Stompin’ Tom

I remember going to a concert with a friend in Lethbridge, Alberta, probably in the 70s.  I’d vaguely heard of the guy – Stompin’ Tom Connors – but I didn’t know what to expect.  Well … onto the stage came this fellow dressed in black, including his stetson hat, and carrying a wooden board.  He set it down under one of his feet, grabbed his guitar, and launched himself into “The Hockey Song”, all the while smashing his cowboy boot in rhythm on the wood.  My God, but he was an original!

I know you probably don’t know the tune, but close your eyes and let your mind run free:

Hello out there, we’re on the air, it’s ‘Hockey Night’ tonight
Tension grows, the whistle blows, and the puck goes down the ice
The goalie jumps, and the players bump, and the fans all go insane
Someone roars, “Bobby Scores!”, at the good ol’ hockey game

Where players dash, with skates aflash, the home team trails behind
But they grab the puck, and go bursting up, and they’re down across the line
They storm the crease, like bumble bees, they travel like a burning flame
We see them slide, the puck inside, it’s a 1-1 hockey game

Oh take me where, the hockey players, face off down the rink
And the Stanley Cup, is all filled up, for the champs who win the drink
Now the final flick, of a hockey stick, and the one gigantic scream
“The puck is in! The home team wins!”, the good ol’ hockey game

Snippets of this song are still played at rinks all over Canada during breaks in the play.

Tom was born in New Brunswick and was taken from his mom at an early age by the Children’s Aid.  He eventually was adopted but took off from that family at age 15 to go hitchhiking across the country with his guitar.  And the hitching continued as he explored Canada and brought his music to the locals.  Many, many concerts and albums later, Tom was given the Order of Canada, perhaps the highest honour that civilian citizens can receive.

Tom was himself, writing songs that he liked, about his back aching after picking tobacco in Tillsonburg, Ontario, or drinking a bit too much after his shift at the nickel mine in Sudbury, Ontario.  He didn’t fit in with the Canadian music industry but the people loved him.  And still do.

Tom died in 2013.  He wrote a goodbye, which was published in newspapers after his death.  The man and the human being shine through:

Hello friends.  I want all my fans – past, present or future – to know that without you, there would have not been any Stompin’ Tom.

It was a long, hard, bumpy road, but this great country kept me inspired with its beauty, character and spirit, driving me to keep marching on and devoted to sing about its people and places that make Canada the greatest country in the world.

I must now pass the torch to all of you, to help keep the Maple Leaf flying high, and be the patriot Canada needs now and in the future.

I humbly thank you all, one last time, for allowing me in your homes.  I hope I continue to bring a little bit of cheer into your lives from the work I have done.

Cheers, Tom

The Tour du Canada

Yesterday afternoon 25 cyclists slogged up the two kilometres of Signal Hill in St. John’s, Newfoundland, completing their journey of 7550 kilometres (about 4700 miles) across Canada.  They had started mid-June in Vancouver, BC, and averaged around 130 kilometres per day.  My goodness.

For at least ten years, I’ve dreamed of joining them.  It’s an adventure which I will experience before I die.  I can feel that deep inside.  My plan was to do the ride this summer, right after retiring, but Jody’s illness prevented that from happening.  I need to be at her side.

Let’s say I cross my country in 2016.  I’ll be 67 then, not exactly the oldest rider to do the deed, but getting up there.  As a 50-year-old, I defined myself as a slow cyclist, so what about 17 years later?  The bottom line question: Would anyone in the group be willing to ride with me on the daily spin, or would my time on the bike be spent alone?  I like to think they’ll be a few takers.  Speaking most stereotypically, I don’t expect my companions on the road to include any 20-year-old men.  I bet they’d be busting their buns to be the first ones into the next campground.  Oh well.  Sometimes I dream of speed, but not much.  I want to see the world passing by, not be gazing at the rear tire of the rider ahead, only six inches from my front one.

Here’s some more wants:

1.  To become friends with my fellow riders, perhaps at a level that I’ve never experienced before.  After all, we’ll be fighting the wind, the rain, the hills, injuries, illness and our own emotions.  Each of us will have off-days, times when our self-esteem hangs by a thread, times when someone else’s personality will be oil to my water.  We have to take care of each other.  The possible overwhelm could easily lead to tears, even male tears.  I need to be kind, and graciously receive others’ kindness in return.

2.  To meet Canadians all across this fair land.  If I’m riding through a Saskatchewan town, past the general store, and spy an elderly gentleman sitting on the porch, pulling on his pipe … I’m going to stop and say hi.  Have a nice chat about the Prairies and about riding (assuming that he’s fine with talking).  I know that many communities, ones who welcome Tour du Canada folks year after year, put on breakfasts or dinners for the riders.  Truly a golden opportunity to blab at length to every Mary and Bob that I can find – young, old and anywhere in the middle.  I like to think that my spirit will flow into them, and theirs into me.

3.  To blog my fingers off from Vancouver Island to the Maritimes.  The organizer of the tour told me that most campgrounds which they use are wireless, so I can cozy up to my laptop for half an hour each evening and wax poetic about the events of the day.  I’ll be sure to mention lots about the peanut butter and jam sandwiches that are a lunchtime staple.

As is the case with the blog you’re reading right now, I won’t know if I’m reaching a lot of people or just a few.  Now and in the future, both results are fine.  As long as someone is out there, I’m good!

As wise people often say when thinking about a life experience, there’s the anticipation of the event, the event itself, and the memories.  I know that all three will be mine.  As for now, Part A is a lot of fun.

 

I Don’t Have to Be Self-Disturbed

Recently during a silent retreat in a very sound-controlled centre, a woman with lung cancer started to cough.  She could not stop coughing, and I saw the people sitting around her begin to stir.  She realized she was causing a disturbance and left the room.  I followed her out, placed my hands on her shoulders, and looked her in the eyes.  I told her she was welcome to stay in the hall as long as she wanted, regardless of her coughing.  It was up to each of us in the meditation hall to deal with our discomfort.  I told her I appreciated her sensitivity to the group, but it was not her problem that we were annoyed.  We discussed how disturbance is not caused by outside sounds, but by internal reactions to perceived annoyances.  I reminded her that we were meditating to learn and work with that fact, not to create a comfortable container of imperturbability.

On one of my retreats at the Insight Meditation Society, I experienced the same thing – a woman couldn’t stop coughing while we were sitting in silent meditation.  And the same pursed lips appeared on many of the yogis near me.  I’ll call the woman Mary.  She was in the same small group as me.  The ten of us had three group interviews during the week, each time with a different teacher.  It was virtually the only time we could talk.  Like the woman with lung cancer, Mary felt horrible, sure that she was wrecking “the space” for one hundred people.  Each of the teachers encouraged her, and asked her to see that she wasn’t in any sense “less than”.

Mary started coughing on our first day, Sunday, and continued until maybe Friday.  That morning, at the 6:00 am sitting, Mary was silent.  Although many in the room almost audibly sighed with relief, I found myself in a different place: I missed Mary’s coughing.  I came to see that it represented for me a suffering human being, a human being to be revered, and a way for me to get out of my head and feel compassion.

I missed Mary’s coughing for the rest of the retreat.  At the very end, we had a couple of hours where we could talk to each other.  I went up to Mary and thanked her.  Although on the surface her response was astonishment, something else was brewing inside and her smile said it all.  Her hug too.

 

Silence

Another tranquil summer Sunday shattered by the incessant yapping of humans

It’s strange.  I love to talk, but only about matters of the heart.  I love telling stories that leave people laughing, crying or thinking.  But I love silence even more, whether being beside Jody or with myself.

Many a time in a group conversation I have nothing to say.  I’m not interested in problems that some folks love to unearth.  I’m not interested in the latest scandal, whether it’s the Hollywood or political version.  And I don’t care about the darn weather.  I figure that weather is good and we need to have it, the more variety the better.

I wonder if some people think I’m stupid, stuck up or unsocial when I don’t participate in the current topic.  Oh well.  Let them think what they want.  I’m happy being silent, just watching the flow of events, mostly without judgment.  “Bruce, you’re so quiet.”  “Yeah, I guess I am.”

Jody is fine with not talking as we sit together.  If we’re outside, the birds usually have plenty to say.  If we’re cuddling in bed, no words would add to the love.

Occasionally in quietness I beam good stuff to the other person.  Usually though, even that feels too forceful.  It’s good to just be with them, not throwing energy outwards but instead letting it waft away, like a fine mist.  Space hangs in the air.

And then there’s sitting meditation.  Jody and I have a room with a hot tub and warm brick walls.  I have a comfy chair in there that seems to surround me, wrapping me in its arms.  It’s a marvelous feeling to fall into deep silence within, no matter the sounds without, and to respond with grace if someone speaks to me while I’m meditating.  I read a story once about a guy who was determined to be a great meditator.  He focused like anything on his breath.  One time, his daughter walked in to show him something she’d drawn … and he chewed her out.  “Can’t you see I’m meditating?!”  No thanks.  People deserve better.

Sitting meditation is very cool.  Thoughts come and thoughts go.  It’s all right.  Images show up unbidden.  Woo … where did that come from?  And them I settle back again.  So quiet.

Right now, right here, I’m still
Writing this has been a meditation
Enough said

Foibles

I’ve lost a step over the years, in one respect or another.  May I gracefully accept these changes, rather than “rage, rage against the dying of the light”.

First thing – I struggle to remember the names of objects that hold other objects, and so in conversation I usually retreat to the most convenient term “container”.  In the moment, as I gaze at the thing, I search (most often in vain) for box, pot, can, jar, basket, bowl, or whatever the heck it is.  Last year, I got scared a lot by this, fretting over whether I had a case of early onset something-or-other.  In the freshness of 2014, I mostly laugh at myself.

Secondly, and more importantly, I can’t squat.  You know, bend at the knees and go down.  In this bod, it’s just not happening.  On golf course greens, I see folks demonstrate this intricate maneuver to line up their putts.  Why them?  Why not me?  And laughing again, who cares?

I used to enjoy driving at night.  Actually, I still do.  I remember passing cars with confidence as the stars twinkled.  Not now.  I just can’t figure out how far away that oncoming vehicle is.  Which happily slows me down.  So my supposed shortcoming allows me to keep to a gentle rhythm on the roads, and I laugh some more at my good fortune.

For decades, I’ve enjoyed remembering people’s names.  They feel good when I greet them personally.  These days, it’s a mite confusing, especially when I see the person in an unexpected environment.  I often guess wrong.  Maybe I should religiously avoid using any name as we talk, but that feels false.  I want to know and be known.  I wonder if my companion senses my caring for them even if I call Jessica “Martine”.  Hope so (he said, smiling).

I can’t handle big meals anymore.  Small portions please, and far less red meat, if you don’t mind.  Now, c’mon, that isn’t a foible, is it?  More like a wise choice.  Makes my tummy feel good and my mouth turn up at the corners.

Lastly, there’s the ticklish subject of extended nose hairs (right now infinitely longer than my non-existent head hair).  Yesterday, I was thumbing through a catalogue which offered sundry consumer ways to be a better person.  I was especially taken with “The Best Nose Hair Trimmer”, which, you’ll be happy to know, is “the only model with an integrated light that illuminates difficult-to-see areas in the nose”.  Well, heck, I don’t really want one.  I’ll just stand on guard for me with my trusty scissors, and the offending downward-seeking fellows will be eliminated from public view.  (Grin)

And there’s my summary of Brucive deficiencies.  I can live with them.  No problem, mon.

 

 

The Slider Knob

Imagine a knob that can be moved to the left or right.  On the far left is the number 0. Then there are ticks on a scale – 1, 2, 3, … all the way to 10 on the far right.  I remember a similar setup on the dashboard of one of my cars, Jade perhaps (a 1996 Honda Accord).  Maybe it controlled the heat.  I can’t recall.

Jade’s sliding control started me thinking about my life.  I’d had moments of bliss, of a great unwinding, of peace.  They only showed up occasionally.  What dominated my head was the usual: feeling bad about myself, and being afraid of disapproval, aloneness, poverty, ill health, plus a large dose of etcetera.  As for the slider, I saw it set to 9 or even 9 1/2.  That huge length to the left was normal consciousness.  The itty bitty part at the right end hosted breakthroughs into something … different.

Then I got the idea to take hold of the slider and move it to the left.  Was 7 and 3 possible?  Sure, I could open myself to mystery enough to get there.  What about 3 and 7?  Ah … I doubt it.  Who could be that open?  (Well, I could, said the tiny voice holding up a tiny hand halfway to the sky.)  Then there’s 0 and 10.  Ridiculous.  After all, I have to live in the world – make a living, have normal conversations, stay healthy.  Not some little Buddhist guy ahh-ooming all day.  Okay, granted.  I have to place these feet of mine on the ground.  But can’t I also soar to the heavens?

Can I live my life 1 and 9?  Can I animate virtually every moment with Spirit, love, kindness and compassion – towards me as well as to others?  I think so.

And is it really putting my fingers on the knob and intentionally moving things to the left?  Or does that just happen by the grace of God?  Maybe both.  What I do know is that over the years the knob has headed west some, and the distance of better-worse, more-less, and this-and-not-that is less than what’s on the right: a letting go into bigness.

Applying For Jobs

In November, 1993, I had just failed as a life insurance agent and was grasping at the straws of my future life.  Twenty years later, I’m a retired teacher.  Last week, I came across some letters I’d written to employers at the time, seeking that elusive foot in the door.  Here are excerpts from three of those letters, plus one I wrote to an author of a book on selling skills.  The results that came back to me from these efforts was zero.  No one replied.  I don’t want to analyze the paragraphs for what went wrong.  I’m more interested in seeing if the person I am today was peeking out from letters back then that were meant to get me hired.

In the employment positions I have had, I’ve always wanted the person I was meeting
with, whether it was a client, a volunteer, a patient, a student or a fellow staff member, to leave the interaction feeling better, rather than worse.  I’m convinced that the road to company success starts and ends with seeing the other person as a human being, listening to their needs, and finding solutions for them, all within the context of both caring and assertiveness.

Did the employer care if the customer felt better after talking to me?  I don’t know.  I sure did.  As a 45-year-old, that was already important to me.  Also, what are the other person’s needs, and how can I contribute to their life?  Guess I threw in “assertiveness” to make myself more marketable but actually it wasn’t important to me.

I know that I have the ability to inspire the people around me – in this case the employees I supervise.  People working with the public must have energy and must like other human beings.  I certainly see myself as having these attributes.  I can select quality employees in the first place, and help them keep in touch with the “people values” that are essential for any successful retail operation.

Today I’ve come to realize that I’ve inspired some of the people in my life.  Looks like I had an inkling of that many years ago.  Then and now, I did and do like other humans – in fact I love them for doing their best in this life of joys and woes.

The number one thing I offer is my ability to build trusting relationships with teens.  I do this through being a good listener, giving the kids positive feedback whenever it’s earned, and implementing a “keep your word” classroom management program, delivering effective consequences within a context of caring.

This letter was from 1997 as I tried to get myself back into the classroom.  Then and now, I trust people.  I’ve been ripped off a few times as a result of being naive, but actually I really like the word.  I also enjoy “innocent” and “silly”.  And I do keep my word to people, sometimes with a little delay, but I get the job done.

I’ve been an agent for 21 months and am struggling to make enough sales to stay in the career.  I don’t have much money to spend right now on training programs, but I want to get coaching on how to apply your ideas to the life insurance industry.

I see myself as coachable, open to learning from the life experiences, thoughts and behaviour of others.  In some sense, those folks aren’t on the outside, looking in at me.  They’re already inside.  I’m also willing to admit what’s true in my life.  Many a time I do struggle, and not just financially.  Being willing to be vulnerable with people who have the power to benefit me has been my way for a long time.

***

So, that was from the 90’s.  Maybe I should now head back to 1954, and see what my kindergarten finger paintings had to say about Bruce in 2014.  Doubt if they’re hanging around in the basement, though.  I’ll just have to pretend.

You and Me

A popular fable describes hell as a room in which a bunch of angry, emaciated people sit around a banquet table.  On the table is piled a wonderful feast, with many platters of the most delicious-smelling foods that one can imagine.  Strapped to the forearms of the famished people sitting around this table in hell are four-foot-long forks and spoons, so no matter how they try, they cannot get any food into their mouths.

Heaven, on the other hand, is a room in which jovial, well-fed people sit around a banquet table that is piled high with a wonderful feast, with many platters of the most delicious-smelling foods that one can imagine.  Strapped to the forearms of the happy people sitting around this table in heaven are four-foot-long forks and spoons … and the people are feeding one another across the table.

When I’m in a room with other folks, I have a choice: make contact or don’t.  Right now, I’m sitting in an Emergency waiting room with my friend Neal who is having pain under his ribs.  He’s trying to read a magazine.  Around us are a few men and women, and some appear to be suffering.  Should I say something, trying to make people smile?  Any comment of the “Do you come here often?” variety isn’t likely to have a positive effect.  Would my words invade the other person’s privacy?  Should I say them anyway, and be willing to be misinterpreted, out of my commitment to contribute?

I decide that I’ll use what’s in front of me – anything that’s happening now – to connect with one of my fellow sitters.  The current waiting room issue is getting access to the washroom.  Staff have coached us about the proper technique.  Pull the handle down while you also turn the thumb lock that (strangely) is on the outside of the door.  I look in the direction of a woman who’s just commented on the task, and I say “Maybe hospitals create challenges like this so we can solve them and feel good about succeeding.”  And in return … a smile.  Good.  I guess I could have received a big frown instead, but I figure it’s worth the gamble.  We need to help each other emerge from loneliness.

A few minutes later, as news was coming through on the TV about this morning’s earthquake in the San Francisco area, I ventured another comment.  No one near me was saying anything, so I directed my words to Neal.  “Have you ever experienced an earthquake?”  “Yes, in Washington State.”  “I never have.  I’ve seen videos about the ground shaking, cans falling off shelves, etc., but it still doesn’t seem real.”

A second woman looked at me and started talking about a mild earthquake that happened in London a few years ago.  We had a good conversation.

Little moments of contact.  Perhaps the second woman heard me mention washroom doors and decided that I’d be an okay person to talk to.  I don’t know.  What I do know is that I’ll keep taking chances.  Who knows what impact I’ll make with someone?  Maybe they’ll forget about me an hour later, but I still might linger inside them.

May we always see each other
May we always hear each other
May we always nourish each other

Cause or Effect?

Do I cause my experience of life or am I at the effect of circumstances?  Bad things happen, that’s true, but do I have control over how I react to them?  Why do some people collapse under the weight of unemployment, cancer, lost loves, lost hair or the home team’s losing streak, while others let it wash off their back?

What would my life be like if I just laughed at my travails, while still working to improve things?  I’d have all that extra energy available for love, kindness, compassion and other good works.

Here’s a story that stopped me in my tracks, since I’m the type who gets antsy about creepy crawly things.  Mr. Lama knows a thing or two, I’d say.

Today was particularly bad for me as the rain would not let up.  And the leeches were relentless.  At one point I counted twenty-two of them sucking on me at the same time  … Sloshing along the muddy trail in the pounding rain, I came upon a large, slimy log that had fallen chest high across our brush-choked path.  In my agitated state, I viewed the log as a menacing obstacle that was clearly separate, in my way and against me.  With no way under or around, I jumped, stomach first, and slid over the top.  Regaining my balance on the other side, I was infuriated at the mud and decaying mush that seemed to have covered the entire front of my body.  Rubbing off the crud, I cursed the log and the god-damned rain.  It was my brother Todd who suggested that we wait and see how the Lama would handle this formidable impediment.  Surely this test would break him.

Hiding off the trail, we peeked through the underbrush just in time to see him trudge up to the log.  Ever smiling, he took a couple of steps back and tried his jump with a running start.  With not enough momentum – coupled with a portly belly – he slid back down on the same side of the log and landed on his back in a large puddle.  Shaking his rain-drenched head, he burst into spasms of uproarious laughter.  Staggering to his feet, he repeated the same maneuver – with the same results – two more times.  With each collapse back into the puddle, his laughter grew stronger and louder.  On his fourth attempt, he made it over the top and slid headlong into the muddy puddle on the other side.  Again, the laughter was knee-slapping.  Continuing to chuckle, he wiped himself off as best he could, lovingly patted the log as though it were a dear friend, and proceeded up the trail – smiling.  Todd and I just stared at each other.

Time to pat a log or two

Notes from the Golf Course

I don’t get out much because Jody’s been so sick.  Today was my day.  I went to the women’s professional golf tournament in London.  Here’s what I noticed:

1.  Even before I hit the links, I hit the restaurant.  At 6:00 am I strolled into Harry’s with my sports section, prepared to savour bacon, poached eggs, hash browns and whole wheat toast.  I know it sounds ordinary but for me it was a delicious celebration of normality.  During two-and-a-half cups of coffee, I read about the Canadian golfers I’d be following for eighteen holes.  How easy it’s been for me to forget the usual rhythms of life.

2.  On the course, I was surrounded by people who were walking.  Big crowds.  At home, it’s been Jody in bed or a wheelchair, with one of our PSWs and me.  In malls with Jody, I haven’t paid much attention to how people walk, but out there on the grass today I sure did.  Many folks, old and young and in between, moved gracefully, sort of caressing the grass.  Some limped.  Some walked very tentatively.  And many took off like a bat out of hell to get ahead of their favorite player and see all the shots.  “Let’s give ‘er!” some guy yelled, and he and his friends started running.  I noticed times when I too was trying to catch all the action, speeding up to an unnatural pace.  Finally I noticed what I was doing, and settled back again.

3.  I don’t need to pile up the spectacular golfing moments and count them at the end of the day.  A few instants of grace will do nicely, such as watching a golfer’s face as she holds the follow through of the swing – a timeless image.  Or registering the smile between competitors when one of them makes a spectacular shot.

4.  At one point, I was talking to a marshal about the number of great young Canadian golfers who were doing well these days.  She was just inside the ropes and I was outside.  We paused our conversation while a golfer hit her ball.  Then I turned back to her … and she was gone.  Sigh.  We had been together for a minute of two, and then she ended it.  Without a goodbye.

5.  I watched the relationship between golfers and caddies, such as the player who handed the club she had just used to her caddie without even looking at him.  One caddie, probably the golfer’s father, was on her just about all the time, with opinions and proddings.  He even stopped her once while she was waggling her club pre-shot.  Other caddies seemed to offer advice only when asked, but did give lots of encouragement.

6.  Just before a player hit her ball, marshals held up white paddle-type signs which said “Quiet, eh?” a fun reference to our Canadian lingo.  The message was gentle, certainly not “Quiet!”, which would have brought back childhood memories of Saturday matinees at the Park Theatre, where a matronly-looking woman patrolled the aisles, snarling “Less noise!”

7.  I sauntered up hills and dales, feeling light on my feet for awhile, positively youthful.  This compared to a tournament a couple of years ago, when my ballooning leg had me going slower and slower … until I gave up after walking just eight holes.  I was very sad back then.  Happy today.

8.  Humidity.  It rolled over us in a cumulative way.  And eventually I started feeling some of that old fragility.  Too much sun.  Too tired.  Time to go home after watching my Canadian gals finish their round.  And that was okay.  Quite human, I’d say.

Life … Golf
Golf … Life