Tomorrow, Death Comes

Ardently do today what must be done
Who knows?
Tomorrow, death comes

The Buddha

What if the rumour is true, that I will die tomorrow? First of all, I don’t have time for this. I need to pack for Belgium and Senegal. Secondly, I like a gradual approach to things. Knocking off in a few hours would be far too … spontaneous. Not to mention that I’d need to get my affairs in order first. And no, no – not that type of affair.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I could die right now and be happy. No regrets. It’s been a fine life. I’ve touched many people and have welcomed their sweet influence in return. I have done my part in having the Earth be a better place. I’d prefer to have twenty more years of human contact but if the jig is up tonight, I’ll lie down with a grin on my face.

But back to tomorrow. If the sands run out at 4:00 pm, how will I spend my morning? If I had superdupersonic speed at my disposal, would I jet off to some vacation spot that I’m supposed to visit before I die? Hmm. Guess I need to give you an example:

Bora Bora is the poster child of the iconic tropical paradise. This island sits 143 miles northwest of Papeete, in the South Pacific, and features the extraordinary turquoise waters, white sand beaches, and beautiful greenery you’d hope to find in the tropics – only it’s more fantastic than you can imagine.

Would that do it? Surely turquoise would provide the ending bliss appropriate for an ending human being. I’ll just cram some turquoise inside and all will be well. Maybe.

***

Speaking of cramming, how about a sumptuous meal at the world’s finest restaurant, which as we all know is … Osteria Francescana – twelve tables in the heart of Modena.

Italian hospitality is in the details
the ironed tablecloths and the polished silver
It is an ensemble of gestures that define a way of life
The table is where the journey begins

Blah, blah, blah

But if I’m about to expire, do I really want to be loosening my belt so my stomach can breathe? To need a nap before the really lengthy one sets in? No thanks.

***

Okay, what else? I know … sex! Eight hours of orgasmic bliss with multiple Hollywood beauties? Uhh … then a short remaining life of being sore and exhausted. More sleeping needed, again before the big snooze.

***

So, if not these imposters … what is left to ardently do?

How about finding one open-hearted one
either male or female
and looking deep into their eyes until mine close
gazing upon the beloved as my finale nears?

Yes, that will do nicely

Spacious

About six months ago, “Geoff” and “Barbara” moved into our condo community to be close to their daughter and her family. I’d say they’re both in their 70’s. Geoff can’t drive any more and is starving for male companionship. That’s where I come in. Every two or three weeks, I drive him to the Belmont Diner for breakfast. Geoff is very appreciative.

We sat around the horseshoe-shaped counter today with five local guys. One asked how Geoff could stand me. He replied with something like “Oh, it’s a challenge.” And the banter flows. Geoff’s a natural. He makes wry comments about the political situation and is already taking a playful jab or two at the assembled locals. All in good fun.

Geoff doesn’t see well and he doesn’t move well but his spirit is strong. He doesn’t let his current physicality determine his congeniality. And he laughs at himself. The guys already like him.

In the summer, I sat on Geoff’s deck, which like my patio backs onto a field, this year planted with corn. I remember him talking about the beauty of the green stalks, their tips waving in the breeze. Geoff sees. Geoff feels, and is willing to talk about it. Rare.

We went for a drive this morning after breakie, and my friend was so thankful for the journey. He waxed poetic about the feeling of space, the long views across the fields. Once again I marvelled. Here is a kindred spirit … drinking in the majesty of the world. His previous home near St. Catharines, Ontario was overrun with dull gloms of sameness – expensive homes that somehow all looked like each other. The extended tongue of urban life. Now, already after a few months, Geoff was home.

I wanted to show him the golf course I love – Tarandowah – now blanketed in white. I told him about the flow of the fairways, the long fescue grass in the rough, the Canada geese flying overhead, the silence. He got it. He was there with me as I wondered at it all. I thought about the club members I know. Not a one has ever cast their eyes to the horizon and talked of the loneliness of the links, the sensuous undulations of the seventh green, the vista from the fourth tee. Thank you, Geoff, for entering my world.

On the way home, we talked of trees. Geoff told me of the “Serengeti tree” he sees framed in his living room window, and how the sunset through the branches is glorious.

Just like my neighbour, I too am home.

Free

We will begin to marvel that we let ourselves build our lives around the belief that we, the real self, were identified with these various descriptions, which descriptions required so much protection, justification, grief, anger, pride and so on.  So much vital energy.  We exhaust ourselves in the support of our descriptions.

I don’t know who wrote this but I like it.

As soon as I say “I am X”, there’s the opportunity for fear, smallness, defense.  “Could it be that I’m not really X?”  And would that possibility be a problem?  If it is, I better muster lots of energy to protect the truth of my Xness.  There are enemies out there who want to prove I’m actually not X.  I tighten my fists to beat them back.

I am a real man
I am intelligent
I am kind
I am determined
I am handsome
I am mature
I am generous
I am athletic
I am creative
I am popular
I am loved

But what if, sometimes, I’m not?  What then?  If I shrug my shoulders and say “Oh well” without feeding the statement and its contradiction, what would happen in my life?  Would angst fade to the background?  Would a reservoir of energy previously invisible be revealed?

I believe the answer is “Yes”.

Perhaps I’m not a personality riding on the roller coaster of life, raising my head here, letting it slump there.  Maybe I’m a fierce spiritual being who’s vibrant with the energy that flows outwards and unconcerned with the energy coming in.  There might not be any deficit, nothing to be fixed or improved.  What’s it’s all about could simply be expression rather than reaction, giving rather than fending off, flowing rather than damming.

In my better moments …

Bruce, you’re free
Bruce, you’re simply a space vibrating with possibility
Bruce, you’re marvelously sufficient
And did I mention that you’re free?

Choir

As a teenager, I sang in the Melrose Park Presbyterian Church Choir in Toronto.  In my 50’s, I sang in the Port Stanley Community Choir.  Throughout the years, we made beautiful music in the blending of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses.  I was a bass … and I still am.  I love singing.

Now I’ve moved to Belmont, Ontario, and there’s a new group on the block – the Belmont Community Singers.  I went to hear them this afternoon at the United Church.  Part of me still wants to sing exquisite songs with others, but I lean towards doing that in a folk music group rather than in a formal choir.  Still … there I was in the front row, only a few feet from a violinist.  Twenty-five singers and an small orchestra.  Lovely.

I was the only one in the front row.  Otherwise the church was pretty packed.  Perhaps I’m odd.  As I sat there, I journeyed back to other Christmas concerts, at the Port Stanley United Church.  How I loved singing O Come All Ye Faithful with the audience, listening to Gord Stacey give us O Holy Night in his deep bass voice, and finish the concert each year with the delightful A Special Night.  As the last note hung in the air, I always wondered if that would be the last time I’d sing this precious song.  One year … it was.

The Belmont Singers walked to the church sanctuary from the back, and soon Break Into Song did exactly that.  Most of the faces were shining.  I only knew one singer but it felt like I knew them all.

A woman strode forward for her solo.  It was Gord’s song – O Holy Night.  She was nervous.  Within the first few notes, her voice cracked.  She apologized.  She coughed.  Amid the beautiful melodic moments, there was more cracking.  I moved my spirit inside her and wished her well.  I stayed inside her the whole time, loving her, willing that her best would emerge.  Near the end of the piece, there’s a very high note.  She nailed it!  Waydago, my unknown friend.

“Brian” was the choir director.  He kept drawing out the beauty of the music from twenty-five mouths.  They were so very much with him.  And so were we.  For one thing, he was a major comedian.  At one point, he was requesting that we leave our e-mail addresses after the concert so the Singers could let us know about future musical events.  “Okay, that’s enough selling!  Back to the songs.”  Perfect.

We the audience got to sing with the choir.  What a blessing.  Armed with our lyrics sheet, we blasted out It Came Upon A Midnight Clear and then (!) O Come All Ye FaithfulJust like the good old days.

As we let the last notes of We Wish You A Merry Christmas fade away, we were a community.  Singers and players stood in response to the standing audience.  Smiles were flying across the room.  Merry Christmas, dear friends.

***

Will I allow the good old days to return?
Will that be me on the stage a year or two from now?
Hmm …

Find a Ball

I think back forty years.  I was teaching a life skills program at Lethbridge Community College in Alberta, designed for young adults who were struggling in some respect, and who wanted to get into regular college programs.  We were on a winter outdoor education trip to the mountains.  We had just completed a loop trip on snowshoes, including portions on trails and another on a road.

As we approached our van, John came up to me.  “I think I dropped my glasses back up there on the road.”  (Sigh)  I looked inside and immediately knew that I would go back and find them.  The students would huddle in the van with the guy who was supervising with me.

Off I went, alone.  Not too wise, in retrospect (the alone part).  As I trudged upward, it became so clear in my head: Somewhere, John’s glasses would appear before my eyes.  And they did.

***

Now today.  After a scrumptious brunch and several conversations at the Mount Elgin Golf Club, I decided to walk the fairways of Tarandowah … my friend and lover.  Yes, I am in love with the windswept fairways, the deep pot bunkers, the undulating greens, the silence.

I decided to walk the six holes that would loop me back to Scarlet.  Soon a quest emerged in my mind: “Find a golf ball.”  My goodness, what a silly thought.  Tarandowah was covered in snow.  Finding white amidst a sea of white seemed hopeless.  Actually ridiculous.  To which my quiet voice replied … “Find a ball.”

Alrighty then.  I said hi to Hole Number 1, and to Number 3.  I stood behind the green of Number 14, reliving the scene that shines on my bedroom wall.  Today was winter rather than summer, but that didn’t matter.  So far no emerging white spheres, but my faith kept erupting.  Dear Number 6 has a mound in the middle of the fairway – such a delightful and unfair obstacle for determined golfers.  There was lots of white on the mound, even a few globs of snow that were roughly round, but no dimpled fellow that I could see.

I crossed the bridge over the creek on Number 7.  Way off to the right, at the bottom of things, a white ball appeared to show itself, but wading into freezing waters just isn’t my thing.

On each hole, I scrutinized the bunkers.  They were all tilted up, facing back to the tees.  At the front, all you needed was a step or two down to enter the kingdom but the far edges were usually at chest level and adorned with a beard of long fescue grass.  I often stood on the fairway or rough above the high edge and looked down, hoping to see some white regularity among the strands.  Nothing.

There are huge mounds behind the green on Number 8, bordered by a sea of gnarly grass.  I looked here, I looked there, but as far as I could tell, no golf balls winked back at me.

Finally Number 9 and the return to Scarlet.  I seemed to be running out of options but there was a fierceness within.  “The ball is here.  Find it!”  Number 9 is a par five and I roamed from bunker to bunker without satisfaction.  All that remained was to cross the 18th green on the way to the parking lot.  Four more bunkers loomed.

First – blah.

Second – nyet.

Third – endless snow.

And now the fourth.  My quiet voice said “Walk onto the sand.”  I did.  “Approach the far wall,” with its flurry of long grasses hanging.  I did.  “Run your hands down through the vertical grass.”  I did … nothing.  “Again.”  I did.  “Keep going.”  On my fifth or sixth swipe, my mitted fingers bounced off something solid.  I pulled the grass away.

Embedded in a pocket of frozen mud
I read these words:
“TaylorMade 22”
A golf ball

So …
What’s real?

Kids’ Party

It was happening tonight at the St. Thomas Library – performers singing, playing instruments and telling stories. Kids showing their stuff to other kids taking it in. Wide eyes from the little ones.

First up were the “Jingle J’s”, children singing as well as playing guitar, ukulele and drums, along with adults grooving as lead guitarist, bass guitarist and backup singer. Songs ranged from Silent Night to Momma Rock Me – beautifully eclectic! The young’uns were hopping around and warbling their tunes. They urged we the audience to sing along to classics such as Feliz Navidad but very few of us grabbed the golden ring. I, however, grabbed. Life is short … go for the gusto.

Then it was time for a lovely lady storyteller. She sat on the floor, leaning against a chair, with a semi-circle of five-year-olds spread around her. As she recounted the innumerable adventures of Santa and friends, tiny faces watched her every move. One two-year-old decided to bounce on an upholstered chair while checking the traffic outside. All those cool red and white lights! Her smile aimed at mom would melt the grumpiest heart.

The story creator then turned to song, specifically Jingle Bells. She just happened to have enough wrist bells for every child, and they shook, rattled and rolled for all they were worth. Such delight everywhere l looked.

As Gerard took the stage with his acoustic guitar, a little girl and boy professed their love for each other in dance. Around and around they twirled as he sang, oblivious to any idea of “performance”. Let’s just have fun.

Our fearless leader favoured us with Ricky Nelson’s Garden Party and inspiring lyrics from John Lennon:

A very Merry Christmas
and a Happy New Year
Let’s hope it’s a good one
Without any fear

And our mini-couple danced on.

As Gerard started in on Blowin’ in the Wind, one of my favourite singalongs, the woman sitting beside me leaned over and proceeded to tell me all about the children she sponsors in Africa. And in that moment I had a choice: indulge my singing needs or be with her. I decided to look into her eyes and celebrate the kids. It was a good choice.

Now our evening together is over. I spent time with many fine people and I am the better for it. Folks wanted to communicate. I wanted to listen. It works well that way.

Kids’ Play

There’s nothing like the annual Christmas play in elementary school.  Today I got to watch a practice.  How marvelous to see children be children.  I tried to imagine adults doing all the cool stuff I witnessed.  Sometimes the imagining was a stretch.

One young lady has perfected “Bah humbug!”  It wasn’t just her face, which was a contorted mask of fury.  Her whole body got into the act, crouching down in a spasm of scowl.  I just had to applaud.  Sure wouldn’t want to meet her in a dark alley.

Three elves, two girls and a boy, were doing their conversational thing.  The fellow kept extending his ball of greenery towards the nearest girl.  Mistletoe!  She cringed and backed away from him, fending off the offending amour with her arms.  Then he did it again … and so did she!  Ahh, the battle of the sexes.

And soon there were grandma and grandpa, expecting holiday mail.  At the end of the scene, the darling couple exited the stage with their twin canes, slow and bent over as I hope I never am.  (Good luck on that, Bruce)  How strange to see 10-year-olds hobbling along in pain.  My brain just couldn’t make sense of it.  Good acting.

Next was the mailman, striding onto a long white box which doubled as a slippery sidewalk.  Down she went in a heap, slip-sliding away.  Letters and presents tumbled every whichway.  Pure slapstick fun.

Also, what would a Christmas play be without reindeer?  Eight of them lined up on the box, with antler heads proudly displayed.  Arms were flying in the air and mouths bellowed the good and bad.  What a motley crew … and immensely lovable too.  You should have seen them all hopping off at the end.

My favourite moment was when a young girl was pleading with someone  – I think the mailman.  Hands in prayer position … imploring, begging.  So good.  Soon to be followed by another girl, crying her eyes out, in the best tradition of drama.  Angst always gets me.

I smiled a lot
I clapped
And I wished that more than a few of those kids were mine
Maybe next lifetime

Leaping

I was driving to school this morning on a country road. At one point, I was vaguely aware of a cornfield to my right, full of old, yellow stalks. Suddenly a deer comes out of the corn and leaps the fence, clambering onto the road. I slammed on my brakes and saw the doe pass by about fifteen feet in front of my bumper.

“Oh my God, I could have killed that beautiful animal! How could I live with myself?” My mind zoomed back forty years to another country road, in Alberta, and the sickening sight in my rearview mirror of a red fox flying through the air. He died on the asphalt and I was undone in grief.

“Do no harm, Bruce.” That’s been a mantra of mine for many a moon. Killing a living being, even unintentionally, is a gross example of harm, but so is ignoring someone at a party or not opening a door for a struggling senior.

There was the beauty of the being bounding over the fence. There was the sacredness of life. There was blood and ruin in my mind. There was transcendence of our earthly fetters. There was love. Thoughts mingled and twisted. All springing from a single moment in time.

Part of me doesn’t want to soar on the wings of ten seconds here, ten seconds there. “It’s too tiring.” A wiser Bruce, however, says to feel it all … because all will come my way.

We leap
We fall
We leap again

Ten Dollars

I’ve written before about my hobby: picking up garbage on the sidewalks and gutters of Belmont.  It makes me happy.  Today I left home for the Diner on Main Street a half hour early since I knew there’d be an aftermath from Sunday’s Santa Claus Parade.

I was right.  I picked up about 130 cigarette butts on my trip south, plus assorted candy wrappers … and one complete chocolate bar!  My goal used to be to find lots of butts, sort of like a sports event.  Now I’m older and wiser.  The goal is zero.  However, today it wasn’t meant to be.

On the return journey, I found that the northerly citizens of Belmont were just as prolific as the southerly ones.  I was in mid-stoop when I caught a glimpse of a mauve rectangle ahead, nestled against some wet leaves in the gutter.  My eyes widened.  It was a ten dollar bill.  On previous trips, I’d stumbled upon a quarter here, a dime there, but this was verging on the miraculous.

The thought came … find the owner.  Okay, now how exactly am I supposed to do that?  Knock on a few doors, have folks check in their wallets and purses, and figure out if they’re short a ten spot?  Ah … no.

Nearby, two fellows were talking on the sidewalk.  I held up the bill, looked at one of them and said “Would you like this?”  And from what deep recess of my mind did that thought come?  I know I’m altruistic, but still.  The gentleman laughed and replied “No way.  You deserve it.  You’re the one picking up litter.”  Okay, point taken.  I returned the smile and placed Sir John A. Macdonald in my back pocket.

As I finished my walk home, that little piece of plastic money weighed me down.  “You don’t deserve it, Bruce.  It’s stealing.  Give it to charity.”  And other mumbo jumbo.  Finally I just accepted its presence in my life.  It’s a gift from the ether.  Some unknown force wants me to have ten dollars.  I need to accept it with grace.  By the time I put key into lock, the money was truly mine.

I think of other gifts, especially people’s kind words and deeds.  “Put them in your back pocket too, Bruce.  And say thank you.”  Hmm.  Good advice.

 

The Santa Parade

I couldn’t help myself last night.  I just had to dress up like Charles Dickens for the Belmont Santa Claus Parade.  It was full regalia: dress shirt and tie, top hat, long dress coat and a red scarf (courtesy of the TFC soccer team).  Oh, and I used spirit gum to develop an instant moustache, a black handlebar jobbie.

I walked down Main Street to the staging area an hour before the departure time, coming across various gaggles of humanity.  Each time, I announced myself as Charles Dickens, arrived earlier in the day from England, and asked if there was a parade happening soon.  Most people laughed and joined in the fun.  One couple playfully directed me to the wrong end of town.  A few folks just stared but that’s okay.  I guess I was an abrupt shock.

Down at parade central, I joshed with kids and adults, many of whom I knew, as the rain began.  It would last for the next hour.  My task was to walk beside the Belmont Diner float, handing out mini-chocolate bars.  Based on my parading two years ago, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep up.  Kids deserved their five seconds of eye contact.  So my bag was plum full of tasty treats.  I felt “like a peddler, just opening his pack.”  Strength training here I come.

As our cavalcade spilled onto Main Street, there were the kids … hundreds of them on the route.  One bar for each small human, and a huge mustachioed smile.  “Merry Christmas!”,  “God bless us everyone”, and other assorted holiday greetings.  I mentioned to the adults that they’d get chocolate if they were under 15, and many of them happily volunteered that they were.  The ones who spoke up got a bar.  Why not?

I told a few kids that hidden beneath the plastic wrapping of their treat was a lovely piece of broccoli.  Pained faces, until I corrected that to chocolate, “which as we all know is one of Canada’s four major food groups.  By the way, the other three are also chocolate.”  So … many smiles.

I saw lots of kids I knew, and received several hugs from children who could see beneath my disguise to the Mr. Kerr within.  I only forgot one name and awkwardly looked at the boy for a few seconds after “Merry Christmas”.  I was sad that I couldn’t remember his name.  After all, he was in the class where I volunteered last year.  But that’s life.  Perfection is not me.

I was so happy to see people, young and old, who are part of my life.  And they were happy to see me.  Belmont has been my home for two years and now I belong.  What a sweet feeling.

As someone wise once said
“Home is where the heart is”