Moving On

Last year I volunteered in a Grade 6 class. I loved those 27 kids, and I still do. They’ve gone to another school and I rarely see any of them.

Today was a regional track meet for elementary schools in the area. I watched our Grade 5’s and 6’s in the morning and stayed to see some of my old conversation partners in the afternoon. They’re 13 and “on the road to find out”. Adults are okay but they need to be with their friends.

At various times, eight or nine kids came up to say hi. Last June they approached with hugs as we said goodbye for the summer. This time no hugs but still big smiles. Mostly these new teenagers didn’t have much to say. That’s okay. When I asked what they were most enjoying these days, shrugged shoulders were the norm. And that’s okay too. I was so pleased to see them. Soon they were off with their best buds, getting ready for their events or just hanging out. I smiled as they walked away. I know I’ve touched their lives but I’m of the past and the present has so many wonders to behold. May they have eyes to see.

Some of these kids may reappear in my life … or perhaps not. I’m fine with both. Go see what’s out there, dear ones, and who’s out there.

Mid-afternoon, one of the Grade 7 girls came over to talk. We yapped about this and that for fifteen minutes or so. It was lovely. And then she was bouncing away.

Remembering the past is pretty cool. Imagining the future widens my eyes. But any gifts I offer to the world are only in this very moment, repeated over and over till I die. Just like the kids, I’ll move on to the beings who choose to grace my doorstep.

Tentative

I knew I had to do it – unpack the tent I bought for the Tour du Canada and set it up.  I’d been avoiding the task.  But why?  Another flavour of fear, I suppose.  I’ve known that puppy for a long time.

“You won’t do it right.”  The voice has followed me all my days.  Supposedly clear instructions often turn into a mystery.  Oh well.  Today’s the day for tent erection, in my bedroom so to avoid nasty environmental hazards.

I thought a YouTube video would be a good companion.  “Mountain Equipment Co-op Camper 2 Tent”  sounded like a good search.  And it was.  Two happy young people, a man and a woman, joyfully and deftly did this and that, and tent plus fly were scraping the sky in no time.

I assembled the two main poles with the interior shock cords and the resulting beasts were about ten feet long.  I was supposed to bend them so that together they’d create a huge X across the top of the tent while imbedded in grommets at the four corners.  One loop zoomed off into the wall when pressured, and the old thoughts returned:  “You’re not very smart … A kid would have this up in no time … Why exactly are you going on this ride?”

Misadventures proceeded at a good pace.  I couldn’t figure out what was inside and what was outside about the fly.  I had an extra 3-foot length of tent pole that I didn’t know what to do with.  There were fabric loops and plastic clips that seemed to be hanging everywhere.  I couldn’t maneuver my body right to get the little Velcro strips on the fly to attach nicely on the poles.  I had too many tent pegs to match my inspection of the exterior.  Was the manufacturer kind enough to supply extras?  Video One said to do X but then I found Video Two, which heartily suggested Y.  What’s a confused man to do?

At one point, I sat on the bed and pouted.  But then I looked at my as yet unnamed sleeping accommodations, and realized something: The beast was standing and I had been the stander.  Then I looked more deeply.  This will be my rolling home for 72 days, and home is a very precious thing.  So I smiled.  I’m on the road to find out how to do a whole bunch of things this summer, both on and off the bike.  The journey has started and I’m along for the ride.

Adventure
The unknown
My companions
All is well

Ordinary Freedom

I showed up at school yesterday morning, not realizing that it was Crazy Hair Day.  And I was wearing my usual short grey persona.  Hmm … this won’t do.  Who am I to miss out on a celebration?  Kids were getting off the buses with all sorts of designs atop their noggins.

To the secretary I went, with thoughts of alligator paper clips in mind.  She had lots of the black ones, and I started arranging them on my tresses.  Okay, this is better.  I’m fitting in now.

Off to the Grade 5/6 class for more clips.  Jayne had a good supply of my preferred accessories.  “Why don’t you have some kids help you?” she suggested.  Immediately there were five girls ready to lend a hand.  I was clipped here and also there.  One girl grabbed an elastic and proceeded to tie the world’s smallest ponytail in my upper greyness.  Felt like it was a half inch tall.  And here comes a small sponge inserted into a forest of metal at the back.  Jayne too was busy.  She had cut a swath of 2″ wide red ribbon and finished me off with a tidy bow.  Gosh, I looked good!

Now the freedom part:

1.  I pranced from classroom to classroom, from principal’s office to gym, showing off my new look and admiring the creations of the short people.  Lots of laughs pinging off the walls.

And then I thought about my afternoon, to be spent out in the world doing cool things.  Should I retain my adornments for the community or ditch the whole thing in the spirit of normality?  Some kids said “Take that stuff off.”  Others smiled and offered “Go for it!”

I’ve never been really big on normality, so let’s continue the list:

2.  Went to my bike shop.  Ta-pocketa was ready to support me in life, having been tweaked for the mountains of the summer.  My bicycle guy and gal had lots to tell me and grinned considerably between explanations.  Sadly there were no other customers in the store.  I wanted to flaunt my newfound beauty.

3.  To the gym.  One last day on the elliptical before testing the roads of life.  Lots of v-shaped men sporting maximum muscles.  I wondered if my red bow would fit in.  I was nervous.  I quelled the pain by initiating conversations with guys who were starting to stare.  I’d laugh and I guess they felt obligated to join in.  Later I figured out that my proactive words were a way to protect myself so I stopped doing that.  I walked around silently from then on, watching a few frowns appear, and quite a few smiles.  I survived nicely.

4.  How about supper?  I jaunted over to one of my fave restaurants – Mai’s Café.  Lots of folks inside.  I gulped a bit and opened the door, marching up to my favourite server and asking her if it was okay to come in looking like this.  She laughed and said “No problem.”  And there was chuckling from most of the tables too.  See?  I’m still alive.

5.  Walked back to my car past evening strollers.  There were a few averted faces but also some nodding and mini-cheering.  Cool.

6.  Why not go to a movie?  Sure.  The story was forgettable but I loved being stared at – before, after and probably during.

After walking in the door at home, I disassembled.  Here were the contents of my head:

20 black alligator clips
1 red alligator clip
1 maroon alligator clip
1 green alligator clip
1 elastic band
1 small sponge
1 lovely red ribbon

What a pretty boy

As I headed to bed, I got thinking.  Despite some initial qualms, the whole “Look at me!” adventure was no big deal.  Yes, I felt free, but it seemed so … ordinary.  Who cares if some folks frown?  Who cares that sometimes I was the centre of attention?  As you no doubt can tell, I like that.  And who cares if I journeyed outside the box of expected public presentation?

There are infinitely larger challenges to address in life
Will I be brave enough to do so?

Athlete

I’ve been worrying about my cross-Canada cycling trip. The same old refrain: “Too old. Not strong enough.” Happily though, in the past few weeks fear and excitement have switched places. I’m far more in touch with the thrill of it all.

Still … I’m scared.

A month ago, my doctor asked me to have an EGG done. The results showed some “irregularities”. So Julie prescribed a treadmill stress test. Sure, why not? Cover the bases.

I talked to a few friends about the test and their basic response was “No sweat. You just walk slowly.” Didn’t sound like much stress to me.

It happened yesterday. Shorts, t-shirt, running shoes, electrodes on my chest, leads running everywhere. I looked like a member of the Borg, a sinister race of machines/humans on the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” TV show.

And then the fun began. This was no walk in the park. Speed increased, as did the tilt of the machine . Sweat made its appearance, in large quantities. This was the MAXIMUM stress test. After 15 minutes or so, the deed was done. I was winded but doing fine. The doctor had engaged me in conversation about my bike ride the whole time and I had no problem keeping up my verbal end.

Now the results: “It took you 12 minutes to get your heart rate up to 90% of maximum. This is very unusual [i.e. good] for a 69-year-old. It’s more like what I’d expect to see with someone in their mid-twenties. You’ll be fine on the ride.”

Well …

I’m fine. I’m strong. I may even be amongst the fittest of the 20 Tour du Canada riders. I’m pleased and shocked.

The mythical “they” say that achieving any great result is 90% mental. And my mental just zoomed through the stratosphere.

What’s true? I am an athlete. Like all my fellow cyclists, there’ll be times this summer when I’m exhausted. But I can do this. I am doing this. See me fly!

Staying Put

I went to a concert yesterday afternoon.  Yuja Wang is a world-renowned pianist from China.  At the tender age of 31, she wows audiences all over the world.

I was not wowed.  Yuja played pieces from composers such as Rachmaninoff and Prokofief.  What all these works had in common was … no melody.  Just a whole bunch of notes flurried together in a variety of ways.  I soon found myself close to nodding off, which isn’t the coolest thing to do in a fancy concert hall.

My heart wasn’t in it, not at all.  Yuja’s technique was astonishing.  All those runs at the speed of light!  But in my oh so biased mind … “So what?”  I want to be touched by life and the fine human beings who populate it.  I want an ecstatic “Oh!” to escape my mouth.  My eyes were closing, all right, but not for the best of reasons.

Yuja was very pretty and wore a stunning yellow gown.  From my vantage point, I could see her legs, her feet and the top of her head (occasionally her soft eyes).  The rest, including those flying fingers, was hidden behind the grand piano.  Her glowing dress and pumping feet didn’t do much to send the wearies away.

There were folks sitting on the stage.  From my spot in the front row, I could look under the piano and see them, from the neck down.  And I zoomed in on one couple.  They saved me from unconsciousness.  Throughout the concert, they held hands, in various configurations.  My favourite was when she was rubbing her foot against his calf.  So sweet.  This is the human contact I so desire, whether in physical touch, the meeting of the eyes, or the soaring expression of music.  I watched them a lot.  And then it was intermission.

I talked to the woman next to me about my troubles.  She knew exactly what I was talking about.  And then Yuja reappeared, this time wearing a short emerald dress that sparkled in the lights.  So sexy!  My neighbour leaned over and said “This should help.”  I smiled.

So I got to see gorgeous legs in the second half.  And got to hear no melodies.  (Sigh)  At the end, I was surrounded by wild cheering and rising bodies.  Not me.  I was not moved and so I didn’t move.  I applaud Yuja’s brilliance but she didn’t reach me.

I turned to my new friend and said “The legs didn’t really help.”  She laughed.

Peeps

I’m sitting on the patio of the Prenup Pub on College Street in downtown Toronto.  Let’s see who walks by:

1. A young blond woman, hair sparkling in the late afternoon sun, tenderly holding supper in styrofoam

2. An intense young sweatered man, walking head down, cell phone at the ready

3. Dave, my jolly waiter of the encyclopedic beer memory, all decked out in a Union Jack tie

4. A nut-bearing black squirrel, apparently being chased off by two pigeons.  He doesn’t seem too concerned – apparently a rodent on a mission

5. A white woman and a black man, gesturing vigorously, in a sweet way

6. A worn-weary fellow with ponytail and black leather jacket, head bowed, perhaps feeling the weight of the world

7. An elderly Oriental woman, dressed in flecks of purple and white, checking out the three university guys sitting near me.  Her face is poker.  Can’t tell if it’s appreciation, disdain or neutral

8. Mom kneeling down, buttoning up her 10-year-old girl’s sweater.  The kid doesn’t look too pleased with the attention

9. Old gent with two full grocery bags, plopping chunks of bread on the grass across the street.  Ten or so pigeons descend

10. A glom of maybe 25 people, laden with shopping bags and backpacks, nestled in a whole bunch of conversations.  Attending a conference?  An extended family?  Strangers going for a first contact?  Who knows?

***

All nice folks, I do believe.

Out There

As in throwing myself out into the world, gracefully or awkwardly. On one level, it doesn’t matter what I do with the throw. It’s just happening. And actually I feel launched … by some unknown force.

I went to a concert last night and found such a person. Carlos Nunez is from Spain. Five musicians had gathered on the stage, along with an empty chair. All instruments were at the ready but the troupe didn’t bring forth music. They just sat there, looking to the back of the hall.

And then! The wail of bagpipes filled the space. A tall man, dressed Western, and looking remarkably like Pierre Trudeau (former Prime Minister of Canada), strode majestically towards us. The music was loud. Onto the stage he climbed and walked slowly towards my front row viewing spot. So tall, so passionate, so much air being moved, so there.

I could only gape. Charisma is too small a word for this man. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. His final note was a high squeal, and then he stood in front of us – eyes flashing and mouth widening. Carlos was amongst us. I know that sounds like I’m bowing down to God, but that wasn’t it. Here simply was a human being whose cells seem to burst out of his body and shower us with blessings. But still … merely one of us.

During the concert, Carlos played a variety of whistles as well as the pipes. Almost always, his eyes were closed as the melodies soared. And there was great stillness surrounding him. At the end of a number, he would often gesture towards the other soloists, willing our attention onto them. When his eyes were open, Carlos wrapped the audience in contact, seeming to make a connection with many individual faces.

Carlos is no better than me or anyone else. He’s found a way, however, to let the filters drop away, and to throw celebration to the far corners of the room. “Here I am,” he seems to say. “Love me or loathe me – it doesn’t matter. I’m here to show you me.”

What a fine job he did of just that.

Summons

What in your life is calling you when all the noise is silenced
The meetings adjourned, the lists laid aside
And the Wild Iris blooms by itself in the dark forest
What still pulls on your soul?

In the silence between your heartbeats hides a summons
Do you hear it?
Name it, if you must, or leave it nameless
But why pretend it is not there?

Terma Collective

I have no idea who the Terma Collective is, but that’s not important.  I’ll forget about “consider the source” and just let the words move through me.

Am I being summoned?  Are you?  And not to a court of law.  Rather to our highest calling.  Yours is no doubt different than mine and there’s no better or worse about it.  Is it sports, the arts, consciousness, business, travel, relationships?  Good for us in any event.

Do we hear the call in the early of the morning?  Are we lying in bed or sipping tea in a cozy chair or jogging through the neighbourhood?  Maybe enjoying lunch with friends at a sidewalk café, munching popcorn in a darkened theatre or grabbing a coffee at Tim’s.

Are there moments when the world recedes and silence comes upon us?  The eyes widen a bit and there’s some sort of space where before there was none.  A pause … an opening … a glimmer of light.

“What exactly is this?”

Well, “exactly” just isn’t it.  The moment of wonder is worlds beyond any analysis.  It doesn’t make sense.  It doesn’t add up.  You can’t reason your way to the truth of it.

Let go
Let in

The Jets Are Fading in My Mind

I love sports, or so I tell me.  I have favourite teams and players and have been known to exalt or wail, depending on the results.

Let me give you a rundown of my heroes:

Toronto Maple Leafs (hockey)
Winnipeg Jets (hockey)
Toronto Blue Jays (baseball)
Toronto FC (soccer)
Toronto Raptors (basketball)
Brooke Henderson (golf)
Denis Shapovalov (tennis)

Enough champions to make anyone happy, wouldn’t you say?  Well … maybe.

Last night I started watching the Jets on TV.  If the team won, they’d be in the semi-finals of the Stanley Cup playoffs.  The game was in Winnipeg, where just about all the fans in the building wear white and wave towels like crazy.  So exciting!

Within ten minutes of game start, something happened to that exclamation mark.  It was … fading.  The fans were still jumping up and down, Winnipeg and Nashville were taking turns roaring down the ice, but I was no longer engaged.  Instead I was mystified. “How can I not be excited?  This is the playoffs!”

In my perplexity, I thought of my other sporting heroes.  No juice there either.  Was I becoming a blah blob?

No, I wasn’t.

Some force is moving through me, pushing me towards a deep sense of relationship with human beings.  There’s a beauty and a spirit that I can’t name but it’s lifting me up.  The majesty is far beyond the thrill of a breakaway, a slam dunk or a three-wood nestling close to the pin.  It’s like a 60-watt bulb compared to a spotlight.

Am I becoming the next version of me?  Are the old me’s taking their rightful place in the background?  I don’t know.

I’m open to where this roaring river is taking me.  A destination that I can’t even conceive of.

Not knowing
Not planning
Not a care in the world

Issuelessness

I’ve been listening to some of Patricia Albere’s conversations on the Evolutionary Collective website.  One in particular has stopped me in my tracks … the perception of issuelessness.

Can it be, that although problems will keep arising in my life, I don’t need to feed them energy?  I don’t need to define something as an issue, and allow it to bring me down.

I’m riding my bicycle across Canada this summer.  Last week, at the school where I volunteer, kids challenged me to run the 800 metres with them.  So I did it!  And now my ankles are nicely swollen.

So … issue or no issue?

In another realm, I look back at my life and the experiences that brought me joy.  I used to be an artist, creating batiks, a process of dyes and waxes on fabric.  Also, I’ve collected thousands of quotations, with the intention of sorting them into categories and publishing a book chronicling the world’s wisdom.  Will I return to these prior passions? I don’t know.

Issue or no issue?  Important to return or not?  One voice tells me to resurrect these activities and another says let them go.

I go back and forth in my assessment of realities: swollen ankles, no batik and no volumes of wise words.  In my better moments, there are no issues.  I feel such freedom, such peace.  And then there are the times I spend behind bars.

Such a work in progress, this living.