I had the privilege of hearing David Suzuki speak about his latest book, Letters to My Grandchildren last night in an event sponsored, in part, by Bryan Prince Booksellers. The event was held at the vintage Westdale Theatre in Hamilton. It was an inspiring evening spent with friends and started with book signing followed by a traditional aboriginal greeting by Dr. Rick Monture which included giving thanks for the plants, the animal, the land and everything that keeps us healthy and happy.
Suzuki signed our books with a fountain pen (green ink symbolic of the environment) and he took his time, carefully blotting the writing to avoid smudging. The timing was quick so unfortunately I did not get a picture (or at least one with my entire head) to add to the blog post but it was nice to get our books signed before the talk avoiding the crowds following the event.
As Suzuki started his presentation, he told the crowd that this presentation was different from his usual talks as he was not lecturing about the environment (at least not directly) but was reflecting to the audience by reading the letters he penned to his six grandchildren in his special role as an elder. He shared that he has lived, made mistakes, learned from those mistakes and that his job as an elder is to pass this wisdom on to his children and grandchildren.
He regrets that he never had a real conversation with his own grandparents – they only spoke Japanese and since his parents had wanted their children to be “good Canadians” in the years after WWII, Suzuki only learned to speak English and French. Without speaking Japanese, he lost the chance to ask them questions and understand what they experienced moving to Canada and being placed in internment camps during the war.
He noted that he could “kick the bucket” any time as he was in the “death zone” so he wrote the book to “flesh out what my grandchildren should know about my life.” Suzuki challenged the audience to be their “best selves” and to live life with compassion, integrity and commitment and to “get off the couch, off the golf course and get on with the important part of life”. He wanted to trigger other elders to share their life stories and encourage the youth to ask questions of their elders.
He espoused the values of family. His father was his hero – he was expected to work hard, to be a model for his younger siblings yet he loved camping, fishing and gardening. He spent time with David despite his own parents encouraging him use his time to make money – for this David was grateful. Suzuki cherishes the time that he moved in with his father to care for him at the end of his life. His father told him that he had been a rich man (Suzuki laughed and told the audience that he was terrible with his money and that he and his sister had been subsidizing him) , he was rich due to his family. They spent their remaining time together talking, laughing and crying. His father was proud of the time he spent with people but never spoke of the stuff that he accumulated which is a good lesson in a time where families keep buying things. He also spoke of his mother – “the kindest, most considerate person” who kept her own name in a time when this was unheard of. She cared, selflessly for her family while at the same time maintaining her job.
Suzuki inspired the audience to get outside as his pet peeve is too much TV, computers, video games. He said that the average Canadian child only spends 8 minutes outside each day and he challenged us to go outside, to unplug and to experience the real world!
He shared that he used to feel that climate change was happening slowly but now realizes that we don’t have time to wait and that government needs to realize that the environment is more important than the economy as “what we put into the air, we put into ourselves”. He challenged us to think about the importance of clean air, of clean water, of food and of sunlight – the basic requirements for life. As an atheist, he believes that it is a privilege to live, that “we have one shot, it is important what we do with this one shot”.
He ended the event by reading the individual, heartfelt letters that he wrote to each of his 6 grandchildren. “Grandpa has to get the last word in” and he hoped that the audience could assimilate some of his ideas into our own lives and families. Suzuki had an energy and presence that was very motivating.
He is a wonderful orator and you would never guess that he is 79 years old. He was honest in sharing some of the lessons he learned along the way – the importance of team work, that in a fight there is a winner and a loser and the importance family. He has worked hard and dedicated himself to making the world a better place starting with his own family. It was a fantastic evening and I hope to have an opportunity to hear him speak again!