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

Ecstasy

I’m having appointments up the ying yang – fun lunches and suppers, maintenance for both of my cars, and yesterday a complete physical from my dear doctor Julie.

I was in the waiting room before being called into the inner sanctum when I decided to check e-mails on my Samsung phone.  It was just me and a young woman with her infant son.

Oh, look.  A message from the president of the Elgin Theatre Guild.

“I spoke with the director of Jake’s Women and he is coming to ETG on Monday at one o’clock to audition a child for the play.   He says if you want to be here too he will audition you too!!! 

As they say in short speak … OMG!  I’m bouncing up and down on my chair and my companion is checking me out, with a smile.  Seems to me that I had a pretty good one myself.

I had hoped that the director would give me an audition during the one week I’m home in September, between my Western Canada trip and my long meditation retreat in Massachusetts.  But now?  OMG again.

I was just beside myself.  Well, actually not, since the chair was empty, but you know what I mean.  “What’s true, Bruce?”  “I am Jake, in every sinew of my U-shaped body.”  Strangely, I’m not nervous.  I suppose the fellow will have me read a few paragraphs of something, make me stand on my head, sing a little number … Who knows?  It doesn’t matter.  In the words of a martial artist, “Just put yourself on the mat.”  So I will.  Pray for me please, if that’s your way.  If not, just close your eyes at 1:00 pm and chant “Bruce”.  Okay, you don’t have to do that either.

Spirit in the Afternoon … Spirit in the Evening

I’m in Toronto this weekend to draw closer to God, Spirit, Essence, Love … whichever word you choose.

After lunch yesterday, I headed to the Tibetan Canadian Cultural Centre on Titan Road.  How did I know it was there?  Well, the hotel I was staying at displayed The Toronto Star at the front desk, and the Weekend Life section’s front page had an article entitled “Hometown Tourist: Tibet”.  We readers were directed towards the best of Tibetan culture, religion, restaurants and shopping.  And I found myself directed to Titan Road for the 80th birthday celebration of the Dalai Lama.  Someone is taking care of me.  And I bet her name is Jody.

As I walked towards the centre, I saw families gathered under the trees, many of them dressed in Tibetan dresses and robes.  Happy faces in the shade.  Colourful prayer flags were strung between the branches, and were lifted by the breeze.  At the entrance stood two eight-foot prayer wheels, which folks were turning clockwise.  The adults tended to rotate the wheels slowly but when it was the kids’ turn, the symbols on the cylinders blurred in the spin.  Both were perfect expressions of God animating our world.

Inside, after a few minutes of looking around, I came to the conclusion that I was the only non-Oriental person present.  And it was a good feeling.  Not once did I feel excluded.  I sat down with hundreds of others to hear Tibetan music and listen to speakers, all in a language I didn’t understand.  It still felt like home.  A woman had graciously offered me a chair near her family.  Later in the afternoon, there was a buffet spread out on a few long tables, and people started lining up, including several monks in their red robes.  A woman approached me and in English invited me to join the line.  She had such a big smile.  I couldn’t help return it.  One male server kindly warned me about the sauce I was about to glob onto my noodles.  “Very hot.”  So I took just a bit, still enough to attack my innards for a few hours.  Oh well.  When in Rome …

I wandered around the room, looking at the homemade posters on the walls honouring the Dalai Lama.  Many of them were done by kids.  Here’s a quote from His Holiness:

The planet does not need more “successful people”.  The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.”

Amen.

***

Last night, I sat on the steps of the Metropolitan United Church in downtown Toronto, becoming friends with Andrea and David.  Hundreds of us were waiting for the doors to open.  Krishna Das had come to lead us in two-and-a-half hours of Sanskrit chanting.  We sang the names of God in a huge sanctuary framed by tall stained glass windows.  Krishna would sing a line such as “Om Namo Bhagavaate Vaasudevaaya” and we would send it right back to him.  Just as earlier in the day, I didn’t know what the words meant, but the speaking of them touched the core of me.  As we chanted, I was often lost in love.  Sometimes the music sent my arms and legs into spirals and rhythms.  At other times, I was perfectly quiet, head bowed, just listening to the choir.

Where did those hours go?  I don’t know.  Strangely, I didn’t feel the urge to pee, or to shift my bottom on those hard wooden pews.  Lost in a lovely space.  And Jody was right there with me.  Thank you, Jodiette.

At the end, many people, including David, walked up to the front to say a word to Krishna.  I saw David wait patiently as Krishna talked to other people first.  And the man of the hour was so gracious … smiling, hugging and posing for photos with his new friends.  The Spirit is alive in him.

“The man of the hour”?  Well, that’s really not right.  In the afternoon and in the evening, each of us – male or female, young or old – was the person, not of the hour, but of the moment.  Such a huge family.

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

Another Celebration of Life

In January, I hosted a Celebration of Life for my dear Jodiette at the Bellamere Winery in London.  It was a sweet couple of hours … chairs set up theatre-style, people coming to the front to talk about my loved one, music videos, a light buffet lunch afterwards.  Love filled the room.

This afternoon, I went to another Celebration of Life, at the International Hotel in Leamington, Ontario.  Jim Brundritt was a mailman, a jokester, and a rollicking good friend and dad.  His daughter Kym knew that a local bar was the perfect place for Jim’s celebration because he loved to party.  And the Jody Raffoul Band was rockin’ at the front of the room.

There I was, bellied up to the bar, playing table piano as Jody did his vocals.  I loved it.  Never missed a note.  And all around me were big smiles and multi-hugs.  Jim’s friends and family were out in force, and the biggest smile, I’m sure, belonged to the guest of honour.  Often Jody (of the he, not my darling she) would mention Jim, and the beer bottles were hoisted high.  Clink!  The wardrobe was mostly T-shirts and ball caps rather than the more formal dress at Jodiette’s day, but it was all the same … love and remembrance of a great human being.

I hugged Kym.  I drank beer.  And I played the keyboard until my fingers dropped off.  Here’s to you, Jim.  And here’s to my dear wife.  Maybe the two of them are jiving on that upper dance floor.

Soirée

It means “party” in French.  And I was at one yesterday afternoon.  Vicki is a teacher at St. Patrick School in Woodstock, Ontario, and she’s retiring after decades of teaching.  The whole school was sitting on the gym floor as her kindergarten class came to the front and sang to their beloved teacher.  Vicki beamed.

Then there was the video.  We saw the star of the show as a young kid, as a teen, as a new teacher.  Years of class photos shone from the screen.  Plus a few vintage staff photos.  Lots of smiles and laughs from the audience.  Each of Vicki’s current students stood in front of the camera and told us what they liked about their teacher.  Most of them were shy, and I guess a bit scared, but one young man just belted out his message, mouth wide open.  What fun.  St. Patrick’s has students ranging from kindergarten to Grade 8.  On video, each class said thanks, complete with lots of waving.

And let’s not forget the massages.  For years, Vicki has given her colleagues a neck rub at the end of a stressful day.  So here’s staff member number one, a woman, sitting in a chair facing left.  From the right edge of the screen appear two hands and forearms, descending gently onto her shoulders.  After a few seconds of good rubbing, the “Oohs” and “Ahhs” emerge.  This scenario was repeated about 20 times … teachers, educational assistants, custodian, secretary, principal.  All felt the healing touch.  What a community I was sitting with!

For the big finale, all of us lined the hallways, each carrying a little flag.  Mine was pink.  From my spot in the L-shaped corridor, I could hear cheering growing louder.  And then barreling around the corner was Vicki, running and waving as a torrent of joy and flying flags carried her along.  I even got a high five from the golden girl.

Whew.  What a spectacle.  The three R’s are important, but to Rejoice together is the best.

Celebrating Jody

Dear friends,

I hope that you’ll come to Jody’s Celebration of Life on Saturday, January 31 at 11:00 am.  It will be held at the Bellamere Winery in northwest London.  The best way to find Bellamere is to get yourself to the intersection of Wonderland Road North and Gainsborough Road.  The Sherwood Forest Mall is on the southwest corner.  Turn left if you’re coming from the south and head west on Gainsborough.  Keep going past Hyde Park Road and you’ll find Bellamere about a kilometre along on your left.  There’s been major construction on Hyde Park, so I wouldn’t go that way.

From the 401 westbound, take the 402 where it splits off the 401 and exit at Wonderland Road.  Head north for quite awhile until you get to the Sherwood Forest Mall.

There’s free parking at Bellamere.  You’ll see two buildings.  Walk towards the right one.  Under the portico, go in the double doors on your right.  If you’re in a wheelchair, there’s a ramp in front of the single door that’s to the left of the double one.

There!  Directions handled.

Please sign the guest book on the long table as you go in.  After Jody’s celebration, I hope you’ll stay for a light lunch.

May our time together be a marvelous sharing of stories … of Jody’s smile, her humour and her love.  My darling wife touched so many people.  I hope that I’ll be laughing a lot.  Most likely I’ll also be crying a lot.  Both are just fine.

May you have the courage to come to the front and tell us about Jody and you.  We can paint pictures of how Jody moved through life.  I certainly have a few fun experiences to share.  Jody knew fun.  If you can’t imagine speaking in front of potentially a lot of people, please send me an e-mail of what you want to say, and I’ll read it to the group.

No doubt, there will be a lot of love in the room.  There’ll also be a lot of music … some of Jody’s favourite songs.

***

The past few weeks have helped me remember the beauty of my lovely wife that she showed as her life moved towards a close.  In September, Jody wanted to bake me a loaf of French pepper crackling bread, our Christmas tradition, but she wasn’t strong enough to do it.  So she coached Linda, one of our personal support workers, in the baking of this wonder.  There was Jody in her wheelchair, telling Linda this and telling Linda that.  And a couple of hours later … Voila!  My bread awaiteth.  And it was delicious, just as it’s been for twenty years or more.

Only weeks after Jody’s death did I realize that she wanted me to have one more loaf of our love bread, and that she knew she wouldn’t be around at Christmas for this blessed tradition.  Jodiette loved me quadruple oodles, and she still does.

For the last two months of Jody’s life, she wanted to wear all the rings that I had given her … and so she did.  Seven in all.  My favourite is the heart-shaped golden ring, with three little blue stones, that I gave to Jodiette as I asked her to marry me on English Bay Beach in Vancouver.  That was in September, 1986.  So many lovings ago.

My life has been changed by the time I got to spend with Jody Anita Kerr in this lifetime.  She gave me all she had.  Jody made sure I ate well, looked good and was happy.  Her song for me has always been “(Everything I Do) I Do It for You”.

Search your heart and your soul
You can’t tell it’s not worth dying for
I’ll be there
I’d walk the fire for you
I’d die for you

On February 24, Jody and I will be in Budweiser Gardens, listening to Bryan Adams sing to us.  I only bought one ticket.  That’s all we need.  We’ll sing along.

I love you all,

Bruce