My doorbell rang half-an-hour ago. I love my doorbell. It sounds like a classical pianist floating his fingers over the keys in a series of descending runs. Sometimes I ring my own doorbell … just for fun.
A boy of about 11 stood before me. I’ll call him Trevor. I know him a bit. He’s in the Grade 6 class that I miss volunteering in. And he was selling pepperette sausages. I opted for 25 hot ones and 25 honey-garlic. He was pleased.
The moment was also in front of me. Trevor mentioned that all the kids missed me. I was glad and sad. The opportunity was to tell him the entire truth about why I’m not at school right now. Or … just part of the truth. I decided on the whole enchilada.
The first reason is that the school board isn’t allowing any volunteers onsite – just paid staff. Strangely, it wasn’t even tempting to rely on that reason alone. It would have been a convenient out: some officials made the decision. Nothing I can do about it.
No thanks. “Partial” leaves a sour taste in my mouth. So I sprung for reason number two. “I don’t feel safe about being in the classroom. I’m 71, at higher risk for contracting Covid. And there’s no way that 26 kids can stay six feet away from each other in a classroom.”
I love those kids. And taking care of my health comes first. As soon as I told Trevor the truth, I sighed. The truth simply works. Nothing left out. Clean.
I look forward to a future WordPress post about my return to the young ones.
Last fall was not this fall. One of the many differences is my presence in the classroom as a volunteer. A year ago, I was in the Grade 5/6 class about four half-days a week. Now it’s not at all. No volunteers allowed, plus I’m too scared to go back. Advanced age, you know, and little social distancing.
What you see in front of you is the framed version of a collage, composed of 23 kids and me. We coloured our figure and added words that were important to us. Here were my choices:
Kind, folk music, elliptical tennis, you, golf, determined love, 70, connection, meditation hands, January 9, 1949
Twelve months on, the words still ring true … mostly. I haven’t been on the elliptical at the gym since March, and I don’t care about golf anymore, but love is still the coolest thing around.
I miss the kids but there is still a connection between us. Unspoken right now, unseen with the physical eye, and undoubtedly joined through the heart. Our time will come. I will again sit in my favourite spot – on top of a cupboard – and feel the flow of learning and wondering.
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!
For years I’ve told people: “The last time I looked, I was 25.” Guess I haven’t been looking too often.
My wee backyard slopes up to a farmer’s field. A couple of weeks ago, huge machines came by and hustled the crop of winter wheat off the earth. I had enjoyed the waving strands and was feeling a little naked about it all.
Offending my sense of the flow of land was a border between grass and stubble: two feet of eighteen-inch-tall weeds. Although cute white butterflies often floated over the fifty-foot length, I decided that action was required. “I’ll chop ’em down!”
Lacking a shovel in my relatively new condo life (each of us has a separate building), I borrowed one from my always helpful neighbour. Two days ago, I set to the task. Moderate morning temperature, lots of sun, lots of water, and a sweatband adorning my forehead. “I can do this.”
Being a relatively intelligent person, I got the hose out for plenteous watering. “Look at how I’m softening the soil. This is easy.” Indeed, the shovel found its mark with aplomb, over and over again. But there were so many overs and overs, and my breaks in the shade gradually grew. Fifty feet looked like a marathon.
But I did it! In a tidy three hours. I had visions of bagging the resulting greens shortly thereafter, but my breathing was a mite heavy, as were my legs. “Tomorrow.”
Early afternoon I pulled the covers up to my chin and snoozed for an hour. Then a ninety-minute Zoom call with the Evolutionary Collective. After that, I contemplated some meditation, maybe reading some more of Stephen King’s The Stand. The answer to both came back clearly … “No.” I was dull of body and spirit.
Yesterday morning dawned as a perfect bagging day … not too hot, and ripe with the thrill of accomplishment. I started bending over to pick up the branches, the roots and the dirt. I enlisted a dolly to transport each full bag to the side of the house. “See how I’m saving energy? What a good boy am I!”
I lasted eight bags full, a task which somehow took almost two hours. “Hmm. Thought I’d last longer than this. Oh well. I’ll call it a morning.” And so to bed … for more than two hours. Then another Zoom call. In the evening, I watched Alice In Wonderland but I could barely keep my eyes open for her return up the rabbit hole.
Nine hours later, I awoke. As far as I can recollect, that was this morning. Everything in the lower half ached. Basic bathroom tasks were problematic. Walking was a pale version of Bruceness. The eyes appeared to be laden with lead weights.
Essentially I’ve stumbled through my day with scarcely a glance towards the backyard. My bed welcomed me for yet another two hours. Is this my future – professional napping? And another question … how exactly have I been able to gather mind and body sufficiently to write this post? Must be divine intervention.
Back to the original question. 25 or 71? Well, right now it feels more like 93.
Could it be that I’m aging?
Could it be that this is just fine?
Yes, that certainly could be
Take kindly the counsel of the years Gracefully surrendering the things of youth
That’s me. And how do I know? It’s simple, really. I meet the two basic requirements:
1. anatomical equipment
That should be the end of the story. But TV tells me otherwise. Consider the supplement commercial. Now I have nothing against supplements. I take a few myself, focusing on joint care and digestive health. But what I saw yesterday was different.
Along comes this v-shaped guy who’s sprinting along. Alas … Father Time is catching up with him, and the “v” is becoming a “u”. The spring is slowing to a plod. To the rescue comes a capsule – a magic pill that will no doubt produce a miracle transformation.
The announcer knows how to get my attention:
Feeling invisible? Get noticed! This is man-boosting More drive and passion Get back your swagger Feel younger
Two human beings take centre stage. One has recovered his “v” and sports lumpy muscles. The other has a 20-inch waist and fluttering eyes. She rubs his bicep to the accompaniment of “Ooo …”
The messages hide seductively beneath the surface: As I am (unlumpy), I’m not good enough. I need to add to what is here right now. I will be alone for the rest of my life unless I “man up”. Aging is bad.
It all seems so silly to me. Why add to uniqueness? Why focus on “less than” (or for that matter “better than”)? They’re both illusions. Commercials can hypnotize. I choose to see clearly what the truth is.
The subject is tanning. I’ve had a lot of history about the topic. A lot of angstful energy has accompanied my emerging life.
I knew the truth early: girls like guys with a tan, and I didn’t have one. In high school, a last minute invite to a friend’s cottage called for desperate measures. My friend had a gorgeous older sister (age 17) and my body was white. That just wouldn’t do. My teenaged mind knew how to fix things though, a day or two before the big weekend: buy a tube of some permatan goop and apply it liberally to all the places that should be brown. I woke up the morning after application to find that my fine motor skills weren’t optimal. My chest had gross orange streaks, as did my back. And my toes? Perfect ridges of artificial darkness framed by lily white skin. (Sigh) It was a forgettable weekend chock full of self-esteem spasms.
The need was still strong as I became a newbie adult. The backyard, hemmed in by lots of bushes and trees, would provide me the solitude necessary for unselfconscious tanning. But there was that one neighbourly window staring down in likely disapproval. During all my darking sessions, I never saw any face looking at me but I bet there were lots of them behind the glass – laughing and immediately posting photos on Instagram. (Wait a minute … there wasn’t any Instagram. Whew.)
I remember being called “Whitefoot” for years. The tan line went down from my shorts to the top of my socks. Forearms also looked good. But the rest of me? Yuck. And when inattention led to sunburn, I had the distinction of being tri-coloured. More “woe is me” doldrums.
In prep for Caribbean vacations, I’ve hung around in standing tanning booths. With lengthy periods of commitment, I emerged looking … good. Naturally brown. No doubt a man’s man. A likely recipient of womanly attention, but on the beach it didn’t seem like any lovely lasses even noticed. (Sigh again)
At the beginning of this summer, I stretched a robin’s egg blue sheet over a foam pad and toasted my bod on the back patio. “It’s only June. Imagine what I’ll look like in August!”
Well, it’s August, and a miracle has happened:
I’m still white
I don’t care
I’ve just lost interest … for the first time in my life
I didn’t grit my teeth. I didn’t spew out endless and tanless affirmations. I didn’t do anything. But the need for brown is gone. How incomprehensible.
The divine force within you is mightier than any mountain
I love watching shows where kids discover their own power. For the last four years, I’ve volunteered in a Grade 6 classroom, and my mission has been to hold a mirror up to the children’s faces, so they can see their own goodness.
Subscribing to Disney Plus has been a marvel for me. I find stories where the 10-year-old or the 16-year-old impacts life. They step forward, rather than fall back into the shadows. They speak rather than waiting to be spoken to. They stand tall.
A few weeks ago, I discovered Elena of Avalor – fifty-one episodes that show how the orphaned teenager moves towards being a future queen. I’ve seen nine of them so far, and I’ve enjoyed Elena’s leadership, courage and kindness.
Last night I couldn’t remember some of Elena’s backstory so I decided to watch the first episode again. Halfway through, something strange was happening to me. “This is very special, Bruce. Pay attention.” So I did. I realized that while it’s a good story, and while Elena is pretty and smart, something deeper was roaming around my soul.
This photo speaks. What does it say to you? I see Elena looking at someone. There is contact here … a deep joining that’s beyond big eyes and a smile.
This is timeless. And I believe this is what the world needs. Now and forever more.
Exhibit A: I was on a Zoom call yesterday for several hours with fifteen folks. I received a compliment about the quality of my consciousness.
Exhibit B: My dream last night was about me managing some large meeting. First thing in the morning, in a separate building from the gathering, I loaded lots of coffee into a large coffeemaker and plugged it in. When I got back to the meeting room, I realized that I hadn’t added water. It felt like I spent the rest of the night roaming the city, trying to find the building. Terror gripped my soul.
It certainly looks like A is more fun than B. Sometimes it feels like my life is a ping pong game … bouncing back and forth between the two – “positive” and “negative”.
The truth is that my eyes look inward a lot, in the spirit of “How am I doing?”. Do you think it’s possible to let go of all that? To not keep a a running tally of my daily excellences and futilities?
Perhaps I can instead direct my gaze at the world and the multiple beloveds who live here. What do I see? How can I serve in this very moment? Perhaps it doesn’t matter what comes back to me in life and my assessment of that … only what I give to life.
Am I naïve? Hopelessly out of touch with the way the world works? I wonder.
I listened to Kamala Harris’ speech this afternoon as she put herself in the public eye as the Democratic nominee for US Vice-President. Passionate, pointed, tender … the whole thing.
Yesterday, Donald Trump wondered why Joe Biden had picked Harris, given her attack on him about busing in a Democratic debate last year.
According to Wikipedia: “Busing is the practice of assigning and transporting students to schools within or outside their local school districts in an effort to reduce the racial segregation in schools.”
Kamala Harris: Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then?
Joe Biden: I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education.
Harris: There was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. I was part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California public schools almost two decades after [?] Board of Education.
Biden: Because your city council made that decision.
Harris: That’s where the federal government must step in. That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. That’s why we need to pass the Equality Act. That’s why we need to pass the ERA. Because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.
Biden did not wither but I believe he was shaken. Many months later, Joe chooses Kamala as his running mate.
Surround yourself with partners who are better than you are Leave them to go get on with it