October 17, 2017 marks a moment. Sadly, today I had to update this piece I wrote one year ago.
Gord Downie moves on to the other side. He was 53.
An important voice, a leader, a son, father, a national treasure, has moved on to the other side. Thank you Gord, you filled my life with words, thoughts, stories and great great music during pivotal years.
Your life, and especially your final year, is a lesson of how we all should live every year, every day.
I wrote this linked piece a year ago, when we all learned of the battle he would come to wage. It was kind of a note across the miles to Gord, a man I saw, but never met. I doubt he ever got the note. But that's ok, the message still arrives, somehow.
You fought honorably brother. Thank you for teaching us how to be, and how to fight, right up to the end of this stage in life.
Go rest now Gord, for a little while, for you still have goodwork to do from afar.
Be like Gord, be a "Weapon of Change".
Once again, we see that we just do not have the time left that we think we do.
Here is my original piece from October 2016
Late breaking story on the CBC
A nation whispers, "We always knew that he'd go free"
They add, "You can't be fond of living in the past
'Cause if you are then there's no way that you're going to last"
Wheat kings and pretty things
Let's just see what tomorrow brings
- lyrics from "Wheat Kings" by The Tragically Hip
You are not getting out of this alive. This is a very present reality for Gord.
For about 32 years Gord Downie has been the frontman and primary songwriter of the famous Canadian band, the Tragically Hip. On May 24, 2016 Gord's life slammed head first into a blunt reality check, Gord had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, he had a massive glioblastoma in his head. After near immediate brain surgery, chemo and radiation therapy Gord bravely decided that the show must go, honorably he wanted to continue with his mission and passion. So, he and his blokes scheduled a final four week cross-Canada farewell tour which ended in a “Canada is closed” tour closing extravaganza which ended on August 20th, 2016 in his hometown of Kingston, Ontario. Canada was offically closed that night, quite literally. Gord decided to still share, give back, live, and carry on with his life's gifts. Gord's life has always been about music from what I can tell, telling great stories and bringing people joy through his gift. Ever the story teller, the songs hit home and get personal, one such song is about the Toronto Maple Leaf NHL defenseman who scored the 1951 Stanley Cup-winning goal shortly before dying in a plane crash. Another, the mood perfect haunting "Wheat Kings" tells the story of David Milgaard, a Canadian wrongfully accused of murder. Gord's song writing means something, it says something, and I suspect this gave his music deep meaning, his days greater meaning, and his life a clearer purpose.
We are all going to die. If you are not starting to get comfortable with that reality, things are going to get pretty painful as your time winds down. Avoidance of acceptance of your final guaranteed demise will not make it escapable. If you wait and avoid you are going to possibly feel pretty frantic in those last days trying to meet your goals, dreams, wishes, hopes and tell those you love how much they meant to you and your life. You are going to likely wish for more time. You are going to want some "do overs". Again, let me be clear, if you are reading this in the evening, you are one more day closer to that moment. It is coming, trust me. So, get busy. The problem is, we think we have time.
I spent the better part of three decades enjoying Gord and the rest of "The Hip's” stories and music. Music touches something deep in us, and unlike many other forms of entertainment in this world, we can return to music over and over again and it only gets better. The memories stay and sometimes get richer. Repeatedly, an album can grow on us and take deeper meaning and a comforting place, marking moments in our life, time-stamping memories and events that usually live on forever while others merely fade away. This is what Gord and the boys did for me, and much of Canada.
The fact of the matter now is that Gord might not have many years left, none of us may to be honest, but I sure hope that he is the exception and not the rule for this type of cancer, I think there is so much more music in that man's soul. The truth of the matter is that he would love the time we are all wasting doing frivolous nonsensical things like watching Youtube videos of foolish teenagers skateboard down handrails often snagging their dangling parts on the rails, or climbing on the edges of rooftop edges doing handstands while snapping selfies. Make no mistake, Gord is not wasting his time doing these kinds of foolish things causally risking what is preciously left of his life. He knows how short an hourglass can be on sand. He is likely packing it all in, loading the boat, loving hard and living openly and freely. He is likely sampling life slowly, richly, buying the good chocolates, and having deep meaningful experiences with friends. We, on the other hand, think we have time and that is our mistake. We waste so much time in this short life. The fact of the matter is any day now we could get the same call from our doctor with the same gut wrenching news. We are all wasting time. We all think we have enough time, that we can "get to it tomorrow". Do we have time ? Can we "get to it tomorrow” ? There is still plenty of time right?
In your last breaths on this spinning rock on which we dwell, there will likely be silence. If you are lucky to be surrounded by your loved ones, it will be a silence of crushing sadness for them. Complete silence will undoubtedly mark the exact moment of your transcendence. And in that silence those observers, if you are lucky to have a few, will once again be reminded as they have many times before of the brevity of this trip we call life. In the silence, during that nauseating punch in the gut moment, there will be a reminder to get busy doing more and loving more grandly. Sadly, in the noise of our lives, as the days and weeks march on, how soon we will forget this lesson in the silence. In Gord's words from the song "A Beautiful Thing", there is brilliant stark wisdom to what that silence is screaming. Lets all try to better hear and remember these words, spoken from the silence.
"In the ulcerating silence perspective comes,
the way it always does for it’s ransom." -Gord Downie
Here is a final punch in the face. Within the hour of reading this you will soon forget what I have written here. Snapchat, Youtube, Netflix, HBO, they all suck us into an oblivion of wasted time, distraction from the vein of life, a lull of immediate gratification. How soon we will all forget how short this trip is, the weeks and months will march onward, until we are again faced with something more grave and agonizing that forces us to sit in the silence again. Hopefully that silence is not our own.
In the mean time, I give thanks. Thank you Gord, thank you deeply for leaving beautiful scars on my life that are still vivid. You have been part of the soundtrack of my life, adding color and depth to the memories and locking them in, deep and permanent. Keep the good stuff coming brother. Like a wedding or movie, memories are not the same when not time-stamped by music. My life has been enriched and imprinted by the bands that have drawn me in to their muse. Thank you again Gord, for finding your passion and for continuing to shout it out loud, in your own unique way, with flare and passion and heart. Thank you for your time, it is one of the greatest most unselfish gifts in life, giving someone your time.
The problem is, we all think we have time. From Gord's lips to your ears, in a haunting yet deeply loving whisper, "you might not my friend, so get busy".
Again, . . .
"In the ulcerating silence perspective comes,
The way it always does for it’s ransom." -Gord Downie,
Much love Gord, over the miles, . . . . . always. Thank you.
Rest in peace brother.
- Shawn Allen