Some months ago, when Colin proudly announced that he would be the editor of a new magazine, The Social Eyes, the English version of Reflet de Societe, I promised, in a burst of enthusiasm , to contribute an article to one issue.
Now I have a problem organizing the million random, idle thoughts that dance around my brain and actually committing them to paper, so I have procrastinated ever since. Until, in a recent letter from Colin, he gently reminded me that Delphine (the desk editor) was still waiting and would I get my literary ass in gear and fulfill my promise. So here goes nothing.
First some background on myself and leading up to how I came to know, admire and treasure Colin McGregor as a friend. After a forty year career as a chemist I was fortunate to retire just shy of my sixtieth birthday, with lots of time to do whatever I felt like doing. I revelled in the freedom of rising every day and having the choice to do whatever I felt like doing, when I wanted to do it. But quickly I felt that something was missing and that vacuum was filled by volunteering.
After trying several interesting things such as security and serving beer at folk festivals, I pared down my time to cooking and patient care at a palliative care residence and various church activities which led to an opportunity to visit Cowansville Penetentiary one Monday a month which rapidly became two or three times a month. I thought this visit was meant to provide social interaction with the inmates, which it is, but it is primarily a Bible study and up to that point in my life I can honestly say that I had not devoted a lot of time to reading the Bible or giving it much thought.
So five years ago this is how I met Colin and formed an instant liking for this smart, humorous, articulate and above all, caring person. When he states, as he did in his last article that he is no humanitarian, just bored and looking to occupy his time in prison, do not believe it for a second. He has contributed to the well- being and education of his fellow inmates though his teaching, written many book reviews for the Montreal Anglican, co-wrote the Quebec Suicide Prevention Handbook with Raymond Viger, penned an award winning play, and his first novel Teammates.
Last night at the prison the Bible passage was from Mathew, following the strait, narrow path of life and avoiding the wider path which leads to destruction. As usual, due to my mental slowness to absorb and process new information, a characteristic of mine which is getting worse with age, I was half way home to Dorval before I had an intelligent thought to contribute to the group. Several of the guys had elaborated at great length on the reading and as usual I felt that I had received more than I had contributed to the dialogue, but rationalized this with the reality that my presence there was what mattered the most.
To me the Bible is a book filled with messages of hope and Mathew Chapter 7 is that and after reading it several things became clear to me. We are told to follow the straight and narrow path through life but that few people are capable of achieving this.
Does not sound hopeful except to me it says that nobody is perfect, we make mistakes, some small, some monumental and that it is never too late to get back on the right path. If we learn from our errors, take responsibility for our actions, forgive and ask forgiveness of others and atone for our mistakes we can get back on track. Easier said than done for someone getting out of prison. We cannot change the past and sometimes to get back onto the good path means starting on new one, sometimes without family and friends who have been alienated, in a society that regards them as pariahs ,not to be trusted, befriended or employed. Except for the presence of God we walk our path alone, meaning that even though we are surrounded by others, only we can walk in our footsteps.
Another part of the reading mentions before noticing the faults of another, take a good look in the mirror. We should not judge others, only ourselves. When we read about somebody committing a horrible crime the tendency is to call the criminal a monster, based only on the act, without knowing anything about the persons past, and what led up to the act. The only person we truly know and are in a position to judge is ourself. Judging others conveniently diverts attention away from our own faults. We all drift away from the narrow path occasionally but this is how we grow and learn. Some of my favourite moments occur when I am on a long run, or on the lake in my kayak, alone with my thoughts. This is when I take stock of the things that I have been doing, think of how I can improve on them and if I’ve strayed onto the wider path, which we all do, then reset my compass and get back on track. Taking advice and giving advice is fine but ultimately we have to do what we think is right.
One of my favourite authors, Farley Mowat, wrote a book entitled Born Naked. We are born with nothing, naked, and if we live long enough we die that way.
All of the possessions we spend so much time and effort to obtain, mean nothing when we are bedridden and alone with only our thoughts for company. Life can be divided into three parts, growth, when we are learning what it takes to survive, gain, when we are busy working to build a family and a career, and then the best part, the giving (back), which is where I am now, having the luxury of time to help others is the best feeling in the world.
I have seen patients at palliative care facing the end of life with looks of sublime content, and I am sure that person followed a straight path, filled with love and caring for others. Then are those with a haunting look, staring off into space, perhaps filled with regrets of a road badly taken.
My friend Colin is definitely well into the giving stage and hopefully one day soon will experience the freedom to realize his full potential that his path is leading to and we will all be the better for it.