The Means is the End
The night he returned from his Fort
Henry ride Reid dreamed that he was walking in some shallow rapids in the swift
current of a river with Michelle. She had taken her shoes off but he was afraid
of cutting his feet on the rocks so he had kept his shoes on. "Let's cross
Reid" she yelled back at him as she waded onwards toward the far bank. At
that moment he slipped on some rocks and fell into the water. When he stood up
he couldn't find her anywhere. He stood frozen in indecision as to whether or
not he should risk being taken by the currents and try to find Michelle or not.
Then he woke up with severe dry mouth.
Later the next day, he sat with Alex
in their dining room.
"How'd you get that?" he
asked in a cranky voice.
"Well," answered Alex,
"because of the annual interest on the principal is more because of the
increased investment in research and development, and..." Reid stopped
listening because at this point he just didn't care about his accounting
assignment. He looked at Alex and silently mocked him and his greasy red hair.
Closing his textbook in frustration, he grabbed the first section of the
newspaper and turned it over to the back page. His stomach tensed when he saw the
words it in the top right hand corner.
A true artist
will let his wife starve,
children go barefoot, his mother
his living at 70, sooner
at anything but his art.
Bernard Shaw 1856-1950
Starve. He didn't want to believe it
but he did and felt the ghosts of ancient truths rumble in the air. Life as an
adjective had its difficulties.
Every once in a while he and Drake
would go for a run together because it gave them a chance to catch up. They
were both busy and seldom had time to chat one-on-one without Taylor or Alex
being around too. Drake spent most of his time riding Phineas at the farm. Every time they ran together they made an
effort to change our route a little bit to explore more streets of Canada's original
capital city. They decided to run straight to Lake Ontario and then south along
the boardwalk towards the penitentiary. It was windy so waves smashed against
the rocks as if the lake had become an ocean.
"I saw a thing in the paper the
other day about the amount of chemicals that are being dumped into the Great
Lakes every year," Drake said, pointing to the lake beside them. "You
aren't going to believe this: 341,000 tonnes of
toxic waste were
dumped into the Great Lakes Basin in 1985 alone! Think about that for a second.
341,000 tonnes in one year; not pounds but tonnes! That's only one year! I mean where does it all go?" Reid looked up to where the wide mouth of the St. Lawrence
River meets Lake Ontario and pondered the toxicity under the surface.
"Harsh," said Reid. "Very harsh."
Their pace quickened as they ran in silence for a moment along the waterfront.
The November wind blew against their bare faces as they ran along the
"Ten, twenty years of that and you
have a wasteland full of chemicals and toxins that can't
be good for the
human body." Their pace quickened as they ran in silence for a moment along the
"To me it sounds all the same:
unaccountable corporations wrecking Nature for shareholders' profit. We've
grown up in a world where screwing up the water supply and clear-cutting the
land is the norm."
"Eastman Kodak was responsible
for 3,600 tonnes of toxins alone," said Drake, long legs increasing
rapidity. While running Drake's speech came in bursts between every couple of
"The mammoth chimera rears it ugly
head again," he said, a feeling of powerlessness came over him. "No one can
stop it. And I hate it when you can't do anything about something that is so
wrong. It makes me want to scream." Reid picked-up his pace to keep up as they
passed the hospital. "I don't think I even had any perspective anymore."
"The public is so numbed by the
magnitude of the numbers that it loses its significance." .
"Yes, factual numbing. People
don't seem to notice whether it's 341,000 pounds or tonnes, or for that matter
what toxic even means." Drake took a few deep
breaths as the chorus of seagulls overhead drowned out his last words.
"You're right. What's another
million tonnes of toxic waste dumped into Lake Ontario?" Heading towards the
marina beside the penitentiary, Reid looked across at Wolfe Island and saw a
limestone church perched on the hill.
"Taylor was telling me that this
stretch of water freezes in the winter," said Drake. "And that you can cross
the ice if you're daring enough."
"Are you sure it freezes?"
"When Taylor's brother was here he
crossed it but apparently it's pretty hairy."
"I don't know. It looks pretty far."
"He said it was a sort of mark of
distinction if you could cross it. You know Taylor, he's in to that kind of
"Yeah, he's a bit of an extremist."
They both ran and studied the body of water to Wolfe Island for a few moments.
"If you're up to it we should try it
this winter." Reid didn't think it was possible.
"Sure. If you
do it then I'll think about it." Only the sounds of their breath at regular
intervals and the cold rubber soles gripping the boardwalk could be heard as
the path veered close to the water's edge. Drake let out a short laugh.
"Remember that Will Durant
quote I told you about?"
"The one about the banks?"
"Yeah. If you remember, I think
it goes: Civilization is a stream with banks. The
stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting,
and doing the things historians usually record; while on the banks, unnoticed,
people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry, and
even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened
on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the
ran in silence for a moment.
"Yes, the banks."
"Taylor liked the quote so much
that he now refers to ‘the arts' as `the
banks.' Then he
started to get carried away," Drake said, trying to suppress his laughter. "He
said `Oliver Stone is an awesome banker' to Alex with a straight face. He
didn't understand what Taylor was talking about when he referred to something
as `a good bank' or `a cool bank.' The only thing Alex could do
was assume that the person was good with their money." They both laughed.
"That's funny because last night
Taylor after the film he said in all earnestness to these two girls we met that
he had been off to do some banking. And then he said the film `was only a trust company.'
He said that the novel it was based on was `definitely
not a full chartered bank,' despite the fact that the author who had written the book the film
was based on was an `international banker' who had been translated into
many languages. Taylor had a field day with it." They rounded the corner
at the main intersection and headed down to the riverbank trail.
"You know, I've been thinking
about you and your keeping-your-eye-on-the-prize strategy, and I have concluded
that I can't agree with it. My conclusion is a pretty simple concept, but then
simple is good." The air was crisp under the overcast haze as they ran for
a few moments in silence.
"You mean sticking with commerce?"
"Yeah, that was how this conclusion
came about. I played it through and it doesn't work."
"And how's that?"
"Okay, if someone has a goal to
become the world's best widget-maker let's say, they would spend their time
studying and working hard at becoming the best one they can be. Right?"
"Conceivably, they could spend
thirty or so years of their productive lives trying to achieve their goal but
never make it."
"Never make it?"
"Or they could make it. The point is
what happens when you finally make it to that point? You become the best
widget-maker and then what? It's a fleeting moment; reaching your goal is just a sliver of time." As Drake spoke he used his hands to emphasize his points. "Let's say
you find out that you're the best widget-maker in the world on your fifty-fifth
birthday. You're ecstatic and you drink some beer and celebrate your
accomplishment, but inevitably you wake up the next day and then what do you
do? After you reach your goal then what?"
Drake was looking at Reid whose eyes were now on the wet ground in front
of his feet. He caught Drake's eye.
"I don't know Draca, what do you do
afterwards?" They ran beside the massive cement
walls in front of the Kingston Penitentiary.
"You go work the next day and do the
same thing that you have been doing as before. Nothing changes. You have reached
your goal, and then you continue what you have been doing before that point in
time. See, the amount of time it takes to reach that sliver of time is far
greater than the end itself, and therefore the act
of reaching has
more significance that the point of having reached."
"So the end doesn't justify the
"Right. The trick is that the end
doesn't justify the means, rather the means is the
end. It's the
day to day that matters most. The goal isn't that fleeting moment of reaching
the end; the end is ironically in the everyday." Drake looked over to him as
they passed the Olympic Harbour, his long legs worked with an even flow of
energy that showed an understated coordination.
"I guess that's what Henry
David Thoreau meant when he said `A day is the
epitome of a year,'"
"It's a teleological
Reid didn't know what `teleological' meant and he didn't have the
breath to ask.
"So it's about squeezing as much toothpaste out of the tube of life as you can."
As they crossed the intersection at
the foot of the hill, a bus that had turned left spewed harsh exhaust out of
its bowels just as they ran through its wake of fumes. Reid held his breath for
a brief moment to try to avoid it. Up the hill there was a misplaced telephone pole
on the left side of the sidewalk between the sidewalk and the road so Drake
took the lead through the tight spot.
In front of a limestone church called The Good Thief St. Dismas, Reid
passed him when he slowed his pace. As Reid pressed on with the top of the hill
in sight he couldn't hear the pitter-patter of Drake's shoes. Taking a quick
glance behind him and saw Drake kneeling down on one knee on a grassy knoll in
front of the spired church. He stopped. At first sight it looked like Drake was
throwing up, but his hands were grabbing at his chest.
"Drake, are you okay?" He ran
back to him. Drake had fallen back on the grass and was struggling to breath.
He was violently sucking in air as if in a seizure. "Drake! Can you hear
me?" His body was completely limp between gasps for breath. He pulled
Drake upright to keep his air passage straight to enable easier breathing. Then
he had immediate eye contact with a man in the first passing car. When he
raised his hand the car stopped in the middle of the road holding up traffic.
The driver opened the back door as he hauled Drake by his armpits into the
backseat, holding Drake propped up straight so his windpipe was unobstructed.
The violent gasps for air grew further apart from a few seconds to four- and
soon to ten-second intervals.
Drake's pallor became dull green,
even a shade of blue. His six-foot, four-inch body was fighting to keep alive
by the might of contracting muscles to get air in his lungs. The driver passed
cars on the shoulder of the road and beeped his horn at every car he passed,
his middle-aged wife looking at them with terror in her eyes. She held her hand
over her mouth but then turned back to the front to watch her husband drive
recklessly on the shoulder, straddling the curb when he had to. For a second
Reid thought they were going to crash. He was beeping his horn when they pulled
up to the emergency. Immediately hospital personnel appeared outside and opened
the car door.
"What happened?" asked the
"He collapsed when we were
running!" They saw Drake's limp body and blue face. With the stretcher
already beside the car, he was rushed through the sliding doors. He hadn't
breathed for at least a minute.
Reid stood on the driveway relieved
to have the body in the hands of doctors. The driver stood beside the car
looking at him through the corner of his eye. He wanted to tell him to leave me
alone but there was something in his eyes that was kind and compassionate.
Thoughts raced through Reid's mind in jammed confusion
"What happened son?" The
driver's face was blank. "Son?"
"We were running and he keeled
over, then he started to struggle. He couldn't breathe. Then you, and
now..." Reid put his fingers through his hair, his forehead still warm from
the run. The woman had walked around to the driver's side of the car moving
with motherly assertiveness.
"Come dear," she said, reaching
for his arm. "You must be in shock." She gave Reid a hug and he shivered
from the cold air blowing off the lake.