I Know Things

There was a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode in which Jean-Luc encountered a race of people who looked like they weren’t too smart.  Their leader kept saying “We know things.”  It turned out that they were a crafty group.  Ever since, I’ve borrowed their phrase, usually to express a lack of knowing on my part.  Such as yesterday.

Three items for your consideration:

1.  While trying to mow the lawn on Friday, I turned my tractor to the left and the front right tire came off the rim.  It rained Saturday and Sunday and the grass kept growing.

2.  No hot water in the house since Saturday morning.  I tried a brisk hair wash in the sink but it wasn’t much fun.

3.  Monday afternoon, a fellow knocked on my door, wanting to seal my asphalt driveway.  It had been about fifteen years since I’d last had it done (by me!) so I told him to go ahead.

Monday morning, I thought I could get the tire back onto the rim with a big screwdriver, and then pump it up with my air compressor … but no go.  Phoned my lawn tractor guy and he told me how to get the wheel off the axle so I could bring the tire in for a redo.  And I actually did it!  Such a handy guy.

The water heater company had given me a four-hour window (10:00 – 2:00) for their technician to show up.  He’d phone fifteen minutes before arriving.  It was 11:30 and tire guy would only be at his shop for another couple of hours before heading out for appointments with desperate homeowners.  Do I take the tire in or wait for water heater fellow?  I decide to go.  And as I went, my cell phone rings.  I pull over.  No, the gentleman couldn’t go see another water heater customer first.  If I wasn’t home in fifteen minutes he’d cancel the appointment and I’d have to rebook.  I was already twenty minutes away, zooming towards the tire shop, scratching my unwashed head.  (Sigh)

I dialed water heater company.  Magically, they were able to give me another appointment that day, technician #2 to arrive by 5:00.  Magically as well, lawn tractor guy put a tube in my tire and I was out the door lickety split.  Definitely on a roll.  “Make sure you put the two washers back on and the clip that holds the wheel on.”  Sure, I’ll do that.  After all, I know things.

Back home again.  Plastic Nitrile gloves on (cleverly avoiding greased hands), wheel on the axle, washers too, and now for the clip.  It was a little horseshoe-shaped spring-loaded dealie that fits into a groove on the axle.  I got a screwdriver and tried to jam it in.  Nyet.  More pressure, and sproing … off the metal guy flew into my uncut grass.  Search, search, search … ahh – there it is.  Since discretion is the better part of valour, I phoned lawn tractor guy.  “How do I get that clip on?”  “Take a pair of pliers and squeeze it.”  Okay.  So I squeezed the left and right sides of the horseshoe, which didn’t make any sense since that just put more pressure on the groove, rather than widening the clip.  Grunt and grunt.  And off she went again, over my right shoulder.  Far away, I believe, into the bush behind me.

Thinking that the clip might be deep within the grass between me and the bush,  I got out my Whipper Snipper and mowed down the tall blades, never considering that if the clip was on the lawn, it could easily be ejected into kingdom come by the rotating trimmer cord.

Meanwhile, driveway sealer guy was starting to edge the asphalt and the tractor was partially in the way.  No clip.  I needed to push the tractor fully onto the grass.  I had raised the offending wheel with Scarlet’s jack.  I inserted the long rod into the hole in the jack and turned left to lower the wheel.  My Nitrile gloves wrapped themselves around the rod, pretty much immobilizing my hands.  And here comes edger fellow.  More grunting, plus a ripping of plastic gloves that reminded me of Superhero Man.  Finally my hands were free, the tire was back on terra firma and I pushed the tractor away from my new friend’s trimmer, just about to the point where the wheel fell off the axle.  But not quite!  I know things.

Trimmer man, also known as driveway sealing man to his friends, shut down his machine, and started groping with me through the grass.  (Hmm … I don’t think I said that right.)  Still no luck with locating said clip, and the grasses were grinning at me with their very long bladed mouths.  So thinking at the speed of light, I reasoned that I needed a magnet.  I knew that Jody and I had one but God knows where.  However Tony, my neighbour, knows everything and has everything.  So off I went.  He found a little disk magnet, about an inch in diameter.  He came back with me and we groped together.  Same result.  Then Tony simply said, “Well, Bruce.  We have the same lawn tractors.  I’ll take a clip off mine, we’ll put it on yours, you can mow your grass, then buy another clip from the tire shop, and give it to me.”  Of course.  Why didn’t my all-knowing self think of that?

One more conversation with lawn tractor guy.  “No, you don’t squeeze the sides of the clip.  You set it in partially in the groove, take the pliers and squeeze the top of the clip and the underside of the axle.”  Oh.  Tony was all set to do the deed, but I said no.  With the fine motor ability of a surgeon, I did the squeeze and the clip popped into place.  I then mowed part of the lawn while my driveway transformed into glistening blackness.

And there you have it.  I absolutely, positively, for sure know things.  Plus I had a shower last night.

Another Celebration of Life

In January, I hosted a Celebration of Life for my dear Jodiette at the Bellamere Winery in London.  It was a sweet couple of hours … chairs set up theatre-style, people coming to the front to talk about my loved one, music videos, a light buffet lunch afterwards.  Love filled the room.

This afternoon, I went to another Celebration of Life, at the International Hotel in Leamington, Ontario.  Jim Brundritt was a mailman, a jokester, and a rollicking good friend and dad.  His daughter Kym knew that a local bar was the perfect place for Jim’s celebration because he loved to party.  And the Jody Raffoul Band was rockin’ at the front of the room.

There I was, bellied up to the bar, playing table piano as Jody did his vocals.  I loved it.  Never missed a note.  And all around me were big smiles and multi-hugs.  Jim’s friends and family were out in force, and the biggest smile, I’m sure, belonged to the guest of honour.  Often Jody (of the he, not my darling she) would mention Jim, and the beer bottles were hoisted high.  Clink!  The wardrobe was mostly T-shirts and ball caps rather than the more formal dress at Jodiette’s day, but it was all the same … love and remembrance of a great human being.

I hugged Kym.  I drank beer.  And I played the keyboard until my fingers dropped off.  Here’s to you, Jim.  And here’s to my dear wife.  Maybe the two of them are jiving on that upper dance floor.


But on the surface, it didn’t look that way.  On June 16, there was an article in The London Free Press about local authors.  It contained a photo of Jody on the front cover of our book, and a short description of our story.  I had hoped that many people would e-mail me to ask for a copy.

The response so far: 0

Yesterday was my book signing at Chapters.  I brought boxes of boxes and targeted 200 purchasers.

The response: 11, 3 of whom were Chapters employees

Oh, “the best laid plans of mice and men”.  The truth is that I put my energy out into the world with no promise of what will return.  Sometimes the goodness that returns to me is clear as a bell.  And sometimes it’s so subtle that I don’t even feel it.

What impact is our book making?  I think a lot.  I heard from a friend who read about Jodiette and me, and now her mom is starting it, with her daughter waiting in the wings.  And who knows the lives that will be touched through the few books I gave away last night?  I know that there’s more love in the world because of Jodiette: My Lovely Wife.  How much?  Impossible to know.

I’d say that 95% of the people who walked by my table in Chapters didn’t make eye contact.  Some of those faces were etched with pain and exhaustion.  I didn’t intrude in their lives.

I had sent an e-mail to over 300 folks a few weeks ago, mentioning that I’d be signing books on June 26 from 4:00 till 7:00.  By 6:45, none of those people had come to say hi.  I was sad.  But at 6:50, my friend Theresa strolled in to do exactly that.

Let go of numbers, Bruce.  Be in the moment with the human beings that show up in your life.  And that’s what I did last night.  A teenaged girl suffering through the death of a beloved teacher.  A woman in her 60’s whose family has been wracked with cancer.  A young woman struggling emotionally with a series of cruel events in her life.  Just be there, Bruce.  Be with them.

To Be With You

To be with you this evening
Rarest of the evenings all
And listen to the whispering leaves
And to the night bird’s call
The silvery moonlight on your face
To be with you in some still place

To be with you somewhere within
This evening’s mystic shade
To hear your plans and hopes
And tell you mine, all unafraid
That you’d forget to hold them dear
When I’m away and you’re not here

To be somewhere alone with you
And watch the myriad stars
Far golden worlds beyond the noisy
Earth’s unkindly jars
As quietly they sail night’s sea
Above the world and you and me

Max Ehrmann

Transcending Time

I just left messages with two old friends … an e-mail for Joel and an answering machine for Lynne.  I was nervous.  I haven’t seen Joel for 30 years and Lynne for 20.  They both lead seminars that help people discover the depths of themselves – Joel in Vancouver and Lynne in Kamloops, B.C.  Back in the day, I assisted each of them as they taught.

In a few weeks, I’m heading to Western Canada in Scarlet, my Toyota, with my bicycle ta-pocketa hanging from the rear bumper.  Six weeks of travelling the highways and biways, visiting friends and Jody’s relatives.  I’m sure that many adventures await, including two weeks with Jody’s brother Lance and his family in the lee of the Rockies.  But 50 years of absence?  Oh my.

It would be easy for me to bow down to the spiritual and psychological guidance that Lynne and Joel have given their seminar participants.  Bowing down in the sense of seeing myself as less.  But I won’t do that, because it’s not true.  There’s no rating here.  Just three human beings who want to touch people.  We can compare paths if we like but our hearts beat as one.

If I spend time with Lynne and Joel, our contact will unfold in its own sweet way.  I want to talk about Jody.  I want to talk about what Buddhism has meant to me.  And they’ll talk about what vibrates inside them.  It will be fine.

Or … we don’t get to see each other this time.  That will be fine too.  Communion doesn’t fade away.


This afternoon, the Grade 8 students at St. Mary Choir School (graduating tomorrow) put on a cabaret for family, friends and younger kids.  All those sweet voices.  All those smooth dance moves.  And tons of smiles from the performers.

However, I was stunned by one reality of the gathering.  As I looked around at the adults and high school students nearby, I saw six people spending a fair slice of the concert on their smart phones – texting, I guess, and cruising the Internet.  Oh my.  Here we have lots of performing 14-year-olds, and as they’re giving it their all, they look out at the audience and see many heads down.  When a loved one was singing, I saw phones pointed at the stage, videoing the performance, but most of the tech use was not that.  How sad.

Why is there so often a huge gap between the present moment and what people are focusing on?  The here and now is precious – often joyous and sometimes painful, but all of it life.  And we need to experience it.

I remember a few years ago, sitting in an airport lounge, waiting for the boarding call.  A family of four took the seats directly across from me … mom, dad, a boy (about 12) and a girl (about 10).  With nary a word, they each pulled out their handheld thingies and started tapping away.  It could have been 20 minutes of silence and knitted brows.  (Sigh)  No eye contact either.

May we find a better way.

The Scattering of Jody’s Ashes

Fourteen of us came together yesterday, joining Jody in a celebration of life.  Her beloved rosebushes came into bloom on Thursday.  Life is timing.  Thanks, Jodiette.

Last week, I was walking with my friend Pat on the beach at Port Stanley.  I could feel grumpiness coming on as the sand on my bare feet gave way to a surface of pebbles.  On went the sandals.  Then I saw Pat bending down to pick something up.  It was an exquisite heart-shaped stone.  “For you.”

As we fourteen stood facing Jody’s rosebushes, I pulled the stone from my pocket.  Love had moved from Pat to me to Jody and ever outwards.  I placed our stone in a bowl of branches, surrounded by blossoms.  I started crying for my lovely wife.

My friend Theresa sang a sweet song about love, flowers, sun and rain.  I can’t remember the words.  The mist was gently falling as she began and the sun burst through as she ended.  Thank you, Jodiette.

My friend Adele sent me an e-mail after our ceremony.  “Today was a truly moving day….all about LOVE!  Jody was there, in the trees, in the rain, in the gentle breeze, in the bird’s song…she was there!”  So true.  Last night, Jody thanked me for drifting her soul over her roses.  Home.  I love you so much, my wife.  I miss you.

Inside our home, I had lit 70 candles for Jody.  Actually, Theresa lit the last few, including four red cubes that sit on my chest-of-drawers … L-O-V-E.  She asked me whether I’d like her to bring them into our living room.  I said no.  Our bedroom is a sacred space.  An hour later, I checked on them.  Wax had dripped down the drawers, with frozen streams hanging from the handles, and a puddle on the carpet.  I just stared.  Something big was happening, but my small mind started shutting it down with a burst of “How do I clean this up?”  Happily, I didn’t clean it up.  That will be for another day.  I saw my tears for Jody, and my bright red love for her.  And I saw her love flowing over me.

After everyone had gone, I stood before Jody’s roses.  I saw ashes on the end of a branch that had been pruned.  I gathered them between my right thumb and forefinger and placed them in the palm of my left hand.  I cupped my right hand over and talked to my dear wife.  I don’t remember what I said but it was love.  I uncovered Jody’s ashes, paused and blew her into the world.

Jody Orchestrates

My lovely wife is taking care of me.  She is giving me blessed experiences of the moment.  She is bringing loved ones back into my life whom I hadn’t seen for a year or more.  It’s not just serendipity or coincidence.  It’s Jodiette.

I taught a blind child at St. Mary Choir School for three years – 2010-2013.  I’ll call her Julia. Then she decided to go to the provincial school for the blind in Brantford, Ontario for her Grade 8 year.  Fair enough.  For me, though, that meant there was no job left for me at St. Mary’s.  So instead I worked with lots of students with low vision.  During my time with Julia, I had got close to many of her classmates.  When Jody was ill, and after her death, I had occasionally seen a few of those St. Mary’s kids.  But nothing like last night.

Here I go, making up more names.  Yesterday was the final vocal concert of the year at Catholic Central High School.  The students I loved are in Grade 9.  After Jody died, about 20 of them sent me a sweet homemade card, full of caring messages.

I walked into the school, hoping that I would get to say hi to some very special human beings.  After going to the washroom, I could have turned left or right to get to the gym.  Either way was about the same distance.  I chose right, knowing that this route would take me near the Vocal room, where the kids would no doubt be congregating.  I came upon a student that I knew a bit.  As we were talking, a girl walked into my field of vision and stood near me.  It was Brittany.  She had written “You’re in my thoughts as you go through this difficult time.  Knowing Jodie is in a better place, I hope you find peace.”  We hugged and smiled.  “Have you found peace?”  “I’m getting there.”

As I turned away, there was Colette.  She had written “You were always there for us.  Just wanted to let you know that we are here for you!”  We hugged and smiled.  “Hello, Colette.”

Near the entrance of the gym, up strolls Trevor.  He had written “We all love you through this time.”  We hugged and smiled.  “Miss Smith [the secretary of St. Mary’s] told me that last year when Jody was sick, you approached her and asked that she speak on the PA for the school to pray for us.  Is that right?”  “Yes.”  “Thank you, Trevor.”

The concert was stunning.  I got to hear inspired versions of “We Are The World” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”.  The voices were beautiful, yes.  The words were beautiful, yes.  But it was the souls of the kids that filled the room.

After the last notes were sung, I saw Anna standing in the gym with her family.  She had written “I am so very sorry for your loss.  Your family will be in my prayers and I hope that you know that we are here for you.”  We smiled.  “How are you, Mr. Kerr?”  “I’m good and bad.”  We hugged and smiled some more.

I was filling my face in the cafeteria afterwards when a woman came up to me and said, “I’m Amy Jones’ mother.  I want you to know the impact you’ve had on my daughter.  Long ago, you gave her a book for winning a writing contest and she’ll never let it go.”  Gulp.  As we were talking, here comes Amy.  She had written “You were always the kindest and sweetest person I knew at St. Mary’s.”  Gulp again.  We hugged and smiled.  I told Amy and mom that I had written a book about Jody.  I’m not allowed to give it to students.  “I would like one,” said mom.  “How about if you read it, and decide whether it’s appropriate for Amy to read?”  “Sure.”  Amy smiled.  I signed the book.  I wonder when she’s 45 if Amy will still look at it once in awhile.  I hope so.

Chance encounters?  I think not.  My dear Jodiette is walking by my side, hugging and smiling, loving me a whole bunch.  How blessed am I.

Symbol of Life

Just so you know, groundhogs are members in good standing of the rodent family.  They average about 20 inches long and live throughout much of North America in grassy lowlands.  They’re mostly vegetarian (smart critters, I’d say) but sometimes they have insects for dessert.

Jody and I moved from Lethbridge, Alberta to London, Ontario in 1990.  After three years of Occupational Therapy studies at Western University, Jody was hired by Parkwood Hospital.  In 1994, we moved to Union, creating a 35-minute drive to work.  Our route took us past a huge grassy area near Parkwood, grounds that belonged to Victoria Hospital.

So began my love affair with groundhogs.  They were all over that meadow, poking their hairy little heads out of their burrows.  It wasn’t just an empty field full of long grass … there was life!  Every morning, I looked forward to waddling brown beings.  And most times they obliged, putting in an appearance before their adoring public.  I was happy.

And then one day, one year, they were gone.  And they never came back.  Not in 1998.  Not in 2008.  Never.  I was sad about losing my friends without even a goodbye.  The rumour was that they were poisoned.  I suppose the rumour was true.

Not once have I seen a groundhog since the disappearance.  Until today.  And it wasn’t at Parkwood.  I was driving along Highbury Avenue north of London, on my way to St. Patrick’s School near Lucan.  Off to my right was a rough lawn, with some bumps on it.  And a groundhog was skittering along from one burrow to the next!  Oh my.  Thank you, Lord.  Soon I was past the scene but I held that brown guy in my heart all the way to St. Pat’s, a little smile on my face.

Life wins.

Bruce News

Hi friends and neighbours,

Here are some events in my future life:

1.  Tomorrow morning (Tuesday, June 16), an article will appear in the Today section of The London Free Press, mentioning local authors and the books they’ve written.   Although there won’t be a review of Jodiette: My Lovely Wife, I expect that there’ll be a photo of my dear wife from the front cover, and info about how to get hold of me for a copy.

2.  On Friday, June 26, the Chapters store in south London (Wellington south of Southdale) will be hosting me for a book signing.  I’ll be there from 4:00 till 7:00.  Chapters will be getting some money from this.  I’m hoping that I can charge people only $5.00.  I’ll also be signing Jody’s book on Saturday, September 5 from 11:00 till 2:00.

3.  I want to be Jake in the play Jake’s Women, to be performed February 11-21, 2016 at the Princess Avenue Playhouse in St. Thomas, Ontario.  Auditions are months away, and the director will either choose me or someone else.  But in my heart of hearts I know … I am Jake.  It may be December before I can let you know whether I’ve been picked.  If it happens, I hope you’ll come see me.

Okay, is that just a lot of blowing my own horn?  I hope not.  In fact, I know not.  I’m just so happy to be this engaged with life.  May it continue.

Caressing the Cheek

I think one of the most loving gestures in life is to draw the first two fingers of the hand down the cheek of a loved one.  So gentle.  Today, I did an experiment.  I was off to World Gym for planned exhaustion and to Costco for bodily nutrients.  I watched people and visualized touching each one of them.

One mountainous man wearing a muscle shirt was walking in front of me.  My goodness, what triceps!  When I was at an angle to him, his cheek and my fingers met each other in my mind.  It felt weird.  What would he do if I actually touched him that way?  No matter.  Despite the differences between us, my imagining made me feel good.  The gesture points to an inclusive world … one in which love flows.

I spent some time talking to two gym employees at the front desk.  They’re both in their 20’s and they’re both pretty.  My imagined fingers now included sexuality, but it was secondary to the pureness of affection.

Costco was another opportunity.  My caressing included:

1.  A baldheaded man with a phone in his ear and a microphone extending forward.  He was gesturing pointedly at his young daughter.  No smile.

2.  A little boy sitting in the food court, playing hand twists with his older brother.  Lots of smiles.

3.  A woman with continually pursed lips, walking silently beside her slumping husband.

4.  A Tire Centre employee, unshaven, and looking a lot like a Hollywood hero.

5.  An elderly gentleman with a bad cold, leathery skin and faltering steps.

6.  An eager fellow pushing his cart far too fast through the crowded aisles.

7.  A girl, maybe 3, looking up in wonder at her mom’s face.

8.  A pretty young woman behind the hot dog counter, eyes so wide to match her smile.

All those cheeks
Some rough, some smooth
Some youthful, some ancient
Some happy, some sad
I touched them all