Dull

I told you a few days ago about my eyeglass adventures.  I need a new prescription but to keep my cool frame I had to send the glasses away for seven to ten days.  Since my only remaining pair is sunglasses, my visual life has two choices – dark and focused or light and blurry.

I’m on Zoom a lot with the Evolutionary Collective.  No sunglasses since with them I couldn’t see the screen and people wouldn’t be able to see my eyes.  Part of the time I’m in Gallery View, seeing anywhere from fifteen to forty-eight folks … fuzzy little rectangles.  When I’m doing a practice with a partner, that person is large in Speaker View, and also is fuzzy.  Not a real problem.

Watching tennis or a movie on TV, I need the focus, so on go the sunglasses.  My living room, day or night, is pretty dark.  Really only a minor inconvenience.

But something is happening to me over these days.  More and more, I’m vacant, faded, dull.  How very strange.  I’ve enjoyed working on my physical fitness over the past few Covid months but I’m a universe away from hopping onto the ski machine downstairs or my bicycle out on the roads.

I’m not tired.  I don’t have a headache.  No nausea.  No angst.  But I am slow, especially mentally.  There’s a floating feeling that’s not at all blissful.  And the slowness is not a graceful dance.  It’s a plodding.

There’s a sense of “Where am I?” without the wonder of spiritual mystery.  It takes me back many decades (1985), spending two weeks in a Vancouver hospital with a heart condition.  That time was far more urgent than what I’m experiencing now but there’s a parallel.  I remember being allowed out of bed, and my room, to sit in a wheelchair.  I was on morphine.  Spirits floated down the hallway, moaning.  Their feet never touched the ground.  Their gowns waved behind them as they passed by.  So slow the journey past my eyes.

Well, that sounds dramatic.  No painkillers in the here and now.  No see-through humans.  But the same vague distaste.  The same veil covering my aliveness.  The same feeling of not being home.

Costco … please hurry up

Forza!

I was watching a tennis match from the French open today. Martina Trevisan from Italy was battling Kiki Bertens from the Netherlands. At one point, just after Martina won an important point, she clenched her fist, bugged out her eyes and yelled “Forza!”

My mouth dropped. I stared at her. The power of the moment was immense. It surged through me via the TV screen. I tried to remember what the word meant. Maybe I should have just focused on the exclamation point in her voice. Google soon enough let me know the emotional English translation: “Come on! You can do it.” Force, strength, power.

I’ve spent years meditating, where the words (when I’m not in silence) are soft. The fingers are open, rather than balled into a fist. I’ve said to myself “That’s the energy I want to project – serene, compassionate, loving.” There is great beauty in that energy but today I also saw beauty in Martina’s passion.

We are so big, we human beings. As Walt Whitman said, “I am inconsistent. I contain multitudes.” What if I’m willing to give the world all of me, covering the world at times in a torrent of water, at others in simply a trickle. Today showed me that they both have their place.

Forza!

Peace be with you

Charlie Chaplin

Political life in this era of Covid presents us with some unbalanced personalities, some cruelty, and some ignorance of others’ pain.  I’ve decided to go back in time to see if history can help.  I looked for someone who could cross the decades and speak to us today.

Charlie Chaplin was a British comic and actor.  He featured in many silent movies in the 20’s and 30’s.  He was loved by some, ridiculed by others.

In 1940, Charlie starred in the movie The Great Dictator, a satire about Adolf Hitler, and a biting critique of fascism.  The last five minutes of this film showed Charlie speaking to the audience, holding nothing back about the perils of the time.  His words were embraced by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill.

Here they are:

I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be an emperor.  That’s not my business.  I don’t want to rule or conquer anyone.  I should like to help everyone – if possible – Jew, Gentile, black man, white.  We all want to help one another.  Human beings are like that.  We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery.  We don’t want to hate and despise one another.  In this world there is room for everyone.  And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.  The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way.

Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed.  We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in.  Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want.  Our knowledge has made us cynical.  Our cleverness, hard and unkind.  We think too much and feel too little.  More than machinery we need humanity.  More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness.  Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost …

The aeroplane and the radio have brought us closer together.  The very nature of these inventions cries out for the goodness in men – cries out for universal brotherhood – for the unity of us all.  Even now my voice is reaching millions throughout the world – millions of despairing men, women and little children – victims of a system that makes men torture and imprison innocent people.

To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair.  The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress.  The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.  And so long as men die, liberty will never perish.

Soldiers!  Don’t give yourselves to brutes – men who despise you – enslave you – who regiment your lives – tell you what to do – what to think and what to feel!  Who drill you – diet you – treat you like cattle, use you as cannon fodder.  Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men – machine men with machine minds and machine hearts!  You are not machines!  You are not cattle!  You are men!  You have the love of humanity in your hearts!  You don’t hate!  Only the unloved hate – the unloved and the unnatural!  Soldiers!  Don’t fight for slavery!  Fight for liberty!

In the 17th Chapter of St. Luke it is written: “the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men!  In you!  You, the people, have the power – the power to create machines.  The power to create happiness!  You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

Then – in the name of democracy – let us use that power – let us all unite.  Let us fight for a new world – a decent world that will give men a chance to work – that will give youth a future and old age a security.  By the promise of these things, brutes have risen to power.  But they lie!  They do not fulfill that promise.  They never will!

Dictators free themselves but they enslave the people!  Now let us fight to fulfill that promise!  Let us fight to free the world – to do away with national barriers – to do away with greed, with hate and intolerance.  Let us fight for a world of reason, a world where science and progress will lead to all men’s happiness.  Soldiers!  In the name of democracy, let us all unite!

Dark or Blurry

My near and distance vision has been declining over the past few years.  There’s no way I pass cars anymore since judging speeds, especially at night, is difficult.   Tiny words on tubes and bottles might as well be in another language, and buying a magnifying glass has been on my “to do” list for months.

It was time to take action.  I made an appointment with my optometrist.  That appointment was today.  The eye doctor is a genial fellow who’s got a vast array of high tech equipment.  His verdict?  “Your eyes have changed significantly.”  Still … don’t worry, be happy.  It’s an age thing.  Okay, I’m getting up there.  I accept the emerging realities of my senior life.

I headed over to Costco, the home of super-sized quantities and very friendly optical employees.  The woman who greeted me was the same person who found my red and purple and yellow frame two years ago.  She remembered me and my glasses.  I ordered the new and improved lenses, but there was one tiny detail: my dear frame had to go off to Toronto or somewhere for about ten days.  Hmm.  Well, what can you do?

The staff member asked if I had a backup pair.  No.  Guess I’m not much of a backup person.  I’ll just wear my sunglasses.

***

I’m several hours into my shortterm visual life, and there are things to say:

1.  It’s dark

How strange.  Everything I look at is muted.  My lovely red EasyBoy chair is less red.  The sky out there feels like an eclipse has moved in.  My world feels lifeless, listless, subdued, tiresome.  There’s a shroud hanging over things, and I can’t seem to remove it.

If it’s not number 1, then it’s …

2.  Blurry

“Just take off the sunglasses, Bruce, and the light will come back.”  That’s true.  But I can’t see the words on the white feather that’s in the soil across  from me: “Dream on.”  I can barely make out the birdies who are perching on my feeder.  And writing this blog post is “by guess and by golly” until I move my eyes to a point six inches from the screen.

Physically is one thing

What must it be like in the heart
of someone who’s spiritually dark or blurry?
Where anger, fear and depression colour the day
Or where all is muddled, disorienting and not worth the effort

May the light and clarity return to us all

Such a Long Journey

The journey began in June, 2018.  After three days of riding my bicycle in the Tour du Canada with seventeen other folks, I quit.  I was a mess emotionally – terrified and depressed.

In the weeks following, my right hand wouldn’t stop shaking.  I’d look in the mirror and wonder “Who’s that?”  I finally concluded that I had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  The shaking eventually stopped.  The fear of getting on a bicycle didn’t.

Oh, I argued with myself – that I should be a better person.  Man up.  Stop being a wimp.  None of that self-abuse helped.  Beyond my general enjoyment of myself was a vague sense of inferiority.  One long sigh of muted despair.

This July or August (I can’t remember), with the PTSD still lingering, and not having been on a bike for over two years, I knew I had to act.  Sygnan and Laura run Cyzzle Cycles and have provided me with impeccable service for many years.  I walked into their store and told them the truth.  Just as on the Tour du Canada, being so nakedly deficient in the company of dedicated cyclists was agonizing.  But I did it.  Sygnan and Laura listened with compassion, and Laura offered to coach me about “getting back on the horse”.

I wrote in my blog about shakily visiting the bike shop – the first day to simply get astride Betty while she was attached to a bike stand.  I’m guessing that few of you can understand the terror I felt to simply put my left foot on the pedal and then to swing my right leg over … but maybe I’m wrong.

A few days later, Laura took me to a nearby parking lot.  First she rode Betty in big circles, giving me instructions that I had known for years but which were so hard to hear in the moment.

And then … I rode!  It was a triumph of my own spirit.

But alas, it wasn’t a happy ending.  Back home, looking at Betty in the garage, the shaking returned.  I had just done what needed to be done, and now it looked once more like an impossible dream.  I was shocked at my lack of resolve to beat this thing.  I retreated into … the weather.  It was stifling hot mid-summer.  No wise human being would choose to cycle right now.  So “later” became the watchword.  The heat lingered and so did my defeat.

A few days ago, it was probably two months since I stayed up on Betty in the parking lot.  Back then, I told Laura that I’d call her as soon as I took Betty out on a ride.  No phone call.

I couldn’t even look myself in the mirror, nor look at Betty in the garage.  But a thought emerged: “Bruce, starting in January, for a year, you will be in the teacher training program of the Evolutionary Collective.  You will be challenged perhaps as never before.  Shouldn’t you move past any roadblocks that are compressing your aliveness?”  I gulped.  the answer was clearly “yes”.  But how?

Last night, I was watching the love between Rose and Jack unfold in the movie Titanic.  At some point before the ship hit the iceberg, I heard words bubbling up from inside: “Tomorrow at 10:00 am.”  Without thinking, I knew immediately what they meant.  I would ride Betty tomorrow morning.  

A calm surrounded me.  A little smile appeared.  I knew that the time had come.  I felt the ease blow through me.  Plus the astonishment. 

I cried as Jack died.  I went softly to bed and slept for eight hours.  I woke up wondering If I remembered all the details about cycling clothing and bike computer settings, and knew it didn’t matter if I didn’t.

At 9:55, the right pedal was aloft with my foot firmly placed.  I pressed down, found the left pedal under my other foot, and …

Rode

 

 

A Sad Decision

I love tennis.  The mano-a-mano or womano-a-womano back and forth of a match enthralls me.  One of my favourite books is The Inner Game of Tennis.  Its author, Timothy Gallwey, waxes poetic about the beauty of two evenly matched players.  Far beyond the winning and losing is the epic struggle, where the best in you brings out the best in me.

The French Open (also known as Roland Garros) is on TV for the next two weeks.  This morning I watched Kristina Mladenovic from France and Laura Siegemund from Germany give it their all.

I don’t know what you know about tennis.  Usually after a player serves, the ball bounces once before the opponent hits it back.  Sometimes they hit it out of the air before a bounce.  Two bounces and the point is over – you lose.

Near the end of the first set today, the score was 5 games to 1 for Mladenovic.  You need to win six games to win a set, and the match is the best two out of three sets.  Within a game, each serve results in a point being given.  Mladenovic was within one point of winning the game, and therefore the set.  She lofted a soft shot well in front of Siegemund, who raced forward.  But not fast enough – two bounces.

The umpire didn’t notice the two bounces.  The TV world did, especially after the video replay.  The set should have been over in favour of Mladenovic.  But it wasn’t.  Siegemund won that set, and later the match.

In that moment of two bounces, what did Siegemund do?

Nothing.

What did Siegemund say?

Nothing.

I had visions of her rushing up to the umpire to complain:  “It bounced twice.  Mladenovic won the set.”  Alas, no.  And the TV commentators said zero about Siegemund’s silence.

I felt myself slump.  A huge exhale of sadness.  I still feel it.

I read a few match reports on the Internet afterwards.  The official site of the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) wrote fourteen paragraphs about the match.  Not a word about two bounces.  Most reports did mention the umpire’s mistake, and some criticized her.  A sole Tweet gave the reader a whiff of “lack of sportsmanship” but didn’t mention Siegemund by name.

The world needs better than all this.

The Snows of New York

I wanted to hear a concert last night, and a shelf of DVDs were handy.  I reached for one I knew well: Chris de Burgh’s Road to Freedom.  Before her death in 2014, my dear wife Jody and I had watched it several times.

I remember our wine-coloured leather couch and our positions on it.  I’d be sitting at one end and Jody would be lying down, her feet in my lap.  We both loved the rubbing.  As familiar songs danced across the screen yesterday, I remembered our love.

Chris de Burgh evokes love … with his ballads and high ringing tenor voice.  So pure.  He stood alone on stage, accompanied only by his guitar and piano.  There were tears among the audience members.  Lighters and tiny glow sticks were waving in the dark, before our world of cell phones.

At one point, Chris launched into a medley of his songs.  Wearing a headset, he and his guitar came down from the stage and walked amid the multiple beloveds.  He got down on one knee to sing to an older woman.  He put his hand on the shoulder of a physically disabled young man.  And he smiled at everyone who was close to his path.

I knew what his final song would be: a soaring anthem called The Snows of New York.  The audience knew it as well.  Many of them sang.

You have always been such a good friend to me
Through the thunder and the rain
And when you’re feeling lost in the snows of New York
Lift your heart and think of me

I think of you, Jodiette … every day

Rushing Time

I spent the last half-hour lying in bed. I went there wondering if a writing idea would come to me in horizontal mode. And one did.

A few minutes ago, I approached my dear laptop with the thought “It’s 6:45. I bet I can finish this post by 7:30.” And I realized this was an odd way to look at life. The words will come out of my fingers as they choose, in the rhythm they want. The ideas, partially formed in the snoozing room, will emerge now in their own sweet time. Why quibble with nature?

I went grocery shopping this afternoon, a basic task for someone who doesn’t know how to cook. After making my choices, I participated in a basic human behaviour: lining up. I started near the cashiers and kept walking away from them, around the perimeter of the store, in search of the end of the line. Fifty or sixty people later, I found it.

That far away from the cash, there were no social distancing signs on the floor to reinforce our healthy six feet distance. What I saw in me and many others was a leaning forward toward the customer in front. I’d “wake up” and see that I was only three feet behind. It’s like being hypnotized: move forward, squish together … and you’ll get to your destination quicker.

Exhibit number two is the freeway. I usually hang out in the right lane, and let the speedsters blast by in the other ones. Recently, though, I see that I’m being tailgated in the slow lane as I do the speed limit.

Once I’m in the city, there’s the world of red lights. So many drivers creep up to the car ahead. It’s a compressing Slinky toy. I don’t creep, and often I sense the displeasure of the driver behind for my flaunting of social norms.

Exhibit number three is my body. Overall I really like it but sometimes I get impatient. I visited my doctor a few weeks ago. There was a growth on my right forearm – pretty red and raised up from the surface of the surrounding skin. Doc said we should watch that one: possibly skin cancer. When I come back for a flu shot in mid-October, if the bump is still big, she’ll do a biopsy. So … you see in front of you a frequent inspector of my right forearm. Happily, the blemish is getting smaller, less intense, and returning to the level of the skin. But my wee brain wants the return to normalcy to go faster. “It has to disappear by October 15!”

That’s enough exhibits. There’s a natural unfolding of grocery lines, highway travel and bodily healing. I need to respect it.

P.S. It’s 7:26. Just saying.

Hanging On … Letting Go

It seems pretty clear – happiness resides in the land of the open palm, the gracious gesture, the ease of time stretching slowly away.  Misery knows the closed fist. the grasping, the muscles tense and rigid.

But then there’s money.

I love tennis.  In August, 2019, I booked ten nights in a Montreal hotel for the summer of 2020.  My sole reason for going was to feel the majesty of the women’s Rogers Cup tennis tournament.

This spring, the Government of Quebec said no to any professional sporting events in the province, due to Covid.  Sad but alert, I leapt into action, asking the hotel to refund my money.  They told me I’d have to talk to the travel company with whom I booked.

And so it began.

Actually, it wasn’t just one conversation with the hotel.  I’m guessing that I’ve phoned them 20-25 times and have talked to a real person 2-3 times.  Many requests on the answering machine for the manager to phone me went for naught.  (Sigh)

Four months after my initial contact in May, and after probably 8-10 hours on the phone, $886.83 is still in someone else’s pocket.  Today’s contribution was over two hours, talking to two reps of the travel company.  My case had been “elevated” but instead I felt submerged.

Throughout the process, I’ve seen errors of omission, broken promises about when people would get back to me, and I believe (on the hotel’s part) some deceit.

The next chapter will be a phone call on Monday morning – the hotel manager, the travel company, and me.

I’m not letting go.  Am I creating a lot of unhappiness for myself?  Am I wise to stand up for myself?  Am I being “Bruce”?  Somehow it feels right to be in these shoes of mine.  To quietly ask for fairness.  To not give up.  Although there are far better ways to spend eight hours than speaking into my smartphone and listening to what comes back, I find myself quietly nodding in approval for the journey I’ve chosen.  Whatever the outcome.

Beauty

A bluebell woodland in England

Terraced rice fields in China

The hills of Tuscany in Italy

***

I ask myself “What is beauty?” There are many possibilities. Before your eyes are some of the world’s wonders. Drink in the mauves, the spring leaves, the shining waters, the touches of yellow, the feminine curves of the land. Our souls delight in the display.

Of all the images, though, my soul flies to the white horse. She is gazing at all of us, seeking out the end point of her affection. The Earth gladdens the eyes but the breathing being reaches the heart.

My personal favourites are human. They need not be splashed with colour, have cascading hair or smoothness of skin. They might be young, they might not. But there is an entrance to mystery that brings me to silence. And so I abide at the windowsill …