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Remembering Elmaks

It was on this day, a year ago, that Ottawa’s favourite street artist hiked into the forest, lay down under a tree, and died.

His parents recently sent me a photograph of his headstone, along with an explanation of the symbols, and kindly gave me permission to share it here.

  • in the top left corner is Lady Justice, because fairness & equality were very important to him;
  • in the top right corner is the Moon he used in his paintings.
  • in the bottom left and right corners are cats guarding him; he loved cats.
  • between the cats is the Heart he used in his paintings.

I think about Elmaks sometimes. I think about how sweet and kind he was, how talented and smart, and how much he loved cats and babies. He was one of a kind.

Sometimes I think about why he died, which I still don’t understand.

But I take comfort from knowing that it wasn’t impulsive, that he’d thought it through and planned it well over the better part of a year, and that he was sure it was what he wanted. One of his best friends told me that.

I believe Elmaks lived a rich and full life, even though he decided not to stick around for more.  It didn’t bother him that his art was temporary, destined to be torn down by vandals or worn down by the elements, and it didn’t bother him that his life was temporary. Art, and life, were ephemeral, and he had no problem with that.

But his memory lives on. Elmaks touched a lot of people in his 29 years, many of whom are celebrating his life, his memory, and his unusual gifts today.

His friends at McGill, where he was working on a Masters of Urban Planning, got together and created swap boxes and installed them all over Montreal. You can see all the pictures here of them making and installing the boxes. They’re wonderful.

I believe there are other swap boxes going up in Ottawa today. (As a matter of fact, I know there are, since mine is one of them.)

His dear friend Jadis is lighting a candle and sending it down the river on a little raft.

And I imagine there are many others remembering him in their own ways.

If you’re looking for a way to celebrate Maks’ life today, may I suggest making a swap box, giving something away, feeding somebody, or singing to your cat? These were all things he loved to do, and they’re all things that make the world a better place.

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