World Spirit

I’ve learned what Faith is for me, and not until near the end of my life. It seems it is a discovery, not an idea one memorizes, or subscribes to on the advice of an institution or another. For me anyway. And it took until my last stage of life because I’m a slow learner it seems, but also because I only understand it by looking back and seeing how all the events of my life, as disparate as they are, connect to one endgame, to find myself, for in finding myself I found the world. It was not my work; it was given me. Trusting the world as it revealed itself to me was an act of faith.

Well that’s wrong. I didn’t do anything for faith especially knowing enough to trust the world. I had to be kind of straight-armed into this.

I was led to faith a bit by my stubbornness, my relentlessness to not give up on something once in my head. I was lucky too that my early life in the Rectory where the only people in my life were clergy families. My maternal grandfather and father were clergy. The only friends we socialized with were other clergy. Our holidays were at a charitable camp for poor clergy shared with 25 other clergy families. As a family we were on a different elevation in the 1950s. My Dad would be often on a local TV show on Friday night, It’s Debatable. The local paper would ask him for comment at times on world affairs. My dad taught a weekly religion class in my school. Our life was on view to everyone especially in the parish. Standing beside my Dad I shook hands with every parishioner as they left church Sunday morning. Church at that time was the place to be back then, had high standing in the community. What I’m saying is I didn’t know what a normal life would be. I didn’t know much about myself because I never knew if something said to me or some notice I got was because I was Reg or I was the minister’s son. Not knowing what a normal expectation for life was, I didn’t think I should be following it. I had a question in Grade Eight I couldn’t answer or get an answer for. I had no mentor or guide, so I just pressed on. I was paying my own way from age 14. On my own really though I lived with my parents. I was always scrambling for money to pay the bills. I never seemed to be winning at things though I managed some mediocrity, not ordinary, but mediocre. I didn’t thing I deserved any better anyway. Anything good would be taken away. I’m just saying I was buffeted around more than I was rowing any boat. Trust wasn’t me doing anything. Trusting life was more being carried along with these wonderful serendipitous moments leading into amazing vistas. As trust wasn’t my own doing, neither was the experience of Faith. Faith is looking back and seeing how I was in the hands of my muse completely, now way I could have managed any of this myself, and how brilliantly the events of my life taught me experientially about having Faith.

Here’s an example of how life dictated to me and took me to places I had no idea about. I was at Ground Zero, not finished with the task of my study leave to feel set to return to parish ministry, my graduate work collapsed with a disappointing program, and all my money gone with no gumption in me to know how to make money except with hard work and minimal pay. I went from the low pay of clerk at Canadian Tire since age 16 to parish ministry in the Diocese of British Columbia after two degrees at age 26 to make 85 cents an hour more than I did as the Canadian Tire clerk.

In the flux of still answering my question I was looking for any work. A restaurant just opening up and did a cattle call for all staffing positions. I joined hundreds of others line and had an interview. I happened to be interviewed by the senior manager thought I didn’t know it at the time. He said he couldn’t hire me as waiter; I needed some experience. I was desperate, enough that nearly pleaded is there anything I can do. He was looking at my resume which seemed a bit odd to reconcile with a couple of degrees, counselling training, parish ministry, and I wanted to work in a restaurant. But he stayed with me, asked me what I wanted. I said, I’m trying to do some writing. He lit up. ‘Oh,’ he says, a starving artist.’ He now had a box to put me in that he understood. The restaurant business is rife with artists who are starving and needing work. He offered me a position of host which was pretty generous since all the other hosts were pretty 18 year old young women quite consumed with the colour of their nail polish.

Unfinished construction delayed the opening of the restaurant so they paid us for extended training. As a host I and my co-workers had a lot of practice in a room set up with a couple of tables and chairs to rehearse greeting the customer, leading the customer to the table, setting out the menus, smiling and wishing them a good meal. Lots of practice. And we practiced answering the phone: ‘Hello. Mr. Grummp’s Restuarant. How can I help you.’ Of course, I had done over 600 hours on the Crisis Line using sophisticated listening and responding skills to help the callers. You might think all this demeaning for me, that I’d be despondent and feeling desperate. Actually I felt great carrying the large plastic menus to the table and practising on the phone. I sensed for the first time I was doing something for myself. This was a step forward in my own journey.

I was a little better at seating people than my younger colleagues only because I talked to the servers and asked them what they needed and how best to seat their section. The restaurant was very busy from the first day. There was a heavy lunch rush and dinner in the evening, then at 9 it became a night club with a DJ to 1AM. It was the place to be on weekend nights but was busy all week long. This was the late 80s.

The servers, Larry St. Aubin and some others, who were more my age and sensibility, encouraged the management to make me a server. I took the summer to work for the military and when I returned in the Fall, I was moved to serving. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the hosting. I got to sense how a high-volume restaurant functioned and I was soon doing as well as anyone. I remember the night at the end of my first server shift walking out with $72 of tip money in my pocket. I couldn’t believe my good fortune.

It was Larry who also said to me one afternoon that I should consider volunteering at CIUT FM the University of Toronto radio station. He was. And so I did. I started with reading the news one morning a week with Jack Thompson. We’d be there very early reading through the wire service, making a list of stories and writing them up. Jack was the big radio voice. He led.

The station had acquired the last FM licence, a bit of a political move by the Ontario government to appeal to the student vote. CIUT was slated to jump into 50,000 watts as a university community radio station heard from Buffalo to Barrie. First day broadcasting FM, 4PM, CIUT FM, Jack and I were given the privilege of inaugurating the first news cast and it was the first news cast that led the day. Jack was the first voice heard. I was second. Larry phoned in a report from the field. He had actually broken and important story about local corruption and lying.

Soon after as things got busy I was asked to take on a scheduled show called World Spirit. The first year was set as lectures of theologian Hans Kung given at the U of T the previous year when he was a visiting professor. This was a great opportunity for me that fell into my lap. All I had to do was edit the lecture, write a narration and add some bridge music. I was even luckier. I am a pronounced visual learner and weak as an audio learner. I got hold of the published lectures and could then edit the lectures following along in the book. By the end of the year, I was quite good at editing aurally.

For the second year and following I would find content from various sources or personal interviews. I mixed different voices and experimented with structures and edits, and also how I used music in particular, as a way to underscore the spoken word of the edit. The focus of the show was the Varieties of Religious Expression. It became vehicle for me to explore my study leave question that had morphed when in Ottawa to how ritual could be in its design and practice a tool for healing. I applied that to the radio show, not only exploring the content as my own learning but also in its delivery as to how I can combine words and music for effect to help the audience reflect on their lives and imagine other possibilities. My favourite letter from a listener that captured my intent told that she would shut her curtains, turn out all the lights and lie on her couch to listen to the show. Yes!, I thought.

While some hosts taped their shows, mine was the only one produced as a documentary. The others were talk shows or live performances. I spent about 30 hours a week in the studio -not one else needed it except occasionally- free work and I paid my way with the restaurant. I was sleeping 4 hours a night, getting in at 2AM, 3 AM on the weekends, and waking up to work on the show at 8AM. I was living in an unheated rooming house, sharing a bathroom with a jazz drummer and a fellow you eventually ended up at Penatanguishene, incarceration for the criminally insane.

Like Larry, and quite a few others, the skills got me work at the CBC. Larry and Tom went on to produce at big shows in radio and TV. Dave became head of CBC news in Ottawa. Lots of others. I did freelance radio docs for a couple of shows until CBC dropped the regular use of docs and replace it with more cost-effective interviews.

I was very happy. I didn’t know how much these serendipitous events became my life, led me in the journey. While at the radio station in the day, I’d walk across the street to Robarts Library for a break and peruse the periodical collection. I found one call the Drama Review that became the open door to a serendipitous future where I eventually found my work at last in the south of France at a theatre enclave called the Roy Hart Centre.