Thursday, September 30, 2004

Raiding the Archives 8 - Reflecting...

As you can tell from my posts this week, I've been thinking a lot about loss. With that in mind, I dug into my archives and found a column that perfectly sums up what what's been running through my head for the past week or so. It was published two years ago last week, and it's as valid today as it was then because these things are just so timeless.

As I read through this piece - and others like it - I am struck by the following: No matter what happens in the future, you have the opportunity today to leave an impression on whoever crosses your path. Precisely what that impression will be is entirely up to you. But don't think that the most mundane of day-to-day activities are exempt. In reality, it is here where a person's true character can be ascertained, and where his/her true impact on the rest of the world can be measured.

As a result, I'll continue to choose to actually sweat the small stuff. It's in the shadows of these mini-moments that I find the richest sources for storytelling. I hope this article resonates with you as deeply as my crossing paths with Mr. Gordon all those years ago resonated with me.

Originally published Tuesday, September 24, 2002, in the London Free Press.

Decency defines a life well lived

It was supposed to be like any other weekday. Wake up, eat a quick breakfast, read the newspaper, then quickly log in to the computer to pick up my e-mail, check the weather and the news before heading into the office.

One of my online stops along the way is always the births and deaths page from a Montreal newspaper.

Living an eight-hour drive away from where I grew up makes it hard to keep up to date on what's going on "back home."

Although most folks prefer the comics, I find the "bees-and-dees" an ideal way to stay current.

The obit page is an interesting thing. Human nature compels us to look for familiar names, yet we hope we don't know them too well. Someone distant, a friend of a friend, might be OK. Anyone closer wouldn't be.

Today's news wasn't OK. I knew him.

His name was Joel Gordon. I worked with him at a Montreal radio station more than a decade ago, while working my way through journalism school. He was a few years older than I was, but close enough in age that he still remembered what it was like to break into commercial radio.

Unlike many of his colleagues, he never missed an opportunity to share his hard-won wisdom.

In a world where most on-air personalities would sell their own mothers to advance their careers, his devotion to simply doing the right thing for the right reason was a rare treat for someone just starting out.

From stopping me in the hallway to share an interviewing tip to inviting me into the studio to watch him edit a report, he epitomized mentorship.

His anti-competitive nature didn't stunt his career either. He was the longtime radio voice of Formula One coverage in Quebec and, at the time of his death, he was an integral member of the team bringing all-news radio to the Montreal market.

And he was gone. Forty years-old. Leukemia. Survived by his parents and brother. His tersely-worded obituary stared at me, plain Arial-font black letters on a white screen.

Thoughts cascaded into my mind: he died way too young; parents shouldn't bury their children; we can download video of last night's Friends episode in three minutes but we can't seem to find a cure for cancer.

None of that changes anything. A young man got sick and died. The rest of us are challenged to find the good in it.

And there was a lot of good in his life. For the relatively short time he was here, his impact on those around him was significant. He loved what he did, but never got carried away with the ego trip that traps so many members of the major-market broadcasting community.

In a world populated by loud-speaking, pyjama-and-T-shirt-wearing morningmen, he was the soft-spoken guy in the polo top and khakis who would almost fade into the background during station promotions.

But when the microphone was on, he was the consummate pro. He loved motorsports and he loved telling people about it. He raised the generic traffic report beyond its humble roots, scanning his "jam cam" traffic camera network and ridiculing Montreal's famously aggressive
drivers with wicked humour.

He empathized with long-suffering motorists, making the rush hour that much easier to take. He wasn't your usual voice. He made great radio.

The lessons of Joel's too-short life extend beyond radio wannabes. They apply to anyone. Whatever it is that you do, make sure you love it so much that you would do it for free it you had to. Enjoy it so much that it's obvious to everyone around you.

Success will follow no matter how much - or little - time you're given.

That he was able to cram than much into 40 years is testament to a life well lived.

Carmi Levy is a London freelance writer.


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