Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change

CHAPTER 25: MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HOW DID WE DO?

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I knew it was a lucky day when I scored a parking place right outside the front door of Innovative Health Group, the fitness team for the Calgary Herald Health Club’s 12-week diet and fitness challenge. Of course, it was 7:45 a.m. on a Saturday, but I’ll take any indication of fortune I can find.

On the other side of the door stood the incredibly perky and fit staff, including head cheerleader, personal trainer and general manager Stan Peake, whose encouragement helped everyone in the program. (I’ve even forgiven him for the boot camp yelling. Well, almost.)

When the first century BCE Roman epic poet, Virgil, wrote in the Aenid that “fortune favours the brave,” it’s a certain bet he could not have envisioned life 21 centuries later, when “brave” has come to mean just about any personal endeavor. What Virgil meant when he stole the phrase from an earlier writer, was that the goddess Fortuna looked kindly on those who took risks and decisive action. Personally, I favour the quiet kind of bravery, the kind needed to conquer fears and make changes and to do so without expectations of glory beyond personal satisfaction.

So luck is what one makes through effort. Or, in the worlds of Woody Allen: “70 per cent of success in life is showing up.” (The so-called lucky parking space nearly proved itself something else again when, in order to drive away, I had to employ the winter-city tactic of rocking my car back and forth to extract it from the icy ruts that have formed on our streets and in the curbside gutters in the past couple of weeks.)

Saturday was the final weight-in for the Herald Health Club and its at-home participants, like me. As everyone said, and I echoed — where did 12 weeks go all of a sudden? Life gets like that, the older you get, the faster it goes. And when did I have the time to hold down a full-time job? Retirement was supposed to be a time of leisure.

I was prepared for good news, and it came my way — a loss of 9.2 pounds, one inch off both bust and hips and three inches off my waist. Those measurements are no longer politically correct in metricated Canada, but I still think in inches and feet instead of centimeters and meters, no matter how old-fashioned that may be. About the only part of metric that has stuck in my brain is temperature, so I actually think in Celsius instead of Fahrenheit now. (I still get my husband, who learned metrics in medical school, to “translate” kilos into Imperial measurement,)

Those of you who have been asking for an accounting of how my campaign is going after three months can now be satisfied for a while. I’m thinking it’s only going to get better as soon as the holiday season is over. After all, in January, just about everybody we know will be resolving to do what I have been doing — getting in shape over the course of a year.

Most will give it up, once January has passed and the novelty of exercising and dieting has worn thin. Indeed, once the novelty of just about anything has paled, we tend to forget.

Here it is, just days before Christmas, and I can’t help but think of how privileged so many of us are — to be able to choose what and when to eat; to be able to hunker down in our heated houses whenever the weather outside is brutal; to be free of war and strife on our doorsteps.

My selfish campaign, for it is selfish, in that it is all about me and my self-image, needs to take a back seat to the reality all around us. So many of our citizens don’t have the privilege of choice. And in the middle of the wretched excess that marks the holiday season, it’s helpful to remember this.

Twenty-five years ago, I wrote what I called a modern fable, published by the Calgary Herald. Time has passed, but the sad truth is that while we are moved at this time of year to donate to charities, to drop some bills in the Salvation Army kettles, to contribute to the Food Bank and other organizations, the story I wrote in 1984 doesn’t need much changing. Here it is:

Once upon a time . . . there was a man who was so filled with the joy and goodwill of Christmas that he wanted the whole world to celebrate with him.

There would be no child in this city, he vowed, who would wake up Christmas morning and find no toys under the tree.

There would be no adults who would spend Christmas sitting alone in a small room without family and friends. No one would go hungry; no one would be in need.

He would, he announced to his wife and children, to his secretary and colleagues, and to all his neighbours, make sure this would be the best Christmas ever. So he told everyone and all agreed this was a wonderful idea.

The schoolchildren held raffles and penny drives and brought canned food from home to contribute to the Food Bank. They saved part of their holiday spending money and made gaily decorated shoe boxes filled with gifts and goodwill for refugee children on the other side of the world.

The service organizations in town held fund-raising dances and raffles and bingos and charity nights. They went out into the city’s communities and collected bottles and papers; money and food.

The churches preached charity and sharing and all the congregations were moved by the feeling of the season to remember those less fortunate.

It was, indeed, a wonderful Christmas. Thousands of toys were bought and wrapped and given to children whose parents couldn’t afford the luxuries, because the essentials of life were so hard to come by.

Thousands of food hampers were delivered to families across the city so that everyone would be assured of a festive meal on Christmas Day, with lots of leftovers for the rest of the week.

On Christmas morning and all through the following week, love heated the city. Coloured lights twinkled on snow, warming the air and setting a festive mood.

When the children went back to school in January, they felt good about themselves and showed off their new toys and clothes, and the entire class planned a skiing trip. Except, of course, for those classmates whose parents couldn’t afford it.

At their January meeting, each of the service organizations chose one member to receive an award in recognition of the tremendous work the group had done. They scheduled a banquet and all went home from the meeting feeling satisfied with their efforts.

The churches announced in their January bulletins how everyone had banded together to ensure nobody would be forgotten and how, in this way, we had truly remembered to put Christ back into Christmas. All of the parishioners felt blessed.

City council held a special meeting and decided to plan a tribute to recognize the man who had started it all. That evening, he gave a wonderful speech and was named Citizen of the Year. All the media did feature stories on the man who taught an entire city the true meaning of Christmas.

Meanwhile, the children of the poor woke up one morning in January and discovered there wasn’t any milk for breakfast, but it didn’t matter, because there wasn’t any cereal.

The unemployed woke up one morning in January and discovered their unemployment insurance benefits had run out. At the same time the government decided that certain people didn’t deserve welfare and cut them off. There still weren’t any jobs.

The old people in the nursing homes woke up one morning in January and discovered what little money they had left over from their pensions had been eaten up by cost increases. Nobody had been to visit them this month at all, and the children and choirs who came to sing for them at Christmas were too busy to come this Friday night.

All across the city the Christmas lights and decorations were taken down. The only signs left were pine cones and needles and little bits of silver tinsel glinting in the dirty snow and ice in back alleys.

All the crèches were dismantled and the Infant in the manger, Mary and Joseph, the sheep and the shepherds and even the star were carefully wrapped in tissue and put away for another year. Out of sight and out of mind.

And the city got back to normal for another 11 months.

NEXT: A new year and a new you?

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Written by Catherine Ford

December 22, 2009 at 2:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Hi
    I appreciated this blog very much…as it has always been my view. As a social worker giving out $$ for Christmas donated by the public …in response to sad stories in the local newspaper…I am always reminded about the other 11 months…when they can’t pay for their food or heat…and nobody is there for them…until again…they get to buy things with their cheque for Christmas.
    You of course put it much more eloquantly then me.
    And…Congrads on the weight loss. Whatever our goals..it’s always nice to experience success.

    susan.epstein@hotmail.com

    December 25, 2009 at 4:45 am


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