Let’s Truly Live: The Tragically Hip, a funeral and a lot of love

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

Last night was the final concert of the Tragically Hip in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario. Tickets were $10. Wearing a denim jacket, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hugged lead singer Gord Downie, whose diagnosis of terminal brain cancer inspired the distinctly Canadian band to launch its farewell tour, which ended last night. Read about it here.

The concert was covered by every major news organization in the world, and especially on every version of the CBC. I’ve always loved Canada, in the way the people are kind and humble, proud to be Canadian, living along a vast windswept landscape in a very real way.

Don’t get me wrong – I am incredibly proud to be an American, almost in a boastful way and I was never a huge fan of the Tragically Hip. What I love about Canadians, though, is their humility, their down-to-earth-ness, even as I embrace my ostentatious Americanism.

Group People Waving Canadian Flags Back LitI ate breakfast alone this morning in the Best Western Arden Park in Stratford, Ontario, to get on the road early enough to attend the funeral of my high school friend, Randi. And as I spooned oatmeal and sipped coffee, I read the Toronto Star‘s elegiac article about this beloved Canadian band, I pondered why such a story would choke me up.

I mean, who really cares about a band I never listened to that is emblematic of the land across the border from me?

I drove west until I crossed the Bluewater Bridge, the deep majestic blue of Lake Huron vast in my view. Green treetops for as far as my eye could wander provided a soft palette, and I thought about the stories I’d heard on the radio as I drove past lavender skies and low-lying clouds rolling over sleeping cows and silent farms.

The photo of the Syrian boy rescued in Aleppo that captured world attention. A man whose daughter donated her toys to Syrian children, whose only “job” as children is to play and who haven’t been allowed to play for years. The new TV sitcom producer who thought it was OK to joke about a famous person growing too thin in a way that it’s not OK to joke about someone growing too fat.

I searched and searched for a show I really wanted to listen to, but really didn’t find anything, and so I listened to The Bridge station for a while, the folk village program they do on Sunday mornings, and let my eyes tear up every so often because it was a heavy day coming.

There was no line at the border, and as the customs official peered at my passport and asked me about my visit, he asked if I met up with people there.

“My husband and children are coming back later today,” I explained. “I’m home early to attend a funeral.”

“I’m sorry,” he said, handing my passport back to me.

I kept on talking to him, which I suspect people don’t often do. I told him how it was a high school friend, gone too young. He nodded, waving me on.

I just wanted someone to hear me, which may be why the Tragically Hip so aptly define what it means to be Canadian. Quirky and poetic, daring in bright and memorable costumes on stage, performing the soundtrack of Canadian identity in a world so concerned with its own identity that there isn’t time to focus on what it means to be Canadian.

Let good things happenAnd yet we keep on living, each day, consumed with our own importance, barely recognizing all the details that surround us, first close, then further out, like the ripples in water made when a pebble breaks the surface.

I don’t have to tell you that the funeral home was packed today. Of course it was, for the funeral of a 45-year-old woman who was a mother and a wife and a sister and a friend.

I’ve written already about this person and her unfortunate passing, and what I’ve taken most from this week is how fleeting life is. The singer of a popular northern band diagnosed with the end of his life, and so he plays his heart out for all the world to hear in the days that he has left. A young mother who fought until the very end to have just another day with the people she loved.

“I really love you,” I texted my husband tearfully. “I know sometimes I’m hard on you, and I’m sorry for that. Let’s just live.”

When my husband and children came through the door, I was eating a mediocre sandwich at the kitchen table. I stood up from my perch and threw my arms around each of the children, and my husband, tears streaming down my face, words throttled in my throat.

Multicolored balloons in UlmI apologized for yelling at my daughters last night when we were in a frenzy to get to dinner. I told every single one of them how much I love them, how lucky I am to be their mother. My husband and I held onto each other a little longer than a typical hello. “Let’s let the little things slide,” my husband said. “I love you, too.”

“We really do live,” he reminded me. “Like the time a few weeks ago when we were just playing in Lake Michigan. That was a great day. And we were all so happy.”

He was right. The thing is, Gord Downie may be sentenced to an early demise due to cancer invading his brain, but none of us – none of us! – has a guarantee of years to come. We grow lulled into thinking we do, and probably most of us do have quite a long life to live, but then you never know.

There's really no reason we can't spend our days smiling at every person who passes by.
There’s really no reason we can’t spend our days smiling at every person who passes by.

What Randi’s passing this week reminded me was that each day IS precious, each interaction an opportunity to show love and kindness.

Her lovely mother’s words to me, after one of my recent blogs, echoed this perfectly:

Randi was full of life and celebration of every moment….she even enjoyed preparing lunches everyday and washing dishes…carry on Randi’s legacy to accept each individual with love. Just be sure her legacy appreciating each other and each breath continues.

Thank you, Susan, for this reminder in your hour of grief. This minute, and the moments to come, I hope we will all remember to cherish what and who we have, and give love every opportunity that comes to us.

Life is too short to be petty, mean or indifferent. To hold grudges.  To focus on the negative.

Thank you, Randi, for reminding me with your literal last breath that a life worth living is one framed by joy and sunshine, optimism and kindness. I remember your silliness and your friendliness and your beaming smile, and I hope I can continue your legacy in my own little way.

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