Fast approaching my seventieth birthday – my soixante dix, I try to think of a way to celebrate this event in a meaningful way while avoiding the consequences of achieving this milestone. We’ll face all the ‘growing old is fun’ cliches later; suffice it to say that it is better than the alternative.
I finally stumble and bumble my way to the ideal celebration. My visit to Ottawa morphs into a road trip to visit my family and old friends. I will take along an older friend who by his very presence would allow me to be the young one. Everything is relative.
It works perfectly.
I drive to Calgary, drop the car at the airport and fly to Ottawa. Phase one is a visit with Blair. Blair has a well deserved Reading Week – he spends it reading the snow conditions at Lake Louise and visiting friends in Calgary.
I spend the week visiting friends and taking care of his dog Austin.
That involved long walks – outside. Austin gives me a concentrated stare that made me feel guilty. He’s hard to ignore.
I bundle up, we venture outside and brave the biting cold of an Ottawa day. The good part about our walks is that they leave us both pleasantly fatigued. We sleep the deep sleep of the just.
My Blair returns. Blair the elder, my friend of more than fifty years, and I fly to Calgary. It is chilly, a bone-numbing -20 degrees Celsius.
A brief visit with Bob and Linda, my favorite older sister, is a perfect start to our epic adventure. In one of those coincidences that go beyond serendipity, my brother-in-law Bob and Blair realize that they had both been sent to Red Deer to finish high school; it’s where rascals and miscreants went after ruffling the feathers of their local school officials. Small world and a few seldom-told stories; sorry road stories must not be divulged.
In Red Deer, Blair’s nephew Russell takes us on a tour of RCMP headquarters, where he serves. We return to a sumptuous Korean dinner that SunJa, Russell’s wife had prepared. The evening’s entertainment is provided by their three delightful, energetic and talented children; Jaden, Leisha and Neven. Sometimes, traveling sweet spots appear when least expected; it is there on this night in the city of Red Deer.
My brother Marvin lives in Edmonton, no one understands why; but his roots are deep in the city. He raised his son Michael here, managed a small but vital child service agency, Chimo, and still now in his 70’s contributes to his city as a board member of the Boyle Street Education Centre – https://www.bsec.ab.ca – a charter school aimed at helping aboriginal at-risk youth stay in school. He’s a pretty cool guy; and knows some of the most interesting street kids I have ever met.
We return to Calgary for a night, meeting Marion an old friend for dinner.
Next day, a long drive through the mountains to Silver Star, a sweet little ski resort near Vernon. I spent the evening and the next morning swapping stories with my first two bosses, Blair and Judd. I cannot imagine two better role models. They, more than any others, shaped my business and work habits, my skills at interpersonal relations, my capacity for communication and my confidence. I was blessed by their collegial guidance and leadership.
We return to Vancouver and another round of visits. A spirited discussion of current Ottawa shenanigans spice up dinners and lunches with friends near and dear.
We even manage to make it to Victoria for a delightful lunch with Blair’s former Concordia colleagues.
So, just another travelogue, or is there something more going on?
I have known the value of the relationships with friends and family for some time but never was it more obviously on display.
Our lives are defined and immeasurably enriched by our relationships. Our family – both the family we are given by birth and the family we choose as we live our lives – are fundamental to our well-being.
We are blessed with family and friends, doubly so when we measure those relationships in decades.
There is overwhelming scientific evidence that close meaningful relationships add enormously to the quality of our life, extend our life and improve our social, emotional and physical health.
These relationships need nurturing but the benefits are abundant.
So, the valuable lesson in life of this trip is simple; I can gracefully accept my advancing years by recognizing the abundance of the gifts I have received, foremost of which are the friendship with all the people who are a part of my life.
Friendships measured in decades; people who have shared the joys and challenges that life throws at us. We can’t control these events but we can face them more courageously with the support of our friends.
If friends extend our lives, I’m here for a long, long time.