Questions

I was volunteering in the Grade 5/6 class this afternoon.  A community police officer spent some time talking to the kids about “peer relationships”.  How marvelous that these young people got to see a representative of the police force as approachable, engaging and funny.  A real human being, not just a uniform and a gun belt.

Adam asked the students some questions.  And I reflected on my life.

1.  Have I ever punched, shoved or hit another person?

Gosh no.  It’s so far away from who I am, and who I’ve been.  My mouth drops open when I even imagine myself being violent with someone.

2.  Have I ever threatened to hurt someone?

No.  If I have differences with a person, or criticism about something they did or said, I want to talk it out, without antagonism.

3.  Do I ever make fun of others, tease them or call them mean names?

No, except for playful teasing when I know that the other person sees I’m on their side.  But never mocking them for being different than me, whether that’s personality, sexual orientation, age, race or ethnicity.  To call a black person a “nigger” is completely foreign to me.

4.  Do I often make fun of others because they’re different from my friends and me?

No.  I love exploring the differences among us, in learning about folks whose lives are such a contrast to mine.

5.  Do I gossip about other people?  Do I spread rumours about them?

Heavens no.  That’s an act of violence, both towards the other person and towards me.  I can’t be happy if I’m aversive to someone else.  I do talk about people who are not right there listening, but it’s in the spirit of fascination and interest, not criticism.

***

Having said all this, I’m no saint.  Sometimes I don’t give folks enough space in their life, pressing forward in relationship when I need to back off some.  Sometimes I speak without thinking, without really gauging the potential impact of my words.  And sometimes I forget important things that people tell me.  But through it all, through those unskillful moments, I know that my intentions are good.

There’s so much pain in the world and my commitment is to add very little to the total, while adding a lot to the sum of well-being.

Pastor and Me

I had breakfast with a local pastor this morning at the Belmont Diner.  I’ll call him Peter.  Due to the heavy snow falling, he was a half-hour late.  As I sat at the counter waiting for him, and engaging in conversation about the weather and (less convincingly) about the placement of garages, I felt into the sense of loss I was experiencing.  “If he doesn’t show, how will I get to see him again?  I don’t have any contact information.  And then who will I talk to locally about spiritual matters?”

On the retreat last fall, we were encouraged to classify our present moments as “pleasant, unpleasant or neutral”.  This was unpleasant.  Then we’d be asked to see what feelings were present.  This morning it was sadness and fear.  And then the experience of “OK-ness” washed over me.  I didn’t need Peter to show up.  Confidence came … that the universe would create spiritual discussions for me.  Peace was here.  And I continued on with my bacon and eggs.

The Diner door opens and in walks Peter!  I was happy.  Thank you, dear universe.  He had loads of questions about the retreat, starting with what the daily schedule was like (wakeup bell at 4:50!)  I talked about the Buddha’s focus on the present moment, on his insistence that certain types of suffering were always going to be with us (such as sporadic physical pain), but other forms of it were optional.  Mr. Buddha said that craving people and things was the source of that second type.  Peter smiled and expressed his sense of relationship with the Divine, in the form of Jesus.

I marvelled at what was happening.  There was no judgment from either of us.  And no sense of contraction that I could feel, even as we revealed our differences.  Four or five folks sat near us at the horseshoe-shaped lunch counter.  Some, maybe all of them, were listening.  I told Peter that occasionally in Belmont I’m brave enough to venture into spirituality in conversation.  Often people change the topic quickly, but sometimes not.  “A lot of folks think I’m weird, Peter.”  His response?  “Welcome to my world!”  I love it.

To expand my range of spiritual contacts, I’ve decided to rejoin a meditation group in London, usually about a 40 minute drive away.  Their first meeting after Christmas is tonight but the snow continues to fall.  Travel is not recommended.  But it doesn’t matter if that reunion happens tonight.  I’m drawn to it.

Peter and I arranged to talk again next Monday.  Who knows what epiphanies might arise?  Or maybe not.  But we will connect in a way that transcends the rational mind.

Friendly Reflections

My friend writes very long e-mails.  Here is my continuing reply to her:

“Dear ______,

Thank you for talking to me about Jody [my wife, who died of lung cancer in November, 2014].

‘I saw that you and Jody were not separate. That she was inside you, there with you, or vice versa, but I thought I saw or felt that you two were truly one, and that death had not rendered you asunder. That was the feeling that I experienced. And I felt that when I met you, I met Jody as well, and that she was not gone. She was well alive in you. It was so beautiful and inspiring and soft and true feeling.’

Jody and I talk every day.  I realize that most people don’t accept this as a reality, and I wish them well.  But our conversations are real.  How marvelous that you’ve met Jody standing beside me.  When you receive a copy of the book I wrote about her, you’ll see her beautiful face on the cover.  She’s cheering me on, ______, wanting me to experience all the beauty that life has to offer.  Jody also knows that I will continue to have the dark times that show up for all of us.  She tells me, though, that I am bigger than the fear and sadness.  And I believe her.

It makes me happy to realize that my lovely wife continues to give, in the pages of our book, yes, but also in some mysterious ways unknown to the rational mind.  And I wonder if she has been reborn in some two-year-old who will enter my life soon with gifts to give.

‘I feel my father’s presence. He was such a wonderful man Bruce, not unlike yourself. He and his whole family adopted me before I was born, because my mother had gotten pregnant from another man who had then run away. My father, who had always had a crush on her, stepped in and was there when I was born. He was a very good man as was his whole family. Not rich. Not super educated, but good, humble people who were able to love! And so I was able to have a wonderful father!’

How lovely, ______.  It’s so clear that your dad was able to love.  He wasn’t  going to have a young girl grow up without a father.  It makes me think of all the generosity that lives in the people I meet on the sidewalk, at school, in the Belmont Diner.  Perhaps there’s a veil covering the quiet heroism but maybe I can pull it gently to the side to gaze upon the shining soul within.  I need to have the eyes to see.

‘Everywhere people are trying to save their lives from delusion and aversion and embrace love, understanding and forgiveness and the beautiful reality underneath “the world”.’

I was talking to a farmer today. He loves his life on the land.  He’s 78 and knows he’d die soon if he let go of his work.  He struggles with taxes and the market for his grain and the vagaries of weather, but he’s home.  He doesn’t go to retreats.  He doesn’t read spiritual books, I’d guess.  But he’s touching the beautiful reality of which you speak.

What a gift your e-mail is, ______, and your friendship.  I love sitting down with one other person and talking about stuff that matters.  You are one of those people.

With love,

Bruce”

 

Sniffing and Sharing

I’m sitting in the lobby of a hotel near Toronto airport, letting my newly emerging cold be there.  I have some saline stuff to spray into my nose and some intestinal fortitude to move way past “poor me”.  How strange life can be.

I want to talk to you in Cuba.  I’ve heard that the Internet at Memories Paraiso Azul Beach Resort is sporadic, and that it’s only available in the lobby.  So what?  My strength training has shown me that determination can go a long way.  So you’ll be hearing from me.  Is it unwise for me to promise?  Maybe. But I’ve been unwise before.  It could be fun to go down that road again.

I want to describe what I see on the outside and on the inside.  I want to tell you about cool people I meet.  About dancing in the disco and on the beach.  About Michael Jackson.  About waiters, maids and gardeners.

Time for bed.  Wake up call at 2:00.  Taxi at 3:00.  Fly at 6:15.  Oh my, I’m really doing this.  Tell you all about it tomorrow or Saturday.

 

 

Day Thirty-Three … Out And About, In And Within

Scarlet was calling to me yesterday morning: “Fix me.  Fix me please.”  And who am I to resist the urgings of a red Toyota Corolla?  A few weeks ago, I hit a curb in Vancouver.  As well as an oil change, my car needed a wheel alignment.  So off I went to High River Toyota, with the sparkling Rockies behind.  Fresh snow on the mountains.

After dropping off my four-wheeled wonder at the dealership, I followed the rep’s directions towards Smitty’s, with breakfast on my mind.  I kept walking along the highway … McDonald’s, Tim Hortons, A&W, but no Smitty’s.  I stood at an intersection, spinning around inside and out.  A woman stopped, rolled down her window and said “Can I help you?”  And so the location of the breakie locale was revealed.  It was behind a hotel that I had walked by.  On my return trip, I did visual research.  I’m usually good at spotting landmarks but I missed the Smitty’s sign.  I discovered that it was only visible for a distance of 40 metres along the sidewalk.  How strange.  I felt there was a life lesson here but I just couldn’t put my finger on it.  I know … go to Tim’s for breakfast!

As I munched on my lettuce and tofu, the Calgary Sun magically appeared before me, somehow open to the sports section.  Seven pages of football … and I don’t even like all those huge men hitting each other.  But I got to read about Brooke Henderson, the 17-year-old Canadian golfer who won her first LPGA tournament last week.  I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed with her.  Or would I?  She’s pretty, hits the ball 280 yards, and is a nice person.  She smiles.  I’m all for those upward bendings of the mouth.

After bugging my waitress sufficiently, I lined up at the cash.  Ahead of me was another fellow who likes playing with servers.  And the woman receiving his money clearly was enjoying the moment as well.  We got talking.  He’s 94 and still driving.  Oh, I want to be like him when I grow up!  He offered me a ride back to Toyota but I wanted to walk.  I suggested to him, however, that if he sees me on the highway, he should come close and nudge me with his right front fender.  He decided not to.

As I pointed Scarlet westward, the full glory of fresh snow on the Rockies lay before me.  Words just don’t do it.  A few days ago, Lance took us to a high point on a foothills road, one that gave us an enormous vista of this good earth.  I sallied forth to find the spot.  With Scarlet leading the way, happy with her straight wheel, we arrived.  Photos were good but standing there in silence was better.  Just because happiness comes from within is no reason not to revel in nature’s glory.  And glorious it was.

Back home again, I got to spend some time with Ember on my lap.  She stilled and sunk into my legs.  Oh my.  If only we human beings would touch like this.  Sometimes we do.  I stroked Ember’s head and back.  I scratched her ears.  I enjoyed her company.  There was nothing to add.  Being with a touch of doing.

Today, we family of seven are launching ourselves towards Waterton Lakes National Park for four days of exploring.  Waterton is where I became a person.  I worked at the Prince of Wales Hotel there in 1969, 1970, 1974, 1975 and 1976.  I became friends with fellow employees who came from nearly all the provinces.  Waterton is home.  The PW is tied for my favourite building in the world, alongside my home in Union, Ontario.  And we get to go there.  We get to climb Bear’s Hump, a shoulder of Mount Crandall.  Fifty-six years ago, I climbed that trail on my hands and knees.  I’m going to try feet this time.

I don’t think I’ll have any Internet in Waterton, so there won’t be a peep from me till Thursday.  I’m going to write a post each day in Microsoft Word and send them all on Thursday evening.  I’ll miss you.

It’s time to get high on mountains.

Day Twenty-Five … Stops Along The Way To Red Deer

After leaving Ray and Joy’s place on Friday, I meandered north towards Jody’s cousin Holly in Red Deer, Alberta.  There were people to touch en route.

My first meeting didn’t happen in a face-to-face way.  I was dropping a letter off for Michelle, a welcomer at the visitor centre of the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden in Lethbridge.  On my way through a couple of weeks ago,  Michelle and I had a great talk about life.  And we hugged.  I seem to be hugging a lot of people on my road trip whom I’ve never met before.  I like it.

I told Michelle that I was coming back through Lethbridge on August 13 and 14 and that I’d love to visit her again.  She said that she was off on the 14th but worked until 5:00 on the 13th.  So my goal on Thursday was to get to her in time.  Sadly, a delay in Kimberley, BC, another one at the border, and me forgetting about the time zone change between BC and Alberta nixed that idea.  I was sad.  No hug.  And I had told Michelle that I’d be there.  I hate not keeping my word.  Let it go, Bruce.

Next up for me was seeing Gordon, my sister-in-law Nona’s father.  He’s in a nursing home in Lethbridge.  Gordon has always struck me as being a quiet person, but he and I have had some good conversations.  On Friday, I showed up at Gordon’s bedroom door.  He was sitting in a chair.  As I approached, he looked up and smiled.  He recognized me!  I sat down opposite and we talked about many things – Nona, how he misses his home in Milk River, and the laughter of many staff members at his care facility.  It was clear to me that I needed to pause after my comments so that Gordon could process what I said.  And of course that was fine.

As I was about leave, I stood in front of Gordon to shake his hand and say goodbye.  He was clearly determined to stand.  I wondered if I should move his walker closer to him but Gordon stood quickly, moved forward to the walker and went fully upright.  He was happy to shake my hand.  And even happier to walk me to the front entrance, approximately at the speed of light.  Nona and Lance call him “Flash Gordon”.  Absolutely.

I decided to explore another planet on my way to Red Deer.  Vulcan, Alberta is basically Spockland, from the original Star Trek.  I dropped into the visitor centre to buy some T-shirts.  A young woman greeted me, clearly in the throes of a bad cold.  Even as stuffed up as she was, kindness came my way.  She patiently explained Star Trek references of which I was unfamiliar.  Such as the Green Girl, a seductive young lady who was rescued from certain doom by a certain William Shatner.  Sadly, no green girl approached to sell me a water bottle.

On I went, certain of my route to Red Deer.  I thought there was a “Stony Plain Road” that headed directly north to my destination.  Slight miscalculation.   Stony Road was actually a ring route around Calgary.  I knew something was wrong when the mountains appeared directly in front of me instead of to my left.  Oh well … being on time is highly overrated.

Holly welcomed me to her palace in Red Deer.  Okay, it wasn’t that big but it was a lovely space.  She took me out to a cool restaurant called Chopped Leaf and I had a decadent salad full of shrimp, served in a tilty white bowl.  We just yapped and yapped, both there and back at her palace over a glass of wine.  Holly remembered Jody as a teenager, walking her beloved dog Dutch in downtown Coaldale, Alberta.  Dutch was a sausage dog – a dachshund.  Then Holly told me that she got close to Jody only in the last few years, as they rediscovered each other via Skype and Facebook.  They had planned to get together face-to-face.  (Sigh)

Holly wants to bring all 16 of the Doram first cousins together for a reunion and hopefully a genealogy trip to England to meet some ancient Dorams.  Make it so, Holly.

“Let the journey carry on.”  A quote from my 14-year-old nephew Jaxon.

Day Twenty-Three … Strangers No More

I had intended to visit my friend Neal at his home in Kimberley, BC, but his mom was sick in Longview, Washington, so that was where I headed to after leaving Beryl.  Maxine is 88 and still living in the home that she and her husband built.  How cool is that?  I wanted to see Neal but didn’t really think things through.  How would I feel if I was ill and here comes a stranger to stay overnight?  She was kind to me but it probably was an effort.

Neal and I went to a local pub for a talk.  These pub visits seem to be a growing trend for me.  We had a good time, catching up, but it was time for sleeps.  Out to the parking lot, where Scarlet looked a little tired after our long drive over White Pass.  I reached into my pocket for the key and … nothing.  Nowhere to be found.  Neal had advised me months ago to buy a little Hide-A-Key container but someone I know didn’t follow through.  We were both tired and stationary.  My mind flooded with implications.  Head down, I walked back into the restaurant, out onto the patio and gazed down into the dark below our table.  Some indistinct black thing winked up at me.  Happily, it wasn’t a clod of dirt.  So transportation was easily arranged.

The next morning, Scarlet and I were back over the same dry mountains – lots of sagebrush greeted me.  And one narrow stretch that was perched on a slope scared me.  I gripped the wheel like a vice, which of course isn’t the suggested strategy in the drivers’ manual.

I saw a fellow hitchhiking in the opposite direction.  He had a beard and crutches.  I felt for him.  At the same time, I realized that I wouldn’t have picked him up if he had been going my way.  Even after all that hitching I’ve done, all those years ago, my empathy wouldn’t have been enough to give him a ride.  I’ve thought lately that I don’t have much fear in me anymore but I guess I’m wrong about that.

On my first trip over these mountains, I had missed the pullout for the Mount Rainier viewpoint.  Boo!  Rainier is so beautiful, with glaciers adorning its peak.  Now eastward bound, I was determined to get a photo.  Tantalizing slivers of glaciers over lower hills beckoned me until there’s the pullout and spread before me was the full meal deal.  Indescribable.

As I drove through the little town of Packwood, Washington, I saw a sign for a bakery.  Naturally I demurred (whatever that means).  Okay, I actually partook of a chai latte and a big chocolate chip cookie that had emerged from the oven only a few minutes before.  A young female backpacker smiled at me and said that she loved my T-shirt.  It says “Get High On Mountains”, appropriately enough with white print on a green shirt.  I smiled back and said something silly.  I went out on the deck and plunked myself down on one of those wooden Adirondack chairs.  To my right sat a middle-aged woman who was talking to her husband in the next chair.  Usually I’m the one who starts conversations but she turned her body to face me and started in on some topic.

For awhile it was just Marcia and me kibbitzing but soon Larry joined the fray.  Their son Scott has Buddhist leanings (I used to, but now I’m standing up straight).  He’s a very quiet guy but apparently has amazing presence.  His friends just want to be near him.  They feel him.  How very cool.  And Marcia’s brother Bill was in a longterm committed relationship with another man.  I loved hearing Marcia talk adoringly of her brother, with no hint of any bias against gay folks.  Bill wrote a one man play about his homosexual life and performs it himself all over North America.  Marcia was so proud.

I was getting hungry in the late afternoon and planned to stop in Spokane, Washington for supper.  Anyway, I’m zipping down the highway when I see advertisements for Ritzville, including a sign for … Ta da! … Jake’s Café!  Oh my goodness.  I’m not the type to pass up an opportunity like that.  I had a taco salad, Diet Coke and (trying to resist the pull of dessert) a piece of the most incredible coconut cream pie.  I talked at length to Kim (a customer) and Tara (my waitress).  They both took a copy of Jody’s book.  They both were openhearted humans.  Tara told me that Jake had died years ago and I volunteered to be the new Jake.  I told them all about auditioning for Jake’s Women and my fetish for seeing multi-performances of the play.  They both laughed with me.  Or was it at me?  Can’t remember.

I ended my day in Clark Fork, Idaho.  Wait till you hear about my breakfast the next day.  Actually, you will have to wait … until tomorrow.

Day Sixteen … Maple Leaf and Star Spangled Banner

Yesterday was a totally immense day for me, in one way or the other.  First off, I went to the office of Maple Leaf Adventures in Victoria.  I talked to a woman named Jaz.  I pretended that I didn’t know much about the tall ship cruises.  “What about a trip next June, in the middle?”  “Yes, there’s a sailing from June 11-19 to Haida Gwaii.”  “That sounds good.  Has anyone signed up for it yet?”  “Just one person.”  “What’s their name?”  “Bruce Kerr.”  “Oh, I know him.  Here’s my MasterCard.”  Jaz opens a computer page and asks me my name.  “Bruce Kerr.”  (Stare, shock and slowly … a smile)  “So you just came to visit?”  “Yes.”  Such fun.  I’d do it again in a heartbeat, just to see her face.  I’m so looking forward to seeing humpback whales next June.

Had a marvelous ferry ride from the Victoria area back to Vancouver past some lovely islands.  For some of the trip I chatted with a local couple and their adult daughter.  They were downright silly people!  I don’t understand why some folks behave that way.  Oh well.  We had fun.  I had my bag of almond clusters in hand but the closest gull was probably 500 metres away.  Back in the 80’s when I pitched for the New York Yankees, I could have zipped one over to him, but my arm isn’t what it used to be.

Heading into the States to see the play Jake’s Women (which by coincidence I’ve auditioned for in St. Thomas, Ontario), I was detained at Customs for over an hour, which was fine.  It gave me a chance to meet more people.  (I’m not kidding.  I do see life this way.)  Trouble was, the first US agent was very disrespectful to me.  I eventually was first in line and I saw him put out a pylon as he motioned me to stop a few metres back.  I was dreaming of Jake and then saw him remove the pylon.  So I drove up to his window.  I didn’t notice that the red light was still on.

“Don’t people from Canada know what a red light means?”  It’s fair to say he bellowed.  “You shouldn’t be here.”  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t notice the light.”  My left elbow was resting on the window well.  “Put your arm in the car, away from my gun.”  Such anger.  I just stayed with him, letting him do what he needed to do.  I thought of karma and was sad for the gentleman.  I believe that I have very little antagonism left in me.  I’ve asked myself recently if I have any at all.  I sure can’t find any.  So that’s good.  I get to be a gift to those in emotional pain, even if they don’t realize it.

The border agent quizzed me on why I had all this luggage with me if I was just crossing the border to see a play.  I told him my story.  “Turn left and go into secondary inspection.”  Okay.  I enjoyed talking to two couples and a single guy while we waited in line.  We were all pretty light, even though we had places to go and people to meet.  Hey, nothing we could do about our situation, so lemonade time.

Another agent asked me multi-questions.  He certainly didn’t smile but at least he was civil.  After inspecting Scarlet, he came back, having found everything as I had described it.  Ten minutes later, I was driving towards a security booth for exit.  I stopped, turned off my engine, and said hello to the officer.  No response … just a hand out to take the form that allowed me to go.  (Sigh)  Earlier in the day, humanity’s best qualities were on display.  Last night, not so much.

A couple of hours before, I had been waiting in the line for Customs and spied a Chevron gas station just past the border.  Good, since my gauge said I only had 46 kilometres left in the tank.  After my adventure, I completely forgot about the station.  And there I was, heading down a freeway to my beloved Jake, and somehow the gauge now read “0”.  Next exit 12 miles.  Some more sighing.  Be nice to me, dear Scarlet, and all other benign entities in the universe.  And they were.  I limped into a Shell station.

Gosh … so much writing.  I’m going to leave my rendezvous with Jake till tomorrow morning.  Nice guy.

Unknown Days

Twelve of them, right in front of me.  I’m starting to drive tomorrow to Massachusetts for a 9-day silent meditation retreat.  Silence begins on Friday evening for the 100 participants.  What a blessing, not needing to speak and make eye contact to have communion among us.  Although there are short times before and after the retreat for the “yogis” to talk to each other, it’s likely that I won’t meet most of them.  And yet I know we will touch each other in our hearts.

I don’t have any goals.  I’ll just let the next moment replace the previous one.  I don’t want to get better at anything.  Gosh, what an adventure this will be!

Since we’re not allowed to do any writing during the retreat, you won’t hear from me again until I get back.  I’ll create a post on Tuesday, April 14 to tell you all about it.

May you have great peace and satisfaction in the days between.

Shimmering Humans

Jade, Andy and Cole
Claude and Denise
Hieu and Rick
Kelsey and Michelle
Fulya and Katie
Zach, Kristi and Alexa
Dorelys, Aldinai and Jumi
Alberto
Daniel
Kendra and Matt
Dan
Loriane
Juan Carlos and Patricia
Savia
Crystyna and Nadia
Richard
Keija and Laures
Michaela, Kylie and Julie
Pierre and Helene
Nadia, Pascal, Alison and William
Pola, Andrei, Nancy and Madelaine
Marija and Devin
Helen and John
Barb and Arden
Ian and Tabitha
Liz, Luc, Amy, Angel, Tristan, Kaden, Chantale and Joanne
John
Sammy and Amanda
Kendra
Pilar and Sylvia
Louise and Rejeanne
Josh
Colette and Paul

These are folks I met in Cuba in December.  I was looking through random pieces of paper today, and I came across this list.  It sat on my hotel room desk for the whole two weeks.  Every day I’d add the names of people I talked to.  Good conversations all.

A few of these fine men, women and children are crystal clear in my mind right now.  Most are not.  I can’t remember their faces.  I can’t remember what they said.  But I can remember how very happy I was when I was with them.  We made contact.  We laughed.  A few grieved with me about Jody.  And now they’re gone, as I am gone for them.

I remember you down deep, dear ones.  Go well in the world.  Smile at someone else now.