Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change


with 2 comments

Outside, a dusting of snow has fallen softly on the deck and the railings, coating the barren limbs of the quivering aspen and bending the heavy boughs of the spruce trees surrounding our place in the mountains. My long-suffering husband, who can identify mountains, trees and alpine wildflowers has just now launched into yet-another lesson on how to tell spruce from pine in response to my query about the trees surrounding the house.

Pines, he says in his best “I’m the doctor, you’re the patient” type of voice, have the long needles, spruce have short stubby ones and fir trees have softer needles, although I usually don’t have to worry about the last, because there are few in our river valley. This is the same man who will invite me outside in the spring to marvel at the first wood lily blooming at the back of the house, just by the fire pit. His copy of Wildflowers of the Canadian Rockies by George W. Scoter and Halle Flygare became so dog-eared and torn a few years ago that I bought him a brand-new copy. Our walks around the Bow Valley are always interspersed with frequent stops to admire whatever foliage is in flower. Late every spring the wild roses bloom in profusion and the sight of them always reminds me of my late father, for whom this Alberta provincial flower was the height of beauty.

The only footsteps around the house are those of the wildlife in their winter coats; the only sounds are the occasional passing car or a couple of barks from the neighbours’ dogs, strangely silent in this snowy stillness.

We have friends who treasure their “cottage at the lake” and those who value their second hone down south, but it is the Rocky Mountains and the Bow River valley that calls to Ted and me. There is something reflective and quiet here, a place where the traffic of Calgary, the dirty, iced-up streets and the crowds are far enough away to be not only out of sight, but out of mind. Yet we are only one hour door to door, a place of tranquility that allows us to forget our so-called “real” life, if only momentarily.

But that real life has followed us here. This New Year’s the war in Afghanistan has hit too close to home – a young Calgary Herald reporter, Michelle Lang, has been killed by a roadside bomb that also took the lives of four Canadian soldiers. For years, as a member of PEN Canada, I read the messages that came across the e-mail that links so many of us, informing members of the deaths of reporters around the world in civil wars and coups and at the hands of brutal regimes. Strange that we all feel it would never happen to one of us. I know my former colleagues at the Herald are devastated at the news, much of it as a result of their youth and their belief in their own invincibility. When you are 20 or 30, death is a stranger who lurks in the midst of other people’s lives, those families we are sent to interview when they lose one of their own. We are, mostly, the uninvolved observers. We see the grief and the tears, but we rarely, until it hits us personally, see ourselves reflected in such emotions.

If a new year is a time of reflection and list-making, of taking the pulse of one’s achievements in the past year and one’s hopes for the one just starting, it is news such as Michelle’s too-young death at 34 that makes petty so many of our personal trials. But one of the most powerful messages of moments like this is the realization that each day, every moment, is a precious one, not to be wasted in narcissism, regret, stupidity or foolishness.

How many of us live our lives as if each day might be our last? We can’t, of course, because we would end up planning nothing, never setting goals and never hoping that whatever trials any day brings will pass.

But, for the moment, it is good to remember that there is never a bad time to tell someone you love him or her. I just tried that with Ted, who glanced up from today’s newspaper, with a surprised look on his face and replied: “I love you, too. What brought that on?” But he asked with a smile on his face. Strange how something so simple can feel so good. I’ll tell you a not-very-little secret: In times of death, a reaffirmation of life is what propels all of us. We all need to remind ourselves that we have successfully cheated the Grim Reaper for another moment, another hour, another day. And each night, just before turning off the bedside lamp, I turn to Ted and tell him I love him, a punctuation at the end of each day.

The passing of another year is also the passing of a decade, regardless of the numerically correct squad who insist this millennium did not start in 2000, but 2001. They are still writing letters to the editor making their point.

What they fail to appreciate is that the truth in this case is irrelevant. We want to celebrate the decade on dates that seem to us, the innumerate, as logical. Therefore, 2000 was the first year of the millennium and the first decade ends with 2009. For the past week, the media have been compiling lists of “best of this” and “best of that.”

Thinking back over the past 10 years, it seems the entire world has changed. Which of course, it has. September 11, 2001 altered our Western world profoundly. It introduced fear into our daily lives and it made air travel an exercise in suspicion, frustration and fear. It also meant that two moths later, in early November 2001, when I collapsed in my office and had enough sense to pick up the phone and gasp that I needed medical help immediately, it resulted in a phalanx of fire fighters, the entire security department of the Herald, and EMS crowding into my office with what can only be described as worried looks on all their faces. They weren’t thinking heart attack which would have been normal at any other time in any other year, but anthrax. I had “chosen” to have a heart attack at 10:30 a.m. on a Friday, just after the office mail had been delivered and within weeks of the news being broadcast of anthrax spores in mail being delivered in Washington, D.C. and several media outlets. The telephone operator had immediately thought of that, and called in the troops. So while I was ushered out of the building into an ambulance, the local television station up the street was my accompaniment. I did not make the evening news much to my relief. But that incident altered my life irrevocably. It meant a daily regime of pills and medications and eventually, an early retirement in 2004.

Much happier news of the decade was the birth of our granddaughter, Elishka, in 2000, a sister for Kosma; the weddings of all three of my sister and brother-in-law’s children —Jane Moffet and Kent Freeman in 2003; Eamon Moffet and Heather Reeves; Kelly Moffet and Joe Burima, both weddings in 2008. The decade also brought this perfect log home in 2003 and as a bonus, a lasting friendship with the builder and his family. My retirement in 2004 and Ted’s the following year meant a chance to travel for other than a vacation from work. My book, Against The Grain, was published by McClelland & Stewart in hardcover in 2005 and in paperback in 2006. It has been a decade mostly of personal joy.

As Judith Timson wrote in the Globe and Mail: “It’s our personal milestones – a birth or death, a relationship or marriage beginning, ending or holding steady, our health challenges, a new job – that have more resonance at the close of a decade than everything but a handful of major news events.”

Timson talks about not just seizing the day, “but squeezing all possible joy out of it. Not to mention staying in touch. That goes on your emotional resume, which is always more important than the other one that gets so much attention.”

But there has been sadness, too. This decade started for me with losing my best friend, not through death, but because of a nasty, irrelevant, pointless and eventually destructive strike at the paper. She was on one side, management on the other. I tried the middle, for my own reasons, but it cost me. Ten years later, she still can’t forgive me, and I still miss her. When my mother died in 2008, Chris was the first person outside my own family that I thought about because I know her mother, terminally ill when I tried to repair the relationship through a letter, had in all likelihood died long before mine. But I don’t know, and it grieves me still.

So if 9/11 changed the outside world, it is our personal lives that make more of a difference to the interior world.

NEXT: January, and the whole world wants in on the diet.


Written by Catherine Ford

January 1, 2010 at 12:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Tell Ted I love him too.
    See if he looks up and smiles.
    All the best.
    It is indeed the moments that make the difference…like your friendship…
    Thanks for letting me into your lives and home.

    January 3, 2010 at 6:37 am

  2. Given our shared job history, I can’t help but note two more “decade” facts:

    — one of the last actions of the “oughts” was Hollinger Canada filing for bankruptcy protection. Their only remaining business, according to the filing, was paying pensions (mainly Southam ones, since Conrad Black kept the pension plan when he sold the company.)
    — one of the first actions of the new decade was a filing by CanWest for bankruptcy protection for its newspapers, including the Calgary Herald. The banks are looking for a buyer — one hopes they will find one with a better understanding of the industry than the previous two owners.


    January 8, 2010 at 2:23 pm

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