Run for elected office.
It’s a surefire way to find your way to the doorsteps of thousands of homes, knocking on them, and then engaging in conversations with people who were hitherto strangers.
I feel compelled to share a small sampling of the stories from people’s lives that I’ve been privileged to get to hear.
Today, one of the people I met was Marty. Marty is an outspoken and engaging man. He spent decades working for the railways, and followed that up with another couple decades working part-time at a funeral home. Marty was thankful for the quality of care he received at the long-term care facility I was visiting. But I can tell you that Marty wasn’t shy about given me his opinion. And at one point, he espoused pithy and unsentimental wisdom about the ultimate value of money: “We come into the world naked. We leave it naked.” I nodded and thought of Ecclesiastes.
I also spoke with Ernie. Ernie and Marty had a difference of opinion on the degree to which unions were an obstruction or an assistance in the present order of things in the City of Saskatoon. They each made some good points and managed to come to an agreement, though neither one had changed their mind.
Ernie had spent many years working the British Columbia interior. He talked about missing the city of Vernon. I did my Basic Training in Vernon, in 1994, and Ernie and I exchanged some nostalgic memories of the place. He missed BC and was blunt in telling me that he’ll never see it again. He’d had a heart attack and a stroke. He couldn’t drive. He wasn’t going anywhere.
Ernie also spent quite a bit of time telling me about the success of the resident garden. Scattered around the room, a few pots hosted flowers taken from the garden. This was just after Saskatoon had received 30cm of snow, and Ernie had to point out the window to which of the mounds of snow covered the tomatoes. Martha chimed in to remind him about the carrots.
Martha had been the director of a privately-run health facility for many years. Now a stroke had removed her from the workforce at a relatively young age. One of her daughters’ had taken over running the facility, and the shared experience of being the director of the same facility was a new bond between them. Still, Martha wasn’t at all wealthy and she worried about her future.
After our time together was over, one-by-one Marty and Martha and Ernie drifted away. I gathered up my things, preparing to move on to the next engagement. For a moment I stood at the threshold trying to take in as much as I could: the place was buzzing with staff and residents.
The message I take from this, and countless other examples, is that our community is diverse. And that for all our debates over tax rates or bike lanes, we should never forget that these are abstractions compared to the lives of real people. Many of the people who built this city that we inhabit are aging. They deserve the very best. The Nutana Suburban Centre is home to two high schools, dozens of condo complexes and long-term care facilities, as well as Market Mall. This part of our city demands our constant attention. It must remain a priority for sidewalk and road maintenance.