A walk in the morning sun

morning sun

I’ll be glad when spring finally arrives.

What’s that you say? Spring has arrived?

Oh, alright then, I know: spring technically arrived more than a week ago here just south of the 45th Parallel, in Hope Ness, Ontario, Canada.

And, perhaps more importantly in a real and spiritual sense, the sap has been flowing for longer than that.

I was on my way down to Guelph more than a week ago and, going through Fergus late that morning, I spotted a Mennonite family selling fresh maple syrup at an intersection. They were still there that evening just before dark on my way back. I didn’t stop – should have, though, and had some over pancakes the next morning. That’s a taste of spring that might have cheered me up.

I confess my annual SADS (Seasonal Affective Disorder) has affected me a little worse than usual this past winter season, and still is.

I will assume the extra “S” on SADS denotes plurality, as in so many people get it. It’s most common in the populous northern latitudes when the winter sun spends most of it’s time below the equator. Our bodies, which naturally produce vitamin D with the help of the sun, suffer the effects of a deficiency in the form of depression.

Many years ago my bedside book was a paper-back edition of Canadian Short Stories. Back then I read and re-read stories by the likes of Morley Callaghan, Malcolm Lowry, Alice Munro, P.K. Page, to name just a few whose names come readily to mind. A bit later I also read a lot of short stories by Russian writers and was struck by the same moody tone of melancholy that pervaded them. Now I know why, though it’s probably a lot more complicated than just the effects of SADS.

I’ve been taking my daily vitamin D supplement, and going for a morning walk along Cathedral Drive with my good dog-friend Buddy, especially for the sake of the return trip into the early-morning sun.

And as always, I’ve tried to stay physically and mentally active. Those of you who also suffer from SADS will know that last point is not always easy. But I have become a firm believer in the art of giving oneself a push, a first step to get going. One has to persevere, but it usually works to get the blood flowing to important places.

But this winter it was more of a struggle than usual. I wondered if age was starting to catch up to me.

I also wondered if the news of the day – day after discouraging day – was getting me down.

I’m a news junkie, always have been, always will be, with a seemingly obsessive need to keep myself well-informed, to the extent possible. I think it’s to some extent anxiety-based: I turn on the radio, or, increasingly these days, go on-line every morning to find out what’s happening in the world.

My hope has always been that life goes on more or less as usual, with its continuing or new share of daily events both good and bad, close to home or far away; but always with a more or less fundamental stability, and a feeling that however slow and difficult it may be, hope never dies.

There’s no doubt a good deal of naivete in that attitude. So be it.

I also, naively perhaps, have believed through my career as a journalist to this day, that most people have a curiosity and hunger for information to help them navigate their way through life. Surely, that’s arguably the most important part of what we are as human beings. The onset of the age of post-truth is contrary to any idea of real human progress.

I wanted to avoid getting into the dangerous, world-threatening, political situation in the U.S. here. But to the extent  it has already crossed the border into Canada, I must say I find it disgusting that the same opportunistic style of hateful, right-wing populism has infected the federal, Conservative leadership race. The two apparent front-runners, businessman Kevin O’Leary and MP Maxime Bernier, have both said they would invoke the so=called “notwithstanding clause” in the Canadian Charter of Rights to block refugees from the U.S. trying to enter Canada illegally.

That means suspending the Charter’s protective rights. The controversial clause was, and still is, meant to be invoked in the event of a serious national emergency. I still think it was a mistake. Human rights are an absolute. That’s why they are put in a country’s Constitution, to underline the point, to make it sacred. And they apply to all people, including refugees and other recent immigrants, as well as Canadian citizens.

Bernier went so far as to say he would send in the army to stop refugees from coming across the border unofficially if he ever became Prime Minister.

Shame on him and O’Leary for stooping so low.

The notwithstanding clause should not be used to add to the misery of desperate people who have already suffered too much. They have fled life-threatening conditions in many war-torn, economically distressed countries in the Middle East and Africa. Most of us can barely imagine what they’ve already been through to get this far. Many of them are fortunate not to have drowned trying to get across the Mediterranean Sea in their desperation. Thousands have, including children.

On my way to town the other day I heard the extraordinary story of Doaa Al Zamel, a young Syrian refugee woman who was among 500 others on a boat bound for Italy from Egypt. It is both a remarkable story of her survival, but also the tragic deaths of most of the people on board. We are fortunate in Canada that we have a public broadcaster, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), that regularly covers and investigates the most important news of our times. I wish everyone had been listening to The Current that morning


Doaa Al Zamel

How can our hearts not go out to them. Who among us wouldn’t reach out to save a drowning child, or any person in such peril? Only those, I daresay, who’s lack of empathy is frightening and dangerous, especially in a position of immense political power and influence; that last most of all: without the support of a significant mass of people behind it the cutting edge of an evil regime has no power.

That is the best hope in such a situation: that the people initially taken in by such a person or regime will realize their mistake, and join the protest.

Refugees now trying to cross into Canada – yes, many of them illegally – had sought refuge in the U.S., but the present anti-immigrant, anti-refugee attitude there filled them with the fear of being deported, back to the likelihood of a terrible fate. Undocumented Mexican immigrants to the U.S.have also been among those seeking refuge now in Canada for similar reasons.

Canada has become a shining light in a darkening world.

Still it’s discouraging – and frankly depressing – that hateful, terrible things are happening more frequently now in some Canadian communities. Racism is nothing new to Canada. That can’t be denied, even in the midst of the attitude of growing celebration of the growth of a more tolerant, diverse national community. But to see race and religious-based hatred apparently on the rise again is . . . discouraging, to say the least.

“The world needs more Canada,” The now former U.S. President Barack Obama told Parliament during a state visit last June. He was, he is still, right

This country has become a great, unfolding, human experiment proving that human beings the world over can live in peace.

But it can only be done if we somehow learn to live together in a spirit of mutual respect and appreciation, even celebration of that hopeful reality.

It’s simply the only way. Divisiveness, neo-nationalism, fear of “the other,” can only lead to the end of humanity.

And so with those thoughts, on top of SADS, I took myself and my friend Buddy for a walk down Cathedral Drive this morning.

We, if I may speak for him, both especially enjoyed the invigorating walk back into the light of the early morning sun, in the direction of Hope Bay.

“This is the first day of spring,” I said, feeling better later, and more hopeful, having imagined my garden greening up a couple of months from now.

And I also promised myself to reach out with some kind of gentle, welcoming gesture to refugees, other new immigrants, or for that matter, anyone might still be made to feel like a stranger in Canada, for whatever reason. And by that I mean wherever I may happen to meet from now on.

“This is where it begins. Here, in this moment,” I said out loud after our walk.

Buddy gave me that look, that inquisitive thing he does, tilting his head, as if to say he’s not sure what I just said, but he sure likes the sound of it.

Smart dog, my boy.


A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in April, 2017

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