Yesterday at the Harbourfront Centre, I was sitting on the outdoor terrace looking out at Lake Ontario and Toronto Island. My reading began at 2pm, but I had arrived over an hour early, to get my bearings and to meet with my sister who had come from Montreal for the book launch. The International Festival of Authors has taken over the Harbourfront Centre and book events will continue all week.
As I reviewed my readings, I heard someone call, "Is that Donna Thomson?" My high school friend Sylvia walked through the door with a younger woman, her daughter. I had not seen Sylvia in almost thirty-five years. Quite a few of my high school friends came to the reading as well as other other friends and family. I was so moved by the effort that old friends had made to support me. There were about sixty in attendance - a good result, considering the Gardiner Expressway was closed in both directions for roadworks and it was challenging to travel in the city without access to that thruway.
I chose to read the section in the book about the child protection action that had been filed against me during the worst time of Nicholas' pain in 2004. I followed up with two other short sections, the first about the role of government in supporting vulnerable citizens and the second concerning the resilience of families.
John Ralston Saul is an old friend. His experience as a sibling of someone with severe disability and as the patron of PLAN made him the perfect conversation partner following the reading. John and I chatted about our views on citizenship and contribution. I expressed my worry about defining contribution too narrowly, excluding those who are not capable of purposive action. I was glad that John introduced his opinion that "charity has nothing to do with disability", which allowed me out outline a third way for community and government to ally for supporting vulnerable citizens outside of a charity paradigm.
Questions from the audience were personal and sometimes profound. It was my first event and felt wonderful to finally have the opportunity to exchange ideas that are so close to my heart.
Thank you to everyone at the festival and at my publisher, McArthur and Co.!