bent but not broken

Once the bus door shuts and we pull out of the Greyhound terminal on Second Avenue in Whitehorse the world melts away for me.

Once the bus door shuts and we pull out of the Greyhound terminal on Second Avenue in Whitehorse the world melts away for me. For the next three days and 17 hours of my annual trek to Montreal the news my seat mates have to offer or the occasional front page headlines I read off the newspaper boxes at bus depots along the way is about all I have of the news of the goings and comings in the wider world.

By last Sunday morning the bus had carried me well into Saskatchewan. As I neared the halfway point in my journey somewhere in eastern Saskatchewan, I noticed a lot of water standing in farmers’ fields. A bus driver had told me that parts of the province had received half again as much rain as they normally do by this time of the summer. No one had told about the storm that dumped as much as 125 millimetres of rain on Yorkton in just over half an hour during the early evening of July 1st. A local would have to do that.

When I met him I already had a sense that something serious had happened. On my normal round to the Co-op store for lunch supplies I had seen orange city barriers blocking some streets and irregular patterns of debris marking what I would find out were the high water lines of the flash flood. On my way back I came across a used book dealer and his son as I cut across a parking lot linking the back alley behind his store with the Yorkton bus terminal.

Sweat poured from his brow under the hot noon day sun as the owner dumped another load of sodden paperbacks and hardcovers from his Second Avenue downtown business into the back of a pickup truck. He was happy to pause for a moment and catch his breath as he told me what happened. The downpour came on them violently around 5 p.m. and while it lasted only minutes the sheer volume of water equaled a 150 per cent of the average rainfall for the entire month of July. It simply had no place to go. Sewers backed up and the ground already saturated from previous rains funneled the water into the relatively lower downtown and surrounding residential neighbourhoods.

The owner told me that he couldn’t wait for the insurance adjusters to show up and had to start getting the mess in his basement storage areas cleaned up. “After all they are only books,” he said philosophically. “I can always find more. I am just grateful that no one was hurt.” All I could do was compliment him on his positive attitude and wish him well as I headed for my east-bound bus.

On my annual bus journey I always glean stories from the people whom I meet. This year certainly was no different. A bus driver, who had worked as an engineer in Belarus along with his wife a medical doctor, recounted immigrating to Canada in search of a better life. Professional restrictions here, however, forced them to find other jobs. They managed to raise their two children one of whom is now an engineer and the other a pharmacist even in the face of their own setbacks.

Or the story shared by a seatmate for a few hours heading east from Wawa. She told of a marriage broken by alcoholism, of finding a place in Northern Ontario to start over and even become an elected official in her new hometown plus the personal reward of helping an employee afflicted by the same curse that broke her family, save his family and his job.

Some look at life as one long, agony-filled struggle bracketed by the pain of birth and death. Others somehow learn to bend and not break under the weight of the challenges life places before them. Coming to understand and focus on what is truly important in our own lives maybe the key to gaining this ability.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact