Living The Dream, Dodging the Nightmare

The highest form of knowledge is empathy.” – Bill Bullard

Old black and white picture of myself at seven years old, my mom and dad behind me
Seven years old, mom and dad behind me

It has been a week of loss for many. Young Oilers fan, Ben Stelter, passed away at six years old. He was a die hard Oilers fan engaged in the battle for his life with cancer. He lost however not before he won the hearts of Edmonton Oiler hockey team and the citizens of Edmonton. While he maintain a smiling face and a sunny disposition, the battle for his body was being ravaged by cancer like Putin marching through the Ukraine. Rest in peace Ben, your winter has come.

We also lost a person I never know but influenced me well before the concept of “influencing” was even a thing. Olivia Newton-John, again cancer and someone just a year older than myself. To all of those thirty, thirty-five year olds out there, understand it or not, many “seniors” still think young.

School picture of me at 10 years old
At ten years old, my school year book picture (I think)

Death is inevitable for all of us, it is just a matter of how we frame it. Growing up in a polio kids hospital, by the time I had reached the age of 10 I had grown so use to death around me, you just accepted it. No matter how much we “glamorize” it or show empathy for the survivors, it is not going away. The reality of a Children’s Hospital, or any hospital for that matter, is that many people die there. It is not simply a place where you go for some medical procedure and your friends stop by for a short visit with some flowers or a cup of Timmy’s so you can have a “decent cup of coffee”.

Ben didn’t know that. The Oilers hockey team and Ben’s parents would have been more aware however, as the idiom goes, “hope shines eternal”. Which is a good thing however hope can also lead you to the edge of the cliff where you face a spiralling fall to death. I think Olivia Newton-John understood that.

I do. Again, growing up when I did and how I did, the acceptance of death was fertilizer for the core of my belief system. Now the “D” word more important to me is “dignity”, not the fear of death. We knew as young kids in the hospital that when the staff herded us into our rooms and closed the doors: ward, sleeping area, personal units, so many ways to describe them, but anywhere from 2 to 6 kids in each room, that when the staff reopened our doors someone wouldn’t be in the bed anymore. We went on about our daily routines of the Children’s Hospital. Many of us absorbed empathy while the compassion of the staff exemplified dignity.

Words matter, description, context matters and understanding how your belief system affects your judgement is important. We are witnessing the death of democracy in this country, a nightmare Ben will never have to face. Life isn’t always that pleasant when you leave the empathy you experience as a “cute child with a health issue” to become an adult who may need services outside the norm. Accepting tragedy is hard, however burying your head in the sand doesn’t make it any easier for those living with the erosions we are witnessing today. This “what’s in it for me” attitude is destructive, a reality Ben will never have to face. The empathy shown by the Oilers and the general citizens of Edmonton allowed Ben some dignified compassion in his short life so kudos to them.

At the other end of the spectrum, the joy and compassion Olivia Newton-John brought to generations of people helped her walk over that cliff knowing she had done her best. Without planning it she became one of the many poster people for health with her song “Lets get Physical” and yet so many stations “banded” it as to suggestive. That was the 80’s and yet sex continues to sell. No wonder people are so confused and find the world of denial the best place to live. Reality check…

Let it Come, Fear it Not
Lying alone in your solitary bed,
The arrival of death you do not dread,
You’ve lived a long and compassionate life,
Helping those who were experiencing strife,
Sharing your mind that was sharp as a knife.

You are not alone but feeling ready,
Your soul is clean and your mind is steady,
You have behind you so many years,
Death does nothing to raise your fears,
As you pass on there will be many tears.

Those who love know it’s time,
Awaiting fate to ring its chime,
So let the Reaper creep down the hall,
You have no fear of him at all,
From life’s sweet breast you now must fall.
_ Terry Wiens 2010

In closing kudos to to Devin Peterson of Whiskey Rose in Calgary. He did respond to my concerns over the “accessible” stair glide in their establishment that nobody knew how to use upon my first visit there. Raising awareness can be much more help than raising shit, something many who know me (or knew me) would say I’m good at. Thank you Devin.

Now on with my day. It is only 7am and the only thing I have booked for the day is a haircut at 10am (too hot for my current length). I am passed the point of being surprised over how busy one can be when you have nothing to do. Who knew having nothing to do could be so busy…



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