Last Time

I like those two words so much that I often use them as my user name on Internet sites.  (Don’t tell anyone, please.)  I realize that any given moment could be the very last time I see someone or something, I do something, I experience something.  We just don’t know.

Yesterday Jody spent many hours being disoriented.  She slept well, thanks to an increased dose of her sedative.  When she awoke this morning (with me lying beside her bed on a foam pad), I sensed that Jody was “there” as she asked for water.  I wondered whether this was the last time we would have an oriented conversation.  And so, I began:

“I love you, my dear.”

“I love you too.”

“I’m glad you’re my wife.”

“I’m glad you’re my wife … (smiles) … husband.”

“Good morning.”

“Good morning.”

To be so present right then was stunning and truly wonderful.  Oh, if only I could be this way always with everyone, not knowing if this time is our last.  I’m thinking of an old friend Linda, whom I palled (or is that “paled” – no, that’s not right) around with at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Alberta, and later in Vancouver.  We had such good talks.  Linda was the older sister I never had.  And then we lost touch.  Miraculously, years later, I saw her on the streets of Calgary and introduced her to Jody.  And then she was gone, and she remains so.  Was I present to our moment of departure from each other?  I fear not.


When will be the last time that I:

– ride my bike ta-pocketa?

– eat pumpkin pie?

– go dancing?

– write a post in Bruce’s Blog?

– walk in the mountains?

– tell someone I love them?

– sing a song and play guitar?

– sit cozied up in my man chair, reading a good book?

– set foot in my home … 6265 Bostwick Road, Union, Ontario?

– wear a t-shirt and shorts?

– say something silly?

– speak?

– shave?

– be on a beach in the Caribbean?

– drive a car?

– josh around with people at Costco?

– make love?

– watch “The Razor’s Edge” and “Titanic”?  (my two favourite movies)

– am with Jody?

– awaken?


The mystery unfoldeth



I think that voices can heal.  It’s not just the pitch, the inflection, the flow. Something can reside behind those, and can reach out and touch us, if we have ears and souls to hear.  Like this:

He began with a simple song, something in Gaelic with a strong rhyming chime to the lines, accompanied by the merest touch of his harp strings, so that each plucked string seemed by its vibration to carry the echo of the words from one line to the next.  The voice was also deceptively simple.  You thought at first there was nothing much to it – pleasant, but without much strength.  And then you found that the sound went straight through you, and each syllable was crystal clear, whether you understood it or not, echoing poignantly inside your head.

It’s good to have the sound go straight through you.  And to be affected profoundly, whether you’re conscious of that or not.

Here are two voices that have moved me:

Frank Muller was the narrator of many audio books, including “The Body” by Stephen King.  I was right there with him as four young boys went in search of a dead body by the railroad tracks.  Those four guys seeped inside me, thanks to Stephen and Frank.  Here is what Mr. Muller had to say about his art:

Building to crescendos, weaving the arc of a story over so many hours, requires total perspective and sure sense of direction.  And intimacy.  An audio book is a very intimate one-on-one relationship between reader and listener.  The microphone is the ear of the listener.  I often imagine that I’m sitting on a comfortable couch speaking the narrative text into the listener’s ear.  When the characters speak, they parade around in front of us, and we watch them together.

Patrick Stewart was the actor who portrayed Captain Jean-Luc Picard in “Star Trek: The Next Generation”.  Sure he had a Shakespearean background, but he mesmerized me far beyond that.  He seemed to stop, to sit in the middle of the present moment, when he spoke.  He often used few words, with my favourites being “Make it so”.  His rich baritone enveloped me.  And then there were the inexpressibles … about which therefore there is nothing to say.

I like my voice.  I don’t try to make it “good”.  I just speak.  And I do believe it reaches people.  I want to embrace the world in any way I can … by eyes, ears, fingers and mouth.

Lost and Found

Since bedtime last night, Jody has been crying a lot and angry a lot about what looks like oncoming death.  Such profound despair.  And such a natural reaction.

What can I do?  From way down inside comes “I don’t know”.  When Jody is lucid, I think my words make some difference.  When she’s not, all they seem to do is feed the flames of her anguish.  When I read to Jody, it seems that my voice soothes her.  And I brush her hair.  She softens then.  Last night, she didn’t want me to touch her, so I sadly withdrew my hand.  I tried to breathe in her pain and breathe out my love for her, but I was too lost to keep that up for long.  So I just sat beside.  I was in her presence.  She was in mine.

Often it feels like I’m being ripped apart, or disassembled.  What I’ve taken to be Bruce (happy, witty, determined, spontaneous) seems to be dissolving.  You know, that person, that separate entity walking the earth.  As Jody’s crying goes on for an hour or more, there’s a profound letting go in me.  Something remains after the personality fades.  I don’t know what it is.  I guess it’s okay to not know.

Do I need these moments of heartbreak to open to what’s next for me?  Perhaps.  It feels like a cleansing, maybe more like a violent dermal abrasion in that it hurts while it heals.

I love Jody so much.  At times like these, it doesn’t seem important what comes back from her.  It doesn’t seem like there’s much of a me for it to come back to.  Beneath my sadness is a big open space and immense quiet.  The intensity of my need for the usuals falls away: quality conversations, high self-esteem, physical comfort, getting enough good food, having alone time, breaking an hour for the time trial on my bike ta-pocketa, reading a good book.  Okay without that.

No movement away from the present moment
No deficiency
No needs


I read something recently that touched me:

O Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill but also those of ill will.  But do not only remember the suffering they have inflicted on us.  Remember too the fruits we have found thanks to this suffering – our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage and generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this.  And when they come to judgment, let all their fruits which we have borne also be a part of their forgiveness.

(Prayer written by an unknown prisoner
in the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp
and found on a piece of wrapping paper in the camp
near the body of a dead child)

Love thine enemies, indeed.  I wonder if this prisoner was able to love his captors more deeply than feel the pain they were inflicting on him or her.  Could he or she look first at the horrible karma they were creating for themselves, and be sad for them?

In my life, many have sent me ill will.  Some of them, I believe, were furious about my spontaneity.  Some no doubt hated me for being popular.  Who knows … maybe the fact that I enjoyed life and other people was an affront.  Here are a few of those folks:

1.  I was out with a friend at a restaurant.  He had driven.  I said something that offended him.  He stood up, glowered at me, and left.  I walked the five miles home.

2.  A supervisor didn’t like how I was doing my job.  He reported me to the powers-that-be.  I was grilled during two long meetings with Human Resources, with the possibility of being fired hanging in the air.

3.  A teenaged girl accused me of sexual harassment.  I was innocent.  She apparently had to lash out at someone, and she picked me.  Until I was cleared of this charge, I suffered a lot.

These three people are probably still out there in the world somewhere.  I hope they are happy.  I hope they are surrounded by human beings who love them.  I let them go.

Alone in a Room

Somehow, this is special – to be all alone in a large room, one that’s used for meetings, gatherings, and socializing.  Me and a big space.  And when I’m quiet in that space, all by myself, it’s a holy feeling.

My most vivid memory of this is one late evening during a retreat at the Insight Meditation Society.  The last sitting was over at 9:30, and I had gone outside to sit with a cup of tea and the stars.  And now to bed?  No, actually, back into the meditation hall.  I walked in, glanced around, and saw that I was alone.  Facing the statue of the Buddha at the front were rows of square purple meditation cushions, with chairs at the sides and back.  Just me.  I sat on a chair in the back middle, central to the Buddha’s gaze.  And something slowly happened.  In my meditation, I could feel warmth cuddle me close.  I got glimmers of all the human beings who had sat here since 1976, and I felt cradled in their company.  I stayed a long time.

About ten years ago, I had the rare opportunity to visit my former high school during school hours – Lawrence Park Collegiate in Toronto.  I walked into the foyer to find my name on a plaque … and there I was, circa 1967.  Ahead of me were the doors to the auditorium.  I pulled on a handle and it gave, opening to me a grand space of soft chairs sloping down to the stage.  I walked a few rows in and sat down.  Just me.  And so quiet.  I remembered the acne-sprouted teenager who sat in these chairs – for assemblies, concerts and plays.  I also remember the young cellist who got to play some stunning symphonies on the stage, surrounded by many gifted musicians.  A younger man, and he sat there quietly beside me.

And then there was the fall of 1974 when I helped the caretaker close up the Prince of Wales Hotel in the Rockies of Alberta.  Built in 1927 as a huge chalet, the PW’s interior beams and posts of the darkest wood, plus its chandelier and interior walkways, left me in awe.  And that fall I often got to be on the fourth floor balcony alone, looking down into the lobby as I sang a little song.  And then fall silent as the space of history wrapped itself around me.  Just me.


Three big rooms and an itsy bitsy human being, enjoying each other’s company


Waiting with You

Jody had a hankering for Chinese food yesterday and one of our PSWs recommended a restaurant in London.  So off I went to gather in some breaded shrimp, Oriental noodles, chicken fried rice and lemon chicken.  Other than my bike rides every second day, I don’t leave our home very often, usually just to get groceries and meds and then scurry back.  I used to like writing about my adventures out in the world that day, but it hasn’t happened much lately.

After I gave my order to a most delightful hostess, I plopped down in a chair, and saw that I had company in the takeout department.  Near me sat a woman in her 50s, deeply tanned and sporting an exotic hairstyle – lots of curls here and there.  In the other direction, a grandma and her perhaps six-year-old grandson faced each other across a small glass-topped table.

“What should we do while we wait, grandma?”

“Let’s play hockey.”


With that, the woman pulled a quarter out of her purse and instructed the young man about the rules of the game.  Finger on the coin at the near edge of the table.  Brush it forward towards the far side, where the other person is waiting, holding two fingers up as goalposts.  Either you score or you don’t.  Then it’s the other person’s turn.  The woman suggested that the boy be Canada and she’d be the USA.  The fellow heartily agreed.

So back and forth they went.  Lots of cheers and groans.  And I didn’t have to pay for a front row seat!  At one point, grandson said, “Isn’t it time for the Zamboni to clean the ice?”  (For those of you unfamiliar with hockey games, the Zamboni is a vehicle that melts the surface of the ice, making it smooth for the next period’s play.)  Grandma sighed, and told the boy that unfortunately the restaurant didn’t come equipped with a Zamboni.  “Let’s keep playing.”  And they did … until a brown paper bag and a smiling hostess appeared in front of them.  Game over.

As they headed towards the door, I asked grandma what the final score was.  She smiled with her whole body and said “5-2 Canada”.  Well done, young man.

Basking in the glow of this lovely encounter with professional athletes, I said hello to the woman with the tan.  She smiled back and mentioned the sunny fall weather we were having.  I agreed.  She talked about the tough winter we’d had.  My response?  “I like weather.”  Seeing an opportunity for storytelling, I told my new friend about the time I’d spent Christmas in Honolulu, and how seeing wizened little Christmas trees, and Santa in shorts, just seemed … wrong.  I had asked one Hawaiian gentleman what the weather was like in March or August, and he had replied, “Oh, about the same”.  And that had made me sad, leaving me longing for snow, blasting winds and tingling fingers (but not quite freezing rain).

The lady asked me about Hawaii, what I enjoyed about it. “Waikiki Beach was cool, although it was very crowded.  The best, though, was Hanauma Bay, where I walked knee deep into the water and found myself surrounded by all sorts of colourful fish.”

And then … another bag.  Another moment with the gracious hostess.  It was my turn.  Story over.  My weather companion and I smiled at each other and said goodbye.  Truly, a good time.


Thou Shalt Not Kill

A hapless clumsy spider tripped and fallen in the sink?  Everything stops.  Down slides a paper towel spidey-ladder to the rescue, and when the creature steps aboard, it’s lifted outside and set gently in the garden, tucked away with soothing words and soft warnings that sinks are not safe places for spiders to play.

Would that I were always this type of person.  Most of the time, I am.  I have copyrighted a method for depositing spiders, bees and other Godly creatures safely outdoors.  On the top shelf of a closet just off the kitchen sits a small margarine tub (empty) and a manilla file folder.  If the wee timorous beastie is clinging to a window screen or sunbathing on the kitchen counter, I sneak up, tub in hand, and move to hovering position about six inches from said bug.  Then, with the reflexes of a World Series pitcher, I attach tub to surface in one swell foop.  The other hand has been holding the file folder, which I then slip behind the tub.  Grabbing the edge of the folder and keeping a firm grip on the container, I lift off.  And voila – I march resolutely to the front door (pre-opened, which you could say presents more opportunities for bug rescue), walk outside, and throw my arms into the air, sending tub and folder flying along with my winged friend.  If the momentary prisoner is a spider, I’m far more gentle.  Either way, the bottom line is that the visitor lives.

One time, when I was on a silent retreat at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, I had a chance to reveal my skills to the world.  One hundred of us retreatants were having lunch, when I noticed a wasp high up on one of the big windows, frantically seeking escape.  No margarine tub in sight, nor a file folder.  There was worry, however, about what my fellow yogis would think of my probable action.  No thought of them thinking well of me for saving a life, just afraid of their criticism.  (Sigh)  I stewed only for a minute or so.  “Just do it, Bruce.  It’s a living being who needs your help.”  So I got up, went to the foyer where I remembered seeing a large laminated card listing instructions about something or other, grabbed the card, plucked a small bowl from its pile, marched back to my table, got up on a chair … and hovered, trying to push aside my fear of the stinger.  “But bowl against glass is going to make an awful noise!” …  “Good grief, please be quiet.”  Plunk.  Slide.  Grab hold with both hands.  Down from the chair.  Hip open the door.  Fly!

Then serenely back to my spot, eyes down to avoid likely stares, sit down, and resume my enjoyment of vegetarian lasagna.  And a deeper enjoyment as well.

So I’m pretty good with spiders and bees.  But then there are flies.  Those little so-and-so’s are too fast for my tub/folder trick.  So I’ve most often used a weapon of destruction – the fly swatter.  I have killed, many times.  All to avoid the buzzing, the alighting, the darned inconvenience!  Today, I vow to never again raise that long-handled piece of yellow rubber.  I vow to flick the little ones away, but not to crush the life out of them.  Thinking practically, flies don’t live long.  Thinking spiritually, I will let them be.  I promise you.

Light Under Their Wings

It was 6:59 and my alarm hadn’t gone off as scheduled.  Today is garbage and recycling day and I hopped to it.  Everything out to the curb before the trucks roll by at 7:30 or so.  Focus … empty small garbage baskets into the big can, yank the clear bag full of fine white paper out of its holder (Heavy!), newspapers into a plastic bag, search for any recyclables and plop them into their appropriate bin, huge garbage bag out of the can, replace bag, empty small bag in garage into the big one, replace bag, slap on a sticker showing that I’m a legitimate taxpayer, one blue box inside the other and carry them out to the road, heave ho the fine paper bag out to the same location, try to be quiet as I roll our grey plastic garbage can (with the raccoon-proof lid) to join the others … There!  Done.

What’s next?  Well, pick up the morning paper from our mailbox, of course.  And while you’re out here, why not get the backyard feeders out of the shed and hang them for the birdies?  Okay, oriole one is up.  Walking with the hummer one towards its hook, thinking of coffee (Tea is for expansive days).

And then … I looked up.  The sky was full of seagulls flying right over our house, from the front yard to the back, coming from their overnight sojourn on Port Stanley beach to eat I don’t know what in the fields around St. Thomas.  I glanced up for a few moments and then dropped my eyes to the task at hand.  Until the voice inside said “Stop.  Put down the feeder.  Watch the birds.”  So I did.

The morning sun hadn’t touched our backyard grass, but it was animating the bellies and wings of my silent friends.  And it was silent.  Nary a flapping sound among the bunch of them.  Inside, I stopped as well, letting the flow of hundreds of birds wash over me.

I looked to the south to some big old deciduous trees on the horizon.  Seagulls kept appearing from behind those trees.  I saw one arrow shape of ten birds.  How cool.  Then there were lots of folks floating along in twos and threes.  But also the occasional one flying alone.  I wondered about them.  Did they want the freedom of a solitary flight, not having to make conversation?  Or did they pine for companionship, wishing that somebody would say “Hi”?  I don’t know.  They didn’t say.

I wanted there to be a minute when the sky was empty, so that I could anticipate the next convoy, but it never came.  Always there were birds, revealing themselves over the southern trees, showing me their colours, and then disappearing to the north, over the maple in our backyard.  I thought of an individual seagull – first they weren’t there, then they were, then they weren’t again.  But even if I could no longer see a certain feathered one, their bird essence was imprinted on my sky.  Nobody can ever take that away.

After five or ten minutes of being aloft, I picked up the hummer feeder and walked to its hook.  Slowly.

The Mathematics of Love

What if I started loving one more person this month?  Maybe someone I’ve known for years.  Maybe someone brand new in my life.  And I’m talking about true love – wishing the other person well and not needing anything in return.  My love could be for an eighty-year-old grandma or a little boy who’s scraped his knee.

And what if that person, being moved by my love for them, looks around in their life the following month and sees a human being that they dearly care for, and that becomes the same sort of deep love?  What if every month I added one more precious human?  And so did each of the people I’d come to love.

It might look something like this:

 Month Bruce loves …  The loves of the people Bruce loves Number of people now loved
 1 – September 2014 #1  1
 2 – October 2014  #1, #2  #1 – 1  3
 3 – November 2014  #1, #2, #3  #1 – 2, #2 – 1  6
 4 – December 2014  #1, #2, #3, #4  #1 – 3, #2 – 2, #3 – 1  10
 5 – January 2015  #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 #1 – 4, #2 – 3, #3 – 2, #4 – 1  15
 6 – February 2015  #1, #2, #3, #4, #5 #6 #1 – 5, #2 – 4, #3 – 3, #4 – 2, #5 – 1  21
 12 – August 2015  #1 – #12  Etc.  78
 24 – August 2016  #1 – #24  Etc.  300
 36 – August 2017  #1 – #36  Etc.  666
 45 – May 2018  #1 – #45  Etc.  1035

Wouldn’t that be a gas?

When Death Comes

When death comes, like the hungry bear in autumn
When death comes, and takes all the bright coins from his purse to buy me
And snaps his purse shut
When death comes, like the measle pox
When death comes, like an iceberg between the shoulder blades
I want to step through the door, full of curiosity
Wondering “What is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?”
And therefore I look upon everything as a brotherhood and a sisterhood
And I look upon time as no more than an idea
And I consider eternity as another possibility
And I think of each life as a flower
As common as a field daisy, and as singular
And each name a comfortable music in the mouth
Tending as all music does towards silence
And each body a lion of courage
And something precious to the earth
When it’s over, I want to say
“All my life I was a bride married to amazement
I was a bridegroom taking the world into my arms”
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
If I’ve made of my life something particular and real
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened or full of argument
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world

As my wife Jody struggles to stay alive, then despairs, then lets go … and does it all over and over again, I look at my own death.  After I die, I will be remembered fondly by many … for awhile.  My friends will go on in their ever evolving lives, most likely thinking of me less and less as the years pass.  Eventually they will all be dead and I will be an unknown person in historical time.  Maybe this blog will survive and some post will touch someone way down the road.  Or maybe not.  I realize today that I’m okay with all traces of me disappearing from the planet.  I don’t have to write that book.  I don’t have to resurrect my batik and have people enjoy the works of art I create.  I don’t have to burn my love into anyone’s soul so that it stays there eternally.

I don’t know what’s next.  Multiple lifetimes?  Sure, I’m open to that.  The candle of my soul flickering elsewhere in some unknowable realm of being?  Okay.  But perhaps nothing, zero, the void, the end.

I know that when my last hour falls upon me, I will be happy, at peace.  I can feel that already.  To die with a smile on my lips … I think so.  Looking back at countless moments of contact, not at achievements.  Looking back at silence inside, not the chatter of society.  Looking back at standing still, arms by my sides, head bowed, sufficient in the universe.