Reflecting

I’m Canadian.  Some of you are American.  In certain respects, that difference is important.  Not so, however, when we broaden our gaze to include us all.

Tonight in Washington, DC, there was a ceremony honoring the 400,000 US citizens who have died from the coronavirus.  It was held beside the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool at twilight.  Four hundred lamps were lit along the length of the water.  One commentator called the visual a symbol of Joe Biden reaching out to the American people.  His words stayed with me.

Other words were spoken or sung by these folks:

Kamala Harris
Lori Marie Key
Wilton Gregory
Joe Biden
Yolanda Adams

I could have attached titles and descriptions to each of these people, but I decided no.  There’s a first name and there’s a last name.  Wisdom came out of their mouths … and it didn’t matter who said what.  It was simply important that the words were spoken.

We are all united in the sorrow we feel today

I’ve heard there was a secret chord
that David played, and it pleased the Lord

Let us shine a light in the darkness

To heal, we must remember

The Lord has promised good to me

As long as life endures

Awareness of our common humanity

The Presidency is a moral office

Tonight we grieve and begin healing together

My abiding hope is that we emerge from this ordeal with a new wisdom

***

You could have spoken these words
Me too
I trust that they’re true in all our hearts
We don’t have to be famous or smart or pretty/handsome
We just have to be kind
We can do that
It’s a simple thing

Loss

The Buddha said it well 2600 years ago: life is both gain and loss. You can be the smartest, richest, kindest, most emotionally stable human being … and your life won’t be an unbroken surging of happiness. Jolts will come.

There are so many big losses, and a myriad of smaller ones. But even if it’s a paper cut, there’s a slumping of the soul. The reaction could be soft and slow or it might be a burst of “Why me?” “This isn’t fair” or “Life sucks!”

One of my conclusions is that every person I meet on the street or on Zoom is dealing with some painful issue. And our list of defeats, burdens and sorrows can so easily pile up. We get to choose how we respond.

***

In the realm of “biggies”, let’s start with death. Our loved ones die. With respect to Covid, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently spoke anguished poetry:

The smile that will now only be a memory, the seat forever empty at the dinner table
the room that echoes with the silence of a loved one

And then there’s one’s own death … my death. All the Bruce accumulations, whether physical or spiritual, will be gone. My writings will remain but who knows if anyone will read them. I feel sad when I think of me ending.

Dying may be long and agonizing or a closing of the eyes at night. The approaching end may be vivid or just some vague thought of the future.

Physical pain cuts like a knife or pulses in the background. It may be in spurts or a lingering throughout the day.

Emotional pain may be full-blown terror or sorrow. It may be a vague feeling that I can’t find my home. Or I’m not much of a human being. Or you don’t like me.

Financial demise may mean not being able to feed your family and keep a roof over their heads. Bankruptcy perhaps. Or it may mean no Christmas presents under the tree, no hope for future family travel, or even not being able to afford the magazine you want to read.

There are many other diminishments that may come our way:

Someone breaks their word with you

Late for an appointment, you run into a string of red lights

At a friend’s home, dinner includes a vegetable that you can’t stand

You love snow, and it seems like this winter we’re hardly getting any

Your Internet connection magically disappears. It comes back hours later

Nobody sends you a Christmas card

You’re scammed for $600 while you thought you were helping a friend

The ache in your shoulder just won’t go away

The last time you looked, you were 25

Covid is keeping you physically away from the ones you love

You can’t speak much French to the folks you care about in Senegal

You were born female but you really think you’re a man

You’re still feeling the PTSD years after the incident

You wish Monday was Friday

You know the work you’re doing doesn’t make a difference

The U.S. Capitol was attacked

***

There are so many woes
There’s no clear winner in the land of joys and sorrows
So let’s stay close to each other

Grace

Grace means giving.  It’s a lovely name for a woman and a fine quality for a human being.  We in this world need to be generous with each other, empathetic, kind.  I don’t think we’ll survive if the dominant force on Earth is “I’m better than you.”  We need to be inspired by examples of true human goodness.

I have one for you, or rather Paul Begala does.  On January 11, 2021, he wrote an article called “The Last Time America Fired A President”.  It’s about George H. W. Bush.  In November, 1992, H. W. lost the US presidential election to Bill Clinton, becoming one of the very few US presidents to last only one four-year term.  Donald Trump is another.

Here are some excerpts:

This is where Bush’s amazing grace came in.  He was a wounded politician, but more than that he was a patriot.  “Among the many memories from my first inauguration that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life,” Clinton recalled to me, “is the extraordinary graciousness that President and Mrs. Bush showed to Hillary, Chelsea and me on what had to have been an incredibly difficult day for them.”

The outgoing president and incoming President-elect meet for coffee at the White House before the swearing-in, and one can imagine that the coffee comes with a quite a bit of tension – especially when you must depart the White House for the last time in the company of the guy who kicked you out.  But the Bushes cut through it, Clinton told me.  “They treated us with genuine kindness, and expressed a real hope that our country would be successful over the next four years, and that our family would be happy in the White House.”

Former first lady Barbara Bush, herself a fierce competitor, shifted into loving grandmother mode.  “I’ll never forget Mrs. Bush praising Chelsea, who was 12 at the time,” Clinton told me, “for the way she handled herself so maturely through the crucible of the campaign.  Chelsea replied, ‘Thank you, Mrs. Bush.  I tried.’  And Mrs. Bush said, in her direct, classic way, ‘Oh, we all try.  But not everyone can do it.'”

I asked Clinton about the car ride from the White House to the Capitol.  He declined to reveal specifics – some secrets are, apparently, kept in the Presidents’ Club – but he told me, “As we spent the final moments together before the peaceful transition of power, the theme that came out again and again was gratitude – for the remarkable democracy in which we live, and for the chance to serve its people so well and so long.”

The choreography of an inauguration is precise.  The Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court is called forward.  The President-elect recites the oath, right hand raised, left hand on the Bible.  As the words, “So help me God,” leave his lips, the Army fires a 21-gun salute, a bracing signal that he now commands the most powerful military in human history.

All went according to the script on that frigid January day in 1993.  After the oath, Clinton hugged his wife and daughter, and waved to the crowd.  Then, in his first act as President, he strode across the platform and shook his predecessor’s hand.  The two former foes had a brief but warm public greeting.  A deeply empathetic man, Clinton was profoundly attuned to the pain his predecessor felt, having been rejected himself in his first bid for re-election as governor of Arkansas in 1980 – and did his best to acknowledge the difficulty of the moment.

And just as Clinton’s first act as President was a tribute to Bush, his first few words as President included this praise for the man he had defeated: “On behalf of our nation, I salute my predecessor, President Bush, for his half-century of service to America.  And I thank the millions of men and women whose steadfastness and sacrifice triumphed over depression, fascism and communism.

On that day, the presidency was in transition.  But so, notably, was Clinton’s relationship with Bush.  Clinton never knew his father, who died in a car accident before he was born.  Over the years, he and Bush formed a bond that was nearly familial.  Bush himself suggested that perhaps he, two decades Clinton’s senior, had been the father Clinton never had.

After Clinton’s term, the two teamed up for disaster relief efforts, and Clinton made regular pilgrimages to the Bush family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine, where the elder former president would impress the younger by slicing through the ocean at high speeds on his beloved boat.  President George W. Bush [H.W.’s son] has said his family’s relationship with Clinton is so close that he is “a brother with a different mother”.

For his part, Clinton clearly misses George H.W. and Barbara Bush.  Thinking back on the warmth they showed him on that chilly January day, he said, “President and Mrs. Bush were wonderful people and true patriots.  I’ll always be grateful for their friendship and example – and especially how warmly they treated us that day.”

Scammed

I hadn’t heard from “Bob” for more than two years, and I was thrilled to get his e-mail a few days ago:

Bob Brown <……………….@………..com>
 
Hello,
 
How are you doing ? I hope this Email finds you well?
 
I need a little favour from you.
 
Thanks
 
My first thought?  Bob!  Of course I’ll help you.  I answered immediately.
 
Hi Bob,
 
I’m glad to hear from you. It’s been so long.
 
Sure … ask away.
 
And then an immediate reply:
 
Thanks for your response.  I am sorry for bothering you with this mail.  I need to get a Google Play Gift Card for my friend’s Daughter, It’s her birthday but I can’t do this now because I’m currently away and I tried purchasing online but unfortunately had no luck with that.  Can you help purchase it online or from any store around you?  I’ll pay back as soon as I am back.   Kindly let me know if you can handle this. I promise to refund as soon as I’m back. 

Thanks
 
I so much wanted to be helpful …
 
Yes, I’ll buy the card.  How much money am I putting on it?
 
Quick like a bunny came a response:
 
Thank you very much.  The Total amount needed is $300 ($100 or $50 denomination ) you can have it purchased from any store around you (Gas station, Walmart, Drug Store) or Online.  I need you to scratch the back of each card to reveal the pin, then take a snapshot of the back showing the pin and have them sent to me via my email.  So I can forward them to her with some Birthday Wishes.

Once again thanks.
 
Oh, I’m such a nice guy!
 
I’ll get some gas today and pick up the cards.  Stay tuned …
 
“Bob” was totally tuned in:
 
I will be expecting.  Once again thanks
 
I got to work on the task at hand …
 
Here you go, Bob!  You friend’s daughter will be very happy.  (complete with a photo of six $50 Google Play Gift Cards, with the codes revealed via thorough scratching)
 
I imagined the girl’s squeal of delight.
 
Thanks so much.  I really appreciate it.  I have forwarded the card to my friend’s Daughter, she was very happy you need to see her email but kids will always be kids she is really holding me to my promise because i told her i had do anything for her on her Birthday.  she just emailed me that the cards weren’t enough to complete what she had to do with it .  Please can you render me one more favour and I promise to pay back as soon as I am back.  I need you to help me purchase another gift card worth $300 ($100 or $50 denomination) so she could complete what she has to with it.
 
Thanks once again let me know when you purchase them and I promise as soon as I am back I will refund your cash. 
 
Thanks 
 
***
 
That’s enough of the sordid details.  I remained completely oblivious to what was really happening.  Somehow I’m smiling as I write this.  I was so eager to talk to Bob again and help him out that my rational mind went to sleep.  I do believe that the word for me is naïve … thoroughly so.
 
Here are the clues that blew right by this clueless human being:
 
1. “Bob” never called me “Bruce”.
 
2.  Throughout the correspondence, “Bob” showed an unusual use of capitalization (or lack thereof) … e.g.  Daughter, Total, Gas station, Birthday Wishes, i told her i had …
 
3.  “Bob” was “away” but why would he have “no luck” with buying these cards online?
 
4.  “Bob” was giving his friend’s daughter a gift of $300 ($600).  That sure sounds excessive.
 
5.  Unusual phrases within the e-mails, not the way Bob would speak: e.g. I’ll pay back, I will be expecting, i told her i had do anything for her, so she could complete what she has to with it
 
***
 
I am humbled
 
I still trust my fellow man and woman
 
I need to have my eyes open
 
(Sigh)

Speaking Truth To Power

Brad
Stewart
Germany
Leonardo
Audre
Aung
Czeslaw
Mahatma
Nelson
Caliph
Tom
John
John
Leymah
You
Me

***

Trump: We have won this election in Georgia based on all of this.  And there’s nothing wrong with saying that, Brad.  You know, I mean, having the correct – the people of Georgia are angry.  And these numbers are going to be repeated on Monday night.  Along with others that we’re going to have by that time, which are much more substantial even.  And the people of Georgia are angry, the people of the country are angry.  And there’s nothing wrong with saying that, you know, that you’ve recalculated.  Because the 2,236 in absentee ballots.  I mean, they’re all exact numbers that were done by accounting firms, law firms, etc.  And even if you cut ’em in half, cut ’em in half and cut ’em in half again, it’s more votes than we need.

Raffensperger: Well, Mr. President, the challenge that you have is the data you have is wrong.

ººº

Trump: Big Tech is on your side, you know.  I don’t even know why you have a side because you should want to have an accurate election.  And you’re a Republican.

Raffensperger: We believe that we do have an accurate election.

Trump: No, no you don’t.  No, no you don’t.  You don’t have.  Not even close.  You’re off by hundreds of thousands of votes.

***

Honesty is the rarest commodity in the 21st century.  No one looks to the political class or journalists for truth these days.  The average Joe seems to spend most of their time peddling a ludicrous, flawless Facebook version of their lives.  The peer pressure of political correctness forgoes truth for the sake of groupthink.  It seems that comedians and writers represent the last bastion of candour out there today.  (Stewart Stafford)

To say nothing is saying something.  You must denounce things you are against or one might believe that you support things you really do not.  (Germany Kent)

Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.  (Leonardo da Vinci)

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.  (Audre Lorde)

You should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you know is right.  (Aung San Suu Kyi)

In a room where people unanimously maintain a conspiracy of silence, one word of truth sounds like a pistol shot.  (Czesław Miłosz)

Silence becomes cowardice when occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly.  (Mahatma Gandhi)

Fools multiply when wise men are silent.  (Nelson Mandela)

And speak the truth.  Do not hesitate to say what you consider to be the truth.  Say what you feel.  Let your conscience be your guide.  Let your intentions be good, for verily God is aware of your intentions.  In your deeds your intentions count.  (Caliph Umar)

These days, a sling of truth can still make Goliath fall.  (Tom Althouse)

When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up.  You have to say something.  You have to do something.  (John Lewis)

When the President decides that he knows better than you know what’s good for you or your family, we’ve got trouble in this country.  (John Barrasso)

The one thing I’ve never been afraid of is standing before important people and speaking my mind.  I represent women who may never have the opportunity to go to the UN or meet with a president.  (Leymah Gbowee)

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………  (You)
……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………  (Me)

A Light Touch

I seem to be getting sillier.

I went for a walk today through my village of Belmont.  The air was bright and the snow was just enough to feel Christmasy.  I was hoping to see kids in the graduating Grade 6 class, kids I miss so much.  I realize that I might not be volunteering in their classroom for the entire school year.  (Sigh)  May I be wrong.

***

“Ahh … here comes a middle-aged couple!”  I was so eager for contact.  From six feet away, we smiled at each other.  And the words just tumbled out of my mouth: “I knew that if I saw somebody out here, I’d be so happy that I’d pack a good snowball and throw it at them!”  The two of them cringed ever so slightly as their smiles took on a stationary look.  Then I laughed a Santa laugh, and so did they.  The snow remained on the ground.  And  we were off in our separate directions.

***

I smiled and waved at a mom and her adult daughter who were passing by.  Our conversation amounted to “Hi.”  A bit later, as I was doing a loop pattern through residential streets, I came upon a path between subdivisions.  Coming towards me were the two women.  Seizing upon a potential moment of irrationality, I looked at them as we got close and said “I was just on Robin Ridge Drive and saw two women just like you.  Do you realize you have twins?”  Their eyes widened and then relaxed.  And we all chuckled together.

***

Further down the path of life came a young mom strolling her infant son or daughter.  Another “Hi” and another smile.  Funnily enough, she also looped back to my reality.  Not being bored with my previous rendezvous, I said (with awesome originality): “I was just on Kettle Creek Drive and saw folks just like you and your child.  Do you realize you have twins?”  I mean really … why waste a good line?

***

Approaching Belmont Community Park, I saw three adults approaching – two men and a woman.  One of the men had a cane, and was hunched over.  We smiled and said “Hi.”  

(Me)  I knew that if I saw somebody out here, I’d be so happy that I’d pack a good snowball and throw it at them!

(Old man)  Well, start with these two!

(Me)  No, no … you appear to be older.  You get the first shot at it.

(Old man)  [Huge laugh, bending over even more]

(The other two)  [Smiling as they watched the old fellow’s delight]

***

On the home stretch, down the street came a mom and her two daughters.  As I got closer, I saw that one was “Brittany”, a Grade 6 kid I know.  Her sister “Terra” said that she was in Grade 2.  I told Brittany how much I was missing volunteering with her and her classmates.  She got the message.  I asked what recesses were like.  “Do you have to wear masks outside?”  >  “No, we just have to socially distance.”

Looking at Terra, I said “So you have to stay sixty feet apart?”  >  “No!  Just six feet,” she sputtered with a giggle.  Terra met my gaze and noted that she and I were closer than six feet.  (Actually we were maybe eight feet apart.)  “No way!”  > “Yes, way!”  >  “You’re wrong.”  >  “Okay, then I’m right!”  Etcetera.  Fun was had by all.  And then we went our happy ways.

***

I should get out more often

Blessing Us All

I think that if we sit down and be quiet for awhile, most of us sense a “bigness” that spans far beyond our individual lives. My spirituality is Buddhist. Yours may be Christian or Muslim or Hindu. When you think of a vast presence, it may be Jesus who comes to mind … or God the Father, the Buddha, the Dalai Lama, Muhammad or simply The Divine. It may be an enlightened human being or an overarching Spirit.

I feel a presence that wishes me well, that is intimately for me. Someone is cheering me on, glad that I showed up on the planet. And someone is doing the same for you.

Here’s “The Blessing” … a song that speaks through the words and between the words. It’s for all men and all women.

The Lord bless you
And keep you
Make His face shine upon you
Be gracious to you
The Lord turn His
Face toward you
And give you peace

Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen

The Lord bless you
And keep you
Make His face shine upon you
Be gracious to you
The Lord turn His
Face toward you
And give you peace

Amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, amen

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children and their children

May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
And your family and your children
And their children and their children

May His presence go before you
And behind you and beside you
All around you and within you
He is with you, He is with you

In the morning, in the evening
In your coming, and your going
In your weeping, and rejoicing
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you
He is for you, He is for you

He’s always on your side
You’re always on His mind
He is for you
He never will forsake
He never makes mistakes
He is for you, He is for you

Amen, amen, amen

https://youtu.be/XBTuiAoKZuE

Hacked

I’m not a suspicious person, or apparently a very careful one.

Yesterday I opened Facebook and saw a new communication in Messenger. It was from a friend whom I haven’t talked to for months. I was thrilled. There sat a video with the caption “Look what I found.” There was a tiny picture of some guy. Was that me? Had my friend dug up an old moment that we’d had way back in the past? I clicked. Nothing happened. (Sigh) I sent him a message saying that I couldn’t open the video. Our reunion would just have to wait.

That was the full extent of my thought process: communication delayed, curiosity unsatisfied. And so to sleep.

Then there was 7:54 this morning. I was having breakfast right then, blissfully unaware of the events in Cyberland. At that moment, for my entire address book, I believe, a video showed up in inboxes, declaring “Look what I found.” It was hours later that I realized lots of folks were trying to get hold of me.

Did you send me a video?

I can’t open your video

Looks suspicious to me

You’ve been hacked, my friend

Then a really big sigh. I wasn’t thinking clearly for the first few minutes but I finally decided to phone Facebook. I soon found out that such an action is virtually impossible. “Okay, then … change your password.” Of course! “And how exactly do I do that?” I fumbled around in Facebook menus for awhile before giving up. And then a magic word came to mind: Google. Lo and behold, a short YouTube video appeared in my life, voiced by a nice-sounding guy. I wasn’t in full control of my rational mind but I soon had a new password. I know I can trust you so here it is:

*************

I sort of sighed in relief, and figured out that I should phone my computer guy. Would he be working on Saturday? I called … and he answered. He said that all I could do was change my password (Done!) and warn everyone to not open the video. (The next part is my personal favourite) Brain matter swirling, I didn’t have a clue about how to let people know. My techy friend, ever patient, simply said “Post it on Facebook.”

I’m fascinated by my inability to figure that out on my own. Having said that, I posted. But the Messenger communications kept arriving. I answered them all.

I’m sad that my eagerness to connect with an old friend has led to so many people being at minimum inconvenienced, and perhaps severely hacked. Am I allowed to sigh a fourth time?

On we go

P.S. I just went to Facebook to post this and found out that the warning message I sent this afternoon went only to me! Arghh. I just changed it to “Public”. (Sigh number five)

Expanse

This afternoon, the voice in my head chimed in with “Bruce, why don’t you write about ‘expanse’ today?”

“O…kay.  Sure, I’ll do that,” I replied, without being clear about my future key-tapping.

How about a definition for starters?  An uninterrupted space or area, a wide extent of anything, something that is spread out

***

My mind gives me hints of where my heart lies.  Sitting here now, there’s something soft happening inside, and a sense that my muscles, organs and bones are separating, creating space between them.  The breeze is flowing through.

The miracle of light pours over the green and brown expanse of sawgrass and of water, shining and slowly moving, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades.  It is a river of grass.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas

There’s an outward flow, an ever-expanding circle around me.   It rolls over things, covering them in kisses, and blessing them.

Growing up on a farm was the best.  I remember loving that expanse of space.  The sky at night was so clear, I could see every star.

Abbie Cornish

There’s a liquid feeling, a sloshing about, a rhythm that moves deep inside but also moistens the universe.  It’s a pulsing: lulling me into sleep, leaving me embraced by the infinite.

Aside from what it teaches you, there is simply the indescribable degree of peace that can be achieved on a sailing vessel at sea.  I guess a combination of hard work and the seemingly infinite expanse of the sea – the profound solitude – that does it for me.

Billy Campbell

The spreading out seems unstoppable.  No virus, no contraction of man, no boundaries of country or religion, can prevent it from seeking wonders over the horizon.

Surely there is grandeur in knowing that in the realm of thought, at least, you are without a chain; that you have the right to explore all heights and depth; that there are no walls nor fences, nor prohibited places, nor sacred corners in all the vast expanse of thought.

Robert Green Ingersoll

Details of form and movement are still present, and people are thoroughly themselves, but there is a blending, a gentle erasing of lines, with the light shining on all the curves.

There are few sights more pleasant to the eye than a wide cotton field when it is in bloom.  It presents an appearance of purity, like an immaculate expanse of light, new-fallen snow.

Solomon Northup

***

Marjory, Abbie, Billy, Robert, Solomon and me … and you

Tapestry

All is calm … All is bright

 

It’s all here, all the infinite variety of human life …

 

I can dance in the flame and I can rest at twilight

I can tumble words from my mouth and I can let my lips abide in their touch

I can party with all of you and I can joyfully keep my own company

I can knock on your door and I can invite you into my home

I can laugh and I can cry

I can sing and I can be sung to

I can figure it out and I can let it go

I can jump forward and I can fall back

I can breathe in life’s sorrows and I can breathe out blessings

I can soar and I can plummet

I can live and then I can die