courtesy John Yates
I met John while Christmas shopping at the mall. It was in a pop-up lounge where I was taking a break with a cup of coffee and about to check my Instagram feed.
An empty chair was beside me and he asked if he could take the seat. He was dressed in dark clothing with fun bright blue socks and his silver hair loosely brushed back.
“Isn’t it wonderful that they offer this?” he said as he pointed to the gift-wrapping station. “I’m not much for gift wrapping but I love shopping for my grandchildren.”
He spoke a lot about his daughter and her young children, and a grandson who was considering a football scholarship to a prestigious Canadian university.
“All of my family attended Queen’s University,” which was a big coincidence since that too was my alma mater. I remember him saying that forty some-odd of his ancestors attended there, where I was the only one from mine.
From talking about family to work, John and I spoke for quite a while.
He told me that he’s ‘a lawyer by day, and dancer by night’. I asked him coyly, “What type of a dancer are you?” and he said enthusiastically, “Latin”.
“I was doing a lot of work in the mining industry in Costa Rica and other Latin American countries and really took to the dancing,” he said. “So I learned how to dance and now compete.”
John also told me that he was living at his daughter’s house for a period of time, because his house on Toronto’s lakeshore burned down and he was in the process of rebuilding.
“I had just left an hour before to go to a dance competition and got a call that my house was on fire.”
There was speculation that it was caused by a lit cigarette butt getting blown into one of his planters from a neighbour's balcony and sparking the fertilizer in the soil. On the same phone where he proudly showed me photos of his grandson, he also showed me a photo of a beautiful white building engulfed in flames.
I asked him what its like to watch your house burn down.
As if he was talking to the fire, he said, “I looked at it and thought, you’ll take a few days from me and that’s it.”
While he lay in bed at his daughter’s house, he thought of what he lost in the fire and found a way to get closure.
“I said to the shoes I used to wear, you’re now going to shoe heaven where no one will ever walk on you again.”
And to his vast collection of prized art and paintings, he said to them, “Goodbye to the little people who lived inside the vignettes on the canvas. You can now leave and walk freely.”
To John, this was ‘bookending’.
Another step to closure had him host a party to say goodbye to his home. At the generosity of a friend with a penthouse apartment he did just that, which even included inviting the firefighters who tried to save his house.
And as John looks forward to this summer he’ll be dancing to a new song as he moves into his new home. Hopefully hosting another fabulous party.