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Get on with it

A friend of mine posts inspirational quotes on Facebook – and pictures of his dinner. Recently, he sent this:  “Carpe diem.” Seize the day.

That expression can mean a lot of things, like, make the most of the present, or, get on with it. But I like the Nike slogan: Just Do It.

Not to get all maudlin, but as a recent retiree, I often think about how much time I have left, and what I want to do with it. None of us truly knows how long we have, but there comes a time to think about that enabling factor: your health.

My paternal grandmother – Grandma ’Bella – was, and remains, a great inspiration. A strong, independent woman, she lived to 96. She was a great swimmer; at her seniors’ home in Calgary, she’d drop her cane by the side of the swimming pool and dive in. It was the lifeguard who needed the defibrillator.

She wouldn’t have called it a bucket list, but she did have a number of things she insisted on doing before her time was up. Like hot-air ballooning on her 85th birthday. Or her first helicopter ride on her 90th.

Those aren’t my favourite Grandma ’Bella stories, though. She came to Canada, from Newcastle upon Thyne, at 18, and, after working all her life and enduring two world wars and the Great Depression, she’d always wanted to revisit the Old Country. Grandad Raymond was from England too, but he wasn’t keen on the idea. The fourth or fifth time she pressed him about it, he grabbed his chest and fell to the floor feigning heart palpitations; she stepped over him and reported directly to the local travel agent. She went back to England several times.

My friend Larry is an inspiration too. An actual Explorers Club member, Larry likes to say, “It’s not camping if there aren’t grizzlies!” We don’t go camping. He once retraced, by foot, horseback, and canoe the 1,500-kilometre, bush-clogged, bug-infested Stikine route to the historic Yukon gold fields. It took him six weeks. He lived to write a fascinating book about it.

I went sailing with Larry – once. After half a dozen beginner lessons, he decided it would be a good idea to rent a yacht and sail from Vancouver’s English Bay across the Strait of Georgia to Galiano Island, a serious saltwater crossing of about 30 kilometres. There was heavy fog and a small-craft warning the first morning, but he was not deterred. It was a wild ride, all the more precarious because fog prevented us from seeing where we were going. Does Larry really know how to read a compass? We made it, but a couple of us, who left our breakfast in the strait, camped on shore that night. I admire Larry, but he scares me.

My plans are far more modest. Travel mostly. I’d like to take cooking lessons and learn Spanish and how to ride a horse, but I’m not sure how far I’ll really get.

I always thought I’d like to drive a race car, you know, one of those flashy open-wheelers. I never did, and after a couple of go-karting days with my so-called friends, I no longer want to.

One item has been crossed off my list. I’d always wanted to go heli-skiing. My mother contemplated such a gift when I turned 50, but the thought of avalanches prompted her to buy her only son a soapstone sculpture instead. It’s very nice.

A couple years ago, I strong-armed my son Adam into a late-season cat skiing trip to Fernie, B.C. I had the impression that cat skiing – ascending in a snowcat instead of a helicopter – was a cheaper and comparable alternative. It wasn’t cheap and it wasn’t really comparable.

But what I hadn’t considered was my deathly fear of heights. On one of the first runs, we rode to the very top of the mountain and had to ski along a ledge, far too narrow to make any controlled turns, to the starting point. I’d never been up that high before without an airplane, and I was terrified, my knees shaking, my stomach churning. I cut to the front of the line just to get it over with.

We’d signed up for two straight days of this, but on the second morning, with the snow conditions deteriorating and avalanches a real threat, I was the first to raise my hand when the guide offered a rain check.

Ibi erat ille fecit.” Been there, done that.

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Mike Gasher

Mike Gasher is a former newspaper reporter and editor and taught for two decades as a journalism professor at Concordia University in Montreal. He has published several books and academic articles on journalism and the media, including the textbook Media and Communication in Canada. Now retired, he lives in L'Orignal.

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