Light, loss & living for others

At the time of first trying to express my grief and gratitude–the news about Christopher Seguin’s sudden passing was very recent. Three weeks have since passed since the staggering loss. His celebration of life service was held on Saturday, October 14.  While sitting in the church, hearing about his life, attempting to comprehend the moment, working steadily through a box of tissues–I marveled at how his absence was a deeply felt presence in the packed room. 

There has been rumors and revelations–and while there should be appropriate and respectful channels to discuss and dissect the circumstances surrounding his death, but I won’t do that here.  Existence is a complex experience. We navigate through frameworks of social constructs, we play roles, we love and are loved, we lose and recover, we try and fail until the clock stops ticking–and we then become constellations in the vast atmosphere that is the human condition. 

I tried to capture a singular moment that reflected my memory of Christopher. Words failed as I reeled at the magnitude of the loss.  The tragedy is layer upon layer of agony and anguish for all who were impacted by his life and his loss– his family, his wife, his children, the community, the university–and on and on and on. My heart goes out to those hurting most–and I extend my loving thoughts outwards. 

….

The flags were flying at half-mast on and while I logically understood the reason, my mind revolted against the truth. I half-expect to see him somewhere on campus. However, that towering figure, that booming voice, that presence is gone—and that reality is simply too painful to bear.
To me, Christopher Seguin was like a classic movie star come to life in the modern age: strapping, stylish and smart—a gentleman and an adventurer—like Cary Grant from somewhere between The Philadelphia Story and Gunga Din.

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We met through the Kamloops Film Festival. He became a mentor, ally and friend.

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During a period of professional adjustment—when I was feeling rather lost in the world—Christopher offered direction.  He regaled me with a self deprecating tale about himself as a young, idealistic man writing a piece that he felt so proud of—only for it to never see the light of day.

This conversation took place during a quick walk around campus.  He stopped where we had started, about to set off in another direction.  “The writing is good”—he said, smiling, assuring. As he walked away, his coat collar popped against the crisp autumn weather, he tossed a final sentence over his shoulder “…but it could be better.”
Ah, that was a cool moment.
He wasn’t one to soften blows, he told you how it was. At the same time, he showed vulnerability while sharing stories of his own personal growth. He offered insights and advice, but tasked you with reaching higher levels of personal achievement. It’s good–but it could always be better.

In the first days of shock and sadness, while trying to occupy my unraveling thoughts–I thought a lot about Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief–and tried to remember the DABDA scale from long-ago Psychology classes.

Denial:  “In this stage, individuals believe the diagnosis or situation is somehow mistaken, and cling to a false, preferable reality.”

Yes, the false, preferable reality seems reasonable to me.

As Joan Didion noted in her memoir “The Year of Magical Thinking“, “I was myself in no way prepared to accept this news as final: there was a level on which I believed what had happened remained reversible.”

In grief, we are at war with ourselves, rallying against reason, and struggling to reconcile the loss. My mind wanders back and forth between fact and fantasy—I strive to create a world in which Christopher could overcome death. He had plans, goals and value

This. Cannot. Be. It.

And yet, it is. Waves of anguish crashing repeatedly, threatening to overwhelm you as you try to make sense of a senseless tragedy. Wrestling with memory and circumstance, burdened by the weight of  heartbreak, the clashing of absence and presence.

You were just here.

What is one to do when great lights are snuffed out? In that darkness you begin to realize how much these people were quiet architects to our growth and successes. There lies a portion of Christopher’s memory—his legacy resides in those he insisted do better.

As Margaret Atwood once said:

I hope that Christopher becomes more than that. I hope that he carries on in spirit through acts of service. As we move forward into the wilderness of grief and loss, I hope we carry along his memory. He was someone who urged us to excel beyond our wildest expectations–and to encourage others to do the same.  Instead of envisioning a great light dimming into darkness—imagine it fracturing into a million pieces—so that we could find it everywhere. As we move forward, may we absorb even a fraction of that energy, warmth and light.

 

 

Kansas After Oz

When I first returned to Canada, I wondered if this was how Dorothy felt after she returned to Kansas.

I left Oz for this?

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If you think about Dorothy’s life in “The Wizard of Oz“, Kansas did not seem like a very good time.   She was a lonely–a pest in everyone’s way–she had no friends, and had only farm hands/grown men to roll with, and she spent an awful lot of time talking to that dog of hers.  She’s bored in the Prairies, and singing “Over the Rainbow” about the place beyond the bleakness.  But that’s just the movie, I’m flipping through my copy of “The Wizard of Oz”, and L.Frank Baum really cuts to the chase.  To sum up the first chapter in a sentence– “everything was gray and then there was a cyclone”.  One could really make a rocking drinking game out of the word ‘gray’. Maybe the thesaurus wasn’t invented in 1900, but were there no other synonyms within reach?  Rumor has it that L. Frank was going to name the book “Fifty Shades of Grey“, but God had something planned for that title.  “Wizard of Oz will be more suitable to this generation, they just aren’t ready for S&M”– He thinks, stroking his mighty beard.

dorothy frightenedThe first chapter is hardly something you’d find in a travel brochure for Kansas. Gray this, gray that; Auntie Em was once young and beautiful, and now she’s bitter and beat-looking, wailing and whining any time any fun is being had.  When Dorothy first arrived on the scene, the sound of her childish laughter made poor Aunt Em (and I am quoting directly here) “scream and press her hand upon her heart whenever Dorothy’s merry voice reached her ears”.

Jesus Christ, calm down lady, I’m just having a laugh with my dog, who happens to be my best friend…and who, according to the book,  saves me from growing as gray as my other surroundings.  This little black dog is keeping me young and fresh–so just back off, bitch’.  (Wow, Baum’s version is so different from the movie eh?).

Uncle Henry sounds a bundle of fun too, for he “never laughed…and did not know what joy was…and he looked stern and solemn, and rarely spoke”.  Awesome.

So not only is the company not amazing, their homestead could hardly qualify for MTV “Cribs”.  Its just one giant grey room with two beds in opposite corners.  Seriously guys, are we so poor that we can’t afford a couple of throw pillows? Spruce it up a little?  They don’t even have a decent cyclone cellar, it’s just a shitty hole in the ground.  So generally speaking, the best thing that could ever happen to Dorothy was being swept away in a storm–although looked how well that worked for Madonna.

swept away

Yeah, I went there.  Just when you think I’m going to zig, I zag.

Again, old ‘close the deal’ L. Frank Baum goes from Chapter One: “grey and stormy” and  manages to expedite the story to Chapter Two: “the twister transports Dorothy to Munchkinland, Dorothy gets new shoes, all the information and encouragement she needs and is immediately on her way to Oz…oh and a house falls on a witch–no big deal”.  Man, no wonder MGM had to pad the film version with musical numbers and emotional intent.  In the book there are no farmhands, no one has a beef with Toto, there are very few Munchkins on tap…it’s just Kansas sucks and then then shit went down.  Still, the common thread between the source material and the film is that Dorothy wants to go home.  She is on her way to meet a powerful wizard who has the ability to give courage, brains, and hearts…and she is going to waste her one wish on Kansas?   Silly girl, she had this amazing opportunity to explore, meet new people, and she didn’t seem to have any time-sensitive visa restrictions placed on her.  Yes, she had the pesky task of murdering a witch, who was in turn trying to destroy her and take her fabulous footwear.  And I can’t imagine being trailed by those damned flying monkeys.  But there’s always stress in travel.  But the whole time Dorothy is bitch, bitch, bitch, Kansas this, Kansas that.   Uh, remember how dull and gray it was?  You are living in a technicolor world and you’re best friends with a scarecrow, lion and tin man! You don’t have to talk to Toto all the time!  What more could you want?

It’s like–uh hello girlfriend, you’ve got some brand new shoes, break ’em in a little!

ruby slippers

But I can connect with that sentiment, wherever I am, I always want to go somewhere else.  I call it ‘wanderlust’, my husband calls it ‘restlessness’.  I was recently lamenting the limitations of the immigration process to a girlfriend; that our marital existence was in such a holding pattern;  we can’t leave the country, we can’t make any long term decisions, all we can do is wait.

“Well…maybe that’s a good thing, maybe you just need to be present“.

Maybe.

But from the moment my husband and I met,  we were on the move: working-holidays, mini-breaks, road-trips, and then we just stopped.  Like you could literally hear the screeching of brakes.  The plan was always to settle in Canada after Australia, but I couldn’t face the end of our journey.  I suppose to me, British Columbia represented ‘reality’; with all the history and heartbreak, and the occasional dark shadow in certain pockets of the province.  Instead we landed in Toronto, and drove through Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia with my best friend Evelyn and her husband Craig.  While the trip was amazing, we did take ‘money to make a home with’, and turned it into a ‘we don’t need no water, let the motherfucker burn’ type of situation. By the time we arrived at my parents’ place in British Columbia, we were pretty much like cartoon hobos with moths flying out of our empty pockets.  Though it was never the intention, my parents opened up their home to us so we could gather our bearings, and save some money.  And our first Canadian summer passed in my parents basement, in my old bedroom.  Ben framed houses in the hot sun, while I worked at the local newspaper office and at Boston Pizza most nights.

My parents live in a small mill-town, and there is not…a lot to look at.  I wonder how Dorothy coped with the sepia colored landscape after all the luscious hues of Oz.  “I don’t remember it being quite this grey”, she’d think to herself.  We missed so much about Australia: the city of Perth, the blue skies, the palm trees, the Swan River, the heat. Though my folks were so kind to take us in, it was occasionally difficult for all parties; especially when both couples are used to their own routine on opposite ends of the earth.  I mean,  Auntie Em and Uncle Henry probably kind of liked having that room to themselves while Dorothy was off gallivanting in Oz.  And then Dorothy came home with one of the bears she saw hanging in the forest with the lions and tigers, and the space got even tighter.

Working opposite shifts with Ben meant we mostly saw the other curled up in slumber.  We weren’t able to talk, we were losing touch, we were drifting away from each other.  I told almost no one that I was home, I could hardly process it myself.  Geographically speaking, it was like being “The Wiz”, and wishing you were “The Wizard of Oz” again….I don’t want to be Diana Ross, I want to be Judy Garland! 

wiz_the_1978_685x385Of course, Canada is not a gray and miserable turn of the century Kansas farm; there was family, friendships and happiness before I left the country for nearly three years.   But it was in being where the circle began; the indignity of being broke and dependent; losing touch with my husband during a period of long hours and hard work; the uncertainty of the immigration process that pushed me to a breaking point.  Like Dorothy when she weeps for fear of never leaving  Oz.  Of never getting home.  Where is home? There’s no place like home? What does that even mean?  Home has become where my husband is and that summer he felt as far away as the Southern Hemisphere.  When the seasons changed, we moved to a different town, and made a little home  together, and we could finally think of embracing this country as our home.

I realize now that living in Australia was not always a fantasy land either; I go over old essays or journal entries and know there were our own metaphorical versions of flying monkeys,  nasty fruit bearing trees that sassed you if you dared to pluck an apple, and forces threatening to spoil our adventures.  Every country, every place will have it’s trials, there is not one perfect, untroubled destination.  And I can rationalize that the grass is always greener and whatnot, wherever you go there you are and so forth, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering what else is over the rainbow.  I suppose that where I am right now is exactly where I need to be, but my advice to Dorothy is to savour her journey and be grateful for the color, for there is a black and white horizon ahead.

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