The Span of Life

There was a time when Coco was a young girl. Her father sang her songs and played guitar. She was happy.

Then there was a rift between mom and dad. He left, and the music ended. For succeeding generations, singing and playing was always forbidden.

If Coco missed the joyous songs, she never said. The family made shoes for a living, and that became her purpose, along with caring for her children.

So says the film Coco.

Now Coco is very old. She doesn’t make shoes anymore. She almost forgets what was the singing was like … until her great-grandson Miguel came along. He didn’t like making shoes. He wanted to be a musician. So he sang to great-grandma. And a smile appeared.

***

There is a book called Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch. A young woman gives birth to her son. She rocks him and sings these words:

I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be

She keeps singing to him throughout the years … to a kid, a teen, a young adult, and an older one. It is her joy to do so.

In the sweep of time, mom becomes very old and very sick. She needs her son, and he needs his mom. So he holds her, rocks her, and sings:

I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My mommy you’ll be

What Is Hidden?

Jack Kornfield is a Buddhist teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center near San Francisco. In his book The Wise Heart, he tells us of a wonder:

In a large temple north of Thailand’s ancient capital, Sukotai, there once stood an enormous and ancient clay Buddha. Though not the most handsome or refined work of Thai Buddhist art, it had been cared for over a period of five hundred years and had become revered for its sheer longevity. Violent storms, changes of government, and invading armies had come and gone, but the Buddha endured.

At one point, however, the monks who tended the temple noticed that the statue had begun to crack and would soon be in need of repair and repainting. After a stretch of particularly hot, dry weather, one of the cracks became so wide that a curious monk took his flashlight and peered inside. What shone back at him was a flash of brilliant gold! Inside this plain old statue, the temple residents discovered one of the largest and most luminous gold images of Buddha ever created in Southeast Asia. Now uncovered, the golden Buddha draws throngs of devoted pilgrims from all over Thailand.

The monks believe that this shining work of art had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest. In much the same way, each of us has encountered threatening situations that lead us to cover our innate nobility.

Just as the people of Sukotai had forgotten about the golden Buddha, we too have forgotten our essential nature. Much of the time we operate from the protective layer. The primary aim of Buddhist psychology is to help us see beneath this armoring and bring out our original goodness, called our buddhanature.

This is a first principle of Buddhist psychology: see the inner nobility and beauty of all human beings.

The statue stands ten feet tall. It is made of solid gold and weighs five-and-a-half tons.

Let There Be Light

I was on a New York City ferry in September, looking up at the Statue of Liberty. I was moved … and I wondered why. Perhaps it was the immensity of the woman or the history of immigrants arriving in America. Yes, and there was more. She was holding her torch high – proudly and serenely.

I think of other torches in my life, especially in 1988 as a runner came by on the way to Olympic Stadium in Calgary, Alberta. We the crowd were ecstatic in our cheers. Another light was held aloft. I knew there was something immensely special here.

Then there was another Olympics – 2010 in Vancouver, B.C. The stadium glowed with thousands of candles as kd lang sang the Leonard Cohen anthem Hallelujah. I could feel the grace of it all through my TV screen.

The scale of all this light is huge but I’ve also felt the magic on a person-to-person level, sometimes in a simple church. A lit candle at the end of a pew transfers its glow to other candles waiting further along. We receive and then we give.

***

If we’re willing
We shine

The Gentle Bend

I’m drawn to curves. I retreat from straight lines. There’s a flow outwards, a going out and seeking, and then a graceful turning back. It’s something like driving on a twisty country road. You can feel the force from the side.

***

I love it when a curve rises or falls. There’s the grunt of effort and then the “Whee!” of descent. I remember very well a roller coaster road in Alberta where new hotel employees would be initiated into the lay of the land … also discovering the fitness of their stomachs.

Then there’s there’s the curving that reaches out and touches another … a nestling together, an embrace, a merging. We come close. We spoon. We cuddle.

And sometimes we spiral, flowing upwards together around some centre, seeing each other anew at each turn. The moving is up and ever out – including more, visiting new lands, opening.

We journey on these curves, eyes open to the mystery.

The Men of the Deeps

They’re all coal miners – active or retired – on Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. They sing of their lives. Dressed in overalls, they walk onstage in the dark, their way lit only by the lamps of their helmets.

I’ve never known this life of heat, claustrophobia and exhaustion. Teaching exercises the mind, not the biceps. And the classroom isn’t a health hazard. Conditions in the mine, however, often led to “black lung”:

I have it very bad. My dad died of it actually and I can barely walk up the stairs or anything because it really stops me from any physical activity at all.

The Men of the Deeps sing many songs of the miner’s life. My favourite is Working Man:

It’s a working man l am
And I’ve been down under ground
And I swear to God if l ever see the sun
Or for any length of time
I can hold it in my mind
I never again will go down under ground

In the dark recess of the mines
Where you age before your time
And the coal dust lies heavy on your lungs

The choir’s director captures the impact that these men have:

When you look out from the stage and see grown men crying, you realize that our story in this small corner of the world is not only our story – you could take this story to England, to West Virginia, to Saskatchewan. There are coal mines all over the world and that makes our story relatable.

I pray that audiences continue to relate to these working men, and to anyone who suffers in body and mind to feed their family.

Prostate

I told the kids at school that I was going to “a meeting” this afternoon. That was true … a meeting with a urologist in the Prostate Clinic at St. Joseph’s Health Care. My doctor did a rectal exam late last year and found an irregularity as she touched my prostate gland – some unexpected bump. She wasn’t very concerned but wanted to be thorough. Fair enough.

So there I was today, sitting in the waiting room for half an hour, wondering if I should breathe easy or jangle a bit. When I looked inside, I saw calm. So I decided to kibitz with the woman to my left and the man to my right. That was fun.

Finally it was time for me, and Dr. Urologist extended his hand. A jolly fellow. He took all the data he had – blood work, rectal exam, my survey answers – and plugged the info into his computer program. I saw the word “abnormal” next to the “physical exam” category. This led to a small gulp. Doctor told me that today he’d do a look-around with his finger. If he didn’t find anything strange, he’d change “abnormal” to “normal”.

I glanced at the screen again. Right now it said “Probability of cancer: 44%”. Woh. Doctor told me that this general cancer lingo included ones that aren’t a problem. Okay, but that wasn’t particularly reassuring. There was another category, which I think read “Probability of high intensity cancer: 24%”. Not a happy camper over here.

As they say, my life was flashing before my eyes. I felt naked, fully vulnerable, swimming in the question “Am I well or am I sick?” Everything seemed to stop.

And then there was Doctor again, smiling and ushering me over to the examination table. His finger was poised for action, and I was poised for the worst, the best, and everything in between.

Seconds later, the exam was full speed ahead. “Ahh … I see what your doctor means. But it’s not a nodule. It’s the vas deferens [a tube inside me that goes somewhere]. You’re FINE.”

I’m fine. You heard that, didn’t you? No sweat. No worries. No reason not to have a long and happy life.

So … on I go.

Old Yeller

I was just a kid when I sat in a dark theatre to watch the 1957 film Old Yeller. I didn’t have a dog but I could feel the love between Travis and the yellow retriever. Old Yeller was a stray who ended up saving the family from an angry mother bear, a cow, a hog and a wolf (not at the same time!) The wolf bites Old Yeller on the neck, and the beloved dog contracts rabies.

To protect the family and other folks, mom brings a rifle out to Travis and Old Yeller. Travis kills his own dog.

I would have been around ten when I saw the film. I don’t remember being devastated about the ending … but clearly many people were.

Disney Plus shows Old Yeller, and a post on the Facebook fan page has brought lots of response. My take about many of the posters is they think crying is bad, dangerous, to be avoided at all costs:

Never want to see it again because of the ending

Umm … no thank you. Once as a child was enough for a few lifetimes.

I refuse to watch it again because the ending made me cry so much.

I can’t watch this while I’m pregnant. I cry too much.

My heart is still scarred from the book. Jesus, not a chance. That movie messed me up when I first saw it when I was like 6. Never again.

We were shown it at school when I was a kid. Imagine a whole gym full of 6th and 5th grade kids and teachers crying.

I don’t wanna cry …

***

So here we are as human beings
Some of us feel so much
Some of us shut it down

Tears show weakness
Tears are a blessing
There’s no right or wrong about this
Just people in their infinite variety

Lost!

I was up at 6:00 this morning, if “up” means rising on my elbows in bed, swirling between conscious life and sleep. I wanted to go for breakie at the Belmont Diner, and then on to school to say silly things to kids.

I reached over to the nightstand for my glasses … and they weren’t there. Odd. Somewhere in the night, I remembered sweeping the comforter over my snoozing body, and there was a faint recollection of nudging something.

No problemo. I dropped to the floor and scanned the usual spots where glasses have been known to descend. Nothing.

“Look harder” said the Bruce voice. I expanded my search, including the narrow space behind the nightstand, and unlikely distances under the bed. Nope.

You’ll be happy to know that these gyrations were all accomplished in the nude. My bedroom window was right there, and my body was well lit, but surely there wasn’t anyone out in the field walking their dog in the dark.

My heart rate climbed. A sheen of perspiration appeared on my forehead. I got up and roamed around, purposefully.

In good time, I discovered that all of these yielded a “No”:

-on top of the nightstand
-in the drawer of the nightstand
-on top of my dresser
-on the raucously coloured comforter
-under said comforter
-under the sheet below
-on the kitchen counter
-on the living room couch
-on the patterned living room rug (crawling and brushing with my hand)
-across all available surfaces in the bathroom
-inside the bathroom cupboard
-on the washer and drier
-in the den (hadn’t been in there for a day or two)

Such was the descent of my mind. And the wanderings of my naked body. (Lights were bright in the den, which faces the street. I didn’t care.) Visions of days with only sunglasses came to my fuzzy eyes. Having a neighbour come in with 20/20 to scout the premises. Etcetera.

I was speeding up and revisiting unlikely locations. Breathing fast and shallow. Scurrying.

And then I stopped. “Bruce, go have a shower. Maybe that’ll help you think more clearly, and erase from your mind the probability of aliens having landed.”

Oh … the deepest sigh. Before hitting the spray, I decided to make my bedroom more presentable. I carefully pulled the sheet tight over the pillows, and then did the same with the comforter.

Then I shook my head. “What’s to become of me …?”

Moments Shared and Passed On

I went to a lovely concert last night at the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club in London. Singing and playing were Liv and Braden, better known as Tragedy Ann.

I had met this marvelous couple two years ago, as they graced the stage of the London Music Club. That evening I felt our conversation in my heart, and I’ve carried them with me ever since.

Yesterday I saw Braden and Liv in the hallway before the music started. There were hugs and many light words.

I sat in the front row, way to the side of the massed instruments and the two singers. Early on, Liv was introducing a song inspired by The Velveteen Rabbit, and by “a book we were given”. I smiled back two years. Within the walls of the London Music Club, I had given them a copy of Jodiette: My Lovely Wife, the book I had written about my dear wife Jody. She died of lung cancer in 2014. “Is she talking about Jody’s book? Nah … must be some other one.”

Except it wasn’t.

From the song Velveteen:

There’s a tree
Not too far from home
Waving leaves like it knows me

I know such a tree. I wrote about it, and about hearing Jody’s voice there, hours after she died. The bare branches trembled.

I’m waving to you, Bruce. I shelter you. I protect you. I’m here, husband. I will always be with you, cheering you on.

And from Tragedy Ann’s Facebook page just now:

We had been tweaking Velveteen for a long time before starting to perform it live. Inspired by a story read to us as children and a book given to us as adults, we wanted to touch on the nature of lifelong love, loss, and doubt.

Thank you, my friends. We move each other throughout our days and years … you and you and you and you and me.