Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How do I love thee... Oh Canada

Love letters come in many formats.

Sometimes they're compilation CDs. Sometimes they're scratched in the wet sand on a windy beach. Sometimes they're fresh-baked cookies.

The obituary I wrote for Chris was a love letter... for him, to him, of him.

Often we find ourselves thinking of the many things we wanted to tell someone we love when it's too late. "If only I had another chance." "If only I could do it differently this time."

What would you do... if you only had one week to live? What would you do differently?

The film One Week is director Michael McGowan's love letter to Canada. Without revealing any spoilers the basic premise of the film is the story of a young man with a full life and about to get married who is told he has terminal cancer.

What would you do?

He decides to hit the road - partly in flight mode, partly in the hopes of clearing his head and coming to terms with the shattering news he's just been given. Riding his motorcycle westward with no real plan in mind, the arc of his physical journey is also the story of his emotional journey.

Most of the time he's alone with his turbulent thoughts, the ever-changing landscape of Canada as the backdrop. Along the way he meets other people, each on their own journeys, and while these encounters are often fleeting, there are lingering changes that impact in ways great and small. By the time Ben reaches the Pacific ocean one week later his life has changed him... and he has changed his life.

For anyone who's travelled across Canada or lived in different parts of Canada, there are certain touchstones and symbols that need no explanations. But this is no hackneyed travelogue, the moments captured are touching and affectionate and breath-taking and ultimately vibrate deep in that collective Canadian psyche. Despite being a story of a young man facing death, there were many warm waves of laughter that rippled through the audience when I saw it in the theatre. This is an unabashedly Canadian story whose cultural reference may or may not resonate with audiences elsewhere.

Twenty years ago this summer, my university roommate and I loaded up her car Zelda and began a five-day journey to Vancouver. We were young and foolish and broke but life was full of adventure and tree-planting in Northern BC sounded like a great way to spend the summer making gobs of money.

We B&B'd with a Henry Fonda look-alike in the Sault and sang ad jingles along the shores of Lake Superior when the radio wouldn't pick up any signal and stood quietly in the shadow of Terry Fox outside Thunder Bay and took the ring road around Winnipeg and marvelled at tumbling tumbleweed and gazed into the blindingly blue cathedral skies of the Prairies and climbed higher and higher into the monstrous majesty of the Rockies and miraculously convinced a BC highway cop that Qubec didn't use front license plates and finally tumbled down through the great green Fraser River valley into Vancouver.

We didn't make gobs of money and I discovered I was a gardener, not a tree-planter, and I used Raid as hair spray and worked under the protective eye of a trained big game sharp-shooter and watched the sun barely slip below the horizon at 11:30pm and got my first tattoo from a guy with nipple rings and ate too much Baskin Robbins and discovered dim sum and spent my waitressing breaks reading on the beach and tasted bear stew with blueberry sauce and had pizza delivered to us on the Via train and cried tears of homecoming joy at seeing the light beacon atop Place Ville Marie and savoured every bite of Montreal smoked meat at 3am.

In the years since that summer, I've been lucky to have travelled to St. John's, Vancouver, and every provice in between for work and vacations. But of all those trips, it's that road trip which always resurfaces with the strongest emotions and memories. Perhaps because it was my first time seeing other parts of the country; perhaps because it was the company I shared; perhaps because it was our last summer of freedom before graduating into "the real world". It was the first time I really grasped the vastness and beauty of this country and how lucky I was to live here. Everyone should be so lucky!

Happy Canada Day - what are you going to do?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I absolutely love this post! It brought back a lot of memories and I wasn't even on that trip. The feelings you expressed are also mine and exactly how I felt watching the movie and flying over to Vancouver last week. Freakin Lake Superior is just as eternal by plane! LOL