A Place of Peaceful Rest

The second post I wrote for the blog back on November 13, 2006 was a eulogy to one of my dearest friends in the world Ryan (Ron) Taylor. Ryan was not happy with the name Ron and those of us who met him in Ottawa at a certain time in his life knew him as Ryan; his family and earlier friends knew him as Ron. No matter what name you knew him under you knew a charming, erudite, maddening, learned, witty, irritating, gentle and loving person.

Ryan (Ron) Taylor

By that strange alignment of the stars that we call serendipity a post about books by Old Lurker reminded me of the last note I received from Ryan. It came in a neatly (being from him of course it was) wrapped parcel containing a book. The book was Boy’s Like Us – an anthology of short coming-out stories/essays – and the note simply said “Darling boy, I won’t need this anymore.” The next day I received a phone call telling me his body had been found in the Niagara River.

I was fortunate to be able to keep in touch with some of his family: his cousin Dayle, his niece and, again through serendipity, his brother who lived in the building we moved into when we returned from Italy in 2011.

A peaceful park in the village of Grasmere in the Lake District of England where Ryan has found his final resting place.

On May 30th, a day after reading Luker’s post, I received an email from Dayle telling me that she had taken Ryan’s ashes to England and he had found his final resting place: the small village of Grasmere in the Lake District. In the nearby church yard is the grave of William Wordsworth, a poet who’s works he treasured.

And when the stream that overflows has passed,
A consciousness remains upon the silent shore of memory;
Images and precious thoughts that shall not be
And cannot be destroyed.

William Wordsworth
The Excursion

At the time of his death I said something that is as true today as it was thirteen years ago:
If you had any faults – and like all of us you did – the greatest was that you did not love yourself enough to realize how much you were loved. You are greatly loved. “The lad” and I miss you.
Your “darling boy”

Today I can add: I am joyful that you have found a place of peaceful rest.

Strangely June 4th is Tailors Day – granted a different spelling but it will do.

Where Sorrow and Pain Are No More

Normally I would be posting one of my Lunedi Lunacies to start the week off with a smile but today is a day of remembrance. All Souls, in the church calender, is the day when all those who have died are remembered. In my old parish in Toronto the Orthodox Kontakion for the Dead was sung at the end of every Requiem mass. This canto from the Eastern liturgy contains a phrase that has always cut to my heart when it asks that the deceased be granted rest in a place “where sorrow and pain are no more.”

Today I remember especially four dear friends, three who I lost in the past year and one who’s passing three years ago is as painful today as it was then. And it is my earnest hope and prayer that they are all in a place where sorrow and pain – physical or mental – are no more.

Three years ago my daring Ryan decided to leave us. Why he choose that path is still a question that nags at those of us who loved him. We will never know and perhaps it is best to let the question rest – it was his path and though it robbed us of possible good times there are still the memories of what was shared for too brief a time. I still find that when I’ve seen an opera that I enjoyed – or better yet didn’t – I want to pick up the phone and call him. When I read an article, a blog post or book that I found fascinating that I want to send him an e-mail telling him all about it. And I so long to hear about his latest project, the new book in progress and his travels, reading and listening. He always had so much to share. And Christmas without one of his “Crackers” just isn’t complete. And there is so much that has happened since he died that I wish I could share with him . That lose of sharing is as acute today as it was three years ago. Ryan, your “darling boy” still misses you!

Deb and I met when I went down to Montreal to “look in” on a redesign project she was working on – five years later I left the project and retired to join Laurent in Poland. We were quite the team – all of us pretty much from “away,” – Deb from London, Peggy and Anna from the Maritimes, Carla, Maggie and Anthony from Toronto, Esther from Vancouver and me from Ottawa. We formed a tight little group – first around Jennie, a madcap Australian, then briefly a very unmadcap Egyptian who didn’t work well with women or gays (wrong group for you bucko) then with our Cathy. We had our differences – meetings could be drama ridden and I recall a few conference calls that had the wires burning up. But we produced a damned good product and more important we had fun and enjoyed each other as co-workers and as friends.

Deb had a wicked sense of humour and it was matched by an evil grin and a twinkle in her eyes. We shared a lot together – for a brief while we even lived together in a house in Pointe Claire. It was shortly after I left that she was diagnosed with cancer the first time. At one point she decided to move back to London to be with her partner James (left: Deb, James and I in January 2008) but still kept up her treatment in Montreal. Every few weeks she would get on a flight and go back to Montreal for her chemo – rest a day or two and then back home to London.

I was with her the day she celebrated two years of being cancer-free – we had returned to Montreal for a reunion and the day was spent having corned beef at Schwartz’s, picking up 20 dozen bagels with Anthony at St Vitar, quaffing wine in Old Montreal and dinner with the gang at a wild Vegetarian restaurant Gillian had chosen.

She met me at Heathrow the morning after she had been told the cancer was back. We were going to the tea at the Savoy and the Panto at the Old Vic. That was four years ago and on a train ride into London two years later – another Panto trip – she confided that at the initial diagnosis she had been given two years, three at the most but she had every intention of beating the bastard!

She fought a long hard battle and I honestly believe that she wasn’t defeated nor did she surrender. She made peace. Nowhere was that more apparent than on the day this past spring when we all gathered to say goodbye. Deb I miss that twinkle and that grin.

In the Foreign Service there are people who come into your life for a brief time and then are heard of no more other than as names on reports or posting lists. Then there are the others! People who keep showing up like bad pennies – like Steven and Betty Jean Culley. Okay they aren’t bad pennies, far from it but you get the idea. We had been together in Warsaw back in the late 1990s and we had corresponded sporadically over the next few years. They were preparing to leave Rome for Damascus as we were arriving and they were our first dinner guests after our arrival. And it was at that dinner that Steve told us that he had been undergoing cancer treatment but had been give the all clear. We broke open a bottle of grappa to celebrate. Sadly our celebration was short lived – Steve and BJ came back several months later for his check up and the cancer had reappeared. And they were going to stay in Rome for a while so his treatment could be resumed.

It was a bittersweet time. It meant that we were able to spend time together – Christmas with them and Sarah and Brian, an odd evening out – we even dragged poor Stephen to the ballet one evening (right: Betty Jean, Stephen and Laurent in our box), dinner, coffee or Sunday lunch. But it also meant that Steve was going through some pretty rough times – times when he just didn’t have the energy to socialize. But he never seemed to loose his ability to laugh and that laugh was so distinctive you could never miss it. And he had one of the strongest people I have ever met in my life – BJ – beside him all the way. It was a battle and the two of them faced it head on and still had time for friends, family and laughter.

The evening before they left for Canada I spoke with Steve – we were suppose to go out for dinner but he had a long journey ahead of him and had to conserve his energy. He sounded tired but at the same time exhilarated that he was going home. I know at that point as we said goodbye he knew what was coming but the last thing he said was: Its been a slice. And he gave that laugh. Two months later when Betty Jean’s e-mail arrived I knew that his laugh had been silenced. Stephen I miss your laugh.

Frank and I were work colleagues and friends for almost 30 years. He was a bright, charming, opinionated, loving and quite often exasperating man. We had worked together for Air Canada at Ottawa Airport and then after retirement both of us found ourselves working at Transport Canada (left: Martha, Frank and Bernie – old AC and TC friends and colleagues). Our clashes – particularly at the Toronto Commuter Desk – were known to be the entertainment highlight of not a few peoples Friday nights at Ottawa Airport. We both had our way of doing things and we both knew we were right!

But none the less we were friends – actually his wife Sharon (who worked with us) and I were, at one time shift spouses i.e. we worked the same shifts and saw each other more often than we saw our real spouses. Frank and I were almost direct opposites: he was as straight as they come – I …. wasn’t; he was a devout Catholic – I was a lapsed Anglican; he was a die-hard right winger – I was born a lefty; he was a company man – I worked as a Union rep. So we were never at a loss for things to “discuss” – and sometimes those discussion could get heated. There were times when after the heat came the cool, almost icy, but it never lasted.

Frankie took sick after I had left for Italy and I got reports of his condition from our mutual friends. Once again it was cancer and he underwent treatments which I know were wearing on body and soul. It was a long battle that, being very private people, Frank and Sharon endured quietly. When the news of his death arrived two months ago I greeted it, as I had with Deb and Steve, with a mixture of relief and sadness. Frankie I will miss our “discussions” no damned it our arguments.

I know that this day is a remembrance of all Souls who have departed this earth but today I think of four of them in particular and in my heart pray that they are in a place “where sorrow and pain are no more!”

02 novembre – Commemorazione dei Defunti

Mercoledi Musicale

I know I’m given to mini-themes here so it should come as no surprise that today’s music ties in with Lunedi’s lunacy. Rossini stopped writing operas when he was 37 and for the remaining 39 years of his life wrote mostly occasional pieces – secular, sacred, instrumental and vocal.

His Péchés de vieillesse (Sins of My Old Age) includes this lovely vocal piece I Gondolieri sung here by the 2005 TMEA All-State Mixed Choir conducted by Simon Carrington accompanied by Thomas Jaber. I’ve been assured by a few singers I know that the older Rossini had lost none of his ability to give singers – particularly the tenors – a work out.

A Dedication: This little piece is for Ryan – he loved Rossini.

It has been almost two years since Ryan decided to leave us. As I recounted in one of my first postings he and I met over a whistled snatch of Rossini’s Di Tanti Palpiti and became the best of friends. At the time he left I was filled with both anger and loss at, what seemed to me, an unexplainable act. The anger has long ago disappeared but the sense of loss is as acute today as it was two years ago.

So much has happened in that time that I wish I were able to share with him. The move to Rome, our wedding, the loss of our Reese, travel, food and all the silly day-to-day things you share with friends. And of course, the music, especially the music.

Sure there are other people I can talk to about the dreadful Aida at Caracalla or the incredible Fidelio at Reggio Emilio but not in the same way. With them there would not be that deep, appreciative chuckle and raised knowing eyebrow. So often I have found myself leaving the opera or concert hall thinking: if only I could tell Ryan about … I can only imagine the conversations!!!

Dearest R. your Darling Boy and the Lad still miss you very much and we hold you in our hearts. We can only hope that you found a peace that was otherwise denied you. Baci di Roma.

24 settembre – Beata Vergine Maria della Mercede

The Traditions of Christmas – Christmas Crackers

Our Christmas traditions are a mix of Laurent’s French-Canadian heritage, my English-Canadian background and a few things we’ve taken from places we’ve lived or people we’ve known. Laurent had never heard of Christmas Crackers before our first Christmas Dinner in 1979 but they had always been part of our family Christmas. And their decorative place on the table, the sound of the crack, the useless trinkets, silly hats and sillier jokes preface any Christmas dinner at our house.

But to me Christmas Cracker had another meaning after 1978 – it was the name of the yearly missive from my much-loved Ryan. I wrote about Ryan when he left us in October of last year and all that I wrote then holds true today. His Holiday letter was like no other. It wasn’t the endless list of little Tiffany’s accomplishments as a budding ballerina/equestrian star/girl scout/Rhodes scholar or stories of Aunt Betty’s mysterious sex-change operation – it was funny, it was irreverent, it was touchng but never sentimental (God how he hated sentimentality) and it was Ryan.

The Cracker didn’t always arrive in time for Christmas – sometimes it was late January before it showed up in the post but Ryan was a busy lecturer, teacher, author and columnist and you knew it would be there at some point. When it did arrive you could be sure it would be filled with goodies: Snippets from The Times of London Obituaries, passages from books read that year, anecdotes from a trip here or there, quotes from favorite authors, comments on CDs heard that year – things that said nothing of his accomplishments (which were many) for the year but much about his experiences. Stupidly I didn’t keep all my Crackers but I do have and treasure the last one he sent out in 2005.

Though we will have the traditional crackers on our table again this year, I miss the one that arrived every year in the mail. But not as much as I miss the person that sent them.

19 decembre – Santa Fausta

Not In Memorium but in my memories

Sadly the upcoming trip means that I will not be able to attend the Memorial gathering for one of my oldest and closest friends, Ryan (Ron) Taylor. For those of us who loved him, his death this past October has meant our world has been diminished.

I met Ryan 31 years ago this summer just past. It was a bright sunny Sunday afternoon and I was walking down the canal in Ottawa whistling a Rossini aria. Suddenly one of the most melodious baritone voices (think Leonard Warren sings Verdi) I had ever heard said: Di tanti palpita – Tancredi. I knew that I had to become friends with anyone who recognized that piece of operatic ephemera.

And friends we became – despite living in different cities, often on different continents. It was the sort of friendship that meant we wouldn’t see each other for a year or two but spoke, wrote (he was always better at it than I), or e-mailed once or twice a month. As with all friendships there were periods when a certain coolness developed. I recall a frosty ride on the Underground from Salder’s Wells to Baker Street seated at either end of the carriage – the icy glares freezing unsuspecting Londoners in mid-doze over their late-edition Daily Mirrors.

But those periods never lasted very long and were quickly pushed aside by happier events. “The Lad” – as he always called Laurent, Ryan and I in MossBros tuxedoed splendor heading down to Glyndebourne on the afternoon train from Vic Station. Christmas Eve celebrated with family and friends in the McClaren St. apartment under the watchful eye of Queen Alexandria. Ryan avowed that the portrait was an early example of Photoshoping – Alex’s head on a Tiller Girl’s body. A sunny weekend in Cooperstown, happily combining two of his passions – opera and baseball. The Cracker – that odd mixture of Times Obit, book reviews, books-he-had-read quotes that arrived every Christmas. A surreal vodka-drinking visit to a political cabaret in Krakow – he was the only person I know who would take Polish lessons for a two week visit. Trashing all the singers but our beloved Ewa Podles over late night port and desert after the opera in Toronto. Simply sitting before diner on his last visit in May, listening to and revelling in the most infectiously funny recording of Perichole’s drunk aria – in Russian!

A week after learning of his death I watched the first episode of his TV programme, Ancestors in the Attic . I wanted to reach into the TV and hug him for all those wonderful memories then slap him because he had robbed me of experiencing more. A gentle note from his cousin Dayle reminded me that the slap was a selfish reaction and the hug a loving one. Thank you Dayle – you’re right, the hugging feels better.

In memorium:

Dearest R
If you had any faults – and like all of us you did – the greatest was that you did not love yourself enough to realize how much you were loved. You are greatly loved. “The lad” and I miss you.
Your “darling boy”