Sharing with you things that are on my mind...Maybe yours too. Come back to Wrights Lane for a visit anytime!

13 May, 2018


Saugeen Times Photo

Margaret Joan Sinclair Trudeau Kemper was a surprise visitor to a public school in Southampton on Thursday.  "So what's the big deal?", you may well ask.

If I just said "Margaret Trudeau", however, your reaction would more than likely be quite different, particularly if you are in my age group.

Quite by accident, I happened to drive past G. C. Huston Public School where a large group of students on the sidewalk engulfed the strikingly attractive figure of a woman carrying a bouquet of flowers and gesturing enthusiastically.

I couldn't believe it...I immediately recognized Margaret Trudeau, a woman who I secretly admired when she was the child bride of a much older Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau.

Come to find out, she was in the area as a guest of Bruce Power in her role of advocate for mental health during Mental Health Awareness Week and was staying in Southampton at the B&B, 'Watch Hill'.

At the school, she was presented with flowers and a special school 'Hawks' T-shirt with the Indigenous seven grandfather teachings inscribed on the back. Trudeau read out the teachings of honesty, bravery, respect, truth, humility, love and wisdom and said "These are words to live by!"

Margaret Trudeau receiving flowers from
school principal Dan Russell.
Principal Dan Russell asked Trudeau to pass on to her son, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, that everyone at the school is proud to be Canadian and appreciative of the work that he is doing. He also told her of the upcoming dedication celebration of the bridge spanning the Saugeen River. "This bridge joins the two communities of Saugeen First Nation and Saugeen Shores, and we will be renaming it this summer 'Zgaa-biig-ni-gan', which means 'we are connected'.

Trudeau in turn presented an autographed copy of her recent book, 'Changing My Mind' to Russell.

Now 70, Margaret remains unabashedly and organically herself. She was a Flower Child and Earth Mother before they were trendy. She once cavorted with the Rolling Stones.  Ever since she hauled a jug across Vancouver's Jericho Beach during the Habitat Forum in 1976, she’s been raising awareness about the need for clean water.  She opened dialogue about mental health issues when others only whispered about them. Her four books were instant bestsellers. She delivers 20 to 30 speeches a year on clean water, mental health and women’s issues, and she always kills.

After visiting the Southampton school Thursday afternoon, she spoke in the evening at the Pavilion in Kincarden to a full-house event sponsored by Bruce Power.

A long-time outspoken mental health advocate, Trudeau has struggled in the past with depression and bipolar disorders. She travels extensively telling her own life story of how postpartum depression developed into an extensive and intensive bout of deep depression.

She told her Kincarden audience of feeling overwhelmed, while at the same time having no practical role to play, as the wife of the Prime Minister. Growing up in Vancouver, B.C., she was one of five daughters and says that bipolar should not be identified in a child too early as it tends to manifest itself in teenage years. She said she had a healthy childhood with a strict mother who believed in three things - getting enough sleep, eating nutritional food and being active out-of-doors for at least 40 minutes a day.

"Mother was ahead of her time with her idea of no sugar and playing outside no matter the weather, which was good parenting," she said, "it's a good footstool for a health body and healthy mind."

As a child of the 1960s, she honestly admitted to using marijuana. "I had a racing mind and found that marijuana slowed me down and, honestly, it was the thing to do in those days as a teen. Finally, the medical community realized that mental health and addiction are the same thing. Drugs and alcohol changes your mind, changes you perception, changes relationships and changes everything."

She and Pierre Trudeau eventually divorced and she married real-estate developer Fried Kemper. When the Trudeaus' youngest son, Michel, was killed in a Rocky Mountains avalanche, Margaret again fell into a deep depression that led to her second divorce.

She was at Pierre Trudeau's bedside when he died of cancer in 2000.

Now the grandmother of eight, Trudeau is Honourary Patron of the Canadian Mental Health Association. She is also the honorary President of WaterAid Canada, a company dedicated to helping developing countries build sustainable water supplies and sanitation services. She also holds an honourary degree of Doctor of Laws from the University of Western Ontario.

"When does a speaker get the most applause?” asks Martin Perelmuter, president of Speakers Spotlight, Trudeau’s agency of nearly two decades. “Margaret gets a standing ovation when she arrives, but she gets a bigger one when she finishes.”

The folks who were introduced to Margret Trudeau in our community this past week are still applauding her. I'm glad that I got to see her too, albeit quite by accident!

30 April, 2018


Gary McLaughlin and his Toronto Maple Leafs 100th anniversary portrait on display in his Neustadt, ON gallery.
The hockey season may be over for our Toronto Maple Leafs, but not for Gary McLaughlin of nearby Neustadt, ON.  He has a year 'round passion for the NHL hockey team.

In 2007 the commercial illustrator created a "masterpiece" to commemorate the Maple Leafs 100th anniversary.  Remarkably, he has since redone the painting to immortalize every player to don the Toronto Arena, St. Patricks and Maple Leafs jersey from 1917 to 2017.

Whether a player made one shift or had a long career with the Toronto franchise, the six-foot by 12-foot portrait dubbed "Blue Sky, White Snow" depicts the faces of all 973 players to wear the jersey in the first 100 years.

With the help of friends, McLaughlin started with a tremendous amount of research to find names and faces of the players.  In the fall of 2005 he began work on the massive canvas while also working on other commercial projects.  He started with the Maple Leafs symbol in the middle and added all of the team's Hall of Fame players onto it.

McLaughlin completed the work of art three years later and it was sold to a Toronto man in 2011.  The work was appraised at $143,000.  The original was subsequently displayed in Queens Park, including a few other places, before finding a home in the old Maple Leaf Gardens facing the ice rink where the Ryerson University athletic department is now located.

Unfortunately the canvas was damaged by vandals a couple of years ago and returned to Neustadt for repair. Insurance covered the damage and the artist started the meticulous refurbishing process.  He used a palm sander on the damaged areas of the canvas and then decided to redo the piece to incorporate all the players for the Maple Leafs in time for the club's 100th anniversary.

"At first I thought it was gone for good but if it hadn't been damaged it would not have been expanded and updated," he said in a recent interview.  The top of the portrait now features all three arenas the franchise has played in as well as the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The title "Blue Sky, White Snow" was derived from a reference of former Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe when he changed the team colors to blue and white, representing the Canadian skies and snow.

To keep the canvas from being vandalized again, it is now housed at McLaughlin's Riversong Gallery in Neustadt, but McLaughlin says he would like to have it displayed in the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, or a museum. "I think it should be in a public place," McLaughlin said.  "It would be a shame if someone bought it only to put in a basement rec room."

He explained that since it has been back in Neustadt a lot of people have come through the door of his gallery especially to see the portrait, including family members of a few ex-Maple Leafs players.  "Many of the visitors from across the province have wanted their picture taken with it," he adds proudly.

The gallery does not have regular hours and it is suggested that if people are interested in seeing the work of art, it is best to email McLaughlin at to set up a time and date.

Meantime, the owner of the work is in the process of setting up a website to sell replica copies.

23 April, 2018


I’ve often heard the expression “Anything worth doing is worth failing at.” How very true. So whatever you choose to do in life on your quest for success — go for it! Fail well and fail often… only then will you become master of your own life.

By the time I was 19, I had experienced more than my fair share of failure. Let me count some of the ways...
  1. I dropped out of high school on the eve of Grade 12 final exams, because I knew that I was destined to fail and why put myself through the agony.
  2. I didn't make the grade in not one but two attempts at professional baseball.
  3. My first bonafide love affair ended in rejection (her mother didn't want her daughter involved with a ball player).
  4. I was turned down by a Canadian Army recruiting officer and told to go back to school.
The above occurring all within a period of 14 months.  Really, a heck of a way for a young man to begin life in the real world. The pattern of one failure after another would follow me the rest of my life and I will admit to resultant periodic bouts of melancholy and wishing "if I could only do it all over again.".

In simple terms, however, I am the sum total of all my failures. My failures have defined who I am. I've had many a friend throw me a surprised look when I tell them that I own all my failures, that I don't look back at them with feelings of remorse or guilt, that it doesn't make me cringe when I think about them. Because I believed every failure opened new doors and presented opportunities for personal growth. 

Failure has made me more humble; it has taught me how wrong I can be in some instances. Failure has also helped me realize how resilient I am. Bouncing back after a setback is something I had great difficulty in doing initially. But, over repeated and prolonged experiences of setbacks and failures, I don't find it that much of a challenge anymore.

Failure, above everything else, has made me trust my abilities and skills. The moment I started believing in my abilities to ride out the storm, the foundations of the storm itself weakened to a considerable degree.

Every failure made me want to try something new and boy, have I tried a lot of things -- with varying degrees of success, or failure, depending how I wanted to look at it.

Therefore, failure has made me more adventurous and human than I ever thought I would be. It made me see the world in a whole new light and appreciate and recognize the value of everything I have, by God's good grace, even more.

Bottom line, I have become pretty good a failure and that makes me feel damn proud. I can fail with the best of 'em!

22 April, 2018


I have had some experience lately with giving out what presumably was the wrong impressions. That is easy to do, particularly when it comes to Facebook dialogue that can easily be misinterpreted because it hides true inner character.  Generally speaking, the written word more often than not has to be patronizing in order to be accepted, or liked by people who you have never met in person.

Quite frankly, there have been times when I got the feeling that I was giving off a "stinking" impression, particularly with my penchant for getting under the skin of self-absorbed people.

It is quite different with personal contact where words are not necessarily required to give out influences -- or vibes.  We do this in the same way that each flower emits its particular odor.  The rose breathes out its fragrance upon the air and all who come near it are pleasantly impacted.

A poisonous weed, however, sends out an obnoxious odor and if one remains near it for long they may be so unpleasantly affected as to be made ill by it.

Interestingly, we are told that the mariners who sailed on the Indian Seas, many times were able to tell their approach to certain islands long before they saw them by the sweet fragrance of sandalwood that wafted far out onto the deep.

Such are the subtle powers of the human soul when it makes itself translucent to the Devine Order. There is a message for us in all of this. Each one of us is continually radiating an atmosphere, or vibe of one kind or another, that people pick up on. Ideally, and in a perfect world, we cultivate and radiate positive soulful impressions that are conducive to love, peace and joy all around us. It is a worthy intention.

I just find it difficult to go around smelling nice all the time just so that I can be readily accepted by all and sundry.  Maybe I'm more like the deceptive Hollyhock, virtually odorless and just a little prickly if rubbed the wrong way.

21 April, 2018


In a Wrights Lane video I vented about government debt that will most certainly end up being nothing but a tax on future generations. I purposely stayed away from any references to particular federal or provincial leaders.

History, however, is replete with examples of good and bad leaders...Nothing new there.

Queen Elizabeth 1, for instance, was a much respected monarch who said: "It is not given to man to tax and be loved."  One would presume that what she meant was that a ruler cannot tax excessively and be respected by his or her subjects.  She practiced what she preached, taxed modestly and was adored by her nation.

Peter the Great was a Russian Czar who followed a long line of incompetent leaders. He abolished the plow tax and the household tax which together had been crippling the economy and replaced them with a simple and single poll tax on all males.  Peasants who worked hard and purchased new equipment and lands could keep the extra revenues generated.  He at least temporarily reversed the declining Russian economy by remaking the tax system, stimulating economic growth and decentralizing the state.

William Tell is famed in Switzerland not for shooting an apple off his son's head, but for inciting a successful tax revolt against Austria's King Rudolph. In 1315, Rudolph's troops descended on the Swiss infantry outnumbering them almost 10-1 and were still defeated...Apparently the Swiss were stronger when mad than the Austrians were greedy.

Sticking to the good, the bad and the ugly in leadership throughout history, modern Canadiana has had its share of the bad.  In the 1970s the Liberals gave us such an enormous per capita bureaucracy it was laughable on the world stage, and Pierre Trudeau himself will forever be remembered as the godfather of deficit financing.

Despite PC leader Brian Mulroney's '84 campaign promise to give civil servants "pink slips and running shoes," like a good liberal he hired a whole bunch more when he became PM and gave us the GST.  As England's Margaret Thatcher noted in her memoirs, he was a Progressive Conservative who placed far too much emphasis on the adjective.

Sometimes ya just gotta laugh!  It beats crying.


*Click on the arrow and be sure to enlarge the screen for better viewing.

18 April, 2018


It is with a great deal of relief that I herewith announce that I successfully passed my first over 80 driving test yesterday in Owen Sound and for you youngens whose time has yet to come, don't worry -- it is a piece of cake.

It is interesting to note that Ontario has the highest concentration of seniors in Canada and it is the only province to to test drivers over 80 years of age, which in retrospect seems quite logical.

Naturally, it is a shock when you receive that first notice announcing that you will be required to take a compulsory driving test before your license can be renewed, especially when you are still feeling kind of good about yourself because you have just reached that 80 years milestone. I found my initial shock turning to resentment, discrimination and anger, then finally anxiety.  Everyone in my test class expressed experiencing similar emotions, all so unnecessary as it turned out.

It’s a touchy subject. As our population ages, our idea of what constitutes “old” shifts accordingly. “Old” is always someone who is … older than me. Is it discriminatory to obligate someone who has been driving for 60 years to undergo retesting? No. Just like it’s not discriminatory to not allow 15-year-olds to drive, or 18-year-olds to drink, or 54-year-olds to get a deal at Shoppers Drug Mart on senior’s day. We put barriers in place all the time for many reasons.

Driving barriers are usually there for safety reasons. When you’re piloting a tonne of killing machine, there should be barriers. If you’re a lousy driver and rack up demerit points, you can lose your licence at any age. But the same way most places have adopted a graduated licence for people learning to drive, it makes sense to acknowledge the very act of aging can have an impact on those same skills.

That said, and in all fairness, seniors continue to have the best driving record of all driving groups in Ontario, so good on us!

Currently, if you’re 70 and over and have an at-fault collision, you could be required to take the G2 exit road test at a Drive Test facility. This is a strict component of our law. Admittedly, years of driving ingrain some bad habits, and the test forces an individual all the way back to basics.  And there is nothing wrong with a refresher.

When you hit 80 in Ontario, you are required to take part in the aforementioned retesting. In a conference room setting, you’ll be with about 15 other people. Your driving record will have already been reviewed. You will do a vision test, in a machine like the one you’ve seen in an optician's office. You will also view a 45-minute video that presents some scenarios to start discussion. It talks about new laws and road signs along with tips for older drivers. You’ll explore strengths that senior drivers have, from experience and judgment and their sense of responsibility, and limitations including changes in vision, loss of flexibility and compromised reaction times.

Finally, a newly implemented test addresses cognitive impairment. You will be shown a clock face with a time indicated, which is then taken down. You have five minutes to draw a circle, put in the clock numbers, and have the hands indicate the time. This tests visuospatial ability, how you recognize and organize information.

Next, you are  given a sheet of paper containing a block of letters. You have five minutes to cross out all the Hs. This tests psychomotor speed – how fast you can interpret and co-ordinate information.
Cognitive skills aren’t tested by memorizing information, which is why these tests are so important. Deceptively simple to those with no cognitive impairment, they are instantly revealing of those who are cognitively impaired.

After age 65, 10 per cent of the population will have mild dementia, which can increase the chance of a crash by 4.7 per cent. Adjusted for miles driven, Statistics Canada reveals that drivers over 70 are the second highest group to be involved in a collision, behind only teen males. An even bigger danger? It’s those older drivers who are less likely to have good outcomes. With age comes fragility, and fatality rates are higher than for those males. You may not be involved in a high-speed crash, but your ability to recover even from the small ones is compromised.

Years of research apparently went into the new test, spearheaded by CANDRIVE, an international association that combines the work of researchers in many disciplines. Their aim is to keep older drivers driving, safely. The cognitive tests have been used for some time in other settings and they present no language barrier.

Both the Ontario Ministry of Transport and researchers stress this exercise is not about yanking licences, but about keeping seniors driving safely for as long as they can. You could be required to take a road test based on the outcome of this classroom session, or be required to follow-up with your doctor for further medical information.

In my group of 16 testers, one man was not granted a licence renewal due to peripheral vision problems and was referred for further optical tests while a woman was deferred pending a subsequent road test at a later date.  Otherwise 14 of us walked away feeling very much like we did some 65-70 years ago when we received a passing grade from a school teacher.

After all, it isn't every day you get to correctly draw a clock and pick the "H" out of a mass of letters.

The over 80 test is done every two years voluntarily resolve to quit driving or you pass on to your Heavenly reward.  Which ever comes first.

15 April, 2018


WHERE ROSANNE LIVES 24/7:  My wife would shoot me if she knew I snapped this photo.  She has not allowed her photo to be taken since we were married, September, 2002.

There is no end of supportive advice for individuals who find themselves in the unfortunate position of  being a primary care giver for a family loved one.  The only problem is that very little, if anything, has been written by those who actually have lived the life of a care giver.

None of us, young or old, ever dream of living out our twilight years sentenced to a primary care giving role. That is just not the way the cookie is supposed to crumble.

You know, "the plan was idealistically to grow old together – holding hands, in rocking chairs on the porch and enjoying the grand-kids."  For many couples, this part of the dream has not quite come true. For those who have found themselves in the all too common position of being a caregiver to their spouse – the story has changed drastically.

Not too surprisingly, over 56% of the 50 million family caregivers are solely responsible for a spouse, according to the National Family Caregivers Association. I am a member of that not-too-exclusive club, not once but twice during the last 23 years of my life (10 years caring for a terminally ill first wife and 11 with second wife Rosanne.)  It is not fair, but what are you going to do?

Suffice to say, I am a battle-scarred veteran of the caregiver war -- twice over.  Thank God that I will never come this way again.

There is no escape valve for a care giver. Unless you are heartless, there is no alternative but to make the best of a very bad situation: 1) Because you love the other half in your relationship and 2) you are committed to an "in sickness and health" nuptial vow.  Bottom line, you find strength and staying power you never knew you had.

But, make no mistake, it can be frustrating, depressing, exhausting -- and lonely.

It is not my intention to cry on your shoulder with this post, dear friend.  I merely want to tell it like it is in the hope that there will be a few who can relate to my experience and a few more who will understand. Still others, yet to walk in my shoes, can also tuck what I say in their memory bank for, God help them, future reference.

When you become a primary caregiver, for all intents and purposes you give up your previous life. There is no time for hobbies, special interests and previous socializing.  Out of necessity, you prioritize and acquire skills previously foreign to you, like shopping for all household necessities (grocery stores, drug stores, banking) cooking, house keeping, laundry. You literally learn the hard way to become the equivalent of a practical nurse.
RosanneNme, September 14, 2002
Little did we know then...

In my case, Rosanne has become increasingly limited in the things she can do for herself, including toiletry, bathing and personal hygiene in general. She is confined 24/7 to her lift chair in our living room cum hospital room, dependent on me for absolutely everything.  Cancer, colitis, CO PD, gross obesity, fibromyalgia, onslaught of dementia and psychological issues all contribute to her current delicate condition.  I am interrupted countless times a day to attend to particular needs. For instance, I started writing an hour ago and have been called away from the computer three times, first to empty the commode and to attend to her after a bowel movement, then to get a glass of ice water followed by a request to pick up a TV converter that had been dropped...Story of my life!.

Untold times a day I hear "Oh Dick, oh Dick!"  When I ask, "What is it Rosanne?" invariably she replies "Oh nothing...Just Oh Dick." I have come to fully understand the meaning behind those words of exasperation, discomfort and helplessness.

The poor dear girl tries hard not to be overly demanding and needy, but there are frequent times when she cannot help herself.  A disabled person requires a lot of attention and that goes with the territory.

After supper at night I begin to run out of steam, patience and tolerance.  With any luck Rosanne will dose off to sleep and that is my opportunity to escape to my office and trusty computer where I derive therapy through genealogy research, writing and plain and simple mind wandering.  Many mornings I am still at it when the sun comes up and I hear Rosanne asking "Is breakfast ready*?"

Thankfully Rosanne sleeps a lot through the day too and I take advantage of the lull for those blessed cat naps that are such a salvation for any primary care giver. Regardless, I am constantly fatigued.

I find that communication is vital in situations like ours.  I try to keep Rosanne apprised of what is going on in the outside world.  I frequently ask her how she is feeling...and more often than not get a vague answer. When I can draw her away from the television soap operas, game shows and old movies that have become her life, we engage in small talk and -- yes, arguments over silly, small matters that are the result of mutual frustrations and frayed emotions.

Rosanne is a second-guesser by nature, especially when it comes to money management, my shopping choices, meal menus and my frequent lapses of memory.  I have never been a woulda, shoulda, coulda sort of guy and frequently find myself in the position of being damned if I do and damned if I don't....That's when I find it better to turn the other cheek and to develop selective hearing.

One of my major challenges is to keep a sufficient variety of food on hand to meet Rosanne's fluctuating tastes. I insist, however, on not becoming a sort-order chef capable of producing on demand.  Hardly a day goes by when I do not have to run to the grocery store to pick up something I had inadvertently forgotten in the previous day's shopping trip.

I often feel guilty and hate myself when through my anxiety I have been insensitive and said things that I wish I hadn't. I try not to let those types of situations pass without an apology and a gentle hug or a consoling stroke on the arm.  There is something to be said about skin-on-skin contact.

On the upside, Rosanne has a short memory. She does not hold a grudge and frequently tells me how grateful she is a and how much she loves me.  She has a soft heart and is extremely emotional, crying one minute and laughing the next. I make light of situations and tease her a lot.  She, in return, threatens me with physical harm.  We share a unique brand of joviality.

I should probably explain here what I meant when I mentioned being lonely in the introduction to this piece. There is a big difference between being lonely and being alone. Many spouse caregivers talk about the loneliness of being a caregiver – even, or perhaps especially, when their spouse is right there with them. When the person you married is no longer able to be as present in the relationship – the loneliness can feel worse than if they were not there at all. Often there is a sense of resentment and anger that they did not hold up their end of the bargain...that fate has dealt you a cruel blow. We continually make allowances and avoid speaking about what once was. The past becomes but a distant memory.

A long time ago I stopped attending church and other public gatherings because I got tired of well-meaning people asking "how's your wife?"  I simply ran out of answers and meaningful explanations when people, in the end, do not understand the circumstances anyway. Generally, I believe, there is a perception that a gravely ill person either gets better -- or dies.

I see other couples our age enjoying a pleasant repast in a local coffee shop or restaurant, taking vacations together, attending social activities, walking hand-in-hand past our house on warm summer evenings...and I am envious.  My heart aches. If only we could do those things once again. We had so little time after marrying. I had hoped for more.

The stock suggestion for people in my situation is: "Consider giving up the tasks that are the most taxing or perhaps cause the most stress on your relationship. Having a paid caregiver do the bathing, incontinence care and feeding for example, can allow you to get back to being in a marriage with your partner – focusing on sharing, visiting or just being together. Try to allow yourself the time to just 'be' with your partner – not always focusing on what you need to 'do'."

To which I say "very ideal, but in reality much easier said that done."

Allow me to explain.

In the past 10 years, Rosanne has been hospitalized for extended intensive-care stays on three different occasions, the most recent being last spring and summer when she was a month-long respite care patient in Southampton before being transferred to a rehabilitation facility in Wiarton for another three-month period.  She was deemed well enough to return home in August, although I think that more honestly they needed her bed.  If I was not prepared to resume primary care responsibilities at home, officials confided that they did not know what they would do with her, nor where they could send her next. 

As before, we were again provided with home care services that included regular visits by nurses and personal aid attendants, physio and occupational therapists and case mangers. This on top of technicians calling regularly to monitor Rosanne's oxygen equipment. Our home became a glorified Grand Central Station. We are very private people and the constant "invasion" caused us undue stress. 

In time Care Partner visits became redundant and when it was obvious that I was more than capable of taking care of Rosanne on my own, our case was terminated pending future need.  We rejoiced...our home was our own again. Outside help may be the answer in some instances, but not ours. Ultimately I will know when enough is enough.

So we carry on, taking one day at at time.  A few weeks ago we had to cancel Rosanne's final chemotherapy appointment in Owen Sound because she was simply not travel worthy. I do not know what will become of that development.  Meantime we mark time.

I struggle with the thought of what would become of Rosanne if my health started to decline.  I'm 10 years older than her and you never know. In the past 10 years I have had major foot and ankle surgery and a total hip replacement.  Shoulder surgery has been put on hold for obvious reasons and out of necessity I continue to grin and bear it, like I do so many other things in our life.

We soldier on, the two of us.  We'll do this our way because we would not have it any other way.

I'm in for the long haul, come what may.  I'm kind of stubborn that way.

"Oh Dick, oh Dick!"

*NOTE FROM DICK:  If still interested, you are invited to read about my first stint as a caregiver for the first Mrs. Wright, Anne (1940-2000).  See "One Couple's Struggle With Cancer"

12 April, 2018


Kerry Leitch is shown on the left in this 1959 photo with other London Majors teammates, Crawford Douglas, Stan "Gabby" Anderson and Roy McKay.

I am fascinated by people of contrasts, especially those who have the aptitude and motivation to live their contrasts to the fullest.
I don't often write about guys I played sports against but Woodstock's Kerry Leitch is an exception, not only because he was a good all 'round athlete but because of the unusual mix of the two main sports he was involved in -- baseball and figure skating.

I first learned about Kerry Leitch when reading The London Free Press sports pages in 1954 and '55. His name cropped up frequently in connection with the London Majors of the Senior Intercounty Baseball League.  I came across him in person in the summer of  '55 when teams from Wallaceburg and Strathroy met in a neutral grounds OBA playoff final in my hometown of Dresden, ON.  Kerry was a catcher and his battery mate in that game was Paul Langlois of River Canard (Windsor) who would later become a member of the Intercounty's St. Thomas Elgins and a life-long personal friend.

In those days, as I recall, London Majors had a working arrangement with nearby Strathroy, where younger players would spend a season developing their skill before moving up to the big team.

Kerry was an excellent defensive catcher with a better-than-average bat and good enough to earn tryouts with the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals. He became a full-fledged member of the Majors in 1956 and played with the team well into the 1960s, winning several Sr. I-C titles along the way.  In fact during his time the London team would go through three names -- Majors, Diamonds and Pontiacs. (Strange that he had a habit of being absent for a number of the team's official photos.) The thing I remember most about him was that he was the first catcher I ever saw wear a peakless helmet under his mask when behind the plate.  Always kind of an innovator.
Kerry, circa 1960

But that is only half of the Kerry Leitch story.

Growing up in Woodstock, he also wanted to play hockey and this desire led to lessons in figure skating to improve his skating ability. At the age of 10 his parents enrolled him in the Woodstock Figure Skating Club so he could learn to skate properly for hockey. As a youngster he had always wanted to be a professional baseball player. He idolized Major League players like Yogi Berra, Mike Hegan, Mickey Mantle, Bob Feller, and in hockey, he looked up to Teeder Kennedy, Max Bentley, Gordie Howe and Turk Broda.

“I found I really enjoyed figure skating and consequently played hockey and figure skated throughout my youth,” he once explained.

At the age of 17 he began coaching part-time to help pay for college. He wanted to be an aeronautical engineer, and attended the University of Detroit in pursuit of that dream. But it was expensive and proved too costly for him to continue, so he returned to semi-pro baseball and coaching figure skating since he enjoyed working with young people.

He couldn’t have known then that his decision to enter the coaching ranks while still playing baseball would transform the world of Canadian figure skating for decades to come.

Many of his skaters would go on to compete at the World Championships and Olympic Games, and he became one of the most highly touted figure skating coaches on the planet and virtually a household name in the sport.

Based in Cambridge at the Preston Figure Skating Club, his first students of note would be pairs skaters Paul Mills and Josie France-Jamieson. Other Preston Figure Skating Club athletes to win  awards in subsequent years included Lloyd Eisler and Katherine Matousek – they were two-time winners, in 1984 and 1985 – Cindy Landry and Lyndon Johnston (1989), and Doug Ladret and Christine “Tuffy” Hough (1992).

Kerry was the consummate coach. His job didn’t stop with the end of the workday. Typically, he would work 12-15 hour days, though often it was -even more than that. An extremely driven and motivated person, he always had a passion for his work, something that separated him from many others. His challenge? To develop world-class athletes.

Along the way he has been an innovator, pioneering the concept of Team Coaching, where he would surround himself with talented coaches. Together they built nothing less than a skating empire in what was then the small town of Preston. For two decades, from 1975 to 1995, no skating club in Canada produced as many Canadian champions as the Preston Figure Skating Club.

The club’s success bred more success, with skaters coming from far and wide to study their sport under an acknowledged master.

By the mid-70’s, the now retired baseball catcher had carved out a niche as a world-class skating coach. He knew that coaches play a far larger role in the development of a young athlete than most people realize. “I always believed it was very important to work diligently to develop each athlete’s skills in life,” he was once quoted as saying.

Which is why he emphasized things like sportsmanship, manners, and public speaking. “I always wanted the athlete to leave the sport of figure skating as a well-rounded and good person. The medals and championships won on their path to success as a person were just a bonus.”

“The sport is a beautiful sport and the only tarnish is the bureaucratic political influence of the officials who have sacrificed their once good intentions for self-gain.” This political dishonesty in some quarters somewhat spoiled the latter years of his coaching career, “but the memories of the wonderful athletes I have been fortunate enough to train, will always be with me,” he emphasized.

And he pointed to the Kurt Brownings, the Scott Hamiltons, and the Barbara Ann Scotts as representing the “true meaning of the sport.”
Kerry, today

As a former Figure Skating Coaches of Canada President and board member of the Canadian Figure Skating Association (now Skate Canada), Leitch helped to push the sport forward through his roles as a coach and sport administrator. He authored figure skating coach certification courses in both Canada and the USA, and was a featured presenter at many Canadian, US and ISU seminars for coaches, skaters and judges.

Actually, his list of credits would run on for a couple of pages. He was chief referee at the Goodwill games in Lake Placid in February, 2000, and was a multiple winner of the Longines-Wittnauer Coaching Excellence Award presented by the Coaching Association of Canada. He is a also a Cambridge Sports Hall of Fame inductee and a member of the Skate Canada Hall of Fame...Not bad for an old baseball catcher!

Kerry's coaching career eventually took him to Florida in the 1990s where he eventually retired in Bradenton with his wife Kathy.  The Leitchs of course are grandparents, a number of times over.

I'm kind of glad that I knew Kerry Leitch when...

10 April, 2018


"Personally, I am going to miss these boys. My boys. I’ll miss seeing them on the couch chilling with our kids or having a Nerf gun battle. I’ll miss watching them play ridiculous games like trying to throw chocolate-covered almonds into each other’s mouths at the same time. I’ll miss hearing Cavin sing every song off the radio and I’ll miss watching Kolten shaking his head while Cavin sings. I’ll miss chatting with them after their games while we make a plate of nachos. I know they’ll miss my famous smoothies in the morning. Most of all, I’ll miss watching these fantastic hockey players hit the ice to play a sport they love. I’m so glad we chose to billet and I feel fortunate to have played a role in Kolten and Cavin’s lives. They are and always will be part of my family by choice."  -- Recently spoken by a hockey "billet Mom".

I posted an item on my Facebook timeline about a wonderful woman from Humboldt, Saskatchewan, who was the "billet mom" for three of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey players who died in a horrendous bus crash last weekend.  "Goodbye my sweet sons!" she said in the caption accompanying a heart-wrenching photo showing the three smiling young hockey players sitting around her kitchen table.

Not only did that image tug at my heart strings, but it reminded me of my youth when five dear women opened their doors to me in a period between 1955 and 1960.  Two were baseball billet moms and three were more in keeping with traditional room-and-board land ladies.  Four of the five were definitely second mothers to me.

The fifth, I don't know...She was very regimental and had a strange way of showing her motherly love, chastising me for taking too much time in the bathroom, being late for breakfast and making too much noise chewing my food once I got there. Oddly enough, however, I was her favorite go-to-guy for household chores and driving her to weekend visits with relatives.  Maybe she felt she could pick on me because I was the youngest of her four boarders.  As I say, I don't know...

What I remember most about my billet moms and landladies in Florida, St. Thomas and Toronto is that they all took a personal interest in me, like they would do with their own sons. Their homes were my home.  At no time did I feel confined to my bedroom.  They were all excellent cooks, providing breakfasts and nourishing evening meals along with brown bags lunches.  Laundry was always part of the package arrangement, $15.00-$17.00 a week inclusive.

I was even included in special family functions, including holiday weekend activities. Hot chocolate and other snacks were often delivered unannounced by Rita Tunstead for me and a roommate in her East Toronto home.  I kept in touch with Rita and her husband Ernie for years.

Mrs. Gladys Reid of St. Thomas still holds a special place in my heart.  We sat in evenings sharing personal stories, frequently laughing and sometimes crying. She rejoiced in my achievements and consoled me when I did not do well in baseball or broke up with a particular girlfriend of the day. I can't remember what we had discussed one evening, but not too long after retiring she slipped into my bedroom and gave me a kiss on the cheek. (It should be explained that Mrs.Reid was at least 70 years of age. She had facial paralysis and I still feel that quick hen peck with misshapened lips sweeping past my cheek.)  She exited as swiftly as she had entered.  No words were spoken. A boy never forgets something like that.

The remarkable thing about Mrs. Reid was that she regularly accommodated three and four young men at a time in her small two-bedroom bungalow -- two beds were in her enclosed front porch.  For years she slept on a pull-out couch in her living room. I am convinced that she did not do it for the few dollars that would be left over from her grocery bill each week.  She did it because she wanted to.

I was a pall bearer at Mrs. Reid's funeral not too long after that.

Another land lady, Mrs. Velma Neil, was also so special that she was an invited guest at my wedding in 1960, sitting along with my mother and other family members.

I conclude by thanking all those remarkable women everywhere, then and now, who give impressionable young men a home away from home as they find their way in the world, sports or otherwise.  God bless their souls!

08 April, 2018


The following simple but heartfelt Facebook letter was written by Deanna Leigh.  It needs to be considered by all of us in the wake of the Humboldt (Sask.) Broncos hockey team disaster.

Dear Saskatchewan Truck Driver,

As we all sit back and contemplate everything that has occurred since the collision and start to process the massive emotional impact of the death of 15 people, I want you to know you are in our minds too. Please know that some of us are thinking of you as well.

Although the exact cause of the collision and the events leading up to it remain unknown to us, we do know that you didn’t set out to do harm as you turned the ignition that fateful day.

You survived. You need help to overcome this tragic incident that is taking a significant toll on you and your family as well. I sincerely hope you will be able to heal and I know that other Canadians wish the same.

From the heart,
A fellow Canadian.

03 April, 2018


In our Internet age, there is a plethora of information available at the click of a button. So much so, that it’s hard to know what to believe anymore and leading me to ask for the umpteenth time "Is truth under assault?"  I am continually disturbed by the countless websites and politically-biased blogs that  have been masquerading as legitimate news outlets and publishing outlandish articles that grab people’s attention. 

Writers create stories full of embellishment and false claims from “unnamed sources”, slap on sensationalist titles, and then share them with the world. And it works! Curious readers can’t help but click on these catchy headlines. Granted, some of the misinformation floating around on the Internet is relatively harmless. However, given the contentious times we live in, fake news stories run the risk of further dividing us.  Consider too, that I am not even touching on the hate and   bigotry that is frequently spewed on social media (a subject unto itself).  I am equally bothered by the malicious, mean and hurtful personal attacks levelled against individuals -- public figures or otherwise -- with gay abandon and often without deserved provocation.  But that too is another story.

Historical Context

It is worth noting that fake news is not a modern creation. In fact, news publications have been writing bombastic stories and stretching the truth for years. Known as “yellow journalism”, it became a popular strategy for selling newspapers around the turn of the century. Even today, yellow journalism continues in the form of tabloids and gossip magazines. 
So, what’s the big deal? Fake news has been around forever. Why are people worried about it now? Partly, it’s the times we live in. The newspaper industry is in the midst of a decline, and more people than ever before are relying on the Internet to keep them up-to-date. Only a minority choose to read online versions of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Toronto Star or Globe & Mail.  In fact, studies show that roughly 62 percent of adults are getting their news from Facebook. How unfortunate!Facebook has been accused of spreading fake news
Fake news articles are thriving in the Facebook environment, where users scroll quickly through their feeds looking for interesting stuff. People often share links based on the headline alone – without bothering to look at the authenticity of the source. This allows phony articles to spread like wildfire as they get shared over and over again.
* It should be underlined here that along with a new computer, I have installed a new security system that blocks potential malware when I am foolish enough to click on what looks to be an interesting graphic, video, news item, clever saying or expression.  Almost unbelievably, 80 percent of friends' Facebook posts that I have clicked on in the past week have been rejected for security reasons.

So, dear friends, when you think that you are sharing useful or inspiring tidbits from unknown sources there is a very good chance that you are innocently picking up viruses and passing them along to equally innocent friends and in so doing lending yourselves to the scammers and phishers of the world who are ruining social media in general...and for you and I in particular.

Some fake news outlets even use legitimate-sounding names to further confuse people. For example, an article posted by “The Denver Guardian” was shared over half a million times on Facebook. As it turns out, “The Denver Guardian” doesn’t exist. A curious news reporter decided to visit the listed address, and all they found was a tree sitting in an empty parking lot.

Moving Forward

There’s no getting around it: a lot of nasty rhetoric has been thrown around over the past year and there is a sense that many of our brothers and sisters are feeling increasingly divided. However, the last thing we need moving forward is more finger pointing and name calling. There are many problems in the world, but we don’t stand a chance of solving them unless we work together.

Upholding the virtue of truth

All the hubbub surrounding fake news also serves as an important reminder about staying true to one’s values and beliefs. One of the core tenets is “to do that which is right”. This means upholding a standard of truth and honesty at all times. Especially in these politically polarized times, it’s important to engage honestly with one another – even if we disagree. Starting a dialogue and listening to opposing ideas is the first step toward developing a mutual understanding.
Sure, there may be people out there seeking to make a buck by spreading lies and misinformation – but that does not mean we have to stand for it. As individuals, we are obligated to resist these petty efforts to create divisions in our society. We cannot assume everything we read on the Internet is true, nor should we allow ourselves to pass judgment without getting both sides of the story.

Do your due-diligence research before jumping to conclusions on any issue or cause.  Truth still matters...and eventually wins out in the end.

01 April, 2018


The word "Grace" has special meaning for me. First and foremost, it was my mother's name.

Other meanings of grace:

---the ballerina moved with grace across the stage; her form and fluid motion were a delight to behold.

---the family always said grace before their meal, thanking God for the food they were about to receive.

In Christian orthodoxy, however, grace takes on special meaning. A simple acronym has been memorized by many student ministers: God’s Redemption At Christ’s Expense.

On Good Friday, the church paused to recognize with humble gratitude its belief that when Jesus died, he carried our sins to the cross. By paying the price for our wrongdoing, He enabled us to receive God’s forgiveness---unearned and unmerited by us, simply a gift freely bestowed.

If grace is an unmerited gift from God (or from the universe, our lucky stars or blind fate) then it can also be as well found outside church walls and beyond traditional theology. Nadia Bolz-Weber described that concept this way: "God’s grace is not defined as God’s being forgiving to us even though we sin. Grace is a source of wholeness which makes up for my failings." 

We can cling to that source of wholeness to help us practice self-acceptance despite our many shortcomings. Following some scary, near-miss in heavy highway traffic, a driver might be heard muttering with relief: “But for the grace of God, I could have been killed.” We gratefully accept such Divine intervention, knowing that our driving “failings” could have produced fatal results. (A mystery then arises: why did another driver killed in a wreck not receive that same grace?)

Grace is evident when many of us recognize that the blessing of being born in Canada had nothing to do with our efforts or earned merit but was a freely-bestowed gift of the universe. Similarly, "as I stopped to gaze in awe at the sparkling purity of those mini-icebergs decorating our hushed Huron lakeside this past week, I experienced a sacred moment of grace, also freely given to anyone else taking the time to receive it," wrote oft-quoted Bob Johnston in the Saugeen Times on Saturday.

In relationships, we might be fortunate enough to receive forgiveness from someone whom we have wronged. Despite our many imperfections, we may also be the unmerited beneficiary of unconditional love from another human, a gift we could never be perfect enough to earn on merit. That too is grace.

On March 23rd, a gunman in the French town of Trebes took hostages amid his deadly rampage. A police officer, Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame, age 44, volunteered to take the place of a female hostage in exchange for her freedom. She was freed; he was murdered. All those involved in that terrorist attack witnessed an unforgettable act of supreme grace.

It may then be said that courage and grace often go hand-in-hand.

27 March, 2018


Wouldn't you know it!  I got a new computer on the weekend and now I can't think of a single thing to write on it...The well has suddenly gone dry, so to speak.

I find it rather strange how attached I became to the old virus and malware infected word processor that I reluctantly traded in for an upgrade Lenovo "Think Centre" with all its bells and whistles.  I am sure that this too shall pass, but it may take a day or two for me to make the adjustment.

Meantime, as a pump-primer and speaking of my old computer, I was totally shocked to learn that in a little more than a year's time I had unknowingly amassed more than 800 forms of malware...and here I thought that I was being particularly security conscious and careful of what I click on.  I first became suspicious when I began receiving pop-ups when working online.  Then came bogus emails from friends promoting all kinds of products and services (Viagra, health foods and exercise programs being some of the more popular).  Eventually my identity was stolen and our online banking disastrously compromised, causing untold inconvenience. Ultimately the computer crashed and I could no longer gain access to my data.  So don't think it can't happen to you because IT CAN.

Every time you click your cursor on a Facebook "shared" bit of wisdom, a clever expression from an anonymous source, or a video that sparks your curiosity, there is a 90 per cent chance you have added malware to your computer. We've all been exposed, no one escapes.

One of the straws that finally broke the camel's back may well have come early last week when I innocently and happily accepted a bogus Facebook friendship request from an old friend who (as it turned out) had been the victim of identity theft.  I honestly do not know how they got my name in this case, but there you go...Once I accepted the request, they had me.

Malware, short for "malicious software," refers to a type of computer program designed to infect a legitimate user's computer and inflict harm on it in multiple ways. Malware can infect computers and devices in several ways and comes in a number of forms, just a few of which include viruses, worms, Trojans, spy ware and more. It's vital that all users know how to recognize and protect themselves from malware in all of its forms.

So what is malware? It comes in a bewildering variety of forms. Computer viruses are probably the most familiar type of malware — so named because they spread by making copies of themselves. Worms have a similar property. Other types of malware, such as spy ware, are named for what they do: In the case of spy ware, it transmits personal information, such as credit card numbers.

Now, the next logical questions are, "who is creating malware, and why?" The days when most malware was created by teenage pranksters are long gone. Malware today is largely designed by and for professional criminals.

These criminals may employ a variety of sophisticated tactics. In some cases, as technology site Public CIO notes, cyber criminals have even "locked up" computer data — making the information inaccessible — then demanded ransom from the users to get that data back.

But the main risk that cyber criminals pose to heavy computer users like me is stealing online banking information such as banking and credit card accounts and passwords. The criminal hackers who steal this information may then use it to drain your account or run up fraudulent credit card bills in your name. Or they may sell your account information on the black market, where this confidential information fetches a good price.  In my case the perpetrator operated out of India of all places. At one point after the accounts had been blocked, he even contacted me by telephone posing as a bank security officer wanting more information in order to "help clear up the matter" for me. These people stop at nothing!

So now that leads to the biggest question of all: "How do I make sure my computer or network is malware-free?"  The answer has two parts: Personal vigilance, and protective tools. (My new computer is now monitored 24/7 by an off-site professional security technician.)

As I say, one of the most popular ways to spread malware is by email, which may be disguised to look as if it is from a familiar company such as a bank, or what seems to be a personal email from a friend asking you to "check out this cool site." (I get at least two or three of these every day.) Never, never let your curiosity get the best of you and click on links accompanying any suspicious email messages.  Trust you gut instinct on this.

Be wary also of emails that ask you to provide passwords. Personal vigilance is the first layer of protection against malware, but simply being careful is not enough. Because business security is not perfect, even downloads from legitimate sites can sometimes have malware attached. Which means that even the most prudent user is at risk, unless you take additional measures.

Malware security protection provides that second vital layer of protection for your computer or network. A robust antivirus software package is the primary component of technological defenses that every personal and business computer system should have.

Well-designed antivirus protection has several characteristics. It checks any newly downloaded program to ensure that it is malware-free. It periodically scans the computer to detect and defeat any malware that might have slipped through. It is regularly updated to recognize the latest threats.

Good antivirus protection can also recognize — and warn against — even previously unknown malware threats, based on technical features (such as attempting to "hide" on a computer) that are characteristic of malware. In addition, robust antivirus software detects and warns against suspicious websites, especially those that may be designed for "phishing" (a technique that tricks users into entering passwords or account numbers). So shop around. It is an absolute necessity if you want to continue participating in any form of social media.

If you regularly copy and share third party Facebook posts and free online snippets on any number of topics (motivational, political, religious, humorous, cute babies and animals) on your timeline, chances are you have already subjected your computer to large doses of malware and you will ultimately experience the ramifications at some point.

No protection is absolute, of course. But a combination of personal awareness and well-designed protective tools will make your computer as safe as it can be.  Trust me, I've learned the hard way and in the future I will be extremely careful of what I chose to view on Facebook and Twitter.  I will ere on the side of caution and, consequently, will not enjoy the online experience quite as much.  Sad but true!

Don't say that I didn't alert you, my friend! 

19 March, 2018


I'm probably not like the average reader of Wrights Lane(?).  I have done things wrong in my life, both knowingly and unknowingly.  I have made errors in judgment. I have made mistakes to the point that my deceased loved ones surely would be disappointed in me -- if, in fact, they were somehow looking down, or watching over me.

Another for-instance in a similar vein:  My first wife passed away after 40 years of marriage. In life she was a brutally frank person, never hesitating to give me the benefit of her opinion when she was unhappy with something I'd done. What does she think of me remarrying and more to the point, does she approve of the life I now have with another woman? I can't express it any more tactfully than that. Suffice to say, down deep it has all kind of bothered me.

But, God have mercy...Surely that is not the way it is.  How completely inhumane for both the living and the dead if this was actually the case. How contrary to the concept of heaven as described in the Christian Bible.

We often hear Christian people say that deceased loved ones are watching over them, taking care of them, smiling down on them, or sending them signs. Mediums make a living by advancing the theory. Granted, it is a nice thought, but the Bible doesn’t specifically have much to say about this topic, although there are several clues in Scripture that seem to show that this is not true.

Humans do create unsubstantiated beliefs that feed into their best interests and those of others at difficult times.

1. He will not return to me.

In 2 Samuel, we see David, a distraught father who has lost his only child. He has been fasting and praying that God might spare his son’s life, but when the child passes away, David makes this statement:

"But, now that he is dead, why should I go on fasting? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me. (2 Samuel 12:23)"

David shows here that the child is now gone, never to return to this Earth. He talks about how they will one day be reunited in Heaven, but until that time, David indicates that they are separated. He does not seem to expect the child to leave him signs of any kind or to be a presence in his life.

2. Present with the Lord.

In 2 Corinthians 5:8, the Bible tells us that when we are absent from the body we are present with the Lord. In other passages we get glimpses of what being in the presence of the Lord might look like. Isaiah and Revelation both paint vivid pictures of the singular focus of those in Heaven, as they gather round the throne of God singing an eternal song of worship and praise, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

There is no indication in these descriptions of Heaven or any other place in Scripture that those in Heaven are involved in, or cognizant of, the things that are happening on Earth. Although some claim that the “great cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12:1 indicates that our loved ones are watching us, John MacArthur, teacher, pastor, author and creator of the Grace to You ministry, explains why this passage doesn’t support that idea:

"The witnesses in that verse are not modern-day loved ones, but the faithful saints in Hebrews 11 who lived victorious lives by trusting God. Those saints are witnesses to us because their lives testify about the value of trusting God no matter what hardships we face. They are active witnesses who speak to us by their example; not passive witnesses who watch us with their eyes.

"Hebrews 11 shows how the great fathers of the faith lived out that faith. Their stories witness to us about trusting God, and they are the witnesses mentioned in verse 12:1. These aren’t our loved ones witnessing what we do, but Abraham, Isaac, and others whose lives witness to us."

3. No tears in Heaven.

In Revelation 17:7 and 21:4, we read that in Heaven God will wipe away every tear: “There will be no more death or tears or crying or pain.” If our loved ones can look down on this tragedy-filled world and watch us struggle through it, watch us lose people we love, watch us make mistakes that grieve God, how can they be without tears? How can they exist with no pain if they are aware of or involved in our daily struggles?

...Unless, of course, God equips the spirits of our deceased loved ones with blinders so that they can selectively see only the good we do in this world and not the bad.

It seems it would be impossible for our loved ones to enjoy Heaven as the Bible says we all will, to live in perfect peace with no fear or worry or sorrow, if they are witnessing the many terrible things that go on here on Earth. Even a great day on Earth is marred by sin and imperfections the likes of which are abolished forever in Heaven, so it seems unlikely that our loved ones are looking down, sending rainbows, or helping us through situations. So, even though it may be a comforting thought to imagine that we still have a connection with our loved ones after they die, it is likely that only our memories and the hope of being reunited with them in Heaven remain.

Losing those we love is indescribably difficult. But, we can take comfort in knowing that our believing loved ones are safe, at peace, and in the presence of God, no longer concerned by all of the many worries of our world, but resting in the arms of the Savior. 1 Thessalonians 4:17 says that in after-life we do not grieve like the rest of the world, which has no hope. We don’t have to look for signs or hope for the spiritual presence of our loved ones. We can know without a doubt that they are happily escaped from a world of great sorrow and pain, and we can console ourselves, knowing that they would not wish to be privy anymore to the sadness and troubles of this life, and the things that they might not approve of if they were living.

We can choose to trust God on this. We can believe His word, and we can enjoy the memories of time with our loved ones until, perhaps, we see them again in Heaven.

So dear friends, if you are like me and have done some things wrong in life, you are only human and belong to a very large club. Know that God has forgiven you. Mistakes are made for us to learn by and ideally not to be repeated.  Some things in life should be private and just between you and your maker.  No one else "up there" is watching you in surveillance camera fashion.  Continue being the good person those close to you have come to know and love...After all, they don't need to know any differently, neither here nor in the hereafter.

That's the way I look at it anyway.

18 March, 2018


In my active church days I joined a group of singers (primarily choir members) who each Christmas visited a local nursing home and the residences of members who were shut-ins. While our carol renditions were always graciously received, I often wondered just how much our "invasions" were actually appreciated and what impact our singing may have had.  The "Threshold Singers" idea, however, has taken this concept to a different level and has given me reason to rethink my assumptions.

"Do not go gentle into that good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light". -- Dylan Thomas 

This renowned 20th Century Welsh poet wrote these lines of verse as his own father was dying. It reflects Thomas’s aggressive approach to that inevitable end-of-life journey which every human must someday take. His own death at age 39 came in New York City, hospitalized and in a coma. One wonders whether, despite his avowed admonition to do otherwise, he went “gentle into the night.”

Most of us would prefer to die peacefully. "The recent growth of hospice and palliative care resources in our region makes this possibility more likely," says Rev. Bob Johnston of Saugeen Shores. "In western Canada, services available to the dying can now include musical groups called Threshold Singers. While I initially assumed music would be more appropriate for a wedding than a deathbed, I quickly learned my assumption was misguided."

Threshold Singers are small groups of 2-4 vocalists who offer their gift of gentle choir music at the bedside of a person on the “threshold” between life and death. Members are chosen for an ability to hold their part in harmony, carry a note and maintain pitch. More importantly, each volunteer must bring a caring, calming presence to ease a patient’s transition from this world to whatever lies beyond.

Threshold Singers began in California. In 2001, Kate Munger and a group of friends were helping to care for a patient dying with AIDS. Along with providing practical assistance with meals and cleaning, she recognized that singing at his bedside proved to be comforting.

About 10 years later, Munger developed and organized small musical groups to deliver this complementary component within existing palliative care services. Currently about 150 Threshold Choirs are providing this service in the United States and more recently, six in Canada

"To be honest, if I were in my last weeks of life trapped in some hospital bed and forced to endlessly listen to most contemporary 'music,' I would already feel I was in hell! Threshold Singers provides a far different service. They create their own songs, lyrics related to the patient’s threshold of life and death experience. Their music is presented in the form of gentle lullabies," Johnston explains.

Each choir enters a patient’s life only when invited. While remaining sensitive to the spiritual dimension of dying, they bring no religious affiliation. There is no cost for their services. When interviewed, patients describe a sense of reduced pain and anxiety. Breathing becomes more regular and relaxed.

Caregivers and bedside family members can also receive comfort and strength from the presence of these musicians. What takes place is clearly not a performance but the voluntary presence of a small group of compassionate singers briefly entering into a patient’s end-of-life journey and walking with them on that road.

You can access which provides a link to a Charles Adler Tonight podcast interview with Karla Combres, the founder of a threshold choir group in that city. Other links on the same site lead to a Global News video and CBC interview featuring the work of these singers.

Even Dylan Thomas, who lived a reckless life, may have finally found peace in his own dying days if surrounded by such an angelic choir. My hope is that our own Western Ontario region will one day have this resource available as we prepare to cross “into that good night,” accompanied by gentle lullabies to ease us on our way.

I honestly believe that there is something about music that penetrates the soul of a dying person -- when words fail.

There is a Threshold Singers group forming in nearby Owen Sound but I'm not just dying to hear them sing...Not yet!

15 March, 2018

NO. 2 IN A SERIES: Many Native families today have been devout Christians for generations. Still others have retained their aboriginal traditions more or less intact.

Dancers from across the country participate in the annual Three Fires Confederacy Pow Wow held the second weekend in August in the Saugeen First Nation, just north of Southampton, ON.  Native dance, music, traditional foods, handmade beadwork, quill baskets, black ash baskets and other handcrafted items are featured.

In my previous Wrights Lane post I took a look at Japan's indigenous spirituality where it is believed that every living thing in nature (e.g. trees, rocks, flowers, animals - even sounds) contains kami, or gods, and could not help but see a marked similarity to the spirituality of our Native North Americans. Spirituality may be the most contentious and poorly understood dimension of Native North American communities today. For generations the religious beliefs and practises of our First Nations people have been the subject of public fascination and scholarly inquiry. Unfortunately, this ongoing interest has all too frequently been fueled by facile generalizations, inaccurate information, or inappropriate methods of investigation. It is for this reason that I am attempting to remove some of the mystique surrounding native spirituality. In so doing, it is my hope that I can gain a clearer sense of spirituality in my own life.

There is no recorded beginning to Aboriginal religions. They probably were brought to Canada by the Native people as they migrated here following the retreat of the last Ice Age between 8,000 and 9,000 years ago.

All Aboriginal peoples in Canada have their own religious faiths. Some have fallen into disuse, but many more are undergoing a revival.

All the Native peoples resident in Canada prior to contact with Europeans had their own religious belief systems. Europeans felt compelled to convert Canada's Native people to Christianity; early missionaries believed that by doing so the Native people were being saved from spending eternity in Hell.

From the 1830s onwards, church-operated residential schools in Canada were sometimes brutal in their attempts to convert Native people to Christianity and to stamp out traditional religions. Mercifully, the last of these schools closed in the 1970s and First Nations people have been returning to their traditional belief systems in increasing numbers.

Close to home for me (just two miles north) is The Saugeen First Nation which is home to many denominations of Christianity, such as the Wesley United Church, Saugeen Full Gospel Church, Baptist Church, Roman Catholic, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a small multi-denominational Church on French Bay Road. Many residents, however, are going back to the traditional ways or co-practising Midewin and Christian religions.

In general, most Aboriginal religions share the belief that all natural things, all forms of life, are inter-connected. No distinction is made between the spiritual life and the secular life; Aboriginal spirituality is a total way of life.

Creation is explained in the Earth Diver story, in which either the Great Spirit or the Transformer dives, or orders other animals to dive, into the primeval water to bring up mud, out of which he fashions the Earth; this belief is held by Indians of the Eastern Woodlands and Northern Plains.

The Trickster creation story frequently but not always represents the Transformer as a comical character who steals light, fire, water, food, animals, or even mankind and loses them or sets them loose to create the world. This explanation is heard among West Coast and some Prairie tribes.

Among the Mi’kmaq and Abenaki of the East Coast, the Transformer appears as a human being with supernatural powers who brings the world into its present form by heroic feats. Across the Great Plains, there are said to be two Transformers. They compete with each other in feats of strength, ability, or cunning. The result of this contest is the formation of the world as it now exists.

All Aboriginal religions have elaborate ceremonies and rituals. These are performed to please the gods so rain will come for the crops, or hunters will be successful in finding game. Other rituals involve fertility, birth, and death.

As an example, let's look at the Shaking Tent Ritual  where a client would pay a shaman (a kind of priest or healer) to build a special cylindrical lodge or tent. The shaman would enter the tent in darkness and singing and drumming would bring his spirit helpers. The arrival of the spirits would be signaled by animal cries and the shaking of the tent. The shaman would then use his spirit helpers to cure the client of whatever ailed him or her or to ward off black magic or a curse.

Among First Nations there is usually a belief in an afterlife but the world of the dead is thought to lie at a great distance from the living. The dead usually have to make a difficult journey often beyond a great river, on islands far out at sea, in the remote mountains, or in the underworld to get to their place of rest. Occasionally, there is contact between humans and the world beyond.
Northern Lights

Spiritual stories are needed to explain spectacular events such as a thunderstorm or an earthquake. A Native shaman might explain the Northern Lights by saying that the dancing waves of colour are powerful guardian spirits; the spirits of ancestors dance across the northern sky, weaving their way through the black of night, moving in harmony with the eternal rhythms of Father Sky and Mother Earth.

A key concept among Indian and Inuit societies is the notion of the Guardian of the Game. This is a supernatural person who looks after one or all of the animal species, especially those hunted by man.

Typical examples are to be found in the Bear ceremonial of the Abenaki and Montagnais-Naskapi, the Spirit of the Buffalo in Plains societies, and Sedna the sea goddess and Guardian of the Seals among the Inuit.

Inuit religious thought is grounded in the belief that anua (souls) exist in all people and animals. Individuals, families and the tribe must observe a complex system of taboos to ensure that animals continue to make themselves available to the hunters.

The underwater Goddess Sedna watches to see how closely the tribe obeys the taboos and releases her animals to the hunters accordingly. There are other deities who release land mammals. Many rituals and ceremonies are performed before and after hunting expeditions to ensure hunting success.

There are no written texts; Native spirituality is contained in stories told by the Elders. Most of these religious tales have a moral or ethical dimension in which behaviour patterns are ordered, banned, recommended, or condemned.

Religious Tolerance quotes an unknown Native woman as saying: "If you take [a copy of] the Christian Bible and put it out in the wind and the rain, soon the paper on which the words are printed will disintegrate and the words will be gone. Our bible IS the wind."

Sources used in this series:

Religions in Canada, Directorate of Human Rights and Diversity, Government of Canada.

The Encyclopedia of World Religions, Robert S. Ellwood (ed.) Facts on File, 1998.

Religion for Dummies, Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman, For Dummies Publishing, 2002.

Religious Tolerance, Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance

Religion, CBC Montreal