Saturday, January 23, 2016

"Pierre Trudeau made me cry again today"

I did find Mozart's Requiem and will listen at some point, but right now, as I listen to Randy Bachman, I'm going through my Documents file on the Mac, starting when it does, in 2001. How much I wrote, how many good pieces polished and sent out to one place, at most two, and then, when they were not accepted, just abandoned. It seems unfair that to succeed at this business, we have to be good not just at writing and editing, which is hard enough, but at accepting inevitable rejection and getting stuff out into the world. Which can be harder.

I found this short piece which never found a home and thought, in light of recent events in Canada, that you might enjoy it. I wrote it in 2004.

Pierre Trudeau made me cry again today. Like many Canadians I was surprised at the time of his death, and many days after, by how moved I was; how much I missed him. I cried a lot. Some of my friends out west did not feel the same way and were disgusted by all the emotion. But I’ve never felt as Canadian as I did watching Trudeau’s funeral, when Sacha and Justin, the boys we’d watched grow from infancy to manhood, spoke before an illustrious audience in perfect French and English, and in poetry, about their extraordinary father.

But today came another hit of grief – a picture of Margaret Trudeau, looking haggard, above an article about an interview she did on TVO. She apparently talked openly, with her usual alarming candour, about the last days of her ex-husband. I was heartened to hear that Pierre Trudeau accepted death unafraid and head-on, as he seemed to deal with everything in life; that, she said, he was ‘resigned.’ It was painful to read that on the morning of his death, he woke with tears rolling down his face: Trudeau the Don Juan, the twirler, wealthy, brilliant and sleek, weeping, at death’s door. But I burst into my own tears when she spoke of his main concern about dying - that he would be unable to watch his nine-year old daughter grow up. 

Through the years, I came to admire Pierre Trudeau not just as a politician but as a man. I was lucky enough, once, to be dazzled in person by his wit and physical prowess; through the evening at a big party at the National Arts Centre, I felt every female in the room, old and young, including me, pointed in his direction, like compasses to the Magnetic North. But what really appealed to me about him was the fact that this famous world leader had become, more than anything else, a single father. A single parent too, I was aware that despite his spectacular affairs, Pierre Trudeau lived alone for almost all of his divorced years, focussed on raising his sons. Raising engaged, open-hearted young men more or less by himself, because Margaret was with her own new family, in another city. How connected he was to his sons was visible at the funeral of his youngest, Michel. The blind devastation on his face was unbearable. I wasn’t surprised to hear, not long after, of his own mortal illness. 

And at the end, he died, accompanied not only by his two surviving sons, but with his still-adoring ex-wife at his bedside. Margaret, once his nemesis, was there to care for him when it mattered most. Those are his greatest successes, as far as I’m concerned: that despite his very busy life he was a generous, available, committed father; that he made peace with the one person it might have been most difficult to forgive; and that he gave the greatest of gifts to his little girl: he left her knowing how greatly, how deeply she was loved.

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