Heart Matters By Adrienne Clarkson
This has been an eagerly awaited autobiography by a well know Canadian public figure. Adrienne Clarkson is also something of an icon to many Canadian women of my age and older - she is exactly half way in age between my own age and my mothers - she is, in a sense, of both generations. I can remember my mother watching Adrienne Clarkson on Take Thirty. Who can forget the wonderful episodes with Madame Benoit! Adrienne Clarkson tells us about the filming of these shows, and of the love story of Madame Benoit's life. This is the sort of gem that makes this book a treasure to read. Did you know that the poet Leonard Cohen sang for the fist time in public on Take Thirty in 1966? Now you do. Adrienne Clarkson reveals her life, the public and the personal in roughly chronological order, from her young childhood in Hong Kong, growing up in Ottawa, and her University years in Toronto.
She tells of her relationship with her handsome, dashing and always supportive father; and her more troubled relationship with her moody and distant mother. Adrienne writes about knowing her mother in her old age, the difference in how one sees one’s mother as we age - perhaps with more compassion and sympathy. One of the most poignant passages in the book is “I realized that my mother had been pretty miserable for most of her life.” And “So we had to live our lives side by side with that misery and accept the obsession she had for her children as the deepest form of love that she could give”. There were years of heart breaking estrangement from her own daughters, after Adrienne’s fist marriage ended in bitter divorce, but she now has a close and loving relationship with her daughters, to her great delight.
Diagnosed with a heart condition in recent years and now living with a pace maker, Adrienne reflects on her life journey. In her preface Adrienne states “Of course, I had long believed that we must live every day of our lives as though it were going to be our last.
Yet, paradoxically we must take the long-term view that we will continue to have a future.” This she has done, personally and professionally.
The death of an infant daughter was an early lesson in the fragility of life. She writes, “When the worst thing you think can happen to you happens, you realize that in a way it has indemnified you against everything.” She states that she had to accept this death in order to continue, and that “if you cannot be spared suffering, you can be given the strength to bear it.”
This very personal story is balanced by the tales of Adrienne Clarkson's years as Canada's Governor General. Here she relates meetings with world leaders. She tells us of having met Russian president Vladimir Putin in Canada in the year 2000, and having to listen to the Russian Federations new anthem. During a moment of quiet conversation she told him that she had always admired the beautiful old Russian anthem, even during the worst Soviet years. Two years later during a state visit to Russia Putin told her they had changed back because she had told him to!
I especially loved the description of Adrienne's visit with the charming and witty Queen Mother, and her reflections on the British Royal Family. I laughed out loud as Adrienne describes her bathtub overflowing in Windsor Castle; and a meeting with a fellow guest who apologies for his curt first encounter with her in a hallway when he “thought you were just someone's wife”. She couldn’t miss the opportunity to say "Well, I'm that too.”
Another touching passage for me was Adrienne’s description of her trip to Normandy with Canadian veterans in 2004.
My father was one of those veterans and came home charmed by the woman, and in great admiration of our Governor General, who showed both her statesmanship in her speeches, and her compassion for her people at the graveside of Canadian soldiers killed in France. She later travelled to Holland and saw first hand the love the Dutch have for Canada, as the people of Apeldoorn stood in the rain to greet her.
I attended many liberation ceremonies in Holland with my father who fought there and know how overwhelming the experience is, and how very proud one is to be a Canadian when faced with the appreciation of the Dutch people for the actions of our soldiers in the Second World War.
This is a fascinating tale - the true life adventures of a Canadian woman of Chinese heritage who let neither of those facts prevent her from living the life her father dreamed for her. She is a brave woman indeed to share it with us.