Sat Nam: True North

Sat Nam is Sanskrit for “True Name”.

My Dad was allergic to the notion of being recorded or interviewed talking about his life up in North Ontario, where, along with my Mum, he ran the local schools in an important time capsule of transition from the dreaded residential schools to native run schools in the 70s and 80s.  He was a man of few, and very carefully chosen words, when it came to important topics like this.  But that never stopped me trying.


It was during his last days with us on earth, this time last year as his body was falling apart in front of our very eyes that mid summoning every kilojoule of energy left at his disposal to haul his bones around the living room for a determined walk leaning on his zimmer frame, us pushing the furniture out of his way, clearing a path for him, that he looked at me and said “True North”, as if this was the answer to everything, to all my incessant questions.  “True North”.


I knew what he meant – all the questions he was efficiently addressing with these two words.  No need to say anything else.  No energy to waste.  Stick to the essential.


At this point – it was his 76th,  and his last birthday – I was daunted and overwhelmed at the mere thought of making a film from his 1970s and 1980s Super 8 reels and medium format photographs from life on the reserves.  I did end up making it a couple of months later when I realised I simply had no choice.  It had to be done by hook or by crook.  And of course it came down to me to do it.


Over a fortnight later, when we were all back in the same Toronto living room, this time for my dear Dad’s funeral, he answered me again, in a most unusual way, highlighting what had to be his film’s title.  He sent me a crystal clear message, via the coffee queue at our corner Starbucks.


It was the morning of my Dad’s first funeral (the second was in Kilkee, County Clare), at Corpus Christi Church in Toronto.  Up at home, I was looking at the clock, and making sure I had the printout of the appreciation I wanted to read at the church.  Tick.  The only thing that could be done now was coffee.  So I quietly trudged through the snow down to Starbuck’s at the corner of our street.  Starbucks was fairly busy, and there was a lively queue.


I was thinking to myself – wow – these people have no idea what I’m going through right now, the fact that I am actually en route to my Dad’s funeral, and am in bits.  I was dumbstruck by this gravity and sadness.  It’s not the kind of thing that belongs in idle coffee queue chit-chat – though I did offer a friendly smile here or there, trying not to be overly morose and ruin my fellow coffee-lovers’ buzz.


When I got to paying for my coffees – I was getting a few for the family – a friendly, upbeat lady ahead of me in the queue, who had been talking about attending a furniture trade-show in Toronto that morning turned around and out of the blue performed one of those random acts of kindness.


Now this sort of thing had never ever happened to me before or since, though I had heard tell of the heartening phenomenon.  So it’s not a myth.  She really did pick up the bill for all my coffees, as well as everybody else in the queue.  That is so kind, I said to her, still unable to give voice to the unspeakable tragedy that my father’s funeral was about to happen in the next half hour.  I wished her all the very best in her trade fair, saying I hoped it would go brilliantly for her.


What else could I do?  I enquired whether she had a card so I could look up her furniture, in case we ever needed any.  She handed her card to me with a smile.  I was stunned into further silence when I read her company name.


“True North”.


Struck to my core by this, I knew she, and the coffees, had been sent by my Dad, and I also knew what the name of his film had to be.  “True North: Paud Mulrooney’s Adventures in Super 8”.


The universe had spoken.  Or was it my Dad speaking, through the universe.  Or should I say, through the Starbucks coffee queue.



I am really looking forward to the Belgrade-Irish Festival Screening of “True North: Paud Mulrooney’s Irish-Canadian Adventures in Super 8” at the Kinoteka, next Wednesday, March 14th, at 5pm 🙂  All most welcome!

PS – & here is the website for True North Furniture!