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A Lesson from Gord Downie:
Live Like You’re Dying
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Whether you’re a huge Tragically Hip fan, or you have no idea who they are or what kind of music they play, most Canadians now know Gord Downie. We’ve all been touched by his personal story, perhaps due to his celebrity, but more likely because he showed us how to live each day to the brim, because we really don’t know how many we have left.
Downie was Canadian through and through. A Kingston, Ont. native, he turned his high school band into a lifelong career, with passion, hard work and pure joy. In December 2015, while living that dream, the frontman for the Tragically Hip found out he had terminal brain cancer. First, it would rob him of his ability to do what he loved – write lyrics and perform – and then rob him of his life at only 53.
Between that dire diagnosis and his death less than two years later, Downie never asked “Why me?” or gave up on life. Instead, he really lived in the face of death. He celebrated life, connected with family, friends and fans of all ages, and accomplished so much to make the world a better place. That’s as much his legacy as the decades of music that will remain.
Rather than taking it easy, he continued to perform in a final whirlwind cross-country tour with the Tragically Hip. His farewell album, just released, is full of great stories of love and life, emotion and inspiration.
Downie would surely agree that his most important accomplishment was to shed some light on the plight of Canada’s Indigenous people, through the poignant story of Chanie Wenjack. Chanie was just 12 years old when, in 1966, he died of hunger and exposure while trying to find his way back home after escaping from one of Canada’s many residential schools. Downie created an album, book and film called Secret Path to highlight Chanie’s story so we never forget or repeat this dark spot in Canada’s history. Through his charity, the Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund, all proceeds from Secret Path will be donated to the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.
Like many icons we’ve said goodbye to in the last couple of years, Downie’s death is another reality check. We mourn the loss of someone we didn’t know personally, but had an impact on our lives. For more information on this topic, read Celebrity Death and Our Own Mortality.
Downie influenced generations with his music, his desire to make the world a better place, and the way he connected with people. With his energy and passion, we half expected him to live forever. Celebrities have a way of making us face the reality that we are human and mortal, which is why it’s so important to live each day to the fullest. That way of thinking helps us to savour each precious moment, do our best to inspire and aspire, and accept our own mortality.
Downie’s music will keep his spirit alive, but he will live on for all that he accomplished in the face of death. That is an inspiration for us to live like we’re dying.