Day Four: Love Blossoms

It’s not just in the orientation: love can unfold when the soil is rich. Derek and I started our day at Café 64. A woman smiled at us in welcome as we walked in the door and she never stopped. It didn’t matter who Dawn was talking to – the love came rushing out of her eyes. A couple walked in with their very young kids and Dawn was down on one knee in a flash, cooing at the infant. I shook my head in wonder as she greeted new folks. Finally I asked her: “Do you smile in your sleep?” She smiled.

Now in the hotel, our Evolutionary Collective orientation was well underway. During one practice, I was opening to the love offered by my two partners. A fellow looked at me and said “I want you to be so very happy.” No one had ever said such a thing to me. His words and eyes went deep into my heart. I was transfixed. Such a pure wish for my well-being.

Later in the day, it was again my turn to be the focus of attention. Three partners gazed into my eyes and then shared what they saw inside me. I heard words such as “spark”, “surprised at being loved”, “explosions”, “you are love”, and “both childlike and wise”. I was nourished. I was seen. Near the end of my time, the others were asked to call forth even more of me, for me to be an even deeper Bruce. Woh. And when it was someone else’s time to be at the centre, I delighted in looking way deep into their eyes and calling forth their best.

Six of us went to supper, and unlike many of my group experiences, the conversation was not watered down. We wanted to serve each other. So often comments were responded to by one of us, rather than the new speaker immediately starting up a new topic.

At one point, after I had been joking with Derek, he got really angry with me, saying that I wasn’t respecting his boundaries. I went to his eyes and stayed there. Even though I was churning inside with the criticism, I loved him from eye to eye. We maintained the gaze for a long time, and held hands for a bit. In the words of one of our witnessing companions, we “returned to love”. I was moved by our courage to “stay on the inside”, to not let the issue overwhelm the relationship. And our friends held us in love.

A white rose shone amongst us all.

Stories Handed Down

I volunteer in a Grade 6 class. I read to the group and help individual kids with assignments. But what I love the most is telling stories from my life, in hopes that seeds will be planted in some of those kids.

Last week, I told them about meeting a Haida “watchman” in Haida Gwaii, an archipelago north of Vancouver Island. He told me about how “white men’s diseases” decimated the Haida population, and how hundreds of their children were stripped of their dignity in far away residential schools. I watched the kids’ faces. Many of them seemed to get the tragedy of it all.

This morning I had breakfast in the Belmont Diner. I sat at the counter with two local gentlemen, probably both of them in their 80’s. Stories were told, this time with me on the receiving end.

1. A young man walks along a plank suspended over a huge tub of molasses. He slips … and is instantly up to his neck in the stuff. Co-workers hauled and hauled and finally got him out of the tub. God only knows how he ever got cleaned up.

2. “Fred” lived right by the railway tracks. Before the world of lights and descending gates, he sat in his car and stopped traffic when he heard the train whistle. To while away the time, Fred drank beer. Apparently he polished off 24 bottles most days of his adult life … and lived to 90 or so.

3. Both of my companions had big run-ins with teachers. One got fed up with getting harassed for just having “a little fun”. One day in Grade 10 he walked out and never came back. A week later, he was working at the local hardware store.

The other chap went to a two-room school out in the country. His female teacher for Grades 5 to 8 was to be a woman who never smiled and appeared to hate boys. He was always being called out for something. Imagining three more years of this, my currently coffee-drinking friend went to his father and somehow got switched to another school. Future contact with the teacher was met with stony silence on both sides.

4. My little village of Belmont, many decades ago, had five gas stations! All this to serve a population of 500.

5. Then there was the story of an underaged guy getting into a bar in Detroit. The same fellow who was sitting beside me. I’ll spare you the heroic details.

***

While the tales were being spun with gusto, another fellow walked in and joined us at the counter. His first words:

The purple asters are covered with little yellow butterflies

So … old guys tell stories to a somewhat younger old guy who tells stories to 11-year-old kids. May it always be this way. It’s how we learn about life.

Just A Wave

I was returning from London this afternoon on our local freeway.  I took the off ramp towards Belmont and braked to the stop sign.  To my right were two lanes in my direction which merged into one a couple of hundred metres away.  To my left was the freeway overpass and I saw no one coming.  I pulled into the right lane and put on my left turn signal.  My side mirror showed a motorcyclist zooming along the left lane towards me.

If you were a fiction writer, how would you finish this story?  With a spectacular crash and heroic rescue?  A near miss?  The truth was far less dramatic.

I let the motorcyclist go past and then moved into the left lane.  He or she waved.

And I paused, feeling a warmth course through me.  I pondered the beauty and the simplicity.  It was a “thank you”.

***

About a week ago, I was driving to the school where I volunteer.  It’s way out in the country, surrounded by corn and soybean fields.  Almost all the students are bussed, but there is an exception.  I started braking in preparation for turning left into the parking lot.  I glanced left to the house beside the school and there was a girl walking down the driveway.  She waved at me.  The same warmth, the same smile.  Contact.

***

Three summers ago, I went on a road trip to Western Canada to visit some of Jody’s relatives and a few old friends of mine.  I stayed a couple of nights with a marvelous family near Kamloops, B.C.  We laughed a lot.  When it was time to say goodbye, I hugged everyone and got in Scarlet.  As I drove down their lane, I glanced in the rearview mirror.  Three human beings were standing in front of their house, each of them waving to me.  Ditto again.

***

Hi
Bye
I see you

Parallel

I was sitting in the living room this morning with Ihor, my Toronto B&B host. We talked about life. He mentioned that his all-time favourite teacher was Mr. Whiteside in Grade 7. He helped the kids feel like human beings, like they mattered.

Years later, Ihor saw Mr. Whiteside on the subway one evening. He was snoozing. Ihor decided to leave him alone. He no doubt was exhausted from a day of teaching, marking and creating lesson plans. The intended message was simply “Thank you.” But there was no joyous giving and no likely joyous receiving. Ihor was sad in the years proceeding that he didn’t speak up.

I listened … and remembered the same. It was about 1970 and I was a student at the University of Toronto. As I approached an old stone arch on campus, I looked through to see “a little old man” coming towards me from the other side. Closer, I recognized the fellow: it was Lester Pearson, the recently retired Prime Minister of Canada. Pearson had been a leader in promoting peace in the world. He was a true Canadian hero. “Say something, Bruce!”

And now we were both entering the arch. I looked towards him with a dry mouth … and averted my gaze as we passed by. (Sigh) My sadness lingered for many years.

Ihor nodded.

Then he began again. “Many years later, I was walking on the Lake Huron sand near Wasaga Beach. A guy was walking towards me. It was David Crombie, known as ‘the tiny perfect mayor’ of Toronto. Visions of Mr. Whiteside. I walked right up to him and said ‘Hi.’ David smiled back and we had a good talk.”

I nodded.

Then I shared the story which took place in Bruno’s Fine Foods, a few decades after Mr. Pearson. I wheeled my shopping cart into the next aisle, and there at the far end was a little old man, pushing his. Closer. I knew him. It was King Clancy, a former player and coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now he was 80 or 90. He reached for his shelf and I reached for mine. Soon we were cart to cart …

“Hello, Mr. Clancy.”

(Big smile) “Hello.”

“Thank you for your contributions to the Leafs and to hockey.”

“You’re most welcome.”

And we talked some more.

***

Lesson learned, eh, Ihor?
May we always remember

Two Folks

I met two fine human beings today. In the spirit of “scarcity”, I could tell you about one of them now and the other tomorrow. Then it would be smooth sailing. I wouldn’t have to create a topic from the events of Saturday.

I’m now shaking my head “No”. That’s not how I want to write this blog. Right now, I’ll talk about what’s fresh … and that means both people. Tomorrow something else will emerge.

***

I’m staying at my friends Anne and Ihor’s B&B in Toronto. Last night I met another guest and she beat me to breakfast this morning. Lucy is from Beijing, China. She’s been here for a week, helping her son get established at his new school. I couldn’t help it – I had to find out her Chinese name. “Zhao Yu.” I asked which name she preferred and it became clear that her English was very basic. Eventually she understood my question, and said “Lucy is okay.” After a bit more prodding from me, she smiled and said “Zhao”.

I struggled to understand Zhao’s English and yet I could glimpse the full human being across the table. She worked so hard to have me get her messages. At one point, she got a container of raspberries out of the fridge and offered them to me. So sweet of her.

Zhao had bought bacon at the grocery store but didn’t know how to cook it. Our hostess Anne was going to help out here. I could feel judgments creeping into my brain but as I let them be there they soon floated away. The woman simply hasn’t had any experience with bacon.

Zhao was all excited that I live in London, a two-hour drive from Toronto. She wants to visit there someday. Anne pulled out maps of Ontario and the world and it became clear that Zhao thought I lived in London, England. Again judgments intruded and again quiet looking allowed them to fade.

Zhao is an accountant in Beijing and had stories about the city of 30,000,000 souls. Absolutely crammed sidewalks, roads and subway cars. Clearly this was an intelligent woman and the real problem was my inability to grasp her words. She was groping through a language that was foreign to her, offering me raspberries along the way. Thank you, Zhao!

At one point in our meeting of minds, I learned that Zhao was scared last night as she walked along Weston Road near the B&B. The reason? Because there was virtually no one on the street. Anne explained that in this intense heat people stayed indoors.

Toronto (3,000,000) is in between my home Belmont (2800) and Beijing. I experience Toronto as crammed with folks and Zhao sees it as empty! Perspective is a lovely thing.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Zhao. We hugged our goodbyes.

***

I just spent an hour with Barry in the Tim Hortons at Bloor Street and Dufferin. I was sitting at a table with my only company being a toasted bagel. Since the place was full, he asked if he could join me. I was happy to say yes.

Barry said it’s important to ask permission, not just to barge in, and I immediately liked him. I sensed that here was a fellow with cool things to say. Good sensing, Bruce.

My new friend tows large passenger planes away from their berths at Toronto Airport. It’s a job with a huge responsibility to keep people safe. Barry’s been doing it for thirty years and knows how to avoid accidents and deal with emergencies. He quietly admitted that he’s saved a few lives along the way.

The more Barry talked, the more I sensed that he’s been the topic of conversation at many supper tables over the years … all complimentary, I’d guess. He’s stood up for probational employees and taken more than a few of them under his wing to teach them the subtleties of the trade. He’s told his charges that if there’s a big problem, and only one tow-er of the two gets to come home that night, it’ll be the one who’s learning. He takes care of his guys.

Barry’s the one that management calls on when there’s a bomb scare and a plane has to be moved away from the terminal and far out on the tarmac. It’s volunteer work and he always raises his hand.

I was sitting across from love and courage. It was a privilege to be there. We shook hands goodbye, with deep respect flowing through them.

***

I’m going to a folk music concert tonight at Hugh’s Room
Will another vessel of motherhood or brotherhood come by?
I say yes

Day Ten: The Plane

First the breakfast. I walked by two fit-looking fellows and said hi. I soon found out that Clive and Alen had just completed a cross-country bicycle ride. I chose not to mention my recent Tour du Canada experiences but instead showed my appreciation of their achievement.

“Do you think you’ll look back on this as a life-changing experience?”

“No. It’s just something else for the bucket list.”

I wasn’t expecting that answer. Turns out that the two of them specialize in crossing countries on their bicycles. Twice they’ve “done” the USA. This fall is Africa. Just part of a cycling lifestyle.

How different these guys’ lives are from mine. And that’s just fine. No better or worse … just different. I love hearing of other folks’ journeys.

Alen and Clive talked about cars bombing by less than a metre from their handlebars, how so few drivers will pull over a bit or wait if there’s oncoming traffic. Many is the time that they’ve had to veer off into the gravel. Now why does all that sound awfully familiar? Just listening to them moved my heart into my throat.

Next was Brian, my cab driver to the airport. He loves St. John’s because everyone is so “laid back”. “Hurry” just isn’t in the vocabulary. Brian is a passionate Montreal Canadiens hockey fan and I’m a lover of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Along the road, we talked hockey, about the great Canadiens players of the past, such as Henri Richard and Jean Beliveau. Not a whiff of antagonism between us.

Now I’m flying high aboard WestJet’s flight to Toronto. I have a window seat in Row 4. The rows ahead are for “Plus” passengers. The three seats on the left side of Row 3 hold two people. The middle seat boasts a tray with two cup holders. So one of the basics of Plus is that you don’t have to sit beside anyone. Speaking to your seatmate would be over a greater distance. No doubt the folks ahead will have a fancy meal but how sad that “better” includes isolation from other human beings.

Jimmy is sitting next to me. He works in Ottawa but is a true Newfoundlander, friendly and “down home”, with a wonderful thick accent. He ordered a rum and coke, offering cash to the flight attendant, except that WestJet accepts credit cards only. Both the fellow to Jimmy’s right and the handsome guy to the left were ready to pay with credit cards … but the female employee gave Jimmy his drink for free. Waydago, WestJet!

A male flight attendant is serving the Plus passengers. He’s an older fellow (younger than me) and I like watching him. Even from a distance I see his easy smile and the graceful way he moves as he pours wine or delivers a dessert. Nothing forced, just natural. Clearly he likes people. Very cool.

A couple of minutes ago, we were coming in for a landing at Toronto Airport. “Wow. Look how big those homes are getting!” And then they weren’t. They were getting small again. A few seconds later, our plane was swooping gently to the left. Out my window, there was the world of solid ground. Happily the pilot came on the intercom to announce that another plane was slow in getting off the runway so we were going on “a tour of Toronto”. He was so calm and reassuring. Now we’re on final approach number two. May the wings be with us.

Touchdown! Piece of cake.

Now I’m on the bus from Toronto to London. A young Chinese woman has sat down beside me. Yan Nan Gu has been in the air from China for 14 hours. And she’s just given me an orange candy. What a sweet thing to do.

Yan Nan was going to give me her English name but I really wanted to know her real one. She’s in fashion marketing at Fanshawe College in London and is a delightful human being to talk to. We’re laughing a lot.

I keep struggling with her name but I’m determined to say it right, to spell it right, to know the real person. We smile and bow as we say goodbye.

***

And now only one word remains … home
It’s where I am

Day Nine: Slowing Down to Home

I strolled down to the hotel breakfast room today wearing one of my favourite t-shirts, given to me by my brilliant in-laws Nona and Lance:

Irony: The Opposite of Wrinkly

Nothing highfalutin, just a down home definition.

A woman and her adult daughter were sitting nearby. Hardly ever in my life does someone say hi before I do but today was the day. The younger one greeted me as she got up to replenish her food supplies and mom smiled gaily as they were walking out a few minutes later. Both of them were staring at my chest. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because of my emerging V-shaped body.

Then I talked to an oriental couple, clearly tourists like me. The woman looked surprised that I said hello but she responded warmly. I got to be the purveyor of local knowledge, heartily recommending that they go to Quidi Vidi (see my post of two days ago). They loved the idea and plan on taking a bus there later today. I feel so fine … my good deed for the day. Heck, I might even throw in another deed or two before the sun says goodbye.

Now I’m sitting in the Rocket Bakery in downtown St. John’s. The possibilities of breakfast number two are dangling in front of my eyeballs. My window counter gives me a bird’s eye view of a sidewalk table for two. Ten minutes ago a young couple sat there. She was sure pretty! But I won’t say any more about that. Mostly what I noticed is that she had her face buried in a smartphone for most of the time. He sat there, looking around at the buildings and the flow of humanity. But she wasn’t with him. I was sad.

Now there’s another man and woman at the table, much older. They’re looking at each other! They’re talking! Cool.

Okay. I’m off … to who knows where. My left ankle and right knee are sore, no doubt worsened by the tilting St. John’s streets. But I’m wearing my compression stocking and an ankle brace. Plus I’m being super duper careful about the steps I take. The world needs to be explored!

***

I walked down by the water and saw an enormous ship approaching the harbour. Since there was a fence in my way, I decided to climb up a few streets for a better view. There beckoning me was a long curved bench in a parkette called Angel’s Corner. A gentleman was sitting there, a cup of Tim’s coffee in hand. I said hello and Terry created something beautiful.

My friend is dying of colon cancer, with less than a year to live. His body can’t take any more radiation or chemo. The morphine does its best to keep the pain down but there’ll be a time when it won’t do the job. Terry is terrified of the pain to come but is willing to look down the throat of death. The tears came. What an honour to sit with this man, hear him give thanks for every day remaining, and watch him cry. It was moment after holy moment.

We talked for half an hour. Terry is surrounded by family and friends, who are naturally torn up about losing their dear one. Thank God for their presence.

“Goodbye, Terry. I wish you a peaceful and pain-free death. It was a privilege to meet you.”

“Thank you for talking to me, Bruce. Have a good trip home.”

Twenty minutes later, I was taking a picture of a painted garbage bin, showing the beauty of a Newfoundland fishing village. I said hi to a woman on a bike, stopped for a red light. Brittany probably missed five more green lights as we talked. My photography behaviour gave me away: a total tourist. She’s a potter who lives halfway up Signal Hill and rides her bicycle up to her home most days. Can you imagine how strong she is? Wow.

What a nice person, so interested in the tourist’s life and willing to share about her own. Fare thee well, Brittany.

And then there were the statues: from behind I saw the man and the girl. He was holding her hand. Here’s the inscription:

There is nothing that recommends a Police Officer to the favourable notice of the public so much as kindness to the poor, to the helpless and to children

John McCowen 1908

I agree, John. And kids are the best.

***

That’s just about it from St. John’s. It’s a lovely-looking city with lovely people. Tomorrow I fly away to my Ontario home.

Arrivederci, Newfoundland
Keep singing

Saying Hi

I was sitting in the theatre lobby today after a movie, absorbed in my phone to see who was winning the Rogers Cup tennis matches.  And then … “Hi, Mr. Kerr.  What are you doing here?”  It was a soon-to-be Grade 6 girl from the school where I volunteer.

I had a nice chat with “Sofia” and her friend and her mom and her friend’s mom, talking about cool movies and the girls’ plan to sleep in a tent tonight.  Afterwards, I thought about Sofia saying hi, how good it felt to be acknowledged, included.  Kids have a fine agenda – hang out with their friends.  Sometimes they feel like including adults, and often not.  It’s a privilege when they choose to approach me.  It would have been so easy to have just kept walking but Sofia chose to do something that brightened my day.

On Tuesday, I was walking out of the locker room at the gym, with “places to go, people to meet”.  I saw “Jeremy” on a machine.  He didn’t see me.  I didn’t stop.  Jeremy has some sort of handicap, mental or physical, I don’t know.  In the car I saw very clearly that I hadn’t included him.  If instead it had been a pretty woman whom I knew on that machine, would I have said hi?  Gosh, I don’t like to see myself as a person who rates people and then decides whom to talk to.  The bottom line is that saying hello is a gift to both people and withholding that gift is a distancing that the world doesn’t need.

Decades ago, I was crossing a parking lot in Lethbridge, Alberta when a woman of Indian or Pakistani origin simply said “Hi” … looking deep into my eyes.  The experience of contact, of communion, is still vivid today.  The gift was given.

Such a simple thing to communicate “I see you” in word or action.  May I simply choose to do that when Jeremy, or anyone else, comes my way.

We Can

I read an article in the Toronto Sun this morning that laid bare the thoughts of Gianni Infantino, the President of FIFA, which is the world soccer association.  He was talking about the good that soccer can do, how the game can contribute to a coming together of people.  His words had me thinking about my life, how I want it to mean something to others, and how those others can impact their loved ones.  Gianni was speaking for me.

***

There are many things we’d like to change in the world.  There are many things we are not happy about that happen in the world.  It’s not in one country.  It’s not in one region.  It’s not in one area but in the entire world.

We try to work to do and speak and make things change for the good wherever we can.  But here we are, at the World Cup.  We are focusing on football.  We are focusing on celebrating football.

And actually, I think one of the things we are missing in the world – more and more – is our capacity to speak to each other and have a dialogue.  If there’s no dialogue or discussion … then we cannot go anywhere.

If football and the World Cup can contribute to open some channels and discussions and help those who have to take the important decisions to at least start to speak to each other and realize there are people living everywhere in the world – some in better, some in worse conditions – then we have done something and we have given a contribution.

Football cannot solve all the problems in the world.  Football cannot change the past.  But football can have an impact in the future.  And maybe some people who are taking important decisions for our planet can take a look at what we trying to do in football and take some inspiration to try to address these issues.

We have to look forward, learning from what has happened without denying what has happened, with the respect to those who have been touched personally and directly from what has happened everywhere in the world.

If football can contribute a little bit … then I think it’s already a positive outcome.

***

What if I changed a word or two and really brought this home inside my skin?  It would sound like this:

There are many things I’d like to change in the world.  There are many things I am not happy about that happen in the world.  It’s not in one country.  It’s not in one region.  It’s not in one area but in the entire world.

I try to work to do and speak and make things change for the good wherever I can.  But here I am, in Belmont, Ontario, Canada.  I am focusing on my neighbours, and my friends at the Belmont Diner.  I am focusing on celebrating local life.

And actually, I think one of the things we are missing in the world – more and more – is our capacity to speak to each other and have a dialogue.  If there’s no dialogue or discussion … then we cannot go anywhere.

If my friends and I can contribute to open some channels and discussions and help those who have to take the important decisions to at least start to speak to each other and realize there are people living everywhere in the world – some in better, some in worse conditions – then we have done something and we have given a contribution.

We cannot solve all the problems in the world.  We cannot change the past.  But we can have an impact in the future.  And maybe some people who are taking important decisions for our planet can take a look at what we are trying to do in Belmont and take some inspiration to try to address these issues.

We have to look forward, learning from what has happened without denying what has happened, with the respect to those who have been touched personally and directly from what has happened everywhere in the world.

If we can contribute a little bit … then I think it’s already a positive outcome.

Yay for us

Under the Tree

Since getting home from my bicycling adventure, I’ve told myself to blog every day.  “It doesn’t matter what you talk about, as long as your words are true to your soul.  And those words need to go out to the world because there are some folks there who will understand.  They’ll see their own lives in your struggles.  It may help them and it will definitely help you.”

Okay.  I’ll do that.

***

Today was hot and humid in Belmont, Ontario.  Kids decorated their bikes and rode in a parade to the community centre.  Such sweet young ones sweating their way to a hot dog lunch, plus a drink, chips and a slice of Canada Day birthday cake.  I love Belmont.

Along the way, I talked to two moms of kids I’ve volunteered with.  I enjoyed both conversations.  I talked briefly about my trials and tribulations out west and they told me how their daughter and son and families were doing, including cool plans for the summer.  I had lunch under a tree with one of the women and two fellow moms.  Thank God for the shade.

One 8-year-old fellow I know climbed way up the tree.  I didn’t see his ascent since I was facing the other way, but when I turned around “Peter” was perched comfortably on a branch about 12 feet off the ground.  I marvelled.  I saw how high the lowest branch was and wondered how he could have reached it.  He must have major upper body strength.  For a second, I lamented that my body couldn’t do such a thing … but just as quickly I let that thought go.  Peter’s job is to climb trees.  Mine is to explore consciousness.  We’re 60 years apart.  Why would I want his job?  And I smiled.  “Climb high, dear Peter.  I will too.”

Eventually the group of us were finished eating and we headed back to the picnic shelter.  I was reaching for the gooeyness of vanilla cake when I saw a third mom.  I volunteered in her daughter’s class last year.  It seems to me that she asked how I was and I think I said “Shaky” in reply. “Denise” looked right into my eyes and said “Let’s talk.  Let’s find a tree to sit under.”  From the very first second, I was touched by her generosity.  I suggested we walk over to Peter’s tree.

And there we sat, for maybe an hour.  Her two kids were with us for a bit and then they wanted to go home.  Denise knew the older would keep the younger safe on the short walk … and off they went.

Denise knew I needed to talk and she let me do so at my own pace.  She looked at me softly, without judgment, just “getting” the contents of my heart – the fear, the sadness, the loss of Bruce.  Denise talked about moments in her life that were hard, wanting her words to be helpful to me.  They were.  And I thought: “Hmm.  She’s not rushing off.  She wants to understand me.  She sees me.”  What a revelation that was.  Sooner rather than later, I found myself smiling.  Plus I do believe there was a laugh or two bubbling up to my surface.

I can feel the light beyond the murkiness, a floating beyond the dead weight, a pulsing beyond the drone.  How about that?  Did Denise do that for me or did Bruce do that for me?  Well … I think we were co-conspirators!

***

People keep giving me gifts
Some folks are 10 years old
Some are 40
Some are 48
Some are 77
All are so very human