This weekend brings messages of hope in several significant ways, including the messages of hope offered by Easter and Passover for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Even though self-isolation means no gathering in churches and synagogues and of course no big family meals, people can still take great comfort from the messages of hope and gratitude that define these events and the rituals that accompany them.
Before these important religious observances came into being celebrations of the rites of spring had occurred around the world for centuries if not millennia, welcoming the rebirth of the earth after its winter hibernation. Another message of hope.
Mind you, in my part of the world, as I sit looking out at the results of a ‘late winter’ storm last night I find myself humming the verse from the Dr. Zhivago theme song:
Somewhere my love there will be songs to sing
Although the snow covers the hope of Spring.
But this, too, shall pass. Spring has sprung in many parts of Canada, and eventually it will spring to life in my part as well. Really it will! It may only last for a week or two before it turns into summer, but it will come. And the ‘hope of Spring’ surely is a good metaphor for the way we need to approach the current global crisis. The coronavirus pandemic will be conquered, but probably at a pace more similar to waiting for spring in New Brunswick than spring in Vancouver. But it will come, and we will be ready to embrace all that has been closed off to us. We will metaphorically put away our winter boots, heavy coats, scarves, mitts, and tuques and get out our summer clothes. Of course, in my neck of the woods we may be doing that both literally and figuratively! In my neck of the woods, perhaps that long wait is what has instilled us with patience, for patience is what we all need, along with hope.
Along with Easter, Passover, and the arrival of spring all providing us with hope for the future, Canada has another powerful message of hope this weekend. Sunday, April 12, marks the 40th anniversary of the beginning of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. It was on April 12, 1980 that Terry Fox dipped his toe in the very cold Atlantic Ocean in Newfoundland and began what he planned to be a marathon of marathons across Canada. The 21-year old cancer victim and activist (can you believe that Terry would be 61 right now if he’d lived?!) intended to run a full marathon – every day – on one good leg and one artificial leg, all the way across Canada, to raise money for cancer research.
He called his mission The Marathon of Hope. Hope that better-funded cancer research could improve our odds of conquering the disease. Hope that better-equipped facilities would be available to all cancer patients, especially children. Terry had made it as far as Thunder Bay, Ontario, on the northern shores of Lake Superior, when it became clear that the cancer had spread. He was forced to stop, and died the following year, a month shy of turning 23. Since then the charitable foundation that has continued his work, the Terry Fox Foundation, has raised – are you ready – over $750 million for cancer research. His hopes have become realities and the mission continues. His full story can be found at a previous blog post, Terry Fox, a shining example of one person’s ability to make a difference. Talk about living your dash. It’s well worth a read.
In reading that this Sunday is the 40th anniversary of the start of his Marathon of Hope, it came back to me that Terry had been voted one of Canada’s greatest heroes by grass root Canadians. I googled ‘Canadian heroes’ and found the details of the story about this competition. I bring it up here because I think this 2004 contest says something important about Canadians and the values they cherish. It speaks to why we should have hope.
In the fall of 2004 the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) ran a show called The Greatest Canadian. The idea was for people from across Canada to nominate their choice of the greatest Canadian who ever lived. Politicians, war heroes, athletes, pop stars, authors, historical figures, you name it. The show involved a lengthy process of whittling down a long list, of including several ways by which every Canadian who wanted to could vote in a variety of ways, and with several phases to keep the suspense going. I remember it being a popular show, with lots of interest in the final results. I had forgotten who the winners were except that I knew that Terry was one of them. Just sticking to the Top 5 Canadians of all time, as determined by popular opinion (and there was not a French counterpart program, so it is biased towards English speakers), here they are:
(1904-1986) Father of Medicare in Canada, which was legislated nationally in 1968, with Tommy Douglas, leader of the New Democratic Party (1961-71), as a driving force. Premier of Saskatchewan 1944-61. [For you non-Canadians, he was also the father of actor Shirley Douglas, one-time father-in law of actor Donald Sutherland (born just down the road in Saint John, New Brunswick), and grandfather of actor Keifer Sutherland.]
2. Terry Fox.
(1958-1981) Athlete, activist, humanitarian.
3. Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
(1919-2000) 15th prime minister of Canada. Father of Canada’s policy of multiculturalism, which he brought into place in 1971. The intent of multiculturalism is to preserve the cultural freedom of all individuals and provide recognition of the cultural contributions of diverse ethnic groups to Canadian society. [And, yes, his son Justin is our current PM.]
4. Sir Frederick Banting.
(1891-1941) Medical scientist, professor at Western and U of Toronto, discoverer of insulin along with his student Charles Best, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
5. David Suzuki.
(1936- ) Environmentalist, environmental activist, science broadcaster, genetics professor at UBC. His family, of Japanese origin, was interred in a British Columbia internment camp throughout World War II.
How can you go wrong when, as the media likes to call us these days, ‘ordinary citizens’ make such enlightened choices to be their heroes? Not the people who are in it for themselves, but the people who take on causes that should matter to us and do matter to us. People with the courage of their convictions. Food for thought as we hunker down and celebrate hope in these ‘unusual’ times. By the way, who would you choose as your national hero who ever lived? Top three??
As the Terry Fox Foundation says in its messaging on this 40th anniversary: stay safe, stay hopeful.