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

Animation

I have two favourite words.  The first is love … well understood by all and sundry.  The second is animation.  The reaction I usually get to that one is some version of “Huh?” or “You like Disney flicks?”  No matter – my joy in the word goes on.

Someone, no doubt wise, said:

“The Latin word anima (meaning breath, soul) that gave us animal, has given us other words.  The English adjective animate (meaning alive) comes from the Latin verb animare, meaning to give life to, which in turn comes from anima.”

The dictionary sees animation as the state of being full of life or vigor, and offers these synonyms:

Liveliness, spirit, high spirits, spiritedness, energy, enthusiasm, eagerness, excitement, vigor, vivacity, vivaciousness, vitality, vibrancy, exuberance, ebullience, buoyancy, bounciness, bounce, perkiness, sprightliness, verve, zest, sparkle, dash, elan, brio.

Woh … so many words.  But the word itself is true.  For decades, I’ve understood that to animate is to breathe life into, to take an ordinary moment and make it vibrate.  I think that is a gift of mine – to see the light in an apparently normal second or minute.

The light was with me half an hour ago.  I’m in Aeolian Hall, a 135-year-old concert venue in London.  A young woman from Montreal has just sung five songs, as the opening act for Martha Wainwright.  After five minutes, Amélie Beyries looked at us and said “There are spirits here.”  So true.  Her voice climbed the heights of tone and soul.  Her fingers caressed the piano keys.  And just before her last song, she stood at the edge of the stage and cried.  “I’ve never experienced a hall like this.”  We smiled and loved her.

Amélie had taken us into her heart and shone a light upon us.  The time was alive, glowing, vibrating.  And we all have the power to do the same – to set others ablaze.  Maybe a little smile, a kind word, a hand on the shoulder.  We can animate the lives around us simply by being “over there” with them.  Then candles can light themselves.  Dimmer switches can push themselves up to maximum.  Off-white can transform to forest green.

Let’s do it

History Now

My new condo neighbour “Brad” is a very cool fellow.  He’s well into his 70’s and brimming with appreciation for Belmont, his new home.  Both of us have a cornfield out back that we love.

Brad and I went out for breakfast today at the Belmont Diner.  I wanted to introduce him to the regulars and he enjoyed meeting them, engaging in several conversations.  He’s an easy guy to know.

Brad is a historian.  He’s done lots of research on the Black Donnellys, an Irish family who emigrated to Lucan in Canada in the 1800’s.  The Donnelly clan got involved in some violent disputes with the locals, and many members of the family were killed at their homestead one night in 1880.

I watched Brad’s face as he talked about the Donnellys, about standing by the foundation of their home, about the feelings of the Lucan residents he’s met.  He was living right now in the events of the past, totally engaged in the story.

Brad lived for a time in Fort Erie, Ontario, and I learned of him gathering artifacts from the War of 1812, between the United States and the precursor of Canada.  He talked about the heavy cannonballs that the Americans fired at the British from their ships in the Niagara River, and then told me that he has one of them in his home.  Brad also has a collection of buttons from the tunics of American soldiers.  His eyes were wide as he transported himself back 200 years.

Then there was the native princess who lived by herself in a tent near Minnedosa, Manitoba – Brad’s hometown.  As a young boy, he watched the woman as she sat on a large rock in her native dress, gazing out over Lake Minnedosa.  He would encircle the  rock, trying to draw her into conversation.  But she was in her own world.  In the years since, Brad has tried to figure out who she was, and has collected many arrowheads from a local battleground once shared by two tribes.

Throughout all of this, there was Brad’s face … animated with the stories of the past.  Clearly he is enriched by the journeys of those who have gone before.  History is alive in his soul.

My eyes were opened over bacon and eggs.  The aliveness of Brad merged with my own and I realized that people who lived decades and centuries ago have lessons to teach me.  May I absorb these lessons in order to become a more empathetic person, and may that empathy touch lives in 2018.

 

Heart Wide Open

I lined up in the dark last night in front of the Aeolian Hall in London.  There were about twenty people in front of me and I wondered if I’d meet any of them at the concert.  We were here to see Irish Mythen, a singer-songwriter who’s transplanted herself from Ireland to Prince Edward Island.

The room was set up as a quilt of small round tables.  I strolled to the front and saw a couple sitting at one of them.  They were happy to have me join them.  I enjoyed talking to Elaine and Neil.  They’re world travellers and embrace the word “adventure” with all their being.  I told stories and they told stories.  We inspired each other.

And then there was Irish, a short firecracker of a human being with a voice that’ll rattle the dishes in your cupboard.  Loud and pure.  Her newest song is Maria, who I think was Irish’s aunt, and the recipient of great affection:

When I was a girl, you were a God … You were love, you were laughter

And I believed every word, such was the power of our singer.  Irish blasted her way into my heart.  Right at the beginning, she said “I promise you a hell of a show.”  And she’s a woman of her word.

Irish told us about an Irish priest who’d walk around with a paper cup of tea, with the tag from the bag falling over the side.  Most people didn’t know that the content of the cup was liquor, not Earl Grey!

And here are some quotes from this most “out there” human being:

She was talking to an Australian politician about being proud of her dual heritage – Irish and Canadian.  Last night, she flashed us some skin just below her collarbone – a colourful map merging the two countries.  “I didn’t show him my chest.”

And from a song whose title escapes me:

I want to dance with you
We’ll go laughing and howling at the moon

Oh, Irish.  You’re definitely a moon howler.

To us audience folks: “How are you?  I like to keep the audience happy.”

“I want to admit to you that I’m a … Catholic.  Not many lesbians would tell you that.”

Near the end of the concert: “Let’s pretend that was the last song.”  Big smile.  And we onlookers stood as one, applauding wildly.  Irish bent over and covered her face.  She was crying.  Gathering herself, she told us the stories behind each of her final three songs (“to save time”) and then proceeded to launch them at us, rapid fire.

We stood for her
We loved her
We marvelled at the divine entity standing before us

High Five

I went to the celebration of Canada’s birthday yesterday, in a leafy and meadowy riverside park in London.  Here were my highlights:

1.  As I sat in front of the stage grooving to a 13-year-old girl belting out the tunes of Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra, along came a white version of Star Wars’ Darth Vader.  He was on a unicycle, pushing his young son in a stroller.  A tall post came up from the vehicle, with our Canadian flag flapping madly as the pair of them zoomed by.  Then they returned to listen to the young diva.  I was awestruck.  He had such presence, such a shining light among thousands of spectators in their lawn chairs.  The gentleman was creating vivid memories for the boy.  Well done.

2.  As the next act came onstage, with their high-energy beat, up walked a skinny guy wearing baggy bluejeans, T-shirt and a glittery green hat, complete with flashing lights.  He wasn’t a handsome man.  But oh, could he dance!  Didn’t give a hoot about being the only dancer or about the huge glom of onlookers.  The big smile on his face said it all.  And that’s what makes people beautiful, I’d say.  Well done.

3.  A muscular man in a white T-shirt rushed towards Cheryl Lescom, the last act of the night.  They talked briefly.  His little boy was lost.  And the pain was everywhere on his face.  Red-shirted volunteers sprang into action as Cheryl announced the disappearance.  Five minutes later,  a young woman in red appeared near the stage, holding Dalton on her hip.  She bounced him gently and talked to the young missing one.  Soon dad was sprinting to the front for a reunion.  Tears hung nearby.  Well done, everyone.

4.  Cheryl Lescom, a blues and rock singer, blasted out her songs for a good hour.  It was great to see someone move her body all around as she sang – a woman probably in her 50s with some meat on her bones and a passion for great lyrics and the power of the voice.  “Proud Mary”, “Me and Bobby McGee” and “The Hippy, Hippy Shake” rocked the park indeed.  Well done.

5.  10:00 pm.  Fireworks that took my breath away.  Huge circular explosions of colour, twisty ones heading diagonally into the heavens, and an rip-roaring finale created thousands of clapping hands.  Jody was beside me, oohing and ahhing with her husband.  “Oh Bruce, they’re so beautiful.  Thank you for bringing me.”  “You’re most welcome, Jodiette.”  I cried.

Five to remember

Ah, For Just One Time

I went a tribute concert last night for Stan Rogers, a Canadian singer-songwriter who died from smoke inhalation on a plane in 1983.  As the brochure said, “Stan Rogers touched the lives of countless people.”

Stan wrote about ordinary Canadians … fishermen, farmers, factory workers, lovers, explorers, displaced East coasters who went west to work in oil refineries.  He told the story of an aging housewife, gazing at the wrinkles in her mirror but dreaming of “Friday at the Legion when she’s dancing with her man”.

Five passionate musicians stood in front of me, recreating Stan’s stories with their mouths and fingers.  And we in London’s Aeolian Hall responded with our voices held high, blasting out the choruses so the walls trembled.

Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Tracing one warm line through a land so wide and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea

And then it was over.  Time to leave.  Or perhaps not just yet.  Do I say hi to the performers or let them have their space?  “Be a decent person, Bruce.”  But really, what does that mean?  As Jack singer and guitarist walked off the stage and started down the aisle where I stood, I knew this moment’s version of decency.  I smiled.  He smiled.  I shook his hand.  “I enjoyed your music.”  Contact, of the most lovely kind.

Further down the aisle, Brad singer and guitarist was talking to an audience member.  To brush past or to linger?  I’m sure you know.  Brad had enchanted me with his singing of one of Stan’s lesser known tunes – “White Squall”.

But I tell these kids a hundred times “Don’t take the Lakes for granted
They go from calm to a hundred knots so fast they seem enchanted”
But tonight some red-eyed Wiarton girl lies staring at the wall
And her lover’s gone into a white squall

“I loved your singing, especially on ‘White Squall’.  Thank you.”  Two smiles.

The concert hall was three flights of stairs up from the street.  A narrow stairway.  So it was a very slow process having all of us move towards the outside world.  Just before I reached the top of the stairs, I saw a little room on the right, with a snack bar.  Leaning against the counter was Paul singer and guitarist, waiting to be served.  There was no thought, just an abrupt change of direction.

Bruce:  “Thank you for your music.”

(Smile in return)

Paul:  “It’s Stan’s music.”

Bruce:  “Yes, but really it belongs to all of us.”

(Nod)

Down the stairs.  Off into the night.  Happy.

Mohini and Me

Mohini was a regal white tiger who lived for many years at the Washington, D.C. National Zoo.  For most of those years, her home was in the old lion house – a typical twelve-by-twelve-foot cage with iron bars and a cement floor.  Mohini spent her days pacing restlessly back and forth in her cramped quarters.  Eventually, biologists and staff worked together to create a natural habitat for her.  Covering several acres, it had hills, trees, a pond and a variety of vegetation.  With excitement and anticipation, they released Mohini into her new and expansive environment.  But it was too late.  The tiger immediately sought refuge in a corner of the compound, where she lived for the remainder of her life.  Mohini paced and paced in that corner until an area twelve-by-twelve feet was worn bare of grass.

Aren’t we all regal?  But usually we don’t see the truth about ourselves and others.  We see but a tiny part of the whole being – the surface part.  Too often we believe that our environment – all that is outside of our skin – causes who we are.  There seems to be a 12 x 12 cage hemming us in.  For me, in my worst moments, it’s more like a full length cardboard box has been dropped over my head.  I can’t move.  I certainly can’t dance.  And the fiction I create is that someone else, or something else, has covered me.  Truthfully, I am the dropper.  And so I pace.

When someone like the Dalai Lama, or Gina Sharpe, or Jiddu Krishnamurti, points to a vastness beyond my past experience, I’ve opened my eyes only a bit.  A glimpse here and there of something big, and then I fall back into my old ways.  But life seems to be a spiral, and the opportunity for future opening comes around again and again.  And so I emerge.

What are the moments that have drawn me to the hills and forests of life?

1.  Letting myself wander into Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver after witnessing an evening performance of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in an old stone church.  Sitting under a tree, rocking back and forth for an hour or more, singing the title song

2.  Sitting at the back of the meditation hall, listening to Gina Sharpe speak, and feeling her love fill the room

3.  On an outdoor education trip in the Alberta wilderness, warming up a member of our small group, helping her back from the edge of hypothermia

4.  Singing “For You” to my lovely wife Jodiette, and playing my guitar, as she lies in bed

5.  Sitting with a Grade 6 girl on the school playground, holding my hand over a deep cut on her calf, waiting for medical help to arrive

6.  Holding a young man as an epileptic seizure rocks through him, making sure he doesn’t hit his head

7.  Dressing up as Santa Claus for the kids at the hospital, ho-ho-hoing as countless young humans take turns sitting on my lap

8.  Standing at the prow of the M.V. Lady Rose on the way from Port Alberni, BC, out to Bamfield on the Pacific shore, letting the waves crash over me

9.  Touching my rock in Barre, Massachusetts, feeling the pain of All Beings Everywhere and giving them my love

 ***

Hello, Mohini.  Please come with me.  The big wide world beckons us both

Today is Not Yesterday

How strange that yesterday I was in the space of letting go of all results, just doing things with no expectation of what would come next.  Not today.  This afternoon I wanted to break 1:00:00 on my time trial route.  I did that twice a few weeks ago but not even close since then.

I looked up at the trees from our family room and saw that there was no movement at the tops.  Wow.  Time on the bike without wind.  So I slapped on a funky cycling jersey composed of bones (some broken), adjusted my headband with a star symbol on it, and took off like a banshee (although not having ever met a banshee, I don’t really know what that’s like).

A section of Bostwick Road (as Jody and I say – “Home Road”) was resurfaced with dombind last week.  No more potholes.  Dombind is basically a layer of gravel with what I’d guess is tar underneath.  As car tires press the gravel into the tar, a somewhat smooth surface emerges after a month or two.  The last few rides I’ve started off so tentatively, afraid of spilling on the gravel with my skinny tires.  Not today.  I grunted up the slight slope outside our door, watching for any little ripple of gravel that might send me down but still giving ‘er.

Two minutes later I was on asphalt and pumping hard.  Previously I’d been careful to keep my heart rate at or below 145 beats per minute.  Moderation in all things, Bruce.  Not today.  Soon I was in the 150-155 range and I pretty much stayed there for the whole ride.

On the flat, I kept ta-pocketa in her highest gear and pulled up hard on the clipless pedals.  Typically on my route I’d say hello to various horses, runners and cows.  Not today.  Hardly saw the horses and I didn’t come upon any human beings.  If I had adjusted my handlebar mirror just so, I’d have no doubt seen a fully knitted brow and tiny slits of eyes, worlds away from the serenity that the bike can give.

I had to gear down on the hills but I kept up the intensity.  My heart rate monitor showed a pace that I guessed would drop me under an hour at the end.  “This” was fine.  If I produced “that” when I rolled back into our driveway – not fine.  No embracing all that the universe offers.  Not today.

I turned off Sunset Road onto Bostwick at about the 56 minute mark.  I was going to make it!  Halfway along, the dombind again.  I still kept the cadence up.  I can control ta-pocketa on this stuff.  Keep pushing.  A minute from home, there’s the top of a short rise … and what was parked there, taking up the entire right side of the road, was a delivery truck.  There’s no way some silly vehicle was going to stop me from fulfilling my glorious quest.  I pulled out to pass, straining to see any telltale gravel ripples.  Oh, how life is timing.  I was out in no man’s land on the left, and here comes a car climbing towards me.  I brake hard and start skidding to the left.  The driver brakes too.  Somehow I get my left foot down and avoid a tumble.  The driver was a neighbour, and we smile at each other as she drifts by.

Back on the go, ta-pocketa leading me home.  Slow down for the right turn off the gravel and into our driveway.  Pretty sudden stop near our front door.  Press the button on my heart rate monitor … 58:48.  Oh, what a good boy am I!

No placid Buddha face.  No shimmering down of sublime energy.  No peace.

Not today