SLOW DOWN, BE STILL, KNOW THAT I AM

The hunting weapon was parked on the side of the road, barely visible to a hurried driver, used to patiently stock its prey. It was a stealth black Ford Explorer, with faint markings, just enough identity to meet what relevant laws demanded. Suddenly, lights were flashing, sirens blaring, road gravel spitting from underneath its spinning rubber tires. A potential victim was caught, but who?

“What’s the rush” were the words penetrating my wannabe deaf ears?

I had not given myself enough time to attend a 10:30am appointment. So, I was gratified that my NASCAR like driving habits on the highway did not yield any accidents or misfortune. That is, until I stopped, turned right and merged onto the town’s main street. My destination was only 500 meters ahead. As I parked the car on the far right of the road, out of harm’s way, my close victory was becoming an unwelcomed loss.

The police officer informed me they had clocked my vehicle traveling 85km in a 50km zone. There was no point in arguing against my unbelief. How could I have possibly accelerated so quickly while driving a 4 cylinder Mazda 3? After a painfully long wait, he confidently submitted a green piece of paper with all the pertinent details carefully outlined but only the wasteful dollars and expired points mattered to me: $265 and 4p, respectively. I tried desperately to temper my anger, diffuse my frustration and bury my pride as I exited the road’s shoulder, on to the main street and then into the driveway of my contact. But 60 seconds was not long enough.

What did I gain by such useless and careless behavior? By rushing, I stressed. The avoidable stress cost me dearly. The last words of the caring patrolman were spoken to me firmly: “SLOW DOWN!”

What does it profit me, or us, to rush through life? Does it matter if I am first to reach a chosen destination, accomplish a specific task or achieve a particular goal? Does it matter if I am second, third or last? Certainly, there are deadlines where time is of the essence and a sense of urgency is demanded of us. Careful project planning and time management allows us to achieve our goals and responsibilities successfully. But how much of real life have we missed or do we surrender because we exceed an unreasonable and all consuming speed limit?

Today is the first Monday of September. Throughout North America, it is called Labour Day. Labor Day is a federal holiday. It is customarily viewed as the end of the summer vacation season and then school restarts. No work is assigned to us, other than what we place on ourselves. The day should really be called “Slow-Down Day” because, as summer’s end draws near, and we settle into a more hectic pace, that is what we need to do-slow down.

An article (paraphrased) “Why Can’t We Slow Down?” posted April 7th, 2015 on emotiuonallyhelathy.org states it clearly:

“Slowing down can be terrifying because doing that which is deemed unproductive leaves us feeling vulnerable, emotional exposed and unworthy. Overworking hides these feelings of inadequacy or worthlessness, not just from others but also from ourselves.

As long as we keep busy, we can outrun that internal voice that says things like:

·       I am never good enough.

·       I am never safe enough.

·       I am never perfect enough.

·       I am never extraordinary enough.

·       I am never successful enough.

·       I am never rich enough.

·       I am never beautiful enough.

·       I am never acceptable enough.

Do you recognize that (lying) voice?

Far too many of us use “workaholism” to run from these shaming messages. When meeting someone for the first time we usually ask, “What do you do?” We ask because, in our time and culture, identity is defined in large part by occupation or job title. It is how we typically define ourselves and how we understand our place in the world. We also classify and value people based on what they do, how much they have, where they live and what titles they possess.

Part of who we are is what we do. But that it is not the deepest truth about who we are. We are first of all human beings-people created equal in the sight of all. But when things get switched around and our role or title becomes the foundation of our identity, we are reduced to human doings. And when that is the case, slowing down for ourselves, and for others becomes almost impossible to do.”

The sun is covered by grey clouds this Labour Day morning. There is an autumn chill even though summer has not left. The sound of dripping rain falls from water drenched trees. A brisk wind travels along the water’s edge. There are no sounds of boats, jet-skis, chainsaws, hammers or woodcutters. Human voices have not yet been raised from their slumber. It is a very beautiful moment but not as many would define it. There simply exists an unusual quietness.  A message is directed at us, words not spoken but nevertheless penetrate the mind and heart: “Slow down, be still, and know that I am!”

I am not what the world has defined me to be. I am more.

I am not my job, I am more.

I am not my residential address, I am more.                                                                                                                                              

I am not my degree, my title, my role. I am more.

I am not my race, my color, my religion, my gender, my age, my caste. I am more.

I am not my money, I am more.

To my wife I am a husband. To my kids I am a father. To my kids’ kids, I am their past. To my friends I am a friend. To my employees I am a leader. To my students I am a teacher. To the world, I am a role model of how life is to be lived and shared. Through life I am an experience.

I don’t need to race to the finish line. I just need to finish well and be determined to enjoy the journey. So, on this Labour Day, slow down, be still, and know who you are is not defined by the varied extent of what you do and how fast you do it, but by the wonderful experiences that forever measure how well we have lived.

Merv

T. 416.409.6378

E. merv@mervhillier.com

W. mylifepassport.com

 

 

I WAS GOOD TO HER!

People were created to be loved. Things were created to be used. The reason why the world is in chaos is because things are being loved and people are being used.” Dali lama

North West Brook, Newfoundland is a small community located next to Clarenville, a focal point for many outliers, just two hours north west (hence its name) of St. John’s. Though I was born on the Rock, as NL is called, that part of the island was unfamiliar territory. Upon my first visit I can truthfully say, it is simply a beautiful place. A small number of homes outline the water’s edge which opens up into Trinity Bay. My Uncle Will Bursey was born there, eighty five years ago. Over the course of his life he worked as a heavy equipment operator in various locals but settled in Corner Brook. There he met his wife Gwen, my mom’s only sibling, a sister. I was born on Aunt Gwen’s birthday, December 19th.

A small gathering of family and friends assembled at the NWB community church to bid farewell to a wife, a sister, an aunt and a friend. Tributes were given, songs were song and prayers were offered, all in a manner as one would expect at a traditional funeral service. At several receptions kind words were spoken of a woman who was remembered for her brilliant and inviting smile. But the words of her faithful and respectful husband stirred my heart and challenged my mind.

My brother Harold and I were accompanying Uncle Will from his place of lodging to the church. As we travelled the road parallel to the shining water, Uncle Will pointed out a rock on which as a kid he sat many times with a fishing rod in hand, ready to land that evasive salmon or slippery trout. We suggested in a few months once the harsh Atlantic weather cleared, he will be able to do the same again. He laughed. As we drew closer to the church in which Aunt Gwen lay, awaiting a final farewell and then burial, Uncle Will, as he recalled fifty five years of marriage, made a striking and powerful statement: “I was good to her. I have no regrets.”

I was good to her.

Uncle Will and Aunt Gwen had no biological children to call their own, but they had many nieces and nephews. The impression they left on others and on me was summed in those five words.

I thought of what Uncle Will meant when he declared “I was good to her”. But then quickly his meaning was brought to my attention. I recalled the words written in the first book of Corinthians, chapter thirteen.

LOVE

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a ringing gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have absolute faith so as to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and exult in the surrender of my body but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered; it keeps no account of wrongs. Love takes no pleasure in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

Love never fails.

Uncle Will was simply saying, “I loved her, and the oath I offered to her fifty five years ago in the presence of family and friends and under the law of man/women and God, was manifested in how I respected Gwen in all I said and did.”

What a testimony! What an example! What a legacy!

I recently attended a session where the leader challenged us on the subject of relationship. He had placed two very large black chalk boards on each side of the room. On one board we were to write the names of those people who had been “good to us”. On the other board, we were to write the names of those who needed us to be “good to them”. Though I did not physically participate in the exercise, mentally I made two lists as suggested. I thought of those people who had invested their time and resources in my life to help me along life’s journey. I could name many individuals who were good to me. I then made a list of those in whose lives I believed I had made a difference, who I thought I was by my actions, good. But how would I really know?  I then proceeded to make a third list, a list of my immediate family: Linda, Richard, Joanna, my mom Joyce, my step-mother in law Diane, my brothers David, John, Harold and Lloyd and my sister Barbara. I remembered those who had passed, my dad William, my father in law Bill, and my mother in law Ruby. For them all, could I say “I was good to them”?

This simple principle of life is stated and confirmed in two equally powerful commandments from the Holy Scriptures:

“In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law.”

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has also fulfilled the law.”

Very intelligent and learned men and women have written volumes of laws to manage our behaviour focusing on our relationship with one another. So often these rules have failed us. Murder, domestic violence, bullying, hateful language, broken families, wayward kids, assault, theft, fear mongering, deceit, fraud, lies and abuse have not been eliminated but in many cases continuously overwhelms communities like an out of control and raging fire. Our damaging behaviours give birth to savage dictators, wars and crimes against humanity, oppression and even starvation.

But what if each one of us reflected on our relationship with others and tested our behaviours against this one question: Was I good to her, to him?

If you or I said no to that question regarding someone we had relationship with or are in a relationship, what would we need to change to say yes?

If you or I said yes to the same question, do we believe those people we have acknowledged would agree with us?

It is said that it is appointed to us to live, to die and then judgement. How then shall I live? When I die, how then shall I be judged?

Uncle Will was not an educated man. Nor was he wealthy. But the legacy he left behind for us was worth more than gold could buy or a learned person could write. As Aunt Gwen was lowered into a frozen ground, he bent over and kissed the container that held her safely. We observed a man of principle, one who taught us to put others’ needs before our selfish desires, to treat them with love, with respect, to honor them in word and deed and to do unto them as we would want them to do unto us.

A simple man who lives a purposeful life with no regrets left us this message: “Be good and do good to everyone you are in relationship with!” WB

Merv

T. 416.409.6378

E. merv@mervhillier.com

W. mylfiepassport.com

UNDETECTABLE

UNDETECTABLE

On my first trip to Saudi Arabia, I confess I was seriously nervous. My client, a large well known organization based in Jeddah, had arranged for their appointed driver to meet me at the airport. But before I met him I first had to pass through security, a normal process for locals and the frequent visitor but stressful for the novice who is unfamiliar with the country, its customs, laws and procedures. The entry forms were not familiar. I thought I had completed them correctly, but the attendant laughed when he reviewed my paperwork. I had chosen the incorrect declaration card and presented myself as a Muslim Inman (equivalent to a Christian Priest or Jewish Rabbi). He was gracious and patient, retrieved the correct form, completed it for me and had me sign it. Step one completed. I still had to retrieve my luggage and have it scrutinized. The rules for what can be brought into the country are very strict. Even before our plane landed, we were advised by the Captain to remove specific items, if contained, before entering Saudi airspace. Certain magazines and pictures, alcohol, cameras and utensils, were all forbidden and severe penalties imposed if one breached the law. I broke out in a sweat. I had included a camera in my luggage bag, ignorant of its illegal possession. I had done this before. While visiting Singapore, after checking into the hotel, I began emptying the contents of my luggage and was stunned by the presence of chewing gum.  Chewing gum is illegal in Singapore with severe punishment for bringing it into the country. Fortunately, my contraband was not detected. I immediately disposed of it.

I was asked to leave the security line. Two security guards escorted me to a private room. I was told to stand and wait for an inspector. Thirty minutes had expired. Still no one arrived. My anxiety increased but it was important I did not let it show. Any signs of nervousness may lead to perception of guilt. Another fifteen minutes passed. Finally, a very serious looking young man introduced himself. He asked where I was from and why I was visiting Saudi Arabia. My guests had advised me what to say in such circumstances. So I responded exactly as I was taught. There was silence, deathly silence. My paperwork was examined microscopically and repeatedly while glaring stares into my eyes were made to intimidate me. Finally, I was released, free to go, as it were. My camera was seemingly undetected.

A friendly face held a large white card with the name, “Mr. Hillier” printed in bold black letters on it. I confirmed who I was. He led me to his car. I gave a sigh a relief. I was finally on my way to the Hilton hotel. But there was a security check point to negotiate. My driver rolled down his window and a conversation began which I did not fully understand. An interpretation though wasn’t really necessary for me. The driver did not have the correct paperwork in order to exit the airport and was instructed to take me back to the airport. He immediately contacted his company representative. I was instructed to hire a taxi to leave the airport while the driver attended to his error. I sat in the back of the cab while we approached security again. I was terrified the agent would notice me and think I was trying to exit the airport illegally. But my identity went undetected. I was once again free.

The entrance to the Hilton hotel was guarded by army personnel sitting in green camouflaged Jeeps equipped with large machine guns. I did not know this was normal protocol. The barrels of these intimidating guns were aimed at us as we drove to the main doors. I thought for a quick moment that I had been caught. My advised trick to exit the airport was discovered.

Check in was normal. I quickly hung my clothes in the closet, dressed for bed, and attempted to prepare my mind for a well-deserved rest. Sleep though was difficult. I stayed awake waiting for the police to knock on my door to investigate the incident at the airport.

After a few hours of unconsciousness, I was frightfully awakened by the sound of a blast. My mind immediately judged the noise to be that of an exploding bomb. But there was no commotion, so I believed I awoke from a bad dream. I settled once more. Then another blast occurred. This time I knew I wasn’t hallucinating. I peered out my window. Some late night partiers were on the beach setting off fireworks. It was obvious; I had become paranoid of all of my perceived bad behaviours being detected.  

Waiting is a tough process. Depending on what you are waiting for your mind can play nasty tricks with reality. Positive expectations are mired in doubt and negativity.

My radiation treatments for cancer ended on September 23rd, 2016. I now had to wait until November 3rd, for the results. The early weeks passed without too much worry. The key was to keep my mind busy. So I did. But as the days expired, the meeting with Doctor Catton grew closer. My day of reckoning had arrived. I was nervously awaiting my sentence, having been found guilty of developing cancer in January, 2010, almost seven years before. After completing the required registration forms and then checking in with the receptionist, I stood in the waiting area on floor 2B of Princess Margaret Hospital. It was 10:00am. I did not notice any other patients who might have travelled this journey with me. They were all new faces, people who I did not know but I could relate to because the challenge we faced made us all commoners.  

The main door to the treatment rooms opened. There was Min. She was a radiation therapist who had regularly attended to my program. I was hoping she would notice me so I could say hello. Unfortunately, as she called for her next patient, my presence went undetected. I realized I probably would never see her or her colleagues again and was saddened I could not say thanks to them for the work they do to help us regain our health.

I heard my name called. “Mr. Hillier” the volunteer announced. I replied, “That’s me!” She accompanied me to the waiting room. Minutes seemed like hours. A nurse asked me a few questions about my post treatment exam. Then Doctor Catton entered the room. He carried a piece of paper. It was my exam results. With a big smile on his face, he declared “it’s undetectable”! My tests did not show any signs of cancer being present in my body. After seven years, seven surgeries and seven weeks of daily radiation, I was finally free. My sincere thanks are owed to Dr. Catton and Dr. Ling, his associate, for their expertise and empathetic care.

Many before me have been and many after me will be attacked by this nasty disease called cancer. But never let hope and faith become undetectable in your life. Without hope we perish. An absence of faith: in God’s presence in your life and sovereignty over your life; in your own self-worth; and in life’s eternal purpose; will surely drive you to a mental and emotional prison. You (and only you) can remove the chains of doubt.

Life Matters. You Matter. Never, never, NEVER, give up!

Merv

E. merv@mervhillier.com

T. 416.409.merv

B. mervhillier.com

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There Was Evening and There Was Morning, Another New Day

It is early morning. The sun has not yet appeared to disperse the hours of darkness that had settled upon our lives the previous evening.  But an early rise is necessary to prepare for another new day. I adopt a rush to cleanse, dress and ready myself for the day’s events. An unpredictable and challenging drive to the metropolis awaits. Seventy-five minutes in stop and go traffic to manoeuver among and defend against hurried and impatient drivers, who willingly risk damage to vehicles and injury to self and others in order to be the first in a growing maze of anxious commuters. Thankfully another safe arrival is achieved. After a twenty minute walk, I among many enter a familiar door. A long line of people to my left excitedly await to receive their order of caffeine, a perceived boost to begin the day. I walk past them, down a busy corridor leading to a stairwell. Even at this time of day, many people have gathered to attend to life’s needs. The circular staircase leads me two stories downward to a reception area on floor 2B. Without a call or announcement, I place my green, bar coded card under the light of the scanner. On the computer screen, my legal identify and birthdate appear along with the name of the room I am to enter, T11. We each scout for a place to sit, and then we wait.

Some sleep, others read. A few are talking to their neighbours in adjoining chairs or connected by cellphones. The TV screen showcasing yesterday’s news has become a good distraction. Others block out their environment by utilizing an iPod. Several pass the time reading and sending texts. Many are just content to be still and contemplate where life has brought them.

It is a place though of no discrimination. Race, physical attributes, gender, color, dress, religion, age, social status, economic welfare or language does not live here. What makes each one equal is their situation. Disease is no respecter of persons.

Mom holds the young child patient by his hand. As he plays, he is unware of his circumstance. A husband supports his wife as she carefully and slowly finds her way. A young man holds his Dad’s arm. Another Dad walks closely with his son. The contrast is striking. Sometimes families arrive to demonstrate love and support to one of their own. Several have arrived by wheelchair, barely strong enough to make the wheels turn and direct their way. Papa is accompanied by his granddaughter. Many widowers silently wait for their named to be called. Two very young women appear. Neither are acquainted with the other but their physical similarities cannot go unnoticed. During my assessment I wonder who cares for them and do they feel cared for.

There are one hundred and eighty therapists. They conduct 18,000 treatments annually. But with each separate and individualized treatment they must not only ensure the technical and clinical specifications are mastered to perfection, but as well it is their responsibility to make us all believe they care about us. So they call each of us by name. Sometimes it is Mervin, other times it is Mr. Hillier (just to be respectful). Pronunciations differ based on which therapist is at the door. Hillier may sound like Hillyer or Hiller, the English version. My favourite is the French version “illyay”!  My preference is simply to be called "Merv" but there is no need or desire to correct any of them.

With uninterrupted consistency their welcome is energized with a smile, a comforting voice and a verbal embrace. While no doubt repeated thousands of times they ask “How are you?” We do feel and believe they care about our wellbeing.  But they cannot take upon themselves our burden or they will become overburdened emotionally. They practice the science of caring but must be extremely careful they are not afflicted with the art of caring. Doing so will lead to dysfunction, and what does that achieve for them or for us? We just need them to stay focused on caring for us technically. It is important I say thank you to each of them for the tireless hours of standing, for the meticulous attention to detail and challenging repetition.

I am instructed to lie down on a eight foot long bench which is no more than twenty-four inches wide. Seven hundred and fifty milliliters of stored water is demanding immediate release. My feet are placed in a premanufactured plastic mould. Laser beams pointing from the side of each wall and the ceiling above are aligned to the designated tattoos on my abdomen. The “LINAC” is adjusted and positioned with the press of a few buttons. It appears simple but the therapist’s technical skill is critical to a successful outcome. A heavy wrap is placed on my legs to discourage any unnecessary movement. I wonder what will happen if I have to sneeze. The upbeat music is encouraging me to tap my foot. An itch develops on my cheek. I must contain myself just for ten minutes. My hands are held tightly as they rest on my upper chest. A buzzer sounds. All systems are ready to go. The attendants quickly exit the room to avoid the risk of being constantly contaminated by beams of destructive radiation. They watch me on a screen from a protected place. I lie patiently as the machine purrs, positions, rotates, stops, and then repeats its programmed cycle. There is no visible evidence of any productive work being accomplished. I can only hope. The momentary isolation and imprisonment can be unnerving. For a few moments I question God as to why I am here in this place and why my prayers for healing have not been answered. But I am reminded that the Creator has provided through human innovation a sophisticated and technological advanced method for providing healing that I must trust will accomplish what is intended. God’s ways are not my ways.

The therapist re-enters and with encouragement says: "All done!" It is time for me to dress and exit as another patient waits to take my place. She hurriedly removes all evidence of my presence. We say warm goodbyes to each other and acknowledge meeting again the next day. I walk quickly to my car and drive with haste to arrive at the office to attend to work’s obligations. My email folder has many messages but one in particular has caught my attention.

When we hear of people’s difficult situations, many of us do not know how to respond. We have all often heard:

“My thoughts are with you.”

“I will pray for you.”

“Hope everything works out well.”

“All the best.”

“May God help you!”

But these do little to demonstrate care or concern (though one's offering of continual prayer in such circumstances is comforting to those who believe in God and sometimes even to those who don't). Such words fall easily off our lips but have no real meaning or significant impact. From some I appreciate their honesty. “I don’t know what to say or do. If there is any way I can help please feel free to ask me.” Their admission is real and the concern is believable.

The words we say, are often times defined with shocking insensitivity.

Over the years a group of us have met regularly to enjoy a few days of ATVing. It is an activity I enjoy immensely. An email was sent by a member of the group to all of us calling for a September ATV trip. In parenthesis were the words:  “Merv, I realize your situation will not allow you to participate. Our thoughts and prayers are with you”. Then he continued to suggest dates and specifics for the rest of them to get together. An extended conversation about the difficulty to set a particular date due to the interference of vacations and travels ensued. Never was the question asked about when my treatments were finished or when I might feel ready to participate again. There was no real empathy towards my state of mind or my physical constraints.  

I am a sensitive individual by nature both in giving and receiving feedback. But this conversation made me question my own responses to others in challenging situations. Do my words speak of concern? Are they formed with empathy and sensitivity to the other person’s needs? Are there times that yes, my life activities are best temporarily suspended for the benefit of others and not my selfish desires? We may invoke God in an attempt to make others feel or believe we care but I believe God asks us to be more involved, take more action, be more responsible and develop and exercise a tangible example of genuine care.

How then do we, must we answer the question “Who Cares”?  Maybe we cannot expect the difficult from each other. Maybe our expectation can only be found as written in 1 Peter 5:7 – “Cast all your anxiety on God because God cares for you.” Is that enough? What does God expect of us? What do we expect of each other?

And then there was evening, and then there was morning. Another new day is presented to each one of us. But who cares?

Merv Hillier

T. 416.409.MERV

E. merv@mervhillier.com

ZONE 5: "That's NOT Me!"

In life we will many times face a critical question, whose answer we may have to rethink often. Depending on our circumstance, the repeated question and the answer we give will determine the conditions of our journey.

When faced with what seems as the impossible, do I turn away embittered by circumstance or do I proceed motivated by faith?

The Starbucks attendant received my order for a soy based green tea latte. She told me when the order was ready, she would call my name as written in abbreviated form on the tall size cup. I was placed on a list like all others. I quickly scanned the small seating area and chose to sit at a raised bench like table, in front of a window facing University Avenue, close to all of the hospitals within the University Health Network. Next to me on my left was a young student who was immersed in her textbook quickly summarizing her readings in note form on her computer. She had placed herself in a zone that blocked out all interference around her.

On the other side of the window I was facing, the street was busy with various types of people, all in their own particular zone, focused on a journey to somewhere.

A businessman dressed in his finest grey suite, white shirt, blue tie and black shoes, holding securely his leather briefcase, with a determined look on his faced, developed a brisk stride to ensure he reached his destination successfully.

A family stopped and held a map up to the sky. Each one pointed to a place on the map which seemed to indicate their intended destination. A discussion developed and soon after agreement was reached. They moved forward based on an agreed upon path.

Two teenagers were captivated by something humorous. They would walk, stop and then break out in childlike giggles. Unperturbed by what others observed, they would continue their journey with intermittent bursts of uncontrollable laughter.

My mind reflected back just a week prior. I was standing in line at the Air Canada gate to board a flight to the USA. There were two signs. These signs segregated passengers in two distinct categories: a) Zones 1-2; b) Zones 3-5. During most of my professional career, I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to fly either first or business class, the former on long haul international flights and the latter domestically. Accordingly and howbeit wrongfully, I was considered different, more privileged and deserving than others. I was offered the best the airline had to offer, including the rare enthusiastic attitude of airline staff. I was called Super Elite. On this occasion, I was neither first nor business or super, let alone elite. Someone had determined because of my infrequent flying that my class had changed. As per my boarding pass, I was labelled Zone 5, the lowest zone, the least among many. All my privileges had been revoked. But I had not changed. I was still the person my name referenced for 50+ years. Upon check in, I was told to be seated and when ready, each zone would be called for boarding. I would be allowed to enter after everyone else.

The Starbucks attendant called out “Merv”. I responded: “That’s me”! I hurriedly claimed my latte while keeping a watch on my perfectly placed seat at the window. My neighbour continued her studies oblivious to my comings and goings. Pedestrian traffic increased significantly, with the approach of pre-set office hours.

It was now time to leave the comfort and security of the tiny zone I had been in for the last thirty minutes. My coffee cup with the name Merv printed on it was empty and so I threw it away, probably with more symbolism than I realized. I stepped out on the sidewalk and walked a short distance north. I entered the halls of Princess Margaret Hospital (PMH). It was a place I had never visited before but knew of many who did. I quickly became mesmerized. The crowds were as thick as any you would see at Disney World, but PMH was not the happiest place on earth. This was a different world, a different zone where happiness could be and more often is replaced by fear and despair. It was a zone on University Avenue, in the midst of a metropolitan world class city considered to be one of the best places to live, anywhere on earth, where to the battle of cancer is added the war between bitterness and faith. It is a place where thousands visit with anxious hope.

Since 2010, I have had three operations at Toronto General Hospital (TGH) to remove an aggressive and recurring cancerous tumour complimented with multiple minor procedures to correct surgery’s negative side effects. I reached the 4th floor of PMH and entered a zone populated by many. I surrendered my health card and UHN nameplate, to identify myself. As I had just experienced at the AC counter and Starbucks, my identity, my zone, was no different than any other. I was told to be seated and my name would be announced when ready.

The nurse called out, “Mr. Hillier”!” Quietly to myself I said: "That’s me". I quickly arose and followed her to a waiting room. After a long pause, the oncologist arrived. He asked, “Do you know why you are here?” I replied “yes” and began to provide my understanding of the situation. His response, startled me. PMH is one of the top five cancer research centres in the world. Even with my diagnosis I was comforted being in such a first class place. He replied “We have zero experience with your situation”. Seeking further explanation, he continued to tell me that with my next treatment, while they were encouraged by its potentially positive attack on the cancerous cells that were still present inside my body, they were less certain as to how my body would react to the treatment, given how it has been physically assaulted three times previously. Radiation therapy has a very high success rate and the side effects while at times significant, but in most cases were short term offering a good recovery. Upon further research, there were not more than five noted cases in North America characterized like mine. I was definitely in a zone I had never been in my entire life. It was my personal Zone 5.

So the question I, like many others must answer is: “do I turn away embittered or do I proceed motivated by faith?”

There must be only one answer. As my journey begins on August 9th and ends on September 23rd, 2016, consisting of 33 daily doses of radiation to a zone on my body permanently tattooed with 3 strategically placed ink spots to ensure consistent accuracy, I will believe (“faith”) that what my doctor has described as “going where no one has gone before” (I have heard that phrase said by someone else) or what I have tagged as Zone 5, will be in the end a memory of realized hope to share with others who may have to take a similar journey and discover the same place.

I will not be defined by a name printed on a coffee cup, a classified zone on an airplane boarding pass, a health card, a hospital identification tag or even a Zone 5 disease. While doctors may declare ignorance I will claim life, because my life matters, and my faith in God’s love and omnipotence rules over all things, including Zone 5.

We must appreciate, observe and practice all that medical science has to offer. But we must not become embittered by its limitations. We move forward not with irrational or blind denial but with an intelligent belief that what is labelled impossible by others becomes possible for those who believe in and trust God.

As I exit the doors at PMH onto the streets of Toronto, I will never forget the smile on a patient’s face, when tested after completing her treatments and in great anticipation of her doctor’s analysis, while in the waiting room her name is called and she says, “That’s me!” Then her doctor says “all clear, it’s gone.” Zone 5 had not become a permanent place but one frame in life’s exciting and unpredictable journey.

Merv

 

The Tree of Life

During a past visit to Disney World, after exploring the traditional theme parks of Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and the Water Parks, we made our way to the Animal Kingdom. It is a theme park set into a large zoo within a forest. One of the most fascinating features you see as soon as you enter is the “Tree of Life”. It's purpose is to illustrate the interrelationship and interdependency of all aspects of life. Many of these characteristics were carved into its trunk and branches. It was exceptional in its intended reality. But it was clear that it was man made, constructed out of concrete and paint. There was no life in Disney’s tree of life. 

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What Hides Beneath

A few weeks ago, I was scheduled to visit the dermatologist to assess a few spots on my face for potential health risks. After his diagnosis he advised me the irregular facial spots were the result of abnormal sun exposure when I was a teenager. He said after 40 years I am just now experiencing the consequences. A stinging spray of nitrogen to freeze and then eliminate the damage was a small price to pay to lower the risk of future potential problems.

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Leadership 101: Standing Alone

Our company had enjoyed a consistent stream of revenue from a long standing customer for over 20 years.  While we were not a single sourced supplier, we were a preferred one, being highly trusted and favoured. I was reminded of that special relationship when I assumed the role of President. To the shareholders and management, the margins we collected on the products we sold to this one specific customer provided significant bonuses and dividends, increasing our company’s and individual standard of living considerably.

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