There was a huge police funeral in Toronto this week for an officer who died in the course of his duty — tributes poured out for the kind of man he was. And of course the tributes flowed at the massive memorial service — as they have around the world — for Nelson Mandela, as inspirational a human as history has given us.
To me this is a good time, then, to share a poem about a man who has personally been an inspiration to me, whose example in life I wish I could live up to; whose attributes of courage, faithfulness, kindness I wish I had more of; whose love for family and optimism in daily living continue to buoy himself as well as those who visit him. The man I speak of is my father, now living in the Northridge nursing home in north Oakville.
Here is a poem I wrote a while ago:
The old man tells his children of the summer
after the war he laboured on the bridge
over the muddy Humber
at lunchtimes wrestling, just for fun,
with men who’d fought as soldiers overseas;
of high school football years, one of
the 60-minute men, practically padless
(knocked out once tackling a future pro);
how at U of T he’d run to classes
across the width of campus, rarely late,
barely out of breath. . . . Almost never
does any conversation take
a turn to that which, 50 years ago,
laid him flat-backed months long, more
than a little near death — the polio —
except to tell last of what pace,
past the pain and the white walls,
he successfully got rid of the brace.
His home now a room, one of many in halls.
In his chair he wheels each metre,
and though the courtyard is small
he repeats every corner, sometimes in snow
(though jacketed just to comfort his children).
Not all of them live near, but on his phone,
tireless hunter, he tracks their lives,
dutifulness pinned to his calendar;
calls often to ensure they’re on time
for chat, a game of cards. Then the old man
grasping, standing on the handles of his walker.
While his grown child hovers, hiding hands,
eyes tensed on each jelly-jointed step,
he makes his march of the carpeted street,
arthritic knobbed knuckles clenched,
bent shoulders shaking, breaths hissing.
And long before the chair can take him once more
the floor cracks open:
the muddy Humber glistens
beneath his feet.