The concept of immortality is an interested one.
Many great men and women have been quoted on the topic, some taking the topic more serious than others…
“I intend to live forever. So far, so good.”
– Steven Wright
“I intend to live forever, or die trying.”
– Groucho Marx
I’m not a tremendously spiritual or religious person but this quote resonates with me considerably, probably because of the “humanity” bit:
“Nor shall derision prove powerful against those who listen to humanity or those who follow in the footsteps of divinity, for they shall live forever. Forever.”
– Khalil Gibran
I have spent nearly the last 20 years trying to leave the world a little bit better than I found it.
I recognize that there is an inherent pretentiousness in that comment but please hear me out.
Almost 20 years ago, something bad happened that forever changed the lives of myself and a friend and coworker of mine. Since that point, my own mortality and the sense of living with purpose became clear to me. I involved myself as a volunteer giving workplace safety and health presentations to high school age students in the hope of preparing them for the real working world in a way that schools weren’t at that point in time.
In total, I spoke to between 15 and 20 thousand students in classroom-size gatherings over several years as a volunteer with SAFE Workers of Tomorrow. I’m proud of that legacy although the time came when I needed to move on to making a difference in another way.
In 2001 I travelled to Brazil and Jamaica with a client of mine on a documentary entitled Home Street Home which highlighted street children in Recife, Brazil and Montego Bay, Jamaica and the aid agencies committed to providing services to them. In Brazil, we visited a garbage dump where children and their families lived in order to be close to their source of “employment”: selecting garbage from the dump as it was brought in on garbage trucks and carrying it out to waiting recyclers who would pay them for it. One young man said that it was a particularly good day when garbage came in from a bakery because then they would all have a party and eat the cakes and other sweets. Later, we met a young mother who, through our interpreter, told us she was afraid because she wasn’t able to find any food or milk for her infant daughter. Only later in the edit bay did we find out the rest of what she had told us (and the translator hadn’t): all she had fed her baby in days was sugar packets she found mixed with with accumulating water from the lowest lying region of the dump, where we were horrified to hear the biological waste from hospitals was unloaded.
These are true stories.
Shaun shooting from the doorway of “The Church of the Garbage Dump” near Recife, Brazil.
Not all of the important stories I’ve helped tell are from abroad…
In 2004, I committed to producing a video chronicling the effects of the untimely death of a young worker, Michael Skanderberg, during his first week of employment in the role of an electrician’s helper when he was electrocuted while working changing light ballasts. The video was produced after meeting Michael’s mother Cindy Skanderberg and talking with her about the work she was doing in talking to high school age students.
The video was released on April 28th, 2005 at the Day of Mourning ceremonies at the Manitoba Legislature.
The turnout was inspiring with labour unions, firefighters and emergency personnel, laypersons and politicians gathered in the Grand Staircase to watch the ten minute video called Michael: A Senseless Loss.
The video was ahead of its time in that it didn’t document in detail what happened that killed Michael.
Instead, I produced a video that examined the sense of loss that Michael’s family and friends experience as a result of his passing.
I felt that school age students, especially boys from socio-economically challenged neighbourhoods like the one I grew up in, were emotionally disconnected from hearing about workplace accidents. I personally always thought “that couldn’t happen to me…”
So instead, we introduced the viewers to Michael’s sisters, his mother (who in precise detail explains in front of a high school assembly breathlessly how her son was killed), his grandparents and his buddies.
Michael: A Senseless Loss Screening 2005 Manitoba Legislature Grand Staircase
The ceremony was open to the public.
Media were in attendance and we released copies to be included in the evening newscast.
Safe Workers of Tomorrow staff preparing to speak around the video.
Shaun C. Roemich with Michael’s parents, Bill and Cindy Skanderberg.
Shaun C. Roemich with SAFE Workers of Tomorrow founder Ellen Olfert and then Minister of Labour for the Province of Manitoba, Nancy Allan.
That day in the Legislature, our “little video” was recognized by the Manitoba Government in session. The record of this is immortalized in Hansard, the verbatim record of the business conducted in the legislature:
A few weeks later, I was invited to the Legislature gallery as a special guest when word came down that an amendment to the Workplace Safety and Health Act was being introduced in recognition of Michael Skanderberg’s tragic death. I was speechless when I heard my name mentioned in affiliation to this Bill.
You can rest assured that I haven’t stopped telling important stories since then. In fact, two summers ago I had the privilege of doing some oral history work for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.
A video project I produced for a client of mine was recently awarded a Canadian Association of Labour Media (CALM) Award for Best Narrative Video or Documentary Series.
This series explores the issues that Canadian workers are fighting for around sick benefits, pension and parental leave. We also explore the involvement of the Public Service Alliance of Canada in the Idle No More movement and the efforts they make in supporting community agencies working to eradicate poverty, homelessness and establish food security for the working poor.
I’ll be honest with you – it isn’t the most lucrative business decision I could have made but I stand by the last 19 years of trying to leave the world a better place.
I did more than just show up for this life – I’d like to think I’ll be remembered for what I’ve done.
Thanks for reading!