Alison Smith: Seize the Moment, it Won’t All be Perfect

On Thursday, May 9th, 10 of Canada’s most influential individuals graced the stage of the iconic Winter Garden Theatre for the Top Ten Event, hosted by Stewart Knight and in support of autism Ontario. The idea is simple: each speaker had approximately 10 minutes to offer words of advice on the “one thing you should know before you die,” based on their area of expertise. Here’s what renowned Canadian journalist Alison Smith shared about seizing the moment

Alison Smith is one of Canada’s premier news correspondents and an award-winning journalist. She has covered everything from Princess Diana’s funeral, to the papal election, Obama’s election, and the list goes on. She says she has “been lucky to have a front row seat to some if the world’s most important and memorable events.” Through the stories she has covered from the road, she has learned to savour the moment, “whether happy, sad, or profound.”

Smith describes the horror of arriving in New York City on September 12th of 2001, when she was assigned the task of interviewing Canadian survivors of the 9/11 attacks. She describes an individual she met who worked in an executive in firm on the 84th floor and the decision he was faced after the plane crash to go up or down the stairwell. The hope in going up was, of course, to be rescued from the roof. It was then that he heard a person banging from dry wall and decided to help free the man, only to return to find that everyone in the stairwell was gone. He had to make the life-changing decision to go up or down the stairs. His instincts told him to run down the stairs, and minutes after reaching the bottom, the building imploded. His decision to help and go down saved lives – him and the other man were two of four people who survived from above the point of impact from that tower. Smith says that the man never asks himself why he survived – but he does savour life now.

Smith described the funeral of Diana and a touching, personal moment, when, at the scaffolding next to Buckingham palace, squinting and focused on the TV monitor, she saw the white flowers on top of the casket and the card with one word across it: “Mummy.” She recalls the moment clearly, complete with the sound of the horse’s hooves on the street and the heartbreaking images of William and Harry’s faces. In an emotional moment, she realized that she was at the funeral of another mother—“glamourous, famous and likely troubled, but a mother like many.” She went on to say that “no matter how big and important someone is, we are all mothers, fathers, sons and daughters in the end.” 

Smith recalled bearing witness to South Africa’s first bi-racial election and seeing people lined up down road in the early morning “as far as you could see.” She realized in that moment that she would never not vote again. When covering the funeral of John Paul II, Smith walked up to the body of the pope at a viewing at St. Peter’s Basilica and noticed that, despite the perfect planning of the funeral, that the pope’s foot “sort of flopped to the side,” unlike the other. Smith recalls noticing that imperfection despite “all the planning and this magnificent building.” Her concluding words? “Seize the moment – not all are going to be perfect.”