Travel

Searching For Meaning at 102 - The Timeless Appeal of Stories

Mark Twain once said that “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Just as family artifacts are passed down from generation to generation, people too can be a vessel for all sorts of stories that are passed on to future generations. Older people (let’s call them “seasoned” due to their wealth of world experience) can be an infinite source of wisdom and guidance in a world often full of conflict and chaos. Even making it to your senior years in this day and age is a source of inspiration!

Listening to stories from members of the older generation can be a fascinating glimpse into the past – and offer hope for the future. A well told honest story coming from the heart can even convince us that, in spite of all the advances, perhaps nothing much has changed in the world over the years.

One of my most recent writing projects (outside of my usual corporate work) is to help a 102 year old lady write her memoirs through a series of short stories – perhaps even adding in a novel or play. At 102, she still has all her “faculties” and is sharp as a whip. So much so that (as many seniors do), she still manages to find a way to correct me at several points throughout the dictation process. Her life could have been plucked straight from a Hollywood movie. A strong and independent thinker, she ran her own adventure travel company for over 40 years offering tours throughout the world. During that time, she also acted as an agent of sorts and recruited speakers and celebrities from around the world to speak at various locations in Toronto. One of her most famous speakers was Sir Edmund Hillary. Yes, the Sir Edmund Hillary of Mount Everest fame. At the height of her career, she also hosted dignitaries and made the rounds to numerous celebrity parties and events.

She was married to an engineer and moved many times as her husband was offered jobs in different cities. My point is this. Stories often help us find meaning in our sometimes confused and chaotic lives. They offer a temporary means of escape. A good story engages us, draws us in – and in the best case scenario can also teach us something.

And what better way to help us understand our place in the world, than to listen to someone who has experienced just about everything life has to offer?

In life, we’re often told to take “time out” to smell the roses. Yet it’s just as important to take time out of our busy schedules and really listen to the stories that encapsulate our world.

I hope my story sessions will continue and very much look forward to my visits. In a way, I feel as if I’m talking to a sage of sorts. A sort of human search engine plucked from the ages whose goal it is to ensure her experience, wisdom and adventures don’t go unnoticed.

So far, she has been able to weather just about every storm life could throw at her. Yet somehow, looking ahead, I get the feeling that the best part of her story is yet to be written.

 

 

 


Life and Death In New Orleans (Why Jewellery Is No Match For A Hurricane)

To some, a piece of jewellery is just a piece of jewellery. A static item that represents fashion sensibility, style or status.  Yet to others, the underlying story behind a favourite piece of jewellery may actually be more valuable than the value of the item itself.

I love New Orleans  and have visited there twice. I’m amazed at the energy, life and vibrancy of the place. Unless you experience it for yourself, it’s impossible to understand its magic – magic that makes you fall in love with it over and over again.

In October 2011, my husband and I took a much anticipated trip to NOLA and one afternoon found ourselves in the French Market. The market is a well-known eclectic spot where vendors sell food, food items, clothing and jewellery and other items. I was wandering around when I was struck by a table filled with vibrant colours. The table was full of fun, funky and unique jewellery made by NOLA native Russell Gore. I fell in love with several of the pieces and started talking to Russell. Turns out he was raised in the not so nice part of NOLA called the projects (St. Thomas housing development). His colourful jewellery, dubbed “Made in the Ghetto”, is a stark contrast to the harsh reality faced by others who had a similar upbringing.

Russell

(Photo courtesy of Richard Critz Photography https://prints.rwcfoto.com/)
 

Russell was wearing a huge gold medallion around his neck which he made out of his wife’s gold after she died in his arms during Hurricane Katrina. His life was filled with hardship and tragedy, and could have gone a different route had he not chosen art and photography as a way out of a seemingly desperate situation.

What struck me most about Russell (over and above his incredible talent) was his kindness, compassion and energy for everything and everyone. He had faced such tragedy, yet didn’t seem hardened by it all. There was energy and optimism in his voice.

After talking for a while, I mentioned that I had just been to the music store to buy CD’s by NOLA legend Kermit Ruffins. He told us he knew Kermit, and invited us to attend a local bar called Bullets where Kermit was performing that night. We smiled and said we would try to make it, not knowing anything about this place or part of town where it was located.

Bullets is a hole in the wall sports bar in the 7th ward area in New Orleans (Treme area). The neighbourhood looks tough and some of the clientele equally so. In spite of the “off the beaten path” location, the reviews were excellent and we decided to take a chance. We took a cab to the bar yet even the cab driver got lost. After driving around for what seemed like the longest 20 minutes of my life, we eventually found our way and made it to Bullets. The place had an amazing vibe and quite a mix of demographic. From biker jackets to well-dressed senior couples, anyone was welcome there and no one seemed to care who you were – or where you were from.

Kermit showed up and the place went wild. Russell walked in and everyone knew him. Turns out that if you know Russell and if he likes you, you’re treated with grace and respect. And so we were.

We had a blast. Strangers would raise their glass and everyone was dancing on the floor. Russell was total class, and even chased down Kermit so I could have a picture with him. For those who don’t know, Kermit Ruffins is to NOLA what Bruce Springsteen is to New Jersey.

We talked to the owner of the bar who was a total sweetheart. He told us the story of how he lived through Hurricane Katrina and lost several friends in the process. In great detail, he described the water levels and bodies floating down the streets. One could not help but get teary eyed. Bullets was one of the anchors during the storm and somehow he was able to feed many of the locals. In these parts, he’s known as a hero. He knew and respected everyone, and they did the same. To me, he represented the strength, optimism and resilience shown by many in the New Orleans area.

I still wear the jewellery I bought from Russell. A colourful guitar decorative piece – and eclectic piece I like to think symbolizes life and hope amidst the despair of the projects. To this day, I get more compliments and inquiries on his jewellery than any other pieces I own.

Russell_Guitar

I always wondered what became of Russell and hoped for the best. While researching his story, I came across a recent clip of him on CNN. He was interviewed for a 10th Anniversary story of Katrina  and seems to be doing well.  

When someone compliments me on his jewellery, it’s also a compliment to Russell. So the next time you see an interesting piece of jewellery on someone, take a moment to ask them about it. Because sometimes an object as small and seemingly insignificant as a piece of jewellery can represent a story far more intriguing and inspirational than you can ever imagine.

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