I’m “home” now. I quotation that because after having been back to visit the place where my roots have grown into the sand – I still feel like Vancouver is my visiting place. It’s strange. For a while, toward the end, I was looking forward to coming back here, and I guess it stayed until the moment I boarded my plane in Montreal; but, when I arrived and took a cab back to my place, everything felt a little chilly. Not the warm feeling I felt when I walked into my mom’s bright, yellow, forgiving and warm kitchen and sat down at the table to read or just stare out the window.
I suppose a lot happened on this trip, so mentally I imagine I don’t know if I’m coming or going. It’s hard losing a grandfather – who I cherished so deeply – while on vacation … then dealing with all the planning and running around involved when preparing services and a funeral. We all banded together though, and we let each other cry when we had to, then other times we’d laugh and smile.
When I head to Ottawa for the 2nd week of my trip, like I said, my mom’s place was so welcoming, even though I was staying there alone. Everything became familiar to me again, and I became aware of all the things I’m missing here – Close friends, family, and warmth of spirit … familiarity.
Then again, I’m fully aware these things take time. I was 30 when I left Ottawa – my birthplace, and the city I lived in the entire time. I had spent thirty years cultivating myself there, growing, developing streamlined friendships that would take another life time to forget. I knew every tree that lined the streets I lived on. I had become the environment I existed in. So, in keeping this in mind, I know that these things do take time and I’m still prepared to devote as much strength, patience, and open-mindedness to allow myself to grow here too.
This was a vacation of eye-opening proportions and filled with every possible emotion any one person can emit in a 2-week period.
And so, I leave you with one half of two beautiful pieces of writing that were delivered that day on my grandfather’s funeral. The following one is a eulogy written by my uncle and was read at my grandfather’s grave. In a later post I’ll submit the biography we all took a hand in writing which was delivered in both English, and Sicilian at the service.
Personal? Yes, very – but something that should be put out into the universe.
Recollections of His Life by His Son
All of us, who are here today, have come to say goodbye to my dad, and wish him well on his final journey. We have also come to celebrate his life and his legacy, and to share some of the experiences that we may have had with him.
Everyone who knew my father would describe him as a good man, a responsible man, a good provider, a loving father, grandfather, husband and brother, a conscientious man and a selfless man. I would describe him as a Great Man.
Each of us, of course, knew him in a different way: as a husband, father, brother, grandfather, uncle and friend. Today, I would like to relate to you, how I saw him, as his son.
As a boy, my impressions of my dad were perhaps typical for my age: a combination of love, respect and, perhaps, a little fear. My father was a busy man, perhaps even a driven man in those days, consumed as he was with providing for his family and helping my mother around the house. As it turned out, we did not have as much time together as I would have liked to have had.
During the times that we were together, however, he did manage to teach me many things, mainly by his own example, but also by his good advice or by using some of his “old Sicilian sayings.”
At one time, during my teenage years, when I was attending high school, I remember being in the kitchen talking with my father about a “stupid” question that I had asked in class. “Always ask stupid questions,” he said. “What?” I replied. He continued talking, “The questions that you think are stupid are not so stupid. Your real reason for saying that they are stupid is that you’re afraid to ask them. Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks. Just ask the question.” Of course he was right. From that moment on, I always asked “stupid” questions and got some pretty good answers in exchange.
On another occasion, I remember complaining to my father that I hated my job, and that my boss was an idiot and that I was planning to just “up-and-quit” and to “hell with it.” He looked at me square in the eye and said, “Plan your escape, Mark…Plan your escape.” His advice served me well in later years when a crooked boss trapped me in Ecuador.
Over the years, I grew closer to my father, and my admiration for him grew even more. By the time I was in my early thirties, there had been many occasions when his “old Sicilian sayings” proved to be good guidelines for living. By then, he too had changed, having fought and won many battles. He was more relaxed, less driven, and was enjoying the fruits of his years of struggle. Whenever I was in town, I would spend time with him, either working together on some household project, or just sipping coffee, talking. Our time together was always relaxed and enjoyable.
Around that same time, I became more and more aware of how special a person my father really was. I began to see him in a different light through my own experiences and learning. I came to realize that knowledgeable men, teachers, shamans and philosophers had described my father’s particular attitude towards life many times through the ages. They all described a way of life whose followers resembled warriors in their attitudes, but were peaceful in their natures.
His peaceful nature meant that he had a deep love for humanity and a desire for world peace. It meant that he was selfless, never shrinking from helping anyone, never asking for rewards or recognition.
I remember the story that my father told me about his first trip back to Italy in 1991. He was visiting a town in Sicily, the place where his parents came from, a town called Franc Avilla. He asked the local store owner if there were any Cannulis around and, much to his surprise, he replied “Yes.” The store owner sent a boy to fetch Signor Cannuli. My father’s surprise deepened when Sr. Cannuli showed up and he immediately embraced my father and exclaimed: “Edouardo, I haven’t seen you in so long. “Thank-you so much for helping me out!”
“But what did I do for you?” my father asked, confused, not recognizing the man.
“Don’t you remember that you gave me a job in your factory just when I arrived from Sicily and had no money. You saved my life!”
My father had forgotten the incident. I think he had forgotten it because for him helping people was a normal act. Or maybe…it was one of the old Sicilian sayings: “Quando fa bene, scordeti; quando fa mal, recordeti” (If you do good, forget about it; if you do bad, remember it). He meant, of course, that for the good deed to count, it must be done without hope of reward of any kind. Maybe that was why he “forgot” so many of these good deeds.
His Peaceful Nature also made him Modest and Humble. It meant that he treated everyone as an equal and never looked down on anyone (nor did he expect anyone to look down on him). He empathized with his fellow man, and saw himself in everyone’s struggles.
His Peaceful Nature meant that he treaded lightly in his passage through life.
His Warrior’s Attitude meant that he was courageous in spite of his fears. It did not mean, however, that he fought against people but rather that he fought the battle within.
One day, my dad and I were seated in the kitchen (a lot went on in the kitchen) talking about an act of bravery where a fireman had rescued someone from a burning building. “Yes, that was a brave thing that he did.” He said. “It would have been even braver had he been terrified of fire.” He went on… “Everyone is afraid of something, Mark. The difference between a normal person and a brave person is not that one is afraid and the other is not. It is rather that the brave person confronts the thing that he is afraid of, regardless of his fears.”
His Warrior’s Attitude also made my father a responsible person. His motto could have been “the buck stops here” or “what can I do to make this thing better.” But, it would never have been “what can I get away with” or “who can I blame.”
His Warrior’s Attitude also made him a good leader. He led by example. Most leaders don’t. They either become bullies or spin-doctors or both. Leading by example is much more difficult, but the best way to lead.
I was exposed to his leadership qualities when I was 15 years old and I spent the summer working in my father’s factory. It was a hot, noisy job. My father could always be seen going up and down the production line, dealing with problems as they happened. When a particular problem occurred because of “human error” he never yelled, always dealt with the person patiently, sat down at their machine, explaining the source of the error, and the way to correct it. He seemed to always have their trust and attention. I discovered that summer how well-respected he was, both by his peers as well as his colleagues.
As my father grew into his 50s and 60s, he became happier, more relaxed, as his two polarities, “Peaceful” and “Warrior” began to merge, both working together, reinforcing each other – his “peaceful nature” creating in him the energy to fuel his warrior’s attitude. His warrior’s attitude giving him the courage to let go and be more loving, more peaceful. Both working together, he had become his true self.
During the last times that I saw him and spoke to him, his mood was always up-beat, as if his death did not concern him. I would ask him “Are you O.K. Dad?” He would always answer cheerfully: “Hey Mark, don’t worry about me. I’m fine.” He always seemed happy. Whistling from time to time, laughing.
This is how my father, the Peaceful Warrior faced his death – happy, loving, thinking only about others, courageous and with no outstanding debts – knowing that he was leaving his world a better place than when he started out.