Fear of the Famous

I’m taking a live online course on relationships.  Eighteen of us from around the world have met for the past four Saturdays.  Our work is based on the ideas of Patricia Albere.  She sees the possibility that humankind can experience “mutual awakening” – the freedom of enlightenment experienced by two or more people together.

Part of our time together is spent listening to the teacher (Keren) speak.  And then there are times when each of us is paired with another participant for half an hour, doing an exercise meant to deepen the sense of connection.

During yesterday’s course, I pressed “Yes” to join my first 1-1 session and up popped … Patricia.  Fear coursed through me and words started racing: “The founder … famous person … smart person”.

Patricia went first and I watched myself flip back and forth between wallowing in my “stuff” and having my consciousness be inside her.  Again and again I brought myself back from terror and fell into the sweetness of relationship, only to see it slip away again.

When it was my turn, I told Patricia of my fear.  She got me.  And bit by bit another perception came through: That was a human being over there, admittedly one with great gifts, but in another sense quite ordinary, with the joys and sorrows that we all know.

We laughed a lot.  We enjoyed each other’s company.  I got to glimpse that I’m no more and no less than anyone else.  And maybe, just maybe, comparing is plain silly.

I started thinking of the Grade 5 and 6 kids I volunteer with.  I wonder if some of them are nervous around me, thinking that I’m a smart adult and they’re “just a kid”.  Hmm.  It feels like my job to talk to them from a “level” place, not like a pronouncement from on high.

Eleven-year-olds, Patricia and me.  All with something precious to give.

A Tale of Two Teams

I spent the afternoon at a high school in St. Thomas, watching a basketball tournament full of Grade 5’s and 6’s.  I knew I’d love cheering on the girls and boys from the school where I volunteer.

There was a stark difference in results.  The girls lost their four games and didn’t make the playoffs.  The boys won everything … champions!  Both teams had struggled in the regular season so the boys’ explosion of offence and smothering defence were unexpected.

You might think that the contrasting results would produce different behaviour during the games.  Think again.

They’re all great kids and it shows up on the court.  Male or female, they cheer their teammates’ sweet plays and give them a pat when things go bad.  And they’re so intense! Blasting down the court with the ball, going wide around a defender.  Coming back furiously to cut off an opponent dreaming of an easy layup.  Rolling on the floor clutching at a loose ball.  Finding an open teammate with a cool bounce pass.  All marvelous.

The best for me was that I couldn’t see any drooping heads when the score was climbing against them.  Just keep pressing and enjoy the conversation when you’re on the bench.

When I was growing up I wasn’t on sports teams (except for Grade 9 football, when I never got into a game).  These kids have an opportunity that I didn’t give myself.  Good for them.  They’re learning about jump shots, hand-in-your-face defence … and life.

Give ‘er!

Little Peaks on the Graph of Life

Today was full of conversations, such as how Belmont survived the ice storm, the performance of the Toronto Maple Leafs and neighbourhood condo issues.  All of these are fine topics of concern.  My ears, however, are usually tilted towards the emergence of other moments, ones that transcend the norm.  And there were a few of those today:

1.  Walking down Main Street, picking up pieces of garbage on the way to the Diner and back home again.  Two small plastic bags full.  Quiet satisfaction.  For the greater good.

2.  Talking to an 80-something Belmontonian at the breakfast counter about raising teenage hell with a friend of his (long since dead).  A wistful look in his eye, and a tiny smile of remembrance.

3.  On my return trip home, a woman calling out from across the street “Thank you for picking up garbage.  It helps Belmont.”  (Smile)

4.  At the gym, a friend and employee looking me in the eye and saying “The future needs you, Bruce.”  (Astonishment.  I’d never heard those words before)

5.  Getting out of my car in the school parking lot and hearing “Hello, Mr. Kerr” coming out of a happy Grade 6 girl.  I felt so welcomed.

6.  Seconds later, a kindergarten girl wanting so bad for me to remember her name, and then the two of us taking turns hiding from each other behind a metal post.  For a few seconds, our gazes held each other.  Contact.

7.  A Grade 5 girl asking how my training was going for the ride across Canada and me telling her that I wasn’t feeling too well lately, and hadn’t been training as much as I wanted to.  Great concern for me in her eyes.

8.  Watching a girls’ basketball game after school, in which our team was being beaten badly.  Wondering at how our players continued to push the ball hard and guard their opponents closely.  No sagging heads.  I was so proud of them.

9.  After the game, telling one of the students that I loved seeing her usual reaction after missing a shot or having the ball taken away from her – a huge smile.  To which she replied with … a huge smile.

10.  Sitting down in the Belmont Arena for a senior citizen dinner – a free meal paid for by the Lions Club to honour us oldies.  What a sweet thing to do, I reflected, as I gazed across the sea of local folks.

11.  After eating, we heard a fellow sing the classics.  And two very senior women at my table mouthed the words to a few love songs.  They seemed afraid to sing way out loud, but their hearts were on full display.  It was a privilege to witness their memories.

***

I was above the usual roll and warble of daily life … eleven times.  Thankfully I often had the eyes to see these radiant blips.  Lucky me.  As for tomorrow, whether it’s one moment or twenty-three, I’ll be there.

 

Win-Win

We live and breathe within a win-lose context.  On one level, that’s completely obvious.  Stanley Cup champions are face-to-face with hockey also rans.  Elected Prime Ministers and parties are up against colleagues who garner 2% of the popular vote.  And then in Toronto there are the mansions of Rosedale down a few roads from the public housing of Jane and Finch.

How deep does this cultural attitude stretch?  Maybe it’s completely insidious and virtually unnoticed in most interactions we humans have with each other.  If I’m talking to you, is there an unspoken current below to the tune of “I’m better than you, smarter, more handsome, kinder … blah, blah, blah?”  I hope not, but I worry that it’s so.  And perhaps you’re having the same thoughts about me.  Two isolations.  And it doesn’t have to be this way.

The Buddha talked about empathetic joy, in which I can be supremely happy when you have success.  It’s not that there’s only so much happiness to go around and I get antsy if you score too much of the pie.  No.  Have yourself a piece or two and there’ll be plenty left for me, and for everyone else.

What if I knew that my well-being revolved around being good to other people?  What if I wanted you to have everything, to be so deliciously happy and peaceful?  And that became far more uplifting to me than any worldly accolades that come my way?  Is that so very far out in left field?  Can we create a world like that?  I wonder.

What if I knew that in the expanse of life’s goodies there is actually nothing but love?  I’ll cheer when my team scores the winning goal and revel in my promotion and enjoy beach time in the Caribbean while sensing that only we are the world.  Or as Walt Whitman said, “We were together.  I don’t remember the rest.”

I want you to have joy in your heart
Maybe you’ll want me to have the same
Wouldn’t that be the sweetest dessert?

Vivid

Everything seems bigger these days, most of the time.  More explosions of energy.  More colours.  More being there with life (or more accurately here).

I’m sitting in the ferry terminal, waiting for my boat to Toronto Island.  It’s ice storm time in the big city – slippery sidewalks, blasting wind, slow as it goes.  I just talked to a woman who teaches on the island.  She’s worried about the crossing, and talks about the location of lifeboats.  And the wind continues to blow the yellow CAUTION tape every whichway, sometimes shrieking in decibel joy.

Gosh, the world is alive!

Energy is swirling over my face.  There is a softening of the muscles.  I see the beauty within and without.  I am with the pastel-coloured lawn chairs sitting in the snow outside the waiting room window.  I was with my teacher friend and now the pigeon who’s my companion on this bench.  She’s 18 inches from my right arm, just sitting there.  Nice.

As a result of the Mutual Awakening course I’m taking online, I can sometimes feel my consciousness inside the person I’m talking to, or in this case … the pigeon.  How mysterious, and unmistakably real.

I just took the UP Express train down from my B&B.  As I sat there looking out the window, my face fell softly and I could feel tears coming.  I looked into the windows of houses flashing by and reached out to the people inside.  I saw cars lined up in a left turn lane and felt sad for the occupants.  For a second this felt pathological, that there was a weird deficit in me.  That glimpse floated away, replaced by a depth of feeling – empathy … care … love.

Last night I watched Laura Smith sing her soul out at Hugh’s Room.  She’s a Canadian singer-songwriter with a beautiful voice, beautiful songs, and something so far beyond them both – presence and love. When she sang “I’m A Beauty”, an ode to the well-being of all women and girls, her face shone.  Often Laura would lift her eyes and her hand, gazing at something profound, something beyond the physical.  All was alive.

***

Now it’s after the island concert and the land is flooding.  We audience members are invited into a van that will take us to the ferry dock.  I say no, with great joy.  “I’ll walk back on the boardwalk.”  Adventure overwhelms me and possible consequences fade to the background.

On my way to the seawall, tongues of water are creeping.  I lean over to watch the flow darkening the snow, inch by inch.  I’m fascinated.  I detour around the new ponds and approach the cement barrier.  Waves are crashing against it, sending spray 20 feet into the air.  Whoa!  Such power, and some of it is coming from inside me.

I walk parallel to the seawall, looking for the beginning of the boardwalk.  And there it is – underwater.  Oh.  Feeling surrounded but somehow supremely happy, I retreat to the church, hoping that the van hasn’t taken everyone away.  I knock on the door.  No answer.  And I smile, broadly.  Ten seconds later, the door opens.  A fellow human being!  We decide to walk to the park road and wait for a vehicle to pick us up.  A wee bit of fear and a whole bunch of “Yes!”

What is happening to my life?

Roger and I were picked up by a driver, who was so pleased to help.  On the ferry, I stood at the bow and marvelled at the crashing waves.  And got so wet!

And then the train to take me out of downtown.  Looking like a drowned rat, I stood in the full car.  A young woman stood up and said “Please sir – have my seat.”  She gave me such a lovely smile.  In the past, I would have cringed at the word “sir” and rebelled against being helped.  But not today.  I felt the young lady’s warmth, smiled back at her and said “Thank you.”  We met in the eyes.

***

It’s been a day

 

 

 

Loveliness

I’ve witnessed moments of grace over the last few days.  Here are three of them:

1.  I went to a folk music concert at a couple’s home.  My chair was four feet from the piano player and I was immersed in the sweetness of the tunes.  And then the unexpected: A 40-ish fellow got up and approached a woman sitting on the couch.  I’d guess she was in her 70’s.  He extended his hand.  She smiled and offered hers.  She stood.  And they danced to the music – a soft twirling motion accompanied by more smiles.  It was lovely.  The whole was truly greater than the sum of the parts.  We the audience were quiet … and so very present to the sublimity, I believe.

2.  I met a jolly gentleman, really a gentle giant.  He asked me to look at his book.  It was a little thing, with each page headed by a date of the year.  It sounds like a diary, and I guess that was its original purpose, but my friend had turned it into a birthday book.  He asked me to sign it, and give my phone number, on the appropriate page.  I quite naturally chose January 9.  Maybe twenty other human beings were listed there.  Good for us.

The best part is that this fellow phones each of us and sings “Happy Birthday”.  Thousands of folks are serenaded on their special day.  Such a big wow.  Such a gift.

3.  I’ve been in Toronto the last couple of days.  I usually park at the train station before heading downtown.  This time there was a gate blocking the area of the lot where I park Scarlet.  But there were still some public spaces on the far side.  I went up to the train attendant to find out what was happening.  The woman was behind her panel of glass but she also moved right into my heart.  Her gaze into my eyes was constant and soft.  She explained all the ins and outs of the changes and clarified when I got confused.  But she could have been reciting names in the phone book for all I cared.  I was bathed in her kindness.  I was transfixed by her presence.  I was thankful for her existence.

***

May I continue to attract such moments
May people continue to express their beauty
May I have eyes to see and ears to hear

Eighty Women and Me

A few nights ago, I went to the Quarter Auction at the Belmont Arena.  I learned about this event weeks ago and asked around about how to get a ticket.  A couple of women I approached smiled slyly and said that the auction was pretty much a women’s event.  You bring a ton of quarters and bid on items that would enhance your kitchen, bathroom and bedroom.

“You’d be the only man!”

Well, there’s a challenge for you, Bruce.  I don’t mind at all putting myself into unusual situations.  In general, I love going to Belmont events because I want to meet people and move deeper into the community.  So I kept searching for a ticket.  And a lovely Belmontonian found one for me.

Up the steps to the meeting room in the arena, throwing a comment or two towards the women who were walking near me:

“I love being the token male.”

“Do you think they’ll be any sports equipment on offer?”

“All these women and me.  What an opportunity!”

Some of the ladies smiled little smiles.  Some seemed to turn away from me.  One girl just laughed.  I was on my way.

I gave the hostess my ticket and strolled into the room.  Faces followed me.  (I love this!)  How did this painfully shy teenager turn into a 60-something who loves being the centre of attention?  Ha!  Ha!  I don’t know and I don’t care.

I saw my friend “Melody”.  She had invited me to sit with her and her daughters and so I did.  They all seemed happy to meet me and were chuckling a bit about my presence in a sea of femininity.  They taught me how to do the auction thing, raising my number 46 paddle high when I was bidding on a treasure.  There was an orange plastic bowl in the middle of the table, ready for the descent of our quarters.  Each item would have a value – anywhere from one to four coins.

There were probably twenty vendors and we did four rounds – about 80 items, of which I had interest in maybe two.  That didn’t matter.  I told myself I’d give away anything I won.  The evening was about fun, not the addition of one more material possession to my home.

As I was chatting with my table friends, I’d sometimes look up, usually to see a woman from afar checking me out and then quickly averting her eyes.  Gosh, I was such an oddity.  Sometimes I’d walk over to the bar to get a pop and some potato chips.  Mostly that was to flaunt my maleness in front of the assembled masses.  Some people smiled.  Some just stared.  Both reactions were okay with me.  As the evening proceeded, my scientific analysis suggested that the smiles were climbing and the frowns diminishing.

I decided to have some fun with my tablemates.  My pile of quarters lay before me.  After a vendor had described some apparently essential item, I’d pick up ten or so quarters and plunk them into the bowl.  “But the cost is only two quarters,” someone intoned.  I grinned silently.  Mouths twitched in wonderment.

Another cool thing to do is drop quarters into the containers of my neighbours when they were looking over their shoulder at a vendor’s presentation.  Ho, ho, ho!  Mostly, my sneaky contributions weren’t discovered but other folks at the table guffawed to see my deception bear fruit.  I never knew I had such a talent for being devious.

The evening’s MC often referred to the “ladies” in attendance and usually added “and gentleman”.  The first time she mentioned me I jumped up and threw my arms to the sky, in preparation for the multiple marriage proposals that would undoubtedly come my way.

I kept hoping that the number 46 would be picked for some prize.  I would again jump up, this time yelling “Yes!”  But it never happened.  (Sigh)

None of the results stuff matters.  I had a blast.  My table friends seemed to enjoy my contribution to the evening.  And eighty women were left to contemplate further the question:

What is a man?

 

Diarrhea

I went to bed on Monday evening worried about my heart.  I woke up at 3:00 am worried about my nether regions.  You know the story: a drowsy awareness of something unusual becomes an ever building pressure down below, and then the race to the toilet.  I’m so happy I have one!

Not much sleep thereafter but five more visits to my very green bathroom.  Four doses of Imodium didn’t seem to do anything and I started wondering if I should cancel my 7:15 am echo cardiogram in London.  I sure didn’t want to be going with the flow on the highway.

I’m not a careful person.  I’m usually spontaneous and don’t think much about the consequences of blurting out whatever comes into my brain.  But yesterday morning was different.  As I pulled on my coat, I decided to accessorize.  Imodium in the right pocket … and underwear in the left.

I was biting my lip on the way in and I do believe tensing my glutes a mite.  No problems.  I walked into the clinic and told the receptionist about my condition, strategically avoiding the topic of pocket briefs.  She smiled empathetically.  Minutes later, however, out came a nurse to say that my diarrhea could mark the onset of flu and she didn’t want me to infect other patients.  So we needed to reschedule.

Yes, I was disappointed but far bigger than that was a peace about it all.  How strange and lovely.  I smiled, said “Okay” and headed off for breakfast.  Could it be that the setbacks of my day don’t touch me much anymore?  Unless they’re absolutely huge, I guess.  That would be marvelous.

And now back to my heart.  After the tests are completed, I fully expect to be given a clean bill of health and a wish that I enjoy the Tour du Canada.  It seems so logical now that my exhaustion on the elliptical was about loose stools rather than a lousy organ.  I smile again.

On we go.

Scared

Last week my doctor phoned to tell me that my recent ECG had some “irregularities”.  Gulp.  She prescribed an echo cardiogram (happening tomorrow) and a stress test – on a treadmill, I suppose.

For the last few months I’ve been training hard, in preparation for this summer’s bicycle ride across Canada.  The medical news sent fear coursing through me.  I asked myself what’s true.  Well, all this work on the elliptical has certainly increased my endurance.  My performance on the beast has gone up at least 10% since I started working out in earnest in December.  So how could my heart be weak?  No way.

Have I gone at it too hard, sometimes to the tune of several hours a day?  Maybe.  The organizers of the Tour du Canada told us riders that we need to accumulate 2000 kilometres on the bike from January 1 till mid-June.  I’ve figured out an elliptical equivalent for cycling, based on calories burned.  As of today, I have 1980 kilometres in the bag.

So I worried a bit and watched my mind a lot.  My meditation has sure helped me on that score.  How easy it is to create a doomsday scenario, I laughed (Friday).  You’re fine, Bruce.

Yesterday morning I was on the elliptical for two hours, and I felt more tired than I’d expected to be.  No big deal.  This morning, however, I scheduled one hour, and the result was all-consuming.  I was exhausted after 45 minutes and dragged myself to the finish line.  Then I sat down in the locker room, surrounded by “What’s happening?”

Could I really have a problem?

Is it just that I haven’t had enough rest days?

How would I cope emotionally if Julie told me I shouldn’t go on the ride?  Would I abide by her doctorial request?

And so I sit, bathing in uncertainty.  Stewing in fear.  Letting it all fall out of me.

Just now … a small smile.  I’m bigger than this issue, more expansive than the events of my day, not tethered to the earth.  I will cross the bridges that come my way.

Humboldt

I watched the final round of The Masters golf tournament this afternoon.  I saw spectators jumping up and cheering when a long putt went in.  Such delight!  Also vivid was the drooping head of a player who had just hit his ball into the water.  And at the end, as the winner Patrick Reed walked from the 18th green to the scorers tent, there was Rickie Fowler, the second-place finisher, hugging Patrick and giving him such a sincere smile.

All of these were fine human moments.

Then the TV feed switched to TSN’s sports news show – Sportcentre.  There was a view of flowers on the steps of the hockey arena in Humboldt, Saskatchewan.  On Friday evening, the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team collided with a semi-trailer.  Fifteen people died, most of them players ages 16-21.  As people spoke onscreen, I felt immensely sad.  All those lives gone, along with their future dreams, accomplishments and loves.

It was time to show photos of each victim, along with a few details about them.  A woman read the words as the pictures went by.  She kept clearing her throat, catching her breath, and finally she could speak no more.  Just the photo of a young man … and silence.  I think tears were flowing on the other side of the TV.

More fine human moments.

As if I needed to be reminded of the contrast between the human spirit and the so-so of daily life, it was time for a commercial break.  Obviously I needed a certain brand of hamburger.  Plus who knew that a new vacuum could bring a woman such joy?

Flatness in a world of dimension.

It’s clear to me that the heart needs to be involved in huge expanses of my day.  Otherwise, where is the joy and sorrow?  Where is the depth?  Where is the awe?