When I was little I watched a fire sweep across and consume a lifeless field from the window in our 6th floor apartment at Jane and Finch. What ultimately followed was the greenest and healthiest state I’d ever seen that field in. A lesson learned.
I have a tattoo of a phoenix on my left arm to remind me of the ever-present ability to rise up from the ashes. When you’re down you are just a step away from being up…and vice versa.
The journey that is Our Life finds us maneuvering a series of highs and lows, ups and downs. Sometimes the public highs are secretly accompanied by private lows, and sometimes low points set the table for a triumphant rise. A highlight for most people is the opportunity to meet a person who has made a profound impact on their own journey.
One thing I have always said about having heroes or idols is that when you put someone on a pedestal, you put them in a perfect position to crush you when they fall. The fall can be a public fall from grace, or a private fall from the heights of a mirage you envisioned them within.
There are elements or aspects of a person you can admire and aspire to be like, mimic or learn from. It is important, however, to realize that any person and every person is just a person. They are still learning, evolving and making mistakes just as you have, are and will be. Sometimes, when you meet your hero, you are disillusioned and discover a flawed, average person, maybe even someone you actually don’t like.
Last night I met a hero of mine. It was in an elevator.
Michael Kaufman is a rock god in the field of working with men around gender equality. He co-founded the White Ribbon Campaign over 20 years ago, and he has personally taken his message to almost 50 countries. I was going to a White Ribbon educational campaign launch this particular evening, and one could expect that Michael might be in attendance. Despite this, when I heard his voice in the lobby, it didn’t sink in until I stood next to him and looked up.
Inside, my brain elbowed myself exclaiming “DUDE!!”
I asked him if he was Him, which he was, and quickly dragged Miranda (my Ryerson White Ribbon co-chair) into conversational interrogation. I apologized for cornering and outing him like that, but he was humbled and very eager to talk about our work. He asked us questions and was excited by what we were doing at Ryerson.
The elevator reaches our floor. We get out and ironically have to walk downstairs to get to the venue holding the campaign launch. Miranda, Michael and I are discussing the conference we held at Ryerson University, and the work of creating spaces for dialogue at events. As we talk, we descend the stairs into the event that brought us together.
We are in a fancy space donated for the launch. The work of the White Ribbon Campaign breathes entirely due to donations and support of all kinds. The room is full of partners, executives, government officials and members of the White Ribbon team. I suggest to Michael we should let him go to do his rounds, and so he does.
During the event I notice a flyer for his latest book ‘ A Guy’s Guide to Feminism’ and envision someday releasing a book. The presentation is now over, and the schmoozing and mingling with bank executives and government types begins. Drained from a long day, I elect to skip the networking and head back up the stairs for the elevator to go back down.
I decide to quietly make an exit, as the White Ribbon executive are busy connecting with key contacts to further establish their projects towards real change. I hoped to say bye to Michael but I didn’t see him in the crowd. With each step up the stairs I reflect on the work I have done up to this point. I reflect on the hard work of the amazing people I am leaving downstairs. I reflect on the steps ahead still left to climb.
I reach the top of the stairs just in time for an arriving elevator, but fate’s soft whisper asks me to slow down and just wait for the next one. A moment later, who else bounces up the stairs headed for the elevator but Michael Kaufman. He says hello and stops in mid-sentence, recalling he has forgot something, and asks for me to wait for him while he runs back downstairs.
He wants Me to wait for Him so that We can chat. Wow.
He quickly ascends back up the stairs and we descent back down the elevator, descending back in our original conversation. The conversation is now about conversations. Now we are walking together in the same direction down King St.
I explain to him how our ‘What Makes a Man’ Conference at Ryerson University was discussion-focused. Rather than coming to listen to experts drone on, the speakers sparked a conversation with a 5 minute talk that the audience then spend 20 minutes directing, guiding and finishing as we moved onto the next speaker. We drilled down, deeper, hunted the elephants in the room and faced them together.
We discussed what makes a man a better partner, a good father, neglect their health, feminize healthy eating and so on. The speakers reflected Aboriginal and First Nations, East Indian, Queer, Black, Trans, Latin and other communities. Themes coming full circle, intersections, release, opening up… it was a communal dialogue. The direction went according to the map of people’s needs. We created an inviting space where people could have the conversations they hungered to have.
As we walked down the street, Michael talked about traveling the world and humbly participating in conversations, but invited as a lecturer or a speaker. Michael said he wasn’t the sole expert and said how we all have a voice to share and we can sometimes be more effective in reaching one another than an ‘authority’ on a subject like gender equity.
We dived deeper into the need to create spaces for real, honest, raw discussions. Peer to peer, as equals, striving to establish we are all equals.
Now I am not flabbergasted, or speaking in awe, we are conversing as friends, as equals. His vast experience, experiences and wisdom does not tower over me, but invites me to an equal level of communing, dining on thoughts, reflecting and speaking words of action, words to take action.
We head separate ways and look to stay in touch until the ups and downs ahead lead us to cross paths once again.
Quite the elevator ride this life is indeed.