I grew up in Parkway West, an idyllic little enclave nestled between Don Mills and Scarborough in the northeast corner of Toronto. Walking to Don Mills Collegiate meant a very pleasant two kilometre hike skirting the Donalda Golf course, across a little wooden bridge over the Don River and up a few residential streets to the school. I loved the walk through the trees and watching the seasons change. By the time I was ready to teach, Toronto had grown too big for my liking, so I took a job in St. Thomas, in part because I could walk to work.

We always seemed to live two or three kilometres from where I worked. When we lived on Hammond, I taught at Scott Street School. When we lived on Metcalf, I taught at Elgin Court. When we moved to Myrtle and later on Trevithick, I taught at Locke’s. Given that it was St. Thomas there were always railway tracks to hike along or over. I used to love the smell of honeysuckle that would often grow wild besides the abandoned rail lines.

I continued to walk to work until we moved to London in 2001, and then I traded in my walk for a very pleasant country drive. In Malaysia I would hike up Wangsa Baiduri the two kilometres or so to Taylor’s College.  Once again I appreciated the opportunity to wake up and get a little exercise before I had to start my day, though you had to watch for the cavernous and uncovered storm drains. And walking home in KL’s blistering heat was no fun at all.

The Cayman Islands is much better. There is a pretty steady breeze most months of the year and you are never far from the sea no matter which side of the island you are on. I hike to the end of the street and past the ruins of what used to be the Hilton, damaged beyond repair by Hurricane Ivan. Then I skirt the Britannia Golf Course, closed now for rezoning, and up a new sidewalk to Camana Bay on the North Sound, taking in the sunrise in the winter. From there it is just a few steps to the school. It takes me about half an hour without breaking a sweat.

My body is slowing down considerably as I approach 70. If I don’t keep walking, I soon won’t be able to stand in front of a class all day. My mind is still sharp, and I am still learning, so to quit before I am ready would be a disappointment hard to bear. So I walk to work. It will be my great loss when I no longer have to. Or can.

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I cannot remember when I first read The Diary of Anne Frank. I was young, too young to understand all that was said, alluded to, or implied. I know I was struck by Anne’s honesty, more so when I came to grips with what the Nazis did to her and millions of Jews like her. It is not easy to wrap your head and heart around that level of demonic evil when you are young. I toured the Annex when I was in Amsterdam, as a mature adult. We shuffled from room to room, dumbstruck by the banality of the horror that was written on every wall.

So when the Cayman Drama Society opened auditions for the play, I knew I had to try out. I wasn’t looking for a major role, just something to get my feet wet on stage after more than a dozen years coaching students from the sidelines. I tried out for Dussel, the fussy dentist that comes in halfway through the first act. I practiced a passable German accent and committed a few passages to memory. I was little taken aback when the director, Kirsty Halliday, said, “Very nice, now drop the accent and try it again.” I did, and got cast in the role.

This summer I used every available minute to commit the script to memory. Then I worked on all the cues surrounding my part. Rehearsals went on while I was away in Canada, but that couldn’t be helped. As soon as I got back I jumped back into all the blocking that I had missed and introduced myself to the cast. Fortunately, drama folks are a pretty accepting sort, and I soon felt comfortable and found their company pleasant. The schedule itself was tiring on top of teaching all day: two late nights a week and four to six hours on the weekends. But slowly the bits and pieces came together and we began to jell as a cast.

Kirsty had three primary ideas she wanted to embed in her production. She wanted to put the entire audience, all 80 of them, on the stage with us so there would be no escape, no turning away. The auditorium would become the warehouse through the audience would walk, behind the bookcase and up the stairs into the Annex. Then she wanted to visualize Anne’s nightmare scene, bringing the three Nazis on stage to terrorize her as she slept. Then in the final scene she wanted us all to march, zombie like, onto the stage and fall into a heap of bodies, eyes open and gazes blank staring out at the audience. The effect was devastating. Many sat in tearful silence for minutes after the show was over, unable to compose themselves enough to leave. The nine shows were sold out to the last seat for every show, and the reviews and comments have been overwhelmingly positive, many saying it was the best show that the Cayman Drama Society has ever done, and the strongest cast.

It has been so rewarding for me to have even a small part in such an important play. The cast, especially 15 year old Jasmine Line, who played Anne, the music, the set design, and the staging were all impressively professional. I enjoyed the camaraderie of our cast and the nightly challenge of bringing my character to life. I will likely do another show, now that I am back into the groove, but I can’t think that anything else will ever come close to the impact of this show. It is difficult even after a week away just thinking about what we had to go through each show. 

One night I spoke to the only Jewish rabbi on Cayman who had come to the show. After he had complemented me on my Hebrew during the Sim Shalom prayer that I offer, I asked him about his reaction. He said he found it moving and authentic. He also shared that he had lost two of his great grandparents in the Holocaust. I asked if he minded us, an entirely Gentile cast, presenting this work. Oh no, he said, very firmly. The truth must continue to be told so that this never happens again. Never again.

Pam and I thought long and hard about buying a boat when we arrived in the Cayman. It seemed a natural: we lived right on the longest canal on the island, the waters were crystal clear, and the breezes were mild. All our neighbours seemed to have boats, and we had visions of taking our grandchildren out across the North Sound when they came to visit.

Sadly, that dream had to die. The cost for even a small runabout was exorbitant, and apparently the boat maintenance here is astronomical.  Then too we noticed that our neighbours never actually seemed to use their boats. The workdays are long here, so there is only the weekend. Besides, snorkeling had taken over our interest in the water and we were developing a nice group of older people who like to snorkel and were good company at the pub afterwards.

So we moderated our passion for boating and took whatever opportunities availed themselves to us to get out on the water through staff cruises or trips across the North Sound to the restaurant at Rum Point. However, there was one cruise that we had not taken in our three years on the island, and that was the Sunset Cruise off Seven Mile Beach. The reason was obvious, it cost more than we felt comfortable paying to see a sunset we could sit on the beach to see for nothing.

But for our anniversary, a young couple in our community group gave us the gift of a Sunset Cruise. We tried in vain to fit it in before the summer break, but the weather refused to cooperate. Finally, once we returned to Cayman, we got a chance to go sailing, and it turned out to be well worth the wait. Since we moved to the Caribbean, we have become sunset connoisseurs. There are sunsets too dull to even matter, sunsets that promise much, then just peter out, and sunsets that go out in a brief blaze of glory. However, our favourites are the ones that linger in the clouds for nearly two hours. We had one of those on the night of our cruise.  

The breezes were delicious, warm and fragrant. There was no sound but the gentle muted conversations on the deck and the flutter of the sails in the breeze. As the glow from the sunset faded, the stars came out as clear as diamonds on black felt. We had Cayman lemonade, and some chicken wings and just soaked up the great privilege of being allowed to be here at this point in our lives. It was a beautiful evening.

When Liz and Greg welcomed their first baby, Russ into our family, Jon and Nic and the kids made the long drive from Seattle to meet him. There have been many, varied visits family visits and events in the mean time but since then that we have not been all together in one place.

It took a lot of planning and a tremendous amount of effort on everyone’s part to coordinate our schedules but we finally got together again just in time to celebrate Russ’s fifth birthday. We gathered at Greg’s family’s beautiful cabin on Moyie Lake in southern British Columbia. Jon and Nic rented a small but very adequate cabin about five minutes walk away. Dave made the five hour trip through the mountains on his bike to be there with us,

Along with lovely accommodations we had the use of a boat, canoe and kayaks and a cool lake for swimming. We BBQ’d and had great meals together, hung out and played what was for us a new board game, Settlers of Catan, without too many disagreements.

 

The weather was spectacular with cool, clear mornings and warm, sunny afternoons. Steve had a great time teaching Ben and Abi to paddle the canoe and they were both steering quite competently by the end of the week.

We moved to the Caribbean so Steve could continue his ministry in teaching and yet still be close enough to our family to be able to have this kind of vacation. This time on the lake certainly brought home to us home much we love to be with our children and their children.

It is a great thing to be around your adult children and see them and their kids all getting along. For Canadians is like something in our DNA that this is most enjoyable outdoors. The Cayman Islands have lovely beaches and warm weather year round. But they don’t have the kind of beauty you see in the Rockies.

The lake was cold, but not unbearably so. All of us went in the water at one time or another, some as a result of going too fast in the raft, but always with a great deal of laughter. It was the nicest summer we have had in many a year.

We have missed a number of birthdays during our time abroad: cousins, friends, children and grandchildren. It was so nice to celebrate Russ’ birthday while we were at the cabin.

Some presents were clearly more happily received than others, but one’s interests at five tend to be pretty specific. But whether opening presents, eating cake, or just sharing in the celebration of life, it was all a pretty joyous occasion.

We missed last year’s graduation, foregoing the celebration in favour of our own graduation for our Master’s degree in Pasadena. I hate to miss out on seeing the kids that I have struggled so hard to educate and prepare for university graduate from high school. It was therefore a great joy to be at this one last Thursday. I know that this is an event that is considered by many as unworthy of celebration. Forgive me if I mount an argument in its favour.

I think graduation from high school is one of the most important events in a young person’s life. For many it marks the end of childhood and adolescence and the beginning of life as a young adult. It marks the end of friendships and family structures that have been a source of comfort and security for 18 years. It marks the end of teachers that have always been willing to listen and modify their expectations in order to help their students succeed. There is virtually never a “final” anything in elementary or high school, until that final exam at the end of Grade 12. I will remark everything that is submitted. I will always allow a second test or a rewrite up until the moment I must submit my marks. Most teachers at this level will do the same. This is rarely true at university.

Those final exam results will not be in for another month or so, but based on what we have seen in them so far, this cohort will do well. With only one or two exceptions, these students are fully ready for the next step in their lives. It has been a real joy to have had them as part of my life for the past two years. I have fought very hard for their success, willing as I ever am, to put my relationship with a student on the line for their greater good. Invariably students understand that this is what a truly caring teacher must do. There are teachers – and there are always some, even in a good staff – who would rather just be friends with their students, never challenging them to dig deeper or try harder or undertake to go the next step. These teachers do their students no favours, even if they end up being temporarily more popular. I will trade my students’ success in university for my own popularity any day of the week and consider it a good deal.

There is no moment greater in a teacher’s life than having a student who has worked and struggled with some aspect of their learning finally gaining mastery. In English that ‘moment’ is likely a process, such as being able to analyze text in a coherent and persuasive manner. Usually that process that has taken months and the road has been marked with disappointment and frustration. When they do finally master their own writing it is not like some formula that they memorize and forget. Learning how to write with insight, skill, and polish is an accomplishment that will last a lifetime. I love it when my students finally feel confident in their own skill. I love it even more when they come back from university and tell me, as they often do, how invaluable that skill is in all their subjects at university.

There are days when my age wears on me and I come home exhausted and spent. I just don’t have the stamina I once had and this old body has begun to betray me in subtle but unmistakable ways. But there are times, such as this past weekend, when all of this effort seems not only worthwhile, but invaluable to someone else’s success. I have taught since I was a young adult myself, and I have nothing left to prove or gain. But if I can help another to succeed in this important transition in their young lives, that is motivation enough.

Cayman is remarkably rich in musical and dramatic talent for such a small island. There are only 60,000 of us tops, yet there are dozens of shows, dances, and musical events each week. Far too many for us to go to everything. So we typically tend to prioritize those events that involve friends, colleagues and students.

A few weeks back we saw a production of Annie put on by the middle and elementary students of Cayman International and several other schools on the island. At the best of times the musical is a silly little bit of fluff that glamourizes the hard-luck life of an orphan that is adopted by a billionaire. Tell that story to any one of the 30 million refugee children in the world and see what kind of reaction you get. Swimming upstream against that improbable script is a tough slog at best, but the kids did a wonderful job, and we had a very pleasant evening, despite the first-world/third-world disconnect.

The following weekend we went to see Grease, which despite its enduring popularity neither of had ever seen. This was an older group of students, high school and some recent graduates, and the song and dance routines had considerably better polish. Again, the score doesn’t rise to the level of Richard Rogers or Leonard Bernstein, but it was a fun evening, and the players’ spunky enthusiasm compensated for the limitations of the production.

Grease

We topped that off with an evening at the Westin Hotel on Seven Mile Beach that hosted the local orchestra and choir doing an evening of Broadway musicals. There was no shortage of excellent music at this event, and the choir was in excellent voice going through a repertoire of songs from West Side Story, Phantom of the Opera, South Pacific and The Wizard of Oz. They sang and played for over two hours and the quality, especially in the solo performances, was most impressive for an assembly of volunteers, some of who were friends and colleagues from CIS.

With just a few weeks left before the end of the year, there are still a number of events coming up that look to be equally enjoyable, if somewhat tiring. Island life has its limitations, but a lack of music and drama is not one of them.