…A Happy Buddha

Mutianyu, PRC April 2018

Dark colours hide physical imperfections, so ‘they’ say.

I say that the essence of a person lies far beneath what you can see, but rather in how their soul speaks to you despite their physical appearance.

In April 2018, I travelled with my wife to the People’s Republic of China to check off a bucket list item – To walk the Great Wall of China. It was a spectacular experience, but it wasn’t until several days later that the real experience hit me.

It started in Mutianyu, a small village ninety minutes NNE of Beijing. Three lovely, respectful local ladies approached us, lifted their cameras and bowed their heads. My intuition says: “They want to take your picture”. I nodded yes and started to pose like a runway model, they laughed. As one of the ladies prepared to take a picture, the other two came toward us and hug us as we came together for the photo. They than traded places and after a series of clicks, smiles, and hugs, they thanked us, hugged us and off they went.

While in Beijing, this scenario played out repeatedly during our visit to Tiananmen Square – twice, The Forbidden City – twice, The Emperor’s Garden – once, and Jingshan Park – once. However, the next day when we were at the Temple of Heaven it happened thrice. In all these interactions, unlike the ladies in Mutianyu, our hosts wanted photos with just me, not me and my wife. These folks were individuals, couples, young and old, and families.

It was at the Temple of Heaven when I encountered a large family those youngest son spoke English. So, I had to ask: ” Why do the locals here want pictures with me?”, his response: ” It’s because you look like…A Happy Buddha“.

I was speechless while I was processing his answer…

My mind saying: “He’s right, you have spent the last nine years on the couch”. The words that came out of my mouth: ” Thank-you, that is very kind of you to say, bless you, and your family”

I quickly realized it was a matter of perception, culture, and beliefs. From their perspective, they were bestowing a great honour on me! From my perspective, I was out of shape, the proverbial ‘couch potato’ as things happen with studies, career, family and aging parents taking priority.

As we left for the flight home, I promised myself that the next bucket list item would be to run a 1/2 Marathon, and a year later, a Marathon. I started running when I was 14 and ran right into my late 40s until an injury sidelined me and I stopped.

On May 1, 2022, I ran my first ever 1/2 Marathon. I didn’t win the race nor did I even come close, but in my mind I won. I do think though that I had the nicest shoes.

While I did all the hard work to get me to the finish line, One of the things that I realized was that I was aging, and that if I needed to get stronger, leaner and proverbially, meaner, I was going to need some help:

1. In 2018, I joined Goodlife Fitness and engaged a personal trainer. That is were I met @mb_rehab_performance (Matt Brennan). You set me on the path to success and kept me accountable for 18 months. Thank-you! You Rock!

2. In 2019, I joined the @heartandstroke Foundation’s Activate Program. They are a leader in heart health, heart wise nutrition, and healthy living.

3. In late 2020, I joined Peloton digital and started training with @becsgentry. This same year, I also purchased a Peloton Bike+ for cross-training purposes.

4. In early 2021, I received my Bike+ and started the cross training.

5. In December 2021, I registered for the Toronto Marathon in the 1/2 Marathon category.

6. From December 2021 to April 2022, I was virtually coached and guided by @becgentry, @mattwilper, @oamato and all the other great trainers and coaches @onepeleton

I had 3 goals for this 1/2 marathon:

A. Finish – without the need of an ambulance

B. Finish in under 3 hours

C. Stretch Goal finish in under 2.5 hours.

I succeeded in 2 of the 3 goals: 2HR 38MIN 06SEC

Toronto, Canada May 1, 2022

Here are My learnings from this experience:

1. If you have always been an athlete and you get injured, DO NOT STOP! find another activity to maintain your physical fitness – The human body was NOT designed to remain at rest. Can’t Run! Swim, Cycle, Walk

2. If you have never worked out, it’s never too late to start. Age is just a number. Confirmed by the 80+ year old that beat me across the finish line by 10 minutes. He has inspired me!

3. You can’t do this alone! Well, you can, but if you want to avoid injury, seek help – seeking help is a sign of strength! go for it!

4. Sore legs, Sore neck, Sore back, Acid reflux, Breathlessness, Stress – all are just a distant memory now. Strength training, Cardio, Rest, and recover activities all contributed to better overall health. Again, this is my experience. Seek medical advice before starting any exercise regiment.

5. Being part of a community of like minded individuals is inspiring. all those people at the finish line cheering ALL the runs on without even knowing us. The folks manning the Slava Ukraini water station on Rosedale valley road where awesome! To the lady near the start of the marathon holding up the sign: ” Smile if you’re Running Commando”. The numerous volunteers, race officials, and of course, the Police Officers and medical staff who kept us safe.

6. There are people out there that will support you to be the best version of yourself! Find them!

If my experience inspires just one person to lace up their shoes and go for a walk today, then sharing my 4-year health journey was well worth it. All the best to all of you, be safe, happy and true to you! Thank-you for reading. please share your thoughts!

Hard Lessons – will we ever learn?

June 18, 2020

Started like every other day under the Covid-19 lockdown. Wake-up, make coffee, power up the work computer and start working. Since all the gyms are closed, I’ve made it a habit of walking/running 8km at some point during the day.

This particular day, I left my house at 11:45am walking at a pace of about 10mins/km.

The intersection of Torbram Road and Country Side Drive is approximately 3km from my front door. I’ve passed this intersection 100s of times over the last 27 years, but today would be different!

At the intersection, while on the Phone with my mom, I turned East along Country Side Drive. Approximately 100 Metres East of the Intersection (even with noise cancelling AirPods in my ears), I heard and felt the crunching of melt and glass! I turned in time to see a slightly airborne white SUV hit a light standard with a sound that felt like the thundering of stampeding elephants.

The light standard snapped, crushing the White SUV. I yelled, “holy fuck! Mom I’ll call you back”.

I ran back towards the intersection as I surveyed the carnage! I ran past a frantic lady who stopped her car by the side of the road. She was yelling: “there’s a baby in the SUV”. Her voice still echos in my head.

Now, I’m standing in front of the burning sea blue G35, a couple of Good Samaritans are pulling the driver out of the burning vehicle. I stood immobilized, not capable of moving as the driver was whaling and grimacing in pain and agony. He was the lucky one, I know that now, but I knew it then too! This is why I couldn’t move!

I’m my years as a claims adjudicator early in my career, I was required to read police, hospital, doctors, workers, and employers accident reports to adjudicate claims.

As I continued to survey this catastrophic event my heart sank with every fibre of my being. My mind was processing the scene, my heart continued to sink as I knew that no one in the White SUV was going to survive.

Was it a premonition or just an educated assumption? I was still immobilized as I fumbled for my phone, “shit, not that phone, that’s my work phone” (a sign of the times). I found my phone and started recording the mayhem in front of me.

However, what I witnessed was not Mayhem!

I saw people of all ethnicities, backgrounds, colour and religions coming together to help the occupants in all four vehicles. They worked valiantly together erratically but calmly and gently pulling three infants out of the crushed white SUV to safety. They started CPR. Others found blankets and brought them to comfort the little victims.

Brady, the driver of he G35, continued yelling in pain!

Within minutes there was a regiment of police cars on the scene! Fire and ambulances soon followed, they all got into the fray! Police officers took over from the tired Good Samaritans and continued CPR on the girls, firefighters then stepped in to allow the officers to get control of the scene.

One gentleman upon seeing the ambulances raced towards them yelling: “Over here! Bring ventilators”

The first medical responders took over and continued trying to stabilize the young victims!

What I witnessed this day was that out of tragedy, the community showed up transcending all the social and political issues currently evident in the news.

I witnessed the best of humanity! kindness, empathy, sympathy, respect, caring, community!

One outcome of the Danforth tragedy was “Just Do Kindness”. In a world where you can be anything, be kind!

This coming together of the community should be a model for resolving all of our social and political issue!

Diversity is our strength, let’s leverage it!

On a personal note, to the Father and Husband that lost everything. I can’t possibly understand what you are going through this Father’s Day! However, know that I feel for you and your loss as does the community!

We are with you in solidarity. God Bless!

All, always Be Kind! Respect each other, and the laws where we live!

Cover-to-Cover

Books have always been an integral part of my family history. My grandfather had a library in his house in Italy with over 10,000 books. The oldest book I perused was printed in 1550. It was called Ciceronis Orationum. Unfortunately, this book, like most of the books in this collection, were lost to family politics. The only remaining books finding their way to Canada was a 1775 version of the same titled book, and a series of Jules Verne classics printed in the mid-to-late 1800s.

In our family, books were more than a path to knowledge! They were period pieces that spoke to the culture and human spirit at a point in time. They were windows to the soul of the author. They were springboards to new ideas, innovations, and inspirations. They made us think, laugh, cry, escape, and even ponder alternate realities through fantasy and science fiction. Books took us places, and led us through journeys not possible anywhere else.

In short, books stirred feeling in us that expanded our realm of possibilities, what could be more human than that?

On a trip to Rome in 2008, I fondly remember performing several very clumsy pirouettes in the center of the Roman Coliseum. It wasn’t the first time I was there, however, it was the first time I was on a trip where I felt absolutely insignificant. I marveled at the history of this place, the people that lived, worked, taught, learned, created, and died here throughout the ages.

My mind was bombarded by the historical possibilities, the realities of lives lived, and lives lost in this time-weathered place. What stories are known? Which are unknown? What key learning has been brought forward through time? Have we missed more than what we know? And what will we never know? Forever lost to history.

The rush of information which permeated my senses as I stood in this place trying to recall what I knew about Ancient Rome was overwhelming. What experiences, hardships, heartaches, successes, failures have this place seen?  I shivered with delight and shuddered with insignificance of my own mortality. I thought, how could I live multiple lives in one lifetime?

I remembered, decades earlier, when picking up Ciceronis Orationum.  It was illegible, written wholly in Latin. Reading the book was not an option, however, I do remember saying: “Dad, I’m holding history. How many hands do you think touched this book? What kind of person would have read this book? What would they say of its content?”

My father was an intellect. He was very cerebral – logical and precise, I guess as a chemist, you need to be. He thought deeply about many things and one example he had hanging in his study which now hangs in mine, its origin is unknown to me.

English translation of picture above:

Here live men who have outlived themselves

Here they speak silently

Here they listen and remain quiet

Here they are interrogated and mute is there response

The feelings and the questions inspired by this old book so many years ago where similar to the feelings and thoughts I had standing in the Roman Coliseum.

This book inspired me to love books as did standing in the center of the coliseum in Rome inspired me to love a life of life-long learning. This was the impetus that led me to Dalhousie’s MBA(FS) program. A thirst for knowledge and experiences.

Having completed my MBA(FS) in 2015, and with some serious time on my hands, I have started to collect books, all kinds of books. I tend to shy away from digital books because there is no better feeling then immersing oneself in a book, flipping the pages, using a bookmark, and reading it cover-to-cover.

The Hands of an Angel touched my Heart!

I woke up the morning of November 6, 2017 and realized that 50 years this day, I woke up in hospital groggy and disorientated.  I didn’t know why. I knew that something was to happen. Why am I here? I thought.  I think I’m sick, but I feel fine.  I fall back asleep, I wake again, the walls are moving.  I hear voices.  They are unrecognizable.  I see everything in a haze.  I’m frightened.  I doze off again.  I wake again.  Is this a dream? Where are my parents? They must be here!  They have to be here!  They wouldn’t leave me????  Would they?  My birthday is coming, I’ll be five this year, I think…I doze off again…

I wake up minutes later more groggy more disoriented, but this time my chest feels heavy.  I’m in a plastic tent.  I hear voices.  The air is clean.  It smells funny, but clean.  Through the plastic, I see my parents. I think they’re my parents.  They’re wearing gloves, masks, and gowns. I fall back asleep…

Unknown to me at the time, but obvious today…that the hands of an angel had touched my heart.

This is all I remember from this day 50 years ago at Sickkids, known then as the Hospital for Sick Children.  An Atrial-Septal defect repair was performed that day. Routine surgery today, but 50 years ago it was being pioneered by the world-renowned Surgeon Dr. William Mustard.

The Hands of an Angel touched My Heart!

Dr. Mustard and his team gave me a chance at life.  I am and will always remain eternally grateful for him, and the staff at Sickkids. Not to mention the parents who reared him, the teachers who taught him, the mentors who groomed him, and the colleagues that challenged him to make a difference.

Forever grateful!