Editor’s Note: Tim Leadem is this week’s guest editor and through the power of story and poetry he reflects on some lessons learned in 75 years of life. Tim is a friend from high school, a comrade on our Camino pilgrimage, and a retired lawyer living on a small island in British Columbia.
How does one measure a life in ways other than a year? The annual journey of the earth around the sun is the accepted standard way of counting out time. But along the way, there are many events that colour our vision backwards into the passages of time. And a lot of living and loving. And now nearing 75, birthdays come and go with such increasing regularity that I seem to have lost touch. Still, it is so good to celebrate life and reminisce now and then.
A few decades back in what is rapidly seeming to me like another lifetime ago, three friends and I chartered a float plane out of Campbell River on Vancouver Island and went off into the wilderness of central British Columbia in search of a climbing adventure. Our main objective was to climb amidst the seldom explored glaciers and rocks west of the Misty Icefields with the main attraction of summiting Mt. Waddington centrally located between the termini of Bute and Knight Inlets. Our float plane put us down onto a small lake at the base of the Tellot glacier. The plane had just enough stretch of water to take off on its return journey. I recall watching the plane and hearing its mighty roar as it took off and became a tiny speck in the sky, and then there was no noise in the great silence of the wilderness.
For the next three weeks we hiked, climbed, bushwhacked and endured variable weather conditions as we made our way up and over Nabob Pass and down onto the Tiedemann Glacier. There were many adventures along the way with route finding, retrieving our food drops that were made onto the glacier from the plane, and drinking super cold water that melted from ice that was old as time.
We did not summit since the fickle coastal weather had its way with us. It dumped prodigious amounts of snow followed by a blazing sun that melted out snow bridges and caused numerous avalanches that made travel upwards hazardous. When we abandoned the climb after getting to a high point in the Bravo glacier and finding the icefall to be too treacherous for even our youthful spirits, we retreated and spent some time climbing out of the Plummer Hut on the Serra spires. Then we walked long days out to be picked up by our float plane. We spent four anxious “extra” days waiting for our ride home when finally, after subsisting on nothing but blueberries and oatmeal, our plane landed on a lake located just below tree line to find all of us delirious with joy at being “rescued.” It turned out that our original pilot had left for holiday and it wasn’t until his replacement leafed through his log book that it was noted that we were overdue for a pickup from a subalpine lake miles from civilization.
It had been quite the adventure -with the majority of days spent on snow and ice and rock. When we touched earth and grass and plants in our journey out to our pick-up spot we marveled at the smell. Glaciers can be such sterile places: there is little of life in those ponderous massive shapes other than ice worms and the occasional stray buzzing insect. In my memory, I can still smell the lushness of the earth so redolent with aromas that greeted us as we finally left the world of crevasse and icy snow melt.
We were young enough that we did not fear death although it went along with us in every traverse of an ice field and in every avalanche and rock fall that descended from on high.
Each of us had brought a paperback book that was devoured during bad weather days (there were more than a few) and then shared. For some inexplicable reason, one of us brought a slim book that featured a character who was dying of cancer and spent his last days saying his goodbyes to his friends and family as he prepared for his inevitable demise. That book sparked some discussion among us as we lay hunkered down in our tents awaiting the cessation of the driving snow. I remember stating that I would like to go out the door that way-knowing that I was dying and able to make my peace with everyone. I may have been alone in that view with everyone else choosing a quick swift death into the abyss in some romantic vision of dying in our beloved mountains. Every few hours one of us was stirred to activity to boot up, venture outside into the raging white, and shake the tent free from its heavy burden of snow before it collapsed upon us. We all had a few near misses on that trip.
“Be careful of what you wish for.” In early 2020 I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer that brought me up short and made me face my mortality squarely on. Up to that point in time, I had taken my health for granted, and other than soccer injuries in an over-40 league in Victoria, I eschewed hospitals and doctors.
Initially after my diagnosis, I went through the “Why me?” stage. And then the fear overwhelmed me until I reached out to countless friends for support and prayer. My classmate Bill Swann reminded me of the story of Jesus calming the stormy sea of Galilee. Yes, it was time to wake up the Lord who had lain asleep in the stern of my boat for too long. I carried that image into the operating theatre and later through the almost 3 years of treatment that followed. But like the character from that small paperback book from years ago, I used the opportunity to make my peace with God and get reacquainted with the life of a Church. In many ways, I have come to see my cancer as a friend and omnipresent companion telling me to smarten up. As I sit here penning this message, I have been a few months cancer free. I have given up worry and left everything up to God.
To me the life of the soul and the spiritual path seems most important. And life is best measured in pursuit of the divine in everything. I have learned that walking on pilgrimages to holy places exposes the soul and opens the heart. The countless days of plodding along prepare the heart to be such an open receptacle for grace to flow within. An open heart is a loving heart.
And what I have learned walking alone or with others is perhaps the true measure of life-how well we love and are loved during our short sojourn.
Life has become simpler for me-not just because I am retired. It is simpler because I believe in love and since God is love for me, I believe in God. The rest is window dressing or icing on our birthday cake. Blessings abound.
We measure our lives in years. The passage of the spinning earth as it circuits our sun. How else do we count our days?
And who will remember us? As we become like dust, we float suspended in a ray of light. Briefly we glint and shine until a gust of wind takes us away.
And how will we be remembered?
Not a day in the office or arguing some obscure point of law in a lifeless courtroom.
Perhaps there are voices and souls that have resonated with us
In love who will remember us and breathe us back into life
And then there are
those tender acts of kindness that define us as human
And are shared along the way
And in the end perhaps that is all that matters.
Not the years, not the days, not the glories however fleeting,
just the love and the kindness that we graced and spread over our short spans.
We are but floating motes in the light and we dance in the soft breezes of love.