Ordinary and Imperfect

I saw the movie Fences tonight.  Apparently Viola Davis won the Best Supporting Actress award at the Oscars but I was oblivious to the world at the time.  At the end of the film, the credits rolled, the red curtain closed, and still I sat in my seat, stunned.

It was a marvelous depiction of human beings, with all their glows and warts showing.  If ever I had the thought that there are great human beings, so-so ones, and then the yucky types … all of that faded tonight.

The dad had been a star in the Negro League of baseball but never made it into the Major Leagues.  He has seen the ravages of prison and now works hard for his family from the back of a garbage truck.  His son wants to play football but dad creates massive roadblocks so the boy won’t go through the pain he did.  The younger question “Do you like me?” is met with the older response “I put a roof over your head and fed you.”

The wife has put her dreams away for eighteen years to love her man and her son.  Her husband finally admits to an ongoing affair and insists on continuing to see the woman.  The wife’s fury and agony pour out of her eyes and nose but later, when the mistress dies giving birth, she holds the child to her breast as her own.

Dad’s brother was injured in the war and is mentally long gone, but he is loved.  His disability payments are the main reason that the family has a home.

No fairy tale lives here.  Nobody’s blonde and cute, or ruggedly handsome.  Just folks … loving and hating and loving some more.

Thank you, Denzel Washington, for directing and acting in such a reminder of our fragile stay on this planet.

 

Gone … No … Here

Writers are supposed to speak to their audience, use words that they’ll relate to, be comfy to them so that meaning flows easily from me to you.  Well, perhaps not this time.

I’ve just come out of one-and-a-half hours of meditation, and the world is big.  There are spaces between my cells.  It’s not quite like a pause button, and it’s not really slow-mo, but those words are in the territory.  And “coming out of” is not true either.  That suggests some trance state of blissful nothingness.  What I’ve just experienced is sweet nowness, fully aware of the traffic on Belmont Road and the wind ripping at my condo.

It took maybe twenty seconds for me to go deep.  How can that be?  During my recent retreat, I often couldn’t reach peace during an entire sitting.  The mind was just too chatty.  “Couldn’t reach” suggests effort and I know now that there’s no loving cheese down that tunnel.  By grace do I flow.

Today, I mostly felt complete stillness, and such an alertness.  Many times before, my stillness was punctuated by ripples of energy running under the skin of my face, including some sort of movement under my eyeballs.  Don’t know what that looks like since I’m inside the show.

Wo.  (I really don’t know how to spell that.)  Half an hour later, in the midst of tap-tapping on the keys, all is quiet.  Somewhere way back in my head is a tiny voice.  “You’re not making any sense.  They won’t understand.  They’ll think you’re weird.”  But that voice is so small, just about not there.  What is here is love, and peace, and okayness.  Hmm.  It’s very nice.

Bathing in this land of sufficiency is warm and comforting … but now what?  Do I head to the nearest cave and pray for world peace?  Do I stay downtown and see if this space can show up in daily conversation?  Do I chuck it all out the window and just obsess about the Toronto Maple Leafs?  Think I’ll pick Door Number Two.

Ain’t life grand?

Slime

It was Thursday afternoon, just before the kids headed home.  I heard “Let’s show Mr. Kerr” and here came two girls to reveal the contents of a margarine tub.  I’ll call them Jessica and Claire.  In the hollow of the container was a mass of green goop.

I know me.  I know what I’d do in such a situation.  I reached in and scooped out the greenness.  It rolled over my fingers and started a descent between them.  So cool.  I just stared at the flow while the girls watched my every move.  Some of the concoction plummeted back into the tub but much of it stuck to my fingers.  I believe Jessica and Claire were looking at my face more than my digits.  Joy bubbled from within.

I found out that Jessica was the author of this masterpiece.  Apparently it’s Borax, glue and God knows what.  I asked her politely, “Would you be willing to make me some overnight?”  She smiled and said yes.  Excellent.  I’d have my own special supply in time for the week of March Break (no school).

Claire and Jessica giggled their way out of the portable and I was left with “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.  I was sure I’d see them tomorrow.

Last day of school.  I showed up for the afternoon fun day.  As soon as I opened the portable’s door and hung up my coat, Claire and Jessica traipsed over, margarine tub in hand.  I took off the lid … and there was first class slime of a delicate turquoise hue.  Into my hands it went, and it also journeyed to my heart.  Soon we were off to the various adventures which resided in some classroom or another.  My goop sat contented on the shelf.  Two hours later, we returned to the Grade 6 class.  I picked up the slime, lifted it into the air with two hands, and let it sink so gracefully into the well-positioned tub three feet below.  It was a move deserving of an Olympic gold medal.

Claire came over and I casually mentioned how delicious the goop tasted, especially on toast.  Her face collapsed and her eyes grew exponentially.  I assured her immediately that I did no such thing … face back to normal.

At the every end of the day, Tiffany, the Grade 6 teacher, has the kids do “Shout Outs”, praise for cool stuff that a kid saw another student do.  I shouted out Jessica: “Thank you for the slime.”

***

And on to today.  I love walking the twenty minutes to the Belmont Diner for breakfast.  A sneaky little voice told me to put the slime tub in a plastic bag and carry it along.  So I did.  There I am sitting at the horseshoe-shaped lunch counter demonstrating my goop abilities to the variety of human beings sitting around.  I think at least one person was impressed.  The rest?  Well, most of them kept their thoughts to themselves.

Now I glance over at the end table to see my turquoise friend cozy inside its Celeb margarine tub.  Just two buddies hanging out.  Who knows what horizons we’ll explore tomorrow.

Reading to You

Hello young kids.  I sat in a rocking chair this morning as five waves of you came my way.  And to each of your classes, from Kindergarten to Grade 3, I read Stanley at School.  You sat on the carpet.  You laughed.  You got scared.  Some of you were silent.  Others gasped and squealed.  It was fun finding out what Stanley had up his sleeve.

Every day, Stanley the dog watched all the children in his neighborhood walk down his street and into their school, where they stayed until the afternoon.  And every day he got more and more curious.  “What did the kids do in that school all day?”  His dog friends at the park didn’t know any more than he did.  So they decided to find out, and together they made their way to the bottom of the stairs in front of the school.  And that’s when Stanley got an idea.  A big idea.  A bold idea!  An idea so daring, it made his fur stand up.  “Why don’t we go inside?”

And so they did.  I turned on my various voices, and I think you liked it.  A doggie whisper of wonder.  A nervous little mutt afraid to walk through the human doors.  A faceless custodian yelling “Bad dogs!”  A soothing principal cooing “There, there, there” as she petted canine heads.

You and I discovered that dogs really run well in school and that kids’ lunches are downright delicious, right down to the last pickle.  You guessed if the next page would be good stuff or bad.  You told me how the story would end.  And most of your eyes were very wide indeed.

I had fun.  I think you did too.  And isn’t that just the best?

Angel of the Piano

Yesterday afternoon, I sat down in Toronto’s Koerner Hall, anticipating the keystrokes of a virtuoso pianist – Sir Andras Schiff.  Beside me sat a young Asian woman and we got talking.  She’s a student at the Glenn Gould School of classical music performance.  We chatted about the beauty of Koerner Hall, especially the violin-like wooden sculpture that adorned the ceiling.  It reminded me of waves of energy, and I wondered if the love and peace I felt coming off me was anything like that.

I told Linda about my meditation retreat and I do believe she was enthralled.  “I’ve wanted to do something like that.”  She was one of very few people in such conversations that didn’t say “Oh, I could never do that.”  I mentioned the Buddha’s instruction “What you contemplate, you become.”  She seemed to see the wisdom of it right away.  Before Andras took the stage, we discussed more of life’s ups and downs.  It was a lovely time.

Sir Andras lived up to his billing, with exquisite runs, explosive passages and tender melodies.  I closed my eyes and a quiet crept over me.  Soon I was deep in meditation as his fingers created the magic.  I opened my eyes a few times, occasionally to see Linda leaning way forward, head down.  I wondered if I had something to do with that.

At the break, neither of us wanted to go anywhere.  We talked of love and peace.  Linda told me she was a pianist and was presenting a recital in the evening, in another hall at the Royal Conservatory.  I said I would come.  She smiled.  “But it won’t be as good as this.”  “Let’s try that again.”  I said I would come.  “Thank you.”

And so the evening.  Mazzoleni Hall was an intimate yellow brick and wood enclave.  Linda strolled onstage wearing a gorgeous cream-coloured gown.  Sadly, the audience was nine.

Linda launched into Haydn with a sometimes flurry and an often caress.  Her face was with the music … a passionate “Oh!” and then a sweet “Ahh.”  I was entranced.  She may be decades younger that Mr. Schiff but the heart was just as open.  Chopin, Bach, Brahms, Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky were cheering her brilliance for the rest of the evening.

I gave Linda a standing O, accompanied by a “Bravo!”  So richly deserved.

At the entrance to the hall, I said, “Thank you, Linda.”  We hugged.  We bowed.  “It was lovely.”  “Thank you so much for coming.”

And I was gone into the night.

Learnings

Well, look at this.  My fingers are caressing the keys again.  It’s been over a month, most of which I’ve spent in silence.

A little smile just broke upon the shore of my mouth, and with it a realization: I don’t give a hoot about how good this piece of writing is.  Ha, ha ,ha!  This is delightful.  The words will come, and along with them sentences and paragraphs.  Some people will like it … some won’t.  All is well.

Ah, hah.  An intruding thought.  “But Bruce, if you’re not all tied up about the quality of your work, then that work should be better.  And that’s good.”  Well, dear person that I am, that may be true but the depth of it all is “Who cares?”

I discovered some things during my meditation retreat.  And I don’t mean a cognitive understanding, but rather a full body, down-deep-in-the-heart variety.  Something that rattles my bones and leaves me both spent like a dishrag and bountiful as a mountaintop.

1. “What you contemplate, you become.”  My first memory of contemplating love was one evening in 1974, sitting under a big tree in Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth Park.  I had just seen a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar in a stone church downtown.  Perhaps for two hours, I sat there and rocked back and forth in a … trance?  Something magical was percolating through me.

Since then, I have largely contemplated love and peace in my life and I believe that I’ve become that type of person.  It doesn’t mean that I’m never critical of others but I return to the Buddha’s urging to “Begin again.”  The peace returns.  The thoughts once again flow to the goodness in the world, and my part in that.

2.  “There are two types of suffering: the type that you can’t do anything about and the type that you can.”  Partway through the retreat, we had green beans at lunch.  They were long so I cut them in half.  They were also a little hard.  I have arthritis in my right thumb.  I prepared my hand for its bean-stabbing motion and sallied forth, except that I wasn’t strong enough to pierce the veggies.  I pressed harder and had some success, managing to get a few beans airborne, but it hurt.  I stared in wonder.  And then I started laughing.  Somewhere along the line, I’ve begun accepting the pains of life, and have decided not to add stuff.  Such as:

What’s wrong with you?

You’re getting old.  Maybe you’ll die soon

This isn’t fair!  You’re a good person … this shouldn’t be happening

3.  Mr. Buddha told us that life consists of four pairs: Gain and Loss, Pleasure and Pain, Praise and Blame, Fame and Disrepute.  During the retreat, I got to experience all eight.  I’ve started to see, way down deep, that I can be the nicest guy, with the best intentions in the world and a rigorous fitness program, and life’s plate will still offer me helpings of loss, pain, disrepute and blame.  So be it.

***

On we go in life.  It’s really a fine adventure