Saturday, March 08, 2008

An Unwanted Journey: Day 0834 - Via

Monday, a colleague and I took Via Rail to Toronto for a day-long meeting. Compared to travelling by car during typical Toronto rush-hour traffic, the train was a relaxing, even pleasant, experience. We could read, chat, prepare for the meeting, work on meeting follow-up activities, even simply pause and watch the scenery go by.

We talked about the experience of travelling by train with our children. For me, it's been quite a while since my wife and I took our two sons for an excursion from Kitchener to Toronto by rail. But the memory is a good one. If I remember correctly, we went from one train experience to disembarking at Union Station to a meal in a nearby restaurant and then on to the subway to visit the Royal Ontario Museum, yet another brand new experience for the boys, this time on a subterranean track.

All of which got me thinking about taking the train from Barrie to Toronto with my grandmother many years ago and to other occasions at the home of my other grandparents who lived near the rail line that used to wrap around Kempenfelt Bay. I would sometimes be invited to stay at their home overnight on a weekend, laying awake at night listening to the sound of freight and passenger trains rumbling by within a quarter mile of the bedroom.

There is definitely a romance in riding the rails.

On another occasion this week, a colleague and I were talking about charities for children and I mentioned what I thought was a worthy candidate for corporate giving - the James Fund for Neuroblastoma Research at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. I conveyed how I had corresponded with one of the founders of the fund, Syd Birrell, the father to James Birrell in whose memory the fund is named and the author of a book which I read during my own treatment for colorectal cancer in 2006, Ya Can't Let Cancer Ruin Your Day: The James Emails.

At the time, reading the book was profoundly difficult for me, but today I picked it up again and read the email in which Syd talks about the Via Rail trip he and James took in early February 2000 from Toronto to Montreal and back again to Cobourg.

The trip that Syd and James took was a true adventure providing them both with a very happy memory for the difficult days that lay ahead for the Birrell family. Via pulled out all the stops on that weekend in order to ensure James had a wonderful memory of riding the rails, visiting the dome car and sleeping in the largest overnight cabin available. It was a great example of corporate sensitivity and engagement.

And it all reminded me that our personal journeys may be wanted or unwanted, romantic or fraught with peril, for business or for pleasure - but often one and the same.

This morning, a good friend and I braved the winter storm, drove to St. Jacobs and spent a couple hours together catching up over a breakfast of typical country fare. We spoke of recent events in our lives, difficulties, successes, and the way ahead. My friend asked me directly,

"Now that you've survived cancer, I notice that you still refer to your 'unwanted journey'. Do you think that's accurate?"

"Well, it's more a matter of keeping the integrity of the thread," I said. "But the truth is that calling the journey unwanted is now tinged more with a sense of unexpected than the crisis and dread I felt when I first used the phrase in November 2005."


The journey now appears more like that word. It's neutral. A way forward. A way through the surrounding landscape.

I had no real control when the journey began. It was out of my hands. Like a child, I didn't really know what to expect. It was, again like a child, something of an adventure. And in hindsight I can see the romance and the lessons learned along the way. Those are all good things I suppose.

Yet no matter what has transpired in the interim, I think the words that inspired me on 25-Nov-2005 apply equally well today in retrospect:

"You will choose courage and hope. Though the journey was unwanted, you will choose the way you face the future and your inner spirit will prevail.

No comments: