Today is the day Canada cried together.
424 days ago we gathered together as a country and watched and laughed and cried as The Tragically Hip shared with us, for the last time, their music. We sang along and reveled in the beauty of The Tragically Hip’s beautiful gift and were enraptured, as always, by the talent of Mr. Gord Downie: even in his ill state . That evening we all anticipated the final set…the final song and at sad last…the final beautiful note and then together we said goodbye to our very favorite prideful Canadian musical icons. For three hours we sat together and were thankful for each (commercial free!!) second they gave us. This is a day I will remember for my own forever. It was shared with exactly the friends it should have been shared with. My heart was full that day. I am grateful for that experience.
My love of music began with my love for the Hip: ironically the first song I loved was the last song they played that memorable August day in 2016. Rewind to 1996: I was 16 and it was summertime and my super cool high school self (jeans, teeshirts and plaid shirts…the whole thing!) was just realizing that there was more to music than what was played on the radio. I had the fortuitous luck to be dating a self proclaimed audiophile (he was as cool as me…) who would make me sweet mixed tapes filled with all of his favorite music: a bold mix of Radio Head, Sinead O’Connor, The Cranberries, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains…and The Hip. I am sure if I looked buried in my closet somewhere in my childhood home, that is soon to become mine again through circumstance, I could find that tape with a handwritten purple penned label (oh the things I remember). When Ahead by a Century played for the first time I remember hearing Gord’s voice and feeling the way the music told it’s own story and listening to the lyrics and wanting to understand the reason behind the song: in 1996 Wikipedia was not an option…it wasn’t even a thing actually…you had to make up your own story and it was awesome! Without the ability to just know the real reason, I could let my imagination run free with wonder and amazement. I loved the way that happened. I loved to feel creative like that. I stated writing those things down (also in the closet in this home of mine I have located, but not yet read, 25 spiral bound notebooks filled with my careful hand writing depicting fables inspired by the music I loved) Music became important to me it became my muse and my inspiration Music was, and remains to be, my coping mechanism during sad, scary or painful times. (Headphones in, music so loud you can hear it…probably don’t talk to me! Just saying…I may have blown through 2 sets of headphones this last 6 months.) I am confident in saying that song, that album (ok…even the mix tape made with high school puppy love…) is a part of what makes me..me. I am so very thankful for that.
This past year we Canadians watched as Mr. Downie’s public appearances became less: sporadic. They were well planned and obviously scripted. We understood why and were grateful for the chance to still see him, so we watched. He continued to do his best to speak to those issues that moved him to speak out. He participated in events that could inspire change in this world: He wanted to do his part to make the world a better world for everyone. Mr. Downie had a gift and an opportunity to use his fame for the true greater good: and he did. Canada could not be prouder to call him our own. Eventually though this last few months we saw and heard very little. I quietly wondered why. I knew why: we all knew why. He was sick and the inevitable was closing in. Today while sitting in tiny school library reading a book about a bug and his friends, I heard the news I didn’t know I was waiting for. A text message came through simply saying “Gord Downie died today. I am sorry” and I cried. I sent a text to someone that I wanted to share that moment with because that’s what you do: significant moments are meant to be shared with significant people. I just felt empty and sad about losing someone I didn’t know. Loss is loss. Pain is pain and sad is sad. Pain and sad make you remember other painful sad things. It was hard and it was bad and I was not sure I could not cry for the rest of the day. I pulled myself together and walked in to the class I had to teach and was greeted with huge hugs just because (I love those kids!) and loud hellos: and then I listened as a group of grade 8 students sang the most kick ass karaoke version of Courage I think has ever been sung. My heart was once again full. Your gift lives on Hip!
A friend said today on a Facebook post that we have had a year to prepare ourselves for this moment: but the truth is nothing could prepare us. That is so very true. Sad is sad and loss is loss. Hard is hard…this is hard. Today we are sad. Today we share a loss. I find myself thinking, as I do, of those closest to Mr. Downie: his family and friends, his band mates especially. I have felt loss of my own and I hate every minute of it. I hope he did not suffer. I hope he had peace. I hope that those who love him the most find their own sense of peace and take comfort in knowing that his talent was a gift we are grateful he shared with us all. I hope the gift Mr. Downie gave us all continues to be appreciated and continues to inspire us all: to be better people, to make change, to speak up when we can, to write, to play, to sing, to dance and to love.
Thank you Mr. Downie.