Long time running…

I was never really a huge fan of The Tragically Hip.  I didn’t not like them but I never caught on to their genre and lyrics like so many others did.   I think I was at the edge of a previous generation, more Beach Boys and Beatles. (I was reassured to learn that Gord Downie was a closet fan of the Bee Gees.)

But I did recognize their talents and knew there must be something to their music that appealed so broadly to the generation that followed me.  I did, however, join the rest of Canada Day on August 20, 2017 to celebrate this phenomenonal and truly Canadian  band.

Last weekend I was eager to see the documentary about their 2016 tour – Long Time Running.   It has been shown at TIFF and other film festivals with good reviews and had a few showings at Kingston’s Screening Room this week.

I was surprised what I got from this film.   Someone asked me if it was kind of sad.   Absolutely, it was not.  It was actually a very inspiring and positive.  It goes through the diagnosis of “terminal” brain cancer for the lead member,  Gord Downie,  his initial treatments and struggles to remember things and put sentences together after having his temporal lobe and hippocampus removed surgically and 30 radiation treatments.  (The surgeon, by the way, a Kingston neurosurgeon).

Despite this, Gord was keen to go on tour with the band once more.  Obviously the others were a bit skeptical if this would work but, no spoiler here, they finished the tour across Canada, culminating in the August 20 concert in Kingston, broadcast all across Canada and drawing thousands to Kingston, including our Prime Minister.

It was interesting to see the backstage preparations and angst about this tour but I got a lot of messages from this film that surprised me.

Several themes developed for me.

1.  Never give up.   This guy was sort of written off by a lot of people and was initially in no shape to perform, let along tackle a cross country tour.   But he did.  In doing so, he earned a lot of respect from the public, drew attention to cancer treatment and research, highlighted the plight of Canadian First Nations people and entertained thousands.  Make that hundreds of thousands.  Incredible really.   Maybe his cognitive deficits from his surgery and treatment made him naively bold or brave or fixated.  But what an example to set.   I am sure that his fortitude and positivity has helped many people who have been struck by cancer. And it was a gift to Hip fans to be able to celebrate their 30 year run before it came to a crashing close.

2.  The expression of true friendship.   These guys had worked together for 30 years and were a real team.  I am sure that there were bumps along the way, but it was incredible that Downie’s band-mates dug in and just supported his dream.  It was a huge risk.  Anything could happen.  It could have turned out to be a disaster.   It was incredibly touching to see them kiss each other – on the lips – and hug each other and genuinely show real love to each other prior to each performance. This is the kind of love that is meant by the Greek word, Agape.*  They were all vulnerable and all a team with a mission.  It seemed that egos were set aside.  You hear about this kind of teamwork and friendship but rarely see it so obviously.  It was very intimate material to be shared publicly.   But this support was also quite evident in their performances.   Another lesson for us all.  Downie’s diagnosis and fate overshadowed the rest of the band but they deserve great respect and accolades for helping their friend live out his dream.

3.  This was just so…Canadian.  The whole country was moved by this story.  We all wanted to be part of it.   And thousands were.   Fans bought tickets both to be entertained but also to support this band that was so loved.   And they were also ready for anything.   It could all be cancelled in a moment.  Or fall apart in the middle of a performance.   But no one cared about that.  This was about being part of this team and joining in to keep it going.

4.  It was a lesson in closure.  All good things come to an end.   Concerts, vacations, childhood, holidays, friendships , life.  Things come to an end.  It’s natural. It helps to deal with that fact if we learn to accept it with some stoicism and dignity.   It is helpful to fondly remember good times past and friends and family who have departed.  And maybe it is helpful to others if we acknowledge the end of something, celebrate and share our acceptance.   I think this is what Gord Downie and the Hip did, most graciously and unselfishly.

Little did I know when I wrote this earlier in the week that Gord Downie would die last night, October 17, 2017.  It makes all of the above lessons more poignant and pertinent today.

I took my 15 year old granddaughter to the show on Saturday and we went early because I thought it would be packed.  There were only about 10 people in the audience!  I do hope that more people see this show as it not only provides some concert-like Hip music but it caused me to reflect on many other things – life in general.   I think that is what Gord Downie (and his band-mates) would have liked.

The Hip concert on August 20, 2016 in Kingston was a celebration of the past and acknowledgement of an ending.

Hip Concert pano

* Agape – Agape love involves faithfulness, commitment, and an act of the will. It is distinguished from the other types of love by its lofty moral nature and strong character. Agape love is beautifully described in the Bible.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;  it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  1 Corinthians 13 4-7.



When you are young, you think that the friendships that are so important to you then will last forever. In hate to be the bearer of bad news, The reality is that most of them don’t. People change. People move about. New partnerships, interests and friendships blossom.

You gradually lose touch. Christmas greetings stop. Phone calls become occasional. Family and work responsibilities intervene. Slowly the friendship dissolves into fond memories and promises to get together again soon.

So it is rare to have a friendship that has endured for over 55 years.

My grade 12 class in 1963. I am in the top right with the V-neck sweater.  Over the years, my head has grown into my ears.   At the far right in the first row is Lorna Harris . Lorna and I are still great friends after these 50 years, corresponding regularly by Facebook and email.  An enduring friendship. Could we ever imagine what the next 50 years would bring?

My grade 12 class in 1963. I am in the top right with the V-neck sweater. Over the years, my head has grown into my ears.
At the far right in the first row is Lorna Harris . Lorna and I are still great friends after these 50 years, corresponding regularly by Facebook and email. An enduring friendship. Could we ever imagine what the next 50 years would bring?

This week I visited my friend Lorna at her summer home in PEI. We were good friends in secondary school, university and early marriage years. Our paths separated a bit and many life events intervened for both of us. But we did keep in touch.

In the past few years we have met occasionally for dinners or lunches and lots of chat and the Internet has kept us connected more regularly.

I thought this week as I spent time with her and her husband, Greg, what a treasure our friendship must be. Apart from my father and my brother, she is the only one in my life now who would have known me consistently since I was 14. And vice versa. She is one of the few people who knows, or has experienced, some of my youthful roots. We evolved as teenagers together and now continue to enjoy each other’s company as senior citizens. This gives us a special bond.

I enjoyed the visit with her and her husband this week and know that we will both work to keep this unique friendship alive as long as we can. It is, as they say at MasterCard, priceless.



My goat – Veronica

In an earlier post, I mentioned my goat, Veronica. Let me tell you about how she came to be mine.

Over the time I spent with the Canadian Field Studies in East Africa, I became good friends with Stephen Moiko, a Maasai fellow who, I met in 2004. In addition to having a traditional Maasai background (he is the second youngest of 27 in his extended Maasai family) Stephen has excelled in academics and is soon completing his Phd in Anthropology at McGill.

His family lives just outside Nairobi on a home site that was once part of his father’s traditional village. They are gradually acquiring various more modern amenities but still struggle with access to water and have outdoor latrines. Electricity is a convenience introduced to their home only 3 years ago.

I have stayed with this family several times since meeting them in 2004 and the many conversations I have had with Stephen, his wife, his mom and his kids have really helped me understand Maasai culture.

On one visit, young Dennis, a nephew of Stephen’s who lives across the road, was sitting with me in the living area as the solar lights were gradually dimming. He was about 12 at the time and intrigued by this muzungu from Canada.

Our conversation was limited and some of our time was spent sitting side by side in silence.

At some point we started talking about friends. “Who is your best friend?” I asked.

“Right now, you are.” was his answer. He took a Maasai bracelet that had been made by his grandmother off his wrist and gave it to me. “I want you to have this,” he said.

Then he said “And I want to give you one of my goats, too.”

I was flattered but didn’t want the boy to give me something so valuable to their family. “Thanks, Dennis but I can’t take it. You know I live far away.”I said

“Oh, you won’t take it away, I will look after it for you but it will be yours. I want to give it to you as my friend.”

The next morning he took me to the paddock and showed me the goat that was to become mine. It was a healthy young female goat with dark marks over the eyes. “She looks like Veronica Lake,” I said. “Let’s call her Veronica.”

Time has gone on. Dennis is now a young man, having just completed secondary school. Veronica looks a little old and tired but she has had a few kids over the years and Stephen’s mom can still point them out to me. Maasai herdsmen identify their animals by making a unique combination of cuts in their ears to show who owns them. Veronica and her progeny are marked with my unique brand – as part of the Moiko clan. When I visit the family, I always go out to the field to find Veronica and what remains of her extended family. Some of her offspring have, no doubt, become someone’s dinner.

I will always remember the generosity of this young Maasai boy. I still have the beaded bracelet and although I have been given many other beaded items over the years, this is the one that I wear when I visit Maasai communities in Kenya. And Dennis and his grandmother still notice with pride that it is his bracelet that is on my arm. The bracelet reminds us all of the endearing connection we have established despite our quite divergent backgrounds.

I suspect that when I visit them over the years, Maria will point out a goat that is supposed to be one of Veronica’s offspring. I won’t know if they are just humouring me or if it really is one of “mine”. But really, it doesn’t matter. We know that it is a little remembrance that will bond us and that is what is important.

Dennis LP.S. How cool is this? As a result of publishing this blog article three days ago, my young friend Dennis has found me online and we have had a chat. He is now a young man, attending University in Nairobi. What a Christmas treat for me!!! The internet has shrunk the world beyond belief.

My very extended global family

Although I am Canadian to the core, since 1998 I have spent many scattered weeks and months working elsewhere in the world and, to my surprise, have come to think of myself as a global citizen.

One of the great pleasures I have had is developing enduring friendships with people in many communities where I have visited or worked.

In Bosnia I enjoyed the hospitality of several families, and developed ongoing friendships with co-workers during the 11 years that I worked there. My closest associates were Bosniak Muslims, Orthodox Serbs and Croat Catholics. We were all able to get along and work together despite the preceding years of war based on “ethnic” differences.

With my Italian “family”. We chat regularly by Skype and get together every year or two either in Europe or North America.

In Italy, I have friends who have a bedroom in their house that they call “John’s room”. I have enjoyed making pasta with Aunt Bruna, babysat young Enrico when he was a baby and enjoyed special pizza made for me by their friend, Antonio.

In East Africa I have been blessed with cultural nicknames. In Maasai, I am John Ole Moiko Geddes and am a part of the Maasai Oseuri age set. In Uganda I also have been given traditional names of endearment. In western Uganda I have been given the empaako name Amooti. In another part of Uganda I am known as Otim. Emails that I get from there are addressed to Dr. Otim.

My non-conformist calf.

I have my own goat in Kenya (her name is Veronica) and have actually developed a little herd of her offspring. When I visit there, my Moiko family can find my goat(s) in their herd and point them out to me. The goats, however, don’t remember me.

I also had a calf given to me a few years ago. The Maasai fellow who did this said he picked this particular animal because it was “weird”. It was a real non-conformist liking to ramble with the other animals, goats and sheep. I took this as a compliment. Culture, colour, race or religion make no difference to me as to who my friends and family are.

Dan learned early on that if he wanted to be part of my family, he had to sport the right T-Shirt.

In Kenya there is a fellow who calls me “Dad”. I hear from him every week (more often sometimes than my kids here in Canada!) and he is Facebook friends with my family, has chatted on Skype with my 93 year old father and has pictures of my grandchildren stuck on the door of his refrigerator.

Having the chance to actually live with families in different communities has definitely given me opportunities to develop close friendships not usually available to “tourists”. These relationships have enriched my life immeasurably.