Victoria’s Terry Fox Run got me thinking about political correctness.
Last Sunday, I participated with my running pal Gord. It took place at Mile Zero, where Terry Fox’s incredible trek across Canada in 1981 was supposed to finish (he died of cancer before reaching our city).
The Terry Fox Run is a terrific event that happens next to a statue of Fox. There was a band playing the Eagles and Van Morrison, kilted bagpipers, flag-wavers, speeches, porta-potties, free snacks and coffee. Everyone was smiling and chatting, even though we’d got up early instead of sleeping in like normal people.
There were plenty of dogs, too. I took our pug, Ollie. Sadly, he immediately disgraced himself by urinating on (1) the wheel of a young woman’s wheelchair, and (2) a blue canvas bag at one of the snack booths.
“Bad dog, bad dog,” I said, while the people munching complimentary bagels grinned.
As part of the event, the organizers played a vintage radio report created by broadcaster Barry Bowman just after Fox’s death 34 years ago.
It was well done. I noticed Bowman used the word “dead” a few times, instead of “passed away” or “untimely end” or whatever. That seemed slightly jarring. And I realized that these days, we avoid the word “dead” in regular discourse, even though it’s a perfectly good word. Why? Because it reminds us the dead person is, well, dead.
I think the PC word today is “passed,” as though the deceased just nipped out to the store for a pack of gum or something.
At the Terry Fox Run, you could get your head shaved. Shaved heads are a de rigueur part of the culture of cancer fundraisers. That’s fine. I always decline, though, because my shaved head would look more like a great big pumpkin than a human head.
The announcers didn’t call it a “head shave,” however. They called it a “hairdo.” This, to me, seemed curious. A hairdo is something you get for your wedding or the high-school prom.
But I know why they called it a “hairdo.” It’s because “head shave” seems too literal and coarse, like saying someone’s dead or something.
As we started running, I mentioned the hairdo thing to Gord. He had noticed it, too, as well as the jarring death references. I told Gord it reminds me of how people — even educated people — call problems “issues” these days instead of problems.
That’s because the word “problem” implies you have a problem. And nobody likes that. How much better and less offensive to have an “issue.”
“I’m having an ‘issue’ with my health,” you’ll say.
“Really?” your friend will say.
“Yes,” you’ll say. “In fact, this issue is so dire, there’s a chance I will soon become someone who has passed.”
“Well, can you get me a pack of gum while you’re there?” your friend will say.
And then you have to explain to him that you have some horrible disease.
I think when it comes to political correctness and folk who run across Canada to raise awareness and money to fight cancer, we’re doing someone a grave disservice. I don’t mean Terry Fox, who of course was a wonderful and brave young man. I’m talking about Steve Fonyo.
Here’s the thing. Fonyo, the subject of a new bio-documentary, Hurt, managed to complete his cross-Canada run. He, too, had just one leg. He, too, ran for cancer awareness and to raise money.
Fonyo received the Order of Canada (as Fox did) for his remarkable achievement. But it was taken away because Fonyo failed to live up to his hero status.
He got in trouble with the law. Fonyo bounced cheques, drove drunk and assaulted people. He battled cocaine addiction. Sometimes, he was homeless.
That’s not what heroes are supposed to be like.
But I think it was wrong to take away Fonyo’s Order of Canada. In the name of fighting cancer, he hopped across the country on one leg — about 5,000 kilometres as the crow flies. He raised $13 million for cancer research. That achievement doesn’t disappear, no matter what the tides and eddies of politically correct opinion might dictate at any given moment.
To our credit, Victoria hasn’t renamed Steve Fonyo Beach (the beach where he ended his run).
But last Sunday, at the Terry Fox Run, it seemed a bit sad poor old Steve didn’t get a quick tip-of-the-tuque.