The Folder

It was a simple mistake.  I was at the gym yesterday, schussing along on the elliptical.  My trainer Derek has given me all sorts of sheets – some with info about nutrition and fitness and some that tracked my progress.  He gave me a folder entitled “Me to We” to put the stuff in.

I woke up this morning, looked at my gym bag and discovered … no folder.  I remembered putting it on the shelf of my locker before exercising but no memory of taking it home after.

First, there was a contraction, in the spirit of “Bruce, how could you?”  But that faded quickly, to be replaced by the urge to go on a mini-road trip.  I showered, dressed and headed off to London to rescue my prize.  I figured that either some kind soul had handed it in at the front desk or it was still sitting there in locker number … well, I couldn’t remember the number, but I’d find it.

As Highway 74 swallowed my tires, I was happy.  I was doing something about my problem right away and I was creating an adventure for myself.  The lightness inside was such a revelation.  The woe of guilt was nowhere to be found.  Instead, there was a simple “I forgot.”  No big deal.

In South London, I decided to make use of the drive-thru at a Tim Hortons coffee shop.  I was happy to be about tenth in line.  Truly no hurry.  The parade of cars winds itself around the building and there are big windows at the corner.  Many a time I’d sat at a table with a good view of the creeping cars, enjoying my sneak peaks at faces passing by.  Now, rather than it being “inside out”, it was “outside in”.  I looked in to see my usual table, currently empty.  How strange to feel the viewing from the other side.  I could almost see Bruce sitting there beyond the glass.

Gosh, this was so much fun.  I even had the thought that it wouldn’t be the end of the world if I didn’t find the folder.  Whatever happened to angst and badness?  On vacation, I guess.

Finally, the gym.  “Michael” at the front desk checked the lost and found drawer but no folder peaked out.  Oh well.  So off to the locker room.  I knew that I always chose a tall locker on the left side so I started opening them: empty, empty, empty, lock in place, empty, empty, empty, empty and empty.  A little sigh, but really not much of one.  Papers can be replaced.

I thought of the occupant of locker number 57, but how would I find him out on the floor?  Could it be that my dear folder was hidden within?  Then I glanced at the shelf by the hair drier.  A light-coloured rectangular object was in repose there.  Sort of folder sized.  And it indeed was my info-laden friend.  All was right with the world.

How remarkable: no pity party … a chance to hit the road before breakfast … and the lost became found.  I had the feeling that even if I hadn’t located the folder, I still would have sailed through my day.  Strange and lovely.

Truth Telling

I’ve meditated for many years.  Twice I went on three-month silent retreats (silent 98% of the time).  I walked into class yesterday afternoon to see a young kid on the screen, sitting with her legs crossed, eyes closed … meditating.  And the Grade 6’s were quietly at their desks, mostly with eyes closed.  It was a revelation.

“Trevor”, the teacher, has introduced mindfulness to the children.  After witnessing a similar five-minute session today, I asked him if I could lead a discussion about the quiet mind.

I knew that I didn’t want to give them a lecture about the benefits of meditation.  I didn’t even want to tell them about how my life has been changed by immersing myself in the practice.  No, I simply wanted to ask them a question:

Having tried meditation a few times now, what do you think about it?

Before the kids replied, I wanted to set the stage some more:

My request is that if you volunteer an answer, you tell the truth.  Don’t look over at me, try to figure out how I’d like you to respond, and then say that.  There’s great power in the truth, whether you like something or you don’t.

I expected a few hands.  What I got was at least fifteen.

The first girl said that it was boring.  I thanked her for the honesty, and asked the other kids if they thought it took courage for her to say something negative.  There wasn’t much response to that, which was fine.  I sure thought it took courage, and I said so.

Another word spoken was “unnecessary”.  I didn’t argue with the student.  I thanked him or her.  Then another girl talked about how the meditating has helped her during basketball games.  Did saying that take courage?  Yes, indeed.  To speak publicly about how you enjoy something when the prevailing mood in the class seems to be negative about it, is a big thing!  I love the willingness to stand out, to not allow the group mentality to overcome what you honestly see as true.

One boy said something like “It would be boring.”  I encouraged him to be more direct, so that his opinion would be strong and clear.  He changed his words to “It’s boring.”  That made me happy.

It seemed to be an even split, pro and con.  “It helps me out on the yard at recess” versus “Let’s get back to doing something important.”  Both perfectly valid reactions to an activity that’s new to probably everyone.

I was so proud of those kids.  Their heads were high as they spoke – no sense whatsoever of apologizing for their opinion.  And no bombastic declarations.  Just quiet and firm statements of personal truth.

Plus this Bruce guy didn’t have to wax poetic about the virtues of meditating.  Maybe some kid who panned the practice will get curious about what a positive child said and give meditation another try.  Or maybe not.  Either way, what I experienced this afternoon was the freedom of the truth – no fudging, no not quite saying what you mean.  Instead, simply being real.

Tiger

Tiger Woods won The Masters golf tournament yesterday.  Tears filled my eyes.  And I asked myself “Why?”

For me, The Masters is the important tournament in men’s golf.  It has a such a long history (1934), and it’s always held at the same venue – the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.  The course is extremely difficult, especially on the undulating greens.  It’s a classic test of golf.

Tiger won his first Masters in 1997, at the age of 21.  I was at the age of 48, already immersed in love for the sport.  As a teenager, I hit balls towards the far fence of a field on my grandpa’s farm, and then searched through the stubble so I’d have more shots to hit.  At home, the Don Valley Golf Course in Toronto was where I grew in the game, often playing alone with my thoughts.

Tiger became my hero in 1997.  He hit the ball so far.  He had charisma, something that I wanted.  And he was black, showing excellence to my context of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.  The truth is that Tiger helped me become a fuller person.  He was there on my journey to have far more of Bruce expressed in the world.  And when he hugged his ill father after walking off the 18th green at Augusta, I melted.  Here was a loving human being as well as an elite athlete.

Twenty-two years later, he bounces away from the 18th once more, arms aloft.  This time, his young son Charlie is rushing towards him, and the tender embrace is offered to a new generation.  It was just as sweet.

Much has happened since Tiger’s last major win in 2007.  We’ve heard of his affairs, his car accident, his aching back.  The “comeback” theme is heavy in the media.  I appreciate the man’s effort to return to the top of his sport but my damp eyes come from another source, I believe.  Tiger’s win yesterday allows me to revisit a younger Bruce – hitting balls toward that fence, trying to get over the creek in two on the 18th at Don Valley, walking fairways at the edge of sunset in search of a little white thing.  I get to celebrate the journey I’ve travelled.  I get to honour a younger version of me.

Thanks, Tiger, for pointing to a goodness that’s been inside me for a long time.

Long Haul Trucker

I went to a men’s breakfast at a church in London this morning.  Before the food was rolled out, I took a seat in the foyer next to a fellow wearing shorts.  He was an old guy (sort of like me!)  We talked a bit of this and that and then I asked if he was retired.  He was.

“I was a long haul trucker for 45 years.”

I love learning about other people’s lives, especially if they’ve done things that I never have.  I’ve often wondered what a trucker’s life is like.  The flow of the open road sounds marvelous but being alone for so long feels like misery.  I’m not a “go it alone” type guy.

Robbie has been happily married for many decades.  But he’d often be on trips for five weeks at a time.  I asked him if 90% of his married life was spent away from each other.  “Yeah, that sounds about right.”  I asked how you keep a relationship going through such lengthy absences.  He smiled immediately and his eyes seemed far away.  “It’s not a problem.”  I looked again, and there was love.

My new friend mentioned that he had an accident once but that was 8,000,000 miles ago.  I asked about driving across the continent in winter.  “I know what to do when it snows, even when there’s freezing rain.  There’s a lot of weight in that rig but I just go slow when it’s slippery.”  Alrighty then.  Clearly driving truck isn’t for me.  I get so tense when the temperature is around 0º Celsius and the clouds are dripping their blessings.

I asked about whether trucking companies put pressure on drivers to cover a lot of ground fast, to absolutely make deadlines that are thousands of miles away.  “No, I had plenty of time to meet their schedule.  But I didn’t want to sit in coffee shops blabbing to other guys for two hours.  Can’t make money that way.”  Okay, I like making money too but I also want to spend time with folks.

Robbie said that often he’d have a trip that went something like this: Toronto > Laredo, Texas > Vancouver > Boston > home.  I can only imagine.  Did he drive alone?  “Yes, I love the peace and quiet, just turning on the cruise control and watching the world go by.  I’m a loner.”

He showed me a photo of his bright blue rig.  He was beaming.  “Two bunk beds in the back of the cab.  Lots of room.  After I got my max ten hours of driving in, I’d pull off somewhere and snooze away.”  Oh my.  So alone, but that’s what Robbie chose, so good for him.

Now the man is retired but I can see the blacktop in his eyes.  He says it’s a challenge for both him and his wife now that he’s home so much, but no big deal.  Here’s a fellow who has so many miles to look back on.  He seems at peace with himself.

We’re both a lot hungry and the bacon, eggs, beans and pancakes are ready for us now.  And anyway, I’ve already been nourished.

The Dance

I went to the school board’s dance festival this morning – nine elementary schools doing their thing.  The music was high energy and I tapped out the beat in the bleachers.  It brought me back to the disco on a Cuba vacation.  What a joy to move, to throw the arms into the air with gay abandon.

The kids helped me remember how dearly I love to dance.  I remember my wife Jody staring at me as I gyrated to the tunes.  Apparently I didn’t look too graceful but I was sure having fun.

I also remember Halloween dances at a long ago elementary school.  All costumed up, I moved amid the 12-year-olds – not as fast as them but usually just as expressive.  Oh, the joy of mindless response to great melodies and rhythms!

For the last year, I’ve been careful.  What a yucky word.  I was worried about the pain in my knee and my hip.  “Don’t break something, Bruce.  Take it slow and easy.”  Especially after today, I’m tired of measured and moderate.  My trainer and I have set me on a course to health in its many forms, including having stronger muscles around my knees.  Does this mean that my future holds dancing, maybe even running?  “Why not?” I say.

The gym was crowded with young dancers and their loved ones.  Troupes of kids dressed all in black, or all in white or tie-dyed t-shirts rocked the house.  Most wore big smiles.  Some were athletic.  Some seemed focused on remembering the steps.  The occasional kid was overweight but moving smartly nonetheless.  Some children were tiny but still pumping their arms madly beside classmates a foot or more taller.  There was even a line dancing group topped with cowboy hats, taking us through our paces in Cadillac Ranch.  No one was left out.

Boys were in short supply but they didn’t care.  It’s possible that “friends” back at school razzed them for choosing hip hop over football but the faces still shone as Magic in the Air had kids in the audience shaking their bods along with the performers.

Well, young ones, you inspired me today.  I also have two feet and fully functioning legs.  It’s time to launch assorted body parts into the air again.  There’s a place for calm and an equal spot for raucous.

Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world
for I would ride with you upon the wind
and dance upon the mountains like a flame!

(William Butler Yeats)

The Desiderata

As a young adult, I had the poster on my wall for many years.  Within the delicate emergence of something beyond my self-centered concerns, it spoke truth.  The words vibrated inside me.  The poem rightfully took its place next to empty bottles of Chianti Ruffino wine, which I transformed into candles.

I would often look long at the whole spectrum of love that Max Ehrmann created.   I don’t remember analyzing the thoughts.  Instead I simply let them waft over me.  Somehow I knew that was enough.

There must have been one too many moves in my nomadic youth, because The Desiderata left me one day.  I don’t even remember missing it.  My walls filled instead with paintings – visual heart-tuggings rather than the majesty of the phrase.  I didn’t think of Max’s masterpiece for decades.

But the man has returned.  He smiles at me once more.  And it’s all so gentle.  Not all of the sentences still shimmer, and that’s okay.  The whole has guided me over the years, and I didn’t even know it.  A magical absorption was at work.  And I am the better for the words having roamed around within me for so long.

Here is The Desiderata.  I hope you enjoy it.

***

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.  As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.  If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.  Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.  But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.  Especially do not feign affection.  Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.  But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.  Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.  You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.  Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.  And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.  With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.  Be cheerful.  Strive to be happy.

Dad

Today being Wednesday, it was time to venture into London to hear folk music at the home of Christine and John.   “Acoustic Spotlight” is their creation.  The first set always features the piano majesty of Jake Levesque, and usually includes Jake accompanying the impeccable vocals of his dear wife Julia Webb.  I’m especially moved when she sings one of Jake’s songs.  Tonight these lyrics slipped from her lips:

The stars burn bright over this town tonight
And it sure feels good to be home

Home indeed, within a living room of music lovers.

Tonight’s feature act was Emily Garber, a singer-songwriter of vividly “real” compositions, and with an edginess that reminded me of Alanis Morissette.  Sitting on the couch right in front of Emily was her dad Nathan.  Once she pointed him out to us, I could see that we were in the presence of family.  It wasn’t similar looks.  It was the bond that stretched between their eyes.

“I wrote dad a song.”  Emily admitted that the two of them have often tangled but the love I felt between them filled the room.  She sang “Forty Years” to him, and to us.  Her eyes never left his face.  Emily wrote about long ago, when her tiny hand fit into his, and she felt safe.  And then recently, when her two young daughters did the same with Gramps.  Dad was melting on the couch.  I watched him closely, wishing that I too had been a father.

Half an hour later, Nathan came to the front and Emily took his seat.  As he sang and played guitar, their eyes were once more joined.  Stillness hung in the air.  Father and daughter share a love of the song, and so much more.  It was as if they were thanking each other all evening.

I’m not a dad.  I’ve often wished I was.  But as I sit at home tonight, having witnessed the tenderness stretching between two human beings, I feel myself relaxing into not being a father.  I’m nodding my head in recognition of there being no deficit.  My life has not been “less than” because I don’t have children.  I feel the richness of many relationships.  The fact that no one has ever called me dad brings an ache to my heart and also a smile to my face.  So bittersweet this life sometimes is.  May I embrace it all till my time here is done.

 

80% Full

“Derek”, my trainer at the gym, suggested that I get involved in an online program called Precision Nutrition.  It offers daily lessons that mostly focus on the mind, rather than the stomach.  Every two weeks we’re given a new daily habit to focus on, and I’m finding that I can apply them broadly to my life.

1.  Make Time

The “for what” part of making time is totally up to me.  And I’m clear that I need to set up my life to get this stuff done on virtually a daily basis.  For instance, I need to write this blog.  It’s not a diary.  I have no interest in that.  I want to reach people like you, to sense that my words sometimes get you thinking, get you feeling, get you living a touch deeper.

I’m committed to making time for conversations that matter.  Let’s talk about what’s important to us.  I want to sit down with 12-year-olds, 42-year-olds and 72-year-olds.  You have the depths of your life to offer me, and I’ll give you back all that I have.

I’m committed to meditating – to falling into the space of love in the quiet of my bedroom.  I want to touch the ineffable, the sublime, the union with the divine.

I will also make time for getting strong, aerobically fit, flexible and nutritionally sound.  My well-being is not only spiritual and relational.  It’s physical too.

2.  Eat Slowly

Actually, do lots of things slowly, such as walking.  I feel the rhythm of my body moving, the flow of it all rather than frantic here, stumbly there.  I also drive slowly, despite the tailgaters who seem to be shouting “More!  More!”  I slow to a new speed limit gradually, instead of slamming on my brakes at the last second.

The eating part is a challenge.  Put down the fork often.  Chew a lot.  Really taste things.  There’s a lot of work to do here but I know I’m in this for the long haul.  I need to have meals be an experience, not a brief interlude between tasks.

If I slow down, then the roses can truly be smelled, the eyes of the other can truly be met, and even my breath can take its time.

3.  80% Full

Two days ago, I read about my new daily habit: stop eating when I’m 80% full.  Just a tiny bit of hunger left, the plate not fully cleaned, and a spaciousness inside that’s palpable.  There’s a lightness here which so easily migrates to my mind and heart.  In contrast, I remember family dinners from long ago where it became a ritual for me to undo my belt and unzip a bit before dessert arrived.  Being bloated dampens the flavours.

In the gym, how about stopping when I’m pleasantly fatigued in the bench press, and then moving on to the next exercise?  “No pain, no gain” just doesn’t ring true to me.

I could respectfully leave a conversation when the words coming into my brain are at the 80% level.  Things don’t have to be so jampacked.  I could put my book down when my brain is 80% tired of processing ideas.

***

Hmm.  Nutrition … life.  From the very specific to the many dimensions of living.  Why not?

Speaking to Kids

This afternoon, the school welcomed a motivational speaker.  Sara was dressed all in black and was thoroughly alive.  She walked with power and yet was delightfully vulnerable.  She kept saying “Put your hand up if you’ve ever …”  Her hand went straight up in the air every time, in response to life’s tough moments: you say something dumb, you do something mean, you fall far short of excellence.  Yes, there was a real human being in front of us.

The children on the gym floor ranged from Kindergarten to Grade 6.  Some hands, usually the young ones, went flying up when Sara asked if they had experienced something.  Some hands were at half mast.  And many of them never seemed to leave the owner’s lap.  We vary in our willingness to be “out there”, and that’s just fine.

Two of Sara’s main messages were “I matter” and “I am enough.”  She often shared these in a call-and-response fashion, and many children belted out the words.  I hope it sank in.  I hope they remember tomorrow, next week and in ten years that each person belongs.  Each person has a contribution to make.  Each one of us, 8 or 82, can do great good in the world.

Another idea of Sara’s is “asking”.  And she had a story to tell.  She loves singing and ever since she was young had wanted to sing “O Canada” at a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game.  Time to ask.  She phoned the Blue Jays office and said something like “I’m a singer and I want to sing ‘O Canada’ for our Toronto Blue Jays.”  The answer was no.  Awhile later, she asked again.  The answer was still no.  A third time, and Sara added more: “What about next season?  What do I need to do to be considered?”  And the answer?  “Make a recording of you singing ‘O Canada’.  Send it to us along with a photo and a list of all the times you’ve sung in public.”  So Sara did just that.  And she waited …

Finally, Sarah phoned again, and reached the person responsible for the game ceremonies.  And she heard this: “When can you come?”  She ended up singing the national anthem six times for the Blue Jays, in front of many thousands of fans at the Rogers Centre.  May this story also reach the kids.

Sara throws herself into life, and I’m sure the children noticed.  Will the young ones be brave enough to do the same?  I pray that they will … because our planet needs them.

The Vienna Boys Choir

They stood in front of me as I sat in the front row – 23 boys from about age 8 to 16, dressed in sailor suits. But all wasn’t as I expected. They sure weren’t all blue-eyed blond Austrians. Their conductor did look Austrian, his long light hair flowing. He wore a tuxedo and moved with a flourish from piano to stage and back. When he got really excited, exhorting the kids onward, he often went up on tip toes (the advantage of having a front row seat).

The leader told us he was going to have each boy introduce himself. As he passed the microphone around, I heard words such as Germany, France, England, the United States, China, South Korea, Thailand, Colombia … and Austria.

Some kids were so “out there”, some seemed shy. Some sang full-throated, mouth wide open. Some voices rose above the others, in great beauty. Five boys had the highest soprano sound that you can imagine, and at one point those kids held a soaring note for many, many seconds. As the conductor kept his baton hand raised and the boys held the tone, we the audience roared our approval.

Most of the songs seemed to be in German but I didn’t need the translation. The energy coming off the kids was staggering. There was a left section and a right one. Two singers, one from each side, often seemed to be looking at each other. It was like they were throwing their passion for the music from one side to the other and back again.

I met their energy with mine. I was pouring myself into every singer, wanting them to be great, drawing forth their sublimity.

At the end of most songs, the final note hung in the air – a pure expression of spirit. And then it faded to silence. There seemed to be a little space between the end and our applause, as if we were all stunned by what we were hearing.

I made eye contact with six or seven of the boys. I looked at every member of the choir and was pleased that some were willing to return the favour. I wondered if they could feel the happiness and love that I was sending their way. As the concert rolled on, I sensed that the boys were being reached by the goodwill flowing from the 1100 of us. They seemed to be leaning forward into the music, and towards us.

I was lifted by the songs in English, especially “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” and “There’s a Place for Us”. The purity of the voices met the purity of the words. With this music, there seemed to be an even longer delay before our clapping started.

The final number was drawing to a close. At the last piano chord, we rose as one, drowning the kids in wild applause. There were shouts of “Bravo!” and “Encore!”. The boys’ faces were smiles. Three more pieces came our way. More standing O’s. The last one rose while the choir was lined up along the front edge of the stage. Their bows and my clapping hands were a foot or two apart. Eye contact up close.

Thank you, young men from around the world. Your eyes and your voices did their job … you and we were together in the song.