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Life Statement
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Virgil John Lee


October 29, 1939

Born St. Williams, Ontario, Canada

Resided Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Retired Stratford, Ontario, Canada

Abigail Catherine Genevieve
Andrew Ian Mathew

Care for the humble as well as the grand; care for the small and the large; care for the weak and for the strong; care in life and in death; and care for our limited time in this wondrous place. Plant the seed of caring in the garden of life so that it can germinate and flourish.

Welcome to the garden party. Our place at the party begins with the innocence and vulnerability of birth and promises nothing more than its continuation long after we're gone. What revelry or despair is on offer? What secrets are to be revealed? For something so far beyond our ability to know with certainty – how and when it began or the moment of its end – it remains nevertheless the source and sustenance of our existence. Religion, philosophy, and science make claims about it. Some people live in apparent oblivion to their need of it, while others are completely enthralled by it. Most of us exist somewhere between these poles. We like the party, but recognize that we party neither alone nor in a common manner. And we are at the party because there is no other to attend. As individuals we make of it what we can; in groups we create our histories and our cultures. It is the home of our promises and our defeats. At its worst, it is desolate. At its best, it is beyond beauty.

In rural Ontario in the 1950s, I well recall a much less grand and glorious garden party. Still, it was an event that commandeered the imagination of a youngster anticipating a taste of big city entertainment and excitement. The garden party was an annual event, a traveling show held in different communities at different times. The two instances I recall were the Eden Garden Party and the Zenda Garden Party. The parties were evening programs catering to rural people with daily chores to complete, from milking the herd, feeding the livestock, and fence repair to field work and harvesting a crop. The garden party was an evening filled with the promise of escape and delight for both adults and kids, and it was definitely an evening for which to hurry Saturday's chores.

For this kid, it meant a late night of excited fidgeting on a temporary bench of planks and baled straw facing a plain wooden platform pushed against the back of a brick church wall. Light standards were installed. The sound system was tested – people made strange noises in a microphone and others played catches of tunes on various instruments. I much later came to know this as a sound check. All this preamble to the main attractions happened with a background of crickets and katydids exhorting their like to come forth and multiply. In the floodlight's glow, miller moths and mosquitoes flicked and floated and hungry bats from the church steeple feasted in the cool evening air. Hot dogs, hot coffee, and pop were being pitched for sale and I was aware of a general murmur of anticipation gaining strength as we approached the nine o'clock show start.

Here, in retrospect, it sounds idyllic – and in many ways it was. The acts were quite entertaining, but probably amateurish, presented by struggling entertainers fulfilling a calling and fighting for a chance at something larger. But in that time and place, they were captivating – music, stories, dances, colorful costumes. To my young mind it was truly magic. Little at that time did I much think of the fields surrounding this ad hoc outdoor theatre where predator and prey were also fulfilling their calling, where mice and rabbits fed the hawks, insects fed the skunks, and we tilled and controlled the land that they inhabited. This Eden evening was but a bit of escapist theater amidst the often unnoticed drama of life and death surrounding us.

To those of my age with a rural background and experience, this is the natural world and a natural way of life. I will leave a footprint; you will leave a footprint. Combined, our footprints will carve a trail which may be one of disruption and destruction or one of careful minimal impact. We need to tread most thoughtfully. It's the least we can do. But tread we must, for by accident or by design, this is where our feet have landed.

We are a species that must control in order to feel secure and important, that craves comfort, and today hungers for convenience – aspects of human nature not likely to disappear. I see this life as the grandest garden party imaginable, wherein lay domestication and wilderness; places where we hold forth and places where we are out of sight. The natural world is and remains a garden of nurture subject to unrelenting change. If the changes are not to be to our detriment, caring matters.

And so I return to caring, and add the concepts of conflict and joy. I do care about the garden of nature and how it and I coexist. I also feel the conflicts that our human nature and the broader world of nature so often seem engaged in. By caring, I try to reduce the unnecessary impacts on the natural world of my being and to respect the dignity of all life. And I certainly wish to enjoy the party.

Contributed May 2, 2012

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