Upside Down

I’m a fairly intelligent person and I know how the world works.  You start with A and get yourself to B, whether that’s an easy task or something that requires great effort and creativity.  After that, it’s on to C.  Etcetera.

Or … maybe I’m wrong.  Life just might present us with stuff that doesn’t make any sense, that’s bereft of logic, often just plain weird.  Could it be that these moments are immense windows into another way of being?

I’m looking back at jolts, discontinuities, strangeness.  One happened a couple of days ago, when I was doing a Mutual Awakening practice with someone online.  I can’t even remember who that someone was, which is a bit of a jolt in itself.  In these practices, images often bubble up.  I’ve let go of figuring out where they come from.  This time, I saw a man looking at me with his eyes closed.  I could tell they were about to open.  Instead of the eyelids rising to reveal the eyes, they came down from the top.  When the eyes were fully visible, the lids didn’t stop at the bottom.  They continued down his cheeks, gradually showing an iridescent turquoise interior.  It was shining and it was huge.  Seeing into the man’s eyes, I realized that he was me.

My lips tightened.  My head tilted.  And I was transported to another place.  I knew almost immediately that I would talk to you about this mystery that takes the breath away.  Here it is Sunday and I’m talking.  It doesn’t matter how you react to this.  It’s clear to me that this break in normal reality needs to be communicated.

***

I’m thinking back to a vacation that Jody and I had in the Dominican Republic.  The dining room was close by a lovely pond bordered with tropical colours.  Long-legged pinkish birds walked in the shallows, seeking a fish buffet.  After a minute of watching the birds tense into their pouncing, I noticed their legs.  My mouth opened and I stared.  Their legs bent the other way … folding backwards.  What ever happened to A, B, C and D?

***

Last night, I went to a BeeGees tribute concert in London.  Towards the end, many of us were moving and grooving on the dance floor that was the narrow space between Row A and the stage.  One young man danced like … I don’t know what.  His fingers were jabbing in time to his neck moving back and forth, sort of like a chicken but not really.  More staring from me.

***

When the breaks in reality flood me, I get disoriented, wavery, hanging not so loose in some in-between space.  The questions explode in my head:  “Where am I?  What is this place?  How come I don’t recognize any landmarks?”

This is all okay
Just embrace the fog
Walk inside
It’s safe

Hello Ruby

Last night, lying in bed

Car rental expires in a few days
Used?  New?
Lease?
Will I be driving fifteen years from now?
Honda?  Toyota?
Red?
Doesn’t matter

***

This morning, lying in bed

RED!
Has to be red
Red is my favourite colour
Go home
… Ruby …

***

I’ve named every car I’ve owned.  At 7:00 am today, I did it again, and I didn’t even own anything.  “Her name is Ruby.  And she’s a Honda.”

Since 1988, Jody and I had bought Hondas.  When we moved to London in 1990, we fell into the arms of Westgate Honda.  Our mechanic Roy was a marvel. In 2012, we bought a second car – Scarlet, who happens to be a Toyota Corolla.  The Toyota dealership has treated me fine but lying under the covers this morning I knew it was time to go home.

I met with a Westgate salesman today – Tim.  He told me that Roy was still chugging along in the back, in his 38th year of service.  But he wasn’t in today.  No worries, Roy.  We’ll have a reunion soon.

My choices were a new Honda Civic LX or a 2017 Civic EX, both fire-engine red.  My mind roamed and rambled about 47,000 kilometres, new car depreciation, the relative drains on my pocketbook and cool EX features, but my main message to Tim was … red!  I’m such a discriminating consumer.

Part of me knew even before I laid eyes on the 2017 model: she was mine.  I was hers.  We walked out the door for a test drive and I was stopped by the Civic shape.  I simply wasn’t used to it.  Ten seconds later, as I took in her beauty, the words came easily … “Hello, Ruby.”  I do believe my new friend smiled in return.

Now inside the black interior, with Tim showing me this and that.

Now flowing down the street with a passenger view, hearing about more features.

And now behind the wheel, pulling out into Riverside Drive traffic.  So smooth.  So comfy.  So in sync with me.  Half a kilometre later, the words spilled out: “You have a sale.”

I take possession Wednesday or Thursday as a friendship emerges.  “Ruby, we’re going places together.”

Tomorrow, in the spirit of new love, I’ll drive into London, park at Westgate, and mosey up to Ruby in the parking lot.  It seems like a profoundly rational thing to do.

Ahh … beginnings

 

Goodbye Scarlet

I received word today that the insurance company considers my red Toyota Corolla a total loss after we were rearended two weeks ago. Ouch.

Yes, I have to find another car within the next few days and yes, all this will cost extra money, but that’s not the big story. For many years, I’ve developed relationships with certain objects in my life and none has been as profound as Scarlet and me.

Jody and I bought Scarlet in 2012, and even though she was officially our second car after Hugo, we tripped around in her a lot, mostly with me as the driver. I sold Hugo a year ago and sometimes afterwards I’d look over at Scarlet’s passenger seat to sense Jody in animated conversation with her husband.

Scarlet has taken me to so many concerts and sporting events in Toronto since Jody’s death. I remember one blinding blizzard on the way home. I knew we had to get off the 401 and I could only dimly make out the tall reflectors on the exit ramp near Guelph. I trusted Scarlet to make the curve and she pulled through for both of us.

The grand adventure was to Western Canada in the summer of 2015. I wanted to visit some old friends and spend time with a few of Jody’s relatives, some of whom I’d never met. Scarlet and I roamed all the way to Victoria, B.C., and I enjoyed being with my former wife Rita in Vancouver. The span of Canada west of Ontario rolled with our wheels, including a harrowing trip south of the Trans-Canada Highway in Manitoba to find the city of Steinbach in the pummelling rain. With the gas tank reading zero. Thanks again, Scarlet.

Then there was the fire near the Coquihalla Highway in British Columbia, which threatened to leap across the road. That was terrifying. Contrast that with the immense peace of Butchart Gardens on Vancouver Island, and more sublimely, with the spirit of the fine folks I sat down with in every province from here to there. Scarlet and I were together through it all.

Today it ended, although Scarlet’s soul will remain with me.

I took out all my personal belongings at the body shop. And last were the piles of quarters sitting in the change container. It was time to say goodbye. Scarlet was up a couple of feet from the floor. I leaned over the driver’s seat and kissed her steering wheel, a padded one that was full of Bruce finger impressions. I stood in front of the hood, put my hands down onto the dust, and said …

Goodbye, Scarlet
Thank you

Switch

I was driving through Belmont today on the way home from school.  The bus ahead had just spat out a gaggle of kids.  Five of them jumped onto a white lawn and started throwing snowballs at each other.  I laughed.  It’s just what kids are meant to do, even though it’s not allowed at school.

And then I flashed back.  To about 1960.

An 11-year-old kid had just been released from school.  The wet white stuff was falling.  He walked along Bedford Park Avenue in Toronto with two words on his mind: “good packing”.  For those of you in southern climes, that means the snow sticks together well.  The boy started winging snowballs at his friends and other kids.  He was splatted a few times in return.  “By accident”, one of the missiles happened to hit a car crawling by.  Unfortunately that car was driven by a teacher at Bedford Park Public School, and he recognized … me.

The next morning I was in the principal’s office, quivering about what I knew would be next.  Ah yes, corporal punishment.  The strap.  A long piece of leather with the power to decimate an open palm.  And it did.

Today, in my rental car Bullet, I reflected on how I’d changed from little to big, from young to old.  Now I was the one with power and status.  I have the responsibility to maintain my home and pay my taxes.  I don’t play “guns” in the back alley anymore.

Am I still that young fellow on Bedford Park Avenue?  Do I still feel the thrills of being alive?  Yes, I do.  They’re different thrills, for sure, but I still glow hot and jump up and down.  May we all continue to throw ourselves into life.  May we continue to have fun.

Compassion

It’s an astonishing painting, by Alex Grey. It hangs in my hallway just inside the front door. I could go on and on about the beauty of it all but I’m sure the message is clear to you. There is giving and there is receiving, with the giver knowing deeply that he or she is being given to as well.

We had an art class this afternoon. The lesson was on perspective, how a line of trees can appear to be stretching to the horizon. The teacher and I roamed around, offering feedback and encouragement. One young man (I’ll call him “Brett”) had his head down and I asked if I could help. He was shaky. When I looked at his pencil drawing, I saw the mistake he was making and I coached him about how to fix it. Then I moved on to other kids. It was fun to offer a hint here and some praise there.

Ten minutes later, I glanced back at Brett. His arms were propping up his head and he was crying. I walked over. “What’s wrong, Brett?” He turned to me and away from the students beside him. “This isn’t any good and my dad will be so mad.”

My eyes welled with his. I flashed to my father and to the unconditional positive regard he sent me, even when improvements needed to be made. Clearly home was sometimes not like this for Brett. I wanted to assist him and I wanted us to have privacy. We found a table off in a corner and sat there with each other, both of us making some marks on the paper. We worked towards the OKness of any tree that emerged from Brett’s fingers and shared the creation of perspective – two tall trees on the left and right edges of the paper, two shorter ones next door and two itsy bitsy versions in the middle of the paper. By the time the first bell rang for home, Brett was calm.

Such a key moment, that one with the tears. Each of us needs to be ready with a helping hand. The Bretts and Lucys of the world deserve our care.

I Just Wanna Have Fun

“Animation” is one of my two favourite words.  I’m not talking about cartoons here.  I’m thinking about the Latin word animus, which means “to breathe life into”.  So … take an ordinary moment in your day.  How can you bring it alive?  It’s become my hobby, and it comes to me easily now – no effort, no planning, just fun.

I was walking into GoodLife Fitness this morning at 11:50.  A session with my trainer Tony was scheduled for 12:00.  I’d have to boogie through the clothes changing to make it on time.

On the way to the locker room sat five men in a row.  Some had white goo on their faces.  Off to the side was a table hosted by a smiling woman.  It was laden with paper plates.  Pressurized cans of whipped cream waited for their time to shine.  The hostess told me that GoodLife staff were raising money to help kids with autism or intellectual disabilities get fit.  For $5.00, I could whip a plate full of cream into the visage of one of these captive employees.

First

“Do it, Bruce!”  What does five minutes of lateness mean in the span of your life?

Second

I whipped out my wallet and plunked it into the tub of five dollar bills.  Then I just stood there.  Gentlemen gaped.

Third

As the hostess was explaining things, I stared at the young man on the left end of the line. I tried to look fierce.  As I picked up the overflowing plate, I continued my gaze.

Fourth

Still fixed on Lefty’s eyes, I walked forward ever so slowly, a delicious circle in my right hand.  Closer, and then right up to him, I raised my arm … and splatted the wet goodness into the face of the fellow beside him.  Squeals of delight (both male and female) then ensued.

Fifth

I picked up my gym bag and strode heroically towards the locker room, accompanied by a chorus of “Your wallet!”  I didn’t look back.

Sixth

I took the scenic route through the locker room, creating the pregnancy of time, and returned to the lobby via a back entrance.  Perhaps a minute had gone by.  Up to the table, a crisp bill removed from the rescued wallet, a smiling glance at the assembled ones, and I was off once more.  I believe there was a gentle murmur behind me.

***

Worth its weight in gold, those five minutes
Mouths were opened and smiles engaged
Life was made good

Don Cherry

Don is a commentator on Hockey Night In Canada, a TV show featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League.  On Saturday night, he talked about the impending Remembrance Day, which honours our country’s veterans.  In his discussion with Ron MacLean, Don complained that “you people” aren’t wearing the red poppy that is the symbol of this day.  He talked about people coming to Canada for our “milk and honey”, enjoying the rights that were preserved by members of our armed forces.  His comments about immigrants inspired outrage from sea to sea.  Calls came for him to be fired.  Today SportsNet did exactly that.

This incident is being widely covered by the media and this evening I asked myself why I was wanting to write about it.  Hasn’t everything already been said?  Maybe … but maybe not.  Perhaps there will be something fresh in my voice.

Don has been extremely popular with his “Coach’s Corner” segment between the first and second periods of games.  He’s sounded off on all kinds of subjects – hockey and non-hockey.  I’ve admired his courage in speaking out, even when I’ve sometimes disagreed with his opinion.  Many Canadians have suggested that Don should enter politics, even put himself in the running for Prime Minister.

Cherry has often criticized “soft” hockey players, such as ones who wear a protective visor.  He’s criticized European players, whose culture of hockey has focused on skill rather than toughness.  Don is connected with a series of “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em” hockey videos, which focus on big body checks and fights.

As I sit here, what comes is the thought “The world doesn’t need this.”  We don’t need clenched fists.  We need kindness.  We need appreciation for our differences, including personality types and sexual orientation.  We need inclusion.  So far in his life, Don is not that.  Boys and girls who play hockey need to be shown values that bring people together rather than ones who tear people apart.  I’m glad he was fired.  It’s time for the world to move on.

Apparently Ron MacLean gave Don a thumbs up after his anti-immigrant speech.  Really?  How sad.  For years, Ron has been the voice of moderation and understanding on the hockey telecasts.  But not on the weekend.  I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  He made a mistake.  Actually, on a Sunday night hockey show, he apologized:

“During last night’s broadcast, Don made comments that were hurtful and prejudiced and I wish I had handled myself differently.  It was a divisive moment and I am truly upset with myself for allowing it,” he said on Twitter.  “I have worked with Don for 30 years, and we both love hockey.  But last night, I know we failed you.”

Thank you, Ron.  We needed to hear from you.

***

We human beings have an opportunity to do life a different way.  No longer can we be 7,000,000,000 egos each asserting their right to have it their way.  No longer can we trample on the souls of folks who are doing their best to have a happy life.

I imagine from the quiet of my living room …
Who will be the next person to come my way?
And what will be my response to their presence?

Wobbled

The Grade 5 and 6’s often play volleyball in gym class and I get to participate.  I crouch when preparing to return serve.  My eyes bore into the opponent on the far side of the net.  My arms are extended, ready to bump or volley.  Every fibre of Bruceness is alert.

The contrast to athletic focus seems to have started during my long meditation retreats.  Sitting in the hall for as long as an hour several times a day, I sometimes felt a “shimmering down”, the falling of energy on my face.  It settled me.  Long sighs came from some place way deep inside.  Sitting here right now, the descending flow is with me.

More recently, in my work online with the Evolutionary Collective, I get to practice with someone for half an hour.  We ask each other the question “What are you experiencing right now?” and then see what emerges. In the year-and-a-half that I’ve been doing this practice with many different people, there have been transitions.  Away from “How am I doing?” and towards the essence of the person who faces me through the laptop screen.  Away from an urgent seeking for something to say and towards an allowing of the mouth to open, and a pause to see what wants to come out.  Away from doing it right and towards loving my partner.

If the volleyballer in me is seen as a perfectly vertical line, the gazer into eyes that I also am is a tilting, a wobbling.  Sometimes it’s even a gentle fall to the side, while knowing that my landing will be soft.  Often there is a sense of being cradled, of some sweet being crouching low to bring me softly to the ground.

Both while practicing with the EC and also just sitting around home, questions can wash over me:  “What’s happening?”  (No worry, no urgency, just curiosity)  “Where am I?” (Being lost and not needing to be found, okay with having no familiar landmarks)

It feels like some entity is behind the Wizard of Oz’s curtain … wobbling me.  And I’m very willing to be moved, to be touched, to be influenced as I amble along.

***

Sometimes I write about things that happened in the past – events, people, experiences, feelings.  That’s good.  Even better, though, is being in the middle of what I’m talking about right now.  And so it is in this moment.  I’m disoriented, buffeted by some grand breeze, slumping here and swooning there.

All is well

No One Came … Everyone Came

Fifty summers ago, I was working at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Alberta. My roommate was Adrian, a fellow with a British accent. I think for both of us it was our first time living away from home.

Adrian wanted to host a party in our room. He sent out invites to the employees and we stocked up on pop and snacks. Around 8:00 one evening, we were ready. We sat on our beds and waited for our friends to show. We waited until 8:30 and then 9:00. No one came.

Adrian’s pain filled the room. It certainly flooded over me. Such a deep sigh of sadness. Both of our heads dropped down. There wasn’t much to say.

That memory of the dorm room at the PW is still vivid today. Human beings should not do such things to each other.

***

Earlier this week, I heard about a boy named Kade in Corner Brook, Newfoundland who had sent out invitations to his 11th birthday party. Dad agonized on Twitter with the news that none of those friends showed up. “I’m asking my Twitter friends to show him some love today.” There was a photo attached of Kade in his Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, proudly displaying his birthday cake adorned with hockey players in the icing.

And what happened, you ask. Lots.

50,000 happy birthday messages, including some from Leafs players

A phone call from the Leafs’ captain John Tavares, wishing Kade well and letting him know that a big surprise was coming his way

An Air Canada flight from Newfoundland to Toronto

A lovely hotel suite

Meeting the players at their morning skate today

Cool seats for the Leafs’ game with the Philadelphia Flyers tonight

(Ahh)

There is love in the world
Somewhere Adrian is smiling

Joining the Past

I’m sitting in Coffee Culture in downtown London, amiably with the present moment. And then I glance upwards. There sits a brown metal ceiling, etched with curlicues and squares, shining amid the pot lights.

And I am gone … to the time of a little boy, and to the wonder of grandpa’s farm, worlds away from my bounded home in Toronto. For the farmhouse living room had such a ceiling.

I am returned to chairs spread around the huge dining room, occupied mostly by adults who loved to tell stories. I see the sweep of fields falling to the railway tracks miles away, and the steam locomotive that each day entered my world on the right and disappeared on the left.

I remember lying awake in my upstairs bedroom, listening for the kitchen clock loyally sharing the wee hours with me. I feel grandma’s narrow pantry, and the steaming oatmeal cookies set upon a plate. The secret rush for sweetness was a grand adventure. Only decades later did I realize that grandma had purposely created a scene perfectly suited for a hungry 10-year-old.

There was golf across the stubble of a shallow field. Maybe my drives were 100 yards long and I joyously retrieved each ball … again and again. And we built a hay rack one summer, dad and my uncles straining with the hammer blows. Can’t remember what the young man did to help.

Down the fields toward Emily Creek with Uncle Orville and Uncle Laverne. They taught me to avoid the thistles and made sure that our route passed by Uncle Bruce’s maple sugar shack. Bruce died in a car crash in 1937. Mom made sure that his name was not lost.

Walt Whitman said “We were together. I don’t remember the rest.” So true. I was embraced within family on that long ago farm. I belonged. I contributed.

Looking back, there’s a tiny smile as I sip my cappuccino under the metal sheen of time.