The Desiderata

As a young adult, I had the poster on my wall for many years.  Within the delicate emergence of something beyond my self-centered concerns, it spoke truth.  The words vibrated inside me.  The poem rightfully took its place next to empty bottles of Chianti Ruffino wine, which I transformed into candles.

I would often look long at the whole spectrum of love that Max Ehrmann created.   I don’t remember analyzing the thoughts.  Instead I simply let them waft over me.  Somehow I knew that was enough.

There must have been one too many moves in my nomadic youth, because The Desiderata left me one day.  I don’t even remember missing it.  My walls filled instead with paintings – visual heart-tuggings rather than the majesty of the phrase.  I didn’t think of Max’s masterpiece for decades.

But the man has returned.  He smiles at me once more.  And it’s all so gentle.  Not all of the sentences still shimmer, and that’s okay.  The whole has guided me over the years, and I didn’t even know it.  A magical absorption was at work.  And I am the better for the words having roamed around within me for so long.

Here is The Desiderata.  I hope you enjoy it.

***

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.  As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.  If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.  Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.  But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.  Especially do not feign affection.  Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.  But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.  Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.  You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.  Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.  And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.  With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.  Be cheerful.  Strive to be happy.

Dad

Today being Wednesday, it was time to venture into London to hear folk music at the home of Christine and John.   “Acoustic Spotlight” is their creation.  The first set always features the piano majesty of Jake Levesque, and usually includes Jake accompanying the impeccable vocals of his dear wife Julia Webb.  I’m especially moved when she sings one of Jake’s songs.  Tonight these lyrics slipped from her lips:

The stars burn bright over this town tonight
And it sure feels good to be home

Home indeed, within a living room of music lovers.

Tonight’s feature act was Emily Garber, a singer-songwriter of vividly “real” compositions, and with an edginess that reminded me of Alanis Morissette.  Sitting on the couch right in front of Emily was her dad Nathan.  Once she pointed him out to us, I could see that we were in the presence of family.  It wasn’t similar looks.  It was the bond that stretched between their eyes.

“I wrote dad a song.”  Emily admitted that the two of them have often tangled but the love I felt between them filled the room.  She sang “Forty Years” to him, and to us.  Her eyes never left his face.  Emily wrote about long ago, when her tiny hand fit into his, and she felt safe.  And then recently, when her two young daughters did the same with Gramps.  Dad was melting on the couch.  I watched him closely, wishing that I too had been a father.

Half an hour later, Nathan came to the front and Emily took his seat.  As he sang and played guitar, their eyes were once more joined.  Stillness hung in the air.  Father and daughter share a love of the song, and so much more.  It was as if they were thanking each other all evening.

I’m not a dad.  I’ve often wished I was.  But as I sit at home tonight, having witnessed the tenderness stretching between two human beings, I feel myself relaxing into not being a father.  I’m nodding my head in recognition of there being no deficit.  My life has not been “less than” because I don’t have children.  I feel the richness of many relationships.  The fact that no one has ever called me dad brings an ache to my heart and also a smile to my face.  So bittersweet this life sometimes is.  May I embrace it all till my time here is done.

 

80% Full

“Derek”, my trainer at the gym, suggested that I get involved in an online program called Precision Nutrition.  It offers daily lessons that mostly focus on the mind, rather than the stomach.  Every two weeks we’re given a new daily habit to focus on, and I’m finding that I can apply them broadly to my life.

1.  Make Time

The “for what” part of making time is totally up to me.  And I’m clear that I need to set up my life to get this stuff done on virtually a daily basis.  For instance, I need to write this blog.  It’s not a diary.  I have no interest in that.  I want to reach people like you, to sense that my words sometimes get you thinking, get you feeling, get you living a touch deeper.

I’m committed to making time for conversations that matter.  Let’s talk about what’s important to us.  I want to sit down with 12-year-olds, 42-year-olds and 72-year-olds.  You have the depths of your life to offer me, and I’ll give you back all that I have.

I’m committed to meditating – to falling into the space of love in the quiet of my bedroom.  I want to touch the ineffable, the sublime, the union with the divine.

I will also make time for getting strong, aerobically fit, flexible and nutritionally sound.  My well-being is not only spiritual and relational.  It’s physical too.

2.  Eat Slowly

Actually, do lots of things slowly, such as walking.  I feel the rhythm of my body moving, the flow of it all rather than frantic here, stumbly there.  I also drive slowly, despite the tailgaters who seem to be shouting “More!  More!”  I slow to a new speed limit gradually, instead of slamming on my brakes at the last second.

The eating part is a challenge.  Put down the fork often.  Chew a lot.  Really taste things.  There’s a lot of work to do here but I know I’m in this for the long haul.  I need to have meals be an experience, not a brief interlude between tasks.

If I slow down, then the roses can truly be smelled, the eyes of the other can truly be met, and even my breath can take its time.

3.  80% Full

Two days ago, I read about my new daily habit: stop eating when I’m 80% full.  Just a tiny bit of hunger left, the plate not fully cleaned, and a spaciousness inside that’s palpable.  There’s a lightness here which so easily migrates to my mind and heart.  In contrast, I remember family dinners from long ago where it became a ritual for me to undo my belt and unzip a bit before dessert arrived.  Being bloated dampens the flavours.

In the gym, how about stopping when I’m pleasantly fatigued in the bench press, and then moving on to the next exercise?  “No pain, no gain” just doesn’t ring true to me.

I could respectfully leave a conversation when the words coming into my brain are at the 80% level.  Things don’t have to be so jampacked.  I could put my book down when my brain is 80% tired of processing ideas.

***

Hmm.  Nutrition … life.  From the very specific to the many dimensions of living.  Why not?

Speaking to Kids

This afternoon, the school welcomed a motivational speaker.  Sara was dressed all in black and was thoroughly alive.  She walked with power and yet was delightfully vulnerable.  She kept saying “Put your hand up if you’ve ever …”  Her hand went straight up in the air every time, in response to life’s tough moments: you say something dumb, you do something mean, you fall far short of excellence.  Yes, there was a real human being in front of us.

The children on the gym floor ranged from Kindergarten to Grade 6.  Some hands, usually the young ones, went flying up when Sara asked if they had experienced something.  Some hands were at half mast.  And many of them never seemed to leave the owner’s lap.  We vary in our willingness to be “out there”, and that’s just fine.

Two of Sara’s main messages were “I matter” and “I am enough.”  She often shared these in a call-and-response fashion, and many children belted out the words.  I hope it sank in.  I hope they remember tomorrow, next week and in ten years that each person belongs.  Each person has a contribution to make.  Each one of us, 8 or 82, can do great good in the world.

Another idea of Sara’s is “asking”.  And she had a story to tell.  She loves singing and ever since she was young had wanted to sing “O Canada” at a Toronto Blue Jays baseball game.  Time to ask.  She phoned the Blue Jays office and said something like “I’m a singer and I want to sing ‘O Canada’ for our Toronto Blue Jays.”  The answer was no.  Awhile later, she asked again.  The answer was still no.  A third time, and Sara added more: “What about next season?  What do I need to do to be considered?”  And the answer?  “Make a recording of you singing ‘O Canada’.  Send it to us along with a photo and a list of all the times you’ve sung in public.”  So Sara did just that.  And she waited …

Finally, Sarah phoned again, and reached the person responsible for the game ceremonies.  And she heard this: “When can you come?”  She ended up singing the national anthem six times for the Blue Jays, in front of many thousands of fans at the Rogers Centre.  May this story also reach the kids.

Sara throws herself into life, and I’m sure the children noticed.  Will the young ones be brave enough to do the same?  I pray that they will … because our planet needs them.

The Vienna Boys Choir

They stood in front of me as I sat in the front row – 23 boys from about age 8 to 16, dressed in sailor suits. But all wasn’t as I expected. They sure weren’t all blue-eyed blond Austrians. Their conductor did look Austrian, his long light hair flowing. He wore a tuxedo and moved with a flourish from piano to stage and back. When he got really excited, exhorting the kids onward, he often went up on tip toes (the advantage of having a front row seat).

The leader told us he was going to have each boy introduce himself. As he passed the microphone around, I heard words such as Germany, France, England, the United States, China, South Korea, Thailand, Colombia … and Austria.

Some kids were so “out there”, some seemed shy. Some sang full-throated, mouth wide open. Some voices rose above the others, in great beauty. Five boys had the highest soprano sound that you can imagine, and at one point those kids held a soaring note for many, many seconds. As the conductor kept his baton hand raised and the boys held the tone, we the audience roared our approval.

Most of the songs seemed to be in German but I didn’t need the translation. The energy coming off the kids was staggering. There was a left section and a right one. Two singers, one from each side, often seemed to be looking at each other. It was like they were throwing their passion for the music from one side to the other and back again.

I met their energy with mine. I was pouring myself into every singer, wanting them to be great, drawing forth their sublimity.

At the end of most songs, the final note hung in the air – a pure expression of spirit. And then it faded to silence. There seemed to be a little space between the end and our applause, as if we were all stunned by what we were hearing.

I made eye contact with six or seven of the boys. I looked at every member of the choir and was pleased that some were willing to return the favour. I wondered if they could feel the happiness and love that I was sending their way. As the concert rolled on, I sensed that the boys were being reached by the goodwill flowing from the 1100 of us. They seemed to be leaning forward into the music, and towards us.

I was lifted by the songs in English, especially “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” and “There’s a Place for Us”. The purity of the voices met the purity of the words. With this music, there seemed to be an even longer delay before our clapping started.

The final number was drawing to a close. At the last piano chord, we rose as one, drowning the kids in wild applause. There were shouts of “Bravo!” and “Encore!”. The boys’ faces were smiles. Three more pieces came our way. More standing O’s. The last one rose while the choir was lined up along the front edge of the stage. Their bows and my clapping hands were a foot or two apart. Eye contact up close.

Thank you, young men from around the world. Your eyes and your voices did their job … you and we were together in the song.

Loving Profoundly

During the Last Supper, Jesus used the analogy of food to show his disciples what he wanted to give them: himself.

While they were eating, Jesus took a piece of bread, gave a prayer of thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples.  “Take and eat it,” he said; “this is my body.”  Then he took a cup, gave thanks to God, and gave it to them. “Drink it, all of you,” he said.

(Good News version of the Bible)

What does it mean to give all of myself to the other?  It is the deepest love, where I want you to be supremely happy.  I want to pour myself into you, and draw forth your best.  I want all of you – all of your sweetness and all of your power and all of your frailty – because every part is sacred.

Beatrice Bruteau reflected on Jesus’ commitment:

He means to put himself literally inside the other persons and … wishes to nourish them.  This is his way of expressing his love for his friends.  That love is offered to the very heart of their beings as persons.  It is not an approval based on their performance, nor an affection elicited by their agreeable qualities.  It is unmerited and unconditional, free and creative.

The effect of accepting this love is a whole new image of oneself, other persons, and the way the world is structured.  To be loved so profoundly and so securely, beyond all the circumstances of one’s conditions and qualities, satisfies the deepest longings of the human heart and therefore releases the energy that had been committed to the tasks of defending and augmenting oneself.  The loved person has an experience of being the interior and central person who is loved in this unconditional way, instead of being identified with the social positions and roles of circumstantial life.

Realizing oneself this way, one is able to perceive other persons as their interior and central selves instead of their social circumstances or temperamental qualities, and one is able to relate to them on that basis.  There is now energy to do this, because one no longer needs to protect oneself against the other person.  In fact, there is a surplus of personal energy that can be offered to other persons for their benefit.

If I love so immaculately, if my attention is “over there” in you, rather than focused on self-analysis, what’s possible for me, you and the world?  My eyes lift away from my belly button to meet yours.  I look into you and also pass through you to the entire human family.  All is relationship.  All is service.  All is love.

Two Girls … Two Games

I told the Grade 6 kids yesterday that I was spending the weekend in Toronto. “Jess” approached me to say that she was in the provincial hockey tournament in nearby Mississauga at the same time. Would I like to watch her play? I didn’t even think about it. “Yes” burbled out of me. Seize the day, Bruce. “I play Friday at 4:00, and ‘Steph’ (a classmate, on another team) is on the ice in Toronto at 10:30 am. You could see her too.” Yes to both because I love them both. They’re great kids – kind, smart and strong.

I asked Jess to keep it a surprise for Steph that I’d be at her game. I love surprises.

I found the morning’s arena easily, thanks to my friend Google Maps. Even though I was a bit early, the game had already started. I was pretty sure that Steph didn’t see me at the glass, but I sure saw her. How can anybody skate that fast, and keep it up for the whole shift? I could only imagine how fast her heart was thumping along. Steph threw herself into the corners to battle for the puck, often with opponents who were a foot taller than her. If they took it away from her, she’d go right back in there, bodies crunching (even though officially no body checks are allowed). Tenacious.

Steph was also a pest around the opponents’ goal. Once she checked a player behind the net, grabbed the puck, and whirled around to the front, trying for a wraparound goal. Her shot rocketed past the post, just inches wide. Gosh, this was more fun than watching the pros.

I congratulated my young friend after she’d changed. She was surprised to see me two hours from home. And she was happy to see me.

I also found the afternoon’s arena easily. It was a lot farther from my B&B, but who cares? This time the game hadn’t started yet and the kids were doing skating and shooting drills. Jess saw me standing by the glass, wearing my traditional red toque in the chilly arena. She smiled.

Jess is a smooth-skating defenseman. I really enjoyed watching her move the puck up along the boards. Once she burst past her opponent and got a shot on net. Pad save. A few minutes later, she slid a pass across to her defense partner, who skated towards the goal and let fly. She shoots, she scores!

I think the best thing Jess did (and she did this twice) was to skate over to her goalie after the other team scored. Even from a distance, I could tell that Jess was encouraging her. To me, that’s worth infinitely more than personal stats and big wins. It’s a green flag for adult life.

I had planned to go on a long walk by the Humber River today. Saying yes to the girls was far more valuable. I love trees but give me human beings every time.

Come From Away

I’m so taken with the story of 9000 Gander, Newfoundland residents welcoming nearly 7000 “plane people” on 911 when the USA closed its airspace. The musical “Come From Away” has been playing the Elgin Theatre in Toronto for many months. Originally I told myself the tickets were too expensive but a few weeks ago the magnet of the story drew me in. And tonight was my time – 8:00 pm to be precise.

I showed up at Anne and Ihor’s bed and breakfast around 6:00 pm today, in plenty of time to take the UP Express train downtown. Or so I thought. A few hundred metres from Union Station, we came to a halt. A fellow came on the PA to say “There’s been a partial power failure at Union. We don’t have any signals. Sorry for the inconvenience.” Major oops. And so the sweat flowed. I knew the musical had no intermission, and most likely “latecomers will be seated at an appropriate opportunity” wouldn’t apply. So is that it, my expensive evening up in smoke?

Ten or fifteen minutes later, we were moving again and soon I was standing on Front Street, twenty minutes to curtain time. I started running the seven blocks but my knee immediately shouted its protest. So power walking it was.

I took my seat at 7:55. Thank you, dear gods of the theatre.

There was so much to revel in over the next 100 minutes:

1. A young stranded American guy, so worried about a Newfie stealing his wallet. He gazed in wonder at homes with unlocked doors, and voices inside that said “It’s open … come on in.”

2. A Muslim fellow enduring insults from a few of his fellow travellers. “You’re not an American!” “I don’t want to get back on the plane with him.” Turns out that he was a chef at home, and offered his cooking skills to the locals. They were hesitant at first but finally said yes, much to the pleasure of countless taste buds.

3. A local resident asked the question “Are there any animals aboard these planes?” She was originally told no but suspected that wasn’t true. Her digging revealed nineteen creatures and she cared for them like a saint, despite official warnings to keep off the planes.

4. An American woman was desperate to learn the fate of her son, a New York firefighter. She was befriended by a lovely grey-haired Ganderian, who held her to her bosom. They remain friends long after the planes have left Newfoundland and together they face the reality of the son’s death.

5. Then there was the gorgeous choral singing of “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace”:

Make me a channel of your peace
Where there’s despair in life let me bring hope
Where there is darkness, only light
And where there’s sadness ever joy

Present were Christians with bowed heads, two Jewish men in communion, two Hindu women with eyes to the sky, and our Muslim friend. The hearts soared.

6. Imagine a kitchen. Travellers looked on in awe as locals danced to the music of the fiddle, squeeze box, penny whistle and guitar. Joy abounded, all through the room. And the American folks got to taste a Newfie rum called screech (yum) and kiss a cod (yuck).

7. Love far afield: a British gentleman and a woman from Dallas, Texas were on the same plane, and in the same community for five days. Their accents and their hearts blended. Finally, he flew back to Europe and she to the USA. But it wasn’t finally. He came to visit. They continued the falling in love. And they married, with a honeymoon in Newfoundland.

8. After thousands of visitors had left the rock, life slowed gradually to normal. Tasks briefly left undone were accomplished. Someone opened the suggestion box at Gander City Hall and found $60,000 in cash inside. Tricky tourists. The Newfies didn’t want money, only thanks.

***

September 11-15, 2001 … April 4, 2019
Twin celebrations of life
And we stood to applaud humanity

Senior

A few days ago, I wrote a post called “The Truth”, about Jody Wilson-Raybould and Justin Trudeau. Yesterday Justin booted Jody out of the Liberal Party of Canada.

On the CBC website last night, there were nearly 10,000 comments on this story, vehement opinions split fairly evenly. The challenge is to state what’s true for me without falling into antagonism. What values are most precious here?

It’s clear to me that government officials put pressure on Jody as Attorney General to intervene in the prosecution of SNC-Lavalin, a corporation that’s accused of bribery and corruption. Before last Friday, however, it was fuzzy – in the realm of “He said, she said.” On that day, Jody recorded a phone conversation between her and a top civil servant. It demonstrated pressure being put on her.

Is it unethical to record someone without them knowing it? Yes. Is it unethical for government officials to interfere with the impartiality and independence of a court of law? Yes. So here we have two competing values. I assert that one of these values is “senior” to the other – more important to uphold. In a perfect world, we should uphold them both but our reality is far from black-and-white.

If Jody had not recorded the conversation, there would have been no clear evidence of meddling in a judicial decision. Just innuendo. I vote for establishing clarity.

I honour Jody Wilson-Raybould. Is she a perfect politician and person? No. Did she speak the truth, knowing what the possible consequences could be? Yes.

We all need to speak the truth, without antagonism and without fudging. In today’s sports section, a soccer player, talking about a different issue, said it for me:

My reason for participating is because
I believe silence allows unacceptable behaviour to continue

Happy Birthday to Me!

Actually, I was born on January 9 but why should facts get in the way of a little fun?

Today was a special day at school and there were fools all over the place.  Take me, for instance.  I told the kids first thing that I had just been listening to Doug Ford on the radio.  He’s the Premier of Ontario.  “He said that starting on May 1, he’s extending the school day.  Instead of students going home at 3:30, it’ll be 4:00.”  I said this with a very straight face.  No sooner were the last words out of my mouth than I was met with a chorus of “April Fool’s!”  Kids are just so smart these days.

Around 10:00 am, one of the Grade 6 kids left the room, supposedly on the way to the washroom.  A few minutes later, a shorter and younger version of her, dressed exactly the same, came into the class and confidently sat in her sister’s chair.  For some of us it took seconds, but others didn’t notice for a minute or so.  Well done, girls!

The announcements started just before morning recess.  A teacher came on the PA with this message: “It’s Mr. Kerr’s birthday today.  If you see him in the halls or on the yard, wish him well.”  I was working with two kids at that moment, and my face jerked.  Huh?  Oh yeah … April 1.

Now, what would be the most fun?  Well, play along with it, of course.  Thank everyone for their good wishes and revel in my birthday celebration.  So that’s what I did.

No sooner was I on the asphalt than a girl rushed up with a birthday card.  How did she pull that off in ten minutes?  I smiled and said thank you.  “How old are you?”  >  “70”  >  “Oh.”  (unspoken, I believe, was “That’s really old.”)  As I walked around, maybe twenty kids came up to say “Happy Birthday!”  One girl said she had a present for me and plunked a quarter in my hand.  Naturally, staff members or volunteers don’t accept money from kids, but I made an executive decision: I picked up the coin with a flourish, opened the change pocket of my wallet and dropped it in.  The young lady was so very happy.

Feel free to congratulate me as well.  I’ll gladly receive all the good vibes that come my way.  January … April … they’re both marvelous.