We recall only a very small portion of the moments of our lives. I believe it’s all there in our memory, but very little of it is indexed and accessible. It’s like our memory is the ocean; the vast majority of it, the deep depths and broad expanse of it, are full of quickly forgotten, trivial moments like: doing up our shoes in the morning, the dull commute to and from work, sitting in front of the TV in the evening, or brushing our teeth before bed. We don’t really remember these moments in our lives. We only actually recall that tiny portion of moments that lay on the surface of the ocean; the small percentage that sees the light of day. These are those special moments in life, things like: birthdays, Christmas’, family vacations, first kisses, marriages, births and sadly, deaths and other tragic events. More often than not we are aware of the significance of these moments as they are being created, or very shortly after. You will often hear descriptions of these moments start with expressions like, “I’ll never forget the time…”. I had one of those memories form in the core of my mind this weekend, and I wanted to document it for a specific reason.
I have this idea about the internet and what it could be. It’s a simple idea, but I think a profound one as well. I don’t claim to originate the idea; even though it was an original idea on my part, I suspect other people, perhaps many other people, have had the same vision. Like the pyramids, or the theory of evolution, or atomic power…it’s probably just an idea that is out there in the ether now, and people are picking up on it. You see, I have a particular kind of death-phobia. Again, I know it is not original, I know for a fact many other people have had the same unsettling thoughts. I think about all those special personal moments I harbor in my mind: walking in the the glowing light of dusk along a hillside in Greece, drinking rum and coke with an Orangutang in Indonesia, touching the soft nose of a giant horse when I was a small boy, or waking Christmas morning to my beagle puppy ‘Snoopy’…it frustrates me to no end that all these moments will be gone forever when I die. By extension, I think of all the special personal moments, of all the people, in all the world, throughout all of time that have been forever lost. Sure, we take note of a few really special moments; if some guy walks on water, or raises the dead a few people raise their brows and jot down a couple of chapters, or if a madman attempts to raise a nation to the task of exterminating an entire race and taking over the world then sure, the world notices something like that. These events become the surface of the ocean on a global scale, and all our very special, prized personal moments become the deep, deep sea that never again sees the light of day after our passing. I believe the internet can go a long way toward rectifying this situation, and alleviating that particular element of death that bothers me most. It is a least partially with this thought in mind that I document this weekend past.
I’ll never forget the time I took my step-son, Tanner, to the big city for the first time. It ended up being a special weekend, full of magic, for more reasons and in more ways than I ever could’ve imagined from the outset. Tanner’s mother, the love of my life, the sexy and dauntless D.J. tries to go to the Grey Cup game every year with some friends of hers from Edmonton. This year I volunteered to take Tanner to Vancouver independently while she cavorted with her pals. I lived in Vancouver for about fifteen years and was keen to show the city to my mini charge. It is relevant to this story to mention that I have two children of my own making that I rarely see. By some happy accident however, Tanner has come into my life and I have been afforded the opportunity to experience many of those special parent/child moments that I have missed with my own children. I suppose you would call it serendipity. Tanner had never been to Vancouver, or any other major city for that matter. The scale of his intrigue and innocence was revealed to me by an simple question on the way to the ferry. Tanner asked me, “When we get to Vancouver, will we still be in Canada?” The world is a big and mysterious place to an eleven year old. Tanner was overwhelmed by the size of the ferry, he couldn’t believe so many cars could fit on it. He wanted to be first in line to get on the ferry, so we could find a seat by the window. When we got on the ferry he was astounded by how many seats there were. Confident now that getting a seat wouldn’t be a problem, Tanner agreed to eat at the cafeteria first. I let him have two chocolate milks.
The first truly magic moment occurred on the bus on the way to my friend Jodie’s house, where Tanner and I would be guests for the weekend. We were all crammed on the articulating bus, Tanner got a seat between a drunk, bearded, very smelly man, and a young University type. I stood in the aisle holding on to the rail. The drunk, bearded man kept trying to talk to Tanner, who in turn kept looking at me with a smirk on his face, and answering the smelly man in short, one word answers without actually looking at him. About halfway to our destination my phone rang. I suspected it would be Tanner’s mother asking as to our progress, but when I said ‘Hello’ a male, English accent responded. “Hello Jim. Do you know who this is?” My first thought was ‘Simon Cowell’, but I quickly eliminated that possibility. During the time I had hung out with Jodie we associated with a group of English students I had hired to work at a coffee shop I ran downtown. One of them, John (John-boy) Hartley, became especially close. In fact after he had gone back to England he missed Vancouver and his times here so much that he flew back to take Jodie and I to an Oasis concert. He really likes Oasis; and Canada. John is a friend on Facebook, but aside from a quick note when we ‘friended’ each other, I had not heard from him in well over a decade. It was him on the phone. I couldn’t believe it. He asked me where I was. I couldn’t believe my answer as it fell out of my mouth. “I’m on a bus, on my way to Jodie’s house!” I see Jodie about once a year. What are the odds? John was also struck by the magic of the moment, he responded simply, “THE Jodie?!” Due to the noise on the bus, and John-boy’s thick accent I must confess I heard very little of what he said during our conversation, but the emotion and essence of it was clear. There was a lot of enthusiasm and wonder, a lot of ‘wow, I can’t believe it’, and a general feeling of, ‘man, it’s great to hear your voice’! All this was expressed with a series of semi-screaming, rising pitch voices, and giddy laughter. I didn’t actually hear more than a few sporadic words. When I finally put my phone back in my pocket I was semi-stunned by what had just occurred and became lost in wonder, thinking about the likelihood of such a coincidence occurring, and what it could possibly mean; or if it just means nothing. I said to Tanner, “Man, that is so…,” I searched for the right word and stumbled upon, “… serendipitous”. The drunk’s head jerked up and he interjected his voice into our conversation, “You should probably tell him what that means. He probably doesn’t know that word. I do, but he probably doesn’t”. “Yeah’” Tanner agreed, “What does supra…endy..delicious-ity, mean?” I laughed. “Serendipity: it’s like a fortuitous coincidence.” I immediately saw in Tanner’s expression that hadn’t helped. “A happy accident,” I simplified. Tanner was happy with my definition but the smelly man wasn’t. “That’s a load of crap,” he said. “It’s like funky deja-vu.” The University type kid felt a need to get involved. “I think you’re both wrong,” he said with an air of schooling. “It’s like ironic Karma.” I mulled over the definitions being proffered me and decided I liked mine best. I pulled out my phone again to message Jodie about what had just happened, but the University kid took it as a challenge. “You looking it up?” he asked as he pulled out his own phone. “No,” I said, then added in my mind, ‘I’ve moved on.’ The kid looked it up and read the dictionary definition aloud. I guess he wasn’t too happy with the definition because he prefaced his oration by saying he didn’t really trust this particular dictionary application. He read aloud, “Serendipty: the faculty of making happy or unexpected discoveries by accident.” I looked up from my messaging and repeated the last, simplest definition I had given to Tanner, “A happy accident”. I felt the urge to twist the knife just a little, “Irony, by the way, is when exactly what you don’t expect to happen, happens. Like a cat chasing a dog.” Tanner commented later that no-one said much after that.
The second serendipitous occurrence of the weekend came later that night, and this one I’m pretty confident fits the definition pretty precisely. We couldn’t really afford tickets to the actual Grey Cup game so D.J. bought us all tickets to the Vanier Cup; the college ball Championship which is also played in the big stadium. I’m not really much of a football fan, so I arrived with no idea who was even playing in the game. I was only there because it was a good father/son/family opportunity; I knew Tanner would be thrilled to be in the huge stadium, with 25,000 screaming people, and the giant ‘jumbotron’ screen. When the players came running onto the field however, a flash of emotion and recollection washed over me. I recognized the deep purple uniforms with the silver/grey lettering. I quickly glanced around and found the scoreboard to confirm my suspicions. My father and mother had both attended McMaster University, in fact they had met there. It was in Hamilton, the city I was born in. I had been enrolled there, but stayed in Europe for a year instead of six weeks and missed commencement. What was most striking however is how the sight of those uniforms yanked memories from the deep sea of my mind. A long forgotten drip of a memory, one near and dear to my heart, quickly turned to a torrent of rushing waves. For most of my life, perhaps from conception until I was in my late teens, my father’s go-to jacket was his McMaster letter jacket. He wore it all the time, everywhere he went. I grew up on the shoulders of that deep purple and silver. I recalled the itchy, woollen texture of it, and the cigarette smell absorbed into it. I saw my father as he was in the sixties and seventies, holding my hand at the stock-car races, the boat show, sitting beside me around campfires, or leading me on the pony, Star, that I rode in shows at the local fairgrounds. I was overwhelmed with emotion. A tiny drop of my ocean of memory had risen to the surface, and the bright stadium lights shone down upon it as the crowd cheered. I looked at Tanner, my son now, and I thought of my father and me. I started telling Jodie and D.J. about the bizarre emotions and memories the team’s arrival on the field was invoking in my and why. About then my phone rang again; it was my Dad calling from his winter residence in Arizona. He calls once a month or so. I couldn’t make out most of what he was saying over the noise in the stadium, but I could sense his excitement when I shouted to him that we were watching McMaster play in the Vanier Cup. He shouted back, “I’ll call you again later, love you!”
The weekend continued on like this, one magic serendipitous moment after another. Some of them completely unexpected and surprising, some of them gently coerced into existence. After the Vanier Cup game, which turned out to be one of the best football games I have ever seen by the way, second overtime win for Mac, Tanner and I went back to Jodie’s house and D.J. carried on to a Colin James concert with her cohorts. After Tanner went to bed Jodie and I got a chance to catch up. She told me she had quit her job to go to Paris, just as I had done before I was supposed to start University at McMaster. She told me her new plan was to start a blog and write about her areas of interest. I saw serendipity coming to the surface. I told her I had recently started a web-based media company, and was in the business of setting up websites. Jodie’s eyes lit up. It was her moment of serendipity. She had happily come across something that could help her achieve her dream, and I quickly assured her that I would do this. We spent the night elaborating on the plan. In the morning Tanner and I met his mother downtown at her hotel. D.J. had accidentally booked herself into the hotel the B.C. Lions were staying at while they prepared for the big game. The lobby was littered with giant men in training gear waiting for the team bus. Tanner was again in awe. “Are those actually the players that are actually in the actual Grey Cup, Jim?” he asked me. “They actually are,” I answered. I was nearly as star-struck as he was. After breakfast we spent an hour standing in the pouring rain watching the Grey Cup parade. The guest of honour was Corey Monteith, star of the TV hit show ‘Glee’. D.J.’s maiden name is Monteith; her mother lives in Victoria, the same city Corey hails from, and she regularly gets phone calls from swooning young girls asking if Corey is home. D.J. got his picture. After the parade Tanner said he was hungry and really craving a hot-dog. I once again saw the opportunity to create some magic for somebody else. I knew there was always a hot-dog vendor at the corner of Granville and Georgia, but Tanner didn’t know that. So while his mother went back to the hotel to dry off, Tanner and I set out on a nearly impossible mission to find a hot-dog in the city. We walked past Tim Horton’s, Subway, Taco-Bell, McDonalds, and countless Cafes. Tanner was getting dejected, but I urged him on, “Maybe this way,” I said hopefully. When we finally got to the designated corner twenty minutes later Tanner spied the umbrellas over the food cart and the enthusiasm returned to his voice and his step, “Look Jim! Over there! That could be a hot-dog guy!” He ran across the road ahead of me, yelling back to me, “It is Jim! It is! Can you believe it?!” Tanner was getting into the magic of the moment. On the way back to the hotel, we came to a stop-light and when we stopped I looked at Tanner staring up at the tall buildings, happily gorging on his hot-dog. He caught me looking at him and said simply, “This hot-dog is amazing. Vancouver is awesome.”
Later we went to the aquarium. There was a time during my life in Vancouver when I used to go to the aquarium nearly every week to see the Orca whales. The Orcas are gone now, but I wanted Tanner to see the Beluga whales. When I went there I would just sit in the lounge down below and watch them in the giant glass window swimming so gracefully, watching me watch them as they drifted by. They mesmerized me. They were cognizant I’m sure, of their captivity. They knew about the great expanse of the ocean somehow, and they understood they were being deprived of its magnificence. It saddened me that they would never know the feeling of swimming in the deep depths, and broad expanse of it. Tanner stared into the glass, as mesmerized as I.
Life is amazing, and awesome. Magic happens all the time. True, no one walked on water this weekend, but it’s a shame none-the-less that someday these moments should be lost forever. The ocean is huge, such a tiny portion of it ever sees the light of day, yet all of it is required to fill the sea. All the tiny drops of salty water hold up the surface of it. This weekend, this blog, these are tiny drops. I have a vision of the internet as the ocean. We are cavemen in this new world, still inventing and learning to use the tools we are inventing; yelling and grunting our barely intelligible enthusiasm into the technology provided. Someday the internet could hold oceans of memories, of all the people’s special moments, from all over the world, throughout all of time. This weekend I have contributed a drop to the sea. This swelling ocean of special personal moments is difficult to perceive amidst all the noise on the net, but it is there, and you can sense the excitement in it. Feel free to add your own cup if it spilleth over. This internet sea is dripping with serendipity…what a trip it could be!
One last thing; when D.J. got back to the hotel after the Grey Cup game it just so happened that the B.C. Lion boys were also just arriving on the team bus. They brought the Cup into the lobby and D.J. asked to have her picture taken with it. She didn’t know it but she was talking to Geroy Simon, star receiver on the team. He said, “Sure,” and when she started to kneel down beside it he said, “just pick it up.” So now we have a picture of D.J. holding the actual Grey Cup. What a happy accident her timing was!
On the way home I saw dolphins off the side of the ferry. I have made that trip a hundred times and never seen them before. It had to be this weekend; the serendipity trip.