To our international readers please indulge us this week as we lost a very Canadian music icon Gord Downie to cancer last week. While his group The Tragically Hip, had international success The Hip was largely a Canadian treasure. By the way Gerry here this week, I am going to set up my own profile one of these days but for now, I will share Mike’s profile.As I was running along the shores of Lake Ontario on this lovely fall day, I thought how lucky we are to live in this country. Sure our country has its warts and we are certainly a work in progress with lots of issues from affordable housing, to the opioid drug crisis, to our relationships with the First Nations and the Indigenous people to name a few. But in the end, for the most part, we are a nation trying to get better in a respectful civilized manner. Over the past week as I read articles and eulogies I was struck by the general love and respect Gord Downie garnered across the nation, even our Prime Minister had a tear in his eye as he spoke about his legacy and the mark he left on the Canadian fabric.
I enjoyed “The Hip’s” music, but truth be told I was not a big fan. When I was younger I was aware of them and if memory serves I may have even bought a cassette or two, yup I said cassette. Going to university in the east when they broke on the scene we had some exposure to them but it was not until I moved to Toronto in the mid eighties, that I heard their music frequently. Most of us in our 50s-60s knew of The Hip. We were in our early 20s and the world was full of hope and promise, they were part of the music backdrop of our young lives.
The Hip also had an iconic connection to hockey, Canada’s national pastime. Their lyrics spoke of hockey and their music played in dressing rooms around the NHL and in arenas across our country. They were so tied to our national sport, that many NHL teams paid tribute to Mr. Downie during the week. Backdrop of our youth and tied to hockey how could we not smile when we think of The Hip.
In May 2016 it was announced on the band’s website that Mr. Downie had inoperable brain cancer. It could be treated but we knew the days were numbered. I had a heightened awareness of The Hip since then till sadly last week the inevitable occurred and Gord passed away surrounded my family.
I am sure we have all been asked a version of the question, “If you only had 1 day/year/month to live what would you do?” We probably first think of spending time with family and friends, travelling or enjoying an activity for one last time. Gord Downie faced with that question spent the last year of his life, raising awareness and fundraising for cancer and also dealing with the plight of Canada’s Indigenous peoples. He wrote a collection of poems called Secret Path, that morphed into a film. It told the very sad story of Chanie Wenjack, an indigenous boy who at the age of 12, escaped from an Indian Residential School in Kenora, Ontario. He froze to death on October 22, 1966, trying to return to his family home some 600 kilometres away.
Gord lived his last 18 months on his terms by doing what he loved touring and performing concerts across Canada, spending time with family and friends and focusing his time and energy trying to make the world around him a better place. Giving his time and energy to noble causes, cancer research and reconciliation with our First Nations and the terrible impact residential schools had on this community. It is an issue that we as a nation must deal with to bring us closer to our First Nations people. The story of Chanie Wenjack deeply touched Gord Downie and he felt we needed to resolve the situation if we are to be a better Canada. Through his efforts he has amplified the conversation and help move along the journey to reconciliation and recovery. My quick synopsis on the subject of residential schools does not do the topic justice and I encourage you to learn more about the subject and do more if you are so moved.
I am sure many of us have been touched by tragedy in our life, sadly it is part of living and unfortunately it is only through tragedy that we become reflective. When we think about our retirement years or planning for our Victory Lap we should also be reflective. Look at Victory Lap as a chance to live life on your terms, make an impact to the world around you. Perhaps in your career did not feed your soul, now is your chance. Now you can make a difference to the world, or the community around you?
I have been somewhat reflective this week, and I understand how my two millennial children and many of their friends aspire to do something for the greater good, whether it is improving the environment, helping the marginalized or adopting a rescue dog. I know when I was in my twenties I was not so externally focused, I viewed the world based on my parents teaching, get a job, be a good person, build wealth, and support your family. In your Victory Lap you have an opportunity to live your life on your terms, find your calling, or at least search for it and help make the world a better place. If you can’t tell Mike has found his calling – helping people avoid retirement shock and setting them up for a fabulous Victory Lap. Don’t wait to live a wonderful life as time is fleeting.
Following Gord over the last year and a half has been a study in grace, charity and demonstrates how to live life every day. What a gift Gord left us.