This past year has been distinctive for me in many ways, not the least of which is the fact that the angel of death has taken away too many people from my life. As the English poet John Donne once said – “Each man's death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind”.
Some of these have been what I call “virtual friends”, and by that I mean people that I may not have known personally, but who still nonetheless were important to me for cultural, traditional, emotional or philosophical reasons. The prime example of these have been the tens of thousands, and perhaps even hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians that have died at the hands of brutal and barbaric Russian invaders. I may not have known or met them personally, but their untimely departure from this earth has been painful to bear. Had historical circumstances been a little different, I too might have become a tragic victim like them. Their deaths have diminished me, and also regrettably, my faith in mankind to a significant degree.
Then, too, there has been no shortage of people that I have known personally prematurely “shuffling off their mortal coil”. The latest of these was Steve Andrusiak, whose funeral I attended last week. Steve is probably best known for being one of the founding members of the Ukrainian band Rushnychok, that dominated the Ukrainian music scene for over a decade in the 1970s and set the standard for all the many Ukrainian bands that followed. Rushnychok provided the musical soundtrack to my generation of Canadian-born Ukrainians growing up in Canada.
Although well remembered for his musical talents and achievements, Steve was multi-dimensional when it came to his creativity. He had a distinguished career in Canadian broadcasting, working for both the CBC and CTV in many different roles ranging from reporter, producer, director and manager. In the latter part of his life, he became an academic, teaching courses in media and journalism at Fanshawe College in London. Towards the end of his phenomenally productive life, Steve turned to producing radio podcasts focusing on the many aspects of Ukrainian life in Canada. I collaborated with Steve on some of these, and I have many fond memories of traveling with him through northern Ontario and Quebec, visiting the remote Ukrainian communities there, doing research and collecting interviews for the podcasts. He was a thoughtful man, a deep thinker, and dedicated both to his craft and to following the advice of another icon of the Canadian Ukrainian music scene, Ron Cahute, when he said, “Stay Ukrainian, my friends!”
Ron Cahute was another of those cultural giants who left his mark on both me personally and many of my generation. His prolific legacy of music is one that is not likely to be repeated for a long time to come. For Ukrainians, music is a necessity of life like the food we eat and air that we breath. Ukrainian music is not just entertainment. In our music, you will find our history, our religion, our hopes and dreams and our love for life. Ron’s musical creations and performances became a fundamental part of what it meant to be Ukrainian for most of my life. I had the good fortune of knowing Ron personally and cherish the many conversations and laughs that we shared over the decades.
There are others that I have said goodbye too over the past year that may not have been as well known as Ron and Steve, but who’s passing also left a significant void in my life. One of these was Walter Maceluch. He was someone who also contributed much to the Ukrainian community, working mostly in the background though within the Ukrainian National Federation. In particular he was one of the trio that included myself and Les Salnik, that took on the daunting task of rescuing and rejuvenating the New Pathway newspaper at the turn of the millennium when it was in serious danger of closing down after some seventy years of continuous publishing. Thanks to his efforts as well as a few other key individuals, the paper continues to publish and incidentally provides me with a platform for my weekly op-eds.
There were other funerals too that made this past year memorable, though obviously not in a way that I would have wished. It is a reminder that our brief lives on this earth are not to be taken for granted or frittered away. Above all, take the time to appreciate the value that good friends inject into your life. Good friends and good experiences are the only treasures truly worth collecting during our lifetimes.