O Canada

Tim, Michelle, Sarah, Glen and Sharyn

I’m in Mannville, Alberta, visiting my friend Sharyn. And there are new friends to meet: Glen, a jolly 95-year-old who never seems to run out of smiles; Michelle, a vibrantly intelligent single mom; her boyfriend Tim; and her 4-year-old daughter Sarah. Sharyn is either 27 or 76 … I can’t remember which.

Yesterday morning, we headed off to the metal gazebo at the heart of the village. Sharyn was appropriately decked out in red but I didn’t get the memo. My purple lizard t-shirt would have to do.

We lined up for the pancake breakfast with about 80 Mannvilleites. The guy with the microphone said something like “Isn’t it great to be in Alberta?” Not wanting to be left out, I yelled “Ontario”! The senior couple in front of me turned around and smiled. “Welcome to Alberta.”

It was Canada Day and I love my country. The microphone fellow said it was time to sing the national anthem and another gentleman came forward to lead us in “O Canada”. I belted out the words and most in the line did the same. What a good feeling.

Armed with pancakes, sausages, scrambled eggs and coffee, I found us a place to sit. The welcoming couple were already chowing down at the table. Cheryl and Doug were ranchers in the area.

I can’t remember whether Doug spoke first or me, but clearly we were both eager for contact. He and Cheryl have been married for 48 years and they certainly enjoyed each other’s presence.

Doug mentioned a dream fulfilled. The two of them had wanted to build a lodge on a scenic corner of their property, really a community centre able to host as many as 150 people for conferences and dinners. I could tell they were determined folks because Red Feather Ridge is thriving today. As Doug smilingly related the story, I yearned for an invite, but that never came. I let it go. Listening to Doug was reward enough.

Michelle and Sarah invited me over to their place for the afternoon while Sharyn had a nap. I was happy to have a kid in my vacationing life. We played three or four board games. I think it was the Candyland one that required no skill at all, just luck. So we two adults didn’t have to worry about holding our strategy skills back. We played that one twice and Sarah won once.

Next was Hide-and-Go-Seek. Sarah was hiding in the hole of a desk, with the chair sort of protecting her. I made a big deal of saying to Michelle “Now where did that girl go?” Sarah squealed in delight when we “finally” found her.

Now, my turn. By the kitchen window, there were long grey-and-white drapes that stretched almost to the floor. Perfect for hiding toes. Just a bit lumpy up top. I loved it when Sarah breezed through the kitchen on her way to probable hiding spots. After a bit, a little help from mom led to a young girl sweeping the drape aside. Such fun!

Later in the day, all of us had a fine dinner at Sharyn’s place. I sat at the table and looked around at the different faces, personalities and ages. My, my … an instant family for me. I am blessed.

My Absence

It’s been two weeks since I’ve talked to you.  Have I been “busy”?  Yeah, some.  But the truth is that I just didn’t feel like writing to you.  There was no magnetism drawing my fingers to the keys.  I know that my life is about contributing to other human beings, and sometimes in WordPress the “should” of saying something has been strong.  Sometimes I would write just to keep my daily streak of communication going.  At those moments, I wasn’t being true to myself.  This two-week absence has felt true.  And now it’s time to return.

I woke up this morning with an uncomfortable thought: maybe you folks think I’m dead.  Ouch.  I never want to hurt anybody, and what if some of you are imagining a car accident, a big illness, or a major mental distress?  None of those are true but leaving you in the space of not knowing was unfair.  I’m sorry if I caused you worry.  I should have just done a post saying “I don’t want to write right now.  I’m fine.  It could be a week or two before I reappear.”  That would have been good.

Hmm.  I’m glad I’m saying these things.  And I’m glad that I honoured the rhythms of my life by not writing lengthy posts recently.  And now … it’s time to share my thoughts again.  I’ll be back tomorrow.

 

I Wonder If The Words Will Come

What if I just let my fingers do the walking?  What if I just open my mouth and see what pours out?  Let’s give it a try …

***

The unfolding of layers of wonder

Absent from the swirl of damnation

Flowing over the world, picking up compatriots along the way

A firmness, a resoluteness, in the face of smallness

The unknown beckoning me, welcoming me, to the mist beyond today

No opinions of “I’m right and you’re wrong”, no comparison, no big deal

Being buffeted, gently thrown to the left and right, and accepting it all

A slowing inside, a softening of the face, a descending to the earth

The colours blend so beautifully – no sharp lines as blue becomes turquoise and turquoise becomes green.  There is an artist here with pastels and a soft cloth for rubbing.

The rabbit just stares at me, he with his wrinkly nose.  “Who are you, Bruce?”

The fire consumes … but then again maybe not.  Does the eternal flame reside within?

The books pile high, with much to say.  Perhaps I will strike a match and be warmed.

I move my index finger just a bit and the world turns in response.

There is much to be done in having us come together.  How shall I give?

Ahh … it is such a river.  The rocks have no chance.  The surge is inevitable.

Someone is calling the threads of the shirt to loosen, the skin to part, the bones to make way.  A heart is coming out.

Wandering seems like a good idea.  Wobbling and stumbling are just fine.  And there is a direction which my human eyes can’t fully see.

The skin is torn open.  The blood flows.  Friends hold the ice to my head and bandage the wound.  It’s what the world needs.

I see the pulsing of the vein in my wrist.  There’s life here.

Giving is the answer.  Not exchanging.  Not being owed.  The freedom of wanting nothing in return.  Not even love.

I look up at the windows of the homes passing by.  Some dark, some light.  What are those lives like up there?  Do they have the same joys and sorrows as me?  Yes, they do.

The grains of sand flow through my fingers.  There is no stopping them.  They are falling to where they need to be.

How can a cello be so mellow?  How can those deep tones vibrate so profoundly through my bones and muscles?  Something is calling me.

It’s dark now.  Merely the silhouette of the little tree out back.  It’s time for all of us to rest awhile.  Still.  Silent.

There are spaces here – within my body, between you and me, among the hours and minutes.  It’s a joining, not a distance.  And so I smile.

The moment of the peacock spreading her feathers, of the flamingo taking a step with his backwards knees, of the raised eyebrows

What if I just fell apart – not in mental illness but in disappearance?  What if no solid Bruce remained, but if instead some sweet energy disguised in a body touched here and there?

It’s the eyes.  They hold the most beauty.  No matter whether the skin around them is smooth or baggy.  Look inside.

We need hugs.  Not the crushing ones, not the backslapping ones, just the gentle holding that stays, a sublime pressing that loves.

I wonder if you see me or if I’m merely a thing to your gaze.  Please don’t make me a means to an end.  Please see the light that’s shining.  And may I always see yours.

What’s possible is so much more lovely than what’s probable.  What if the future could be so radically different from what’s past?  What if I can’t use any of my experiences to guess what’s next?  What if “not knowing” is the ultimate adventure?

***

Hmm.  I’m done.  The words came.

 

 

 

A Dream, I Guess

It’s morning.  It feels like the night had several chapters.  Early on in the proceedings, a woman came into the room.  She was young and dressed in black – a long dress or a robe.  As she wandered around, her head was down and her mouth was missing.  Everything was very slow.

As I fell into and out of consciousness, the woman always seemed to be there, in no hurry to get anywhere, apparently satisfied by hanging out with me.  In my more aware moments, I asked if this was real or was it a dream.  And it didn’t matter.  Nor was it important to analyze the thing.  No, the lesson was elsewhere.  There seemed to be such space around things, and she walked near me so slowly.  I felt transported to her meandering path, seeing whispers, drinking in the flow of her robe.

And then I slept for hours, deeply.  On awakening half an hour ago, another image flooded my bedroom.  Apparently I own a van, and I was returning to it from an errand.  Seven or eight drunk teenaged boys were occupying the space.  Nothing was broken but garbage was everywhere.  In quick order they disappeared, with no urging from me.  The old house nearby was also a mess – beer bottles, hamburger wrappers.  I was alone, picking up everything, putting it into bags, wishing that someone was with me to share the task.

Now, looking back at the two, there was no dilemma in my overnight.  Strange yes, problem no.  I’m still floaty, untethered.  The tasks of the day remain but they’re blended into the background.  Everything seems merged – no clear boundaries.  And my fingers on the laptop keys fall in super slo-mo.

Is this spaciousness real?  Is this a new normal approaching from the horizon?  I don’t know … and I don’t care.  Just let it be here, Bruce.

Hallelujah

This morning, we went to the Junior High Black and Gold Awards Ceremony at Oilfields High School. Jace was being recognized as a member of the Grade 7 Honour Roll and our chests puffed out as he crossed the stage. We cheered.

It’s a small high school, about 300 students from Grades 7 to 12. As I walked the halls, poking my head into classrooms, and as I watched the stream of people leaving the gym, I realized that I knew virtually no one. And they didn’t know me. What a strange feeling … to be noticed (probably due to the blue stitches in my head) but not to be seen as a person. And that’s okay. I watched the students and I watched the adults, and I wondered what their lives were like. It’s not important that I contribute to these particular lives. But then again maybe I did, just by silently sending them my goodwill.

Speaking of contribution, there were three breaks in the procession of young people across the stage. Student entertainers favoured us with their instruments, their dancing, and their voices. A young man stood in front of us and announced that he would be singing “Hallelujah”. A special version, he told us, smiling.

The first verse featured the foibles of the principal and vice-principal, ending with “But you don’t like teachers much, do ya?” We the audience roared.

Our singing jokester then moved on to a Math teacher, where clearly the kids had no trouble with the content: “Two plus two equals two ya.”

And how about the teacher who was rumoured to buy his shirts in a children’s clothing store: “You like showing off your muscles, don’t ya?”

The smiling fellow finished off his song by reflecting on the end of the school year. He raised his head in ecstasy and belted out the final chorus. I thought of Martin Luther King:

Free at last
Free at last
Thank God almighty we’re free at last!

He bowed
We cheered madly
Thank you, Oilfields human beings

NBA2K19

It’s a video game. I told myself that such things were locked in my past, never to reappear. Hmm. I’ve changed my mind.

Everybody in this house is a rabid Toronto Raptors fan. They’re one game away from winning the National Basketball Association championship. It’d be the first time the trophy comes to Canada.

Tomorrow night at 7:00, we six human beings will be glued to the TV, with hands dipping into bowls of popcorn. The roof will be raised.

Today at 7:00, I watched Jaxon play as Kawhi Leonard for the Raptors … in tomorrow’s game! The announcer mentioned the Warriors’ big loss on Friday night, and how the return of Kevin Durant should help. What?! A video game that’s updated with daily news? What is happening here?

I gaped at the graphics … the dribbles, the balls arcing through the wavering strings of the hoop, the pinpoint passes, the high fives, the facial expressions after missed shots, the crowd going nuts in their red Raptors shirts. Oh my.

The cheers in Scotiabank Arena were deafening: “Let’s go Raptors! Let’s go Raptors!” and “De-fence!” It was immersion. And I was hanging on every shot, every steal, every long pass. Reality was twisting. I really was in the middle of tomorrow’s game. What was happening on the screen would dictate who really wins the championship. So strange.

I have a sense of what deep happiness is about. Relationship. Communion. Love. Playing video games isn’t in the same time zone. I want to spend most of my time giving to people. The pleasure of sports simulations isn’t the profound sweetness of gazing into a beloved’s eyes.

And yet … seeing the Raptors become world champions 24 hours before they really do was great fun.

Grad

Yesterday was my nephew Jaxon’s graduation. I was so proud of him. Seventeen years of life experience, and like any kid many ups and down. Jaxon persevered, buoyed by his commitment to basketball, and there he was before we left home, looking so spiffy in his formal blues. Even his tie was spot on.

As we entered Oilfields High School, there were the young women graduates, with their flowing gowns and dressy hair. The men ranged from formal to western, with five or six cowboy hats sprinkled through the crowd. Smiles abounded.

Before the ceremony, I wandered into the Learning Commons, a fancy name for the library. The woman greeting me glowed as she mentioned the circular drums hanging on the wall. Drumming circles are a regular feature, attracting 15 or 20 students for the creation of music together. Upstairs was a lounge that often features guest speakers, most of whom speak of things that young people face, summed up by “self-esteem”. And throughout the school day, students are welcome to leave class and come to the Commons to work on projects. “There’s a lot of love in this school.”

About 35 graduates paraded one by one along the aisles of the packed gym. Some were confident. Some shuffled. All were honoured. Beamed on the wall were grad photos, plus ones from infancy and childhood. We heard of each person’s favourite memory of Oilfields and what they wanted for the future. The announcer let us know that one boy “simply wants to be happy”. How lovely. No grand athletic achievement, career or lifestyle … just the basics.

The grads sat on the stage. A woman named Jace (same name as Jaxon’s brother), stood in front of us to thank the parents. She spoke so profoundly of the gifts her mom and dad had given. She cried. Many of us did as well. It was a profound message that reached all corners of the room. Hours later at the dinner, I thanked her for the remarkable transmission of love. She put her hand to her heart in response.

Near the end of the ceremony, an Oilfields tradition unfolded. The graduates had chosen a guest speaker, and the vote was nearly unanimous. The teens wanted Mr. Hughes to speak. He retired last year as an Oilfields Math teacher after thirty years at the school. The girl introducing him was clearly moved by Chris Hughes, a fellow who often brought muffins to class, and whose conversations with the kids trumped fractions and parallelograms every time.

I also was moved as Chris spoke. Most of the time, his back was to us because his front was for the kids. It looked like he made eye contact with each one as he roamed back and forth. The smile was non-stop and love flowed freely between teenagers and a 65-year-old man. After the festivities, I approached the revered one and told him how it was so clear that he’s made a huge impact on these young people. He said “Thank you,” his eyes locked with mine.

As a final touch, each grad took a rose as he or she left the stage and sought out someone in the crowd who had helped them complete high school. Lots of reaching out to, lots of grateful receiving.

The dinner was lovely. Our family of six ate together at a round table, one of maybe thirty in the room. There was a joyous buzz in the place, something that naturally developed without a drop of alcohol. During the dancing afterwards, Lance and Nona (Jaxon’s mom and dad) showed the crowd a step or two. Then there was magic: each grad danced with a parent, with love vibrating everywhere.

Thank you, Oilfields High graduates, for allowing me to share in your celebration. I only know one of you and I know you all.

Seeking Gifts

Just before I went to California in April, a boy in the Grade 6 class asked me if I’d bring him back a snow globe. I thought for a second and then said yes. In Monterey, I had so much fun tracking down just what he wanted – a version that featured a sea otter.

On Tuesday, I was in class before my afternoon flight to Alberta. A boy had already asked me to find a wooden sculpture for him. I bet everyone knew that I’d said yes. As time wound down towards my departure, two girls came by separately and each shyly said how much they’d like to have a necklace from Alberta. I asked for details of what they’d prefer and they were happy to oblige. I overheard another young lady telling her friends that she’d love to have a souvenir from the west.

So, Mr. Kerr, do you give these kids what they’re asking for? Immediately the answer came back “Yes”. I choose to reward the kids who speak up, who are brave enough to ask.

On the plane to Calgary, I decided to give the last girl the gift she wanted – some depiction of a horse. It’s true that she didn’t ask me directly but at least she tossed her intention out there.

Today was my first full day with Nona, Lance, Jaxon, Jagger and Jace. Nona knew of a few gift shops in nearby Black Diamond and I promised to be no more than half an hour. I figured I had six more days to score any unfound treasures.

First the recommended drug store with its gift section. A small rearing horse caught my attention on the top shelf. Cool. But so did the $89.99 price tag. My eyes roamed and soon came to rest on a pile of small plates. The top one had a sublime painting of a mom horse and her foal. I stared. “Yes” rang through me. Just like that, one of the four was complete. I could see the future smile on the 11-year-old’s face.

The accompanying shelves weren’t yielding further secrets so I readied myself to leave. I asked the saleslady where in town I was likely to find necklaces. She smiled and gestured over to where I had been. Little boxes, each with a pendant, graced the glass. I hadn’t noticed their silver chains. Before me were jewelry designs in abalone shells – shimmering greens and blues.

The first one to my eyes showed the shining feathers of a dreamcatcher, and the face of one of the askers appeared. Less than a minute later, I saw a “Tree of Life” pendant, and the other young face was smiling at me. How can this be? Three out of four in ten minutes!

I meandered down the street, peeking into this shop and that. The warmth of one place beckoned me inward. My request for “a little wooden sculpture” drew a smile from a clerk and an offer to shift my attention to tiny stone animals. I looked at the small ones in their rectangular compartments and knew that the answer was no. But I was being nudged onward, past several displays of artistry. There, sitting on a vibrant scarf, were four small wooden boxes. One was rounded at the top and a tree stretched over. Mango wood from India. Four.

In ten days, my young friends, gifts will be given.

Gas

Who would have thought? It was a simple Diet Doctor Pepper, consumed along with popcorn and a chocolate bar at the Hyland Cinema in London. It’s a ritual I’ve enjoyed for many a movie.

The thing is, I hadn’t had a carbonated beverage for two months – a remarkable stat given my decades-long history of Diet Coke consumption. What’s the problem with a reminiscing slurp of no-calorie sweetness?

Halfway through the movie, there was a pressure on my pants. I reached down in the darkness and felt my belly pressing against my belt. “What is that?” Had I gained twenty pounds as the story got rolling? And the pain was huge.

Many years ago, I had gone on regular visits to a family restaurant in Lethbridge, Alberta which featured prime rib and yummy desserts. Sheltered by a white linen tablecloth, I’d often undo my belt and unzip. Anything to release the pressure. And now I did the same in the Hyland. Darkness covers all sins.

Still the pressure mounted. I tried to remember where my appendix was, and came up short in the knowledge department. Gosh, it hurt! And the film was meandering along so slowly. Had I ruptured something? Were my insides about to be deposited on the outside?

Finally the curtain. As the lights came on and folks streamed by me to the exits, I sat serenely, my arms and hands crossed over my middle, obscuring any view of a languishing belt. So slow was the retreating crowd.

When it felt like the whole place had emptied, I stood up, fixed my hands in pockets to keep my pants erect, and stumbled toward the front entrance. I knew that it’d be dark outside. Except it wasn’t, and several cars were passing in front of me in their exiting. Hastily I zipped and redid the belt, hoping that drivers had to be concentrating on neighbouring cars. My garments intact, if not my psyche, I headed to the sanctuary of Scarlet.

As I sat down, my bloat drowned any well-being. The strategy emerged of slow motion homeward travel. I couldn’t imagine controlling my vehicle at 100 kilometres an hour. So I picked sideroads that would allow me to creep. A serpentine route followed and I finally breeched my front door. Then the bathroom, offering copious amounts of Gas-X. Lie down. Breathe. Continue living.

The pain continued for an hour, and then sleep took over. No ruptured appendix in the morning.

So … dear body. You don’t like carbonated beverages. A new normal has emerged. And the cans of Diet Coke in my fridge will be offered to stomachs who know what they’re doing. As for me, I’ve moved on.

Getting A Bang Out Of Life

I should be a better waterer.  I moved into this condo in Belmont two-and-a-half years ago.  My neighbours and I each have a separate building.  The back of mine faces a farmer’s field.  Shortly after I moved in, my builder had a locust tree planted in my mini-backyard.   It was already ten feet high when it hit the earth.

I didn’t water my leafy friend.

Now, as the leaves are emerging, there are several skinny and very dead branches.  Time to do better, Bruce.  I took a photo and rambled over to my local garden centre, where Jim knows about all things plant.  “Lop off the dead stuff, create an earthen bowl around the trunk, and give it a good watering once a week.  It’ll be fine.”  Ahh … the joy of friendly expertise.

I bought some topsoil and headed over to the rental place, which had just what I needed – a tree pruner.  Long wooden handle for one hand, a rope to pull the blade shut for the other.  Piece of cake.  This was yesterday afternoon at 2:45.  They closed at 3:00.  See?  The Gods were with me.

I was too busy doing nothing at home to get the project underway yesterday, but today was my rendezvous with destiny.  I was out there in my home maintenance clothes, ready to get covered with soil, and all set to show off my tree pruning skills.  The first dead branches were about six feet above the grass.  Insert blade opening around the offending bare one, pull the rope gently, and watch the twig fall gently to the ground.  Oh, what a good boy am I!

Hmm.  That one’s higher and a lot thicker.  I was at a bit of an awkward angle, maneuvering around the live branches.  Pull with right hand, left one on the handle > Nothing.  Pull harder > Pretty much nothing.  Okay, this isn’t working.  “Why don’t you just grab the rope with both hands and really reef ‘er?” > “Okay, I’ll do that.”

[And now for a pause that refreshes: You handy men and women in the crowd may possibly be gasping right now.  How could this homeowner be so … stupid?  Doesn’t he see the probable consequences of his proposed action?  Was he born in a cave, somehow managing to stay there until this moment?]

I pulled like the hero I no doubt am.

Schmuck!  The handle smashes into bone just above my left eye.  Falling.  Soft grass.  Warm flowing.  Heading to lights out … but no.  I stumble up, lurch to the garage and grab the paper towels.  Glasses in one hand.  Masses of white grope from the other to my face.  Red trickle down the lens, pretty against the amber and purple of my frames.

Brain exploding.  The neighbour’s doorbell.  Maddy’s hand on my shoulder.  “Come in.  Sit down.”  She gently removes the roll of paper towel from my elbow.  I keep pressing.  “Lean back against the wall.  Breathe slowly.”  Fading in and out.  Gary appears with a bag of ice.  Later, two big bandaids.  Thank you, my friends.

Twenty minutes later, I’m lying on my bed.  Far from sleep.  Exhausted.  “Go to the hospital.  You may have a concussion.  You’re okay to drive.”

Was I?  I knew I didn’t want to bother Maddy and Gary.  Who knows how long I’d be in Emergency?  “I can do this.”  And I did.  The twenty-five minute drive was almost uneventful.  I was slow and steady.  A wee bit of blood dripped from under the bandage.  I wiped it away.  No big deal.

The wait seemed long but it wasn’t.  My ice bag was now a cold water bag.  The staff were so friendly.  The doc had been around the block a few times.  No concussion.  A few sutures needed.  I gulped at that news, my wimpy relationship to pain coming to the surface.  Injecting the freezing agent hurt some but the four stitches were … seamless.

***

It’s hours later.  There’s a little smile on my face, just as there was during some hospital moments.  Some pain in my noggin.  What a silly guy, but essentially lovable.  It was another rich life experience.  I’m sure there’ll be many more.