A funny thing happened Sunday afternoon. I was cleaning my kitchen when the Mayor of Toronto and his brother came on the radio and started confessing things. The effect on me was profound. Within minutes, I was shaking and sweating all over, wanting to make confessions of my own.
It was a spiritual moment. His voice trembling, Rob Ford admitted he wasn’t perfect. Hey, I thought, I’m not perfect either, and instantly I saw the Mayor in a new light.
The more he confessed the more virtuous he became. Each failing added to the sum of his fallibility, his fallibility fed his humility, and his humility swelling into piety until his redemption was complete. All transgressions were moved from the present into the past. He was done with them.
It was more than a redemption. It was a resurrection! A beam of moral rectitude, cast from my radio and bathed my kitchen in a golden light. I was so moved, I forgot what I was doing (emptying the dishwasher), and lost my appetite.
One listener called in to draw an analogy between Rob Ford’s mayoralty and John F. Kennedy’s presidency. A keen student of history, this listener noted that both men were “for the little guy,” and both suffered unjust persecution.
But the comparison was inadequate. Ignoring the obvious Messianic undertones of the program thus far, a more apt comparison would be Augustine of Hippo’s moral revelations after a long and pleasurable life of sin. Augustine’s theory about imitating Christ to remedy for the sins of Adam comes closest to the effect our Mayor’s confession was having on us all, or on me at least.
Or maybe it was more like the moments of self-recrimination that made Don Quixote so endearing. Rob’s old world values were amplified from time to time by his brother Doug, who reinforced the Mayor’s message of self-discipline like Sancho Pandez, lashing himself with his belt. And the two-hour broadcast ended with talk about the upcoming City Council agenda that sounded very much like tilting at windmills.
Who cares whether our Mayor’s stature puts him in the company of President Kennedy, Saint Augustine, or Don Quixote of La Mancha? It was a pivotal moment in his life, my life, and the life of the City.
It was pivotal because it marked the moment at which past became present and present became future. I’d always wondered when that moment would come and how I would recognize it, but Mayor Ford made it utterly clear.
His sins were in the past. He can’t undo the past. So there was nothing more to be said about it. As for the future, he clarified that too by guaranteeing that past sins would probably never be repeated.
Even that promise bespoke his true depth of character, combining certainty and probability in a way that invites failure. Only a great man, a man of immense modesty, would dare to speak those words aloud. He wasn’t foolish enough to guarantee that he wouldn’t be stumbling drunk or stoned in public again. He was wise enough to remind us all that to err is human, and that he is the most human among us.
Until then, I’d believed that past, present, and future, were conjoined and fluid. The future endlessly recedes away from me, the past ceaselessly fills in behind, and the present, too brief to be measured, demands most of my attention. In short, I was on a treadmill.
Ford’s concept of time let me off that treadmill once and for all. By marking the passage of time with the things I don’t want to think about, and shoving them into the past, I can occupy the future without the encumbrances of guilt or responsibility.
At last I can forgive myself for raiding a milk truck in 1968 and filching a two-quart carton of chocolate milk. It was my friend’s idea, but I was the lookout. While the milk man was at his mother’s front door, my friend was in and out of the open truck, and in no time the two of us were high up a tall tree, watching through the leaves as the truck pulled away. I further confess that on that hot summer day, the cool forbidden treat, passed back and forth between the swaying limbs of the tree, was the finest chocolate milk experience of my life and my fondest memory of that childhood friend.
There. I’ve said it. I’ve even confessed my enjoyment of the crime, which probably warrants an extra measure of forgiveness.
And the really great thing is that, by choosing when the past ends and the future begins, I’ve been living in the future since the summer of ’68! Isn’t that cool?
I can’t be called to judgment for every foul thing I’ve done or said since then because it’s in the future, and the future is redemptive. I’m not accountable for it, or at least, not yet. I’ve been living one long Mulligan for 45 years, never penalized for my stupidity or carelessness, because I have drawn my personal line between the past and the future. And as the Mayor has said, there’s nothing we can do about the past, so why talk about it? All I have to do is promise to be better in my endless future.
Like the Mayor, I don’t have to acknowledge things that I’ve done since then. For example, he and his brother admitted failing to lose weight and committed to try again. There were promises of a personal trainer and a driver for the Mayor. The Mayor also admitted that he was drunk in public, citing just two instances – at a street festival and at City Hall.
That’s enough, isn’t it? That makes the point. That was in the past and we can all forget about everything since.
For him, the past (which is, as he points out, the past), ends around August 9th, 2013 when he appears drunk on video at the Taste of the Danforth Festival. His previous transgression was February 17th, 2012, when he got drunk in his office at City Hall and marauded around after hours, tormenting the security staff.
Having bottled his misdeeds safely in the past, there’s no need to confess or explain anything more – certainly not the unproven suspicions raised by the Chief of Police last week. Although Chief Blair promises photographic and video evidence of the Mayor urinating in a school parking lot, meeting a known drug dealer in public washrooms and parks, putting a crack pipe to his lips, posing with since murdered or arrested felons, along with a chronicle of other apparent misdeeds, the Mayor ascends above these concerns, and in an appeal for trust and forgiveness, washes away all our sins.
I’m sure anyone listening to the Mayor’s broadcast feels the same sense of relief I do. All those who resigned from the Mayor’s staff in the past six months must now be regretting their decisions. Police Chief Blair must wonder why on earth he was prosecuting such a paragon of virtue. It’s as if Ford has done what he said he could not – he has undone the past.
It’s a miracle. Nothing less. A physical manifestation of spiritual power. Not only is he above the laws of man, he controls time, starting and stopping it as it pleases him.
Now if only he could reach back and ungrab Sarah Thompson’s ass! That would prove all and put him line for the papacy instead of reelection in 2014.