Yesterday was the worst day of my life. I was at the War Memorial in Ottawa and saw a man shoot at other men. I saw Corporal Nathan Cirillo die. But I’m not ready to talk about that, to write about that right now. Soon but not now.
The first person I told about this said: it isn’t fair that you had to see that. I replied: Life isn’t fair. I’ve had a life more privileged than others and that isn’t fair either.
So I want to talk about best days. About good days that have happened and will happen in the future.
When I was 11, my father took me with him on a trip to Prince Edward Island. It wasn’t a vacation; he was working as a salesman. One afternoon we stopped by a stream on a country road. We caught fish and ate them for supper. He told me stories. I remember laughing. A lot.
A few years later, I was picking blueberries — a commercial operation — when the crew chief told us all to get into the truck. A black bear came over the hill that wanted our berries more than we did. A scary day but a good one.
When I graduated high school I gave the valedictorian address. That was a good day. The smiles of my parents, the deep pride they had in me, the handshakes and hugs of my friends, their generous admiration, I still carry them with me, more than forty years later.
Every scholarship I received, every degree I earned — those were good days. The best was the $500 I was given by the Royal Canadian Engineers — my father’s unit in World War II. I didn’t even apply; my mother did it secretly and surprised me with it. Today, it seems even better than before.
Being asked to run for the New Democrat Party in 1979 when I was twenty four was a proud day — it would have been a great day if my father had been alive to see it.
My four marriages. Obviously not all good days after but the days themselves — sparkling glorious wonderful days. To look in the eyes of the person you love so much and have them look back with love and hope and expectation. I would not give any of them up. The last took place here in Ottawa eleven years ago this month on a beautiful fall day amid the brilliant colours that Ottawa does so well. Edward Willett sang “As Time Goes By” a capella, his rich baritone filling the room; Tania Sablatash recited John Donne. I was surrounded by so many close friends.
The last day I spent with Randall Grant, my college roommate, who died of cancer at 52. We had remained friends for all those years — through thick and thin. He didn’t always approve of my choices but he remained my friend to the end. Those few hours we spent alone, a week or so before he died, are deeply precious. I learned about the things you let go of and the things — family, friends, hope — that you never surrender.
So many other good days — being asked to serve Nick Sibbeston, Premier of the Northwest Territories as Executive Assistant and later, when he became Senator, becoming his policy advisor. Drafting one of the first ‘AIDS in the Workplace’ policies ever adopted by a Canadian government back in 1988, writing speeches delivered to national audiences, helping people solve their problems, my first novel in my hands (and all the rest), every time I saw actors say my words on stage — all good days.
So many good days, too many to recount here. So much privilege.
Then there was yesterday. To experience that, to see that, to be helpless in the face of madness. That was a terrible day, the worst day. But it was also the best day. People being brave, rushing to help, showing strength in the face of fear. The resilience of our nation, of our city, of each of us who have become more determined than ever to believe in freedom, in democracy, in each other and in the future.
It was a terrible day; there will be more. But the good days will outnumber the bad. We will make it so.
And that’s more than ten minutes. Forgive me for breaking the rules — there are worse things that can happen.