Wim was a family man.  And he still is.  His spirit shines beyond death.  As much as he revered his wife Marie-Anne and his children and his grandchildren, Wim’s sense of “family” was bigger than these sixteen human beings.  It included all who came his way.

I was one of those lucky ones.

You’d never forget a Wim hug.  He encircled me and held me close.  He laughed big.  When I heard he was an engineer and built bridges, I thought of my favourite one in Ghent: the Kongostraat.  I tried to convince him that he built that one.  But he shyly shook his head.

Lydia had us over for dinner a couple of months ago.  She presented an hors d’oeuvre that I didn’t know.  It was sitting on a tiny puff pastry (or so I thought!).  Turns out it was a shell, and I broke it apart with my teeth.  I was laughed at … with love.  Later, as plates were passed around for the main course, Wim noticed there was a chip out of my plate.  “Still hungry, Bruce?”  Totally Wim.

I don’t know when Wim gave this framed calligraphy to Lydia, Jo, Lore and Baziel. Perhaps he knew he was dying and wanted these words to touch their hearts. It sits in “Wim’s place” in the living room. It enters all who come close and are willing to read.

I decided to choose to focus my attention on the “beautiful” rather than the “ugly”

I decided to choose to listen to beautiful music rather than confuse my ears with anxiety-provoking news

I decided to fill my mind and my heart with gratitude for all the great opportunities that life brings me

It’s all just a matter of choice

Christophe André

Christophe and Wim. Perhaps they’re sharing a bottle of wine right now.


Both Sides Now

I love long views.  Lydia’s dining room qualifies.  Way in the distance, in front of a long hedge, cars go left and right.  I wonder about the people in those vehicles.  Are they happy?  I hope so.

Weeks ago, I felt the pull of walking on roads to reach that hedge.  One day I did that.  I got confused and never did find the home when looking back.

Two days ago, I set off again.  First of all I took a photo from the backyard of the living room (left) and the dining room (right).  Sometimes confusion is a blessing but this time I wanted clarity.

Soon enough the hedge came close. Why was my heart beating so fast? What was the thrill that my body knew but my mind did not?

And then the moment …

I was looking back at me … at Lydia, Lore and Baziel. At the life of a family. I smiled.

There’s no need for analysis

It’s not “A and therefore B”

It’s just A in all its glory … sufficient

Into France

My friend Lydia and I wanted to go for a walk today. “Let’s go to France!” she said. “Huh?” I replied. It wasn’t the only jolting moment of the day. Turns out that the French border is only a 40-minute drive from her home in Nukerke, Belgium.

We roamed the French roads, which felt like Belgian roads, except there were subtle differences in the architecture. Soon before our eyes was the Château de l’Hermitage, a UNESCO World Heritage Site built in the 1780s. No subtlety there.

Two many bathrooms.

We wandered onto a trail through the woods. Soon it widened and became cement. It parted around a large circle of grass. As we approached, Lydia asked “Shall we go left or right?” I smiled without thought. I led her arm-in-arm right down the middle. My path is clear.

As you look at the photo of my friend with arms wide, do you see anything potentially strange in the background? I didn’t.

As we strolled on, my eyes didn’t believe what they were seeing.


Ahead was a huge tree … a sequoia tree. They live in the United States, in California. How did this giant find its way to France? Did someone bring a seed across the ocean in 1903? I was stunned.

I wrapped my arms around the ancient tree and felt my fingers press into the outer bark … so red, so old. I craned my neck through the branches to the sky. A new friend.

The sign said that the sequoia was 120 years old, 144 metres tall (472 feet) and 5.26 metres in circumference (17 feet). Immensity beyond measurements.

How mysterious this life is

How glad I am to be here

On the Bike

Cycling is a long story for me … pretty much the ecstasy and the agony. I remember the wind in my hair, the flowing on the level, the grunts on the ups and the “Whee!” on the downs.

If you were with me in 2018, you heard about another down: I started the Tour du Canada – a cross-country bicycle ride. I lasted four days. I fell three times, I was terrified of the trucks passing three metres to my left, I went deep into a Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD). And the fear is still with me.

I had my bike shipped across the ocean. Today Betty stands in my bedroom, far above any road. “What were you thinking, Bruce, bringing your bike to Ghent? You’ll never ride Betty again.” So negative.

I now live in a cycling city. Witness this lot near the Gent Sint-Pieters train station:

If all these people get on their bikes, why not me? I’ve overcome many things in my life. Why call this one insurmountable?

Which brings me to today. I’m visiting my friend Lydia and her family near Ronse, Belgium. Lydia is off seeing a friend today. I wanted to sit in a pub and she recommended De Harmonie in the main square of Ronse. So I walked.

And here I am. I ambled up to the bar and sat down. The couple next to me and the bartender welcomed … in English. Above me was a TV screen, happily showing live the first cycling race of the season: the Omloop het Niewsblad – 207.3 kilometres. As I started enjoying an Orval beer and a toasted ham and cheese sandwich, the riders had 50 k to go.

O my God … I was back in my Canadian living room of long ago, enjoying the European cycling classics: Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Tour of Flanders.

Behind me and around me were cheering Belgian beer drinkers. And when I looked up the race on Google, I found that Omloop finishes in Ninove – a town 36 k from De Harmonie!. I can go see these races, not just stare at the screen. Ohhh …

Here I am returning to the cello, to the keyboard, to the guitar, to batik.

Why not cycling?

Crashing Down … Soaring Up

This week Baziel has filled my guest bedroom.  Last week it was Sarah.  She weighs …  not much.  I asked Baziel about his weight.  Converted from kilograms, he’s 187 pounds.

Why, you ask, have I ventured into this heavy topic?  Yesterday morning Baziel asked me to look in his bedroom.  One side of the mattress was almost on the floor.  (Sigh)

It’s been such a challenge to marry an old bed with a new mattress and support structure.  So far in Belgium, I haven’t seen any boxsprings.  Instead there’s a wooden frame below the mattress that looks like Venetian blinds.

As my deflation deepened, suddenly there was a pause … and an inexplicable smile.  The prevailing wisdom in my head is that I don’t do home repairs.  Just not smart enough in that realm of life.

The smile was followed by investigation.  After Baziel and I pulled off the covers, the mattress and the Venetian blinds, what was clear was that one of the corner metal brackets on the bedframe had separated from the wood.  Lying on the floor were three screws that clearly weren’t up for the job. They were so short!

My angst was short-lived. I headed to the kitchen, where I had a bag of metal pieces ready for recycling. And my memory was right! Sitting in the bottom were four huge wood screws, well rusted in time. I had found them in a drawer.

The screws had a Phillips head … and so had my screwdriver. At first they went in easily but then I really had to crank them into the wood. I gave it all I had and then passed the screwdriver to Baziel. He had a little more oomph than me.

After we were finished, the thought came: we did it. Actually it was mostly me who did it. Bruce the Handyman, totally ready to host his own home repair TV show!

So … I have thoughts about me. That’s nice. What if some of them are absolutely inaccurate? And what does that say about my future?

Stay Tuned

The Best

Here’s a photo of my friend Cara and her mom Petra. The family, including sister Tessy and dad Pascal, took me out to dinner a few nights ago to l’Heritage – a fancy and delightful restaurant only a one-minute walk from my home.

I’m not going to write about our fine evening. The picture reminds me of the most precious moments in my life.

Long ago I thought that sublime times immersed in nature were the best. I once scrambled up Mount Lineham in Alberta, Canada (i.e. no ropes needed). The vista revealed was a circle of snow-capped peaks. I was speechless, and lingered long at the top. Now there’s a sadness that I’m not strong enough to gaze upon that beauty again.

Or the best sometimes settled in my mind at a concert. Last August 50,000 of us witnessed a joyous Lady Gaga performance in Toronto. She gave ‘er and gave ‘er some more for over two hours. No breaks in the driving beat and soaring voice. Surely that was the top of the mountain in my life moments.

Another candidate is the epiphany often revealed when I’m alone. In October I spent twelve days in Quebec City. One evening I walked a narrow street, alone in the darkness. It was just Bruce, so simply me. A smile came easily.

Above the mountains, above Lady Gaga’s Edge of Glory, above just me in the quiet of the night … are times when I’m with one person. We connect in the eyes and share our world with each other. And it’s good.

The Best

Looking … Seeing

I enjoy the difference between those two words. We all look at things. Our eyes take in the colours and shapes before us. No big deal. The big deal is seeing … absorbing, making connections, feeling empathy with the people seen, going to the very centre of what is beheld and lingering there. I like seeing.

Take this street scene in Ghent. There is much to see and reflect upon. I’m tempted to not say a thing about the photo, and just let you discover. Hmm … good idea. You take a few minutes. I’ll get a coffee.


Okay, I’m back. I’ll tell you what I see. First of all, if you can enlarge this picture on your phone or laptop, that will be helpful. The discoveries will still be good if you can’t.

I love curves … also windows. So many of the windows in Ghent have a little curve on the top edge. Passageways as well. It’s also très cool to have brick walls, plus so many colours of brick. And how about windows that are set into the roof? Things that suggest an artistic flair.

When I think of buildings in Canada, everything seems horizontal meeting vertical. How amazing to have diamond shapes show up on a wall. And the roofline of that building isn’t straight. There’s an angle there.

Now for the cool semi-hidden stuff, which will be vivid if you can enlarge: Look near the right edge of the photo. One of the windows is stained glass – barely visible from the outside. But what must it be like to be sitting in there on a sunny day?! I say marvelous.

Finally (Now wait a minute – this isn’t final. Who knows what other mysteries may show up?)

Somewhat finally, gaze at the orange brick wall. Someone is happy to be seeing from above, perhaps blessing us who pass by. And I wonder what is hanging from her mouth.

Only a few homes on only one street in only one city

May we open our eyes wherever we are

Walk Right In … Sit Right Down

I decided to go a-wanderin’ last night.  On the surface I was in search of another fine Belgian beer.  Down deep, I wanted to be with people and see if a conversation might emerge, most likely with someone whose first language wasn’t English.

I live on a street called the Oudburg – action central for cool restaurants and bars in Ghent.  Despite lots of tourists strolling the street, the Oudburg feels genuine.  But it was time to roam more widely.  A café (i.e. pub) called Minor Swing wasn’t far away and previous glimpses in the windows were enticing.  So here I go!

It’s really old.  It’s really small.  And it’s packed with couples and friends and families.  There was even a girl of perhaps six years wearing a frilly layered dress.  She enjoyed her juice while mom and dad went for stronger stuff.  I wasn’t used to seeing a kid in a bar but I smiled at how inclusive Belgium feels.

The Flemish words were rolling from wall to wall – music to me.  So many eyes were wide.  So many hands were sweeping through the air.  Minor Swing was alive.  I smile some more.  Even though language lessons haven’t become part of my life, I feel at home here.

I hope you love the photo.  A violinist and guitarist poked their heads in the door and walked to the bar.  There were sweet melodies that I didn’t recognize, plus flurries of notes accompanied by flying fingers on the strings.  The buzz, the music and everyone close together felt so natural.  I do believe I’m in Europe.

My favourite folks in the café were two old fellows sitting at the bar.  You see one of them on the left.  The other guy had a very long and white beard.  Maybe he was a poet.  For over an hour their voices rose and fell, and fingers told stories – none of which I could understand. 

The place was so full and people kept coming in the front door and passing through a doorway to the right of the bar.  Perhaps Minor Swing isn’t so small after all.

Eventually I approached the bar to pay my bill.  The bartender seemed to be fixing six drinks at once and I was in no hurry.  A guy spoke to me in English and then translated for his Flemish friend.  “Canada!”  Our eyes met in mirth even though the vocabulary was unknown to the other.  All was well.  And I know that all will continue to be well.

Love Includes

So why are there stores? Well, we need stuff to survive and thrive, and somebody has to sell it to us. Plus the people who own and work in those stores need to feed their families, and go on the occasional vacation.

I wonder what the owners would say if we asked them “What is your company’s purpose?” Flowery phrasing in mission statements can’t hide the obvious: “Our purpose is to make money.”

Occasionally I’ve come across a business whose social responsibility is alive and well. And I honour those places with my dollars.

Since arriving in Belgium, I’ve become an IKEA devotée. I love their white furniture, the friendliness of the staff (in English) and the efficiency in helping me find, compare and buy things. Also I’ve had the vague feeling that they treat people well – employees and customers.

With such songs in my head, I was roaming through the aisles one day. I turned a corner and there hung the poster you see before you. I was stopped. I was stunned. Two men kissing. I thought “How lovely” and then “How unique”. A money-making corporation presenting its values for all to see. Maybe North American stores have the same photo displayed but I don’t remember seeing it. Plus I don’t live there anymore.

The words you see are in Flemish. I sure was curious about what they said. Thanks to Google Translate, I now know. Was it a spectacular manifesto of gender equality? No. It was this …

A gift card, always a nice surprise for Valentine’s Day.  An IKEA gift card is a gift that is always welcome.  Give it as a gift to your friends and family on birthdays, on special occasions or just … just like that!  Choose a suitable card and charge it at the cash register with the amount of your choice.

Ordinary. Friends and family. No big deal. They would enjoy a gift card from you.

Love in all its expressions should be ordinary in our world. Just the way life is. Thank you, IKEA.

Hugging Everything

It was a long time ago. My wife Jody and I were vacationing with her family in Kananaskis Country – a stunning part of the Rocky Mountains in Canada. Jody and I decided to stay at a bed and breakfast for a few days. Our hostess welcomed us so beautifully … lots of smiles and kindness.

The next morning I got up before Jody and headed down to the dining room for coffee. The hostess and I chatted about life for half an hour and then she needed to get started on breakfast. We both stood up. She moved towards me with open arms. We held each other for maybe a minute. That’s a very long hug. And it was such a sweet one – no patting, no crushing, just a gentle lingering.

The hug wasn’t sexual. It was sensual but also something way beyond that. I was transported to an unknown land that somehow I recognized. Time stopped.

Since that moment, I’ve never been hugged that way again. There have been some delightful slow ones, imbued with love, but the depth of that Rocky Mountain touch was unique. At least so far.

I love hugging. I love cuddling. When it’s quiet (physically and spiritually), something sublime has the space to come through.


About a month ago I started having a strange thought, one that each time has brought a smile to my face:

In my soul I could hug everything … and everyone

I could have a long slow hug with any of my emotions that I’ve called negative: fear, sadness, hurt, anger. I could draw them close rather than pushing them away. We could be friends. I could hug my mistakes, large and small. I could hug my body, which isn’t as fast or strong as it once was. I could hug my memory, which often forgets!

I could hug mean people, such as Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. I won’t hug behaviour that is demeaning or violent, but what about the person who performs such acts?

I love sitting in a question, letting it roam around my insides for days or years. There’s so much that is mysterious. What are my possibilities? What are our possibilities?

Would you like to explore?