Own Every Second

It is an oddly familiar scene, reminiscent of a day not that long ago. As soon as I see the flag billowing in the wind, the fire trucks using their ladders to hold it aloft, I feel tears pricking the corners of my eyes, and the day has not yet even truly begun.


I stand there for a moment, transfixed by the flag as soft fluffy snowflakes fall from a grey sky; it is undoubtedly the kind of sombre day when a community will say good bye to a hero.

There were hundreds of touching, compelling, soul-searing and heartbreaking moments during the memorial service for Bo Cooper. I am at an age now where, as my older sister quips, you go to more funerals than weddings, and for the most part the funerals are for those who have lived long lives; but a handful have been services for those who left us far too soon, and while memorials are always painful it is the ones for those who are too young to be gone that can shake you to the core.

What can one write about Bo Cooper that has not already been written or said? What can the lesson or meaning of this bright young life tragically cut short possibly be? We struggle to find meaning in such situations, where meaning seems elusive and the only thing one can find is a sense of finality and cruelty.

A reporter asked me recently why Bo Cooper captured the hearts of the residents of this community. I could not answer for everyone, but for myself I responded simply that Bo could have been my son, my nephew, my brother, my family; and in a sense he became all of our son as we watched his battle with a deadly foe. It took such courage to allow the rest of us into this fight, as these are deeply personal times, as I know well having been through them with my own family, but Bo and his family shared their fight with us, and we felt we became part of it, too. We fought for Bo and with Bo; we became his army.


I will not write of the memorial service, as there are aspects too tender and fragile to put into words such as these. The only thing of which I will write are the words from Bo’s father, who thanked the community for raising the funds that bought Bo time – another year in his estimation, an additional 365 days to be with his wife and his parents and his family and his colleagues. The words from a bereaved father were both incredibly heartbreaking and compelling, and if there is any meaning to be found in this sad ending it may be this: the value of time.

The time we have on this earth is finite. Some of us are granted decades while others are granted just a fraction of that; and while we all want the decades what matters more than the amount of time we are granted is how we spend it.

I suspect if we saw time as the precious commodity it is we would treat it with more reverence; perhaps we would ensure we lived every day to the fullest and allow ourselves to savour every experience. The sad reality is that it is often only as our clocks tick away the final moments that we realize the value of time, and wish we had used our own allotment differently.

It is a cold truth that on occasion we need sad prompts to remind us of things we should inherently know. As I sit and watch snowflakes fall from the sky after the memorial service, I contemplate the minutes I have already been allotted in this life and how I intend to spend the remaining ones, no matter their number. I think about the legacy I hope to one day leave, and I think about how I intend to achieve it.

There are not enough words to express the feelings surrounding the loss of a young man who both lived and fought so very tenaciously. He lived a short life, far, far too short by any measure, but he lived it well and he lived it being loved by his wife, his parents, his friends, his colleagues and yes, his community. He has left a legacy through the kind acts he inspired, and through his father’s eulogy he has reminded us of the thing in our lives that may be the most truly precious: time.

However many moments you are granted – whether they are only brief or lengthy, make them good ones. And treasure even the bad moments, because you have been granted the opportunity to experience them, a chance others have been denied.

Own every second that this world can give.

When your time runs out, make sure you can say this:

“I swear I lived.”

Policy vs Person in Politics: The Peril

Politics has never been easy.

Being in the public eye, particularly when one is representing a political party, ideology and/or agenda, opens one to criticism and scrutiny, and this has always been true. But in recent years the descent into outright hostility seems almost unprecedented, much of it likely having to do with the easy anonymity of social media and lack of consequences for words said in on online forums. Politics, which has never been easy and on occasion has been quite nasty, has somehow managed to get even far more unpleasant.

A recent report showing Albertan Premier Rachel Notley as the most-threatened Premier in Alberta history seems to lend credence to this evolution:


It’s troubling on many levels, particularly when one sees instances of abusive behaviour dismissed as simply being acceptable or understandable because they involve politicians; and these abusive acts don’t end at attacks on ideology but extend into attacks on character, person and on occasion even spill over into threats against the families of the politicians.

Society has long been founded on the premise that there exists some sense of decorum in our interaction with each other as human beings, no matter where we lie on the political spectrum. It is based on some fundamental respect for each other as people, whether or not we share the same political beliefs, and it is predicated on the notion that we do not need to dive into personal insults or, even worse, threats, to engage in reasonable discourse on the issues.

But social media has changed that in many ways, and we are seeing it again and again and again. Whether it is municipal, provincial, or national, we seem unable to separate difference of political belief from our emotional state, leading to the use of aggressive language, occasionally including veiled and overt threats to the safety of those involved.

And when those who object to this abuse publicly state they will not tolerate, accept or understand it, they are deemed wimps for not just taking it – sometimes even by elected officials.

And the real trouble is this: the current pattern of behaviour is a strong deterrent to anyone thinking of entering the political realm. People like my daughter, for instance.

My daughter was involved in her first political campaign at the age of 12. She spoke to voters, she dropped literature on hundreds of doorsteps, she knocked on doors, she wrote her first press release, she attended debates and she was there on election night watching the results. I don’t know how many kids have had CBC news alerts installed on their cell phone since they were old enough to own a cell phone, but she did. She is the kind of kid who can speak to a provincial politician and walk away saying “nice guy, but I don’t think he really understands NAFTA”.

Any political party would be fortunate to find her in their ranks, as she is smart, loyal, dedicated, committed and frankly a strong strategist. Once upon a time she talked about getting involved in politics, but as she has grown older her interest has waned, and as she begins to apply at universities I see her heading down the path towards a future that does not include involvement in politics, at least as a candidate representing the rest of us.

And why?

Because she doesn’t see why anyone would subject themselves to the kind of vitriol and nastiness we are seeing politicians of all stripes endure, but often particularly women.

I blame all of us, the ones who are old enough to know better. Our behaviour is actively discouraging bright, engaged and passionate young people from political life, and it will be to our detriment. Politicians should not be rock stars, and should not be safe from all criticism; but nor should they be subjected to the kind of abusive and aggressive behaviour we are seeing far too often in this world. There are ways to disagree on policy without delving into the personal, and ways to discuss ideology without resorting to insult; and every single one of us needs to find a way to embrace them as our political futures are fading fast as young adults like my daughter turn away from public life.

If we want to understand why youth turn away from politics; from engaging in our system including voting, then we need look no further than ourselves every time we contribute to an atmosphere that would discourage any sane individual from taking part. Politics should always be about asking the hard questions on policy, but the moment it degenerates into personal commentary it loses all credibility. Respectful debate and discourse should be the standard to which we all aspire and which we encourage; to do anything less panders to a culture of anger, aggression and divisiveness.

When young adults like my daughter – the very people we should want to encourage to enter the political realm – choose to opt out, we need to understand we are imperiling our future. My daughter, who plans to pursue an education in science, has long thought those with a science background are under-represented in our political sphere and thought she may be one of those to address this. Given the current state, however, I fear this imbalance will continue as bright young adults eschew politics for careers in which they are not subject to abuse, aggression or threats to their physical safety.

The responsibility lies with all of us. As long as we tolerate, accept or understand this behaviour we allow it to continue, and we allow it to form future discourse in politics. Unless we address it every single time we are tacitly encouraging it, and further discouraging others from entering a realm that impacts our collective future.

The problem is clear; the only question that remains is if we believe in a society that is free of abuse, aggression and threats, including in the world of politics.

I know what I believe; do you?

Homecoming for a Hero

Although the news was sadly expected, my initial reaction was unanticipated.

Instead of the sorrow and grief I thought I would feel, there was another emotion in their place.


White hot, blinding and seething rage.

Bo Cooper, the young firefighter who brought out the very best in our community, who fought as valiantly as one can fight, our very Unbreakable Bo, gone after his long war with cancer ended.

And my first response was rage.

Over the last few months I have been able to work through much of the anger I have experienced. Anger over the loss of two young adults during the evacuation; anger over the loss of so many homes; anger over an inanimate act of nature that took on a persona as it stole so much from my community.

But I had never gotten past the anger over one thing.

Earlier this spring when Bo’s cancer had gone into remission, plans began for a hero’s welcome, a homecoming befitting someone who had drawn an entire community together. We had become Bo’s Army, many of us tied to each other  by only two things: that we call this place home, and that we stood with Bo. We had watched every part of his fight, checking the Facebook page of his journey daily to see how he was doing, feeling relief when he was improving and worry when things were not going as well.

But when he left the hospital to return home, it was with a sense of triumph that the plans began. Bo had won the battle, although all knew the war was not over. Bo was coming home, and it was time for a moment in the sun when he could come together with his army, when they could welcome him home with open arms and he could see the strength of the army he had inspired.

The tentative date for this celebration, Bo’s welcome and homecoming?

May 4, 2016.

When I fled this community on May 3, 2016, many things weighed heavy on my mind; Bo’s triumphant homecoming being delayed was one of them. But I took courage in the belief that it would just be postponed for a day or so, certain we would be back home soon and could then celebrate with our hero.

It was not to be.

You see, my anger when I heard the news today was because this is not the way the story should have ended.

Bo should have had his hero’s welcome, and then he should have gone to his home with his wife to live a long and happy life, and none of our town should have been lost in a wildfire and life should have been simple and good.

But you don’t always get to write the ending.

I don’t know why some of us are granted longer on this earth than others. There is no sense of fair play at work here, no equality of being; some of us get lucky, and some of us get robbed.

Bo got robbed, of his life and of the happy ending he should have had. He got robbed of that homecoming and that moment in the sun.

There are people who change the world without even trying or knowing they are doing it. Bo Cooper is one of them, because what Bo inspired in this community was unlike anything I had ever really seem before. We rallied together for one person, one young man facing a tremendous battle; we felt deeply connected because of him alone.

Bo reminded us of what is best about each of us, and about each other. Perhaps, in some strange sense, the fight to save Bo prepared us for what came next, a life-altering event that demanded we be there for each other in ways we never had before. Maybe, just maybe, the lessons we learned as we became Bo’s Army were the ones we needed when we had to become an army of survivors.

Bo didn’t get his homecoming on May 4th. I will always feel anger over that, and of all the fire took, perhaps it is that one thing that will never be forgiven in my mind.

But perhaps there is a way we can still give Bo that homecoming. Perhaps it is as simple as engaging in acts of kindness for each other. It doesn’t need to be a huge gesture; something small is just as significant as something grand. Just acts of kindness, and when you commit these acts do one simple thing: tell yourself that this is because of Bo.

Let Bo’s triumphant homecoming be each and every one of us working to be kind to each other as we continue to fight our own battles in this community. Let the strength and courage we found  being part of his army become the strength and courage we need to keep moving forward.

Let Bo’s homecoming be us memorializing his life in our acts of kindness to each other.

Let us honour Bo Cooper, one young man who fought so long and so hard, by allowing his journey to turn us into better people, and a stronger community.

Let that be Unbreakable Bo’s legacy: a community forever changed by one man, and by the kindness he inspired in all of us.

My deepest sympathies to Bo’s wife, family, friends and colleagues.