lac mahon, la peche, qc.

lac mahon, la peche, qc.
photo by graham law.

Thursday, December 30, 2010


I’ve almost never done the Christmas thing in Canada.  Not having a family, I’ve been more on the far side of the experience, whose sole existence was supposed to hinge on feeding the frenzy for fancy jewelry.  That was my job.  I was paid well to ignore winter storm warnings and risk my life driving from Wakefield to the store on Sparks Street in Ottawa, my gilded cage.  I sacrificed my health working seven days a week, sometimes twelve hours a day, for more than a month before the 25th to make sure we reached our sales goals.  It was hard to really get into the right mood afterward.    
One evening, I had to deliver some baubles to a client up on Parliament Hill.  I was quite happy to get out into the air and let the howling wind blow through my nostrils and out my ears.  However, as I took a stroll around those hallowed grounds, a proper RCMP officer came over and asked what I was doing there.  He may have thought I looked a bit weird, what with my head lolling around as I walked.  Then, I believe he did not entirely appreciate my attitude.  Whatever may be the case, he invited me to take a seat in his cruiser while he checked me out on his computer.   
Eventually, the officer stole a sideways glance at me and began to talk into his radio.  I had a strange, sinking feeling in the pit of my tummy.  I hoped it was merely something I ate but, no, no it wasn’t.  The city police came along to take over, drove me to their headquarters in Centertown and placed me in a less gilded cage than I was used to.  I hadn’t been in one of those for many years.  I had to cool my heels for over an hour and, I have to tell you, it was wonderful.  I had a great meditation, sorely needed and greatly appreciated.  In the end, it turned out there was indeed a warrant out for my arrest.  Apparently, I had neglected to pay a traffic ticket from about six months earlier… for driving my bicycle the wrong way down a one-way street.  You all should feel so much safer today.
A half-hour later, my employer dutifully came, paid my fine and I became a ‘free’ man once again.  And, believe it or not, as I walked through the hall between cells, a rather rough-looking fellow, with cuts on his nose and under one eye, pumped his fist in the air and shouted: ‘Keep the faith brother!’   We drove back to the shop in my employer’s Cadillac.  He didn’t speak a word even after I said that I hoped the fact that I was a known felon wouldn’t have any bearing on my Christmas bonus.  He was not amused.  Oh, but the rest of the staff had tremendous fun with the whole episode.   
I recall my employer asking how I was feeling, during another memorable Christmas time, since I had been clearly falling more and more sick.  My head ached, my throat was closed, my chest hurt from coughing incessantly, I sounded like I had yet to reach puberty and my ankles felt like they belonged to a pachyderm, a large one.  He put his hand on my shoulder and said; ‘Hang in there. Only three days left.’  That’s when I shuffled into the back room, took my coat and went home without a word to anyone.  I spent the rest of that day and evening at the Wakefield Hospital and Christmas in bed with bronchitis that was bordering on pneumonia.
Having lived most of my adult life in India, I was prone to catching the flu anyway if a sick person so much as snorted in my direction.  I was getting the flu two or even three times each winter.  For that reason, I believe it was the third winter I was back in Canada that I decided to get a flu shot.  I went to the medical centre in Wakefield on a typical winter day; I approached a concerned-looking, young lady behind the counter and asked for a vaccination.  She said that, since I was obviously a senior, I wouldn’t have to pay for it.  ouch.  Somewhat indignantly, I told her that I was fifty-one years old.  So she announced that, since I was not in fact yet sixty years old, I was required to pay fifteen dollars.  ‘That’s alright,’ I responded, ‘but, if I get the flu do I get my money back?’  She didn’t seem to find my retort nearly as funny as I thought it was but, clearly, that was not unusual.        
Then came the year I was invited to a friend’s home on Christmas morning.  Greg was the gemologist in the shop where we both worked.  He had been there for many years, even though he remains one of the most highly sought after gemologists in Canada.  It’s hard to get me to go visit anyone at any time, let alone on Christmas.  And I don’t recall what prompted me to make an exception in that case, other than the fact that I had become genuinely fond of him, his lovely wife, caly, and their two charming girls, Sarah and Alexis.  I was glad I went, however, since I left their place just after two in the afternoon having had a whole different experience of Christmas in Canada.
Their gifts are modest, often hand-made, sometimes from second-hand shops, always thoughtful and not just for each other, but for the friends they invite over, like me.  The family has a tradition of making a lot of their own tree ornaments.  And they’ve collected them through all the years the girls were growing up.  They cook their Christmas day meal together, respectful of the vegetarians in the group.  (Tofurky?)  They even volunteer at community soup-kitchens and in other ways.  To me, they represent the spirit of Christmas.
Big snow usually has fallen in Wakefield long before Christmas.  It falls; it drifts and swirls around, landing on the trees, transforming them into a wonder of magical splendor.  Christmas in the village is a classic experience.  It doesn’t matter whether one is alone or with a large family.  One cannot help but feel and appreciate the atmosphere and treasure its potent message.  Christmas in Kullu is not a classic experience and yet it is a tremendously special one.  The hall is decorated, groups perform songs and Swami talks about the true meaning of the birth of Christ consciousness as being the embodiment of love, compassion, oneness and, most importantly, pure, free and forever.    
Happy holidays everyone. 

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