This Marathon Life

I was rooting through my phone this afternoon for sports news, and came upon this headline: Levins Breaks Canadian Marathon Record.  In Toronto today, Cam Levins ran the 42 kilometres (or 26 miles) in two hours, nine minutes and twenty-five seconds.  Good for you, Mr. Cam.

I thought back to my own history in the marathon, grieving my natural aging and the decline in my athletic performance.  This summer’s early exit from the Tour du Canada bicycle ride still hurts.

How has it come to pass that a potpourri of body parts ache?  My left hip, left ankle, right knee, right thumb and central self-esteem – they all hurt!  But as soon as I type this litany of loss, I start smiling.  What a wacky life we lead.  Everything is changing, virtually every day.  New marathons of experience beckon.

I ran in five marathons, all previewed by many miles of training in the coulees of Southern Alberta.  In four of those marathons, I hit the mythical “wall”.  Somewhere around the 20 mile mark, the legs feel dead, with its many muscles demanding I stop.  Four times I did.  I especially remember the Calgary Marathon.  Vices planted themselves on every square inch of leg flesh.  On the count of three, they all squeezed.  Not only could I not run, I couldn’t walk.

1985 was special.  I finished the Vancouver Marathon, in a time of four hours and fourteen minutes.  The thrill was all mixed up with intense pain, and this time it wasn’t the legs.  My heart hurt.  I thought a little cool down walk might help.  I had three hours to kill before my bus would be leaving for Lethbridge, Alberta.  Hmm … bad choice of words.  I dragged myself through some downtown streets, and the pain worsened.  Oh my God, was this a heart attack?  Was this the end?

My steps became staggers and I fell onto a bench by the sidewalk.  I think I curled up into a ball.  “I’m dying.”  I waited for the closing to come.  No long replay of my life.  Just agony.

A gentleman who I later found out was a cab driver came over.  “Are you all right?”  >  “No.  Please call an ambulance.”  He helped me into his car and we sped off to St. Paul’s Hospital.  I stayed put for two weeks.  “Mr. Kerr, you have pericarditis, an inflammation of the walls of the heart.  You will recover.”  Judging by my current typing, I did.

I’ve dreamt of being an elite athlete, but it won’t be happening in this lifetime.  That’s okay.  There are other horizons to move towards.  I sense that mine will be in the realm of consciousness.  Slow and steady will get me there, certainly in a much longer time than 4:14.

 

Breakie

My neighbour “Dan” invited me to go to a men’s breakfast at a huge church in London yesterday. The building includes a theatre with inclined seating, a gym, a large windowed meeting room where we ate, washrooms with showers and other nooks and crannies that I didn’t get to explore.

We got there fifteen minutes early and the coffee was ready. Yay! I was sitting in the lobby slurping away when a fellow approached, extended his hand and said “Hi, Bruce.” His face was a blank to me. How in the name of Heaven did he know my name? Probably two minutes later, after he’d left, I looked down and saw a name tag stuck to my chest. “Oh.”

Dan and I sat at a table with friends of his. Everyone was congenial. No one talked about spirituality, and that was fine. At one point, I mentioned to the fellow next to me that I was going to a conference in North Carolina next week where we’ll be exploring consciousness. It’s a hard thing to explain. The best that I can do is to point towards an expansion of love, peace and freedom. The gentleman was polite but soon changed the subject. Again, I’m fine with that.

My spirituality as a Buddhist is different from the Christian fellows I was with. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’m just glad to be with folks who have a spiritual life, who see something bigger in life than the daily routines. A hundred or more men who are gathered for a Christian breakfast may differ in their willingness to talk about their faith but their simple presence yesterday morning says a lot.

Just as we were chowing down, a young man and his infant son joined us. A gentle soul, and so loving as he fed his boy. “Jason” works at a day care centre. I looked around the room and saw mostly older people (like me!) but there was a fair sprinkling of young adults, teens and kids. Cool, I thought. We gather together to learn from each other.

After the eats, it was time for the speaks. Guys who spoke Arabic, Spanish and I believe Chinese each had their own meeting room, so they could hear the presentations in their own language. It wasn’t separation … it was consideration.

In the English-speaking room, five men participated in a panel discussion. The moderator had questions ready. My favourite was “When you look back on your life, is there anything you regret?” One speaker, probably in his 70’s, looked around the room and found the young ones. “I regret not being brave enough to tell my friends what was important to me, especially things that they’d likely see differently. I just wanted to fit in, and I lost some of me in the process.” Wow. Well said. I pray that a seed was planted through his words.

So … the morning was not always my way, but it was a truly fine way. Thanks, guys.

Skunked

On Thursday evening, I was doing a Mutual Awakening practice online with a woman in Vancouver.  All was mellow.  And then … a God-awful banging started downstairs.  Peace evaporated.  My heart revved up.  Home invasion?  Beam collapse?  Or an animal?

I returned to my friend, with visions of a raccoon roaming through my family room.  After we said goodbye, I headed down, resisting the urge to grab a blunt object.  And there, rapping on a basement window, was an all-in-motion white and black furry thing.  A skunk, trapped in the window well.  He or she was ripping apart the screen but I didn’t care about that.

Two parallel thoughts came my way:

1. They’re going to die in there. Claws won’t do much good on four feet of vertical metal.

2. They’re really going to stink up the house.

I felt momentarily guilty about my smell worry but then I reasoned that human beings sometimes obsess about dreaded futures.  I’m a human being so it all works out fine.

As I laid myself down to sleep, the imagined scenario switched to Bruce trying to get furry one out of the window well and getting sprayed in the process.  Halfway through the night, there was still the banging and scratching.

On Friday morning, I girded my loins, grabbed a stepladder and tippy-toed towards the window well.  Such a hero!  I peeked over the edge … and the only thing down there was a plastic bag.  Impossible!  Was I dealing with Super Skunk?  Looking more closely, that bag seemed to be full of something.  I went back into the garage and emerged with a long-handled cultivating tool.  I nudged the bag – and it moved!  A slight rip showed something black-and-white beneath.  I wedged the ladder against the well and headed off to embrace the day.

Late yesterday afternoon, I drove into the driveway.  Another timid peek showed the same full bag.  And then I remembered – skunks are nocturnal.  Reason soon faded away, however, as I imagined my friend dying alone.  I fretted through the evening until engaging joyfully with a friend on the telephone.  Then to bed.  A half hour later, the banging and scratching resumed.  I confess an impatience with the gorgeous-looking animal.  “Haven’t you seen a ladder before?  It’s your way out, your road to freedom, your release from the prison of life.”

I slept fitfully, partially because of an early morning wakeup for a church breakfast, and also due to the furry one.

6:55 am.  No sounds.  Clothes on.  Outside.  Peeking number three.

Mr. Skunk was gone

I’m so happy that my companion didn’t die.  He’s no doubt out there in the woods with his friends and family.  And I’m more than a little pleased that I didn’t have to zoom off to the grocery store for a year’s supply of tomato juice.

On to the next ridiculous adventure …

 

Kindness

I like words.  My second favourite one, right after “love”, is “kindness”.  I’m sometimes moved to tears when one person gives of themselves to another.

Reporters were gathered around The Dalai Lama.  One of them asked “Sir, how would you describe your religion?”  The world’s most visible Buddhist smiled and simply said “My religion is kindness.”  Four words that say so much.

I’ve often written about moments of kindness.  Today I yield to the intelligence and open hearts of many other folks.  I hope you let their thoughts flow into you.

*

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world
For indeed, that’s all who ever have

Margaret Mead

What is true power?

*

The simple act of caring is heroic

Edward Albert

Who are true heroes?

*

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted

Aesop

How about picking up an eraser that a classmate has dropped?

*

When I was young, I admired clever people
Now that I am old, I admire kind people

Abraham Joshua Heschel

I’m good at using words in unusual ways
Putting my arm around someone’s shoulder is far better

*

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind

Henry James

What, no cunning intellect, no dashing good looks?
No … neither of those

*

I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance

Pablo Casals

Pablo was an astonishing cellist
He also knew a thing or two about life

*

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle

Plato

And if what if that’s true?
How would that change my speaking and doing and being?

*

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Will this be the last time I’m with this human being?

*

Be kind whenever possible
It is always possible

The Dalai Lama

Even when someone is being mean to me?
Yes

*

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better
It’s not

Dr. Seuss

Maybe everybody is like me … down deep

*

Always stop to think whether your fun may be the cause of another’s unhappiness

Aesop

Let’s laugh together
Let’s not laugh at together

*

Never be so busy as not to think of others

It might be the worst four-letter word

Mother Teresa

*

There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up

John Holmes

The physical heart and the spiritual heart … companions

*

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around

Leo Buscaglia

Just say hi

*

That best portion of a man’s life:
His little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love

William Wordsworth

Do it
Even if the person forgets that you did it
Or even if they didn’t know it was you

*

Jann

I was in a gorgeous theatre last night in Kitchener, Ontario.  The Centre in the Square hosted Jann Arden, a singer-songwriter from Alberta.  A friend of mine at the Belmont Diner had seen her in London last week.  She and her daughter cried when Jann spoke and sang about her mom, who has Alzheimer’s.

For a long while as her mother waded the murky waters of dementia, Jann tried to convince her that “the orange men on the patio” weren’t really there.  Orienting her to reality seemed like a smart thing to do, but it wasn’t.  Jann had always been competitive but finally decided to let go … the illness wins.  The key moment came one day when Jann walked through the door and mom put up her hands as a shield.  Was she thinking that Jann was about to hit her?  That was it.  Jann changed from shooing the orange men out of her mom’s mind to suggesting that if they’re on the patio, they should at least pick up a broom.

The woman on the stage showed herself to be a full human being.  I enjoyed that even more than the singing and the songs.  A group of women in the front row held up images of Jann’s face in front of their own.  Groupies!  Jann laughed with them … and with us.

At one point she talked about a failed relationship.  “If you’re going to be with a singer-songwriter, and everything starts going to *****, you better expect that you’re going to end up in a ***** song!”  I wouldn’t have chosen some of her words but so what?  Jann was thoroughly herself for 2 1/2 hours.

The woman was transparent.  Her father was an alcoholic and her brother was often beaten up by the man.  The younger one fell into a spiral and ended up murdering someone.  He’s been in jail for many years and every month she visits him, setting aside her judgments again and again and returning to love.

Jann wrote a song for her brother – Hangin’ by a Thread.  It was inspired by something their mom said as mother and daughter walked out of the prison: “I’m so tired of looking at my feet.”  Jann goes inside him and honours what’s there:

When I cry I close my eyes
And every tear falls down inside
And I pray with all my might
That I will find my heart in someone’s arms
When I cry, cry
When I cry, when I am sad
I think of every awful thing I ever did
Oh, when I cry, there is no love
No there is nothing that can comfort me enough
When I cry, cry, cry
All the salt inside my body ruins
Everyone I come close to
My hands are barely holdin’ up my head
I am so tired of lookin’ at my feet
All the secrets that I keep
My heart is barely hangin’ by a thread
Hangin’ by a thread
Oh, look at me, at all I’ve done
I’ve lost so many things that I so dearly loved
I lost my soul, I lost my pride

 

Thank you, Jann, for being with us.  It was a privilege to share the concert hall with you.

Every Word

The realization that every act, every word, every thought of ours not only influences our environment but for some mysterious reason forms an integral and important part of the universe, fits into it as if by necessity so to say, in the very moment we do, or say, or think it – is an overwhelming and even shattering experience.  The tremendous responsibility of it is terrifying.  If all of us only knew that the smallest act of ours, or a tiny thought, has such far-reaching effects as to set in motion forces which perhaps could shatter a galaxy … If we know it deeply and absolutely, if this realization becomes engraved permanently on our hearts, on our minds, how careful we would act and speak and think.  How precious life would become in its integral oneness.

Irina Tweedie

I wonder if I have the power to shatter a galaxy.  Irina thinks so.  Is this just a romantic passage of writing or is it true that everything I do, say and think has an huge impact?  If it is true, how will I be in the world?  Sometimes thoughts just … come.  A few of them are negative, critical, diminishing.  How do I control that?  I don’t know.  I have experienced, however, times when I let those thoughts drift away almost immediately.  Cutting off the criticism so fast is also a powerful act, one that fits with Irina’s words.

This morning I’m going to breakfast with “Ben”, one of my neighbours in the condo development.  From the moment I say hi to him, I have the power to enhance life, rather than diminish it.  Does this even extend to how I pull Scarlet into his driveway?  Yes.

When we’re sitting around that gorgeous counter at the Belmont Diner, other folks will come calling – for coffee or the full meal deal.  What will I do?  First of all, I’ll say hello.  Greeting them is an acknowledgment of their existence, giving the message “I see you.  I value you.  I’m glad you’re in my community.”  Those simple thoughts can shift the planet.  I sense that they’re not just aimed from me to Joe or Mary but that somehow they spread across the smiling face of the earth.

All of this is not to say that I should walk around all tensed up, worried that a misstep or a misspeak will damage humanity.  No, I need to trust my heart, trust that goodness will come out of my hands and mouth.  Feeling ease in each moment, knowing that I intend the best for you, will allow my gifts to flow.

So Ben … the day begins.  What shall we create together?

Return of the Beloveds

In my better moments, all of you out there in Cyberland are my Beloveds.  I haven’t met you but I know.  Plus every person I see on the street is similarly precious.  As I said, that’s what I feel on my good days.

We all want to be happy.  We all want to contribute in this world.  We all want our lives to matter.  And we want to love.

***

The corn has been high in the field out back for a month or two.  It’s created a cozy feeling on my patio, a sense of sanctuary.  I got back from Toronto a few hours ago, had something to eat and did my laundry.  Then it was off to my bedroom chair for a spell of meditation.  When my eyes opened a few minutes ago, it was dark out there in Southwestern Ontario.  And I gazed at a scene that had been hidden from me: red cars going left to right on the distant Harrietsville Drive and white ones moving right to left.  The farmer had cut down his corn.

The Beloveds had returned.  “I don’t know who you are but I love you.  Travel well to your destination.”  The feeling inside was warm and flowing.  There was a reaching out from my body, through the glass, over the stubble and into the front seats.  Communion with unseen strangers.

***

Several times a week I’m on the internet with members of the Evolutionary Collective Global Community.  Our hour together includes people from all over the world.  For a couple of weeks I hadn’t seen a friend from Ireland.  I missed her.  On Friday, as a gift, there she was on my laptop screen, along with many other rectangles filled with human beings.  There was an intake of breath as I saw her.  Even richer than the cars tonight.

Thirty minutes of our global time are devoted to practicing with one other person, determined each time by some algorithm.  I haven’t spent time with a few friends for a month or more.  Sometime last week, a fellow from California burst onto my screen … and the joy flooded me.  “It’s been too long.”  Reunions continue to blossom.

***

Cars on roads, folks on laptops, a Belmontonian walking through the door of the Diner after being away for awhile … all blessings to me.  And I need to realize that when I return to the school where I volunteer after being absent for several days, I’m a blessing to those kids.

We touch each other

Prejudice Against Women

Beatrice Bruteau is my favourite author. Before she died, Beatrice talked about unity consciousness, how we can awaken together rather than meditating alone for years. She called society’s current context a “domination paradigm”, where I try to get one up on you while you do the same to me. Plus my group is better than your group. As an alternative, Beatrice pointed to a “communion paradigm” – no ranking. We’re brothers and sisters.

I was reading The Holy Thursday Revolution this afternoon when Beatrice mentioned the Bible, specifically First Timothy 2: 11-12, verses in which “it is explicitly forbidden to regard women as equal to men.” Ouch. Now there’s domination.

Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.

How intensely sad that women throughout much of history have been considered less than. And the diminishment lingers.

Why, oh why, has the Catholic Church prevented women from becoming priests, from expressing in leadership their full spiritual being?

Pope Francis and the male priests at the Vatican have said repeatedly that the teaching against female priests comes from God and cannot be changed.

(Sigh)

And then there’s the issue of women being denied the vote for so many years. Here, from approximately 1915, are some reasons why male Canadians said no:

Religious leaders stressed that “natural law” — as stated in the Christian Bible — was clear about women being subordinate to men.

Women did not have the physical strength of men, and therefore could not hold their own in the rough and tumble of politics.

If a married woman had taken a vow to obey her husband, then she would vote as he directed. In effect, this would give her husband two votes.

Voting would drag women away from their domestic duties and their children. It was argued that voting would distract women from their roles as mothers and wives.

If women won the vote and other rights, they would be equals and no longer under men’s protection. Too weak to defend themselves, they would be depressed.

Women would be overexcited by politics and would have nervous breakdowns.

Women were — or should have been — far too busy with their home and community duties to take part in politics.

Women knew nothing of trade, commerce, science, finance, the military or the law, and therefore had nothing to contribute to politics.

Women would be hardened and sullied by politics and would become manly and unfeminine.

(A very big sigh)

The past was intensely damaging for women. The present, in some realms, isn’t so hot either:

The Cannes Film Festival has been accused of “tyrannical fashion policing” after reports emerged that a group of women were turned away from a red-carpet premiere for not wearing high heels. The women, some of whom had medical conditions and were in their 50’s, were wearing rhinestone flats to the opening of Cate Blanchett’s new film Carol when they were told they would not be allowed to enter, reports The Guardian.

(Yuck)

Right now, the United States is one of only three countries in the world that don’t make companies provide paid maternity leave. The other two are Papua New Guinea and Oman.

(Double yuck)

American women currently don’t have a legal basis to argue for upholding the rights they currently have or gaining the ones they lack because the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, first proposed almost a century ago in 1923, has yet to pass. Currently, the government is not allowed to pass laws or make rulings that treat citizens differently by race or religion, but they’re still allowed to do so with gender.

(Triple yuck)

I’m a white male. Translation: privileged. There are several powerful women in my life who no doubt have had to fight battles that are invisible to me. I’m sad for you, dear friends. I’m also happy to see your courage and your humanity on full display. The world needs all of us.

Auschwitz Today: Respect or Selfies?

I sat last night with one of the other guests at my bed and breakfast in Toronto.  He’s a Polish fellow living in Ireland.  On a visit home recently, he visited the Auschwitz concentration camp, where Nazi soldiers killed over a million Jews, gypsies and members of other groups whom they deemed “sub-human”.  My new friend was “devastated” by the experience, overwhelmed with the pure evil, and with the suffering endured by men, women and children.

I asked myself how I’d ever cope with seeing the horrors of Auschwitz.  I shut my eyes and went to bed.  I knew I wanted to write about this, but my fingers, mind and heart had nothing left to give.

This morning, I went to Google, looking for more details about Auschwitz.  I didn’t know what I wanted to say but I knew something would come.  What showed up was a YouTube video spoken by Patrick Ney.  I don’t have to say anything more.  Patrick knows the way.

I first went to Auschwitz concentration camp in 2012.  And as somebody who had read a lot about the history of that place, and had watched a lot of documentaries, it was something that I was dreading.  But I was also in a kind of way looking forward to it.  To go to a place where the absolute worst things that humans have ever done to other humans, was an honour.  But unfortunately my abiding memory of visiting that place isn’t actually about what happened.  It was the behaviour of the people who were there with me.

As we walked into the crematoria at Auschwitz 1, a couple that were in the group that I was in, decided that it would be a good moment to start kissing each other.  When we walked into one of the barracks where shoes of the Jewish victims at Auschwitz concentration camp were displayed, our guide asked us not to take any photos, and not to take any photos of the shoes or the human hair or the suitcases, because these are the possessions of people who have been murdered.  And the first thing that every single tourist that was in my group did was whip out their phone and take a photo.

And unfortunately, to my undying shame, I said nothing.  I did nothing.  I stood there disgusted and angry, more angry even at their behaviour than at what I was actually witnessing.  Because it was so horrible to see the way that people coming to this place, this terrible place, treated it, almost as if it was an amusement park.

So in recent months where news reports have shown how people have been “ticking off their bucket list” by visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp, taking happy, jolly selfies – people from all sorts of different countries – regardless of where they’re from, you just feel absolutely sick to the stomach.

I went to Auschwitz recently to record a film about a Polish priest who sacrificed his life for that of a stranger.  And unfortunately, on that visit as well, spending two days at that camp, I saw exactly the same behaviour as I’d seen on my first visit.

And you know what?  If you can’t behave in the right way when you go to Auschwitz concentration camp, or any other place where the mass extermination by the Nazi Germans during the Second World War took place, don’t go.  If you can’t treat that place with respect, if you can’t focus all of your energy and your effort on the victims, the people who were tortured and murdered in the most bestial way, then don’t go.

If you don’t have the empathy to understand what happened at these places, you don’t deserve to go there.  It’s not a holiday.  It’s not a special treat.  And it certainly isn’t ticking something off your bucket list.  It’s your obligation as a human to the human race.

Amen.

***

Here’s a sampling of the comments people posted about Patrick’s video and Auschwitz:

1.  It just astounds and shocks me that a human being could do such evil to another human being.  It’s so very heartbreaking.  We can never let this happen again.

2.  Where is the proof that 6 million people vanished from the face of the earth or is it something we were told to believe?

3.  Great video, respectful and informative and difficult to watch at times.  Thank you.

4.  Even as a tourist, tourists piss me off.

5.  Nothing is like seeing it in person although this comes close.  There is something about it.  Like there is a powerful energy that’s extremely depressing.  You can get very emotional if you feel things deeply.  But it was a moving experience.

6.  And how did they get about 24 million tons of coke or coal into the camp?  Where did they store it?  How was it moved around the camp?  Never see any pictures of any coal trains, mechanical shovels, fuel bunkers, do you?  Where is all the ash?  And if the transport trains were in the camp, how would they get the coke in to burn 8000 bodies a day?  Maybe a bit of critical thinking instead of bullshit might go a long way here.

7A.  Everyone’s got it all wrong about Hitler.  He was made to look like a villain because he went directly against Zionism and freemasonry, so they decide to make an example of him.  More that half the shit we’ve learned in school is a completely fabricated lie.

7B.  You are a complete moron and a wannabe goosestepper.  Garbage like you keeps hate alive.

8.  We visited Auschwitz on my school trip at the beginning of 2017.  My classmates normally behave quite childishly and make jokes throughout the classes all the time.  It truly was a shock to me how respectful they all were.  No one looked on their phones, nobody talked loud, etc.  Just looking around, thinking and talking with each other about the events that had taken place in a very mature way.

Tarts

I was talking to a teacher a few days ago about our favourite flavours of pie. I mentioned that there was a tie for first in my tummy: pumpkin and lemon. She replied that a gift would be coming my way, and yesterday I received it – six yummy-looking pumpkin tarts. Cue the salivation.

I gazed at the little darlings with lust on my tongue … but then there was a pause. What could I create around these tiny brown circles with 26 Grade 6 kids? I decided to ask them.

“There are six of these and twenty-six of you. How should I decide who gets one?” Here are the young suggestions:

1. Someone who doesn’t talk to friends when we’re working

2. Someone who does something kind

3. Someone who gets all their work done

And there were a couple of others that I can’t remember.

“Okay. I’ve picked one of your ideas and I’ll deliver one of the tarts when I see an example of it. I’m not going to tell you what idea I’ve picked.”

I picked kindness.

Kids were on the carpet as the teacher led a discussion. One boy was massaging the head of the fellow in front of him. Unusual but tender. (Tart)

Then the class was divided into groups, working on putting a series of pictures in some order and labelling each drawing. One girl had been doing the writing in her group and sensed that a boy wanted a turn. She told him to go ahead. He smiled. (Tart)

Four kids were sitting at their desks in a group. One girl dropped her eraser and another one reached down to pick it up. (Tart)

Three more to go but no more examples of kindness showed themselves. So I switched gears. I decided to reward speaking up about important things in front of the class.

I had mentioned to the kids that my wife Jody died four years ago. One young man asked “What did she die of?” > “Lung cancer.” (Tart)

A girl said something that I thought was brilliant, but darned if I can remember her gem. Still … (Tart)

And then I changed my guideline again. As the bell rang for hometime, one girl looked so sad. I walked over to her. (Tart)

***

Yes, I love pumpkin. But that version of love pales before the beauty of human beings.