This afternoon, the voice in my head chimed in with “Bruce, why don’t you write about ‘expanse’ today?”

“O…kay.  Sure, I’ll do that,” I replied, without being clear about my future key-tapping.

How about a definition for starters?  An uninterrupted space or area, a wide extent of anything, something that is spread out


My mind gives me hints of where my heart lies.  Sitting here now, there’s something soft happening inside, and a sense that my muscles, organs and bones are separating, creating space between them.  The breeze is flowing through.

The miracle of light pours over the green and brown expanse of sawgrass and of water, shining and slowly moving, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades.  It is a river of grass.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas

There’s an outward flow, an ever-expanding circle around me.   It rolls over things, covering them in kisses, and blessing them.

Growing up on a farm was the best.  I remember loving that expanse of space.  The sky at night was so clear, I could see every star.

Abbie Cornish

There’s a liquid feeling, a sloshing about, a rhythm that moves deep inside but also moistens the universe.  It’s a pulsing: lulling me into sleep, leaving me embraced by the infinite.

Aside from what it teaches you, there is simply the indescribable degree of peace that can be achieved on a sailing vessel at sea.  I guess a combination of hard work and the seemingly infinite expanse of the sea – the profound solitude – that does it for me.

Billy Campbell

The spreading out seems unstoppable.  No virus, no contraction of man, no boundaries of country or religion, can prevent it from seeking wonders over the horizon.

Surely there is grandeur in knowing that in the realm of thought, at least, you are without a chain; that you have the right to explore all heights and depth; that there are no walls nor fences, nor prohibited places, nor sacred corners in all the vast expanse of thought.

Robert Green Ingersoll

Details of form and movement are still present, and people are thoroughly themselves, but there is a blending, a gentle erasing of lines, with the light shining on all the curves.

There are few sights more pleasant to the eye than a wide cotton field when it is in bloom.  It presents an appearance of purity, like an immaculate expanse of light, new-fallen snow.

Solomon Northup


Marjory, Abbie, Billy, Robert, Solomon and me … and you


All is calm … All is bright


It’s all here, all the infinite variety of human life …


I can dance in the flame and I can rest at twilight

I can tumble words from my mouth and I can let my lips abide in their touch

I can party with all of you and I can joyfully keep my own company

I can knock on your door and I can invite you into my home

I can laugh and I can cry

I can sing and I can be sung to

I can figure it out and I can let it go

I can jump forward and I can fall back

I can breathe in life’s sorrows and I can breathe out blessings

I can soar and I can plummet

I can live and then I can die


I watched a show on CNN today about the 1918 influenza pandemic.  Here’s what I learned:

1.  The pandemic was “unprecedented” and “gripped the planet”.

2.  In the US, the flu was discovered at an army camp in Kansas, where 1000 soldiers were infected.  After the United States joined World War I, American soldiers were welcomed to France with singing: “The Yanks are coming!”  They brought the flu with them, and it soon exploded in Europe.

3.  During the first wave, people who got the flu treated it with a shrug.  It was a “three-day fever”.

4.  The US President, Woodrow Wilson, never mentioned the flu in public, fearing that it would distract from the war effort, especially recruiting young American men to serve.

5.  During the summer of 1918, cases declined.  More than one medical expert declared the pandemic “over”.

6.  In the second wave, during the fall of 1918, the flu was faster-spreading and far more deadly.  People often died within 24 hours of contracting symptoms, their lungs filling up with fluid.  Lack of oxygen left some bodies purple or black.  Priests walked the streets of some cities, calling to the houses “Bring out your dead.”

7.  In September, 2018, civic leaders in Philadelphia wanted their Liberty Loan Parade to go ahead as planned, with the prospect of selling lots of war bonds.  There was a surge of patriotism in the community.  Doctors asked the city’s public health director to cancel the parade, but he was apparently too afraid of backlash from the mayor, and refused.  Days later, thousands in the city were infected and all hospital beds were occupied.

8.  Newspapers tended to glorify the war effort and gloss over the sickness.  The parade led to headlines such as Fighting men of Navy thrill large crowds.

9.  Doctors and nurses didn’t know what they were fighting.  Influenza was only discovered by science in the 1930’s.  There was no way to treat the disease.  One doctor injected hydrogen peroxide into his patients’ veins … half of them died.

10.  In various cities, new laws were created.  It was a misdemeanor to cough or sneeze without covering your mouth and nose (a fine and/or one year in jail).  Spitters were fined.  Maskless people were fined or thrown into jail.

11.  Masks were often composed of folded gauze, which naturally was porous.  Some nurses regularly wore them covering the mouth but not the nose.

12.  Since Wilson was silent on the issue, cities coped as well as they could, creating a wide variety of both successful and unsuccessful solutions.  Some cities didn’t print the names of the dead, but their citizens knew.  Fear escalated.  San Francisco was one of the cities that talked straight to the people: Wear a mask and save your life.  Their leaders essentially shut the city down.

13.  As cases and deaths declined, many cities lifted mask mandates and reopened businesses … too early.  Deaths soared and many people refused to put the masks back on when they were remandated.

14.  Woodrow Wilson contracted the virus in March, 1919.  He came to a meeting of Allied leaders to work on a peace treaty with Germany.  His agenda was not to punish the defeated country, worrying that German anger might lead to another “war to end all wars”.  Historians believe that the influenza affected Wilson cognitively as well as physically.  Apparently he caved in to the demands of European leaders that Germany must suffer for what they did in the war.  In the 1930’s, Adolph Hitler emerged.

15.  The pandemic lingered until 1920.  One third of the world’s human beings were infected.  50,000,000 souls died, at a time when the planet only had one third of today’s population.

16.  Near the end of the show, a black-and-white 1918 photo was paired with a coloured one from 2020.  Both were of a nurse’s face, only the eyes showing above the mask.

17.  Parallels:

A.  Cities shutting down too late, opening back up too soon
B.  Crowds gathering when doctors told them not to
C.  People refusing to wear masks to protect others
D.  “Leaders ignoring science, downplaying the severity of the virus because they wanted the public’s attention to be elsewhere”

Dr. Tony Fauci: [In some respects] “the lessons of the 1918 pandemic were forgotten”

There most likely will be another pandemic
Will they remember 2020?


I’ve long been fascinated by numbers. As a kid, I studied baseball players and their batting averages, home runs, and runs batted in. Then hockey took over my mind – goals and assists. Most recently, I’ve been enamoured with women’s tennis. Bet you didn’t know that Canada’s Bianca Andreescu is ranked 7th in the world while Leylah Fernandez sits at 88th.

And it’s not just sports. For many years I’ve tracked my own physical stats. How much do I weigh? What’s my body fat percentage? How many calories did I burn on the cross-country ski machine?

Even Covid hasn’t escaped my analytical mind. I’ve tracked numbers of infections and deaths in Canada, the US and the world. Seeing human lives almost as sports scores is a harrowing thought, one that has led me to remorse.

With all that as a background, I worked out on my strength training machine this morning. An hour later, after some food, I was tired so I lay down on my bed. Sleep was nudging but I never quite got there. The in-between space allowed my mind to wander, spread out, vaporize. And then, from some unknown place, came:

I don’t care what I weigh

My eyes widened a bit and then softened. I waited and listened. Yes, the voice spoke the truth. I’m sure that was the first time in my adult life that I spoke those words. The need to weigh myself had disappeared. Hours later, it’s still nowhere to be found. I ask myself “How is this possible?” but I don’t have any oomph to answer the question. It’s just so.

Other thoughts came to the surface:

I don’t care what my body fat percentage is

I don’t care how many calories I burned on the Bowflex this morning

I don’t want to look at the Polar app to see how many calories I’ll have burned by the end of the day

I don’t care how many people viewed or liked the post I wrote yesterday on WordPress and Facebook

I don’t care if in 2020 I exceed the number of views I had in 2019

I don’t want to know how many people were infected with Covid today

I don’t want to know how many people died from Covid today

I didn’t grunt and groan to remove my thoughts about stats. I didn’t create short-term and long-term goals to eliminate my tendency towards analysis. The thoughts, the focus, the evaluation … they’re simply gone. And my sense right now is that they’ll stay gone, as magical as that seems.

I’m still focused on exercise and nutrition as ways to stay healthy. I’m still concerned about the pandemic and committed to social distancing and wearing a mask. But there’s a long, sweet exhale … and the feeling of space.

Surface Truth

I’m good at watching the TV news and observing people’s mouths move.  If I like the personality of the anchor, I tend to trust what they say.  Same with the reporters and the folks they interview.  If I’m wary of someone’s facial expression or tone of voice, I’m more alert to assess the value of their comments.  Fair enough.

But what if someone promoting toothpaste or car vending machines seems like a really cool guy?  Should I just nod in agreement and never go to a dealership again since Carvana can do it all for me?  Maybe not.

I’ve noticed a glowing life insurance ad lately.  Big smiley husband and big smiley wife have discovered the mother lode.  “Jacob, age 35, has found a $1,000,000 policy for $35 a month.”  Wendy has similarly become set for life.  Wait a minute, though.  There’s smaller print announcing a “term policy” and “ten years”.  “Term” means that it ends before death.  For Jacob, his coverage would cease at age 45.  And not too many people of that age are grappling with life-threatening issues.

Then there’s Velveeta.  I remember as a kid popping multi-slices of the stuff into my mouth.  Today the ad showed two grey taco chips.  Down the left one flowed smooth Velveeta goodness, while the fellow on the right was being adorned with clearly deficient lumpiness.  The announcer, in a disparaging voice, referred to the right one as “the other guys” and then chirpily informed us that “nothing melts like Velveeta”.  So there.  In the interest of aesthetically smooth and easily accomplished chip-augmenting, Velveeta will improve the quality of my life.

I did some research.  According to Velveeta, their product “melts smooth and creamy for ultimate appeal”.  However the author of the article had other things to say:

While there are elements of real cheese in Velveeta – like, you know, milk – to call it actual cheese is a bit of a stretch.  Which is why it is now labelled as a “Pasteurized Prepared Cheese Product”.

Velveeta contains quite an array of distinct coloring and preserving agents.  Basically it can’t be called real cheese because it has so many additives in it.

In this current life of convenience, nutrition takes a back seat to that lovely uniform flow.  I suspect that “the other guys” represent a tangy block of old cheddar.


Lesson for me:
I should pay attention more
rather than being lulled by gently smiling mouths
and sweet words that fall off the tongue


Today Canada discovered its first two cases of the Covid variant that originated in the United Kingdom.  A couple in Ontario were infected.  They had “no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts”.  Woh!  How did that happen?  The virus is so incredibly transmissible, defying normal reason.

The Earth is a big place.  How exactly did Covid reach Samoa and Fiji in the mid-Pacific Ocean, Greenland and … Antarctica!  On December 22, CTV News reported that “three dozen people have reportedly contracted Covid-19 at a Chilean research base in Antarctica, which for months was the only landmass untouched by the global pandemic.”

I wonder if anything else could go viral.

How about love?

Sometime in the 1980’s, I was crossing a parking lot in Lethbridge, Alberta.  A woman of perhaps East Indian origin was walking towards me.  As we got closer, she smiled and said “Hello.”  I mean a real hello, one that said “I see who you are.  I honour who you are.”  Thirty some years later, she is still with me.  Do you think a “little” gesture of contact like that could change the world?  I do.  What if each of us did the same thing for someone, with the same grandness of heart, only once in our remaining years?  That’s a lot of loving hellos.

In virus talk, the R Number is “a way of rating coronavirus’s ability to spread.  R is the number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to, on average.”  If we want the virus to subside, the R Number needs to be less than 1.0.

I propose an L Number, a way of rating the ability of love to spread.  Genuine smiles will do nicely.  If for the rest of your life you aimed a lingering smile at two people rather than one, and if everyone else did the same, our L Number would be 2.0.

And a Lovedemic would take over the planet

The Decline

For many years I’ve enjoyed working out on the elliptical at the gym.  I’ve also enjoyed tracking my results with Polar fitness equipment.  I targeted a heart rate zone of 121 to 145 beats per minute, roughly 80-90% of my maximum heart rate.  Overall I’ve had no problem maintaining an average of 125 bpm for 60 minutes, burning around 600 calories during the session.

Then came Covid.  I haven’t been at the gym since March and instead have used the cross-country ski machine in the basement, an old friend whom I had sadly neglected.  During the past several weeks, I noticed a downward trend in the fitness numbers, but no big deal

Then came today.  I hadn’t exercised yesterday so I was looking forward to feeling strong on the Nordic Track.  Warming up for the first 10 minutes, I felt fine.  My heart rate had reached 119, with an average of 112.  What an athlete!

I was schussing along with a good rhythm in the legs and arms, expecting the numbers to slowly rise.  Instead 112 felt obliged to fall to 111.  I didn’t increase the effort because I knew that would put my 60 minutes in peril.  “No sweat.  Just a momentary glitch.”  The sweet flow continued … for a short time.  By 20 minutes, the legs were heavy and the breathing was laboured.  110.  

What?!  This is impossible.  ‘Fraid not.  It was not only possible but the reality of the moment.  By 30 minutes, I was gasping and 109 appeared on the display.  I limped to 40 minutes and 278 calories, and dismounted from my usually faithful steed.

I sat down on the couch, my mouth curled into a sneer.  This was by far the worst I’d done on an elliptical or ski machine in a couple of years.  Grrr!  And then … the world stopped.  I just sat there, and a warmth came down from the top of my head.  Something was moving in me.  The sneer evaporated, and a few seconds later the corners of my mouth were turning up.  A smile was soon replaced by a laugh.

The voice tried to protest: This is serious stuff!  No it isn’t.  This could be the beginning of the end!  Bullshit.  What?  Look, you idiot, don’t you see what this means?  It doesn’t mean anything.  I didn’t exercise yesterday and still I did horribly.  You didn’t do “horribly”.  You did.  As in that’s all this body had today.  Why are you laughing?  Get a grip.  I don’t want to get a grip … I want to let go.

I’ll take tomorrow off and then get back on the Nordic Track on Sunday.  

My friend and I will ski together
fast or slow, long or short, virile or exhausted
And all will be well

A Life

As a teacher for many years, as a school volunteer, and simply as a human being, I’ve often asked myself if my life has made a difference.  Long ago, I wasn’t sure.  Now, I am.  I’ve touched many lives in all these decades and I smile when people’s names come back.  It’s true that I rarely get any hard evidence that I made a contribution, hardly anyone returning from a far off time to say thank you, but still I know.

Tonight I watched the film It’s A Wonderful Life.  George Bailey takes over the Bailey Brothers Building and Loan in Bedford Falls after his father dies, even though he yearns for a life of adventure.  His brother Harry is the one having the thrills and spills as a fighter pilot in World War II.  After the evil and powerful Mr. Potter steals money from the Building and Loan, George faces foreclosure and possibly prison.  He looks down into the winter waters of the local river, and moves towards jumping off the bridge.

Enter Clarence, George’s guardian angel.  Clarence decides to show George what would have happened if he had not been born:

1.  George wouldn’t have been there to save his 9-year-old brother who slipped through the ice.  So Harry wouldn’t have been there to shoot down the enemy plane that was about to bomb an Allied ship full of seamen.

2.  George wouldn’t have been there for Mary to fall in love with.  So she finished her days as an old maid librarian.

3.  Mr. Martini was refused a business-saving loan by Mr. Potter, money that George would have lent.  Instead of the flourishing Martini’s Bar – a centre of community relationship – there was Nick’s, where if you pissed off the owner, a bouncer would throw you into the street.

4.  As a young boy working in the pharmacy, George noticed that the pharmacist had made a prescription mistake, inadvertently putting poison into pills meant for a little kid.  But George wasn’t there.  The boy died and the pharmacist spent years in prison, returning to Bedford Falls as a skid row drunk.

5.  Uncle Billy was supported emotionally and financially by his nephew George.  But George wasn’t there, and the woes of the Bailey Building and Loan led Billy to an insane asylum.

6.  And Bedford Falls?  No, it was Potterville.  Mr. Potter owned virtually everything, and gouged his renters and borrowers.


At the end of the movie, grateful citizens came to George with cash to keep the Building and Loan afloat.  They hugged him with smiles as wide as the ocean.  And they sang:

We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet
For Auld Lang Syne

I’m smiling now
I’ve offered a cup or two of kindness in my days
Ours is a wonderful life


“Freedom From Fear”
Norman Rockwell

Yesterday’s energy was surging, exploding, seeking the brand new in the far reaches of existence.  The step had rhythm, the arms were pumping, and I sang a happy tune.  “Come join me,” I said, ” and we will discover together in the light of day.”  My eyes were fierce and my arms far flung.  My voice rose on the wind and I pointed to the blazing sun.

Today … I rest.  There is slumber, my eyes closing, my breath slow and easy.  I look out at each of you with soft eyes and my arms flow around you.  

I’m laughing at the difference.  They’re both parts of what I bring to the world.  They’re friends, certainly not opponents.  I applaud them both.  

Three years ago, as I sat in meditation on a three-month silent retreat, music kept slipping inside me.  Fragments of one song in particular took up residence in my mind.  Not once did I sing out the words but they swept through me, and I could feel them reaching out to my fellow yogis in the meditation hall.  Today I remember a phrase here, a phrase there: “Sleep my child and peace attend thee”, “Hill and dale in slumber keeping”, “Breathes a pure and holy feeling”.  Ahh …

Just now, for the first time, I Googled “All Through The Night”.  The entries were dominated by a Cyndi Lauper song, not at all the one I remembered.  But resting beneath all the fame and fortune was a link to a “lullaby”.  Time for my phone again: “a quiet song that is sung to children to help them go to sleep”.  Today I feel like a child, safe at home with mom and dad pulling the covers up under my chin.

Sleep my child and peace attend thee
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loved ones’ watch am keeping
All through the night

Angels watching, e’er around thee
All through the night
Midnight slumber close surround thee
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loved ones’ watch am keeping
All through the night

While the moon her watch is keeping
All through the night
While the weary world is sleeping
All through the night
O’er thy spirit gently stealing
Visions of delight revealing
Breathes a pure and holy feeling
All through the night

Angels watching ever round thee
All through the night
In thy slumbers close surround thee
All through the night
They will of all fears disarm thee
No forebodings should alarm thee
They will let no peril harm thee
All through the night

Though I roam a minstrel lonely
All through the night
My true harp shall praise sing only
All through the night
Love’s young dream, alas, is over
Yet my strains of love shall hover
Near the presence of my lover
All through the night

Hark, a solemn bell is ringing
Clear through the night
Thou, my love, art heavenward winging
Home through the night
Earthly dust from off thee shaken
Soul immortal shalt thou awaken
With thy last dim journey taken
Home through the night

A Fork in the Road

The man, who, being really on the Way, falls upon hard times in the world will not, as a consequence, turn to that friend who offers him refuge and comfort and encourages his old self to survive.  Rather, he will seek out someone who will faithfully and inexorably help him to risk himself, so that he may endure the suffering and pass courageously through it.  Only to the extent that man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation can that which is indestructible arise within him.  In this lies the dignity of daring

Karlfried Graf Durckheim

Refuge: a place that provides protection from danger
Annihilation: the state of being completely destroyed
Indestructible: impossible to destroy or break
Daring: venturesome boldness

He’s another word to define, one that I’m in the middle of:

Retirement: the time of life when one chooses to permanently leave the workforce behind
Retirement: removal of something from service or use

So, being 71, should I contemplate the perennial nature of the couch?  Should I quietly remove myself from service?  After all, there are gourmet foods to eat; Caribbean vacations to embrace; friends to have coffee with, mulling over politics and sports.  “Refuge” is a good word.  I’ve earned the rest, the slowness of will, regressing to the mean.


How about instead a grand adventure, calling out for other humans to join a revolution in consciousness?  I can throw myself into a project that seems at first glance “a bridge too far”.  I can go towards the barriers, the booby traps.  I can come nose-to-nose with the destroyer of dreams … and not waver or break.

Shall I be bold, venturing into the lands described by Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation:

These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise
Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds
to seek out new life and new civilizations
to boldly go where no man has gone before

Man and woman – we are going …
New vistas await.  Miracles are ours for the reaching

Shall we?