Memory is a funny thing. As time goes by we tend to remember the positive, the happy. Old beaus suddenly don’t seem so unreasonable, accomplishments become iconic, and the past acquires a sort of gossamer glow.

I was born in Toronto and have lived here all my life. This is a great city which I firmly believe is one of the great cities of the world – especially in the summertime. Lately, I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia kick thanks to all the old friends I’m being reacquainted with on Facebook. And as I’ve been remembering old friends my mind has turned to remembering the Toronto I grew up in.

Toronto is a great city but the city we live in today is nothing like the city I grew up in. So much has changed – some for the better and, of course, some for not. We’re a lot bigger, we’re amalgamated and we have become a major global cultural capital. Good for us.

But what of those memories? Was the Toronto of my youth as innocent and carefree as I remember or are my memories being simplified by being viewed through the lens of my childhood? Probably a bit of both.

I was once told that memories are the signposts of our lives – markers that denote the significant occurrences that, together, create our life’s narrative. So, what are signposts that mark the city I remember? Here, in no particular order, are some of things that I remember from the city of my youth. Some are happy, some are not, and some just are. Please feel free to add your own as together, we try to remember the city that we’ve left behind.

I remember…

• having milk and bread delivered to our home by the “Milkman”, the milk all frothy in its glass bottle

• yellow police cars with the single red “cherry” on top

• 10 cent fares on the TTC, 25 for adults

• my father taking me to Yorkville and Rochdale to see the Hippies

• concerts at Maple Leaf Gardens where the best seats sold for the outrageous price of $7.50

• the most exotic food was Pizza or Chinese

• 1 and 2 dollar bills

• smoking everywhere – elevators, movie theatres and airplanes

• super balls!!!

• shoestring liquorice and other candies that sold for a penny a piece

• 1050 Chum and the ubiquitous Chum Chart

• saving my allowance to buy my first 45 rpm record, Space Oddity by David Bowie

• never having enough of those little plastic discs that went in the middle of those 45’s

• the Electric Gallery on Avenue Rd and the Markle brother’s unique take on neon

• payphones that cost 10 cents

• rotary dial phones, busy signals and no voice mail

• typewriters and carbon paper for copies

• Baby Blue Movies

• the most exotic language you would ever hear on the street was French (or maybe Italian in the right neighbourhood)

• the Toronto Telegram, the Globe in the morning and the Star at night

• Stoodleigh’s restaurant, the Bagel King and the Hamburger King

• The Toronto Police’s Morality Squad

• movie censorship

• 1 oz of Colombian Gold that sold for $60

• where the worst thing you could catch from sex could be cured with anti-biotics

• Shopsy’s on Spadina (next door to Victory Burlesque which was always a source of fascination to my 11 year-old mind)

• mostly white faces everywhere you went

• guns were the exclusive domain of police. Period.

• Ryerson was called Rye-high or, grade 14

• grade 13

• television stations that went off the air overnight, closing with our national anthem played over footage of endless mountains, lakes and the Musical Ride

• endless tests of the Emergency Broadcast System

• all the porno theatres at Yonge and Dundas

• the University theatre, the Eglinton and the Uptown – the three biggest screens in town

• the opening of the Imperial Six and spending an entire day moving from one theatre to the next, trying to see all six movies for one admission

• the opening of the first Cineplex theatre in the Eaton Centre where you could see rear-projected movies on a screen no bigger than your TV in a theatre that sat 25 people

I could go on for a while but I think the point has been made. Somewhere along the line we lost our innocence and we changed from a little big city to a big big city. Do we have more amenties now? Absolutely. But have we paid a price for that sophistication? Absolutely. We’ve lost some of our innocence as we’ve taken our place on the world’s stage.

Progress is a double-edged sword. We all want it but when it comes we often spend much time reminiscing over how good we had it. Maybe it falls under the category of “be careful what you wish for, you might get it”. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the Toronto of my youth and I still love Toronto today but they are two very different cities. Technology, sprawl and immigration have forever changed the face of this city as progress marches on.

What are your memories of the Toronto you grew up in? Was there an event that, for you, marked the transition to a different kind of city that you remember? Thank you Emanuel Jacques for my epiphany.

This city always surprises me as it’s constantly growing up around me, evolving, sometimes in step with the world and sometimes marching to its own drummer. I was once told that Toronto is a native word for “meeting place”. And today, that has never been more true…


Canada will never be the same.

When I was growing up I remember a continual, if not nascent, debate on the issue of our Canadian identity. We we were always asking ourselves, “What does it mean to be Canadian?” We always sensed that we were different from the Americans but were hard pressed to say how. I remember hearing jokes (that were never very funny) about us being the 51st state.

Most of our culture came from south of the border. The Canadian music industry was mostly non-existent and most viable Canadian artists had to go south to make it big. Bye bye Joni. Bye bye Neil. In the 70’s the Canadian film industry was a bit of a joke and was renowned for providing tax shelters for producers looking to make a fast buck. There were so many bad films made then that the idea of going to a “Canadian” film was mostly reviled and met with derision.

Sure, there was Porky’s, one of the first Canadian films to make it in the States, but that was an exception and only made money because it aped an existing and fairly crass Hollywood formula. Quebec cinema was starting to flourish but those films mostly reflected Quebecois culture and were always in French, which significantly limited their appeal.

As the pundits and thinkers tried to define the Canadian identity they would mostly do it comparatively, by showing how we were different from the Americans. This was a reactive, and not proactive, attempt at self-definition. We weren’t Canadians because of who we were. We were Canadians because we weren’t American. This never sat well with many and always felt lacking in substance. There was nothing to really get behind.

Well, we’ve come a long way, baby.

This past February Canada hosted the world at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. We threw a big ass party, we invited the world, and everybody came. And we didn’t only play host. We competed, we won and we were proud.

The Olympics have always been iconic and as the Opening Ceremonies approached you could feel a swelling pride and a stubborn determination to stand up, be seen, and be appreciated. The huge sense of occasion seems to have accomplished in 17 days what previously had been a patchwork effort.

Suddenly, it was cool to be Canadian.

Of course, winning has helped tremendously. Every medal has been met with fanfare and a unique kind of Canadian boastfulness. It was pride without the arrogance that so dominates American characterization. And as we beat country after country in a variety of sports, we cheered every win with a renewed sense of nationality. When those wins were gold we could hardly contain ourselves – and we didn’t. We cheered, we clapped and we stayed up past our bedtimes. Exhilarating.

We were, of course, destined to succeed. After all, we know how to do winter better than most. And how could we go wrong with the Vancouver/Whistler setting? Some of the most beautiful country in the world.

As we filled the bars to watch hockey and as we cheered our athletes competing in sports that most of us have never heard of, an amazing thing showed up. Our Canadian identity. The spectacle of the Olympics suddenly seemed to showcase what we were instead of what we weren’t. It was the perfect backdrop and audience for a country that was in the right place at the right time. We shone, we knew it, and we basked in the glow of the international recognition.

Over the past 30 years Canada has evolved into a fairly homogenous multi-cultural melting pot and I saw people of all nationalities on TV proclaiming their support for Canada and not for their home country. You really have to love a country a lot to be able to do that. It gave us a commonality that we previously were missing. For the past two weeks we have all been Canadian, no matter where we lived or where we were born.

Because of the focal power of the Olympics we could suddenly see all of the things that made us who we are and not who we weren’t. For the first time our self-definition had nothing to do with how different we are from the USA.

We’re unique and we’re loving it.

We’re boundless landscapes populated a by a firm, steady and resolute people. We’re maple syrup and bannock and bacon. We’re a police force on horseback. We’re winters that are big and bad and we pride ourselves on their endurance. We’re universal healthcare and we’re social welfare. We are individuals and we are also communal. We are kind and polite and nice. We’re very nice.

We’re dependable and will always show up if we can help out. We don’t like guns and we love our sense of public safety. We’re about great movies that are both shot and set in Toronto. We’re The King of Kensington and the Little Mosque on the Prairie. We’re the great outdoors and the cozy indoors. We’re BTO and the Guess Who. And boy oh boy, do we love our hockey!

We apologize for everything – even if it’s not our fault. We’re about paying higher taxes for better services. We have a profound connection to nature and the land around us. We are clean and not mean. And we are beer. Lots and lots of beer.

For the past two weeks we have shown our heart and we wore it proud and I have a genuine depth of patriotic pride that had previously eluded me. I suspect I’m not alone. We have all stood together for two weeks and that is a powerful force. And even though eventually we will, in time, retreat to our familiarities; I predict we will be stronger as a nation than we ever were before. And I predict that will endure.

We should be very pleased with ourselves and I think we are.

After all, it turns out it really is cool to be Canadian.

CityTV suddenly fires 60 senior on-air and production staff and axes almost all their local news

What a shame. What a tremendous loss for our city.

CityTV has long been a beacon for Toronto, showing us our triumphs and our failures on an epicly moving landscape. I was at the party for the launch of CityTV in the early 70’s and mostly I remember how incredibly excited everyone was. There was a palpable feeling that this station was going to be different. And different it was.

Spurred by a desire to innovate and forced to be inventive as the result of a constant cash shortage, City transformed the way we saw our Toronto – and the way we watched TV.

I remember in the early days you never knew what was going to happen on the air. On-air personalities were given broad discretion to do it differently, the camera was always moving, and many early shows were live, meaning that some pretty audacious stuff got on the air. Led by media visionary Moses Znaimer, CityTV took the gloss off of our city and got down and dirty with the rest of us.

Early offerings included Boogie, which was the bold forerunner to Electric Circus. There was Forum, which featured live debates, often quite audacious, and shows like the New Music that forever changed the face of music on television. Indeed, the New Music would later morph into MuchMusic, which also trail-blazed the way for a whole new era of entertainment TV.

In my youth I used to spend a lot of time down at the station, which in those days was at 99 Queen E., on the other side of Yonge, and I’ll never forget the energy that rippled through the place on a constant basis. Everybody who worked there loved their jobs even if City was one of the most infamously cheap employers in the industry. You didn’t work at City to get rich, you worked at City to be a part of the evolving brave new frontier that was the ascension of TV in the 70’s and 80’s. You worked there because you believed in what Moses what doing and you wanted to be a long for the ride.

Even though it didn’t pay much, at City you got on the air – whether you were ready or not. Some of the more famous City personalities today have been with the station for over 25 years and we have grown along with them. Gord Martineau, Kevin Frankish and Anne Mroczcowski have all been there for 25 plus years and are considerably more polished now than they were way back then.

And it wasn’t just the on-air style that shook things up – where the building became the set and everything and everybody were part of it – it was what they put on the air. The Baby Blue Movie forever changed the standards of what is permissible to air on a public station. City Pulse News did away with the anchor desk and put it’s broadcasters right into the thick of the action and shows like Fashion TV and Sex TV have become ubiquitous in markets all over the world.

It was always a dream of mine to work at City, to be close to that marvellous energy. I was childhood friends with Jay Switzer, who would go onto become the President of City during it’s biggest growth boom, and my parents were close with the Swtizers, who lived a few houses away from us. They were a TV family through and through. Sruki Switzer, the father, literally invented the technology that made cable TV possible and his wife, Phyllis was one of the original three founders of City TV.

City was always in my blood and as a neophyte film maker I used every excuse I could think of to hang around down at 99 Queen E. I just wanted to be close to that unmistakable energy, to be around people who loved what they did and who knew that they were making a difference. In later years I would do a fair bit of business with City, whose penchant for innovation matched some of my fairly audacious ideas, and although I did interview there once for my dream job (and didn’t get it!!) I never successfully leveraged any employment out of the grand dame. Pity. That would have been fun, indeed.

But, like all good things, City eventually grew up and the little station that could became the cash-box that was a well run station in the new millennium. Over the 90’s CityTV grew exponentially. They launched station after station, taking broad advantage of the new CRTC rules which allowed for cable speciality channels. Overnight there was Space, SexTV, CP24 and about 20 other niche stations that are still making their shareholders very rich. And that, of course, was the beginning of the end.

City couldn’t hide its burgeoning revenues from the street and in the early part of this decade they were snapped up by broadcasting giant CTV. At the time, CTV seemed to recognize the inherent uniqueness of their new property and pretty much ran things as per usual. City looked a little slicker but it was still a “little” station. However that couldn’t and didn’t last and in 2007 CTV was forced by the CRTC to divest itself of 5 City stations across Canada due to rules that prohibit any one entity from owning more than one broadcast station in any one market. And who ponied up $375 million for this broadcasting plum? Good ‘ole Rogers Media.

Now, even though Rogers was led by it’s own media visionary, Ted Rogers, their styles couldn’t have been more diametrically opposed. Where City was wild, Mr. Rogers was conservative. Where City dared to boldly go, Rogers preferred to tread more cautiously. And aside from their local Cable 10 operations and the ownership of OMNI, Toronto’s multicultural channel, Rogers had little experience in running a national broadcast presence. And it didn’t take long for the axe to start to swing.

Immediately, the first to go was Speaker’s Corner, a marvel of television democracy that let any body grab some air time – and just for a loonie. In many ways Speaker’s Corner was an important symbol of City’s guerilla status. Famous for launching many careers – the Barenaked Ladies, Mike Myers and Scott Speedman all got their first exposures on the Corner – Speakers Corner suggested all that was right about what CityTV was doing and stood for. Often irreverent, frequently shocking and always entertaining, Speaker’s Corner fulfilled Moses Znaimer’s central philosophy that suggested that television was for every one and every Saturday night at 6:30 you could turn on your TV and see some extraordinarily democratic TV.

Many observers who watched the axing of Speaker’s Corner had a pretty strong premonition of what would be next. Slowly, over the next two years, City gradually became more and more polished until you couldn’t automatically identify which channel was CityTV when you were flipping through the channels. Rogers moved them out of their shrine to TV, the marvellous and innovative building at 299 Queen W., and slowly began dismantling everything that was special about the little station that could. The old CityTV used to feel a little like Improv TV, where anything could, and did, happen, and the new , emerging CityTV became slicker and more polished until it’s current, almost unrecognizable, state.

After Rogers began cleaning house, all of the original staff, who had poured their very best years into that station, gradually began to go, becoming replaced by Rogers’ bean counters. By early this year there was practically no one single holdover from the early days still on the executive roster. And today, the axe fell again.

In a bold and unsettling display of corporate power, Rogers gave pink slips to 60 of some of City’s most recognizable faces. Veterans like Anne Mroczkowski, Laura DiBattista and Pam Seatle were all given their walking papers – effective immediately. Their bios were unceremoniously yanked from the web site and many of the veterans who we have come to know and love were summarily dismissed. City’s mantra used to be Movies, Music and News, and they did all those things very well but today Rogers announced that it was cutting the Noon News, City at 5 and all the weekend newscasts, as well, putting a final dagger into the heart of a once thriving mediatropolis.

I have been watching the devolution of City for some time now and over the past few years have had a number of conversations with some of the senior staff there about what the future held for CityTV. None of them were very optimistic and all were already looking afield to greener pastures. And while they were losing their jobs, I was losing a friend. City has been an integral part of my life ever since I can remember and it feels like something important is missing today from the fabric of this city. One of our best and most insistent voices has been silenced.

A few years ago I was down in Bogota, Colombia, where CityTV has a flagship station – also called CityTV. This incarnation was templated off of the original City paradigm and when I walked into the studio it was like walking into a time warp – but in Spanish. It was the same half-cocked craziness that used to make every City broadcast seem like an episode of SCTV. I stood amidst the chaos and revelled in the energy I felt and it was immediately apparent to me that our CityTV had lost its edge, in comparison. They were doing it the way they wanted because they seemed to understand that the very energy they were producing there was what made City different. It’s what made City special.

I have been sadly watching the slow death of my old friend for several years now and I think that the loss of the old CityTV is a much bigger loss for our greater City of Toronto. We used to have pride in CityTV. We liked that it was imperfect because we were imperfect, too, and in some way City’s irreverence and pluckiness came to symbolize greater Toronto’s more irreverent character and nature. When we turned on City we were looking at ourselves and all the imperfections and roughness made us feel a little bit better about our own less polished overtures.

People were in tears and in shock as news of the cuts rippled through the industry. Suddenly, everyone seemed to viscerally understand what others had been observing for some time from afar – that CityTV was no longer the maverick it used to be and that it was now certain that some things seemed destined never to be the same again.

Today some very nice and very capable people lost their jobs but I’m afraid that the City of Toronto has lost a lot more. If CityTV was tele-democracy in action then its new, evolving, more corporate image means that we are losing an important voice in our entertainment and cultural landscape. CityTV used to speak for all of us – in a language that we all understood – and it gave a voice to that most ambiguous of entities – our city proper. We live in a more heavily branded, more corporate world than we ever have before and without a voice for the underdog I fear that the corporatization of our media infrastructure will soon be complete.

And as those old familiar faces are escorted out the door by unsmiling security guards, Toronto is losing a lot more than a few newscasts. We are losing an important part of our civic identity. Yes, it’s true, that we won’t have CityTV to kick around any more and I, for one, am feeling very sad for us all.

Goodbye old friend. You’ll be missed…

Hyla, like most children, just loves Christmas.

If you’ve never been with a child on Christmas morning then I highly recommend it. It’s a morning filled with delight, discovery and new found treasures. Up at the break of dawn, Hyla made sure that we were all up, too. Doors started to bang. Something “dropped” on the floor. And before we knew it, the whole house was up.

Her Mom said, “We’re going to have a nice breakfast and then we’ll open the presents.” Hah.

If you have children then you know that life is filled with moments when you find yourself wondering just who is the parent and who is the child? If we actually thought that we were going to set the agenda for Christmas morning then we had another thing coming. Breakfast? Hyla had other plans, which, of course, meant that the first order of business was to attack the rather large pile of presents that were stacked under our most beautiful Christmas tree.

We let her dutifully go to the tree and select each present, one at a time. Of course, it came as no surprise that the first present she picked was the one that I have been teasing her about for days.

“What did you get me for Christmas this year, Daddy?” “It’s pink”, I smirked. “What else?” “It’s small.” “What else?” “It has a white circle.” “And?” “It has your name on it.” “DADDY – WHAT IS IT?”

She started to guess. And guess. And guess. This went on for days with me saying “No, no, no” each time. On one guess she actually got it right but there was no way I was going to spoil this surprise, which I was quite proud of.

So, when Christmas morning rolled up I knew for certain which the first gift opened would be. Hyla has been coveting my iPod for years and she has been such a wonderful girl this year (and every year) that I decided it was time to get her one. And there it was, her own Nano, pink with a white circle and her name engraved with a message of love from me on the back.

Squeals of delight, eyes big as saucers and a big kiss and a hug for me. Worth every penny.

Now, what I didn’t expect was the speed with which she moved on to the next present. Maybe I was deluded but I really imagined that she would explore this gift for at least a few minutes before moving on to the next. And the next. And the next. But within ten minutes the pile of gifts under the tree had got smaller and smaller and the pile of paper and ribbons, larger and larger.

When she was done she began to attack the pile of gifts, trying to decide where to focus her incredibly short attention span. A few minutes with Barbie. A song on the IPod. A moment with a stuffed animal. It was an ADD-like orgy of laughing, playing and exploring.

Over the next 24 hours Hyla quickly adopted a toy as her new favourite and would then move on to the next. For those few minutes that toy was the center of her world and then, in the next minute, something new commanded her attention. It was as if the first favourite no longer existed.

Anyone who’s been around a 12-step program will be well familiar with the concept of “one day at a time” or one hour, or one minute at a time. It’s a coping strategy designed to help people who obsess about the future or the past without being able to focus on life’s nexus – the present.

Hyla’s life is all about the moment, whatever that may be. Whatever is in front of her is her whole world and yesterday and tomorrow don’t exist for her. And I find that is one of my biggest challenges – staying in the moment.

When I succeed, I am at my happiest. In the moment, I find that I can extract the most joy out of any situation because that’s all there is for me. When I’m obsessing about tomorrow’s challenges or yesterday’s mistakes I tend to miss out on what’s before me and that’s always where my life is – right there, in front of my eyes.

As adults we have many responsibilities and sometimes it’s impossible not to plan or to consider what the next challenge is. But one of the reasons that I so enjoy spending time with Hyla so much is the way that she forces me into the moment – her moment – and there I am, right with her and there’s nothing else for miles around.

A very wise piece of prose suggests that yesterday’s mistakes are beyond our repair and that tomorrow’s challenges are yet to come and I think that’s true. But how do we stay focussed on today’s events without letting our minds wander? How do we hold true to the moment – whatever that may be?

We can’t abandon our responsibilities but we can stop ourselves from obsessing about them. If we are always focussed on tomorrow’s agenda or on yesterday’s errors then we are missing what’s most important – our lives as we live them. And at the end of the day that’s where we gain the most purchase – in enjoying our plans as we live them, not as we make or regret them.

Whatever the formula, Hyla’s got it figured out and for that I admire her greatly. It’s effortless for her and it makes we wonder how and when I made it so complicated. A child’s world is a simple place and maybe that’s where the answer lies.

For many years, when I was younger, I was a magician and I used to marvel at how easily kids could figure out a trick. They knew the coin was in the other hand but adults were always looking for the trap door, or the mirrors, or the rope and pulley system that made the trick work. The very fact that they made it so complicated made them easier to fool and that’ still true today.

In the New Year I resolve to try and keep it simple, to keep my world free of the clutter of tomorrow’s burden’s and yesterday’s errors. Hyla loves her iPod and when she’s playing with it she’s full of the joy of the moment and for that I envy her greatly. There’s no reason why we can’t keep our lives uncomplicated and clutter free and at the end of the day, we are probably our own worst enemies in that regard.

I will try to keep both feet anchored in today and, if I’m successful, there’s absolutely no reason at all why every morning can’t be as magical as Christmas morning was this year. One day, one moment, one present at a time.

I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

Hyla makes friends in an instant. And not just friends. Best friends. Apparently all that’s needed is age proximity, a willingness to play and somewhat of a joyous spirit and with those things intact she proceeds to bond at a level that has previously taken me years to achieve.

We’ve been down at a resort in the past few weeks and I’ve seen Hyla bond instantly with two sets of friends. One group she met in the pool and then proceeded to play with them morning, noon and night and the other she met over a game of chess on a life size chess board. Within minutes there was laughing squealing and the sharing of the kind of private jokes that you need to be 9 year-old to understand.

I love watching this and I love the joy on her face as she explores these new relationships, discovers new intimacies and forms new bonds.

Hyla is an only child. And, as such, she has learned very well how to entertain herself. Her world is filled with all kind of solitary activities that seems to bring her hours of fun. I really admire her ability to find fun in some of the most mundane things imaginable. A couple of dolls that turn into a coterie of friends, her dog, who becomes an imaginary person and a book that she will lose herself in for hours. It’s a remarkable skill and I hope it will serve her well as an adult.

I really envy her ability to find such joy in these instant unions. As an adult I don’t really make many new friends. Most of my closest friends are people I’ve known for years and those bonds were formed earlier in my life. Occasionally someone comes along who joins my inner circle but it doesn’t happen very often. Most often they become acquaintances or become part of my business network. And I have noticed a new phenomenon where I am making new “Facebook friends” who I share these kinds of intimacies with but whom I’ve never met.

So often when we meet new people we have an agenda. Can they help me in my business affairs? Is there a romantic interest or do we have something else in common that holds our link together? But not Hyla. With her, the friendship is both the means and the end all rolled into one and I find that I’m envying her knack for forming these apparently deep and lasting friendships that seem to bring her so much joy and pleasure.

When did attaching ourselves become so complicated and difficult? How did we lose that ease of playground bonding?

I have many, many acquaintances, even more business contacts but only a very few really close friends. These are the few people who I know I can count on when the straits seem dire and I love them dearly and would do anything for them myself.

When I ended up in the hospital two years ago – in the ICU and literally on life support for several days – there were my two closest friends who stood watch in my room, taking rotating shifts and keeping the rest of my world apprised of my developing condition. They would do anything for me and I, for them, and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have such friends who would drop their lives to be there for mine.

Those friendships took years to cultivate and the equity that I built in those friendships took many years to grow. But Hyla has such a pure spirit and such a lack of agenda and in her world you can be her friend if you meet the most basic of criteria.

Now, one may think that these kind of connections do not run deep or may be fairly disposable but the laughter, the whispered intimacies and the pure joy that flows from these links are very real and they make me almost as happy as they seem to make her. I love to watch her play and to explore the boundaries of these new BFF’s and inside I wish I could do the same. I used to be able to do this but as I’ve grown up that ability has faded and has been replaced with a kind of self-protectiveness. I now protect my heart and it takes a fair bit to get me to drop my guard to the point where I let someone into my innermost circle.

But why shouldn’t we have the joy that these unions seem to bring? Why do we deny ourselves that kind of laughter and those same whispered secrets? I think that, once again, I’m going to find myself taking a cue from my 9 year-old sweetie and to try and be more open to the joy that a good friend can bring.

I love my friends dearly and I know they love me and I love the comfort that comes from knowing that they’re there. I would consider myself very lucky to have more of those bonds in my life. It just doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it and Hyla has reminds me of that on a regular basis. Sure, it does take some trust and sometimes that needs to be earned, but when the reward is great the risk often needs to be great, too.

Not too long ago I had a reunion with one of my best friends from my earlier times. We hadn’t seen each other in 25 years and, of course, we just picked up right where we left off. There was such comfort in that bond and I consider myself lucky to have those connections in my life and as I move forward I resolve to not only cherish those kinds of connections but to seek out new ones because they make my life so rich.

Hyla makes instant friends and I’m going to try to expand my world, too. Because at the end of the day the things that matter the most to me are not the things that I own. They are the people who love me and the joy they bring me and I will now measure my wealth not by the balance in the bank but by the number of people who care about me and those that I can now call my friends. Thank you, all of you. You know who you are.

Hyla calls it “Cappuccino Service”.

Kids notice everything. Just when we think that we’ve slipped one by them or did something that went over their heads, they’ll stun us with some prescient observation that lets us know that they’ve missed nothing.

So, I guess it shouldn’t have surprised me when she noticed that at the end of every afternoon, just before dinner, I would trot off to the bar down the way to have my daily cappuccino. And how did I know that she noticed? Well, the other day, around 5 pm, I heard a knock at my door and when I went to open it, there was Hyla with a cappuccino in her hand.

“Cappucino Service!”

She even had my usual two sugars and a stir stick in the other hand just to make the gesture complete. She had pre-empted my own actions by about 15 minutes and the beatific grin on her face told me that she was thrilled to have conceived of this incredibly thoughtful gesture and that she somehow knew that it would make me very happy.

“Look Daddy, I got you a cappuccino!”

It was all I could do not to cry.

There have been a number of times on this trip where I’ve asked Hyla to do something for me. To get me something from the room, to help me find something I’ve misplaced or to go to the lobby for something from the front desk. And every time I do I always feel a twinge if guilt as if I’m exploiting her kindness or her servitude. But every time I ask her to do something for me she leaps to the occasion and not only doesn’t complain, she’s always eager to please.

I remember as a child that I used to have chores around the house. It was always my duty to take out the garbage cans every week, to shovel when it snowed and to clear the table after meals. I used to do these things just because my parents asked me to. It was never any more complicated than that. And pretty much every time I would always go to my parents seeking the approval that would come with a job well done.

And that’s the nature of a child – to seek their parent’s approval and to know that they’re living up to their responsibilities. That they’re growing up. So why was I so surprised when Hyla showed up with a cappuccino, replete with two sugars and a stir stick?

As adults we tend to do things for some reward. If we take an action it’s usually because we either expect something back or want the outcome to somehow how meet our needs. There some adults who do things selflessly but that tends to be the exception and not the rule. We are self-motivated, self-reliant and often selfish. But kids are not built that way. They just want to please, to make us happy, to show us that they’re growing up and they’re able to fulfill some notion of adult responsibility.

In the spirit of the season I am reminded of a very wise man who lived about 2,010 years ago named Jesus. In his Sermon from the Mount (which is recommended reading for anyone who wishes for or needs a guide for living, regardless of your religious beliefs) he says that the only true charity is that which we give anonymously. The act is the giving and that is the reward, not the accolades that often follow. I always admire it when I see on donation lists the usual three or four “Anonymous’” that always head the top. Those are the people who get what it means to be selfless. Who understand why and how we give.

Hyla didn’t get me that cappuccino because she wanted praise. She got it because she knew it would make me happy and that was the reward within itself.

There are some people who practice the act of “paying it forward” or who commit “random acts of kindness” and who do so cloaked in anonymity and I admire that greatly. I was raised with the notion that if we are blessed life then we have an obligation to give something back and in that spirit I have always been a relentless volunteer and I have always found tremendous reward in that. But I also notice that I like the admiration that comes when I tell people about my volunteer activities and I must remember that’s not the point. When I do so I’m diluting the notion of anonymous giving and I must strive to put my ego aside and to let good works speak for themselves.

After watching for my for several days Hyla figured out that my daily cappuccino made me happy and that if she did that for me it would make me even happier. When I was profuse in my thanks she looked puzzled as if it was odd that I would be so overcome. I love her selfless-ness and the purity of her desire to make me happy as if that is both the object and the reward. And as an adult I am now going to try to find these random acts of kindness that I can perform in my life. Selflessly. Because that’s both the purpose and the point.

And the next day when she asked me if I wanted “Cappuccino Service” I didn’t feel that I was exploiting her kindness by asking her to trot way down to the end of the property to get me a cappuccino because I finally understood the true motivation behind her actions. To give just for the sake of giving. To please for the sake of pleasing. That the object is both the purpose and the reward.

And you know what? It was the best cappuccino I ever had.

Hyla never walks in a straight line.

I’ve taken to calling her “Gravel Girl” because when we walk on the sidewalks here she always walks on the gravel that lines the side of the paths here. And not just the gravel. She also walks on the grates, the hills, steps on every post and kicks every stone. Never a straight line. Never.

She is also fond of looking under every rock, examines everything that falls from the trees and finds endless fascination with the tropical wonders of every seed and coconut that comes from above.

I remember my mother telling me that I used to do the same. I would make sure I stepped on every crack in the sidewalk, climbed every hill, stepped in every puddle and explored every snow bank.

When I ask her why she does this she looks at me with a bemused look on her face and says, “Because it’s fun Daddy”. And she’s right. It looks like fun. So, I’ve started to wonder why I always walk in a straight line.

As an adult I always seem to have a destination. If I’m moving it’s usually because I’m going somewhere. And when I’m going somewhere, that’s where I’m going. But for Hyla it’s not about the destination. The fun is in the journey. Every time we have some place to go she turns it into an endless exploration of all that surrounds her. Every bit of stimuli piques her attention and requires further examination.

We live in such a fast paced world. Email. Faxes. Text messages. Phone calls and voice mail. We always seem to have someplace to go and never seem to have enough time to get there. But not Hyla. She delights in the mundane, finds pleasure in every treasure and collects stones, shells and seeds like prizes.

And, of course, I used to do the same. I used to have quite a collection of childhood treasures that others might call junk but to me were as cherished as the material things that I’ve accumulated as an adult. When did all that change? Somewhere along the line I became focussed on the destination and lost sight of the fun of the journey. And that’s why I’m so impressed with her meandering.

Who knows what might be under that rock, in that snow bank or under that puddle? I know it sound mundane but not to her. To her, the world is her oyster and these shells are her pearls.

About three years ago a friend of mine observed that I always seemed to be rushing places, that I moved too fast and that it was exhausting watching me move through life. She suggested that I make a big sign that said, “Slow Down” and that I put it up in my house. And I actually did it. For about four months every time I came downstairs there it was in big bold letters on a big piece of bristle board. “Slow Down”.

They say that you should you be careful what you wish for because you might get it and sure enough, after four months of looking at “Slow Down” I was in a serious accident that cost me most of the use of my left leg. I spent three months in a hospital bed and then another six months in rehab learning how to walk again. During those months, as I moved about in a wheelchair, I sure moved a lot slower and over the next few years as I gradually reclaimed the use of that leg I noticed that not only had this physically slowed me down but that I was calmer, more focussed, and more patient with life’s little annoyances.

Slowly, I came to like the new me. I liked the calm, enjoyed the slower pace and started to notice that I was much more focussed on the journey as getting places began to consume much of my time. In the past six months I’ve shed my cane and crutches and now walk almost normally. I still limp when I’m tired and my running days are behind me but I’m now very mobile and thrilled with my progress.

I thought that my new Zen-like state was complete until I noticed Hyla walking in the gravel and then I realized that even though I’m moving and living more slowly, I’m still about the destination and not the journey. And I think that’s about to change.

Yesterday I walked with Hyla on the gravel and joined her as she walked sideways on the hills and explored every nook and cranny and you know what? I had a ball. We found a salamander under a rock that we played with for about 15 minutes and then we planted a seed that we found, resolving to come back in a year to see if it became a tree. We even found a penny that we also planted because Hyla wanted to see if a money tree would grow. Apparently tonight we’re going to plant a piece of spaghetti to see… well, you know.

I no longer have a sign in my living room and I’ve become much more mobile but Hyla has reminded me that if I do slow down there might be a salamander under that rock and that is a very cool thing, indeed. Today we’re going to walk on the beach and I’ve decided that we’re going to kick at the waves and stop for lots of sandcastles. I’m going try to move even more slowly and to enjoy the journey because life shouldn’t really be about the destination. I’m no longer going to walk in a straight line because now, the journey is going to be much more fun.

And I can’t wait for next year’s spaghetti harvest!