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Dining With The Stars

19 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 19 – 5 dinner guests: Who are five people you’d love to have dinner with (living or deceased) and why?

When I have people over for dinner, it’s always a very casual affair, from the planning right down to the execution. It usually starts when my husband or I casually mentions someone we haven’t seen for a long time. We call that person up on an impulse and invite them to come over that evening. And since we’re inviting this person, well, we may just as well invite that person. The more, the merrier, and all that. With the phone calls made, the husband goes out to buy alcoholic beverages to suit our guests’ tastes. I go wading in our big freezer and emerge with a giant store-made lasagna, those ones that take about seventeen years to defrost. I throw together a salad and make garlic butter for the bread. I’m not much of a cook, but I make a mean garlic butter. The guests arrive and we all dispense as quickly as possible with the business of eating. I get the kids settled into bed and then spend the rest of the evening drinking wine, which let’s face it, was really the whole point of having the dinner party.

My fantasy dinner party would have to be more carefully planned, simply because the people I would want to invite are kind of busy. You can’t just call them up and ask  them to show up at your house in the next two hours. You have to schedule their time, usually months in advance, and it’s a case of “your people calling their people”.

There wouldn’t be any frozen lasagna, and the whole thing would have some finesse to it. You can’t invite a guy like Nelson Mandela to your house and serve him frozen lasagna on the pretext of having a booze-up. No, I would hire a chef, a posh one who makes things normal people cannot pronounce and who knows what wine goes with what food.

My guests, assuming they all accepted the invitation (and, I mean, who wouldn’t?) would include the following five people:

Nelson Mandela. If you discriminated against most people throughout their early lives and then threw them into prison for twenty-seven years, they’d probably be a little bitter. It takes a very special kind of man to emerge from all of that and become a successful statesman, and to do it with grace, dignity and humility. Mandela is South Africa’s answer to the Royal Family, with one exception: everyone loves him, and with good reason.
What I have in common with him: we share a country of birth.

Terry Fox. The most iconic runner of all iconic runners, Terry Fox ran almost all the way across Canada with a prosthetic leg, while cancer was eating away at his body. His “Marathon of Hope” started a worldwide movement that continues to this day, more than thirty years after his death. If anyone had a reason to give up, it was him, and yet his absolute dedication to his cause and to his sport did not waver. His body was absolutely shattered, but his mind was super-hero strong.
What I have in common with him: I run for a cause.

Ed Mirvish. The world can be a peculiar place. Many rich people just want to get richer, regardless of the cost to anyone else. At the same time, a lot of the true humanitarians of the world are willing to give away what little they have for the betterment of their fellow man. Ed Mirvish was a rich old Canadian bloke with a landmark retail store and a near-monopoly on Toronto’s theatre industry. He had a truckload of money, and he kept giving stuff away to people who really needed it. While many rich people and corporations donate to charity for the purpose of making themselves look good in the public eye, Ed Mirvish did it because he really cared. You gotta love a guy who stands around handing out free turkeys to people who cannot afford Thanksgiving dinner – an annual tradition that has been continued in his memory.
What I have in common with him: I care deeply about making the world a better place.

Drew Barrymore. I’ve never been big on celebrities, but I confess to being totally in awe of Drew Barrymore. Like many people, I first saw her as the adorable child star in E.T. She shot to stardom so spectacularly as a child that her descent into a lifestyle of substance abuse almost seemed inevitable. It would have been so easy for her to live her life in the tabloid media by virtue of her addictions, but instead she went to rehab, sorted out her life, and established herself as an actress to be reckoned with.
What I have in common with her: I have overcome some intense challenges of my own – albeit ones of a different nature – instead of drowning in the events of the past.

Temple Grandin’s mother. Temple Grandin was a child with autism in the 1950’s – a time when autism was barely understood, much less known. She is now a highly successful adult, with a PhD in animal sciences. She done a lot of groundbreaking work in fields relating to animal welfare, and she is an outspoken autism advocate and educator. She puts much of her success down to her mother, who offered her unfailing support and mentoring throughout her childhood. It is a challenge to raise a child with autism in today’s world of IBI therapy and online support groups and autism advocacy everywhere. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for a mom back then, with far less knowledge and support to draw on.
What I have in common with her: I am the parent of a child with autism, who I would move heaven and earth for.

Who would be at your dinner party and why?

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/lisa_nichols/3288476050/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

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Jon & Kate: Was TV To Blame?

16 Aug

The news is out: TLC are finally – finally – pulling the plug on Kate Plus 8. The last show will air about a month from now, at the end of the eighth season.

Not a moment too soon.

In the beginning, I had some interest in Jon & Kate Plus 8. I was not an avid fan who had to rush home in time for every episode. But if it happened to be on I’d watch it. Seeing this couple manage all of those kids made me feel alternately better and worse about the struggles I had juggling my two boys.

By the time the first season was over, though, my interest had waned. While I admired Kate’s superhuman organizational skills and Jon’s tolerance levels, it struck me – and probably most of the TV-watching world – just how mean they were to each other. This meanness seemed to escalate with each season, culminating in Kate barely saying a nice word to Jon and Jon running off to have an affair.

When Jon and Kate announced their separation, Kate was subjected to a lot of criticism over the fact that she decided to continue with the show. Phrases like “exploitation of the children” were bandied about a lot, and general consensus was that the pair of them should focus on the children during this difficult time, and not on the show.

While I agree with all of the above, I think the rot started a lot earlier. I don’t know what Jon and Kate were like together in the days before the show, but you have to assume that they were deeply committed to one another. You don’t go through the physical and emotional roller-coaster of fertility treatments with a partner you don’t see yourself going the distance with.

There’s really no way of telling whether the show itself was the cause of the problems between them, but it’s not a far-fetched notion. The dynamic of any relationship could be changed by the presence of cameras and producers who tell you to re-enact arguments to make them more dramatic and over-the-top.

Regardless of where things went wrong for Jon and Kate, I cannot help thinking that perhaps they should have put a stop to the show as soon as the problems began. If their energies had been dedicated to their relationship instead of the TV cameras, maybe things would have been better for them and their kids. Maybe they would have been able to save their marriage. Or at the very least, maybe they would have been able to part with fewer malicious words passed between them.

And of course, the question on the public’s mind is this: What about the children? How have they been impacted by the very public way in which their parents separated?

What will it be like for them when, one day, they look back at old tapes of the show and relive their family disintegrating in the public eye?

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/rittysdigiez/2983274366. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Life And Death: No Laughing Matter

23 Jul

People are already making jokes about it.

The first news stories about the untimely death of 27-year-old musician Amy Winehouse started circulating less than an hour before I started writing this post. Within about ten minutes of me first hearing the news, fan pages started to pop up on Facebook.

Amy Winehouse is dead, at least theres enough drugs about for everyone now (with a smiley face emoticon at the end)

Police say that winehouse’s death was unexplained LOL, at that point they were probably stoned on the drugs in her <profanity>

Screw Amy Winehouse, she was a druggy and had death lined up for her

Amy Winehouse is dead…..HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH

Now, I don’t know much about Amy Winehouse. I don’t exactly fall into the demographic that stays up-to-date on popular music. However, I do know that she was insanely talented, even though her music wasn’t really to my taste. I know that she was plagued by substance abuse problems. I know that she was young and had a lot of life ahead of her, and that she had tons of potential within her.

I know that her death is unspeakably sad.

These jokes that are circulating, these fan pages that are being set up, and the derision with which some people are treating this story, is a sad statement about how people have become so desensitized to tragedy that they can have a good laugh about it before the deceased has even started to cool down.

Or maybe it’s nothing new. This is not the first time I’ve heard jokes about a tragedy soon after its occurrence: the space shuttle Challenger disaster, and the death of Mozambican president Samora Machel in a plane crash, both of which happened in 1986, are cases in point.

I wonder why this is, why there are people can make light of events like this. One theory is that they just don’t know how else to deal with news of tragedy. There is some credence to this idea, and I saw it in action on the day my father-in-law died. There was a mix-up that resulted in the wrong funeral home attempting to collect his body from the hospital, and when my mother-in-law heard about this, she made a joke about the funeral homes fighting over her husband’s dead body, and she laughed heartily. I believe that allowing a chink of humour into the day was a way for her to cope with the initial shock of being widowed after almost fifty years of marriage.

In the case of more widespread disasters, I believe that sometimes people make jokes simply because they don’t know how else to process the information.9/11. Hurricane Katrina. The tsunamis in Thailand and Japan. The Haiti earthquake.

Sometimes, though, people are just plain insensitive. They don’t feel any empathy either for the deceased or for the newly bereaved loved ones. Or  – and Amy Winehouse’s death is an example of this – they somehow rationalize that because the person lived in a certain way that they do not agree with, it is OK that he or she died.

Here’s my thought on all of this: Yes, Amy Winehouse was a celebrity – a colourful one with a controversial life, at that – and therefore her life was, to an extent, public property. And yes, she seems to have died in an Elvis-like manner that is bound to attract a lot of attention and speculation.

But above all, she was a human being with hopes and dreams and feelings and loved ones. The fact that she had substance abuse problems does not mean she deserved to die. It does not mean it is OK that she died. Her life – and her death – deserve the same respect as anyone else’s. Her family and friends should be able to grieve for their lost loved one without the world making public fun of it all.

I hope against hope that we as a society can somehow regain some of the humanity and compassion that seems to have eroded.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ups/2066092204/)