Thursday, October 22, 2009

A big day at my day job

I was privileged yesterday to appear before the Supreme Court of Canada as part of ‘my day job’ as a commercial litigation lawyer (a barrister, as they say in England). I was representing The Globe and Mail, Canada's pre-eminent national newspaper, in an appeal before Canada's highest court, relating to whether or not a journalist is obliged to divulge the name of a confidential source. This case involves what has become known in Canada as the Sponsorship Scandal, which came to the public's attention largely due to the work of an intrepid Globe and Mail investigative reporter by the name of Daniel Leblanc, whose information and reports were fuelled by a confidential source known only as Ma Chouette. If you are interested, a report of these Supreme Court proceedings appeared in The Globe and Mail newspaper and can be accessed at

Appearing before the Supreme Court of Canada is a high point for any lawyer, and while it was not my first appearance, I was keenly aware of how lucky I was to be there, alive and healthy and participating. As I stepped to the lectern, before the entire Bench in a case of great national importance, I felt joy to be there and gratitude to have been spared. How many people go through their entire lives without ever recognizing how lucky they are just to be alive? Yet, survival can’t simply be about going on or returning to ones old life. There are lessons and new perspectives to be gained, joys that have to be savored and appreciation that has to be conveyed. When we are going through the trials of illness, it's not always easy to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's not always easy to contemplate a life after illness, but life can prevail, and it's a life that can be more far meaningful than a life without illness.

There is a wonderful book called Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom, which recounts the story of Morrie Schwartz, a retired professor of sociology at Brandeis University, who was diagnosed with ALS and ultimately died from it. The Tuesdays referred to in the title of the book are the Tuesday afternoons which the author, a former student of Morrie’s, spent with Morrie during the last year of his life. It's a tale of how to face death with courage and how to live even when one is dying. One line which I remember and which will always stay with me is Morrie saying that "if you can learn how to die, it teaches you how to live".

Some of you (assuming there are actually people reading this) might be wondering what the kayak is doing in the picture at the beginning of this entry. The answer is that I took the photo on a wilderness trip in September to Pukaskwa National Park on the shores of Lake Superior, a wonderful pristine paradise where we kayaked and camped, fished and ate and laughed for a week, the latest of my annual wilderness trips with friends. The beauty of this trip was that it was my first kayak trip since I fell ill, and for that reason it was all the more memorable. My kayak on the beach symbolizes for me my return to calm and serenity, where beauty is everywhere.

So much for philosophizing today, as I mentioned in an earlier entry, I've already sent out letters to people I hope will ride with me and I am looking forward to responses. I will keep you up to date on how it's going as I continue on my celebration of life.

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I just discovered your blog and applaud all you are doing. Thank you!

    I am a physician who has been in-and-out of treatment for lymphoma since 1990. I, too, felt I led a "charmed" life before my diagnosis. That you used the same word I've used for decades caught my eye.

    Your October 18th post also got my attention: On my 55th birthday you blogged that you would be turning 55 the following day. Happy Birthday!

    My health issues have made it impossible to practice clinical medicine, so I devote my energies to helping patients get good care and live as fully as possible (what I call a "Healthy Survivor") by writing and speaking.

    I look forward to following your blog. With hope, Wendy
    Wendy S. Harpham, MD