Thanking Three Months

Here are the two glass doors entering my neighbour Dirk’s apartment. The right one is open, the left closed. I often bug him that who really lives here is Princess Di. He always smiles.

Tomorrow is the three-month anniversary of Dirk’s arrival on the Oudburg. It’s clear what’s to be done: throw a party! In an hour, ten of us will gather downstairs. Dirk has a bevy of surprises planned. He wants his guests to smile and laugh, to sip their favourite beverages, to fill their bellies with frites! We shall oblige.

Hours from now, I will continue. Let the celebration begin …


Wow! First of all, I’m thankful that Dirk included me. And so did the other eight folks. I wasn’t a Canadian oddity. I was simply another human being who wanted to celebrate the arrival of his friend.

Almost all of the evening was in Flemish. I know none of the words when they’re spoken fast. And therefore it’s all music … with mysterious melodies. I’m used to this at two other dining room tables – with my friend Lydia in Maarkedal and with my friend Anne in Toronto, where the language is Ukrainian.

We sat around snacking on strawberries, chocolate mousse and other assorted yum yums. Someone would try on the role of storyteller. I watched the other faces. They were following along, with occasional bursts of joy on their faces. I didn’t need to know the story to feel its impact.

At one point, Dirk was getting his frites fryer ready. Slabs of fat started heating. And then an instant of raucous Dutch laughing all around. Near as I can tell, Dirk was heating the fat without having taken the paper off.

Then there was excited pointing to an open closet, and a shelf way up high that included a big vertical wheel. What, oh what, was that about?!

Next another fellow started his story, complete with wild hand gestures. He soon had me, even though I had no clue about the plot. Suddenly he blurted out …

Over my dead body!

Then he was back at it in Flemish. A fine time was being had by all, including me.

A cluster of tiny white lights hung on the wall, with a little black tube at the end. Dirk grabs the tube and starts speaking into it. Gales of giggling. Sounded like he was ordering room service, but this English speaker was essentially clueless.

And so it went

The music rolled on

And at the end we all hugged goodnight

The Past Extends

Jetje is a cozy antique shop on the Kraanlei in Ghent.  What I love is its window.

Whose hands caressed these objects in years gone by? 

Was there a little girl, dreaming of being a ballerina?  Did flowers bloom season after season in the floral pot?  Perhaps a single red rose in the tall glass vase, presented to the daughter of the house by her suitor.

Did the best Belgian chocolates fill the bowl tinted with rose?  And who is the young woman looking at, her with the sweeping hat and soft eyes?

Was avocat shared between long-term marriage companions in the tiny glasses?  Were there decades of card games won and lost?

And the gloves … Did she leave them on as he kissed her fingers?

All those people are likely gone but their spirit remains … in your responses to a window viewing.

Do you see what I see?

Actually … I hope not

You have your own universe

Attached to Numbers

Do I know what this graph and these numbers mean?  A little bit … not much.  No doubt, though, there are many people who would dive deep into analysis of this photo.  “What does it mean?”

Maybe it’s the monthly sales of a corporation.  Or the health of someone’s heart.  Whatever it is, someone finds it important.  It might be that the analyst’s self-esteem rises and falls with the graph.

It’s easy for me to sit back and laugh at such needless worry.  I’m this spiritually open guy who doesn’t bother with such friviolities.

Maybe …

I write my posts on WordPress and then transfer them to Facebook.  WordPress keeps tabs on how many people view my writing each day.  Yesterday 39 human beings checked out my words.  I smiled at bedtime.  “I’m reaching people!”

However it’s now today.  At 3:12 pm, the number is “0”.  And attachment has reared its hideous head.  “4” would be disappointing mid-afternoon, but nobody?!

The truth is that I’m free to create no meaning from a number.  There’s “What is”.  Why add a problem to the way things are so far today?  That would be dumb, Bruce.

No views says nothing about the value of the post I wrote this morning.  And nothing about me as a person.  I certainly want my thoughts to touch people but life ebbs and flows in so many ways.  The number of folks showing up for a Bruce post on WordPress is another one.

Oh!  Here comes a smile

“Silly goose”


Here are the people of Ghent, going to and fro.  Bicycles, toddlers, holding hands, shopping, lining up, walking in centrum … all of it.

It’s so easy to live in our heads, not noticing anything ordinary or extraordinary. On my better days, I see. I look at lives from the outside and glimpse the inside. I see folks bigger than their bodies … flowing out into the air.

Thomas Merton had many better days. He was a Catholic monk and mystic who died in 1968. One day he was walking downtown in Louisville, Kentucky (USA). He looked around at everyone passing by. And …

I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all these people, and that they were mine and I theirs, and we could not be alien to one another. It was like waking from a dream of separateness. It was monastic holiness. The sense of liberation from an illusory difference was such relief and joy that I laughed out loud. I saw the secret beauty of everyone that was passing, and the only problem was that I wanted to fall down and worship each one as they went by. No more need for war, cruelty or greed when we could see each other in this way. This is really the miracle – that each person who passed me is walking around shining like the sun.

Here is the man. Would you notice him on the street? Probably not. But oh … the spirit that resides here. The “secret beauty” that is visible to the open heart.

We ordinary folks also have eyes that can widen, that can include the next person in an embrace.

Perhaps we don’t spend much time looking

Even less seeing

So … glance around. Who’s here?

Two Quotes from the Downstairs Man

That would be Dirk.  He’s a director of plays, a philosopher, a giver of gifts, someone who lives life large.

We talked this morning over coffee.  We flowed over the words, casting our nets over a few and then releasing them into the sea.  Part of me wants to let Dirk’s thoughts slide away and part of me wants to hold on … at least long enough to share them with you.

Just two things to pass on:

What if each of us made one other person happy – just one?  It would be a beautiful world

You mean I don’t have to brighten the day of everyone I meet? I don’t have to push to contribute?  I can just relax … because surely in my lifetime one person has smiled in my presence.  One person has been touched by my love.

I don’t have to change the world.  I don’t have to constrict my energy, to focus it in a beam and aim it at folks.  If I don’t aim it, maybe it will flow outward in a giant circle … free in the sky.

And what if I’ve already met Dirk’s one person?  Well … I can spend the rest of my life bouncing along, skipping, dancing.  No have-tos of contribution.


And now number two (Dirk’s mom to her son):

You are in the world to make it beautiful

Perhaps I’m here to show people the wind.  Or to blend pastel colours at their edges so lines disappear.  Or to lift human beings a few centimetres off the ground.  Or to create huge ovals within which folks can come together. Or to open eyes so wide. Or to weave the threads from each of us into a quilt for all of us.

Or …

“I Know Where I’m Going!”

This is the view from the terrace at the back of my apartment.  For months I’ve said “I want that crane to go away.” Seems like what I want is not so impactful.

I have my days where the crane has become part of the natural landscape, a welcomed piece of the puzzle.  Yesterday was not one of those days.

I vowed to find this crane, to stand beside it and gauge the construction progress being made.  And … calculate when the big long thing would disappear.

So I set off, brimming with confidence that I’d easily locate my “companion”.  “It’s just to the right of that tall smokestack, only a lot closer.”

Out the door, along the Oudburg, a stop at my bench where the Leie curves.  Way in the distance rose the smokestack.  But no crane.  “No matter!” I huffed.  “It’s just to the right of the crane.  It’s not as tall as the stack so it’s hidden behind buildings “

On I trod, following the sweep of the river.  Way to the east beyond, I eventually spotted the crane.  Yes!  I marched on resolutely, proud of my determination to produce the result.  “Look at that crane … that yellow crane.”

Hmm.  Yellow seemed off.  Wasn’t it orange?  Unhappily I didn’t come armed with a terrace photo.

And then I stood under the beast.  Next door was a hole in the ground with a cement foundation.  “That’s the sum total of the work they’ve done for all these months?”

My certainty puddled.

I went on Google Maps and figured out angles: smokestack, church spires, an ornate tower.  “I’m in the wrong place!  I’m too far south.”  So I shifted north, cleverly putting myself on the edge of a park so I’d have a long view in that direction.  “Yes, I know.  The buildings will be father away.  I’ll be able to see the crane above them.”

I walked.  I looked.  I didn’t see.

I started beating my chest, tearing off my clothes, sinking my fingernails into flesh.  (Just kidding)  Actually the angst was purely emotional … or perhaps it was The Dark Night of the Soul

“What the hell do these construction people do … dismantle the crane every evening?!”

With my Ghentian orientation skills, I located myself on the Ottogracht – a neighbouring street to the Oudburg.

“My God, I’m nearly home.  I give up.”

And then, leaning over the precipice of despair, I glanced across the street.  Such lovely buildings here – ordinary, lived in, unspectacular.

Peeking above a roof was a little bit of metal angles.  It was … orange.

I hurried down a side street.  It opened onto a little square – the Edward Anseeleplein.  In the corner, a home was clearly inder construction.

I was a four-minute walk from home.


Blond is a queer bar in Ghent, only a five-minute walk from home. The umbrella term is LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer). I’ve passed by many a time, but clearly too early in the day. This time they were open.

I’m here in my new home city to meet people – all sorts of them. I don’t learn much by hanging out only with folks whose life experience is close to mine. I want my eyes opened, to discover brothers and sisters of different sexual orientations, ages, races, cultures and personalities.

When I walked into Blond tonight, there was one guy sitting at the bar and the bartender Djahid. Two young men. That was it.

I read the menu, loving the message that appears in the photo. “We are all called upon to contribute to making everyone feel safe.” Yes.

After a preamble about beer, I asked Djahid if most of his customers were respectful of differences. He said yes, with notable exceptions. Still, Blond is a safe haven for LGBTQ human beings.

Djahid told me that when I walked in, he sensed that I was a good person, but he’s learned from bitter experience to stay attentive. Sometimes he’s been surprised by a sudden racial slur or a joke about two women being together.

Once he felt comfortable with me, Djahid said that he likes dressing up feminine for queer parties but tenses up when it’s time to walk home. Too much of his life is about being careful, constantly on the alert for aggressive behaviour. I asked myself what all that looking over your shoulder does to the body.

I was sad that there were no women in the café. I had hoped to talk to one or two about their lives and mine. Next time.

It shouldn’t be any big deal. It should be about celebrating our differences by simply talking. “What’s important to you? Here’s what’s important to me …”

I’ll be back

What Don’t I Need to Fly?

First of all, I think flying is a good thing.  I don’t know about the physical part but often my heart soars.

But are X, Y and Z necessary for me to ascend?  I say no.  Here are some things I see as extra:

The Himalayas

It’s nice being on a windswept pass in Canada’s Rocky Mountains, or strolling through a violet lavender field in France, or experiencing the sun falling into the sea on the horizon.  But they’re not needed.

A Monastery

I know a few: the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts (USA); Monasterium PoortAckere in Ghent (Belgium); The Peace Pagoda in Grafton, New York (USA).  Holy places … but so is my bedroom.


Three floors down from my balcony is the terrace of Café Otis.  Often people are out there talking at 2:00 am.  Then there are kids on the schoolyard at recess as I walk by.  I still fall sweetly to sleep and smile across the years as a child shrieks on the swing.


It was cool being in the front row in Toronto as Nicola Benedetti caressed her violin, drawing forth melodies that lifted us all.  Or when Bruce Springsteen rocks the stadium with Badlands.  But life is full of vibrations that can enter and stay … if we open our pores.

Lots of Money

Caribbean cruises, Michelin meals, a Porsche – they sound cool (especially if the car is red!)  But essential for lifting off in life?  No.

Perfect Health

Experiencing my body as strong and flexible and full of oxygen is marvelous. But shortness of breath, straining under a load, or bursitis in the hip need not exclude the spirit.


But what do I need to rise?

One thing …


Marc and Dani

I was sitting in a community centre in the Patershol neighbourhood of Ghent this afternoon, enjoying my coffee with Avocat.

A fellow asked if he could sit with me.  And so it began …

Marc lives in Ghent.  He easily moved into English and said that his wife would be arriving later.

Marc is clearly an historian and hearing that I was new to the city he began sharing its secrets.  It was clear that he wanted to express, to contribute, and I knew that I would go with it.

The facts and events came fast and furious – too rapid for me to absorb but that didn’t matter.  I was enjoying being with Marc.  I now remember about barrels of wine, about Belgium being created as a buffer between England, France and Germany, about a  Spanish emperor who dominated the area long ago.

Marc was enjoying me and I was enjoying him.  It was all so fresh and new.

He also talked about the love of his life – Dani.  If I got the facts right, they were a young couple for six years, then married for twenty-two.  Sadly they divorced and for four years explored life without each other.

Both finally realized that they were missing their true life partner.  So they reunited for the next thirty-five years of marriage.  Such a sweet story.

I saw what Marc was talking about when Dani arrived.  Someone made them for each other.  They talked about exploring Alaska and British Columbia, and then Montreal.  I was a Canadian reunion.

Marc and I will go walking in Ghent someday soon.  I will learn more.  And I will have a new friend (two actually).

Ghent joins

The Long View

The water you see is Napoleon de Pauwvertakking … and way in the background the Leie River. Ghent in springtime, matching the spring in my step.

I seek spots like this. I am pulled to the long view – where the horizon is far, where the future beckons.

It feels like standing back from a painting and feeling the soul of the artist covering the canvas. Details blend into the grandness of it all.

There is a bridge, over which many thousands have walked. Today there are two. I wonder who they are.

And the buildings behind them … what smiling faces of the past chose the red, blue and yellow? “Let’s stand out, shall we?”

Streets on the left and right are drawn to the Leie. Walkers, cyclists and drivers agree. There are reflections to see down below and tiny creatures skimming the surface. All is to be welcomed as the day greens in the sun.

I am paused in such moments, brought to rest from the scurryings of my mind, asked to drink in the majesty of spring. I just sit … sometimes with thought and sometimes with not.

It is complete