I usually write about my trips and experiences somewhat sequentially once I return home. But for one experience, I’m making an exception. I’m writing the bulk of this sitting in the lobby of the Fairmont in Victoria, but truth be told, I know I won’t finish writing it sitting here. I’m already blinking rapidly to keep the tears at bay, and I don’t need a lobby of cruise ship passengers wondering why there’s a guy over in the corner crying into his iPad.
On this last day in Victoria, I headed out for a morning of urban and public art exploring. One of the last pieces of art on my walk was the sculpture of Terry Fox. It’s located at mile zero, the end of the Trans-Canada Highway. In a country like Canada, that in and of itself would be something to visit. But as I looked at the sculpture of Terry Fox I started to think about his Marathon of Hope and what it would have been like for him to make it to his point. Mile Zero. The entire way across Canada.
I was six years old in the summer of 1980. Every night that summer, my family would eagerly watch the news and read about Terry Fox’s progress in the late afternoon paper. When Terry had to halt his run on account of his cancer returning, my six year old self just assumed he’d get better. On June 28, 1981, my family was at my grandmother’s place in Dalhousie, NB. I was outside with my Dad helping him clean the car, enjoying a warm day and the music coming from the car radio. I had wandered a short distance away in the backyard when my Dad walked slowly toward me… “Terry Fox is dead”.
Up until that very moment in my life, every story I had ever been exposed to had had a happy ending. The little engine could make it up the hill. Goldilocks and the bears sorted out their differences. The Grinch and all the Whos in Whoville lived on in bliss. I was still four months away from trying to process how my Montreal Expos lost on Blue Monday. Innocent would be an understatement for how I thought the world worked up until June 28, 1981. Terry Fox was going to run across the country to a hero’s welcome and in my mind that was an unassailable fact. That moment with my Dad and the afternoon with my family as we all processed the news is burned deep into my memory.
Fast forward to this morning in Victoria. Standing by his likeness, I tried to imagine the scene had Terry made it here. It’s hard for me to conjure what it might have been like in the early eighties, but I can imagine what it would have looked liked like had it happened in current times. Crowds, cheering, and the entirety of the city of Victoria and the eyes of the entire country would have been here. With tears starting to form in my eyes, I walked the short distance from the statue to the stairs down to the Pacific Ocean. This would have been where the Marathon of Hope ended with Terry dipping his foot in the Pacific to signify the end of his run.
From my own experiences, I have a vague sense of journeys and the feelings at the starts and ends of them. I tried to conjure what this scene would have looked like for Terry had he made it here, and how he must of visualized it when he started his run. I wondered if he thought about the crowds that would have assembled in this very spot, and if he had thought about what he would have said to Knowleton Nash and the nation watching live on the CBC. My mind turned to how he must have thought about this moment when he knew he’d never see mile zero and the Pacific Ocean. I wonder if he felt defeated for what he knew he wouldn’t be able to accomplish. I wondered if that overwhelmed him from pride in what he had accomplished.
On this early, chilly morning, I walked out to the water to do what Terry never had the chance to do. On the first day of his run, to very little fanfare, he dipped his right foot in the Atlantic Ocean in St. John’s with the plan to do the same right here in Victoria to signify the end of his run. I stood on the slippery rocks and let the Pacific wash over my right foot.
For me, this morning was an unexpected journey back in my mind to my childhood, to someone I idolized, and to the thoughts, hopes and dreams that all of us hold within ourselves. Standing here in Victoria I felt I had gained some perspective on Terry’s run as well as my own dreams and journeys. It was a great reminder of why I travel…