Hump Day: Don’t confuse willingness to believe with mere gullibility

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2014
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

Journalists, newspaper columnists and media people who’ve been in the public eye to varying degrees for a number of years all have tales to tell. Some good. Some bad. In my case, thankfully, it’s all mostly good.

The good part is the many people who contact you to tell you that they like what you do. That’s always very nice and it’s certainly always a boost to the ego. I love hearing from people who’ve been touched in some fashion by a column – either emotionally or because it made them laugh. Or perhaps because a rant of mine that they read perfectly reflected what they’ve been thinking all along.

Once in a while, though, the odd ducks come out to play. There was the woman who emailed me years ago about a missing person’s case. They knew the entire story of what happened and would tell me everything in an interview. Sure, I’d love to talk to you, ma’am. But before I called her (which I had no intention of doing), I contacted the RCMP and let them know. Within an hour, they were knocking on her door. She immediately recanted her story. I guess she just wanted to feel important and thought this was a way to do it. Talk about something that backfired!

Then there was the anonymous online stalker who’s no longer anonymous after a very expensive day in court. And then there was the usual nastiness that most people who put themselves out there in the public eye have to put up with. The emailed insults and the vitriolic comments left on blogs and various social media outlets. All part of the so-called freedom of speech they all claim to love until you shine a light on the cockroaches and they all scurry away back into the darkness.

Last week, I wrote about the passing of my uncle. Interwoven with that story was information about my father. I’ve mentioned their names in my columns and on my website. If you take the time to search, it’s not difficult to find obituaries and a bunch of other personal information. I’m not that private of a person and am a writer, so if you want to find out something about me, I’ve probably mentioned it at some point in one of the approximately 450 Hump Day columns I’ve written since 2005.

Now, I’m not a cynical person by nature. I’ve written about this topic a number of times.I think politicians are pretty good people who want to do good work for the community – at least most of them. I don’t think most rich people got to where they’re at through fraud and deceit. I’m pretty sure that most of them worked darn hard to get where they are today. What’s a rich person doing when a jealous person is sitting on their sofa complaining about how corrupt the rich person is? Well, they’re probably working. I can assure you they’re not sitting on their sofa whining about others.

And I’ve also written a number of times about spirituality. I’ve read a number of books on the subject and I know what I believe. I’m definitely not an atheist – not in the least. But I’m definitely not a Bible-thumper either. And yes, you can be very spiritual without believing every single word in the Bible. And no, I don’t read the never-ending slew of letters in the newspaper debating the real meaning of Bible quotations. At this point, that ad nauseum debate is just white noise to me. My eyes glaze over and I just ignore it. There’s only so much I can take.

psychicI tell you all this because someone tried to play me last week – and I’m not sure if they were trying to be nice or trying to be a jerk. I think they were like that person who called me about the missing person. I think they just wanted to feel important. Well, just so that you know if you’re reading this, you failed miserably in your mission.

I received an email from an individual who claimed – for all intents and purposes – to have channelled the spirits of my father and uncle. In their email, which they didn’t sign,they wrote a number of messages. Miraculously, they knew the names of my father and uncle. They knew the name of my dog. They knew that my uncle had three children whose names started with the letter ‘T.’

They also claimed my father acknowledged the various signs that he’d sent my way – including the phantom telephone call on the day after he died and the butterflies chasing each other in front of my windshield on the day after my uncle died.

For a split second,I was like, ‘Wow! This is incredible!’ The next second, I was rolling my eyes at how bloody awful the author of the anonymous email was at trying to trick me. Everything in the email was stuff from their obituaries or details you can find out about me online. My dog’s name is Milane. You can find that on my website, in columns and on my publicly accessible ‘Brian ‍Cormier‍’‍s Readers’ Facebook page. These were hardly state secrets embedded on a computer chip and swallowed by a CIA agent before jumping into a volcano to be instantly cremated.

So I kept note of the email address. And, like other odd emails I get, I Googled the address and found out some information about them through comments they’ve left online in the past. I could probably be knocking on their door within an hour just by making a few phone calls and searching a few things online. It’s not difficult, but I won’t.

It just goes to say that being open-minded about something doesn’t mean being gullible. Yeah, I’m open-minded about psychics, but don’t walk up to me on the street and tell me I’m balding and expect me to hand you over my life savings for being so incredibly gifted as a psychic. My intuition for hoaxes is pretty much like a laser beam. I can smell a ruse a mile away, so before you try to pull one over on me, you’ll have to do better than that you Amazing Kreskin wannabe. Don’t quit your day job.

Hump Day: Sometimes evidence of ‍afterlife seems right before our eyes – and ears

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Sept. 3, 2014
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

Tuesday, Aug. 26, was the second anniversary of the passing of my father. At the time, little did I know that, exactly two years later, my uncle Cammy Cormier would be fighting for his life in the hospital. And little did I know that exactly two years (to the hour!) after I stood alongside Cammy and peered down at my father lying in bed, his soul having departed this earth, that Cammy’s family would be doing the same for him.

He was the last of my father’s siblings. They’re all gone now – and I still can’t believe it. Luckily, we have photos and videos to remember them all by, including some precious home movies from the 1960s.

Cammy was diagnosed in January with stomach cancer. Despite some ups and downs and dashed hopes at keeping the cancer at bay through chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, eventually it became obvious that there was no hope. He accepted it with dignity and kept on joking to the end. While I’m sure there were moments of sadness and fear, the stages of grief worked their way through, as they always do.

I was deeply impressed at how welcoming he remained throughout his illness. He didn’t hide and remained active. He didn’t push people away. He graciously accepted visitors and was always appreciative. He and my aunt Marguerite raised a very close-knit family of three children and had eight grandchildren. Family was very important to him.

The day Cammy died, my mind was on my own father since it was the second anniversary of his passing. Of course, it’s easier now, but anniversaries are always a bit melancholy. I knew Cammy’s time was coming and remember telling my father that day (in my head, of course) that it was time to go get Cammy. He was so sick and he was suffering. Luckily, he had not been in much pain during his illness, but at the end it was obvious that he was in some level of physical discomfort. It was time to go.

I’m not sure what your belief system is, so perhaps you think this is all some sort of hocus-pocus, but I’m a big believer in an existence beyond what we know in the physical world here. I experienced a sign on the day after my father died that he was OK. Now, I know what you may be thinking, “Oh that Brian Cormier chap has finally snapped! He’s smelled too much newspaper ink after all these years and he’s hallucinating.” Well, maybe and maybe not.

Telephone ringingOn the day after my father died, I was talking to my mother on the telephone (about my father, of course) when the telephone handset in my bedroom started ringing out of control in a ringtone I’d never heard in my life. It couldn’t be a call coming in. I was already using another handset and the line was busy. Besides, I don’t have call waiting anyway. So as the handset rang, my mother asked me what that noise was. I told her the telephone in my bedroom was ringing off the hook for some reason in some weird ringtone I’d never heard. How could that be? We were already on the telephone!

Finally – half in jest and half not – I declared that it must be Dad and that he was just letting us know that he’d arrived at his destination safely. It had never happened before and it has never happened since. Can I prove it was a sign? Of course not. Am I convinced it was a sign? Absolutely. (By the way, I did answer the phantom call, but the only ones on the line were my mother and me. Or were we really the only ones?)

On the 27th, the day after Cammy died, I was driving by The Moncton Hospital, where both Cammy and my father had passed away, and was thinking of them. They’d died at suppertime on Aug. 26, which was a beautiful warm and sunny evening in both 2012 and 2014. As I was thinking of them, two white butterflies started chasing each other directly in front my windshield.

Of course, I immediately took it as a sign that it was Dad and Cammy letting me know that Dad had heard my plea to him the day before, had gone to get Cammy and now they were both free from sickness. Again, can I prove it? Nope. But do I believe it? Yup. For the record, I don’t ever remember two butterflies chasing each other right in front my windshield before. Coincidence? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

I’ve heard all kinds of stories about signs that people who have recently died have sent to loved ones to let them know they’re OK and that their energy still lives on. Who am I to argue with them? The butterfly sign could be a stretch, but I’m wholly convinced the telephone ringing with that bizarre sound was a big nudge from the beyond that Dad was safely with the rest of his family who’d passed before him.

A retired firefighter with 25 years of experience with the Moncton Fire Department, Cammy was known for never being in a bad mood and always quick with a joke. He had the loud Cormier laugh reminiscent of his mother – my grandmother – whose laugh could pierce through a room like a bullet.

I was particularly touched during visitation at the funeral home when an honour guard of Moncton firefighters held vigil as a sign of respect for Cammy. I was honoured to be a pallbearer at the funeral, and as we descended the steps of the church with his casket toward the waiting hearse that would bring him to his final resting place, I was touched again by the salute he was given by the honour guard of honourary pallbearers from the Moncton Fire Department who were lined up on each side of his casket.

Rest in peace, Cammy. You’re no longer sick and are somewhere where illness doesn’t exist. I can hear that laugh piercing through the clouds now. Yes, you’re free.

International Literacy Day Forum in Moncton on Monday, Sept. 8

MRLC logo
The Moncton Regional Learning Council cordially invites you to attend the International Literacy Day Forum on Monday, Sept. 8, from 9 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Moncton Lions Community Centre, 473 St. George Street, Moncton. Registration will start at 8:30 a.m. A continental breakfast will be available.

Low literacy continues to be a critical issue in this province on many fronts, from economic growth to public health. Forum attendees will gain a better understanding of the impact of low functional literacy skills among our older youth and adults and how we can achieve significant improvements by working together.

To help meet the Forum’s objectives and to set the stage for the subsequent discussion, you will hear from a panel of local experts:
• Deanna Allen, Executive Director of Laubach Literacy New Brunswick
• Michelina Mancuso, Executive Director – Performance Measurement, New Brunswick Health Council
• Nadine Duguay, Executive Director, 21inc.
• David Campbell, President, Jupia Consultants

Guest speakers at the event will include:
• Marilyn Luscombe, President and CEO, New Brunswick Community College
• Kathy DeWitt, Manager of Employment and Recruitment, City of Moncton
• Jules Côté, a 19-year-old Moncton resident whose literacy journey continues to inspire

The Moncton Regional Learning Council, a member of Laubach Literacy New Brunswick, has been helping older youth and adult learners improve their literacy skills through a one-on-one, free and confidential tutoring program for more than 35 years.

Admission to the Moncton Literacy Forum is free of charge, but your presence and participation are priceless. We hope you will join us. To help with the planning and catering arrangements, we kindly ask that you RSVP by Friday, Sept. 5, to Peter Sawyer at petersawyer@bellaliant.net. If you require more information, please do not hesitate to call Peter at 388-3013.

Happy Labour Day!

Labour Day

Happy Labour Day! Enjoy!

Hump Day: ‘Charity as a business’ might not be popular, but it is practical

Hump DayHump Day
By Brian Cormier
Wednesday, Aug. 27, 2014
Moncton Times & Transcript
Editorial section

I find there’s a disturbing holier-than-thou trend on social media lately toward registered charities and their legitimate fundraising activities.

The most recent sample is criticism of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the past month, you would have seen some of the many videos being posted online of everyone from politicians, business leaders and young people who are raising money for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The disease eventually leads to weakness due to muscle atrophy and difficulty in speaking, swallowing and breathing and is ultimately fatal; there is currently no cure. Many patients remain fully aware of what is happening as the disease progresses. Tragic!

To say there are numerous videos posted online is the understatement of the century. Every political leader and business leader worth his or her salt is doing it. There are boring videos, funny videos, touching videos and downright strange ones, too. Each person tags three friends. If the friend doesn’t take the challenge, they have to make a donation. (Many people make a donation anyway.)

According to a CTV news report posted to the network’s website on Monday, ALS Canada has raised nearly $6 million since July 29, while the ALS Society of Canada has raised $5 million. In the U.S., the ALS Association has raised more than $70 million. Meanwhile, the equivalent association in the UK has raised more than $1 million.

It’s a phenomenon, to say the least – and marketing genius. I can’t remember a viral fundraising campaign that’s been so successful so fast. I’m sure there’ll be imitators popping up all over the Internet at some point. You can be sure the marketing staff at every charity in the world are looking for the next Ice Bucket Challenge right now.

Of course, the Ice Bucket Challenge has its detractors. Environmentalists say it wastes water. Some wonder how in the world the ALS-related charities can deal with such an unexpected windfall. Others say you shouldn’t give to disease-specific charities and besides, the Ice Bucket Challenge videos are one-offs. People who donate will never donate again. (Better to get it once than never, I say!) Others are just annoyed that the videos are taking over Facebook, Twitter and the media in general.

It makes me want to scream with frustration. A charity comes up with a fundraising phenomenon of epic proportions, raises millions of dollars and has everyone talking about it. Awareness is through the roof. Even if many aren’t experts on the disease because they just wanted to get in on the fun, it just makes sense that by the law of averages a certain number of people will continue giving to ALS for years to come. Even if the various charities only retain 15 per cent of donors, this would be tremendous success. Personally, I congratulate ALS on coming up with such a popular idea. If others complain, it’s because they’re green with envy. Good for you, and shame on them.

This week, the 100 Men Who Care of Greater Moncton group had its inaugural meeting. There’s also a 100 Women Who Care of Greater Moncton group that began earlier. The premise of the group is that 100 people join the organization and then nominate a charity. Before the meeting, three charities are picked to make presentations. Afterwards, a vote is taken and the winning charity is written a $100 cheque by each member – meaning $10,000 to one charity in one shot.

It’s a godsend to many charities, for sure, and a way for a group of strangers to come together and make a significant financial impact without breaking their own bank. The receiving charity then provides tax receipts to the donors. The meetings take place four times per year, meaning four $10,000 windfalls to local charities.

CharityWhen I joined the men’s group and started to promote it, I was surprised that a number of people were quite critical. It was discrimination to just have men! It’s also discrimination to just have women! Maybe a competing organization should be set up for those who want a co-ed group. Well, sure! Why not? Fill your boots! But discrimination? Really? Are we that politically correct that a group of one gender getting together to do good in the community is somehow ‘evil’ (for the lack of a better word) just because everyone happens to be the same sex? I don’t get it.

The other day, I saw something that made my jaw drop. A Facebook friend publicly advocated that we shouldn’t donate to cancer-related charities. A video was shared talking about conspiracy theories about pharmaceutical companies, how money was being spent on highly paid staff, etc. All this feel-good stuff like Run for the Cure was just a big useless waste of time, apparently.

Seriously? I have a bulletin for naysayers: you have to spend money to make money. I’ve seen charities that live on shoestrings. They rely on volunteers. They pay their staff next to nothing along with few benefits and long hours. They act like impoverished victims. And guess what? They raise little to no money and are certainly not as effective as they could be.

Charitable organizations are business. They do a lot of good. They fund research. They raise awareness. They provide services to those who need them. And yes, they have staff and offices. And – God forbid – some people are paid well, too! If you want to make money, you have to spend money. I’ve always believed that, especially for charities. We need to stop demanding that charities act like victims and start demanding that they act like dynamic, innovative businesses so they can properly serve their target audiences.