Up In The Air

It’s quite possible that I’m a strange person.  For instance, I keep testing gravity.

I was lifting weights at Wellington Fitness yesterday.  My dear friend Karisa works there and today her boyfriend Nick was working out.  She’s so much in love with her man and today I got to meet him.  He seems like a fine fellow.  Later, I told Karisa that I hope their love continues to blossom and that they grow old together.

I was standing at the front desk, so very happy that she’s happy.  I was drinking my protein powder from a shaker cup.  Without apparent thought, I threw the cup way high into the air, close to the ceiling.  The toss wasn’t as straight up as I’d hoped, and I rushed forward to make the catch.  It was a glancing blow and then a smash on the floor.  Vanilla goo flowed freely.

For a bit I just stared.  Did I really do that?  Apparently so.  The puddle was immense and Karisa found me some paper towels.  I soaked and wiped and soaked some more.  And then Brandon showed up with a mop.  I was happy, not embarrassed or guilty.  Nothing in my cognitive system had planned it out.  I just … threw.

Many years ago, when I was teaching at St. Mary Choir School, I must have been similarly happy.  I was standing in the staff room talking with Marg, after consuming a precious liquid in my favourite mug.  Same story.  The mug soared.  The mug broke.  I stared.  And somehow it was all okay.

Then there was the time in Costco when I was also flying high.  I was slurping my chocolate waffle cone while talking to a couple of employees in the vision department.  Up went the cone, sadly nowhere near the store’s high ceiling.  It did a flip in the air.  I reached out my right hand.  Plop … ice cream end down.  It should have been on the Plays of the Week.  Oh, what a good boy was I.

Guess my eye-hand co-ordination has faded over the years.  But it’s okay.  I was volunteering yesterday afternoon at South Dorchester School and Tiffany asked me if I would like a water bottle.  She had one extra.  And it has a holey insert for shaking.  Nice.

String Of Magic

It wasn’t a reasonable day, but rather a responsive one.  I didn’t do dishes or set up Christmas decorations.  I simply indulged, starting with breakfast at the Belmont Town Restaurant.  It’s only open on weekends and the buffet is immense.  Never in my life had I had baklava for breakie dessert.  Poppy kept plying me with coffee and the Toronto Sun sports section lured me in.  Plus Christal, the owner of the beloved Diner just down main street, was sitting at the next table with her hubby, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. Mid-baklava my friend came up to announce that she’d bought my breakfast.  “Christal – no!  Christal – thank you.”

What’s next?  Well, my friend Jane was hosting a booth at a gigantic Christmas craft fair in London.  What the heck?  Go up there and surprise her.  The event was at the Bellamere Winery, the same venue that welcomed Jody’s friends at her celebration of life two years ago.  I walked into a flurry of festive humans, some selling and some buying.  A band was playing.  A little girl stamped my hand.  And there was Jane.  Surprise!  We hugged and chatted.  After a bit, I wandered over to the front of the room, where a stone fireplace rose to a vaulted ceiling of reddish wood.  Lovely.  At the fireplace, I turned around and faced the throng.  All this colour and movement.  And I remembered.  The rows of chairs, the Kleenex boxes, the songs of love, the words spoken by so many.  My whole being stopped.  Two very different experiences, in the same space.  And both were perfect.

Now zooming back to Belmont to the United Church, for a 50s Christmas performance by Frankie and the Fairlanes.  Elvis songs, California songs, Hawaii songs, reindeer, Santa and “O Come All Ye Faithful” – mostly rockin’.  And we the audience boogied in our seats.  I flirted with the 80-something woman in front of me.  We both loved singing along.  Behind me, Sterling, a former compatriot of mine in the Port Stanley Community Choir, sent and received some good-natured barbs.  Great fun.  Plus some of my new condo neighbours showed up and snarfed banana bread with me during the post-concert festivity.

Two of those neighbours – Bill and Eileen – invited me in for a glass of wine.  We laughed at each other’s stories.  I recited “Twas The Night Before Christmas”.  All was calm.  All was bright.

Back to London to the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club, to hear Boreal.  They’re a trio of harmonizing women from Guelph.  Tannis Slimmon was one.  I approached her at the break and said “You are responsible for one of my finest musical memories.”  And that’s true.  Years ago, at the Home County Folk Festival, Tannis invited audience members to come up on stage and sing “There’s A Lift” with her.  Such an anthem.

There’s a lift that I get when I sing this little song
There’s a lift that I get dum dee dum
There’s a lift that I get when people sing along
That’s a lift I’m getting right now

Jude, Katherine and Tannis finished with “Silent Night”, offering us exquisite harmony.  And we fifty souls offered it right back.  No instruments, just the voice.

I’m so glad to be alive.

.

Death Around The Lunch Counter

The guys at the Belmont Diner usually talk about this, that and the other thing.  Yesterday it was end of life stories.

Exhibit A

Paramedics entered a semi-private room in a nursing home.  One of the women had stopped breathing.  She was put into a body bag and transported to a funeral parlour.  As staff were removing her from the bag, she stirred, breathing very shallowly.  Oblivious to the events around her, the lass was returned to her room, none the wiser.  Her roommate made the return trip to the funeral home.

Exhibit B

One of my fellow diners wanted to pay his respects to a neighbour.  He walked into the church and joined the reception line.  As he got closer to the family members, he wasn’t recognizing anybody.  Oh my … he was at the wrong funeral.  A sorrowing wife shook his hand.  “I’m sorry, I don’t know you.  Were you a friend of Bob’s from work?”  “No, I read about Bob in the paper.  We worked together many years ago.”  So said, he slunked to the back of the church, where he signed the guest book as “Fred Merkovicz” – totally fictional.

Exhibit C

One gentleman of the coffee persuasion mentioned his poverty of long ago.  Once a very unpopular man died in town.  His family couldn’t find anyone willing to be a pallbearer.  Our Dinerite finally agreed to help out.  Later the grateful relatives gave him some money.  Seeing the economic opportunity here, he had some business cards made up:  “Have funeral.  Will carry”.  Worked out fine.

Exhibit D

Amid all this hilarity came another perspective.  “I worked in India for a few years.  People died in the street.  A cart made regular rounds and picked up the bodies.  They were burned outside of town somewhere.  It was so sad.  Nobody loved them and they died alone.”

***

Just your regular twirl of words at the Diner.  Hello death.  We laugh and we cry.

Sideways

The back of my new condo looks out on a farmer’s field.  I am blessed.  In the morning, I wake up, turn over on my left side and look out at the world.  No glasses, so it’s all a misty watercolour.  Everything is tilted.  To my left is down – the patio.  To my right is up – the sky.

Last night’s fresh snow lightened the land, and the sky decided to join in.  Soft cloud shapes moving down through my visual field.  And here comes a patch of blue.  See it transform to larger and then smaller and then disappear past the window view.

Little cars descended to my left way out there on Harrietsville Drive.  Going so sweetly slow in the silence.  But oh oh … here’s someone tailgating the one before – so out of place in my tender landscape.

I should get up  >  No you shouldn’t.  Just watch the passing parade

I should put on my glasses  >  No you shouldn’t.  Focusing is not required

Happily, I have eyes to see

St. Andrew-by-the-Lake

I got on the tiny ferry to Toronto Island this morning, and a chilly, windy one it was.  Go inside or stand at the bow.  An easy choice, and I loved watching the ducks take off as our vessel chugged into the fog.  I kept hoping that one duckie would be brave enough not to fly, that it would just steer clear of the big metal thing.  No such luck.

Once ashore I wandered the narrow paths between the Ward’s Island houses.  Many were tiny.  I loved the ones that were lit from within.  Such a cozy place to call home.  Flowers and bushes were past their seasonal best and the trees arched over me in their skeletal blackness.  My coat and toque kept me warm.  I was happy.

It was time to wander down the island to the church.  I came upon a geodesic dome, about fifteen feet tall.  Lots of silver metal triangles.  As I got closer, an intricate web of black ropes revealed itself.  A climber!  The shapes inside were squares and hexagons.  I imagined kids loving every second above the earth.  The floor was a spongy rubber, ready to cushion the occasional fall.  I smiled.  Waydago, designing adults.

And then the church … brunch at 12:30, folk concert at 2:00.  I knew no one but I didn’t think that would last for long.  And it didn’t.  Anne and I talked about the brilliance of Stan Rogers, a singer-songwriter who died in a smoke-filled plane in 1983.  And not just talk.  The two of us broke into a rollicking chorus from Northwest Passage:

Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Tracing one warm line through a land so wide and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea

Soon I met Julia, Roger, Jo, Linda and Karen.  We all sat at the same long table and chatted away as we dug into salads, beans, squash and cheesecake, all grown in island gardens (with the possible exception of the cheesecake).  The church was a small wooden structure built in 1884, all white outside and all brown wood inside.  The tall stained glass windows included Jesus praying at Gethsemane.  Lovely all around.

Our musicians were a guitarist from California and a violinist from Toronto.  They showed us Bach and Vivaldi and an Irish reel and a Balkan dance.  We clapped and cheered as the sound surrounded.

Outside the wind was whipping the season’s first snow sideways.  Inside the building and inside our bodies, all was well.

It’s a community I found today and I became a part of it.  Blessedly home.

Urinal

I left home for my Toronto trip minus one essential accessory.  Since I usually have to pee twice during the night, a urinal sits beside my bed.  Not this time.

No problem.  After all, this is the metropolis of Toronto and Shoppers Drug Mart is an easy walk from the B&B.  Let’s see … “incontinence” and “constipation” – sounds like the perfect aisle.  Nope, and actually no aisle did the job.  “I suggest you drive to Shoppers Home Health Care on Lawrence Avenue near Bathurst.”  Thank you, sir.  I know those stores have lots of medical equipment – wheelchairs, walkers, urinals.

So off I went in dear Scarlet, 4:30 on a Friday.  Rush hour can’t be that bad.  Wrong.  I stopped and started and stopped all the way along Lawrence.  Strangely, I was pretty loosy goosy about it all.  Gave me a chance to drink in a 200-metre-long mural under an overpass, full of vibrant faces and the wonders of the natural world.  Some of my friends in adjoining cars were quite antsy, however, zipping in and out of lanes, only to end up one or two car lengths ahead.

Finally a left turn into Lawrence Plaza and I was there.  I strode confidently into the store and was greeted by a woman wearing a huge smile.  “Oh, sir, those have been backordered for two weeks.”  (Sigh)  All this way for no peeing vessel.  What I did find on the shelf was a yellow plastic peanut-shaped thing, about two inches high and eight inches long.  I calculated how much pee it would hold and whether that would fulfill my nightly needs.  “Oh, just buy it, Bruce.”  $1.12.

Homeward bound to the B&B.  Altogether the round trip was one hour and twenty minutes but at least I wouldn’t be stumbling to the hallway bathroom at 3:00 am.

3:00 am

I sat on the edge of the bed and did my thing in the soft glow of the table lamp.  I watched expectantly as the urine climbed the walls of the peanut.  The flow stopped about 3/8 of an inch from the lip.

9:00 am

Open my bedroom door.  Open the bathroom door.  Put up the toilet seat.  Return to the bedroom.  Grasp the peanut at each end.  Walk oh so slowly out of my room, down the hall and into the bathroom, negotiating a variety of changes in flooring.  Think “What if someone comes by right now?”  Worry.  No one.  Tip the contents into the toilet.  Rinse the vessel.  Slink back to my room.

Okay, this doesn’t rank up there with an entrancing conversation or an inspiring concert but it still was a true life adventure.  Sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

Grade 6 and Me

It’s been a long time since I’ve had kids in my life.  I went on short term disability in November, 2013 to care for my dear wife Jody.  That was it.  Now I’m retired.

On Monday, I received word from the Ontario Provincial Police that my fingerprints were fine.  I had passed the criminal check.  So on to volunteering at an elementary school near Belmont.

On Tuesday afternoon, I started with Grade 6’s, led by a lovely teacher whom I’ll call Nicole.  “Would you like to read to the students?”  Of course.

The class was devouring Matilda, a book by Roald Dahl.  It’s the story of a remarkable 5-year-old girl, gifted in math, literature and tipping over water glasses with her mind.  Matilda becomes fast friends with her teacher, Miss Honey, and fast enemies with the school principal, Miss Trunchbull.  Here’s a taste of what Matilda had to overcome:

“You are a vile, repulsive, repellent, malicious little brute!” the Trunchbull was shouting.  “You are not fit to be in this school!  You ought to be behind bars, that’s where you ought to be!  I shall have you drummed out of this establishment in utter disgrace!”

Head down into the words, I launched myself into the roles, having entered the story midway.  I love reading out loud and I gave the Trunchbull all the nastiness I could muster.  Never once did I look up to see how the kids were reacting but I sensed they were having a grand old time.  Later Nicole told me so.

What an opportunity I have, to influence children once more.  May I help them see the gifts that they are.  Matilda had almost magical powers, probably beyond anything that the Grade 6 kids, Nicole or I can bring forth.  But every one of us has our own way of moving others, and may we discover that unique richness in each other’s company.

Paths Of The Soul

Tricycle is a spiritual magazine and website, offering the lens of Buddhism to our daily lives.  Included in the yearly membership of $40 US is their Film Club.  The November offering – Paths Of The Soul – was my companion a few nights ago.

My way is one way.  But there are so many others.  Start with an elderly Tibetan fellow who’s never travelled, instead serving family throughout his life.  Imagining death, he decides to go on a pilgrimage to Lhasa, the holy city.  It’s 1200 miles away.  Members of his family volunteer to accompany him, including an 8-year-old girl.  And others join in too.

They walk.  An animal skin covers their chest and legs.  They wear wooden paddles on their hands.  They clap the paddles above their heads, then twice at chest level.  And then they throw themselves forward onto the ground – a sliding prostration, a bow.  This happens every ten steps or so.

Oh my.  They’re really doing this.  All without griping.  Supporting each other through the pain.  Smiling.  It’s a spiritual journey far more than a spiritual destination.

I was transfixed by the young girl.  At one point, her hands hurt.  Adults encouraged her to stop bowing.  She didn’t … until they reached Lhasa.  She encouraged others.  She led.

One person drove a small tractor, which pulled a trailer full of tents and provisions.  Towards the end of the journey, a car sideswiped the tractor, breaking its axle.  No repair shops on the road to the holy city.  So the men pushed and pulled the trailer while the women continued to bow.  Once the men had completed a section of road, they left the trailer and went back to the beginning of that stretch.  They prostrated themselves while returning to the trailer.  And not a “poor me” to be heard.

Transport trucks roared by within feet of the travellers during the day, and kept them awake for much of the night.  So?  We carry on.

The group came to a flooded section of the road, with water about a foot deep.  They looked for a minute and then proceeded.  Paddle high, paddle middle, slide.

The patriarch died before reaching Lhasa.  The family mourned most tenderly, and finished the journey for him.

Another way.  A good way.  And I was privileged to see it all.

Root Canal

Moments keep showing up in my life, ones that I want to write about.  Such as the astonishing movie I saw Monday about a Tibetan family’s pilgrimage to the sacred Potala Palace.  Or yesterday afternoon, when I started my volunteer work in a local elementary school.

This morning I told myself to get writing.  Start with Tibet and then move on to Belmont.  But I decided to eat breakfast at the Diner and then mosey over to the elliptical at Wellington Fitness.  “That’s okay, I’ll get to those stories after this afternoon’s root canal.”

Sure.

Here I sit, ready for the Toronto Raptors basketball game, feeling like lukewarm poop.  I’d say my pain is at 4 on the scale of 1 to 10.  Not bad, but there.  Also I’m lightheaded, fuzzy, flat.  So how can I bring forth the joy of seeing the pilgrimage or laughing with those kids?  I want to talk about those things but if I tried right now it would be concepts, tepid words, nothing bringing forth the “Oh My God” freshness of those moments.

Instead, my head says two things:

1. Don’t even write.  You’re too weak.

2. Speak from your current experience.  It’s the best thing to speak of.

Okay, I choose number two.

***

You can’t even string words together, Bruce.  (Yes I can.  See above)

What if I felt this vagueness 24/7?  Would I still be able to being forth Spirit?

Take the Tylenol, Bruce.  (No, at least not with this level of pain.  How about if I let myself experience exactly what’s here?)

Do some people, not in pain, feel this way throughout their lives?  I suppose.  How can they possibly conjure up love, joy and peace?

It’s getting worse.  It’s now a 5.  (I don’t think so.  You’re making it up, just so you can get some drugs into your system)

Oh … here comes a headache.  (So?)

I figure, as I move towards my 70s, that physical pain will become a larger part of my life.  Maybe not.  But if it does, and my strength, endurance and flexibility decline, should my contributions to the world also diminish?  (No)

The game’s coming on.  Wrap it up.  (No.  I’ll keep looking to see if there’s more I want to say)

Maybe you should write about the Tibetan family and all those Grade 6s tonight.  Just keep going.  (No.  Heroism not required.  I’ll get to those topics when I have more energy)

You just counted the number of points you talked about below the asterisks.  It’s nine.  Why don’t you stop at ten?  (That’s silly.  It’s not a sporting contest.  Stats don’t matter.  Just look a bit more – a few more important things to say or not?)

Not.

Islander

I tootled off to Toronto Island yesterday, with a backpack containing two of Jody’s books.  I had a destination.  It’s a little kiosk on Algonquin Island, where you can take a book, leave a book.  So cool.

I sat on a bench nearby and wrote:

Dear Algonquin Island reader,

I hope you take a copy of Jody’s and my book from the Algonquin Island library.  It’s a love story.

Thank you for accompanying us on our journey.

Be well,

Bruce

Gosh, I felt good slipping the two volumes between other creations.  A day later, do they still sit there or is each one now residing on someone’s end table?  It doesn’t matter.  I know they’ll find their way into human hearts.

All pleased with myself, I decided to explore Snake Island, a tiny little thing joined to the main by a walking bridge.  No cutesy homes on Snake, just nature.

As I plopped my feet down onto a new world, I thought of my pocket.  Inside was a plastic bag, perfect for anti-littering.  I so much enjoy picking up garbage and removing it from the paths of life.  I drifted down the trail, seeing this and that in the realm of manmade objects.  They got stuffed.  For awhile I was 100%, but as my bag filled as well as a discarded fabric cooler, my leaning over quotient started to max out.  There were just so many “things”.  Finally, I declared completion.  The rest of the little buggers will just have to sit there until the next explorer comes along.  Back over the bridge from Snake, there sat a black garbage can.  Cha-ching!

A notice board drew me.  And there it was … my next adventure.  There’s one church on Toronto Island, and on Sunday, November 20 it’s hosting first a brunch and second a concert, featuring a folk music duo.  I’ll be mellowing out on the carless island, just like a local.  Sweet.

Library , litter and lyrics.  I’m there.