Plumage

There are countless female goldfinches who show up at my sunflower and nyjer seed feeders.  Right now, I’m looking out my living room window and one lass is poking her head in to dig out the good stuff.  I’m thrilled to have so many birdies come by to say hello.  I’ve been to some areas of the world where birds seem to to be downright rare.  So I am blessed.

Female goldfinches keep their glory muted, with brownish feathers.  I don’t love them any less for their inconspicuous nature.  But every once in awhile a guy swoops down for goodies.  And he wears his heart on his luminous sleeves.  My heart soars even higher to see the shocking yellow.  We humans seem enthralled with brightness, even if many of us don’t clothe ourselves in that way.

 

 

Lest you think that vibrancy lives only in the male realm (and I doubt that you’re thinking that!), consider Senegal.  My visits there have been about wild splotches of colour dotting the brownish land.  I was surprised to see how many men dress “Western” – t-shirts and shorts.  When they pull out their cell phones, I feel right at home.  But hold on.  The women festoon themselves with wild bandanas and long flowing dresses.  The 80-something lady you see here is the real deal – red, mauve, brown and pink, along with sparkling earrings and bracelet.  Plus her speech was animated with sounds I didn’t know.

 

 

Guess it doesn’t matter if you’re a guy or a girl
You can fly through life wearing the palette of the heavens …
if you want to

Full Speed Ahead

I just wrote an entire post … and it disappeared! (Sigh) I’ll go for recreating it, but I’m sad

***

A few nights ago, I watched the film Enola Holmes on Netflix. The description sounded good: the younger sister of the master detective Sherlock Holmes has some sleuthing smarts of her own, and she outfoxes her bro as they both chase a case. Then I noticed that Millie Bobby Brown was Enola. I’ve enjoyed her acting in the TV series Stranger Things.

As the plot began unfolding, I started staring at Millie, with my mouth gaped open. She’s a pretty 16-year-old girl, but that wasn’t it. There are lots of pretty girls and women. This was far beyond physical appearance, age or most anything else you can think of. Millie’s face was bursting! Vibrating. Some faces stay put. Some recede. And some blast out into anyone who’s passing by. Such is Millie … and Michelle Obama … and South Africa’s Desmond Tutu. Each of these folks connect with us … effortlessly.

As one reviewer said:

The real attraction here is Brown’s turn as Enola. The character’s insistent lightheartedness might seem easy to pull off, but it’s not: With her constant addresses to the camera – from an underwater wink while a baddie tries to drown her, to a cheekily grandiloquent reveal of her identity to us while she attempts to go undercover as a widow – Enola could get real annoying real quick … But Brown is wonderful, selling the film’s girl-power ethos with just the right amount of playfulness, while retaining something sweet and sincere at the character’s heart. She conveys the energy of a kid discovering the wide world; her Enola moves with seeming confidence but has the darting eyes of a child.

Such aliveness resides not only on the silver screen, or within the halls of political power, or spoken from the pulpit. This exuberance shows up here – in all the “here’s” where we live. It shows up in that kid on the playground, that old codger at the coffee shop, that dancer on the sidewalk. Quite likely, it also shows up in …

YOU


What Happened?

A long time ago, when I was just a pup, I came upon a black-and-white poster that nailed my shoes to the floor.  The top half showed a young boy, giggling away.  On the bottom was a 60ish fellow, wearing an impeccable suit and a crushed face.  The caption?  What happened?

I spent half-an-hour this morning trying to find that poster on Google.  No luck.  Another search brought me these two photos, which filled the bill nicely.

What do we do to ourselves as adulthood emerges and lengthens?  What do we learn under our parents’ roof and in the schoolyard and on the job about who we are?  Is it society’s fault that we numb ourselves so that the joys of life slip away?  Where does the need to be more, better and different come from?  What happened?

All is not lost.  There are vibrant human beings walking down Main Street if we have eyes to see them.  Some have secret smiles but others hit you between the eyes with their joy.  Shall we join these bright spirits?  Shall we contemplate a new question: What will happen?  If you’re 20, what will you bring forth when you’re 30?  40 … 50?  60 … 70?  It really is up to us, not to a painful childhood, financial disasters, or the loss of loved ones.

When I meet you on Main Street, please show me your future photo.  We’ll celebrate together.

Animating Life

I’m thinking of two different perspectives:

1. Things stay the same, becoming solid and dull over time
2. Things change, flow and brighten

While it makes sense that things evolve, gradually becoming new versions of themselves, it seems to me that we don’t act that way.  If I tell you, “I am a teacher”, it’s likely you have a stable image of what that means, due to your life experiences about teaching.  And it’s easy to become so firm in our perception of something, such as a maple tree, that the original beauty of the object becomes lost.  The spreading branches in the backyard, adorned with lovely reds and oranges in the fall, simply becomes “a tree”.

When we use adjectives, such as “humble” or “endearing”, the aliveness of the word is so often invisible to us.  To be “not full of oneself, without pride” shows me a person with a glass half full – lots of room to discover the new in life.  To be “lovable, precious, making dear” shows me a person who shines as the light plays over the jewel, someone who deserves to be held as you would a baby bird, someone whose glow touches others.

Some of us use a lot of words, almost a barrage at times.  The flood of verbiage doesn’t give us time to pause, and reflect on what has been said.  Compare the land as perceived from a car to what the cyclist sees.  I also think of black soil after a rain.  If I really pay attention, I see the lovely seeping of water into the earth … so slow and exquisite.

I have two favourite words.  The first no doubt would be the choice of many.  The second I likely share with virtually no one.

Love

Did I guess right?

Animation

How about this time?

If your first thought is something like this: “the technique of photographing successive drawings of models to create an illusion of movement”, I understand.  My joy, however, is in “the process of giving life to, of making alive”.  The words we choose, the moments where we pause and behold, the creation of an alive space between us – these are what we give and receive.

An Unbounded View

I’m sitting in my red man chair, looking across my living room and out into the world. The sun is preparing to say goodbye. The field of winter wheat beyond stretches to trees bordering the faraway creek. It’s home I see.

The tall panes of glass reveal a young tree in the foreground and a slope of newly-mown grass. It’s quiet out there.

Awhile ago, the windows showed me the soaring of a hawk … such lovely curves in the sky. I stared. Then my airborne friend flew to the left and out of my world. I was sad. “Come back, new companion!” I cried inside my head, but it was not my call to make. I know the hawk is somewhere nearby, and his path through the air is still etched in my mind. There is “hawkness” here, the remembrance of gracious flying. And that’s enough.

On the left edge of the photo, you’ll glimpse the dome covering my nyger seed feeder. Birdies come and go in search of the good stuff. The male goldfinches are so yellow! Sometimes the feeder (and its nearby sunflower seed cousin) are frantic with the wings of visitors. Sometimes the feeders hang limp and alone. Such rhythms.

Way to the north is the left and right expanse of Harrietsville Drive. Cars are so tiny from my living room. And they look so slow. I wonder who’s going where, who’s happy and who’s tormented … all brothers and sisters of mine.

See the glass on the window sill? It’s full of little pebbles of couscous. I see them as the citizens of Belmont, my village of 2800 souls. It’s convenient to wish them all well in one spot. The glass is dead centre in my view.

It’s nice being home.

Animation

No, I’m not talking about Pixar here.

Many moons ago, someone asked me what my favourite words were. I sat back and listened to what was inside … and two bubbled up. The first shone brightly in me, and still does – love. The second was a shock – animation. Huh? Where did that come from, and what the heck did I mean?

Once I was a teenager in Grade 13. One more year and I’d be a high school graduate. My job was to take four yearlong courses, each culminating in a June exam worth 100% (!) of the mark. Incomprehensibly to me now, I chose Latin … a dead language.

It was so strange to see as the year unfolded that Latin was becoming my favourite subject. I loved seeing the roots of many English words, and the meanings often opened my eyes. Fifty years later, I swim in my love of language.

So … animation. It comes from the Latin verb animare.

To bring life to
To breathe into
To blow
To inspire
To rouse
To refresh

It’s up to me. What do I want to bring alive? Who do I want to bring alive? I suppose the answer could be “nothing and no one”. But that’s not true to who I am.

Many or few years remain for me on Earth. I will continue to exhale into the world.

Day Seven: Nima

What can give you a true sense of Senegal? I have many moments to choose from yesterday but my time with Nima was the best.

She’s a four-year-old girl, the daughter of my friends Ice Tea (Moustafa) and Fatou. As I arrived around midnight a day ago, she was sleepily there to greet Jo and me. At the gate, Jo picked her up and said “She’s grown so much!” I looked over to see two eyes shining in the darkness. Soon she was asleep, and we adults joined in conversation. But those eyes remained in me.

Yesterday morning, it was Nima again, finding me from across the room. She wore a pink t-shirt and her hair fell in countless braids. What was going on that I had trouble maintaining normal conversation with the tall people? There was a power here, in a tiny package, that reached over to me. How we can affect each other.

Later she sat in the next chair and her smile shone. There was Beatles music in the background and I began drumming on the wooden arm of my seat. Nima did the same, and soon we had a beat going that would have made Ringo proud … a Senegalese kid and a Canadian forty-year-old giving ‘er in the percussion section of the orchestra.

As Nima drummed, she stuck out her tongue. And I realized that I’d never really noticed tongues before. Hers was so pink against the black of her skin.

The beat went on and so did we. I plopped my hand on hers briefly. She returned the favour, and soon we were trying to escape each other’s touches from above. And still we drummed, now to the songs of Neil Young. We laughed.

I don’t believe that Nima knows any English, and my French is slowly moving from marginal to moderate. No matter. We were rejoicing in the melodies of life.

Later in the day, we had visitors. Two young boys crammed a chair with Nima. It was her fourth birthday. Conversations in French bounced across the room. And the song with “anniversaire” in the lyrics burst out. Happy Birthday, dear little one. The song morphed to something else and the kids started dancing. Somewhere along the way, I picked up my phone and started videoing. I wonder if I can send it to you. Let’s try:

Une grande célébration! Parfait pour tous les gens.

Perfect for us all

B-ball Lessons

I watched the Grade 5/6 girls basketball team today.  They were in another school against two opponents.  I was thrilled to see them play after being on the west coast for nine days.

As the games ebbed and flowed, I saw 12-year-old kids that I love rocket down the court – sometimes making great plays and sometimes messing up.  I realized that I wasn’t attached to the transcendent moments.  My love especially extended to errant passes, missed free throws, “losing the handle”.

The NBA is full of astonishing athletes.  Years ago, Michael Jordan could do seemingly impossible things with the basketball.  But I didn’t love him, nor the other stars.  Today was different.  You go, girls!  You gave it all you had … and I cheered.

Game Number One was with a less skilled team.  The score quickly mounted to 12-0 and my thoughts turned towards the other folks.  Being so outplayed can be such a blow to the ego, but these opponents kept holding their heads high, grabbing the ball after we scored a basket and motoring towards our end.  We intercepted passes, blocked shots, and got in their faces, but those “others” didn’t give up.  I was so proud of them.  When they eventually scored a basket, the cheer from their fans was the biggest I heard all afternoon.

The final score was 28-7.  We didn’t gloat.  They didn’t slump.  Two teams gave ‘er.  In the large scheme of things, it didn’t matter that one team performed far better than the other.  Everybody got to play, and play hard.

Game Number Two had us up against a school that has three times the number of students that we have.  Our girls didn’t believe the stats.  We had hands up in the opponents’ faces.  We fought under the basket for rebounds.  All of our missed shots didn’t slow us down a bit.  At one point a player on the other team broke away towards the basket.  One of our girls raced back and swatted the ball away as she was starting her layup.  Brilliant … worthy of TSN’s Sportcentre highlight show!

The opposition featured powerful players and a stifling defense.  But no heads hung low for us.  We were behind 6-0 and then roared back.  In the final minute of a 10-8 game, we must have had four shots, and none of them found the net.  Still, the fury of our press to tie was a joy to watch.

Win one, lose one?
On the surface of things … yes

Fully alive for two?
Absolutely

Day Four: The Evolutionary Collective Workshop

I was confronted today … with an idea and a criticism.  First the idea part.  How about if I started living my life without needing people’s agreement?  For one thing, I wouldn’t be looking over my shoulder to see if folks were still liking me.  I wouldn’t have to tailor my comments to the audience, to test the wind to see if an idea would fly.  I would be totally willing to say my truth without antagonism.  I could enter into dialogue with someone who sees the world differently, perhaps in the end agreeing to disagree.

If we’re breaking new ground here, leaning into future possibilities, then falling back into the tried and true won’t get the job done.  The world needs fresh ideas and I include myself in the company of people who can create them.  And if it’s new, naturally there’d be little agreement in the marketplace.  There’s no track record for such a courageous thrust into the unknown.  But the novelty of thought is where I want to be, rather than simply following the traditional ways of doing things.  If I stay traditional, naturally others will be nodding their heads in response, but where’s the juice in that?

And then there’s the spiritual practice called being criticized.  I felt myself contract today in response but I kept my head up, and my eyes in contact with my confronter, refusing to shrink all the way down to silence.  That’s been my pattern, to plummet into the abyss of “I’m bad”, to run away with my tail between my legs.  So dissatisfying.  I was once told to surround myself with powerful people, to let them impact me, jolt me.  Well, so be it.  In order to be the conduit for great things in the world, I need to be open to influence, to correction.  I need to be open to the type of conflict that raises us both up to be our best.  I need to be in a tennis match with someone equally as committed and farther down the path of transformation, someone who will hit tough shots into the corners and draw out my very best in response.

I love the peace of meditation but it pales before the love flowing through a relationship between two people who are committed to each other.  There’s a brilliant aliveness in asking the other person to be great, and allowing them to do the same for me.

Presence in Absence

Objects contain absent people

Julian Barnes

I was watching a TV show last night about the wonders of New Zealand and its people. The host was very engaging. He had a syrupy voice that almost hypnotized me at times. At one point, I was nodding off when he spoke the words above. Huh? What did he say about objects? And what does it mean?

The day after, it’s clear. Dear human beings remain in place after they move on in life or in death. They continue to reside in precious objects. Such as …

1. I wrote a book about my loved one, called Jodiette: My Lovely Wife. About 1200 copies are spread around Canada and beyond. One sits on Anne and Ihor’s coffee table here in Toronto. Jody radiates from the pages.

2. The totem poles of Haida Gwaii, a huge island off the mainland of British Columbia, stand guard. Twenty-six of them tilt in the abandoned village of Ninstints. Hundreds of years of the Haida people remain in the wood.

3. I’m sitting in the waiting room of a walk-in clinic on Weston Road. Six others wait with me. The chair beside is empty and I think of the thousands of sick people who have put their rear end down in that spot. May they all have found health.

4. I wandered through the 911 Museum in New York City last week. I came upon a piece of paper, charred at the edges. It was a report about some project that a company was initiating. I imagined some young account executive holding this sheet as he or she spoke to colleagues and bosses. The person was still there in the paragraphs.

5. Value Village is a thrift store in London, featuring lots of quality used clothing. I go to Wellington Fitness next door and often see crowds of folks coming and going with their treasures. I think of the folks wearing other folks’ clothing and wonder if the energy of the previous owner shines through to the new one.

6. I bought a wooden mask in Toubacouta, Senegal in January. The smile is big and the eyes are wide. The fellow offering it said that his great-great-great? grandfather carved it over a hundred years ago. That man’s hands are still in the crevices of the face, in the high cheek bones, in the joy.

7. I’ve been privileged to see many bears in the Canadian Rockies, even the occasional grizzly. And yet most times on the alpine trails there was no sign of the majestic animals. But I would look to the way ahead and realize that the bears were here – I just couldn’t see them. I would sense their footfalls on the dirt and exposed rock.

8. At home I have a ticket stub for a Bruce Springsteen concert in Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium, around 1980. What lives on in that little slip of stuff is … me. A younger version. Dancing in his seat. In love with life, just not as deeply as now.

9. I’m still in the waiting room, and a huge window allows me to look across the street to a brick building. Its side is covered with a mural, depicting Weston Road as it once was. A streetcar rumbles down the street. A two-storey brick building is topped with a bell tower. Mother and daughter are strolling on the porch of what might be a general store. The people are created in paint but they stand in for real folks who walked this street decades ago. And the artist’s love lingers on the wall.

***

Ghosts from the past
Real in the present
Leaning into the future