To Express

Sometimes I think about how much time I spend just sitting in my body, nice and quiet, not doing anything, and how much time I spend putting energy out into the world, reaching towards people, expressing something of value in their direction.  I like both.

Yesterday, I wanted to sit in London’s Victoria Park before going to a movie.  I also wanted ice cream.  The Marble Slab Creamery is the most decadent place.  I ordered up a waffle cone full of sweet cream (not vanilla), Smarties (a good old Canadian chocolate yummy), Crispy Crunch (more chocolaty goodness) and peanut bits.  And onto a park bench I plunked.  No reaching out, just putting in.  Upon completion of consumption, I wandered over to the bandshell, where about 30 women in long gingham dresses were lined up, in front of young men in white shirts.  Nothing was happening. They were just standing there, with a man in a black suit facing them.

The conductor then raised his arms.  The choir raised their hymn books and a lovely sound came forth.  Expression.  These folks were Mennonites and favoured the audience with several hymns, including “Amazing Grace”, a favourite of mine.  None of the men and women smiled but the tones were pure.  Their expression reached me.  And I was glad to hear them.

Afterwards a young Mennonite fellow approached and invited me to come out to his church.  We talked, sending a gentle energy to each other.  I wanted to keep the dialogue going even though our spiritual perspectives differed.  To express with love is a blessing.

Back at home, I thought of the many kind expressions that we human beings give each other: smiling, dancing, speaking, holding hands, hugging, laughing …  So many.  I thought back to my teaching days, and the type of child that I worried about.  It wasn’t the rough-around-the-edges kid who might yell and swear.  It was the boy or girl who wouldn’t say boo, who wouldn’t show me anything of the Spirit inside.  I hope they’ve all found their way and are reaching out to their fellow beings every day.  The world needs them.  The world needs us all.

The Lives Within The Lamp

I wake up each morning, lean to the right, and pull the two cords to turn on my stained glass table lamp.  My friend has a semi-circular shade and a dark grey metal base.  It looks like a tree, with the most exquisite branches – little panels of coloured glass, ranging from a vibrant red to dark brown to a lighter brown, to cream, and then white at the tip.  I like trees.  I like light.

A few days ago, I pulled the metal cords and just sat there.  I watched the little globes at the ends of the cords moving back and forth.  And then it came to me … What if those two balls were really two lives, doing what humans do – loving, working, eating, laughing …?

One ball was moving slower than the other one.  I watched its speed gradually lessen.  And I thought about Jody, being at home for the last seven months of her life.  Slowly winding down.  I kept watching.  And I guessed what the time had been when I pulled the cords – 8:31.  As the swings became shorter, the movements more subtle, I cried for my wife.  Soon the vibrations were really minute.  I wanted to see the moment when the globe became still but it was taking so much effort to focus on it.  Jody was dying.  At 8:43, she stopped.

The other ball was winding down.  It was me.  I watched myself dying.  Would I be reunited with my beloved wife?  Yes I would.  When will I die?  Tomorrow?  When I’m 75?  Thirty years from now?  At 8:53, I stopped.  Jody was still.  I was still.  We were hanging there, seemingly separated by the trunk of the tree.  We couldn’t see each other.  But we could feel each other.  After all, we’re both part of a spreading maple giant.  “I am here, Bruce.”

Jake’s Women – Part 2

Three weeks ago, I was in the front row of the Pinnacle Playhouse in Belleville, watching excellent actors perform the play Jake’s Women.  Last night – same play, more excellent actors, front row at The Arts Project in London.  The same smile on my face.  The same standing ovation.

I loved the different interpretations of the two directors, and of the 16 actors (8 x 2).  But something astounding happened last night … tears throughout the auditorium, and almost tears on the stage.  The scene was between mother and daughter, a reunion of types.  An imaginary conversation that was dreamed up by Jake, a writer.  Julie was Jake’s first wife.  She was killed in a car accident at age 35.  When she was 25, she gave birth to their daughter Molly.  The conversation I witnessed was with Molly at 21 and Julie at 35.  It never happened in real life.  It never could.

Imagine Julie standing back in the shadows in Jake’s living room.  In comes Molly.  Jake to Molly: “There’s somebody here.”  Molly and Julie’s eyes meet.  Julie: “Hello, Molly.”  Molly is frightened and confused, and then … “It’s all right.  Now I understand.  Hello, Mom.”  Supreme communion from eyes to eyes.  Choked voices.  Reddened faces.  We the audience get it.  There is no longer a play.  That is my wife on the stage, and my daughter, and I cry.  What a privilege it must be to create love in the theatre, and to have every person in the room feel it.  That’s what happened last night.  Thank God I was there.

Glowing

I just spent the last five hours in the presence of four lovely people – two women, one girl and one man.  We sat in the kitchen for awhile, and later went downstairs, where one of the women was having her hair cut and styled by the other one.

I don’t want to name names.  I don’t want to share the issues that folks brought up.  I don’t want to quote anyone.  What I’d love to do is touch upon the space of love that we all created.  And, really, I don’t know what to say.  (So just type, Bruce.  See what emerges.)

Reverence.  That’s what wound itself through all our words.  Reverence for humanity, for our struggles, our pains, our beauty.  Lots of stories told, none of which were intended to demean anyone.  The stories lifted us up, shining a light on our tenderness.  We shared grief.  We shared sadness and the loss of relationships.  We shared the serendipity of us coming together tonight.

The fellow and I had been out for lunch.  When we got back to his house, I didn’t know whether he’d invite me in.  He did.  I had intended to have lunch with him yesterday, but complications led me to suggest today.  The woman having her hair done intended to come yesterday.  Somehow that got changed to today.  As the client pulled into the driveway, she saw the back of my head as I sat in a window seat in the kitchen.  It reminded her of me.  It was me.  I had never been in this house until today.

Some of our talk was serious.  Some of it was silly.  All of it was so very human.  One of us was 66.  Another was 15.  And the other three filled in between.  Age didn’t matter.  Male-female was irrelevant.  One person spoke rapidly.  Another slowly and quietly.  We laughed.  We pondered.  We came close to tears.  We prayed.

Pretty astonishing, actually.  No small talk.  Lots of big talk.  Human beings.

Knee Jerks

I’d like to be spacious of mind, always.  Letting the big picture envelop me.  Alas, sometimes I just react.  Like this morning.  I love the sports section, especially tiny columns of statistics.  And I hate typos.  I was breezing through the “Scoreboard” page of The London Free Press, not really noticing much, when my eyes settled on the word “Atalanta”.

“Not another one.  What’s wrong with this paper?  It’s like there’re mistakes on every page.  Good grief.  It’s “Atlanta” (Georgia).  Can’t be that hard to get it right!”  (Bruce huffing and puffing)  Slowing down my brain a mite, I saw that Atalanta was in the soccer column.  Italian soccer.  Atalanta beat Palermo 3-2.  Head lowered, I clicked to Wikipedia, where I discovered that “Atalanta Bergamasca Calcio, commonly known as just Atalanta … is an Italian football club based in Bergamo, Lombardy.”  Oops.  Jerking yes.  Spacious no.

I remember a time when I was driving to Tillsonburg, Ontario, to visit a low vision student.  Pretty fields and woodlots to the left and right.  Peaceful.  Except for that big truck ahead of me that was only going the speed limit.  “C’mon, c’mon … I’ve got places to go, people to meet.”  Mile after mile, the driver creeped along on the straight road.  Being a guy who was in love with his own vocabulary, I constructed a complex backstory about the human behind the wheel.  Eventually, there was a curve in the road.  An Austin Mini was leading the way.  Oops.  Jerking at the wrong person, yes.  Spacious?  Not a chance.

I wonder if I’m older and wiser now.  Based on this morning’s sporting news, perhaps I’m just older.

Books Into Hands

Jody’s books arrived 19 days ago but it took me awhile to figure out that I could go to the various schools I’ve taught at over the years to see who would like a copy.  As an itinerant teacher, I’ve visited low vision students in about 45 schools.  So far, I’ve been to 8 of them.

I sure don’t want to press people to take a book.  “Feel free to say no.”  What I’ve found, though, is that a lot of folks don’t want to be given a copy that could have gone to someone who might be closer to me than them.  So they don’t ask.  Most often I ask, they smile, and Jody’s story ends up in their hands.  That makes me happy.  I want our journey to reach people.  I don’t want money.  I’m hoping that the love which Jodiette and I share moves people to look a little more closely at their dear ones, to see the beauty in the person across the dinner table, to move beyond the busyness of life to the immediacy of the moment.

I went to three schools today.  Two recipients of our love story cried.  A few Grade 6 kids asked if they could have a copy.  We arranged for their teacher to read Jody’s book first, and if she thinks it’s appropriate, a child’s parents could contact me and ask for a book.  A friend mentioned that’s she’s taught her kids about the impermanence of life, and how we need to treasure each other while we have each other.  One woman has been through hell with relationships and physical issues and was so pleased that I included her.  I got lots of hugs.

The love received is very beautiful and I am blessed to have it come my way.  Still, what I want most of all is to have the love burst out of the pages into people’s hearts, and from there into the hearts of those they hold close.  What happiness to imagine Jody’s love, and mine, and her humour and courage, flowing across the globe.  That may or may not happen on the physical level, but in the realm of Spirit …  it’s all over the world.  Thank you, my lovely wife.

Renato and Me

I’m going to be doing a lot of travelling over the next year-and-a-half, and I’ve wanted to find someone to live in my house while I’m gone.  (Hmm.  I just noticed that I’m okay with calling it “my” house.  Oh, Jody.  It’s still our house, my dear.)

Renato is my man.  He’s an Italian chef who’s been living with his family in England for many years.  And he wants to come to Canada and open an authentic Italian restaurant in London.

This afternoon we sat in my family room and on the deck for three hours, talking about life.  Renato has an accent and I often didn’t get every word in his sentences.  It didn’t matter.  The soul of the man shone through.  In the military, he was a parachutist, and often jumped out of planes with a bazooka-type gun strapped to his side.  Then there were the times that he and his mates shoved jeeps out of the plane, jumped after them, and then drove away minutes later.  Renato fought in the war against terrorism in England and told me of being face-to-face with a man who had murdered many people.  I was terrified just listening to him.

Renato has been a skilled photographer and cinematographer and now he’s an elite chef.  He described being continually harassed by a pizza chef when he was a young employee, and how years later he bought the restaurant, and hired that pizza guy when he was down on his luck.  Forgiveness and reconciliation.

My new friend has had an exciting life.  And so have I.  He’s touched a lot of people.  Me too.  No better or worse in our discussion.

In July, Renato moves in.  Shortly thereafter, I head to Western Canada on a six-week road trip.  Then it’s home for a week before driving to Massachusetts for an 84-day meditation retreat.  Next, six months at home, followed by ten weeks of riding my bicycle across Canada.  After which I’m home for six weeks.  After which I’m back in Massachusetts for three more months of silence.  On January 20, 2017, I’m home again, most likely to stay.

Renato will care for my precious home, hopefully for all of this time.  I already trust him.  He’s a good guy.  And I’m a fortunate fellow.

Visiting Kym

I was looking forward to yesterday.  It was time to drive west for two hours along the north shore of Lake Erie.  Kingsville is the home of Kym Brundritt, an exquisitely gifted artist.  Months ago, Kym had given me permission to have her painting “Cosmic Tree” grace the back cover of Jody’s book.  It was so kind of her.  I drove with a copy of the book nearby.  I knew that I wanted to meet Kym and give her the book face-to-face.

I found Kym’s art shop – Paisley Dreamer – parked my car and started down the sidewalk.  A woman turned towards me and said, “Are you Bruce?”  I certainly was.  “Kym’s father has just died.”  Maybe an hour before I pulled in.  The woman was Kym’s mom.  We hugged.  Such overwhelming sadness.

I decide to give Pam the copy of Jody’s book and then head back.  But she said, “Would you come to the house?  I think Kym wants to meet you.”  I didn’t want to intrude on the family’s grief, but the answer was natural … “Yes, I will.”

I followed Pam’s car and parked behind her.  A woman crossed the street and talked to her through the driver’s open window.  I recognized Kym from her photograph.  She was walking towards me as I opened the door.  She was crying.  We hugged.  I don’t remember if we said anything to each other before we touched.

We talked a bit – I don’t know what about.  I gave her Jody’s book.  Then Kym asked me to come inside for a drink of water.  We sat and talked.  Two old friends who had never met.  She mentioned that our timing was surreal.  As the funeral folks knocked on the door, I said that I should go.  “No” was her response.  “Stay.  You’re family.”  Oh my God.  How beautiful.

Kym and I decided that we’d go for lunch someday in Kingsville.  Whether that will be weeks or months away, I’ll be there.  Hugging people I’ve never met.  Isn’t that lovely, Jodiette?  “Yes, husband.  It sure is.”

Ha! Ha! Ha!

That’s the sound of me laughing at myself.  I’m so not good at mechanical things, electrical things … lots of things.

Exhibit A: lawn tractor and air compressor

It was time to cut the lawn for the first time this season.  I’ve fantasized about my dear neighbours working on placards in their basements, with nifty slogans such as “Move your ass on the grass” and “Kerr forest growing daily”.  So I started the lawn tractor in our backyard shed and drove it past the house to our driveway.  At which point the front right tire came off its rim.

The tire was looking squished under the weight of the tractor so I took the jack out of Scarlet, our Toyota Corolla, and got the tire into the air.  There!  See, I’m mechanical.

Jody and I bought an air compressor a few years ago and happily I remembered where I had stored it.  Not so happily, the machine’s manual has flown the coop.  Jody was really organized and had alphabetical files for each of our outdoor apparatuses.  (Is that a word?)  But “compressor” or “air” were nowhere to be found.  Oh, Bruce, where did you leave that thing?  And then … “Ha! Ha! Ha!”  It’s so comforting to laugh at my foibles.  Too bad it’s taken me six decades to get to this point.  Oh well.  Perhaps an averagely handy guy would know how to operate the compressor, but that’s not me.  I was especially put off by the warning labels: danger this and danger that.  I phoned the 1-800 number for Rona – the store where we’d bought the beast.  “We don’t have manuals.  But your compressor was made by Black and Decker.  Try them.”  I did but nobody was at home at 6:05 pm.  Mañana.

I now sit reflecting on my lack of male skills, smiling as I do so.  I have many good qualities.  They just don’t happen to include household maintenance.

Exhibit B: TV audio

Jody and I had owned an XM radio for years, and sometimes listened to it in Hugo (our Honda CRV).  But not much recently.  So a month ago I cancelled the subscription and had an audio store remove the hardware.  Just before I went to Belleville, I decided to get the family room in order, so I got rid of the XM radio docking station that was connected to our TV and sound system.  Simple really … all you have to do is pull some cables out and voilà – no XM.  Also no sound from the TV, Playstation 3 or sound system.  (Sigh)  I looked at the ports – audio in, audio out, serial data, IR emitter …  Gosh.  What came from where?  I had no clue then nor now.  A week without TV hasn’t killed me but there were a few shows I had wanted to watch.

And now it’s time once again, ladies and gentlemen, for “Ha! Ha! Ha!”  I just don’t have a clue.  Humbling life is, wouldn’t you say?  May I ever smile at all the “not knowing” in my life.

Hand Dryers

Sometimes objects out there in the world have a lot to say to me.  When I go into a washroom, I make sure that I use soap.  I also want to have my hands dry when I walk out the door.

Years ago, my office was at Catholic Central High School in London.  I’d do my phone calls and paperwork there, and then zoom off to all sorts of schools to see low vision kids.  The stress of the job often overwhelmed me.  I was just going so fast.  A washroom was right next door, and I’d sometimes fly out of there with hands dripping.  It took me maybe two years to figure out that my bathroom behaviour was a symbol of what was “off” in my life.

One day, I decided to wait until my hands were completely dry.  That was a trick, since the CCH hand dryers were definitely underpowered.  But I was determined.  I rubbed and waited and then rubbed some more, turned the dryer back on a few times, and felt the tension growing in my chest.  What an education.  Having a natural completion of the task seemed wise, but it was so hard to not lean forward into the next moment.

Then what about companions?  I’m in a restaurant washroom rubbing away but another fellow is washing his hands at the sink.  He’ll need the dryer in seconds!  And my hands are still wet.  What discipline it takes to finish the job while feeling him standing behind me.  But that’s what I do.  It’s good to feel the pressure, and to hold it gently, realizing that I will still be alive when my friend and I exit.

But some dryers are painfully loud.  Such an assault on my whole being.  I’ve decided that if there are no paper towels, I’ll drip dry.  This seems to defeat my commitment to dry off completely, but really it doesn’t.   What I’m committed to is my well-being, whether that means not subjecting myself to noxious noise or seeing a task to its natural end.  If my heart and soul remain balanced and happy, then they’re available to the next person I meet.

So … thanks, all you manufacturers of hand dryers.  Little do you realize that you’re contributing to my spiritual development.