Meet Roger

[Editor’s Note: the following post features the text from Desiderata, a poem written in 1927 by American writer Max Ehrmann. It’s received some fame by being recorded, used, or referenced by people such as Leonard Nimoy, Pierre Elliot Trudeau, and The New Pornographers.]

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant;  they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Roger was stuck at a train station in Paris, France. A freak blizzard hit that day in April, 1995 making it one of the coldest days of that year. It was close to midnight and he knew he just had to wait out the next eight hours for money to be wired to buy his ticket home. Roger had given his original ticket back to Canada to one of his models who needed to get home earlier. Being a modeling agent at times involved sacrifice.

The station slowly emptied. His eyelids were feeling heavy. He tried to find an inconspicuous seat where he could park a shopping cart he found which he put his luggage in, next to him while he closed his eyes for moments at a time. Roger knew he couldn’t let his guard down because someone was circling him, eyeing his cart. His eyes closed for what it seemed just a second when he heard a man’s voice yelling. A young man stood next to him, scaring a vulture away.

This young man could only speak a particular dialect of French and Roger, who grew up in Winnipeg, used whatever Canadian-French he remembered from school to communicate with him. At first Roger thought the man wanted money but he realized he was asking him whether he was hungry. The Frenchman went to a vending machine and brought back food. He asked Roger whether he was still hungry. He left and came back with hot food and fed him. Roger could only thank him.

He managed to find out this Samaritan was a solider joining the French Foreign Legion for long-term duty. Through gestures and piecing together words, he came to understand that the solider wanted him to be his pen-pal. Roger gave the man his contact information and they parted ways.

It was 3:00am. People without a train ticket had to leave the station. Heavy snow fell in the brisk air and now Roger needed to find a place to keep warm outside. So he huddled into a corner and layered himself up with clothes he took out of his luggage. Snow banks around him continued to mound and all he could focus on was being cold as the flakes pelted his face.

A familiar figure returned slinging a sleeping bag. He placed it over a heating duct and motioned Roger to come inside the bag with him. Roger refused. “There is no way I’m going into a sleeping bag with a complete stranger, outside, in a middle of a blizzard in France. This is crazy!” he thought. But as the temperature dropped and the snow kept falling, he resigned.

The two, huddled in a sleeping bag, were woken by snow plows circling them, with their flashing rotating lights. Now, mountains of snow surrounded them. Bleary eyed, they realized they weren’t the only ones out anymore. “It was probably the most embarrassing moment of my life.” Roger laughs.

He left that day humbled by a stranger’s kindness and learned that humanity can only really exist when we practise true acts of kindness.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans. Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery. But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Perhaps the last place he thought he would be was in the arms of Gweneth Lloyd, founder of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet Company. 19 years of age would have been considered very late to begin a career in ballet but for Roger, he found himself taking classes after losing a bet with his aunt. His first ballet class was taught by a fill-in teacher, Ms. Lloyd and this eventually led to training full-time in the Professional Division of the RWB School.

He may not have had any dance experience but Roger’s physique was well groomed for ballet from playing water polo from a young age. Painstakingly practising his form day in and day out, he realized the strict regiments of obtaining perfection were what drove him. Yes, there was hope that perhaps he could dance professionally one day but it was more about seeing how far he could push himself. Roger fondly recalls being mesmerized by Evelyn Hart, who took class beside him. She was like the wise master everyone looked up to and wanted to emulate.

Roger was a young man who let Life take him wherever he was led. Having an interest in fashion and textile design gave him opportunities to do some modeling as a teenager. He did local fashion shows and got himself onto a magazine spread. He traveled and found himself working in Milan, Italy and New York.

Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Roger decided modeling wasn’t his thing but utilizing his connections in the fashion world, he became a modeling agent. He enjoyed the aesthetics; the hunt for the right face, the right fit, the perfect look. He searched and developed many beautiful people for brands like Giorgio Armani, Gianni Versace, Valentino, Ralph Lauren and Abercombie & Fitch. Roger knew the ropes of the fashion world inside and out and being an agent meant more than just getting a good looking kid a gig with Lauren. Once a young, naïve boy traveling the world, was now a big brother giving these young faces guidance and making sure they didn’t get into trouble. He did everything he could to protect them from the cruel fashion world. Concerned mothers would call him at all hours of the night asking him how their beloved child was managing. Roger understood both worlds.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune. But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

At 47, Roger found himself staring at a white, sterile ceiling of a hospital wondering “Is this it?! Is this how it’s going to end?” What began as an annual doctor’s visit ended with him being admitted to the ER. IVs and wires from monitors hung off his body, different nurses came in and out asking medical questions. Finally a doctor attended to him and told Roger he needed to be admitted immediately. He was having a “cardiac incident”. “What? I feel fine!” he said.

For ten days, as Roger laid flat on his back, all he could do was listen to the constant beep of his life line and confront his mortality. Beautiful memories of cities he had visited began to stream into his mind like a home video. All the experiences that had left a mark on his psyche started to resurface. With everything Roger Williams had done in his life up to this point, he couldn’t ignore the sinking feeling as he asked himself, “Would anyone remember me if I died today?”

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.

Roger is always engaging with people. He’s not afraid of bringing people into his life. These days he barely has enough money for bus fare but he is still seen offering a homeless man his place to stay the night.

Roger is a man who knows himself well. Because of his self-assurance, he faces challenges with a smile knowing that nothing can stop him from living. He is well-educated, articulate and creative. He is also thoughtful, intuitive and determined.

And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Roger is starting from scratch in some ways. As he says, at 54 years old, he is “rebooting his brain.” He is sacrificing comfort and stability to pursue new dreams. He bought a sewing machine and is teaching himself how to sew. Roger is constantly looking for seamstresses and tailors to talk to and ask questions because he wants to become a sports and menswear designer. He’s also looking for web designers and computer animators to teach him the basics of animated film so he can produce his own films. It hasn’t been easy but he still can’t help but better himself. There is so much more to discover and experience.

Max Ehrmann’s poem, Desiderata is Roger’s favourite poem. Perhaps it is more like a creed to him – right to the last line. Roger’s world has been and will continue to be beautiful.

Be cheerful and strive to be happy.

2 Replies to “Meet Roger”

    1. Thanks Nadine – you are gracious. I hope one of these days you’ll meet him too!

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