Author

Sarah Thomson

Browsing

THE SADNESS OF SEPTEMBER

This morning the lake is calm and still; there isn’t a boat in sight. The sun seems to be melting away the mist. It rises up in wisps where the bays and inlets are still in shadows. A loon in the distance has a lonely call that seems to echo over the lake.

The summer is over, gone before I had a chance to truly settle into it. September has arrived in the quiet way it usually does, its long shadows creeping over the afternoons and cool nights filling the morning air with dampness.

I had a dream last night that I was visiting September as if it were a neighbour that I’d lost touch with. We went through some old memories, the ending of summer vacation and beginning of school. Days when I’d sit in the classroom beside an open window and listen to the geese flying high above, honking as they left for the south.

I remembered the day in September that my father died. It was a warm sunny day. I woke up just before the sun rose. My father’s hospital room looked out over Lake Ontario. I watched the wisps of clouds high in the sky change from grey to pink followed by the flash of light as the first ray of sun broke the horizon. I remember when he lost consciousness a few hours later, and feeling that he was suddenly gone from the room. I remember the nurse calling “code blue” and the doctors running into his room. I remember leaving the hospital with all the weight of worry gone, feeling light but horribly empty as well. I remember the sunshine, warm on my face, and the butterflies that seemed to fill my mother’s garden that day. I remember my tears stinging like never before.

I remembered another day in September when the twin towers fell. Again it was a warm sunny day. A day that seemed to exude life although it would soon reek with death. I remember driving over to drop the newspaper pages to our copy editor and hearing the news on the radio. We turned on his television and watched the horror on CNN. I remember the awful scenes and the terrible feeling that nothing would ever be the same again.

In my dream I grew angry at September for taking life away, but then it encouraged me to remember the day in September that I was married. The day started out cool and overcast. The lake was cold and the power was out all over Muskoka. Greg and I jumped in the frigid lake to wash and bath before getting dressed for our wedding. It was cool, but by noon the sun was shining. The clouds had blown away and the power was finally working. I remember sitting on the dock with Greg and watching a butterfly flutter about looking for the last flowers of summer. I remember the boat ride to our ceremony, and trying to contain my joy at seeing everyone I loved gathered there to celebrate with us. That day in September was one of the best days of my life.

I woke up from my dream to the sound of my six-month-old son crying from his crib. I picked him up and the two of us looked out over the still lake, watching the mist rise in the bay on the far shore. The clouds turned pink and sunlight touched the tips of the trees across from us, tingeing their dark green branches with a touch of gold.

September marks the end of summer. It is a month that reminds me of endings, but it also reminds me that with every end there is a beginning.

THE CIRCLE OF LIFE

Grant Whatmough: May 24, 1921 – Sept. 14, 1999

It has been seven years since my father died and as I look at his picture beside my desk I think of all he gave me — the innocence of childhood, the safety of it, and the desire to live life as fully as possible.

When I was a girl I would run through the fields with my arms outstretched like wings. The tall grass scratched at my bare legs, almost reaching my arms, but it offered a soft cushion with every fall and a great place to hide from my twin brother. I used to dream of flying. Of swooping over the fields like the barn swallows. I used to climb trees and watch the tall grass roll like waves in the wind.

One of my favourite songs is Home by Nathan Wiley. The first line goes “When I was a boy I had everything, I had silver and gold.” The song evokes images of his past, falling asleep in the back seat of the car, dreaming of ships he will sail. It reminds me of what home felt like to me as a child — a safe place to think, dream, learn, and set out from. That childhood innocence I once had is something I can only go back to in my dreams, a place where responsibility and worry don’t enter.

Tonight, as I type away at my desk I remember the evenings I had as a child. There were times when my parents had company and I would sneak out of my bed to listen to them talk. They spoke about philosophy, art, politics, love, and life. I remember wishing I would grow up faster so that I could understand more about what they discussed. Life seemed to be just out of reach.

Many of my childhood memories are beautiful and sometimes I wonder if my senses were more finely tuned then. I remember being in bed with my window open and trying to pick out a single voice in a chorus of 1000 frogs (spring peepers) that filled the night air. Their voices seemed to create a magical symphony.

I remember running along paths in the dark with nothing but a sparkler to light our way and reaching the crest of a hill to turn and see the sparks from a huge bonfire we had spent months preparing rise until they merged with the stars in the sky above.

I remember evenings when my parents sat out on the lawn to watch the sun set and I, in turn, watched them from my bedroom window. They held hands and sat out there well after the light faded and darkness filled the night with stars.

I still recall my first skate on a cold winter’s night, the smoothness of the ice and the stillness of the night broken only by a dog’s bark from miles away. The star-filled sky stretched over the fields, enveloping them in its silence. I glided over the ice, floating, flying above and amid the night, part of it and grounded completely in it. The beauty in that moment struck me like never before, but as soon as I took notice it was gone.

My twin brother and I swam in a neighbour’s pond. We explored the nearby swamp and choked on cigarettes made from dried leaves and weeds. We rode horses from the neighbouring church camp, sneaked into their gospel hall and sang The Lion Sleeps Tonight over their public address system. We flour-bombed their prayer wagon. We grew. I remember the fear and exhilaration that came from swaying in the upper branches of a tall tree on the crest of a hill, as an August thunderstorm rolled, clashing and bursting over the fields, toward us.

The innocence of my childhood left long ago. I know about loss and the feeling of emptiness in the pit of your stomach that has a way of growing into you, and becoming part of you. I know that happiness can come and go. This knowledge is something I’d never experienced as a child; its price was my innocence. I remember how much I craved being older, I wanted to be free to do anything and to learn as much as I could. And you know, I still crave learning despite the cost.

My childhood home was my Eden. I will never go back because I would never voluntarily give up the knowledge I have gained. But, if I live long enough, my knowledge and my memories might slowly begin to melt away and someday I may indeed regain the innocence I’ve lost. Life is, if you live long enough, one big circle.

UNDER THE COVER

The snowflakes are falling, large and round outside my window. It looks like one of those small, encapsulated winter scenes with fake snow swirling around the landscape. I’m sitting in a large office on the third floor of the old Royal Bank building at the corner of King and Yonge in Toronto. I can hear the bell from the streetcar ringing as it passes below my window. A fire truck races down King Street; its siren echoes between the tall buildings. On Friday evenings the bells from St. James Cathedral chime for hours and it seems to spread a calmness over the city and into our offices.

My office door is kept open; people run in and out all day long. Our publisher just walked in and asked if I think we should get a wine reviewer. “It’s already done. Her name is Ruth Ryan and she’s reviewing four bottle for this issue,” I say without looking up from my computer screen. Our publisher is quiet and shy, but from time to time I see strands of genius. He’s full of ideas of how to make the paper grow and prosper. This issue of Women’s News goes to press in two days. I have six columns to edit, a profile to write and my own column to finish. But all I can think about is my husband working on our house. He’s taking down the plaster in our dining room and his hands are getting calloused. He’s never had calloused hands before. I love calloused hands.

We’ve spent the past three weeks trying to get pregnant. It’s an odd feeling because I’ve spent most of my adult life trying not to. But in the last three weeks I’ve learned that there is nothing as sexy as trying to create a life. Not whipped cream, not chocolate body paint or edible undies. If I had known this when I was younger, I’d probably have a herd of kids by now. But I’m 35 and I’ve still got at least five good egg-producing years left. I’m hoping for twins.

Being a twin myself I know what a wonderful experience it is. As a twin you don’t suffer from older, middle or youngest child syndrome. You learn early how to share, how to work with a partner to build and shape the world around you. Being the runt of the litter, I may have developed a bit of a Napoleon complex, but it hasn’t harmed me terribly although it may have affected others a bit.

Ah, but back to my office, where our sales manager has just poked her head in the door to ask if she can give a ridiculous advertising deal to an advertiser. “You want to give them an ad that we won’t make anything on?” I ask. “Yes.” “Is the advertiser a nice person?” I ask. “Of course, but he’s broke” she replies. “Then we must” I respond and she smiles and rushes out to call him. Our recipe columnist Sherri Cohen, comes in and pulls a chair up to my desk. “What do you think about a recipe for soup?” she asks. It’s three in the afternoon; I missed breakfast and am on my second cup of coffee. As she goes into an elaborate description of her recipe, my mouth begins to water. Her excitement is nearly uncontainable. Her words bring the food to my taste buds and I’m ready to sit down and eat anything she puts before me.

Her description reminds me of evenings at home, making dinner with Greg. I’ve been working so late that we don’t get around to dinner until eight or nine, but we always light a fire to eat by and we make the most out of the few hours we do spend together. Sherri leaves and I look at the work load for the rest of the day. It’ll be another late night and I may have to skip dinner. I wonder why I do this? Why do I continue to work such long hours? What’s it all for?

I check my e-mail and notice a letter from a reader. Her words are kind, she compliments our content and mentions Kent Peacock’s article Looking for Ludwig in our last issue. She’s never read anything like our newspaper before and notices how intimate and well written our articles are. She thanks me for allowing her to escape for a few minutes out of her hectic day. I wonder who she is and what she does. I wonder if she knows how much her words mean to me? It’s words like hers that remind me what it’s all for.

FALL DAYS EVOKE MIXED FEELINGS

Monday

The Pope is apologizing for reading a line from ancient scriptures that described the violence of Islam. Then the late night news showed violent outbursts in the Islamic world over the Pope’s words.

Tuesday

Rumours are spreading that Belinda Stronach is “involved” with Tie Domi. Then I read that court files reveal he had an affair with her prior to his separation from his wife. I don’t know the details, but it seems like Stronach has hooked up with a retired hockey player whose efforts at love haven’t been very successful.

Love has a way of blinding one, but oh how short-lived those beautiful moments can be. I remember what it was like to be alone, to hope that I would find someone I could share my life with. I could never settle for a man who lacked integrity, because without integrity, nobody can believe in themselves, let alone believe in someone else, and without a belief in yourself, and the one you are with, love is virtually impossible.

Greg lies next to me each night, he pulls me in close and I am never alone. In the morning our eldest son toddles in to cuddle between “daddy and mummy.” I will always have these moments, always treasure them. I know that my focus on Greg, my belief in him and his belief in me is the glue that holds us together. I wonder how people could live one day without it, let alone a week or a year.

Wednesday

So many events coming up and it seems that I have so little time to attend them. Today we decided to add a society page to the paper in order to bring the spotlight to some worthy causes and worthy businesses supporting them.

Thursday

Greg and I celebrated four years of marriage tonight by attending a charity event at BMW Toronto. Their goal was to raise money for waterfront revitalization efforts. It was a great event with some pretty interesting people. At the end of the night, after a few glasses of wine, I managed to get the entire elevator full of people to sing, “I love you baby, if it’s quite alright I need you baby, to warm my lonely nights, oh baby…” I love singing.

Friday

Learned today that U.S. intelligence has a report which states the war in Iraq is not helping combat international terrorism but inflaming the Muslim world. The focus of the U.S. on Iraq is inspiring suicide bombers and fuelling terrorism. Wow, they are smart!!! Of course the war is making martyrs; of course it is inspiring extremists. Next they’ll tell us about the heroes it is creating. But will they ever realize that war is pointless, that reason over force is the only option for peace?

Saturday

It was a cold grey day at the cottage. Spent most of the day inside, playing with the kids and baking a cake — okay it was from a box, but it made the cottage smell grand. Sat on the deck listening to the wind in the trees. The leaves are changing colour — yellows, reds and oranges. I could feel fall in the air — the damp leaves, the wood smoke, the blue jays calling in the forest. Life is based on change, yet so many people resist it.

Sunday

The world is heating up and with it natural disasters will escalate. I woke early this morning to the sound of wind breaking branches and bending the trees like grass in a field. It tossed the sailboat off the dock and knocked down trees all over the island. The power was out all day and we learned that most of Bracebridge and Huntsville were out of power as well. If greenhouse gases keep up at their present rate, stronger natural disasters will occur. Can I do anything to make the world a better place for my sons?

I WILL REMEMBER YOU

Remembrance Day is the time to remember those who fought for our freedom. My father was a Second World War veteran. He served in the air force in Gander, Newfoundland until the back of his skull was smashed against the roof of his plane during an accident on a surveillance flight in 1943. He spent months in a coma and was discharged with a metal plate in his head. He could never fly again.

I asked him why he had volunteered. His answer was that Hitler represented a threat against humanity and civility and everyone faced a choice — to look the other way or to fight. And, like most young people of his time, he believed that his choice mattered more than his life. He believed that he could make a difference and that belief is what won the war.

On Remembrance Day, I try to think of the men and women who gave up their way of life, who put their dreams and hopes on hold and who died in the fight for freedom. I try to put myself in their shoes, to imagine them with human strengths and frailties.

Imagine an 18-year-old boy signing up for a war he knew nothing about, doing so out of a sense of duty and honour. Think of him the week before he left home, noticing the leaves changing colour from the cold nights of fall, or watching the wind whip across the lake, blowing the waves into whitecaps as a storm approaches.

The day his ship sails, does he stride up the gangplank with any regrets? His sister and mother wave to him from the shore, hope and fear fill their eyes. Nobody said what they were all thinking — “Will this be the last time our eyes meet?” He wouldn’t know what the next day had in store for him, let alone the coming months. His hope is his only comfort as he watches his country slip away in the distance.

Or picture a man who was too young for the First World War and older than most of the men headed into the second. He leaves the embrace of his wife and children as he boards a train heading to the coast, where he’ll meet a ship that will take him to Europe. He’s finished basic training and is on his way to the front. His chances for survival are slim but so too are his options. He goes because he couldn’t hold his head high as he watched the younger men leave for the war. He wasn’t at ease in his home thinking of what they had to endure.

The newspapers fill him with rage. He loves his life and is afraid, but he now gets a sense of strength each time he puts on his uniform. He looks down at his children waving to him from the platform of the railway station and he smiles. He wants them to remember him with a smile. His eyes meet his wife’s. They are filled with tears because she knows why he smiles.

Or think of the woman whose brothers and husband have left for a war she is barely a part of. She works in a factory making munitions while her son is in school. She wants to do more. She is alone in a world with very few men. She notices the emptiness in her world but tries to keep busy with her job and her son. She works as hard as she can and wonders if the bullets she makes will keep her husband safe. She believes that they will stop the Nazis from gaining ground, and this keeps her going. She cries every night once her son is in bed. She tries not to despise the men who have stayed behind.

She waits, writing to her husband every night. His letters come sporadically. They stop and she knows something is wrong. She gets a letter from him that was lost in the mail; it is months old, but she reads it over and over again every night.

One day, a black car with two uniformed men stops in front of the house. The tears start flowing before she has opened the door. She will go on, her life forever changed. She learns to cope with the loneliness, and her husband fills her dreams. She sleeps in his shirts until they fall apart. The war ends, her son grows up and with each passing year he becomes more like his father. When he boards the train to go off to college their eyes meet; he has his father’s eyes and she is overwhelmed with the memory of the last time she saw her husband. She will cry again that night.

And remember the man trapped in a prison camp, separated from his family in the middle of the night by authorities who don’t recognise his humanity. He remembers gunshots and screams but does not know if his wife and children are alive or dead. He works every day moving piles of sand from one side of the camp to the other. The camp is full of men, women, and children. But his world is little more than hunger and emptiness. The sun on his face has no warmth. The guards treat them like animals but he knows they must do this in order to separate themselves from their captives and live with their atrocities. He tries not to think of his life as it was, but it haunts him. He dreams of his past and is afraid to lose hope because without it he will lose his sanity. At night he works with others to dig a tunnel beneath the fence. They are caught and he takes responsibility for it. He stands in front of a firing squad on a sunny day and for a brief moment he can feel the warmth of the sun on his face.

With these thoughts I remember those that gave their lives to the war — men and women who lived and died with honour

CAN YOU HEAR IT?

Have you ever stopped and listened to the sound of an old clock ticking? The clock that sits in the corner on top of the book shelf in my office has just struck the half hour. Its sound is deep; it generates feelings of reverence and wisdom whenever I hear it. The clock was given to me by my aunt Janet. It has travelled to three different homes with me. I always place it in the room that I write in, close to my books and next to my thoughts. Its sound changes the feel of the room, slowing down time, breaking it into seconds you can almost touch. For 50 years the clock sat on a window ledge in my aunt’s farm house, observing time as each day passed. My aunt died on a cold winter day in February. The only sound in her hospital room was the hum from the fluorescent light above her bed. I wonder what sounds I’ll hear when I make my final departure?

Last night I lay with my head on Greg’s chest, listening to his heart beat. Its rhythm perfectly matched the ticking of my old clock. I thought of it pumping life into every vein and muscle in his body. And that some day this sound would end in him, and in me. Certain sounds seem to have an endless quality. Like waves breaking on a beach, or the roar of a waterfall. Even the din of traffic from a far-off highway has that ceaseless quality. As if they will continue long after I am gone. But the sound of a heart beating is so vital and intimate, it causes almost the opposite effect in me. I think mostly of its ending, a silence like no other. Like words, certain sounds bring about certain moods in me. The sound of a trickling stream causes a feeling of peace deep down. But sometimes it’s the lack of sound that creates this.

I remember walking along a city street last winter in the middle of a snow storm. The snow spread itself like a blanket over the noise of the city. As the snow fell, the blanket became thicker and heavier. The crunch of snow under my step was the only sound I could hear in the stillness of the falling snow.

Then there are sounds that, for me, signify the beginning of something. The sound of birds rising at dawn and heralding the new day. A car engine turning over, or a steam whistle in the distance. There are other sounds that signify the ending of something. Like “Taps” played on a single trumpet at a soldier’s funeral; or the squealing of brakes followed by the tearing of metal.

Sounds not only measure time but space. They seem to go along with the places I have lived. Each home has a host of distinct sounds that make it unique. The apple farm where I grew up had some sounds I’ve never heard since. A dog barking across the fields from miles away on a cold, star-filled night. Or the sound of frogs in the marsh filling the summer night with their calls. Like a thousand voices all trying to be heard. It was the first crowd I experienced. And it was there, on the farm, that I first heard the quiet rustle of poplar leaves sounding like tiny bits of tin foil tapping gently together. And cicadas buzzing on a hot August day.

There are certain sounds that I associate with living in Hamilton. A fog horn on a grey, misty day. A lawn mower cutting grass and kids playing in sprinklers. The sound of the knife sharpener ringing his bell as he drove slowly through the back alley. Then there are sounds that I associate with Greg’s cottage. They seem so far away. The loon calling for his mate to join him every evening. The lap of water against the dock and the boats jostling below us in the boathouse. The sound of Greg’s paddle dipping into a still lake. The tapping of a woodpecker echoing through the trees. All these sounds I associate with a certain time and place.

Today I can hear the sound of the streetcar as it makes its turn into the Bathurst station. It’s becoming a familiar sound. It reminds me that the world out there is turning. That life is going by. The sound gives me an anxious feeling, suggesting there is so little time and so much to do. And as I listen, I’m drawn back to the sound of my clock ticking. Each second is gone, each minute goes by. When I’m old and grey and about to take my last breath, I hope I can hear at least one sound. The sound of a heart beating.

CONFIDENCE, CULTURE, AND ENCOURAGEMENT

A friend told me about his trip to the U.S. this week. He was surprised by the change of attitude in people. From his hotel clerk to the local bartender, they seem to have lost the confidence so characteristic of Americans. The uncertainty in the markets has done more to undermine the strength of America than any terrorist threat to date. With a terrorist threat there is a foe to rally against. With an economic meltdown, there is nothing to fight but ineptitude.

If you describe countries as people, then America is a boy nearing the end of his teenage years. He has just learned that the brazenness of adolescence has consequences. He has enough intelligence to pull back and analyze what has happened, but he also needs encouragement to keep moving forward. I hope this lesson doesn’t undermine his belief in himself. Now is the time when he will need to rise up to the challenge. The grit and guts that made America strong is still in the people, they just need to remember that it is there.

The first issue of our magazine came into our office and everyone stood around looking at it, turning the pages carefully. We have gone from a newspaper six years ago, printing 50,000 copies, to a magazine with over half a million readers today. We did it. Someone started clapping and then everyone was and I looked around, trying to hold back the tears. Thing is, it wasn’t so much the fact that we now have a magazine, but that I work with such a great group of smart and talented people dedicated to making us the best we can be.

I attended a dinner the other night hosted by the Business for the Arts association. I sat next to Phillip Crawley, the publisher and CEO of The Globe and Mail. He pulled his Blackberry from his inner pocket and placed it on the table beside my water glass, then headed up to the stage to spend most of the dinner giving out the awards. A devilish voice in my head wondered what I might do with that gem just above my right hand. It would be easy to slip it into my purse, excuse myself to the ladies room, and send lecherous emails to all his columnists. Oh, the things a few well-thought-out words might do.

I look around the table. Jim Fleck, chairman of Business for the Arts, sits across from me, carefully listening to the awards ceremony. I admire his desire to inspire and recognize businesses that support the arts.

We have decided to do special editions of the Women’s Post focusing on companies that are exemplary corporate citizens, companies that are innovative in leading their industry, and companies that give back to the world around them. Our goal is to inspire industry leaders to think outside the box and make decisions that are not only good for their company, but for the communities they serve.

We are planning a charity art show and wine sampling for our Courage to Lead event on November 25, to raise funds for Nellie’s, a shelter for women and children. If you would like to join us to support a great cause, and connect with our writers, editors, and other dynamic people, please call Mikhail at 416-964-5850 for tickets.

Sarah Thomson can be reached at publisher@womenspost.ca.

WHAT WE PASS ON

The lake is quiet now that all the cottagers have gone home after the summer. The morning air is warm and heavy, as if the grey clouds that cover the sky above are pushing down and closing in. Blue jays calls echo across the water. They are busy preparing for the long winter ahead. Their activity is contagious and they make me feel as if I should be preparing more for this tiny baby growing inside me. With less than five weeks until he is due, I’m beginning to wonder if I’m ready for this huge change to come.

I wonder how we will teach him to be strong and good, to care about the world around him, to live every moment to the fullest? Will he pick it up from the way my husband and I behave in the world? Lately, I’m more thoughtful about the way I interact with other people, of how I am in the world and about the way I behave toward those who are close to me. I want to become more patient and less critical of others. I want to be a better person so that this boy will have a good role model. I hope he learns to see my strengths and my weaknesses and eventually grow beyond them. When I look at his father, I hope that our son inherits his patience and strength, his determination to learn and do whatever he sets his mind to, and his kindness. Perhaps that is what parenting is all about – the hope that our best parts will live on in our children.

Here, at the cottage, I try not to think of the renovations underway at our house in the city. But the wasps are buzzing around their nest under the eaves, their last flourish of activity before they die. They are hard-wired to build despite the coming winter and their most certain demise. We discovered that the male wasps die off every year, while the young fertilized females hibernate under the earth over the winter to come out in the spring with a fresh batch of young to carry on. The nest, built over the summer, is left empty and abandoned – if it survives the winter, it exists only as a monument to the work done and the lives that built it.

I want to teach our son to understand the value of good workmanship, to distinguish between things built to last and things patched together to be consumed. I’m going to try to surround him with things that are built well, but is it possible? I inherited a highchair that was my father’s when he was a boy. It is small and wooden and made to be pulled right up to the table. It doesn’t have a plush cushioned seat, or a safety harness, and I wonder if my father fell from it very many times. Even so, I want to use it. I’m pulled to the idea that what worked for my father should work for my son, that the things we surround ourselves with will have a direct impact on the way we live and the attitudes we have towards the world.

I also want to teach our son the importance of love. Of giving yourself to another person and caring for them more at times than you care about yourself. I know he may get hurt, but I also know that hurt builds strength and that without sharing himself fully with another person he won’t get the opportunity of seeing the world through her eyes. And with love he will need to learn the value of hope – I want him to face the world armed with it. I don’t know what sort of things life will throw in his path but I do know that if he has hope, the challenges he faces can be overcome. As Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote, “It is life, not death, that has no limits…”

What sort of a world are we bringing our son into? It hasn’t changed much over the past century. It is a world that is, in many ways, very much like the world of his grandfather. There are still wars tearing countries apart, invaders wanting to bring enlightenment to the backward and the deprived, rich countries overpowering poorer ones. There is still greed, hunger and misery while others live in opulence. Although history seems to repeat itself, I have hope that one day we will get it right. Morality and decency, the fundamentals that keep us civilised, seem to survive despite opulence and greed. Our son will need to learn the same skills his grandfather needed to survive and I think the most important ones will be love, hope and kindness.

********************

I’d like to welcome a great woman who has joined our team at The Women’s Post. Laurie Simmonds has come on as our new associate publisher. She brings a lot of knowledge, experience and many new ideas to this newspaper, which readers will see implemented over the coming months. I do believe that strong women are changing the world – and she is one of them.

A LETTER TO MYSELF IN 50 YEARS

am you, at 36 years of age. I am writing this letter to you because time seems to be passing so quickly and I want you to remember the small moments that went into making a wonderful life.

If you are reading this it means that you made it to your 86th birthday. Congratulations. I hope that our son has given this to you, as I will instruct him to do when he’s a bit older. Today, as I write this, he is six weeks old.

So far in my life I’ve experienced loss and sorrow, with big stretches of happiness and joy in between. There is a part of my life that is less without my father here and I often wish he were alive to meet my husband and son. I know he would be happy that I have so much love in my life. Even though he is gone, I still feel him around me: In the sawing and hammering I hear as my husband renovates the second floor of our house, in the crackling of the fire and the ticking of the clock as I type this letter. Words, sounds, experiences that I associate with him still exist in my daily life and they work to keep something of him alive in me. Can you remember the way he chuckled when he made a good chess move? Or the way his artist’s hands, with long graceful fingers, handled every object that he touched with gentleness and care? Do you still remember his face and his expressions as vividly as I do now?

Last night we had our staff Christmas party. Do you remember the great times we had starting The Women’s Post? I’m expecting it will be a national daily newspaper by the time you read this letter. But now, as I write, the newspaper is going into its third year. Our team is small, but efficient. Even now we have the best writers in the country and we are all very close. Last night’s party was filled with excellent conversation and much laughter.

Today I sit in our half-finished living room with our son sleeping in the bassinet beside me. I doubt very much that I’ll be living here in 50 years. Do you remember the house? It sits on a corner lot and the living room has an alcove of windows on the south wall and another row of windows on the east wall. The ceilings are high and there is dark wood panelling covering the lower half of the room. The panelling isn’t quite finished and my husband still has to build the bookshelves and the mantle for the fireplace. There is a fire burning now and an old clock ticks in the front hall. The Christmas tree sits in the window alcove.

Our mother has just left after spending the night here. I hate to imagine the future without her, but in 50 years I know she will be gone from my life and I want you to read this and remember the way she was this morning at breakfast. Her hair is cropped short and she looks as carefree as she behaves. No perhaps carefree isn’t the word, it’s more that she is filled with life and interested in each moment. She enjoys every conversation she has and seems to find something good in everyone. By the time you read this I hope I have learned to be as graceful and strong as she is.

I wonder if Greg will still be alive if I reach 86? If you are reading this letter and he isn’t, then at this point your eyes will probably fill with tears. Mine are right now just thinking about it. But try to think of all the joy-filled moments. Do you remember how he taught you to ski at Mont Tremblant? You woke up one morning to a snowstorm and decided to ski down the north side. The wind was whipping the snow up at the top of the mountain but the view was beautiful. Every tree branch was covered in snow. It was the perfect winter wonderland.

Or remember the winter holidays spent at the cottage, the stillness of the forest broken by the call of a chickadee, the crackle of the fire burning in the hearth and the smell of hot apple cider after a day of skating. Remember the way Greg used to fall asleep in his chair by the fire with a book in his hand.

Can you remember what you felt the day that your son was born? Can you picture Greg walking into the operating room? His eyes were filled with worry and when he asked how I was, I told him I was horny and the worry on his face vanished instantly as he broke into a smile. Do you remember the music they played in the operating room? It was Enya. You should get your son to play it for you. Do you remember how delicate and tiny your son looked when they placed him in your arms? And how life suddenly seemed much more dangerous than ever before?

My father used to say that there is nothing good about growing old and that the only way to handle it is to do it as gracefully as possible. At 36 I still see more ahead of me than behind. I hope that when you read this, you’ll be able to see further in both directions.

CALLING ALL ANGELS

I can’t remember when I first got the idea into my head that I was going to change the world, but I’ve always believed that by doing good things, and working hard, anything is possible. I’ve never been one to accept things as they are and I often dream of a world free of war, greed and hatred; a world where the air quality doesn’t need to be monitored, where forests are treasured, not destroyed; a world where compassion and intellectual pursuit flourish.

In my younger years I thought I could find answers in the philosophers and studied Socrates and Descartes, Nietzsche and Kant. But I learned that they too were searching for answers and hadn’t found any solutions. The world was far more complex than I’d ever imagined. I read about different societies – their histories, cultures and beliefs – and learned that in democracy, more than any other system of government, debate and discussion must prevail, otherwise corruption can and will spread like a disease. I saw how conviction could take the place of wisdom, how poverty pushed young adults directly into the hands of powerful tyrants. I cried when hatred destroyed innocent lives, when the communists destroyed the temples in Tibet. But I learned to find comfort in human emotion – in the love and compassion – that thrives despite the turmoil in our world.

I noticed that women were influencing decisions both in the home and in society more than ever before. I also noticed that men and women collected information differently; that women often wanted more context and narrative with their information than the dry facts that men seem to prefer. I began to realise that most of the news I read simply delivered facts without giving the narrative or context that I needed and used to make my judgements. I’d often read about events in the news and wonder what part of the story was missing – and what the real story was.

I decided to create a newspaper that was different, one that focused on the stories around the facts and delivered information in a narrative format that would allow readers to see clearly the position of the writer and make their own judgements about what they read. I wanted to carry columns that would make the reader think, and also make them feel. I believed that by producing a newspaper that caused debate and stimulated discussion, I could, in some small way, help reinforce democracy in this country.

Without doing any research, or creating a business plan, I set about publishing an independent newspaper in Toronto – one of the most competitive and saturated newspaper markets in the country. Despite that, I succeeded, and The Women’s Post is now going into our third year. We owe much of our success to the writers and advertisers who also share in the vision of this paper; they are all people who want to make a difference.

There were days when I felt like giving up, days when I wasn’t sure how we were going to make payroll, or if we’d even be in business the next week. I leaned on my husband a lot back then and he was always encouraging, but what carried me through the tough times were the letters and e-mail I received from readers. Like the woman who wrote me last week and told me about all the sadness she had in her life, but a column that she had read had given her hope and she knew that no matter what life threw at her, she still had more ahead to look forward to. It’s letters like hers that make me realise that The Women’s Post is making a difference.

Like a small child, this newspaper has gone from crawling to walking – and we are now ready to run. We are printing 50,000 copies in Toronto, with another 10,000 in Vancouver, and aiming to put another 25,000 into Calgary. We have acquired some of the best writers in the country and it is time for us to expand further, to reach out to more people, to create more debate and discussion.

But this will require key people to help us get to the next stage. We are forming an advisory board and are looking for people who share our vision of a world where compassion, debate, discussion and intellectual growth can flourish. If you would like to become involved with The Women’s Post please give me a call or send me an email.

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Sarah Thomson’s e-mail ispublisher@womenspost.ca