Day One: Departure Lounge

I’m in Toronto Airport, on the cusp of a grand adventure. Forty-two days from now, I’ll set foot in Canada again. Until then, I’m an honorary Belgian, Senegalese and American. All privileges. During this trip, will I be writing you every day, lilting over the events and people, the landscapes and architecture? I hope so, because no doubt there will be much to describe, to feel into, to celebrate.

There’s a main reason I travel: to come together with people, folks whose outward lives often seem so different from mine, but whose souls resonate with this Bruce. And here they are sitting in front of me in the departure lounge:

A tall young man in dreadlocks and Adidas sweats, fiercely punching his cell phone keys

A middle-aged Jewish couple, she with a head scarf and he with what I’d call a beanie, staring out into the rainy darkness

A well-bearded fellow resplendent in long hair, shorts, argyle blue knee socks and a purple baseball cap whose logo I can’t read

A cute blond teenager, alternating between her pink-edged iPad and her phone, with a glimpse of a smile on her face

A distressed looking Aer Lingus employee dressed in a sharp black suit, him no doubt dealing with the realities of a late-arriving airplane

A young man bouncing on his father’s lap, blissfully unaware of our overnight flight to Dublin, Ireland (and perhaps, like me, venturing on in the morning to Brussels, Belgium).

All human beings, doing the best they can to live this life with grace. Me too.

On we go across the big pond …

Unbidden

Words and images float into my brain these days and I don’t know where they come from. It’s not like I’m furrowing my brow and forcing things out from the inside. They just emerge … erupt … bubble up. I don’t even know if this stuff means anything, and I don’t care about that. I’m fascinated with the flow.

Should I be more focused, more intentional? Some small voice within says so. But yes, it is small. There’s a far larger span of being that welcomes the uncertainty, the non-sense, the misty whiteout that often comes close. (I look at the last sentence and wonder at the potential “craziness” there. And I know it’s just fine.)

Lying in bed as the sun rose this morning, I was flooded with the vibrancy of an emerald green field festooned with red flowers. I could smell their breathing. And the dew sat on the shoots poking out of the soil. It was wondrous, and seemed to come not from within me but around me.

Later in the morning, over coffee and a bagel, there came a starry, starry night of village homes, each twinkling on the earth. “This makes no sense,” volunteers the itsy bitsy self that cruises the surface of this Bruceness. (Wow! That doesn’t make sense either. Should I stifle the flow of pictures and colours and words, in an ode to normality? No, I shouldn’t.)

And then there are the words. In their own time, they come by to say hi. Such as “dearly” and “goodly”. I wonder why the “ly”, attached to words that don’t need them. Is there some recess in my mind that provides lots of room for the strange to fall in?

“There are many ways,” offers some far off and yet intimately close being. Or “living in the world at ease”. Or …

The underworld speaks

Love them all … light the world

Stand still in the ocean

Ask them … they know

Follow the drinking gourd [That’s a song, but why here and why now?]

Underwear king

Absent without leave [from some movie]

Sliding away from the vertical

Beckoning you nearer … Please come here

Space walks together, tethered to some immensity

Quiet in the space between your words

Lying on the softness, calling for home

There is no plan, no strategy, no structure. There is simply a broad opening of the mouth, happy with whatever comes forth. And a trust that what emerges will be good, be kind, be of service to … someone.

Frozen II

At the movies tonight, I was swept up into the blast of Elsa and Anna.  I didn’t see the original Frozen and that didn’t matter.  The intensity of II was extreme and I fell in love with the two heroines.

Right now, I can’t remember much about the film, which is thoroughly strange, since I just got home.  So how the heck can I write about it?  Somehow I’m confident that what will come out of my mind will touch home.

Elsa and Anna have huge eyes and the contact between them goes deep.  There’s an aliveness in the relationships here, a sense of going to the core of things, casting off the trivial, and seeing the beauty of the human being facing you.

Elsa hears a voice calling her forward to the unknown.  The music swells as she steps out into the fullness of life.  At one point she walks resolutely into the mist, somehow knowing that she will be safe as the landmarks disappear.  Hers is indeed a calling, and she holds her head high as she embraces the mystery of it all.

There are separations and there are joinings.  The ebbs and flows of living are well represented but the ebbs can’t stop the surge of spirit.  When Elsa sings, there’s a brilliant intensity, a full-throated volume as her mouth opens.  No half measures.  Something huge is propelling her into the marketplace of life, grappling with shallow forces and keeping wide eyes on the vibrancy beyond the mundane.

So it remains for all of us to reach out, touch our dreams, stay true to the world we know in our hearts and want to bring forth in reality.  You don’t have to be pretty or handsome, young and virile, or wise beyond your years.  You just have to see it and want it real bad.

Elsa and Anna stand tall in their vision and in their love for each other. They beckon us onward to our own individual promised lands and to a world that serves all beings.  We dare not settle for less.

The Parade

Every year, on the first Sunday evening of December, the fine citizens of Belmont, Ontario are treated to our Santa Claus Parade, complete with the big guy.  And every year since 1846 I’ve dressed up as Charles Dickens, handing out candy to the short people.

Yesterday morning I got a call from John, the owner of FreshMart.  He sponsors the float that I start off walking beside.  Every year, I’ve never been able to keep up with the rolling hay-bale bed full of kids, because children at the curb deserve their candy and a few words of greeting.

“Bruce, I have 250 candy canes.  Do you think that’ll be enough?”  The Belmont parade has always been a popular destination but as we spoke the freezing rain was coating the world.  I’m no meteorologist or predictor of consumer trends.  However …  “No.  Make it 400.”  I have no idea where that estimate came from.  It didn’t feel like it grew out of my cognitive mind.

I arrived at the staging grounds at 5:30, a half hour before the big rollout.  My task was clear: find kids on floats.  They’d be candyless and probably would remain so for the duration of the parade.  I bet I gave out forty candy canes before the proceedings started proceeding.  Right away, I saw the challenge before me.  Candy canes have their hooked ends, which in a bag tend to resemble a glob of clothes hangers.  Try to get the buggers apart.  Happily, my finger dexterity skills improved as we hit the streets (actually just Main Street).

And now we begin.  Just a sprinkling of kids on the first block, but they were already loving the glitz and glamour that passed before them.  The candy wasn’t bad either.  I saw a girl I had volunteered with three years ago in Grade 6.  She opened her arms for a hug.  I asked if she was under 12, my fictitious limit for bestowing canes.  With a smile she said “Yes”.  During the parade, I asked many adults the same question.  The hardy souls who uttered the same lie got rewarded for their bravado with one of the little hooked things.

In a parade, if a candy dispenser has a favourite line to say, he can do that over and over again since every person is new and fresh.  I loved approaching a little girl or boy and saying “Would you like candy or lettuce?”  I’m sure you can figure out the predominant response, but there were a few kids who bubbled up with “Lettuce!”, to which I replied with “Oh, I just gave out my last bunch two blocks ago!”

So many wide eyes looking up at me with their bags open, hoping that this guy in a top hat, fake moustache and trenchcoat would drop something in.  I didn’t disappoint.  I have a certain radar when it comes to locating children.  I encouraged their nutritional awareness by often commenting “Candy is one of Canada’s Four Major Food Groups … Sugar!”  The parents smiled, knowing that I had spoken the truth.

With two blocks to go, the FreshMart float was long gone, and I was passed by Santa Claus himself.  He and I made eye and wave contact and I silently uttered an oath in favour of a red Lambourghini.  Santa zooming ahead meant the parade was over and families were drifting off to their cars.  Still with candy in my bag, I chased folks down a side street, foisting my wares on unsuspecting but grateful young ones.

I ended my evening walking back towards my car.  Within the festive beauty of Belmont Community Park, I rummaged in my bag for the dregs.  Four adults approached.  I could tell they were all under 12, and so they received candy canes in their palms.  I went to a Christmas display and dumped the contents onto the frozen grass.  Merely fragments of candy remained.

Hey, John … 400 did nicely!  And all was well in the world.

Laughing About It All

In the Evolutionary Collective, we have the opportunity to meet online several times a week. During part of our hour together, each of us is paired with another participant to do the mutual awakening practice. Today I was listening to a fellow from Florida who’s fairly new to the EC.

“Maury” kept saying all these very cool, outside-of-the-box things. My eyes continually widened, and I started laughing, over and over again. I knew I was supposed to keep silent as he spoke but I was too enthralled to keep my mouth closed. I was swept up into the celebration of his words, and my joy kept exploding with his. Deep belly laughs burst out of me. Lovely.

Right now, I’m trying to think of the stuff he said and I can’t remember a darned thing! And guess what? I’m laughing again. Oh, this is strange … and delightful. Why am I so happy with the forgetting of today’s moments?

Tonight I’m going to a meeting in London that probably will last till 11:00. Up until five minutes ago, my understanding was that freezing rain will start around 10:00, leaving me with a wild ride back to Belmont. Now AccuWeather says the downflow will begin in the wee hours. Still, when I thought that I’d be slip-sliding away on my return home, I began laughing again. I imagined my new friend Ruby floating into the ditch and getting banged up some … and still guffaws poured out. What kind of insanity is this? I can’t just laugh my way through all the trials and tribulations of life (can I?)

I’m reminded of “Dustin”, a Buddhist meditation teacher of mine from years ago. He told us yogis about a teacher of his. The very old guy had developed a terminal illness. Time was short. He gathered his students around him, including Dustin, and proceeded to tell them that he had maybe a week left. Sadness poured down over the group. And then the esteemed one began laughing uproariously … “Yes! Only a few more days!” Dustin was stunned, dumbfounded, and any other incredulous word you can think of. Woh … so am I.

***

So, my friends, shall we just chuckle our way through the journey?
Shall we be totally outrageous here?
Shall we drink deep of the mysterious elixir?
What do you say?

Contact Then … Contact Now

I walked down Dundas Street this evening. Cradled in my arms was a bag of kettle corn, with the contents easily finding their way to my mouth. I was en route to the London Knights’ hockey game with the Windsor Spitfires. As I walked through the entrance of Budweiser Gardens, there was still a lot of kettle to be consumed. Staff members eyed me warily as I plunked down on a cushy red chair before reaching the ticket gate. “No outside food or beverage.”

A man can only eat so much sugar, but I was giving it the good old college try. Around a corner was a woman’s voice: “Be a fan … bring a can [for the food bank]. We also accept money donations.” As I continued to munch, she continued to spiel, maybe fifty times.

Finally I reached my nutritional limit. I dropped the rest of the bag into a garbage can and turned toward the entrance attendant. The sing song refrain for donations ceased, replaced with “Bruce Kerr”. (That’s me.) The young woman smiled at me and said “I’m Mary Bartlett.” (I’ve made up a name for her.) My mouth dropped. The face I took in was nowhere near the face I remembered from eighteen years ago. Mary said she was 30, far beyond the 12-year-old kid from a school deep in the past.

“I remember you,” I said. “You were such a free spirit, so much yourself. You spoke your mind. I bet you still do.” Mary smiled some more. I went back in my mind to a girl who stood out from the rest. I knew then that she’d be a fine adult.

I told Mary that I was a member of an international group that’s exploring consciousness, with the intention of bringing more love into the world. “If you’re curious, Google ‘Evolutionary Collective’.” She tapped the name into her phone.

Will I ever see Mary again? Probably not. She’s one of the rare former students who re-entered my life, albeit briefly. I detected gratitude in our moments together.

I know that I’ve contributed to the lives of many kids and teens who now are adults. Rarely do I see the evidence of this face-to-face. Thanks, Mary.

Unbounded

Write five words you can spell

five
words
you
can
spell

What ended in 1896?

1895

(On a physics exam) What is the strongest force on earth?

Love

Expand (a+b)ª

(a+b)ª … (a + b)ª … (a + b)ª … (a + b)ª …

The man can ______. (rub, run, rug)
The man ______ the dog. (fit, hit)

The man can run.
The man pet the dog. (You should not hit dogs)

Write an example of a risk.

This

You are to assume the role of a Chinese immigrant in 1870 and write a letter home describing your experiences.

頁 – 設 – 是 – 煵 – 엌 – 嫠 – 쯦 – 案 – 煪 – ㍱ – 從 – つ – 浳 – 浤 – 搰 – ㍭ – 煤 – 洳 – 橱 – 橱 – 迎 – 事 – 網 – 計 – 簡 – 大 ㍵ – 畱 – 煵 – 田 – 煱 – 둻 – 睤 – ㌹

浳 – 浤 – 搰 – ㍭ – 煤 – 洳 – 橱 – 橱 – 迎 – 事 – 網 – 計 – 簡 – 大 ㍵ – 畱 – 煵 – 田 – 煱 – 둻 – 睤 – ㌹

煵 – 엌 – 嫠 – 쯦 – 案 – 煪 – ㍱ – 從 – つ – 浳 – 浤 – 搰 – ㍭ – 煤 – 洳 – 橱

Name the shapes: Δ Ο ◊ ∠ Ω

Δ (Bob) Ο (Terry) ◊ (Denise) ∠ (Murphy) Ω (Barb)

(Test on hard and soft water) Briefly explain what hard water is.

Ice

What do we call the science of classifying living things?

Racism

Solve: 1/n sin x =

funny-test-answers-smartass-kids-6

I earn money at home by _______.

I don’t. I am a freeloader.

Can a man still reproduce with one testicle?

No, girls don’t find that shit attractive.

The difference between 180 and 158is ______. Explain how you found your answer.

22. Math.

Where was the American Declaration of Independence signed?

At the bottom.

What happens during puberty to a boy?

He says goodbye to his childhood and enters adultery.

Cause: Tony practices the piano 20 minutes every day.
Effect: __________

He is a big nerd.

To change centimeters to meters you __________.

Take out centi.

Tapeworms are hemaphrodites. What is meant by the term “hermaphrodite”?

Lady Gaga

Miranda can’t see anything when she looks down her microscope. Suggest one reason why not.

She is blind.

How many days are in a week? ______
How many months are in a year? ______
Is this number even or odd? 68 ______
How do you know? ______

How many days are in a week? … 7
How many months are in a year? … 12
Is this number even or odd? 68 … even
How do you know? … because I’m smart

***

Aren’t we all

1087 … 7801?

This is the 1087th post I’ve written on WordPress. A journey indeed. It all started on June 20, 2014:

I retired yesterday and decided to declare 4:00 pm as the end point of my teaching career. My wife Jody and I have a lovely home on a deep lot. At the back of our lot are maybe 20 metres of trees, and then it’s on to a farmer’s field and beyond that a wide expanse of trees leading down into a ravine.

Taking my trusty red fabric chair in hand, not to mention a Bacardi Breezer, I trundled off to a spot at the edge of the field and plunked myself down. It was 3:00 o’clock. The sky was blue. The wind whistled through the trees. The shade was cool. One hour away from being a retired human being.

That was many chapters ago in the patchwork quilt of a life. “Sitting and Watching” grew out of the person I was becoming since 1949. Reflecting on retirement wasn’t just a moment beside a field in Union, Ontario. The words spilled out under the influence of Toronto, Vancouver, Lethbridge and London; under the influence of accounting, teaching, social work, life insurance and real estate; and under the influence of confidence, depression, courage and wimpiness.

Five years after that first post, I’m still on the road towards the unknown. Who will I be in ten years? What current parts of Bruce will I have left behind? What outrageous newness will flood my being?

The journey hasn’t been a gentle uphill climb. There have been soarings and plummetings, twistings and turnings. More to come.

In 2030, I may not recognize the soul in the mirror. I may be living in New York City. I may be impossibly handsome. But whatever the world gives me, I bet I’ll be smiling.

The Java Shop

Many moons ago, I was a 20-year-old university student in Toronto, knowing virtually no places except TO.  And I knew this was a problem.  When I noticed cards advertising a summer jobs booklet, I wrote away to any employer who lived far away.  Three positions were offered.  Since one was a resort in Southern Ontario, there really were two to choose from.

There was the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton Lakes National Park, Alberta and The Java Shop in Fort Macleod, Alberta.  Research at my public library revealed a panoramic view of a Swiss chalet hotel standing on a hill above a long lake, with two rows of mountains framing the scene.  My God.  I was sold.  See you around, prairie coffee shop.

Indeed I would.  The bus bringing me south from Calgary made a stopover in Fort Macleod.  The Java Shop doubled as the Greyhound depot.  Awesome!  I’d get to experience what I’d missed in choosing the PW.

I walked through the door and felt the call of nature part two.  Too distracted to notice the pioneer ambiance, I highstepped to the washroom.  I reached for the cubicle handle, barely noticing the box hanging beneath.  The door did not open.  A sign on the box said “25 cents”.  What?!  Pay a quarter to poop?  What kind of place was this?

Girding my loins, I laid down on my back and started pulling myself under the door.  What awaited my gaze was a row of metal teeth welded to the bottom edge.  Oh my.  Take me home, country roads.

***

And so The Java Shop became a joke in my memory.  I thought of the place today and went to Mr. Google to see how it was doing.  A 2008 article in the Macleod Gazette told all:

A Fort Macleod landmark is closed.  The Java Shop served its final meals Friday after decades as a popular meeting place and destination.  “I think it’s a tragedy,” long-time Fort Macleod businessman Frank Eden said.  The distinctive building at the corner of Second Avenue and 23rd Street has long been a popular meeting and eating place, and home to the Greyhound depot.

On Friday customers returned to The Java Shop for a wake of sorts, to say their goodbyes and enjoy one last meal — on the house.

The Java Shop was an important part of life in Fort Macleod, cultivating its share of regulars like Chris Cheesman, the Town of Fort Macleod’s electric department superintendent.  “I had my morning ritual to come here every morning to pick up my coffee and my two daily newspapers,” Cheesman said.  Cheesman had another ritual associated with The Java Shop.  It’s where he would bring his daughter Sara for special father-daughter meals.  “Fort Macleod is kind of a hub, and The Java Shop is part of the hub,” Cheesman said.  “The spokes of that hub are now shattered.”  Cheesman also recalled special feelings attached with picking up Christmas packages delivered by bus, and meeting loved ones travelling on Greyhound.

Greyhound bus drivers looked upon The Java Shop as an oasis on the prairie.  “Coming through Fort Macleod, this was my supper break or this was my breakfast break,” said retired driver Al Douglas, who spent 35 years behind the wheel for Greyhound.  “You were dying to get here.”  Drivers appreciated the warm welcome and friendly service they received.  “It was great,” said retired driver Lorne Eremenko, who put in 38 years with Greyhound.  “You were always treated good here.”

Eremenko: “This was so busy you wouldn’t believe it.”  Added Douglas: “I can remember us having nine or ten buses lined up in the alley.  You won’t see that anymore.”  The two retired drivers agreed The Java Shop was a Fort Macleod landmark.  “It didn’t matter where they were from,” Douglas said of his passengers.  “People knew The Java Shop.”

Waitress Judy Thomas, who has worked on and off at The Java Shop for 23 years, spent Friday consoling her soon-to-be former customers, putting on a brave smile and handing out hugs.  “I’m going to miss the people who come in here, even though I always gave them a hard time,” Judy, as she is known to everyone, said with a smile.  “I’m going to miss the people big time.”

***

I would have been a Java Shop employee sixteen years before Judy arrived on the scene.  I would have been part of a longstanding tradition of welcome.  I would have been in the centre of the community.

But I chose elsewhere, missing out on an experience far greater than coin boxes and jagged teeth.

You Ask … I Do

I wonder if it’s as simple as that.  You ask me to do something, and I do it (unless the doing would be harmful to me or others).  Should I hold myself back a little more?  Show some discretion?  Pick and choose which requests I’m willing to act on?

Last Friday afternoon, the kids were working on an art assignment.  Each one drew a deciduous tree and coloured the background in tiles of varying shades of green (for the grass) and blue (for the sky).  Someone asked if I was going to create one.  I said yes, grabbed a piece of art paper, and sat down amid a glom of children.

Most of the student trees looked pretty much the same, and I decided to venture elsewhere.  I made the ball of leaves far bigger and the branches spreading wider.  The wood of the kids’ trees was uniformly brown, it seemed.  It was time for me to rock the tree world.  I plucked orange, blue and yellow highlighters from their bin and set to the task.  Soon the trunk and branches were layers of these colours.  My tree glowed and so did I.  The kids nearby noticed, and sent a few ooos and ahhs my way.

As the first bell rang, I sat back and admired the fluorescence.  From behind me came a voice:

“Mr. Kerr, may I have your painting?”

With nary a thought entering my head, I said “Yes” and handed over the tree.  You ask … I do.

***

Now it’s today.  The teacher needed a bathroom break and asked if I would cover for a few minutes.  As soon as he was out the door, another girl said “Mr. Kerr, sing us a song.”

I smiled.  Inside the words “Of course” welled up and I started in.  I had sung The Wings That Fly Us Home at a meeting of the Evolutionary Collective in May.  This time, I was forgetting lots of the lines.  I stopped, pulled out my phone and found the lyrics, just as the recess bell rang.  Probably fifteen kids got their coats on and headed out to the yard.  Eight stayed and gathered around me.  I sang the whole song.  Someone had asked me to.

***

Why resist the requests?
Why say no to life?
Why not just do it?

The spirit fills the darkness of the heavens
It fills the endless yearning of the soul
It lives within a star too far to dream of
It lives within each part and is the whole
It’s the fire and the wings that fly us home