Norman, The Kids And Me

I journeyed south from Williamstown to Stockbridge, Massachusetts this morning.  My destination was the Norman Rockwell Museum.  For decades, I’ve enjoyed his paintings of relationships and everyday life.  Norman saw the beauty in us all.

I wanted the Grade 6 kids near Belmont, Ontario to see some paintings, and perhaps to see themselves in them.  I texted some pics.

First up was “The Runaway”, featuring a little boy on a stool at the local diner, sitting beside a burly police officer.  A middle-aged cook leans forward on the counter, cigarette dangling from his lips.  I ran away once, from a summer camp on the shore of Lake Simcoe in Ontario.  I was scared and lonely.  One night, I walked to the shore, turned left and headed home to Toronto.  And there I was in a Rockwell painting.

Then there was a little girl, also sitting on a stool, gazing at herself in a large mirror.  A magazine was on her lap, flipped open to the image of a Hollywood starlet.  At her feet were a jar of makeup, lipstick and a hair brush.  Maybe those girls in Southern Ontario could relate.

A large painting was filled with people and apparel from across the world – young and old, male and female.  They all seemed to be gazing at the lower centre of the picture, where these words hovered:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you


Finally, a moving van has pulled up to a suburban home.  A black girl carries a white cat, and is accompanied by her brother.  Three white kids face the newcomers, with a black dog amidst them.  Baseball gloves reside on both sides of the painting.  The Canadian children’s response?  Here’s Tiffany, their teacher: “They think that regardless of the black and white contrast, their pets and sports will bring them together.”  Well said.

Google Maps tells me that the Grade 6 kids and I are 738 kilometres apart
(459 miles)

Not really

A Tale Of Two Pubs

Last night, it was Babe’s Macaroni Grill and Bar in Utica, New York.  I had a burger and fries.  Tonight I tried Mingo’s Sports Bar and Grill in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  In the interest of consuming a wide variety of food, I had a burger and sweet potato fries.

Last night, I told my bartender friend Michelle about the silent meditation retreat I’ll begin on Wednesday.  She was fascinated about longterm meditation.  I told her about falling in love on my last long retreat (a mistake), about the peace I felt in the meditation hall, about the Dalai Lama telling an interviewer “My religion is kindness”, and my opinion that the truest realm of spirituality is in the real world when I’m one-to-one with another human being.

Michelle told me about the Grafton Peace Pagoda, erected in the 1990’s by a Buddhist monk as a monument to world peace.  And guess what?  Grafton, New York was on my route to the retreat.  This afternoon, I climbed the steps of the pagoda – a giant white dome shining in the sun, way out in the woods.  A large statue of the Buddha was inset in one wall.  Plus carvings depicted the demon Mara tempting the Buddha with power, glory and pleasure while he refused to abandon the peace that had enveloped him.  All this majesty spread before me on a sunny winter’s day.

Tonight my companions were sports fanatics.  That’s okay.  So am I.  “Go, Leafs, Go!”  (That’s the Toronto Maple Leafs in the National Hockey League.)  The bartender was waxing poetic about football’s Super Bowl.  Next Sunday, he’ll be experiencing spasms of delight or agony while I’ll remain blissfully unaware within the grounds of the Insight Meditation Society.

Next to me at the bar was a fellow watching a women’s basketball game between the Universities of South Carolina and Tennessee.  “Which team are you cheering for?” I asked.  “Neither.  I’m scouting South Carolina.  They play UConn in thirteen days.”  The gentleman has been a University of Connecticut basketball fan for thirty years.  They’re the top women’s basketball program in the nation.  I learned about their marvelous coach and the factors that have made UConn the best, such as conditioning and defense.  I marvelled at this man’s universe, about which I knew little.

Such different conversations one night to the next.  But just like the burgers, they were somehow the same.  Human beings reaching for the sun.

Dear Me

I woke up this morning with those two words on my lips.  I stretched and said it again.  Nothing odd about that.  But then I listened … to a voice:

“You are dear, Bruce.”

“Uh … yes.  But so is everyone else.”

“That’s true.  There are many flavours of dearness.  Yours is verging on unique.”

“No, no, no.  There are lots of people like me in the world.”


“What do you mean, ‘oh’?  I’m not special.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that.  But you’re unusual, in a nice way.”

“I suppose that’s true.  But I’m not better than other people.”

“I agree.  You’re different, though.  You see connections that some folks don’t.  You’re silly.  You’re loving.  All in all, not a bad human.”

“Why thank you.  Can we stop talking about this stuff now?”

“As you wish.”


And yes, all of this went on in my head.  Perhaps I’m going loony tunes.  I sure hope not.  There’s a lot of living left to do.

And a particular flavour of that living starts tomorrow.  At 5:00 am, I head east on the road of life, otherwise known as Highway 3.  Many hours later, I’ll curl up under the covers in Utica, New York.  On Monday, it’s through the Berkshire Mountains to Williamstown, Massachusetts, where I’ll hunker down for two days.  I hope to visit art galleries, meditate in churches, and find the local coffee shop for good conversation.  On Wednesday afternoon, I show up at the Forest Refuge near Barre, Massachusetts where I’ll essentially be silent for a month.  Many quiet dear ones will sit near me but I’ll never meet them.  We won’t say hi.  We won’t make eye contact.  But I will love them anyway.  Hmm … I suppose that’s fairly unusual.

I’ll blog Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and then it’ll be silencio until February 28.  Come see me then, if you wish.  I may have groovy things to say or perhaps my fingers will begin a vow of silence.  Who knows?  The mystery beckons.

No Go

When those two kids approached me about riding the Tour du Canada, I thought about lots of things, none of which included how the leadership of the Tour might react.  The next day, it weighed on my mind.

The Tour is owned by Cycle Canada, a company led by Bud and Margot.  I e-mailed them about having two 13-year-olds join me in 2018.  Not many hours later, I had an answer.  Margot recalled a 13-year-old girl who set off from Vancouver with her mom on a tandem bicycle.  Soon it became clear that the girl didn’t want to ride the whole time.  She was bored.  Sometimes she took the bus while her mother rode the tandem alone.  Not good.

Margot also brought up the possibility that at some point both kids couldn’t ride.  There are only two extra seats in the truck and I’d have to be in there too to look out for my young friends.

Margot’s response to me was well thought out and reasonable.

But I sighed.  Is the dream dashed even before parents start considering the situation?  I decided to write her back.

What if in the future I could provide training logs to show that the students were committed to be fit enough to cross the country?  And Margot, Bud, the kids, their parents and I could Skype to talk it all out.  I wondered if there was any wiggle room.

Also I mentioned a book – the only one I’ve read three times.  Hey, Mom, Can I Ride My Bike Across America?

Margot replied.  No wiggle room.  The American kids had flexibility in their schedule.  They could take an extra day if need be.  But the Tour du Canada is tied to a firm schedule, with details such as campground reservations and ferry schedules to be considered.  Plus everyone in that truck has to have a seatbelt or the government would shut the trip down.

Sigh again.  I don’t feel that I’m right and Margot’s wrong.  Both sides have their good points.  But I’m sad.

Yesterday I told the class about the decision.  The whole discussion would be academic if no children and their parents step forward down the road.  I asked them to think of some creative ways that interested kids could go on far shorter rides with me in 2017.  I’ll see what if anything come of that when I return from my meditation retreat in early March.

Life is often a big curve ball, I do believe.  But I still love being in the game.



Love Is …

Well, I’m off.  At least that’s what some people think.  Actually, I don’t start driving until Sunday morning.  I’m heading to a one month silent meditation retreat in Massachusetts.

For the last few weeks, I’ve told folks where I’m going.  Over the years the responses I’ve received have pretty much been the same:  “Oh, I couldn’t do that!”  Only two or three human beings thought they could.

Many people look at me funny when I say I’m going to be silent for a month (three months back in 2015).  When I mention that I’m a Buddhist, some of them really get weirded out.  “You’re not a Christian?”  “No.”

All of this pales before what I’ve decided to tell them in front of this trip.  I’ve only said this to a few because they’ve thought it’s so strange.  I’m tempted to shut up, such as right now.  But that’s no fun … so here goes.

“I’m going to this retreat to love people, to explore what the depths of love can be.”  It will be unlike any I’ve been on.  Usually, I’d have a few hours at the beginning to talk to other yogis, and a few hours at the end to discuss how it went.  On February 1, I immerse myself in an environment where I’ll never talk to the other participants.  I won’t make eye contact with them.  Is it possible to love people whom I won’t meet?  They’ll be near me in the meditation hall and the dining room.  I’ll look at their faces and bodies, from the side.  I’ll see the joy and pain.  There won’t be any contact but I say there’ll be a connection.

Sometimes love is more of an exchange than a communion.  “I’ll keep loving you as long as you keep doing X.”  Happily, relationship can be a world beyond that.

And then, who do you love?  For some, it’s just themselves.  Or just my life partner.  Or my family.  Or the members of my faith or culture.  How about everyone, even the grumpy folks?  How about all beings, from my dear one to a mosquito?  Is it possible?

So off I go, curious about how widely love can spread its wings.

I’ll never meet them
Probably I’ll never see them again
I want nothing from them
Ain’t life grand?

Road Of Dreams

I was so excited Thursday morning.  I was going to ask 27 Grade 6 kids for help.  I had let my dream fade and maybe they could get me back on track.  I want to ride my bicycle across Canada in 2018.  It’ll be about twenty of us embracing the Tour du Canada – taking 70 days to pedal 7600 kilometres from Vancouver, B.C. to St. John’s, Newfoundland (a bit more if I start in Victoria).

I started by asking the kids if they have a goal which so far they hadn’t achieved.  After one young man responded, I told them about the Tour.  It seemed like there was a collective drawing in of breath as I launched into my story.  Tiffany, their teacher, said that here was an opportunity to bring school closer to real life.  Indeed.  She handed out huge pieces of paper and groups of students charted ideas for me.

As the kids hummed along in their work, one girl came up to me and asked “What colour are your eyes?”  (Huh?)  Turns out that she was drawing a picture of me on the paper and wanted to get my eyes right.

And then the presentations.  No more junk food.  Ride my bike every day.  Find someone to train with.  Write encouraging letters to myself between now and June, 2018, and open them on the ride when I’m having a hard day.  Write a blog as I cross the country so folks can find out how I’m doing.  Thanks, kids!  Tiffany will be marking their posters and then I get to take them home for inspiration.

After all was said and done, two girls came up to me (separately) and said that they want to do the ride with me.  Whoa!  I mentioned that a lot of thinking had to be done, parents had to be totally on board, and the training would be intense.  Inside, I was churning.

Have you ever read a book three times?  I have.  The title is Hey Mom, Can I Ride My Bike Across America?  A teacher and his wife rode with five 12- and 13-year-olds from Washington, D.C. to Santa Barbara, California.  It took four months.

Yes, I’ve dreamed of doing the Tour du Canada for many years.  Sitting right beside that dream was another: to include a couple of kids on the adventure.  I only have two regrets in life – that Jody died so young and we didn’t have children.  I think I would have been a good dad.  Wouldn’t it be cool if I could be a sort-of-dad for two months and share the wonders of Canada with fine young Canadians?

Now, a few days after speaking my heart, I try to put myself in the parent’s chair.  It’s not too likely that mom and dad would let their daughter or son travel with me for ten weeks.  It’s  a long ways.  Hills.  Bad weather.  Possible illness and injury.  Maybe a few unsavoury characters discovered along the way.  If it was my child, would I let them go?  Well … yes.  If I trusted the person to keep my dear one safe.  Roots and wings.

Here I sit, not knowing if some Grade 6 kids will accompany me.  Maybe there are parents out there who will say yes.  First of all, of course, maybe there are a couple of children in that class who truly want to do this and are willing to put in the work to make it happen.

Oh my
The weight of reason suggests that this part of my dream won’t happen
But you never know

Thumbs Up

I walked into the Belmont Pharmacy today, supposedly for no useful purpose.  Actually I figure saying hi is quite useful.

Suzanne greeted me and we blabbed a bit.  About what I can’t remember.  But I got really excited about something.  In a fit of verticality, I threw my arms into the air.  Unbenounced to me  (Wow.  I don’t know how to spell that word.  Excuse me for a minute while I take a SpellCheck break.)  … …  Now, where was I?  Oh yeah …  Ouch.  Apparently the word doesn’t exist.  All I got back was “undenounced”.  I’m pretty sure that’s not the same.  Okay, let’s try Google  … …  Ah hah!  Unbenownst  →  “without the knowledge of”.

I realize that was a lot of further ado, so let’s cut to the chase.  My right thumb smashed into a plastic sign hanging from the ceiling.   My soul yelped and my thumb gushed red.  Darn blood thinners.  They’ll get you every time.  Quick like a bunny, Suzanne passed me a paper towel.  I love it that Bounty is the quicker picker-upper but I guess I needed three-ply.

Suzanne didn’t have any Bandaids except for those nestled in boxes for sale.  I didn’t want her to break open a package so I headed to the Diner, grasping said digit.  Chrystal saw my scarlet plight and got me a couple of Elastoplasts (I’m an equal opportunity adhesive bandage guy).  Being a righthanded dude, I couldn’t get the paper off so I approached a table of local women and Sue did the deed.  Off to the washroom and soon I was well covered.  I decided not to go with the flow.

That’s enough dramatics, Bruce.  We’re not exactly talking heart surgery here.

Much of the rest of my day was humbling.  I was a whiz at peeing but how does a thumb deprived human get his pants done up again?  Then I was trying on winter boots at Mountain Equipment Co-Op.  I couldn’t shove my insoles down deep but Janique came to the rescue.  She just about had to do up my laces but I managed a loose approximation of the task.

You know, the thumb is an awfully valuable tool out there in the world, not that I was aware of the fact before today.  I was fumbling, again and again.

Somewhere along the way, in a quiet moment of digital repose, a thought crossed my frontal lobe:

What did you learn today, Bruce?
Do you avoid all exultations in the spirit of painfree thumb wholeness?
Or do you throw yourself into the air whenever a deeper spirit moves you?

I vote for the jump-up

To Do Or Not To Do

For maybe fifteen years, I’ve had a goal: to ride my bicycle across Canada.  In fact, I’ve told myself that I’m not going to lie on my deathbed grieving that I didn’t do it.  When Jody was ill and after she died, my oomph for the journey faded and wearying thoughts flooded my brain:

You’re too old
It’s too hot and humid in Ontario
You’ll never climb the roads on Cape Breton Island’s Cabot Trail

And I believed it all.

As far as I know, the oldest person who’s completed the Tour du Canada is 73.  I’ll be 69 in my target year – 2018.  “That’s pretty close to 73.”

“You wilt in the heat, my man.  And that’s when you’re sipping a drink on the patio, not riding for seven hours a day.”

“Have you seen pictures of Cape Breton?  It’s straight up!”

So says my small mind.  But I know there’s a bigger one inside too.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a thought.  I love these Grade 6 kids at South Dorchester School.  I wonder if they could help me break past my mental barriers about the ride.  I’m smart but they’re no doubt smart in different ways.  Fresh brains.  Ideas unfathomed by this “mature” guy.  And how often does an adult ask a kid for help?

I showed up at the school this afternoon for volunteering.  But there were hardly any young ones since freezing rain had cancelled the buses.  There stood Tiffany, the teacher I work with.  “Ask her.”  So I spilled my thoughts about crossing the country.  She got excited.  “The distances you cover can be a Math assignment.  I told her that I wanted to blog from Victoria, B.C. to St. John’s, Newfoundland.  And that on days when I was struggling on the bike, maybe a few students would e-mail me some encouragement.  Tiffany then envisioned a writing project.  Seventy letters from the children, written in 2017 but not opened until the seventy days of Tour du Canada 2018.  Oh my.  That would sure be a boost to my spirits.

How about Geography studies of towns I pass through?

How about the students writing people I talk to in Saskatchewan, Prince Edward Island and Quebec?

How about composing a song that we 25 Tour du Canada riders could sing on our merry way?

How about making funky posters to be mailed to us at spots along the route?

How about creating recipes that we riders could cook up for breakfast or supper?

How about sending us photos of you kids on your bikes?

Limitless horizons
Children and adults
Adventure on both ends

Island Thoughts

Yesterday was brunch-and-concert day on Toronto Island, at St. Andrew-by-the-Lake Church.  It’s another world, only a ten-minute ferry ride from downtown.

As I walked from the docks, I heard a familiar sound.  I’m used to the scrape of skates on ice during telecasts of Hockey Night In Canada.  Go you Maple Leafs!  But this was classic.  Up ahead, a hockey game was breaking out on the channel between islands.  I stopped and marvelled.  So deep in Canada’s roots, doing stuff outdoors.  I thought of David Francey’s song:

The music from the skating rink
Drifts across the town
The stars of heaven high above
Forever looking down
I stand here looking upward,
And I’m listening to the sound
Of the village in the lonely heart of winter

Here were ten women flowing on their blades, some very skilled, a few not so.  There was one grey hair and several teens.  Plus ten smiles.  For goals, they had laid two six-foot beams on the ice.  If you wanted to score, you couldn’t raise the puck.  And no bodychecking.  I stared some more.  It was so simple and so beautiful.

On to the church.  Pews were turned around and tables placed between.  I sat with local folks, steeped in the history of the Ward’s Island and Algonquin Island communities.  An Algonquiner praised her land as “The Heights”, clearly superior to the Ward’s accommodation.  Jabs in the ribs and more happy faces.

And then … tofu with a sweet-and-sour sauce, bok choy, exotic mushrooms, a nest of rice noodles, and cucumber.  Not to mention a dark cake drizzled with vanilla icing.  Waydago, chef.

We talked about island life.  Coming soon is a huge bonfire on Ward’s beach, reducing the island’s Christmas trees to ash.  I mentioned the meditation retreat I’m about to go on.  Beside me sat a fellow with a speech impediment.  I felt a stereotype bubble up as I struggled to understand him.  But then I got the hang of his lingo and we were off to the races.  He had many wise things to say.

Amply satisfied, we switched the pews to theatre style.  Three gentlemen began their enthrallment of us the audience.  Violin, cello, piano.  Mozart, Brahms, Tchaikovsky.  Oh my.  Melodies soared.  Harmonies filled the tones.  Brilliant runs and calm lacings of notes.

Directly in front of me sat a young woman with curly red hair stretching to the middle of her back.  I exhaled, a few times.  She was so pretty.  I longed to run my fingers through her tresses.  Showing admirable restraint, however, I returned again and again to the music.

The alignment of bodies ahead meant that I rarely saw a full performer’s head during the performance.  Occasionally just the violinist’s eyes were seen through the gap, and they were usually closed.  Sometimes an upbow rose above the crowd, or a shoulder gave way to an ear.  I decided to let it be, rather than twisting myself to see more.  I thought of how, in one telling, the moment is perfect as it presents itself.  I thought that the folks behind me would have to adjust if I made sudden moves.  And that hair was just so divine.

Thank you, Toronto Island
and more especially the people who call it home
I’ll be back

In The Arena

Many years ago, Jody and I went to a Toronto Raptors basketball game.  It was at the Air Canada Centre.  Last night I retraced our steps.

I walked in the door, escalated myself to the heavens, and then proceeded even more upward to the very top row of the ACC.  Way below me were an array of red and blue ants, otherwise known as professional basketball players warming up.

Directly ahead of me, about twenty feet away, was a large screen hanging from the ceiling. As the game unfolded, I forced myself to watch the ants rather than lapsing into TV mode.  I’d glance up occasionally at a closeup of a player taking a free throw but mostly I was faithful to the “here and nowness” of it all.

A Raptors game can be a full body experience.  Employees roamed around with heavy cameras on their shoulders, watching for fans jumping up and down, smiling, laughing, hugging and in general having a good time.  Although I suspected that part of the fervor was an effort to get oneself on the big screen, it was still great fun.  Kids bouncing, arms of all ages in the air, mouths agape … go for it you Raptorites!  Children especially were totally themselves.  Their friends and their parents shared in the joy.  So very cool.

Adult moving and grooving seemed to peak when the team’s dancing girls bounced up the stairs with t-shirts to throw.  There even was a multi-barrelled gun on the court, sending a rain of shirts skyward.  But who cares about the motivation?  Give me an event with happy faces and I’ll be happy.

I loved the energy of cheering fans in their thousands.  I also love the energy of sitting with one person, talking about our lives.  And the energy of silent aloneness, watching the tapestries of life parading behind my closed eyes.

I love it all