Thursday, October 1, 2009

Round Multicolored Bruises

Neither of us were Jewish, but somehow we found ourselves at 6 a.m. once or twice a week at the Vancouver Jewish Community Centre racquetball courts. How that was arranged so that it cost us nothing, or whether it was, I don’t remember. But the two of us, young, married prelaw university students, were there swinging and sweating profusely as we bashed that ball against the walls with a mutual determination to prevail. On occasion it was our respective backsides that took the full brunt of the black ball, but that pain was temporary. Little did we know that our respective futures would present much more enduring and serious competition and consequence.

Hugh Stansfield would have been 57 today, had he not died on May 7, 2009 after using everything he had to fight a senseless and relentless opponent, multiple myeloma, a type of blood cancer. He did not lose that competition, nor did he give up. He would have preferred to stay in the game, but it was just time to move off the court, leaving a legacy of life lived intentionally and intensely. He was a champion in every respect. Many people miss him. I miss him, especially today.

The impact he left on me was much more significant than a round multicolored bruise on the back. It was not as a fellow law student, or working in the same firm or even when he was the Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of British Columbia that he was so influential in my life. It was not even a courageous and outrageous 4 week motorcycle trip across Canada and back with him that affected me the most.  It was when he faced death that he taught me how to compete with a seemingly unbeatable adversary.

Over the last years of his too short life we shared our “weaknesses” in a way lawyers rarely do. I would spend precious time with him every week or so as he sat and drained a blood bag or two at the Hospital, which he did every 2 or 3 days.  We became teammates engaging different enemies that insisted upon inflicting maximum harm in an attempt to beat us. Cancer became his death sentence. Parkinson’s my life sentence. But I learned that neither judgment could crush our spirits or keep us in a dark room of despair.

He showed grace under intense life-threatening pressure, approaching his foe fearlessly and with his sense of humour in tact.  His commitment to "finish well" produced an awe-inspiring model of how to live.

We who knew Hugh can do him no greater tribute than playing on when the welts and scars from the game would have us  give up.  So play on we will.

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