by ROY MacGREGOR
The Globe and Mail
He just got out of bed on the wrong side of the world. He is jetlagged and tired, but still he wants to talk about his great dream.
Terry Kelly sees the entire country – all of Canada – coming to a complete stop. Cars pulling over on the highways, elevators coming to a halt, coffee shops going quiet, classes shutting down, even passenger jets falling silent as they float through Canadian airspace.
For two minutes, that’s all.
As Terry Kelly says and sings, A Pittance of Time.
The Canadian entertainer is in Wellington, New Zealand, invited there by that country’s equivalent of the Canadian Legion, and this week he will sing his song in a 34,000-seat rugby stadium before what is certain to be the largest audience of his career.
It is a song that was intended as a rant, a little “venting” by the blind singer-songwriter concerning an incident he overheard seven years ago this coming week in a Shoppers Drug Mart in Dartmouth, just across the harbour from his home in Halifax.
He was in the store the morning of Nov. 11, 1999, when an announcement came over the public address system that the store would be following the legion’s “two minutes of silence” initiative and fall quiet at 11 a.m. to honour those who had fought, and often died, for their country.
At the 11th hour, the store went quiet. Clerks stopped stocking shelves. Cashiers stepped back from their registers. Shoppers paused and lowered their heads.
Except for one man.
He was there with his young daughter, and he was in a hurry.
He demanded a clerk’s attention. He insisted on going through the cash. He was loud and obnoxious and destroyed all hope of reflection for everyone within his sound range.
When the man completed his purchase, he hustled his little girl out the doors, but not before Terry Kelly – whose superb hearing compensates for his lack of sight – picked up her plaintive “Daddy – that was embarrassing!” as the doors swung back closed and, finally, allowed the store to fall quiet.
Outraged, Kelly went home, sat down with his guitar, and slowly worked out a tune and words:
“They fought and some died for their homeland
They fought and some died now it’s our land
Look at his little child, there’s no fear in her eyes
Could he not show respect for other dads who have died?
“Take two minutes, would you mind?
It’s a pittance of time
For the boys and the girls who went over
In peace may they rest, may we never forget why they died.
It’s a pittance of time . . .”
In the song, Kelly unleashed his anger (“God forgive me for wanting to strike him”) and celebrated the Canadian soldier, from those who sent letters back from the Great War to those who today send e-mails home from Afghanistan. He sang about the swift passage of time (“May we never forget our young become vets”) and about the significance of that small moment we mark at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.
A Pittance of Time.
Warren Sonoda, a Toronto filmmaker, took the song and produced a remarkable video of Kelly performing in a Shoppers Drug Mart while the ignorant young man interrupts the silence. As the man rails at a bewildered clerk, others in the store stare in shock, including his upset daughter. And then – in a scene reminiscent of the parting of the cornstalks in Field of Dreams – a parade of veterans slowly emerges into sharp focus. Backs stiff, heads held high, shoulders squared, steps sometimes hobbled – the veterans, accompanied by soldiers from various eras, keep moving through the store until, finally, the obnoxious young man realizes what he has been disrupting.
It is a most powerful video and has moved everyone from elementary-school children to hardened Canadian senior officers to tears. It will play on the scoreboard of the Wellington rugby arena as Terry Kelly sings this week.
“It’s all about respect,” he says.
If his dream were to come true, he would have this entire country come to a stop on Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. Two minutes where every Canadian pauses – even those anxious to get through the checkout counter – and thinks about those who have worn the country’s uniform.
Kelly himself once dreamed of this life – he wanted to be in the air force and fly – but he and three siblings had an inherited condition that left him totally blind and his siblings with partial vision. He was sent from St. John’s to Nova Scotia to attend a special school for the blind. There he lived with “house parents” who came from the military, and they taught him to be respectful, to be disciplined, and to believe in yourself.
“For me,” he says, “it was a blessing.”
He never did get to fly in the air force, of course. But he has served his country, all the same.