can see the lessons you left behind. You were a professor, right? Did you ever stop being one? Perhaps people already see that. At least, I hope that people see that. And I hope we can apply those lessons to our lives and the lives of those around us.

Goodbye, sir. I hope that wherever your spirit is now perched, it’s a good place.

And I hope we don’t let you down.

*Editorial cartoon, courtesy Patrick Corrigan, for the Toronto Star.

Losing A Friend

Monday morning.

I was walking to work. Sun was out. I had my headphones in, and was in good spirits. I was listening to a song I liked, and felt my skin get goosebump-y at the end of the song.

I’d just come off the best weekend I’d had in recent memory.

My worst week began about three minutes later.

Within moments of setting down my backpack, my boss came over. I remember frowning because I thought he was going to give me some task.

Instead, he told me a co-worker of mine – who’d just gone out to the east coast to work, just days before – had been run down in a hit-and-run accident on Saturday night, while crossing the street. She’d just been on her way back to her hotel room from a friend’s house.

She died of her injuries Sunday evening. And the person who did it was still out there somewhere.

I honestly don’t remember feeling overcome at first. I remember saying, “Oh no,” and then something inconsequential. I remember sitting at my desk, the words on replay over and over in my mind.

Mere seconds after my boss had told me, another co-worker senior to myself, came up to me and sombrely asked me how I was doing.

How can I possibly know? I was thinking to myself. I literally was trying to process what I’d just been told. Instead I said, “I’m in shock. I just found out.”

By the time I was in the restroom five minutes later, I was choking back sobs in front of another sympathetic co-worker, probably babbling incomprehensively about what I was trying to deal with.

I said very little in the time following. We had someone from our employee services department, who I guess was our grief counsellor, come in and talk to us, asking us if we wanted to share our thoughts about our newly-departed colleague.

I kept my mouth shut, clenching my jaw to stop the tears from flowing. I couldn’t talk, because I’d start crying and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to stop. I just wanted the immediate grief to pass.

It’s been about four days since then. Work has been better, and I can function more or less without welling up.

But I still feel at certain moments in my day as if I’m peering at myself, going about my  business, from a telescopic lense.

And the disbelief still hangs over my head like a fine mist.

I wish I knew how to precisely describe my work-friend. There’s just so many things to say.

She used a motorized wheelchair. But I didn’t really see it; I saw her.

And she was quite a lady. I’ve read things describing her as feisty and spunky, which are true. She was also unbelieveably hard-working, and ready to throw herself into the fray. She was outspoken, and as I found out – when it came to issues of accessibility – stood up for her rights, made a difference, and brought about change when opportunities arose.

I also remember overhearing her at work, talking about cooking, her dog, or good restaurants she’d been to … or even travelling. Chicago. I remember saying how much she loved Chicago. I’ve never been myself; but (before her death) I actually became more interested in wanting to go myself, because she’d talked it up so much.

And now, just like that, she’s gone.

It’s made me think about a number of things.

My own mortality.

How easy it is to take life for granted.

How complacent I’ve become, instead of making things happen like she did.

How I’ve never really fought for anything, mainly because up until now, I’ve never really had to.

She was larger than life. And now there’s a void where her sparkle should be.

She wasn’t just a consummate professional, but truly “good people”.

I hope wherever she is, she’s all right and being taken care of.

But for a lot of us down here, we’ll miss her terribly.

You can read about her here.

Farewell to The Last Little Girl

She was the smallest of my second cousins.

But what she lacked in physical strength, she made up for in personality and, from what I hear, a sharp mind.

And yesterday afternoon at work, I found out my cousin, Adonia, died.

She had sickle cell anemia, which – to probably oversimplify things – is a disorder that affects the properties and number of red blood cells in the body, which can clog blood vessels and deprive the body’s organs and tissue from getting the oxygen they need.

This, in turn, means she was more prone to getting infections and becoming ill quite easily.

The last time I met her, she was a tiny baby, barely a toddler.

But from what I’ve heard from my mom, who saw her last summer, she was extremely bright.

To say her mother is beside herself with grief is probably the understatement of the year, and perhaps even insensitive. She’s a teacher in the Jamaican school system, which is often tough and insensitive to the needs of teachers. So when Adonia fell ill, she couldn’t drop everything to see to her in hospital.

By the time she did manage to get there, she was too late. From the sounds of it, her last little girl had died in pain and alone.

And I can only imagine what her older brother and two sisters – thousands of kilometres away in the U.K. – must be thinking and feeling right now.

It just feels strange. Just thinking about it, it’s like my brain can’t process what’s happening and has separated itself. It’s like looking at myself through a pair of binoculars, or one of those cardboard tubes, the way you might as a kid after the toilet paper was finished.

Her mom – my first cousin – is a teacher … she won a trip to come up to Canada this spring. And I was finally going to meet her after almost 15 years. Now I’ll never get the chance.

My mom says that she’s probably better off now because she’s no longer suffering.

Is she right?

A President, An Entertainer and A Dictator

This has been a bit of a crazy week for check-outs in the world of the well-known.

First, James Brown – the Hardest Working Man in America – decided to stop working and on Monday, he and his dancing shoes took their rest in Atlanta.

(Leave it to the Godfather of Soul to try and upstage Jesus. *Shrug*)

But you had to hand it to the man – he certainly had an arrival and “lying in state” at the Apollo yesterday that could rival any member of any royal family, anywhere. And now word is circulating that cocky R & B entertainer Usher – who considered Brown his mentor, and probably considers himself heir apparent to the Hardest Working Throne – is interested in playing his idol in a biopic, should one ever come to pass.

Then former U.S. President Gerald Ford took his leave on Tuesday. His funeral was today, the beginning of six days of mourning, with all the trappings a former head of state is no doubt entitled to.

And just over an hour and 20 minutes ago, Saddam Hussein got his membership card with the Human Race revoked via a nice, thick piece of rope.

I’m still trying to (a) process the words “Saddam” and “executed” and (b) consider, given the man had another trial that was running concurrently when he got his sentence last month, if that was really the right thing for the authorities to do.

Ah, well – doesn’t matter now, does it? That videotape will probably hit YouTube faster than you can say “Suleymaniyah”, anyway.

Goodbye, Ed

So yesterday’s glee was quickly doused by news this afternoon that a journalistic giant, Ed Bradley, had passed away.

I was taken aback, to be honest. I’d no idea he was even sick. It turns out, he’d kept his illness – leukemia – quiet. It was part of his nature not to complain, his colleagues said.

It’s funny. As soon as I was old enough to comprehend, I knew who he was. I’d remember my mom watching 60 Minutes most Sunday nights when I was younger; me sometimes leaving the room because I didn’t have the patience to sit through an entire news show. For many years, I think I’d merely taken him and his contributions for granted. I recently learned my brother loved him, had been watching 60 Minutes for a while and looked forward to seeing him in the opening credits.

Later, when I was in school and really started comprehending the kind of work he did, I thought, there’s no way in this world I could EVER be like him. He was investigative. Cool. Knew how to ask tough questions and get his answers. I remember being in my graduating year, looking at all the internship postings and seeing a posting for a scholarship in his name, for visible minorities. I glanced at it, glanced again, and talked myself out right out of applying – I didn’t think I had a chance.

But I think it was only today that I finally, really, got snatches of insight into what this guy did, and who he was.

The man had been to Vietnam, covering one of the most important stories of the last century. And he almost didn’t make it out alive.

He’d done countless stories and garnered many of well-deserved awards for them. This man was journalism personified. He worked hard. And he made sure that his stories were presented the way he intended: fairly and honestly.

But there was another side to him, the side a lot of people outside the industry seem to forget when they’re too busy cussing out the media for inaccuracy and apparent heartlessness. The man was human. He was a jazz aficianado. He loved food. And, as some of his friends and colleagues recalled tonight, a man with style, no matter what he wore.

But his passing today touched a lot of people, and brought out the human side in his friends in the business. This afternoon, one of the hosts of the network I worked at interviewed one of our senior correspondents in Washington – a big bear of a man – who, as it turned out, knew Bradley for 30 years, and was in (and also trying to get out of) Vietnam during the war with him. I watched and listened to him recall what he was like, what kind of person he was like.

And then, with about 30 seconds left in the interview, I saw it, the most touching scene. The stoic facade, the composure he had maintained for the whole interview, started to crack. His chin wobbled, and his face fought not to pull and crumple into that expression we all make, just as we start to cry. I’m sure he knew he lost one of his best friends before he sat down in the chair. But I think at that moment, suddenly, he really knew, and realization of him no longer behing around hit him all at once. That’s the kind of impression he made.

This evening, I was just thinking about the day, and for some reason, I remembered that one time I had to write an essay as part of my application package to a school here in Toronto. I don’t quite remember the details, but I do remember writing that I wanted to be a messenger of truth – something overdramatic and cliche to that effect.

It turns out a messenger of truth’s been in our midst this whole time. Except today, he was called to deliver his message elsewhere. It was good while it lasted. He’ll be missed.

A sad end to summer

I was going to post about how sad it is that it’s the end of August and summer.

But today, I received a shock and a real reason for a sombre mood.

My friend’s father – who was admitted to hospital almost two weeks ago becuase of difficulties breathing – passed away yesterday. She is part of a tight-knit family, so this is understandably an unbearably difficult time for them.

My deepest sympathies go out to her and her family at this time.

I will also be out of town this Labour Day weekend – which is also threatening to be miserable – so hopefully I’ll have things to post about when I return.

Pluto, 1930 – 2006. Kinda.

Pluto, we hardly knew ye!

The little wannabe astrono-nerd in me couldn’t help but blink and choke up a little when I read this this afternoon. (Well, maybe just clear my throat a bit.)

Talk about undoing some 20 years of learning and memorization!

But, for real. Despite the runty, ice-cold exterior and wobbly, weird orbit, you must’ve known it was only a matter of time before us big eggheads punted you over to the dwarf planet table.

Imagine – if you didn’t have all those other particles floatin’ around, you might’ve had, what, another five, 10 years or so?

Kinda sucks for your discoverer’s widow, too.

It was a good run, though. Have fun with the other dwarf planets. And remember – in this big interplanetary space park, you’re the big dog now. Play nice! Hugs.

Death of a colleague

My early afternoon started off with a bit of a shock, and a reminder of how short life is.

My mother said she’d overheard on the news segment on a local talk-radio station that a former co-worker had died in a snorkelling accident in Thailand.

I honestly didn’t believe her, until I saw it for myself on TV. It makes tears spring to my eyes, but I still can’t quite process that it’s happened.

While I didn’t really know him that well, I had worked with him on a number of occasions. The impression I’ve always had of him was one of a consummate professional who loved what he did (probably the one thing I want for myself).

Even more than that, I got the sense he was someone who, despite this crazy business we’re in, kept his good soul intact. And that’s probably what has affected me the most.

My deepest condolences go out to his family and friends.

If you wish, you can read about him here.