1,013 followers – questions?

I don’t know who you all are, but the blog machine tells me there are 1,013 of you following me here.  You can also find me, Kenn Chaplin, on Facebook.

You’ll know that I haven’t been writing much lately so, might I ask, if you have any questions for me?


I’m back, breaking my blogging fast

Facebook, with its at-best superficial ways of linking me to my world, has taken me away from greater reflection possible in this blog so…I’m back – on my journey here.

The past few weeks I have been involved with the Youth/Elders Project, a joint effort of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, the 519 Community Centre and the Senior Pride Network. We are a group of queer-identified people – youth, up to 25 years old, and elder folk 55 years and up.

We have been meeting separately in our age cohorts, either at Buddies or the 519, and will continue to do so except for occasions like this past Saturday when we met en masse for the first time.

The highlight of Saturday, for me, was a speed-dating style exercise in which youth sat with the rest of us, one-on-one, to discuss things such as early queer role models, or lack thereof, early cultural markers (or landmines), and things such as favourite films and TV shows.

F. asked me about films about AIDS.  I could only come up with two – Philadelphia, which I saw with my friend Chaz the week that Jim died, and Longtime Companion, which Jim and I reviewed over and over in our minds the night that Terry died.

I forgot all about Angels in America – which I loved!

We spoke of friendship – intimate friendship; Jim and me separated by death and F. separated by geography from his best buddy. No modern means of communication can match being in person. Tears were shed, hugs exchanged – it was a genuine moment of connection which I treasure still now, thinking about it.

Oh and we each have/had a gay brother.

It was an amazing three hours.

We return to our separate work-shopping this week, eager to meet again as the project evolves.

World AIDS Day 2010 – Collected Stories – 4 – The prequel to “My journey with AIDS…and more!” by Kenn Chaplin

These days I still only started to think about trying to get a meal in my stomach once an almost painful hunger came upon me, seemingly out of nowhere, on this occasion at about three in the afternoon.

I had just been to Sunnybrook Hospital where I was part of a clinical trial combining AZT and ddI. (What these letters stand for has never been of much use to me.) The ddI came in packets something like instant oatmeal but was a fine powder which had to be dissolved in water. (Bits of the powder invariably found pockets of my mouth to hide in until the next drink.)

Even after being on AZT for three years, my appetite was often in competition with my fear of “accidents”. I had almost died from a serious bacterial infection a year-and-a-half or so earlier and was, therefore, cautious to the point of negligent when it came to eating. However the hunger won out on this day, even if my choice of meals might have given pause to a dietician.

I was close by a well-loved Canadian chicken and ribs restaurant chain with the unlikely name of Swiss Chalet. (Chocolate and watches, maybe, but chicken and ribs?) Oh well, it had long been a favourite for fast, tasty food with an almost cookie-cutter like predictability. Just the way my not-too-adventurous palate liked it. Besides ‘twas the season for the “Festive Special” when my customary quarter chicken with fries and a roll was supplemented with dressing, cranberry sauce and – the take-away gift – a delicious Toblerone bar.

The attendant at the door seated me in one of those two-person booths across from a foursome of violet-haired women who had thrown their ski jackets and rain coats in a booth of the same size next to them.

It was the sixth observance of World AIDS Day – December 1, 1993 and I was glum. I had been visiting my dear friend Jim who was in deteriorating health (he would die six weeks later) and, while fear of his death was top-of-mind, I wanted to do something to commemorate the loss of so many friends already so I was taking on some calories to go for a walk to a very special park not too far from my apartment.

I took the women friends to be altos, judging by the sub-woofer-quality pitch of their voices. I already knew they belonged to a choir because of their clucking about the sopranos.

“Does it really help to hit such a high note by shouting it?” one asked rhetorically to gales of laughter.

As someone who is equally enthused listening to the conversations of others as I am being engrossed in one of my own, I found myself making mental notes for the great play or novel, semi-autobiographical were I to be asked, rattling around in my cerebral database.

The women gathered themselves up, sharing a laugh over someone I presumed was the choir director, and rustled past me towards the front door. I wasn’t too far behind, such is the efficiency of dining alone in a place where the meats are at all stages of readiness from about 11 to 11 daily. The women scattered at the College subway station, two heading underground, the others going north to College Street itself.

When it came to the next, and most important, errand of the afternoon I couldn’t afford too grand a gesture so, on the way to the AIDS Memorial at the 519 Church Street Community Centre (“the 519”), I bought a large bouquet of wild-flowers which I picked out of a curbside bucket in front of a corner store. A miserable rain-snow mix put a glisten on the cellophane wrapping as I continued up the street.

Walking up the sidewalk, along the side of the 519, and into Cawthra Park, the first few pillars of the memorial loomed into view. I could feel butterflies as I anticipated, and perhaps feared, the feelings that were rising within me.

AIDS had already cut such a wide swath through the gay community and, being as involved as I was with peer support (not directly related to HIV/AIDS), I felt as if I was already ranking the impact of people’s deaths by placing them on an imaginary diagram of inner and outer circles. Yet there were always situations where those rings were intertwined. It was just so pervasive.

I stopped at a pillar to read Michael Lynch’s beautiful poem, noticing for the first time that I was here by myself. The words seemed so familiar, not because I had memorized them, but because I felt as if I had lived them. I tucked a few flowers behind the steel plate on which the poem was engraved and continued up the path. The first names I recognized, friends, came into view. I pulled out several more stems and leaned against the pillar, tears of the day, of years, beginning to flow.

Then I realized that I was no longer alone. What looked like the light of a miner’s helmet was bobbing up the pathway towards me, two voices speaking quietly. As they reached me I recognized them as a TV crew, the familiar CBC logo on a tattered decal stuck on the man’s camera.

The woman I recognized as the reporter, seen both on local and national newscasts.

“I hope we’re not disturbing you,” she said softly, “but we were wondering if we could take some shots of you and then talk for a few moments after.”

“Sure, I guess,” I said, feeling the least telegenic that I ever had.

I continued up the path to the next pillar, again scanning the names until I saw a few more that I knew, placing flowers behind the silver-blue engravings. My reporter friends stayed back several steps, getting a variety of shots I presumed, so I kept to my task – the finding of a name sometimes feeling like a forgotten memory being jacked open, leading me to more names I knew I would locate on the same year’s plate.

The tears, and accompanying sniffles, were fairly steady now as dusk was falling, an unkind wind reminding me of the fast-approaching winter. The reporter and her cameraman were moving closer, the camera on his shoulder, light on.

“Show time,” I thought.

I placed my last flower but knew I had not seen the last name that I wanted to pay homage to, and I began to cry more noticeably.

The video clip of me quivering that made it to air that evening, between the reporter’s voice-over and the filler camera shots, was, “I’ve run out of flowers. I don’t have enough flowers. There are too many names!”

“You’ve lost a lot of people,” the reporter said, “Do you know how many?”

“I stopped counting at thirty,” I replied, sniffling, “and I haven’t tried to count again.”

“And you’ve run out of flowers,” she said, rather mournfully as fresh tears filled my eyes.

I don’t remember much else. It was pitch black by the time I walked home, wondering what would end up on the air. I called my mother, telling her that she might see me, if not over the supper hour, on the late national news. My voice did not betray the exhaustion I was feeling from having done quite a lot of crying.

Following a report on international observations of the day, which I remember included the unrolling of the giant likeness of a condom, by AIDS activists, down the Eiffel Tower then-local CBC news anchor Bill Cameron introduced the report which included me. Despite my uneasiness with my raw emotions I was quite satisfied with the report.

What remains with me to this day, particularly nice since I came to know Bill only vicariously through his sister as he was dying of cancer, was his reaction coming back on camera from the video item. A fist cupping his chin, he leaned back in his chair, and paused, the silence saying (to me anyway), “Wow”. Since it was me projecting that onto him I took it as a good “Wow”.

Understandably wound up, I would say, I watched the rest of the newscast and then decided to change direction a little by putting put a few Christmas decorations. Slapping a holiday music cassette into the stereo until I was satisfied with the dressing up of the plants in my living room window, I decided to sit down and begin writing a year-end letter to friends and family. Most of all, though, it was a letter for Jim because I wasn’t sure he would be here the next year.

That letter, and those from the next several years, eventually became the first entries to this blog. It began:

It’s dusk. My indoor garden is laced with tiny Christmas lights, some climbing and some right on the floor. Candles are lit here and there, mostly there, while I peck away at this tabletop word processor. Tiger and Blue are snuggling in my mother’s doll-crib, one of The Bay’s loose-eyed 1993 “Charity Bears” is holding a picture of yours truly at the AIDS Memorial, from the Globe & Mail’s front page last summer, and Barbra Streisand’s Christmas album – which I like to call “Babs Does Bethlehem” – is playing in the background. Life is good in this moment.

Schlumbergera’s ability to lift spirits

From my holiday letter of 1998:

My Christmas cactus hasn’t bloomed this year. Alas, I don’t think I can attribute that to the strange weather. I “pruned” it last summer and I think I must have killed it, ironic given the fact that the fellow, from whose giant cactus I spliced it fifteen or twenty years ago, died this year. The original plant was well over forty years old, as I recall.

Fast forward to today and the cactus is flowering with one bright bloom and at least nine more very promising buds – all of this in the warmest November I can remember.

This cactus originated from a cutting, at least twenty-one years ago, of a plant well over forty years old at that time which filled a good part of a sliding door in St. Catharines. If I recall it was roughly the same age as Warren, who died there several years ago, who would easily be sixty now. Warren Hartman was a Professor of Fine Arts at Brock University and I roomed in his house as a struggling reporter and gay activist.

So Warren, as you raise a glass of red among the spirits, I toast you with my mug of coffee! The frilly blooms of my cactus are dedicated to you.

Happy holidays!

Greetings in the hopeful spirit this season is meant to evoke.

As I write this The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled in favour of same-sex marriage. No matter how much this will, undoubtedly, continue to be a bitter political squabble the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is clearly on side and, while I have not yet experienced a love that I would want solemnized, it nevertheless feels like a personal validation.

From now on forest fires, floods, droughts and really bad mosquito seasons will surely be interpreted – by various Chickens Little – as God’s wrath on Canada.

If there is one thing the world still needs it is hope, no thanks to the pall cast by the re-election of George W. Bush. Of course I had wished that ‘Dubya’ would, like his Dad, be a one-term President. There’s something about an apocalyptic President, who so looks forward to The Rapture (to the point where he might make conditions supposedly right for it to happen), which is deeply unsettling. I can’t help thinking that his policies lend new meaning to his oft-repeated bluster, “Bring It On!” As so many have said since, though, perhaps it is better that Bush is left to clean up his own mess. A better government, for now, is left to the writers of “The West Wing”.

Not that I am into numerology but I had thought it might be a good omen for John Kerry when a blood test, relating to my pancreas, was 1600 (as in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue) the night of his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. “Normal” is ten times less. What ended up being a five day visit to hospital was preceded by a night of tossing and turning in unbearable pain, although obviously bearable enough that I was determined not to call an ambulance. It turned out the pancreas was dangerously inflamed due to a jammed gallstone. A nurse later spoke of the pain as being worse than childbirth and, when I quoted untold numbers who have said nothing compares to that, she assured me that she had experienced both. The entire gallbladder was removed during day surgery in September with what seemed, in hindsight, like assembly-line efficiency.

The surprise hospital trip, brought on by the pancreas attack, left me quite disconnected for awhile. The fact that it happened on the eve of the Civic Holiday weekend didn’t help either. Not realizing I would be admitted – let alone stay for several days – I didn’t pack anything so, in addition to being without toiletries and the like, I did not have my list of telephone numbers. It is quite telling, as I mentioned to Karen later, that the only two numbers indelibly etched in my memory were Mom’s and the one for the church office. A call to the church brought two Sunday afternoon visitors (and toiletries) and Karen stopped by another day, found me sleeping, waited awhile, and then left me a note.

Mom spent the first few day of December in hospital after a case of angina that did not respond to the usual combination of “nitro” and rest. She left a few days later, feeling improved and with a better understanding of what it means to be living with a finicky heart and aging blood vessels. It’s not like we can just trade our bodies in like we would with a rusting car. Of course we are all relieved that she’s been given the go-ahead to resume her holiday plans which include having the grandchildren up to Perth for a few days, then returning home with them to Ancaster, where I will join them, to await Santa’s visit. This is all subject to change, however. Mom may prefer to stay at home after having had the commotion around the house for a few days. Either way, I will be with her.

Several construction projects are changing the face of my neighbourhood. A new library and community centre have been built on the former parking lots of the Wellesley hospital, while said hospital and its neighbour – the original, long-abandoned Princess Margaret Hospital – were slowly demolished. Even as demolition crews painstakingly knocked the Princess Margaret in on itself a new long-term care facility rose where the Wellesley had stood. Another part of the property seems destined to become a condominium development with Homewood Avenue being extended north across Wellesley Street. Just down the street on Sherbourne Our Lady of Lourdes School was torn down and promptly rebuilt, this time facing away from Sherbourne. By the looks of it I would say it will be ready for students by next fall. To the south of my building Carlton Street (and College, west of Yonge) have been completely rebuilt, with streetcar tracks now on concrete beds – presumably to make the road last longer. That project pretty disrupted a lot of businesses (imagine trying to eat on a patio while jackhammers were boring holes in the road!)

The year has been book-ended, in America, by moral outrage (with plenty during the in-between months as well). First it was the Janet Jackson ‘wardrobe malfunction’ during the Super Bowl last January. Recently a promotional ad for “Desperate Housewives” during Monday Night Football drew howls of protest. What is it about football that is so appealing to both puritans and those who would – if one buys the criticism – pull another thread in the moral fibre of America?

Then there was Ronald Reagan whose death resuscitated the body politic with a debate over stem cell research and an almost nostalgic wish for the days when the arms race was the main focus of world affairs. This was the same Ronald Reagan who presided over the deaths of the first few thousands of people with AIDS without mentioning the illness publicly until well into his second term – a point driven home in the late Randy Shilts’ book “And The Band Played On”, which came to mind as I watched a DVD of its film adaptation while the news channels were trying to out-flag wave each other on “The Gipper”.

Lest you think I am letting Canada off the hook politics gave us plenty to chatter about here, too. As anticipated at this time last year I was an active political viewer, voter and – in one campaign – a volunteer in 2004. Nothing went my way although a minority federal government, the closest thing we have to “none of the above” as a choice, came pretty close to satisfying me even if the local candidate, for whom I worked hard, ultimately lost. Given the performance of his government so far, I am wondering if Paul Martin regrets having changed careers.

The one year anniversary of my accident came and went in April, and I still find myself tending to divide my life into “before the accident” and “since the accident” segments. There have been some lasting effects, I know, but I remain thankful to have escaped with my life. A year-and-a-day since I was transferred from one hospital to the other the cab driver who hit me was in court this past May for “failing to yield to a pedestrian”. Thanks to testimony from the investigating police officer, and yours truly, said driver was handed a fine of ninety dollars and docked a couple of demerit points. (The civil case against his insurer continues.)

I took on the position of AIDS Editor for AfricaFiles.org this year, something which has given my passions a very interesting, if not always hope-filled, sense of purpose. I have not only learned a lot about Africa; I have also picked up a few pointers about using computers. (Believe it or not I didn’t know how to “cut and paste” before I was shown by Don Nicol, an AfricaFiles volunteer!)

Following the busy days of the federal election campaign in June I retreated somewhat into some writing, which had become such an important part of the winter and spring as I attended a narrative writing group for people with HIV at Mount Sinai Hospital. So far this has not resulted in anything close to an autobiography.

I did manage to write a few letters ‘to the editor’ of a few newspapers and magazines. In one, to a rural paper in Quebec I referred to my high school music teacher in the past tense – as in passed away. The next week the paper ran a correction. He is not dead, so I wrote back with a lame apology, which also was published. No doubt there are some who probably think I’ve been dead a while myself.

While I will never have the writing energy of Pierre Berton his recent passing brings back many fond memories of how my interest in Canadian history was shaped by some of his books.

With so much turmoil in the world, I hope Mother Earth finds a way to get some peace and quiet in 2005!

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Christmas 2003

It has been another year in which I was glad that we are unable to see into the future and, while I haven’t double-spaced this, feel free to read between the lines.

The year began ominously enough with yet another George W. Bush war, this time in Iraq – a country now so “liberated” that Air Force One flew into Baghdad for a top secret Thanksgiving with its lights off and window-shades drawn!

My contribution to the pre-war demonstrations – which now seem a life-time ago – included a little bit of drumming, when I wasn’t marching with my church family. I had bought a couple of djembe drums and joined a bunch of fellow hippies, or latter day hippie wannabes, in “Drums of Dissent”.

Now I only use the drums for some physiotherapy on my wrist.

Just after midnight on April 30 I was walking home from a bargain Tuesday movie night (“The Pianist” was certainly deserving of its Oscars) when, at a traffic light close to home, I was struck by a taxi whose driver, while looking left for oncoming traffic, proceeded into the intersection with me folding onto the pavement under his right bumper. Fortunately he wasn’t going too fast, having stopped at his red light, and he soon heard me yelling and jumped out of his car to help me. At that point I didn’t want his help. A police cruiser was a few cars behind in traffic and immediately set about closing off the intersection. It seemed like no time at all before more police, a fire truck and ambulance had arrived – oh and, of course, CITY-TV.

In my state of shock, and after a preliminary diagnosis, I managed to say, “So this is what broken bones feel like!”. I was loaded onto a back-board and taken to St. Michael’s Hospital. I honestly don’t recall much of my time in the Trauma Unit, other than a lot of talk over me about my femur. It turns out my right hip and right radius (that long bone which moves from side to side in the forearm) were fractured and both would require surgery.

This all happened between SARS I and SARS II. Everyone was gowned and masked, from the firefighters, paramedics and police who came to my immediate assistance to the nurses and doctors who treated me at the Trauma Unit of St. Mike’s. Only after I was moved up into a room did the masks begin to come off – for some. I remember lying in Emergency when someone, all gowned and masked, came in to talk to me. He asked me very detailed questions about what had happened – odd, I thought, for someone dressed up like a doctor. He was, in fact, the investigating police officer. It was difficult to know who was who under all that plastic and paper!

Thursday’s surgeries fitted my wrist and hip with metal plates and long support screws, after which my forearm was put in a cast for six weeks. While I was fortunate to be able to have several masked visitors, SARS precautions were lowered and raised fairly unpredictably and there was an outright ban on visits for a good part of my stay at Bridgepoint Health, where I was put through my paces with physiotherapy from May 13 to June 6. (I remember all these dates as if they were extremely important in the grand scheme of things.) As I recall Mom and Uncle George were not required to be masked when they drove up one day. It was not too long, though, until SARS II had hit part of St. Michael’s and everyone there, or recently discharged from there, was being isolated.

In my first few days at St. Michael’s I held out faint hope of using a cane and being able to watch the Pride Parade towards the end of June from somewhere along the route, and my discouragement had nothing to do with SARS. It really seemed like a long-shot during those first few nights of being turned (and doing a fair bit of yelling) in my bed while the linens were changed. Well, I did one better. Instead of watching from the sidelines I rode on a float (with the retired Anglican Archbishop of Toronto, no less.)

It was not too long before I had switched from pushing a very tall walker (so that my forearm could rest elevated) to using only a cane. Despite outpatient physiotherapy until early September I still feel unsteady enough to want a cane with me when I’m outside the apartment. I can make it through the choir processional each week without the cane but there have been a few times when some members of the congregation of Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church may not realize how close I have come to grabbing their arm for support along the way. It is support I could count on, I know, as they showed in so many ways through the spring and summer – and ever since. My wrist remains somewhat locked up, in terms of range of motion, but fortunately I am left-handed so the practical restrictions are minimal. Over-all, the biggest difference I now see is the general fatigue I feel, coupled with – or perhaps caused by – difficulty sleeping at night. It’s almost as if I feel safer being awake.

Into all this drama, in fact not too long before it had begun, came the birth of my first nephew, a younger brother for my niece. This, of course, was a very happy occasion for the family and I look forward to watching him grow – even if some of us can’t keep up to him!

To round out the archives of injury, and so that no one feels left out, my niece broke her arm playing last summer – a bright pink cast not bothering her in the least – and Wesley, the terrier Craig and Claude brought home from Portland eleven years ago, was struck by a car this fall and, after some orthopaedic surgery of his own, has lived to tell about it!

Lynn is back with Corrections Canada after completing a pre-Easter (former Solicitor General Wayne Easter) appointment to the National Parole Board. She and Joslyn are missing their minister, Peter Short, who they were – of course – pleased was elected Moderator.

Mom’s “adult education”, which this year included a series of pastoral care workshops, has taken a new twist since she learned this fall that she is diabetic. This means there ought to be a lot less Christmas baking going on but, somehow, I think I will get more than my fair share – even if I, too, have to try something called moderation.

A fringe benefit of my time rehabilitating was having my apartment re-painted. The most labour-intensive thing I did was go through some colour tabs and wheel some of the paint home in my bundle-buggy. Come to think of it I didn’t even have to do much of that!

When I haven’t been self-absorbed in the healing process and the on-going legal work (the cab driver was charged with careless driving) it has been a terrific year to watch my favourite sport – politics.

My local Member of Provincial Parliament, George Smitherman, became Health Minister when the Tories were finally kicked out of office so, while I voted in the spirit of my grand-uncle Lloyd (the only other New Democrat I can find in the family tree), at least the results overall were positive in that the Conservatives were sent packing. So don’t blame me as the gloss already starts to wear off the McGuinty government.

In November my choice for Mayor and City Councillor both won so, politically, it’s been a pretty good year. The next challenge will be to get Jack Layton elected in Toronto-Danforth.

With Jean Chrétien’s exit, satirists now have something better to mock (and this became the joke of currency early in the year) – the same-sex marriage of the Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance.

The “accident” (if that’s truly what careless driving leads to) contributed to my postponing plans I had to study at the Gestalt Institute. I just didn’t feel up to it and, at this point, can only hope I will try again. In the meantime, early next year, I’ll be part of a “narrative” writing group at Mount Sinai Hospital for people with HIV/AIDS. I read about it in a magazine and thought it looked like something I’d like to be part of. I am especially pleased that it will be once a week in the early afternoon, my favourite – or shall I say my most alert – time of day. Truth be told I just don’t have the energy that I used to.

This was the year of SARS, the hottest summer in 55 years, the hydro blackout, a “mad cow” crisis blamed – like the Chicago fire – on one cow, destructive wildfires – and then floods – in B.C., and tree-toppling, road-caving Hurricane Juan down east. The year seemed, at times, like something out of The Revelation. And the death rattle of AIDS continued.

More than 8,000 people worldwide die of AIDS every day – that’s about 30 percent more than the entire population of Perth. Ninety-five percent of the deaths are in the world’s poorest countries. I heard Stephen Lewis speak at the University of Toronto last winter, and he told of visiting a small infirmary in southern Africa for less than an hour during which time three patients died. It’s mind-boggling. The fact that it is now preventable (and I’m living proof that it is treatable), while life-saving action by governments remains so tentative, is scandalous.

I sometimes think it’s my anger that keeps me going. As the U.N.’s Kofi Annan said in an interview, “AIDS is a weapon of mass destruction.” How inspiring it was, then, to watch (live on the internet) Nelson Mandela at his 46664 concert in Cape Town. Mandela lends his prisoner number to a website, souvenirs and worldwide petition in the fight for freedom against AIDS. The message was clear – the solution is political. I can hardly wait for the release of the concert DVD.

The United Church of Canada is trying to have an impact on AIDS worldwide with the Beads of Hope campaign as well as the Signatures of Hope petition – something to think about as we head out to the malls to deplete some of our wealth. I am proud of our family’s traditional snub at consumerism. Except for the children, who we are happy to spoil just a little bit, we draw names among the adults and exchange just one gift.

I am really looking forward to Christmas week in Perth. Lynn was up on government business late this week, and had a visit with Mom, so she will be in New Brunswick, but the rest of us will be there – maybe all at the same time – for at least a few days around the holiday. It seems as though this may change, beginning next year, as my niece and nephew make it easier for Santa (not to mention their Mom and Dad) by having as many of us as possible out to their home.

All the best for 2004!

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Christmas 2002

Wow, this is my tenth annual holiday letter! It’s enough to make me both laugh and cry, a little, to remind myself of that – considering how it all began. For any newcomers to my list, and there have been some every single year, a brief history might be in order as it may be a while before I compile them all into book form – if ever!

With the onset of winter 1993 my good friend, Jim, was dying of AIDS-related lymphoma. I wanted to try to put some of my perceived talent with words to good use for him as a holiday season gift. It had already become a bit of a tradition to write my former co-worker, Nancy, a year-in-review letter each Christmas so this seemed like something I might expand upon for a slightly larger audience. While I don’t recall exactly how many copies I sent out, and it was all done by “snail mail” back then, the list has grown to something like eighty names.

The first letter was, to a greater than lesser extent, one of those “in case I’m not around next year” letters. While I haven’t always been maudlin I am the first to admit that AIDS seemed to have me down for the count those first few years and I never failed to let my readers know that I was trying to be aware of that. This gave the letters, I think, a certain urgency about them with humour (hopefully) mixed in – sometimes deliberately, sometimes not. One thing is for sure, the sum total is perspective. This year, for me, has been about alot more than AIDS, particularly as it affects me! At the same time my worldview has continued to grow and I am enthusastically supporting The Beads of Hope Campaign of The United Church of Canada. I wish I could create such beads out of the rainbow myriad of pills and capsules I am privileged to take each day.

The history lesson is now over.

2002 in the Chaplin family has been dominated by the sudden passing of Dad on May 4. There can be no way of minimizing the impact this has had (complete with Mom’s understandable, active symptoms of a broken heart which landed her in hopsital in September).

As celebratory as Dad’s memorial service was the reality of his physical departure has been much more difficult to bear. One comfort, which sometimes seems small and yet it endures, is that he died working in his garden on what he had earlier described to Mom as “a grand day!”. Something else we are all thankful for is that the entire family was in Perth for Dad’s 75th birthday on Easter weekend, just a month before. He had fully rehabilitated himself from a “slight” stroke last winter and was in wonderful spirits for the celebration.

It goes without saying that this Christmas just won’t be the same.

Mom has done amazingly well, being true to herself and her feelings as best she could. We have all tried to support each other over these difficult days, and I think we’ve done pretty well – all things considered.

One of the early hurdles on the calendar to cross, which I shared, was their fiftieth wedding anniversary in July. On a day-trip (which only later inspired me to begin the process of reacquiring my driver’s license) Mom drove the two of us to Ormstown and Valleyfield (Quebec). It had been twenty-five years since I’d graduated from high school and, as Mom can attest, we had a whirlwind tour of my infancy, childhood and youth that day – with pictures taken of the hospital where I was born, the church where I was baptized and confirmed, every apartment or house we’d lived in, and every school I had attended – even the monkey bars which hold a special place in my heart.

Mom hasn’t been without one of us “kids” around much more than a few weeks at a time, if that, since April. Speaking for myself, I have needed those extra visits.

My life has simultaneously taken on a whole lot more – or, at least, new – meaning over these months. I was in North Bay when Dad died, staying with friends Donna and Jim while I visited another friend who was in town for some intensive care. That friendship with J.B., the work associated with it, and the ensuing trips to St. Catharines where he was to settle for a few months, has led me to consider the possibility of furthering my education. It had been many years since I had been back to St. Catharines, part of my past which I had preferred not to dwell on. Much to my surprise a happenstance encounter (not really in the big picture) with an old friend, Doug, led me to being invited over for dinner with his wife Marjorie. Several other people from the 1980s also made themselves known to me while in St.Catharines. Obviously I have recently had the opportunity to see “The Garden City” through much clearer eyes. It has been healing on several levels.

J.B., himself a musician, introduced me to the music of Jann Arden. I know she’s been around awhile (I remember her from interviews with Peter Gzowski) but I’ve not been listening to much that could be considered anything close to “pop” for quite some time. Jann’s music, and writings on her website, speak to me. Now I’m a certified, if not certifiable, “jann fann”! Last month I spoke to her on a call-in show on TV (she kissed me through the camera lens) and then she signed copies of her book for me (and my friend) at Indigo the next day. I’ve even been presumptuous enough – heck, brazen might be a better word – to ask her if she’d be interested in reading my past holiday letters, so let me know jann, ‘k?

Mom’s aforementioned heart troubles seemed like a great opportunity for my sister and brother-in-law to tell us that they are expecting a brother or sister for my niece in April of the new year. This will be my second niece or first nephew. My niece is an absolute gem (need I say it) and she, her Mom and I – oh and Yukki the dog – had a terrific August car ride to Grandma’s in Perth for our own special 1st birthday party for her, while Daddy sanded and varnished the floors of their new (for them) home.

Perth seems to get prettier, and more appealing, as I grow older. Given its natural beauty and historic buildings it’s never been a tough place to visit and this year the town has become more familiar than ever. Never too far away from a camera, I have lots of photos of Perth and, for the first time in my life, I sold two such photographs during an arts festival – here in Toronto – at my ever-loving Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church. This has only encouraged me, as a photographer, all the more. Another friend, John, gave me access to a downtown office tower’s roof-top for some unique looks at the city. Who knows, by next year I might have holiday cards from my very own collection of photographs. That’s getting ahead of myself! Perspective doesn’t have much forward vision.

Last year I was beginning a volunteer stint with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. After completing the volunteer training program I co-facilitated a group for gay men who had recently completed a 28-day residential addiction treatment program. For a variety of reasons, and then Dad’s death, I left my position there in the Spring. Yet my restlessness continued as I was involved with a church member’s aptly-named “Discernment Committee” to see what area of ministry she might be led to explore. The irony of my own searching was not lost on me.

All of this appears to be leading me to furthering my education, at least on a part-time basis, beginning next Fall. I have a natural inclination towards Gestalt Therapy, first with my history as a client and, secondly, – the way I see it – as a practitioner of it more and more in my daily life. My love of photography, the ultimate in trying to capture “the present moment”, is just one example. The most attractive part of the program is that it would be part-time studies and practice over the medium-to-long term. I am not enamored with the idea of full-time education again, so this would suit my retirement lifestyle better. I have completed the pre-admission interview and await word on my acceptance into the program.

Friends have been so important along my journey. This has been especially true this year. Friends like J.H., J.B. and T.J. have given my days much meaning simply by letting me into their whole, sometimes troubled, always rich, lives. What a privilege.

This fall I treated myself to a subscription to both Tafelmusik. These will give me a taste of culture over the coming months, some of which I have already enjoyed. My commitment to the choir has also given me a nice musical outlet this year, particularly enjoyable as we’ve prepared for “Carols By Candlelight” in mid-December.

Have I missed anything? Of course I have. But that’s all I’ve got right now.

Please help give peace a chance in 2003!



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