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This is NOT a hill!

hill

Tomorrow I will be riding to Quebec City to raise money for cancer research and cancer care with the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer for the third time. I will get up tomorrow and go out to Repentigny and meet my friends from Team Hope & Gratitude and we will ride through the Quebec country side stopping in Trois Rivières on Saturday night and head on to Quebec City on Sunday. The Saturday ride is pretty flat. It’s through cornfields and along the St. Lawrence. On Sunday however things get a little more exciting – we hit THE HILLS.

I remember the first year hearing about those hills and from the moment I got up on Sunday all I did was think about THE HILLS. I had no idea what they were like but I was convinced that they would defeat me. I was afraid before I had even seen them. When we finally did hit them I was not sure I would make it up them, but of course I did.

Last year I was riding with my triathlon buddy Steve on the second day. It was a cloudy day and rain was threatening. As we rode along just the two of us, we got to the point when you have some beautiful vistas and we flew along encouraging each other and hitting speeds of up to 50 kilometres an hour going down some hills. We finally hit “the hills” and as we made our way up them, we started to shout out to each other,
“THIS IS NOT A HILL!”
I know that everyone around us thought we were crazy as they shifted to an easier gear and we didn’t; we pushed our way through and up those hills. We arrived in Quebec City and I said to myself:

“What happened to the hills we did the first year? Did they change the course? It was so easy compared to the first year”

I think of this because yesterday I heard back from one of the banks I approached recently, as I look to expand my business at Etiket. They turned me down for a loan. I listened to the usual talk of EBITDA and ratios. I questioned them about how and why that was more important than our incredible sales growth and waited for the usual responses. And I got them. Finally they said, let’s talk in a year.

A year? I don’t want to wait a year. I was angry and my ego was hurt.
“Can’t they see the potential, the possibilities? I am going to show them!”

And then I received a phone call from the Ride to Conquer Cancer to congratulate me on my fundraising and reaching my goal and to make sure I was ready for the ride… AND was I ready for the hills on the second day.
I paused when she mentioned those hills, thanked her for calling and hung up the phone. I took a deep breath and thought about the bank again and smiled to myself.

I reminded myself that there is still a long list of banks I have not yet approached and that I have only just begun the journey on the financing investor path, and that this is NOT a hill.
I don’t worry about hills ahead of me anymore, they are just challenges to be overcome.

If you would like to donate to the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer, please click HERE.

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Do what is required

That is what I am doing. Doing what is required for me. I struggle a lot with what that means and depending on the day it may mean that I need to be meditating more, working out more, working more, allowing myself some time off or to tell myself to stop thinking….about myself and to think more about others. And most of the time that is what is required. Think more about others.

Give. Share. Help.

That is why I get involved in my community and I do that in different ways. My community may be right around me or it may stretch much further. With the Internet and social media there are no boundaries. How I get involved goes from donating financially to different organizations, giving my time (I am president of De la rue aux étoiles 2015 for Dan la rue this year), or why I am writing this post, by riding my bike for two different organizations that are looking to find solutions to cancer.

Team Hope & Gratitude 2014

Team Hope & Gratitude 2014

I will be doing two rides again this year to raise money for cancer research: The Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer to benefit the Jewish General Hospital and the Team Ian Ride to benefit the Princess Margaret Hospital. I am not sure that I need to explain why I am doing this. At least not after hearing a radio commercial from an insurance company I heard recently that started along the lines of:

Protect yourself in the case of a cancer diagnosis…..

Cancer has become such an insidious disease, so much a part of our daily lives. It is just there. Until it hits close to home and someone we know gets it, then that disease that seems to be everywhere becomes very real and not just cancer. The fear, the pain, the unknown become all too real and we do what we can to deal with it. What I do is I ride my bike to help raise money to help fund research. The research that these rides are funding is working. It is making inroads. It is making treatments easier and better and people are living longer.

Team Ian 2014

Team Ian 2014

I could go on but I think we know it all. In many cases we know too much. So I am simply asking you to donate to one of my rides and let’s continue to fund the research that will help us get closer to finding more solutions to cancer.

Let’s do what is required.

To donate to The Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer: CLICK HERE

To donate to The Team Ian Ride: CLICK HERE

“I’m curing cancer. What do you do?”

Those are not my words. Those are the words of Ian Lawson Van Toch. He used to say that to challenge his friends. Ian was a student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario who had just graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Computing. He was about to begin graduate studies in Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto when he died tragically in 2007. Ian had been interning in the field of cancer research when he died of heart disease at 22. He had found his passion, to help find the cure for cancer.
Team-Ian-web-header-2014
I never knew Ian, but I met his father, John two years ago on a bike ride. As we rode along the bike path next to the river in Montreal, John told me about his son and the Ian Lawson Van Toch Cancer Informatics Fund that was established to continue his legacy. The Team Ian Ride, a cycling event from Kingston to Montreal that has raised over $130,000 so far, helps to support this fund. The ultimate goal of the fund is to provide opportunities for other young scientists like Ian to experience the same thrill of discovering their passion as Ian did and to help them launch their careers in the field of cancer informatics.
Screen Shot 2014-07-27 at 8.21.06 AM
I had wanted to do the Team Ian Ride since I met John and he told me about it, but last year I had committed to the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer and I was not sure I could raise the funds to do both. This year I was only planning to do the Enbridge Ride and I was asked again if I would like to participate in Ian’s Ride, I hesitated again and then said, “YES!”

I said yes because I realized that not doing it because I had to raise another $1000 was a lame excuse. I said yes because I saw the difference that our fundraising for Enbridge had made and that I could help to contribute to the $60,000 that Ian’s Ride is targeting this year. I said yes because I love to be with people who have a similar vision of life that I do; where there is nothing that is impossible and giving and caring are core values. I said yes because I was touched by the story of Ian and what that boy wanted to do and the passion that his family had to carry that dream on.

I met the rest of the family, Jane, Ian’s mother and Andrea, Ian’s sister, last weekend. The Team was out spinning on a street corner in front of one of the sponsors of the Team Ian Ride, the Royal Bank of Canada, where we collected donations. We asked and begged, we rode our bikes, we made bubbles for kids, we told the story of why we were doing this, we stopped passerby’s and people in cars stopped at red lights, we laughed and then at the end of it all I almost cried. Almost because there is great joy in what we are doing, but there is some sadness in this story.

Team Ian Spin-a-Thon 2014

Team Ian Spin-a-Thon 2014

When I first met Jane, our conversation was more about passing off the donations and thanking her for an egg salad sandwich. Then at the end as we were packing up I stopped Jane and asked her how it was to do this, and did it help with her loss. As the crew around us cleaned up we talked and I thought I would hear about what it was to have lost her son but what I heard was the strength and hope she has found in what they are doing together as a family to raise money so that other kids may not only help in the search for a cure for cancer, but that they may find their passion in life as Ian had done. I heard what an outgoing and kind and caring kid Ian was but I also saw a determination in Jane to carry on his legacy, the same determination that I first heard from John when I met him.

I am honoured to be taking part in this ride with 27 others and a team of volunteers who understand not only why this is important but also what small grass roots organizations can do and how their generosity may affect change. It shows me that we need to be ready to be generous and caring in all that we do. It shows me once again, that when we have the opportunity to give, we will, and in giving there is hope for a better future.

If you would like to sponsor me and donate to the Team Ian Ride: Click Here

The Ride to Conquer Cancer Montreal 2013: Come Ride With Me!

I am going on ride, a ride that is supposed to conquer cancer. Impossible?
I don’t know. The word impossible doesn’t exist in my vocabulary. All I know is that from July 6th to 7th in 2013 I will be riding from Montreal to Quebec City to raise money for cancer research and cancer care at the Segal Cancer Centre at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal and throughout Quebec.

How it all started!

How did this happen and why am I doing this? Well the short answer is I saw a post on Facebook from my friend Rob Callard, who is a cancer survivor himself and has done two of these rides, saying that he was looking for people to join his team called Gratitude & Hope 2013 and participate in the Ride to Conquer Cancer, and I heard myself saying: “Hmmmm….”. Actually, that is exactly what I wrote in the comments section of his post. Then Rob and I spoke, I signed up, and here I am.

The long answer is that a friend of mine, a very dear special friend of mine, Sam Pelc, did this ride back in 2009. But Sam died of cancer in the fall of 2010 and somehow when I read Rob’s post I felt that I owed this to Sam and I just had to do it.

For you see, Sam taught me everything that I know about charity and more importantly about giving. We worked together on different charity events and projects and I learned many things from him, and here are a few:

1. Impossible doesn’t exist
2. There is no limit to what you can do
3. Don’t be shy to ask for help or donations
4. Allow people the opportunity to give, they want to, it is in our very human nature
5. It is our responsibility to give back to our family, our friends and to our community with no questions asked, and for nothing in return, including applause
6. Allow whatever you do in your everyday life to include giving back, for that is our true reason for being here on this earth

Going for the yellow JerseySam made this ride because he had cancer and wanted to help others. Here is a link to the blog that he wrote before, during and after the ride: GOING FOR THE YELLOW JERSEY. There is much to be learned from what he wrote for all of us to better understand what it is to live with cancer and what that journey was all about for him.

This journey will be very different for me. I started my training by attending a spinning class at the YMCA last weekend and as I climbed on that bike and started to pedal I knew that the next six months were going to be a challenge to say the least.

There is a lot ahead. I have to get a bike. Yes, I am not a cyclist, more of a runner than a cyclist, but I am up for the challenge of those tiny seats and funny shoes. I have to get into some spandex that makes me less than excited especially at this time of year after one too many Christmas cookies. I have to train and get myself into shape and ready for this ride, which to me will be the easiest part and the part I am looking forward to the most. I have to reach out to those around me to ask for sponsorship to help me reach my goal. I have to raise $2,500 to be able to participate in the ride, but I have set my goal as $10,000. Why? I guess $2,500 just doesn’t seem like enough, it’s as simple as that. If I read through those six points above, then my goal should have even more zeroes, or no end to them at all.

And so here I go and I hope you will follow along, because I know I am going to need you there with me. Then again, I know that Sam will somehow be there too as my journey for the Yellow Jersey unfolds…..

If you would like to donate, click here.
Photobucket

Dad, This Moustache is For You

Movember 2012

Down below, maybe I better start this again considering the subject matter, is a post that I wrote two years ago when I first participated in Movember. I didn’t participate last year because I found out that my father had prostate cancer at about this time of year and my father was a very private man and it would have been hard for me to have participated without mentioning that the doctors had found it and he was only given a few months to live. He was 91 years old when he passed away last January. He lived a full and incredible life, but if they had found the prostate cancer earlier who knows. It doesn’t matter now. My father had a moustache all of his life and I miss him.

I thought a lot about posting this because  public versus private sharing of information like this was the one thing that my dad and I didn’t always agree on. I am pretty open and out there when it comes to helping and he always did it quietly. Perhaps that is the one thing I never quite got right from all that he taught me.  A different generation you may say? I think though, that he would understand that I am telling all of you this because I just don’t want what happened to him, to happen to your father, or to happen to you. There is so much that can be done for prostate cancer now if it is caught early.

If you would like to help out, and I say it every time I ask for a donation for any charity, any amount helps. I am a member of the Movemboys team and my store Etiket has sponsored the team (all money goes to Movember) and my amazing staff at the store are participating as well. See them here: Etiket Bares All for Movember and then once they did ‘bare all’: We Did It For Movember!

The Fabulous Etiket Team for Movember 2012 (Photo: Jonny Rueda for Movemboys)

Sponsor me: Simon Tooley
Sponsor the girls: Équipe Etiket Mo Sistas
Sponsor the team: Movemboys
For more information on the cause and where the money goes: MOVEMBER

The below post is from my old blog A Charmed Life post on November 3rd, 2010

Move over November, here comes MOVEMBER

What?
For those of you who don’t know, MOVEMBER (the month formerly know as November) is a moustache growing charity event held during November each year that raises funds and awareness for men’s health and specifically prostate cancer.
Why am I writing about it? You can’t tell by the Day 3 stubble on my upper lip?
Yes, I am participating! I am a man and I uh, well have a prostate.
(Dad, you were worried about me swearing? Watch me walk on eggshells with this one!)
I mean really, we talk about anything these days, but talk about ‘that’? Talk about, you know ‘what’. Because you know where ‘it’ is right? And you know what you have to do to get ‘it’ examined don’t you? Forget it. Let’s go back to another topic. My moustache.
I am thinking handlebar, except I only have a month.
A thin fine line a la Rhett Butler? Not a great idea as my facial hair is blond and you won’t see it? And how many people know who Rhett Butler is these days, he doesn’t have a Facebook page.
Then again, I could grow a gringo except I think I am a gringo.
Let’s go back to why we are here. We don’t want to talk about prostate cancer; we certainly don’t want to get examined for it. Above all, we don’t want to die of it. Plain and simple.
That means we need to talk about it. Get it examined and deal with it.
Now I am not going to go through the details because when I went to the Prostate Cancer Canada site I started to feel a little queasy. Then again, I am usually the one the doctor is looking after when I go to visit anyone in the hospital. It is us 6’2” 200 pounders that are the worst.
Go to the site yourself and check it out. Then get checked out. I am going to. And no, I won’t write about that. The reality is, these days there are different ways to test for prostate cancer. A physical exam is just one of them.
If you just want to watch the progress of my moustache that is okay too. Just do us men a favour and spread the word about Movember, you just don’t know who you may help. And if we don’t talk about ‘it’ we can’t help.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow


I’m at a payphone trying to call home
All of my change I spent on you…
Maroon 5

I was listening to the radio in the car yesterday and I heard the announcer talking about the new Maroon 5 song called Payphone. The producers were concerned that no one would get it because there are no payphones anymore. Kids these days wouldn’t know what the song was all about. It is #1 on the charts right now.
Now this post was going to be sentimental and touch you in so many ways. I was going to take you back to when you were a child and talk about walks to the ice-cream store and running through the sprinkler. I am sure if you were under forty you wouldn’t have related to most of what I was going to write because you may not have known those things in your lifetime, or maybe under thirty. And then I watched the video to this song.
When I got to YouTube I saw that it was marked, Explicit I figured there must be a swear word or two. It is a little more than that. Let’s just go with needless violence and destruction. I am posting it here although part of me wonders if I am only promoting the violence but you will go look for it anyway. So here it is:


I just have to ask: WHY? Why does it have to be that videos (and movies and TV shows and video games) are being made like this? All we hear about these days are shootings and bombing and death. Do we need to glamorize it in our music videos too? I know I sound like an old fuddy duddy and God I hope so! If I were in my twenties would I think it was cool? I hope not. Or worse, in my teens. I don’t even know what you do if you are a parent. Do you tell your children they can’t watch these videos? How do you police that?

If happy ever after did exist
I would still be holding you like this
All those fairytales are full of sh*t
One more stupid love song I’ll be sick….
Maroon 5

I grew up with happy ever afters and I believe in them. I really do.
I grew up with running through the sprinkler and ice-cream cones on hot summer nights.
I grew up with 45’s and 33’s and dancing in my bedroom memorizing the words.
I grew up where the channel was changed on the TV if the show was too violent and the language was too course and let’s not even talk about nudity. We didn’t.
We sat down to dinner on Sunday nights and had to finish our peas whether we wanted to or not.
We took the bus and got a ride with the milkman to the corner in his truck.
We delivered newspapers and didn’t expect a tip.
We knew when we did something wrong, we waited for the punishment we knew we deserved, and we were sorry. Truly sorry.

But we didn’t watch videos like this.

I am the biggest believer in freedom of speech in all ways. I believe in the joy and hope of creativity and that we have a need to express ourselves. What are we doing wrong that videos like this are what we want to create? If this is what our world is creating and expressing then do we have any hope for a happy ending anymore?

I will not give up.
I will make a wish on the first star I see at night.
I will say RABBITS! on the first of the month.
I will keep money in my pocket when there is a new moon.
I will remember what happens when I step on a crack.
I will hope that the violence and destruction that surrounds us will come to an end one day.
I will say my prayers before I go to sleep.
And I will pray that there is a happy ending somewhere at the end of the rainbow.

Occupy Wall Street: Fear is Optional

I went to New York this past weekend for work and for fun. In the back of my mind I kept hearing a nagging voice:
Occupy Wall Street – are you going to check it out or not “Mr. Each One of Us Can Make a Difference
Sunday was a beautiful morning and I headed downtown. First stop was going to be to see Ground Zero and second stop: Occupy Wall Street. No need to mention the appropriateness of the two side by side. That is the whole point of where the occupation is. I never got to see Ground Zero, I didn’t have photo ID with me, but I did get to see Occupy Wall Street, actually I got to smell it as well.
There in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan were I don’t know how many people sitting, talking, making posters, eating, doing what you do when you live in a park protesting against the divide between the have’s and the have not’s. I am not going to explain the movement, you can Google Occupy Wall Street and you will have more links than you will be able to read or watch. This is just about what I saw on Sunday when I sat down with a few of the protesters to do my best to understand this.
Hey, my name is Simon, I am from Montreal and I have a blog called The Social Effect which is all about the idea that each one of us can make change in our world if we want to….and I guess this what you are doing here. Mind if I ask you a few questions about what this is all about and why you are here?
I usually added in, I am an old guy from…. as to most of these kids, I am sure that is what I was. And that is part of what this is all about. But I am getting ahead of myself. Each person I spoke to talked to me about the obvious reason that all the protesters were there, the financial chaos that they see affecting the world and the need for regulation to stop this. But there is more to it than that. Much more.
The first person I spoke to was Trista, she is 23 years old and came up from West Virginia and had been there for three days. She knew the ideology behind the movement and was certainly the right person to speak to first. Here are her thoughts:
This is a movement for occupation, an opportunity to rebuild and to fight against the enemy. Who is the enemy? Those trying to oppress. We are fighting for a better world, for the essence of what it is to be human, to reconstruct.
I asked her if she was afraid of anything.
Fear is optional. This is an opportunity.
She was a little intense for me and I did feel like she was trying to indoctrinate me and perhaps herself in everything she was saying, but in any grass roots campaign must there not be the zealots who believe, who fire up the others, who keep the message clear and protected? That was Trista.
I made my way along and sat down next with Brendan, who is 20 years old and he had been there for five days, he studies history in Connecticut.
Money is buying the politicians. There is no true voice because they have been bought and paid for and the one with the biggest purse behind them always wins.
He spoke to me about poverty and about not wanting to live in a country that based itself on money alone. He was heading back home that day.
Next I sat down with Collette, who is 37 and from the Lower East Side. She was surrounded by a group who seemed not too impressed with me, but once we started to talk they opened up. Collette was quick to point out that she has a job and lived near there but believed in the cause. She hadn’t slept there every night but she was there as much as she could be when she wasn’t working. For her this wasn’t about the 99% versus the 1% this was how the two could unite. She had seen a big change since Giuliani had been in power.
We don’t talk to each other anymore. The dividing line between rich and poor is so great that we don’t care anymore about just being people. I stop now when I see garbage on the street and pick it up. I talk to people. This really is about feeling part of something, about not being alone.
I got that. I started to feel like I was getting more and more of what this is all about.
Next I sat down with David, 23 years old and from California and had spent one night there. He hadn’t known anything about this but his Mom had told him about it and he and his friends were doing a tour of the country and thought it would be cool to check it out. They all had matching red, white and blue velour track suits on and I wasn’t sure if their hair was real or they were wearing afro wigs from the 70’s.
There is no unified message here. We need higher taxes for the rich and more regulation on the financial side.
He didn’t know quite what to say after that. I wasn’t sure if he really knew why he was there or it seemed like something to be able to say he had done on his trip.
Then I saw a group all wearing blue t-shirts that had “Blue Crew” written across them. I sat down with Sean, 20 years old who was studying sociology from Cincinnati. Sean talked to me about job loss and foreclosures, about the poverty in Appalachia.
Whoever has the money wins. We need to touch hearts, to make change. This is about greed. But no one is really able to articulate the movement.
I know what I heard as I talked to each one of those protesters, I heard myself back in college thirty years ago. I heard myself saying:
I would never be like ‘them’. I would be different. The world was wrong. It wasn’t fair. It shouldn’t be like that. It doesn’t have to be like that. I would make it different.
But I didn’t. I finished college and got a job and bought in to everything I said I wouldn’t. I gave up. I forgot what I believed in.
That’s what these protesters are doing, fighting for what they believe in.
Is this a revolution?
Maybe.
It is certainly a voice that is getting stronger and stronger and spreading as I write this.
This is an opportunity for all of us to make change.
What if we didn’t make fear an option and chose change instead?
It is your choice, and in many ways I think that is what this movement wants to give us, a choice.
So what’s yours?

Wanna hug?

Last week for the International Day of Peace I hit the streets with a few other huggers to give away Free Hugs. For those of you who don’t know about Free Hugs, watch the below video, it explains it all.
But how did I end up giving away Free Hugs for the International Day of Peace?
In surfing the pages of Facebook I came across an event for Free Hugs for World Peace, I checked to see if it was being done in Montreal and when I didn’t see anything I said to myself, “Why not?”
It seems I keep doing that these days!
I contacted Vincent Marx who had started this initiative through his site 1 True Spirit dedicated to revealing the 1 TRUE SPIRIT that exists in every one of us, in all life, and in all things and I was off to the races.
Actually, I was off to the art store to get poster paper and felt pens.
First I launched the event on Facebook, and then the night before (yes, I am one of those people that pulled all nighter before the exam), I enlisted the help of my friend Eric to make posters with me. Well he made the posters and I watched him.
Wednesday, September 21st 2011 was a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky for the International Day of Peace. I packed up the car with my posters and my meditation pillow – I had organized a MedMob (Meditation FlashMob) from 12 to 12:30 and from 12:30 to 1 PM we would give away Free Hugs.
The location was in the centre of downtown Montreal (Phillips Square across from The Bay for any of you that know the city) and after negotiating with a band that was playing a little too loud for us to meditate, and finding a spot on the pavement between the kiosks and a photography exhibit that had popped up since I had first chosen the location, a group of twenty or so of us of sat in meditation.
After the meditation, I asked for anyone who wanted to join in for the Free Hugs. Anne, Marilyn and Karen were ready to give it a hug, and we hit the streets to offer a little free love to complete strangers during a busy lunchtime in Montreal.
I hope you can see from the video (thanks Carl and Joanne) we had a lot of fun. What you can’t see is what it feels like when someone you don’t know trusts you enough to let them take you in your arms and give them a real hug. What does it feel like? It just feels right. It feels like there is no fear, no hate, no anger, that we really are all brothers and sisters, from one family, and that there is one true spirit that exists in all of us.
We did this for the International Day of Peace, but I will tell you a secret, I kept the signs. You may just see me sometime standing on the corner giving out Free Hugs. If you see me, don’t be shy, come and get one, they are free, and I promise, they don’t hurt.
And by the way, you don’t need a sign to give a hug away. Why not give someone you know a hug today, you may be surprised at how good it feels.
For information on 1 TRUE SPIRIT, click here.

Lest we forget

AIDS is a strange disease isn’t it? It descended on the world and took so many lives back in the eighties. Many of us watched as friends died a horrible and painful death. We did not stand by quietly. Some of us stood up and marched to fight for money for new drugs. Some of us stood up and fought to teach people about prevention and what could be done to stop the spread of AIDS. Some of us stood up to stop the discrimination that went with AIDS. And some of us stood up to help people living with AIDS. Ron Farha was one of those people. With the help of his family and those in the community he started the Farha Foundation to help people less fortunate than he was so that they could live out the end of their lives in as comfortable and humane a way as possible. He did whatever he could and did not stop until he had no choice and physically he could do no more. His short-term dream was to be able to help others; his long-term dream was of course to see the end of this horrible plague.

When Ron died, there were not the drugs and organizations to help people that there are today. AIDS was a death sentence. Period. It pushed people like Ron and his family, and many others to face things they did not want to face. It taught people about life as much as it taught people about death. It separated some families and it brought others closer together. Through the constant battles with governments, pharmaceutical companies, and with the help of the medical community, our society was able to change and grow to not only help the individual living with AIDS, but to build a structure and community of organizations that now deal with prevention and long term care. Ron’s dream to help has in many ways come true, but it does not mean we can stop the work that he started.

The war of AIDS is not over. If anything, the war is getting worse. Lest we forget is a phrase that comes from a war where hundreds of thousands died. Today we are fighting a different war, a war that has claimed over 20 million souls since 1981. Lest we forget why Ron started the Farha Foundation. Lest we forget that people are still becoming HIV+ every day. Lest we forget that this war is not over. If anything, the battlefield has only grown larger as the disease has spread across the world. Most important of all, lest we forget that we can make a difference.
Today, Sunday, September 18, 2011 is ÇA MARCHE, the AIDS walk in Montreal and it starts in a few hours in Parc Emlie-Gamelin. For any of you who knew Ron, I ask you to stop for a minute, just one minute at 10:30 when the walk starts and there is a moment of silence and remember him and all the others that have fought for this cause and for all those that have died from this disease. For any of you like me, who didn’t know Ron, take that same minute to be thankful for a man who has helped so many in our community, and again, remember those we have lost.

Then, let us all take another minute to take a step to do something in this fight against AIDS, for it is a fight that we have yet to win. Talk about this disease openly and honestly, protect yourselves always, and let Ron by your inspiration, as he has been mine, and do something to prevent this preventable disease. It is not too late to come and walk with us today.
For more information on the Foundation that Ron created or to make a donation, click here: Farha Foundation

Why me?

We did it Carl and I. We went out and took the photos for US versus THEM Friday morning for our group action in the INSIDE OUT Project.
We met for breakfast and stayed to have a few more cups of coffee so we didn’t have to leave. Didn’t have to start what we set out to do: take photos of the homeless.
But we did it. And it wasn’t photos of the homeless in the end. It was just photos of people. At least that was what we realized after we got going. We started with the owner of the diner where we had breakfast. She was ready to be part of this project. It made it easier. It let Carl figure out how he wanted to take the shots. And we got in the car and we headed out.

THERE’S ONE!

As we drove down Ste. Catherine street in Montreal we were on the look out for homeless people.
“He looks like one!”
“Where?”
“There – in front of the grocery store!”
We parked and got out. I carried the camera bag with the extra batteries and lenses. Something to hold, make me feel part of the experience. But I was the talker and I had to get my elevator speech down for what I was going to say.
By the time we got to the corner where I had seen the guy, he was gone. Carl took a few shots of me.
A girl walked by.
“Excuse me….we are taking photos for a project called INSIDE OUT. Have you heard of it? No? Well it was started by this guy in Paris and…..well, we are taking photos to show people that there is no difference between us and the homeless and I wondered if we could take your photo?”
“I am not homeless.”
“I know but….sure, sure….I understand. Thanks anyway.”

WHY NOT?

We get back in the car and kept going. We saw more homeless people and we parked.
I don’t have my words. I don’t understand what this is all about I realize. Not really. I thought I did, but I don’t.
We see a young guy sitting on the sidewalk with his dog.
“Hey bud, what’s up?” I say as I crouch down next to him and stick out my hand. My name is Simon, this is Carl.”
“Sebastien,” he says with a smile.
“We are taking photos of people for a project called INSIDE OUT. It was started by this guy in Paris name JR. We are going to take photos, send them off to them. They will blow them up into black and white photos that we can put up outside somewhere. They may end up on the net, in my blog, you cool with that? Can we take your photo? Just your face.”
We had the release forms in our bag.
“Sure man. Why not?”

RIGHT HERE RIGHT NOW

And so we started. We walked west on Ste. Catherine and we asked people to take their photos. I got my speech down.
“Hey bud, my name is Simon, this is Carl. We are taking photos, photos of all kinds of people here in Montreal between 9:30 and 12. The name of the project is INSIDE OUT, started in Paris by a guy named JR. We want to take a photo of your face, just your face. We will send all the photos to INSIDE OUT and they will send us back big posters that we will put up somewhere for a few days. We don’t know where yet. The idea behind this is that we are all the same. Our project is called US versus THEM, comment vois-tu le monde? How do you see the world? It’s all about our attitude. Can we take your photo?”
The responses were different and the same. The people living on the street said, “Sure, no problem. Cool idea. “ They heard what we were saying. They listened. They were right there with us. Present.
Those walking down the street were afraid, distrustful: “If I knew you maybe I would.”
Then we got lucky and a few people did say yes.
Half of the photos we took are of people that live on the street. Half are of people that don’t. If you notice, I am not writing “homeless” anymore. These people aren’t homeless; they are just people. Attitude matters for me too I learned.
We continued on. We were moved by what we saw in these people’s eyes and we were excited that we were doing what we had set out to do. We were touched by all those that said yes, we had to be.

PANIC IN EMILIE-GAMELIN PARK

Then we continued east to Emilie-Gamelin park and the world changed.
We parked the car and asked the first guy sitting on the steps of the bus station, “Hey bud….”
We looked into his eyes and the ‘no’ did not surprise us. The pain we saw only hurt us.
We crossed the street to the park and that excitement changed back to fear and then panic as we looked across the grass and saw groups of twos and threes with their sleeping bags. I took a deep breath and said, “Let’s go, let’s do it.”
We went up to the first two guys and I explained what we were doing. “I think I have seen you around,” Neuron said to me. That was his name he said: Neuron. I watched as he tried to tie a scarf around his wrist, his friend looking on to see what we were all about. “Can we take your photo?”
“Why me?”
I could only tell him the truth, “You were the first one in the park.”
Neuron was not in great shape. Neither was his friend. Neither were any of the people living in that park. Neuron didn’t say yes, he couldn’t have his photo out there like that. We kept going.
Carl and I walked around the park and we didn’t say too much to each other. We just walked and took it all in and we found it hard to breathe.
“I don’t think we can do this here,” I said.

INSIDE OUT

Why was this place different?
Was it because there were so many people all living here together? I think “hurting” together would be a better way of putting it.
We stopped in front of an old man and Carl started talking to him.
“How is your day going?”
I have to stop here. I had to stop there too. I had sat down next to Chamberland on the bench and reached out to shake his hand.
“Not too good,” he said.
We didn’t explain what we were doing at first, about the project, about INSIDE OUT. It didn’t matter. Not to him. At that point I don’t think either of us thought this project really mattered to anyone.
I said, “Can we take your photo?”
“Sure, no problem.”
Carl took his photo and I turned away and looked up at the sky. If you are ever in a situation where you are going to cry, raise your eyes up to the sky and it helps to stop the tears.
I went back and gave him a couple of bucks. He hadn’t asked for it. He thanked me and smiled. Not one of the people we took a photo of asked for money. Not once.
We continued to walk through the park. The air was gone in the park for us. We walked by a series of benches. Each one filled with groups of people. Some of them were talking, some of them were just sitting. The last guy lying there, asleep, was wet from pissing himself.
“I can’t do this anymore.”
“Me neither.”
We got back in the car.
We didn’t say much on the ride back.
We drove back to Carl’s office to download the photos and I could only say to myself, “Why me?”

For more information on the INSIDE OUT Project, click here.
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