Twenty Flights

Perhaps I’m crazy.  Over the years, several people have volunteered that opinion.  I seem to be throwing myself into life in an unprecedented way.  I’m going here, I’m going there.  And mostly I’m flying through the air (with the greatest of ease).

Between now and early January, I’m stepping aboard twenty airplanes.  This will involve a major dip into savings.  It’s not that I haven’t considered the financial fallout … but I’m doing it anyway!

It’s all about love.  And the physical distance between my loved ones and me will decline to zero, again and again.  I will be looking into the eyes of Canadians, Americans, Belgians and Senegalese, and I will see beauty there.  I will truly be a world traveller, something that has not been true in the past.

Here’s my itinerary.  The dates are approximate but you’ll get the idea:

1.  March 19 – Toronto to San Francisco for the Evolutionary Collective Base Camp three-day weekend

2.  March 27 – San Francisco to Toronto

3.  April 30 – Toronto to San Jose, California for the EC five-day event “All Together Now”

4.  May 9 – San Jose to Toronto

5.  June 5 – London, Ontario to Calgary, Alberta for my nephew Jaxon’s high school graduation

6.  June 13 – Calgary to London

7.  June 28 – Toronto to Edmonton, Alberta to visit my friend Sharyn in Mannville, Alberta and my brother-in-law Lance and his family in Longview, near Calgary

8.  July 12 – Calgary to Toronto

(What?  One day between!  You’re nuts.)

9.  July 14 – Toronto to Amsterdam, the Netherlands

10.  July 15 – Amsterdam to Brussels, Belgium to visit Lydia, Jo, Lore and Baziel

11.  July 20 – Brussels to Rome, Italy to go ‘splorin’ with Lydia, Jo, Anja and Curd

12.  July 30 – Rome to Brussels

13.  August 4 – Brussels to Amsterdam

14.  August 4 – Amsterdam to Toronto with Baziel (Lydia and Jo’s son – age 14) and Olivia (Anja and Curd’s daughter – age 14)  to explore Toronto, Niagara Falls and Belmont for two weeks

15.  December 15 – Toronto to Amsterdam

16.  December 16 – Amsterdam to Brussels to visit Lydia and her family

17.  December 22 – Brussels to Dakar, Senegal with Lydia and ten other Belgian folks to visit the kids we sponsor in Toubacouta, Senegal

18.  January 4, 2020 – Dakar to Brussels

19.  January 8 – Brussels to Amsterdam

20.  January 8 – Amsterdam to Toronto

***

Why did I tell you all this stuff?  So you’ll think I’m super cool?  So you’ll think I’m absolutely full of myself?  Well, no. These trips are an expression of my need for contact, true communion, “being with” across the miles.  There’s some power surging up in me, demanding I pay attention.  My beingness has been deep for years, and that will continue.  Now it’s time  to get out there far more and do things – Bruce actions that make a difference in Belmont, San Francisco, Nukerke, Pompeii and Toubacouta.

Whatever happened to that recent fellow who wanted to hang out in rural Massachusetts for three months … in silence?  He’s still here.  It’s just that he’s been transcended and included.

On I go

Day Three (and Four!): In Love

I’ve been totally absorbed in supporting the members of the Evolutionary Collective as they meet in New York. So I haven’t blogged since Friday. I’ll make up for it over the next few days!

***

(Saturday) Usually when we hear that someone is in love, we think of a couple. Yesterday, I was “within love” with thirty other people. The eastern part of the Evolutionary Collective Core is meeting in New York for three days. And I get to assist. Although it’s not appropriate for me to share the specific practices we do, I can give you the flavour of our togetherness.

In this work, we make contact with other human beings. We “see” each other. Maybe that’s where the word “core” comes from. And we also go far beyond the relationship between two or three people. We’re participating in the evolution of consciousness in the world towards a place where no one is left out. Someone walks into a room and the group’s response is “Super! Another person to be with, to learn from, to love.” I sense a yearning in the world to touch – physically and spiritually. May love evolve through all of us.

(Monday) I’m in Scotty’s Diner on Lexington Avenue, waiting for my friend “Terry” to join me for breakfast. Yesterday late afternoon, we two assistants sat in the lobby of the Affinia Shelburne Hotel, realizing that all our EC friends had left for airports, trains … for home. I felt a momentary loneliness but then it came through clearly – neither distance nor time can separate us. They’re all with me as I sit here tapping away.

Before our meeting was to start yesterday at 10:00 am, the room manager “Denise” realized that the candle at the front of the room had burned out. The hotel didn’t have any appropriate replacement so I volunteered to find one downtown somewhere. Mr. Google told me about Diptyque a few blocks away, and it was open! The candle shop was down some corridor in an office building. Even with the shortness of time, I trusted that all would be revealed to me in moments. It turned out to be many moments. And when I got there, the store was dark. Ahh … truth in advertising.

I looked inside and wondered at my calm. 9:35. Clearly it was time to discover the glories of riding a cab in NYC. Bed Bath and Beyond was about ten blocks away. The cabbie was friendly and efficient. He commented that traffic was so light this morning. Okay, not exactly my perspective.

Into the store I rushed and asked for candles. “Downstairs, turn left, way down the aisle past pet supplies.” Sure, I can do that. I found a lovely round candle in a clear glass container … looked kind of elegant. I paid for my treasure and was soon back on the street, arm up, flagging down a cab like a local. 9:48. The driver heard the hotel address and headed for a freeway ramp. Yay for local knowledge.

9:57. Therough the door of the meeting room. Candle placed on the round table at the front, accompanied by a lovely bouquet of floors. A box of matches sat there, invitingly. Done deal.

This morning, in the darkness of my mind, I stubbed my toe on the two-inch rise from the kitchen to the bathroom. Oww! And now, after breakie, it still hurts a lot. Strangely and miraculously, though, I’m not adding anything to the pain. No “Ain’t it awful?” No angst about how life is treating me unfairly. Clearly the human beings I’ve just spent three days with are having their effect. Once Terry leaves on his bus for New Hampshire, I’m off to explore Central Park … slowly.

There, I’m back on track with you. Wonders of New York are ready to welcome me. Please walk with me over the next four days.

Day One: The Energy

It was a long trip from Newark Airport to Manhattan. An Air Train dipsy doodle to the New Jersey Transit Station, then a long wait, then a leisurely float to New York’s Penn Station. One fellow asked me for directions. I laughed and told him I was an absolute newbie. The folks standing around at the transit station seemed normal. It could have been a scene from downtown Toronto.

At Penn Station, I climbed all these stairs, building up my biceps as I hauled my suitcase upwards. A fellow hosting a tourist booth downstairs laid out my options. A cab would work. That’s certainly what a woman on the plane had suggested. As we landed, she said there was no way I should be navigating the subway system, in the rain, with luggage, on my very first visit to New York. I agreed. But Mr. Tourism Agent got me thinking: walk three blocks to a subway station. The train could deposit me within a thirty minute walk of my new home. Why not? Go for it, young man.

Finally a door, and the street. And then … whoosh! The sidewalk was packed with almost sprinting New Yorkers. The buildings soared above the canyons. Huge neon video boards sold their wares. And I was stunned. Sirens howled, horns blasted and the world was electric. Oh my God, who are all these people? And what am I enjoying all this noise, me of the silent mediation retreats? Just fall into it, Bruce.

I found my home … at 515 East 5th Street, and proceeded to be mystified by the lockbox that faced me. Oh, Bruce, I thought you were smarter than this! Apparently not.

Finally gaining entry, I noted that my apartment was 5C. In the first floor hallway, all I saw was 1B, 1C … A woman left her room and we smiled. “Is there an elevator?” > “No, it’s a walkup.” > (Sigh) A long haul indeed.

It was 7:00 pm. In my sweet room, with its red brick wall, I worked at translating the NYC subway map. Good luck. I Googled this and that, trying to figure out how I was going to arrive at the Affinia Shelburne Hotel tomorrow morning at 7:30 am.

Okay, it was time for action. I figured out that a northward bus was nearby. I asked folks for directions. Every single one of them was friendly! That’s not what I was told about New Yorkers.

Off the bus here, onto probably the right subway line there. Confused a lot, happy even more. And everywhere the surge of humanity. Wow, I love this stuff! At the end of exploration, there I sat in the lobby of the Affinia Shelburne, hoping I’d see a few members of the Evolutionary Collective hanging around. But no.

Now I’m in a bar called “Niagara”, congratulating myself on conquering New York. Except I didn’t. I’ve merely begun to embrace the city.

More to come …

New York

Arggh! I just completed a blog post about my upcoming journey to New York City. WordPress told me that my words were being saved as I typed, 380 of them. I edited the piece and moved towards “Publish”. And then the whole darned thing disappeared. I’ve tried recovering it, but my reflection on what starts tomorrow is … gone.

I’m tired and there’s an early wake up call in the morning. But I committed to let you know about my trip, and to do it tonight. So, back to it!

***

Can it be that I’m going to another new place? First there was Belgium, them Senegal, and tomorrow … New York City. What mysteries will reveal themselves? Will I stay open to what draws me, moment by moment? Yes, I will.

I got an e-mail in Belgium from an Evolutionary Collective staff member, asking if I would be interested in assisting at the upcoming three-day weekend. Folks who for years have been a part of this consciousness of mutual love and awakening are gathering at the Affinia Shelburne Hotel. My answer was immediate. I get to run microphones, move chairs, organize nametags and in general look out for what’s needed. And I’ll bathe in the beauty of others. I’m pretty new on this journey but I’m clear: I want to be where those folks are – immersed in something big.

How did I come to be with so many opened-hearted people? How is it that I discovered the work of Patricia Albere? It’s true that I’ve cared for people for many years, wanting the best for them, but that doesn’t entitle me to anything. It’s by grace that I have come this way. Now it’s my job to serve, to remove any distractions so that the participants can dive deeply into “being with” each other.

After Sunday, I have four days of exploration. The only “for sure” items in my mind are visiting the 911 Memorial and going to a Broadway play. I remember my immense sadness in September, 2001, and I know it will return next week. I have a DVD of footage shot while the planes slammed into the World Trade Center, and of the aftermath, where people were trapped in the rubble – broken bones, bleeding, difficulty breathing. What horror. When I’m there next week, I want to sit with my sadness, rather than cover it over with political analysis or stories of heroism.

This morning, as I was driving into London, I listened to an interview on CBC Radio. Tom Power was talking to a cast member of the play Network, based on a 1976 movie about the rantings of a TV news anchor who was “mad as hell and not going to take this anymore”. I was fascinated with the discussion and soon was yearning to go. “I wonder where it’s being performed.” The answer came right away … Broadway. That’s me! I got on my phone and scored one of the few remaining tickets. This fellow will be sitting in the balcony of the Belasco Theatre next Wednesday evening.

What will emerge over the next nine days? I’ve told you about a couple of knowns, but really they’re unknowns like everything else. Let’s go ‘splorin’. I hope you’ll come along on the journey.

Day Seventeen: New Year’s Eve

Well, I’m falling so far behind in my story and I’m tired. But I guess if I don’t catch up it’s really not an issue.

On Sunday night, several of us went to a dance competition in Toubacouta because Mareama was performing with her friends. She’s the young woman who arranged for me to have Senagalese pantaloons made. She also tried on my glasses. I wanted to be there for her.

We showed up at 9:00 pm or so and had to wait for awhile as the crowd surged into the dance hall. As far as I could tell, we were the only white folks, and that was just fine.

The eight of us sat in the second row, right in front of booming speakers. What a rush … although maybe I won’t be feeling the same a year from now if I need hearing aids. I danced in my seat, slapping my thighs in all sorts of rhythms that came to hands.

Around 10:00 a drumming group walked onto the stage. Woh! Now there’s a frantic pace. I could fell the blows in my bones and the beat was hypnotic.

Finally, maybe around midnight, the first of the dancing groups showed up. I saw stories in song and dance and the first few were about slavery. The acting looked awfully real: black folks dressed up as slave owners were beating on black folks dressed as slaves. And the crowd’s reaction? Laughter. I didn’t understand.

As 1:00 turned to 2:00, I had one question: Where is Mareama? Patience, Bruce.

I was beside a young woman wearing what I took to be traditional Islamic dress. She sat sedately … that is until this major hunk came out on stage, wearing flashy clothes and able to twist himself like a pretzel to the music. My friend went wild, throwing her arms in the air. Women shouted throughout the hall. The guy was a sensation. Gosh, women have never reacted to me that way.

Sometime in the wee hours, five men and three women strutted out wearing gorgeous reflective silver costumes. The music roared and they gave ‘er. My God, how awesome it was to be there.

Finally, about 2:45, here comes Mareama and her companions, all dressed in white. For the first part, she lurked at the back of the stage, but then she burst out to the edge, arms flailing and eyes crazy. I loved it.

Jo and I were the only ones from our family who stayed so late. It was worth it, and Mareama appreciated our congratulations as we headed for the exit. Well done, my Senegalese friend.

We drove home on the highway and it was cold without a coat. It no doubt helped keep Jo awake on the moto.

***

Okay, that was Sunday and now it’s Tuesday. (Sigh) I’m having trouble remembering what was what yesterday. I do know that I woke up at 11:00. A group of us headed out with Curd to get his hair cut. The man likes it short. On the way home, we passed the Toubacouta soccer field. Two uniformed teams were going at it and I had to stay and watch for awhile. It was enthralling. It was a simple dirt field. Goal posts with no net. And speed! There were deft passes, wondrously controlled dribbles and blasting shots. I would have paid for a ticket.

On the sidelines four boys tried to keep a soccer ball in the air. A swordsman flowing with red ribbons swashbuckled his way through the fans. And the music blasted from the loudspeakers. Oh my, it was an event.

Our three families had dinner together at Eddy’s. Louisa had been vomiting the night before and was very weak but she didn’t want to be alone so her family made sure she got to the B&B. She lay back in a chair by the pool and sure didn’t feel like eating. But she wanted to see the food. Jan dad helped her up and together they staggered to the buffet, so she could salivate about the steak that would be a major no-no. It was beautiful to see the love between father and daughter.

Later in the evening, I had a great conversation with Louisa’s brother Jean. They both speak fine English, as well as French and their native Flemish. Jean fold me about Belgium’s different areas and languages. He, like many others, thought that me learning Flemish would be a major chore. But Bruce, I thought, go for it.

And so the evening waned. We all left for our rooms before midnight. Party animals we are not.

Day Twelve Some More: Les Oiseaux

Let’s start with Iced Tea. Yesterday afternoon, I sat behind Lydia on her motorbike as we went over to the site of his home. Four sweating Senegalese men (including my hero) were setting concrete blocks in place and slathering on the mortar. And it was hot. Three walls were climbing and Iced Tea was smiling. Home ownership is a blessing.

My young friend in Canada has helped build those walls with his gift and I will join him in contributing. So richly deserved.

Late in the day, a friend named Ja Ja took Jo, Lore, Jean, Sabrine and me on his little boat. We headed out on the river to the mangroves, trees that grow in the water. We navigated narrow passages and saw oysters clinging from the roots. And then a dead end … roots hanging down in a semi-circular wall of silence. Truly a place to meditate.

Then it was back out on the open water, skimming across the surface and waving “Bonjour!” to folks in other boats. We were heading towards an island where Jo says people have lived for millions (!) of years, up until about a hundred years ago. For all those eternities, the people ate shellfish, and dropped the shells on the ground. Now there is a long and tall hill, about 100 feet high, composed entirely of shells. Grasses and bushes have grown over the remains of many centuries. The biabab trees stand way above the surface of the land. I crawled inside one and looked out at my friends. It was a sacred space.

As the sun declined, we were back on the boat, destined for a tiny island in the river. And then the birds began to gather on the branches – huge white cranes, large black ones and pelicans. For a half hour, we saw them soar in from all directions, over the low trees. Many hundreds of flying beings were settling down for the night. And we puny human beings got to watch, mostly in silence. Reverence.

There’s much more to come but soon we’ll be walking together to the next village. À bientot!

Day Six: Bruges

Pil, my pheasant-feeding friend from two days ago, asked me if I’d like to visit Bruges, known as “The Venice of Belgium”. Of course I said yes. “Carpe diem” … Seize the day.

Our first stop was to visit Pil’s longtime friend in downtown Bruges. Lucas is an optician whom my dear amiga Lydia calls “crazy”. Crazy strange and perfectly wonderful.

We walked through the door of his shop and approached a grey-haired man dressed in black. Pil had alerted Lucas that a wayward Canadian was going to show up today. After an initial moment of eye contact, Lucas extended his hand and said:

“Jesus ____ Christ. You look just like Jesus.” I laughed. No one had ever seen that epitome of holiness in me before. This was a character all right, but then again so am I. On the way to Bruges, Pil told me a story about Lucas. Seems that he once entered a party and announced “Is anyone up for an orgasm?” After a beat of silence among the partygoers, he added “Even a little one?”

Lucas had to get back to work and his wife Ann offered us a coffee. Yum … very strong stuff. We were invited to check out their home a few blocks away, and it was a marvel. Part of a long string of ancient brick houses, inside it was a wonder of African art. One tapestry seemed to have animal teeth embedded in it and there were many statues of tribesmen. The place was somehow both fierce and serene.

The city was as advertised – brick buildings hundreds of years old, often with the fronts of rooves rising in a step pattern. There were two or three main canals with countless narrow ones branching off. Tiny grassed backyards gave right onto the water.

Cyclists were everywhere, even after a heavy rain. On one downhill stretch of cobblestones, I was astonished at the ease with which these folks navigated the slippery surface. A pair of riders would be looking to each other while deep in conversation, with cars squeezing by on the left. Truly a wow.

Pil wanted me to experience a genuine Belgian libation so he ushered me into a pub. He ordered a huge bottle of 12% Benedictus beer for us to share. A couple at a nearby table were staring at the bottle and Pil called out to them for a conversation, the same thing I’m known for doing. Kindred spirits, these Belgian and Canadian guys.

Back at Lucas’ shop, I told him “Lydia thinks you’re crazy … and she loves you.” Lucas grabbed me in a powerful hug, laughed like a fanatic, and said “Tell Lydia that I love her too.” An hour or two later, I did.

My new world is full of big personalities, and what a blessing that is. Together we drink deep from life, laugh from the bottom of our bellies, and smile a lot. Good for us.

Day One: Toronto Airport

I was supposed to show up here three hours before my flight time. As it turned out, four hours was the actual result. Late morning, I said goodbye to my friends at the Belmont Diner and headed down the freeway to Toronto. You might say I was flying high, listening to the sound track of Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again, and belting out the tunes. My audience was simply me, and I was feeling my oats.

Am I really doing this? Belgium. Senegal. Human beings I’ve never met before. So cool. What wonders will reveal themselves in the next three weeks? Who will touch my heart? I sense that life will unfold as it should.

Nothing is fazing me today. Let’s have stuff go wrong. Who cares? First up on the problem list was the fact that KLM’s counter wasn’t open yet. Oh well. The next task was finding a place to sit. I roamed the concourse without success, and marvelled at the faces passing me by. Who are they, really? Where are they going … in life and airplanes?

I finally found a seat. I whipped out my phone to see how many folks had viewed my latest post on WordPress. I really shouldn’t concern myself with such things, but what the heck – I’m human. Some of me needs to be loved.

There were momentary things, such as not having my passport ready for the KLM attendant. She smiled. Not remembering how to go through customs with minimum strain. Moderate strain only cost me a few extra minutes. What’s that in the span of my life? Nothing at all.

Now I’m in a bar near Gate C31. Chicken wings and a beer basically cover all of Canada’s main food groups. I’m happy, even with the fellow two seats down continually swearing into his phone. The self-esteemed version of my identity is complaining that I should have spoken up. I suppose, but nothing is going to waver my well-being on this day.

TV sports are overhead. The highlight show on TSN shows the best of the best – impossible catches, miraculous saves and slow motion flying through the air. It’s better than blooper shows, where an athlete’s poor decision-making creates angst in the human breast.

On the other TV, jocks in suits are revving up their testosterone on a variety of topics. They’re not exactly yelling at each other but the venom curls their lips. No thanks. Give me the awesome pass any day.

My next experience is sitting in the departure lounge. Apart from the multitude of humans lined up, almost everyone else is staring at their electronics. (Wait a minute … so am I!) All around me are colours, shapes and ages. Lovely. I’d like to talk to them all but no one seems interested. That’s okay.

Once I’m on the plane, I expect that I won’t be able to send this post, so here’s Bruce signing off. Seven hours to Amsterdam and then a short hop to Brussels, and my friends Jo and Lydia. Yay! See you tomorrow.

An Earlier Life

I love sitting at the counter of the Belmont Diner.  I get to joke with the regulars and meet some new folks too.  Separate tables are a part of life but you don’t get to know people that way.

The topics of conversation are all over the map: politics, sports, occupations, local gossip, philosophy, religion, travel … they all make an appearance.  The farmers have their own lingo, which I understand, sort of.  “Too wet to get into the field … Guess what I saw at the equipment show?”  And the hours needed to take care of all those cows.

This morning at breakfast, “Steve” ventured into the past.  He was a snowplow operator for decades.  Sometimes it was school parking lots and sometimes the open highway.  If there’d been a storm, Steve hopped on at 7:00 pm and hopped off at 8:00 am.  Just the concept of working all night boggles me.  I know what it’s like to be on the road when the snow blows the visibility away but having to concentrate like anything for 13 hours?  Whoa.  And maybe there wasn’t any chance to sleep during the daytime before.  Exhaustion and a whiteout.  “You just got used to it.”

I’m looking across the counter at a hero who doesn’t often talk about his escapades.  But once Steve gets going on the topic …

One night he was in the cab of the plow, coaching a new driver.  They could vaguely make out a car parked on the shoulder, and Steve thought he could see inside too easily.  The driver’s window was down!  “Get the blade up!”  Too late.  The snow piled in, filling the compartment nicely.  Later they found out that the driver was furious.  Somehow Steve omitted the part about what happened next.

Another time, a very small car (maybe a Volkswagen beetle) got caught up in the blade and was carted along for miles.  The visibility was so bad that Steve had no clue about his passenger until he slowed for an intersection.

Oh, I love these stories.  Now I have to figure out how to keep drawing out such tales from my counter companions.  I can do it.  I want to do it.  There are glowing moments hidden just under the surface of the bodies drinking coffee beside me.

Day Six: Back to Vancouver

There we stood, in front of the “Mile 0” sign, marking the beginning of the Trans-Canada Highway, and the beginning of our journey. Fifteen souls had their photos taken, and then we were together for a group shot. And together we are. So far I’ve met 19 of the 20 Tour du Canada riders (including me!) and in my perception we’re all “Green flags” – genuinely nice people who care. Not just caring about your family and friends, but looking beyond our groups to the human condition, where we all need shoring up sometimes.

For two-and-a-half months we twenty will be creating a new group – friends to hang out with. Plus we’ll meet Canadians, some happy and some not so much. How can we lift their spirits? For one thing, we can honour their slice of Canada. We can listen to learn about what life is like in their hometown. We can smile. We can include.

I struggled on the bike yesterday. But friends were there to lift me up. Terry coached me all day on cycling skills. “Dig deep! You need to be in the middle of the bike lane so the trucks don’t hit you.” She was relentlessly kind and assertive, just what a friend needs to be.

We were on a pretty and leafy path for awhile, and Keith would go ahead of me and give me a thumbs up at intersecting roads when the way was clear.

Ken stayed with me for the last few kilometres, patiently adjusting his speed to mine. No hurry.

Uli inspected my bike last night, giving me advice about how to make cycling easier for me. We did this in the first floor lounge of our UBC residence. Afterwards, I was basically falling asleep in my cozy chair. I was about to reach for my bicycle ta-pocketa to carry it up to my second floor room, when Dorcas beat me to it.

Ahh … friends