I’ve not been feeling particularly grateful for much the last few weeks as I seem to be constantly on the end of a shovel. But that’s shame on me, not shame on anyone or anything else. Could be the seasonal blues. But one thing I have felt incredible gratitude for has been the voice of Stuart McLean. And I’m incredibly sad that our time together has come to an end.
Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it. Haruki Murakami, a Japanese writer, said those words and he is the same age as our beloved Stuart McLean whose death left our world a lot less bright today, the day I am writing this, writing to soothe the ache in my heart, as though Stuart McLean was my family, my friend. The truth is he belonged to each of us who dialled in to his Vinyl Café and giggled along with the stories of life, the funny bits and the sad bits and everything in between as we listened to Stuart’s preacher-like voice tell us about Dave and Morley and their escapades.
FaceBook is laden with farewells and sorrow regarding Stuart’s passing and I can’t even look at his face that exudes gentle kindness and integrity and honesty. It might be easy to say that we don’t really know the man, but rather the persona. I think it is fair to say we knew the man by what he said and nothing probably more so than his address to Prince George when celebrating its 100th Anniversary in 2015, one of his last public performances before he began the hard war with cancer. In that address, he first pointed out the shameful things done to those who first called this land home. He suggested that in the slow process of coming to truth and reconciliation that we “shut up” and listen to those who have lived here so much longer than we European immigrants and he reminded us that the loudest voices are not necessarily the wisest.
Stuart’s stories had a conscience to them, a self-awareness, and got to the very truth of us. He called himself Canada’s favourite story-teller and then claimed this so-called lie as his own, never taking his celebrity too seriously, and certainly never more important than the message he wanted to convey, needed to convey to perhaps ease the angst that he felt at being part of a machine that loses sight all too often of humanity. He was never more surprised when people cheered and welcomed him with great fervour, as though that almost seemed ridiculous, nonsensical. He used the platform he had created to remind us of the things that truly matter.
Stuart had the great wisdom and ability to unite us, to make the sweeping geography of Canada feel less vast, to bring us all closer together, to pull up our symbolic chairs to the radio while we listened. Though he was a radio personality, his face and humble wave linger with me now. We are heart-broken. Come back, I want to cry. Don’t leave us.
It is the details of our life that distinguish us from one another though, not our death. No one has really died until the stories they have told are forgotten, silenced. Stuart McLean will live on long after you and I have gone.