Wednesday, July 17, 2013

David Berner Lunch

I was priviledged to have lunch with the inexhaustible David Berner. .  I first met David at the 1st Vancouver Recovery Day Rally (next one , Sept. 8, 2013)  He helped organize this as part of his ongoing work with Orchard Treatment Centre and as the Executive Director of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada.  I was immediately struck by his honesty and enthusiasm and committment to human beings. He really saw that addicts and alcoholics were first and foremost someone's son or daughter. 
After that first encounter I mentioned him to colleagues I esteem only to hear their admiration for him as a television and radio personality.  Since then I've heard him interview and he's amazing. Hearing his interviews I found myself thinking of him as a kind of cross Anderson Cooper/David Letterman.  His humor is infectious and at lunch I'd be laughing aloud as he recounted his days as a stand up comic. 
At a meeting of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada http: www. I first met David chairing a serious meeting as opposed to being his celebrity self.  Enjoying his ease in group process and leadership I was also very impressed with the folk who surrounded him.  You can tell a lot about a person by their associates. It was an honor then to be invited to join the Board of the Drug Prevention Network of Canada with  Chuck Doucette, retired RCMP,  and Al Arsenault, Odd Squad Productions,,  a couple of the fine folk, I  met  that day. 
After that, I was delighted to read David Berner's semi auto biographical book "All the Way Home".(www.   Growing up in Winnipeg myself,  I liked learning he was one of the  north end Winnipeg Jews whose contributions in Canada to the arts, academia, politics, medicine and law are almost legendary. That he also attended the early University of Winnipeg as I had, made him even more astute, in my eyes.
Since then I've been in phone, email and conference calls with David but  was  only to  have my  first one on one contact at this lunch.
He didn't drool. He didn't talk with his mouth full. He used all his cutlery and didn't just eat with his knife.  He did not disrobe during the meal or dance on the table top.  At no point did he break out singing Hava Nagila. He's well known for creativity, unconventional behaviour on occasion and being very original.  He did stand up at one point and demonstrate playing ping pong on a cruise boat in stormyseas.  He was decidedly funny.
Knowing his experience as an interviewer, his extensive experience in group therapy, especially EST techniques,  I was aware I was in the company of a master and glad that the lunch was without drama. Instead, this amazing raconteur shared his funny humble stories of sailing and his preference for terra firma.  He knew I was a sailor and outdoorsman,  actually interested in my hunting big game for food, preferring himself though to enjoy fine cuisine without the bodily hauling it out of the woods. He is a very social man and spoke fondly of friends and acquaintenances he's known for decades.  Now that is character.  Character speaks to depth. No one would doubt he's a personality.
We talked about love and forgiveness too, not the normal conversation, I expect for most, at a downtown east Vancouver cafe between acquaintenances. He's wise in that way. He reminded me of Dr. Sam Sussman, a mensch, I've had similar conversations with.  David, like Sam, shared the importance of compassion and forgiveness to Judaism.  I know this, because so much of what Jesus taught was founded in the Law.  But Sam saw merit in revenge and David felt the Holocaust, in particular, was beyond the easy discussion of the need for love, compassion and forgiveness in community. 
This was shared in the context of discussion of anger and it's role in relapse in addiction.  David was particularly aware of 'passive aggression' in individuals in early recovery.  I  shared that I preferred to use the term "covert" aggression more these days, passive and active, not being as useful formulations as 'covert and overt' aggression.  The founders of AA saw 'resentment' as the principle cause for relapse and that even 'righteous anger' put those in recovery at risk. I remembered, however, that I was impressed to learn that members of AA had served in the armed forces, just as Christians had done in WWII, responding to their community's need to stop the spread of what Dr. Scott Peck for one, and Dr.John White for another, would readily call 'evil'.  David liked the greeting "Namaste" which translated, means "the godliness in me salutes the godliness in you". 
I enjoyed David's sensitive thoughtful comments and his willingness to admit the limits of knowledge. He's very much a doer rather than just a talker. His work exemplifies his life of service. I surely enjoyed the conversation.
I came away even more impressed with David Berner. He's obviously a very funny guy, with a big heart, and the intellectualism of a North Winnipeg Jew ,  no doubt. I think what I liked most though was his soulfulness. I don't know that he'd acknowledge it but he's a very spiritual man. I liked that most  about him. 
That, and seeing his animated coffeeshop presentation of playing ping pong on a cruise ship in the middle of a maritime storm.  That image alone seems symbolic, in part, of this extraordinary man's life and work.

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