Day Six: The Riders

Today has arrived. I’m here in St. John’s to welcome the Tour du Canada riders as they climb Signal Hill and complete their cross-country trip to the tune of 7600 kilometres. These cyclists are my heroes.

I’m sitting in the Bagel Café, a few blocks from the start of the climb. I have my lawn chair and my feet are ready to go. I’ll talk to you at the top, or earlier if I’m pooped.

***

At the top! Complete with a pounding heart. It’s so humbling to be far less fit than I was two months ago … oh well. It’s still a fine life.

I’m pretty sure that Webster, when he was doing research for his dictionary, found the definition of “steep” on Signal Hill. An old gentleman, not from the tour, was riding his bicycle up the 10 to 15% grades. Later I saw him descend and I tried to warm him with applause. He didn’t acknowledge me at all. Once I was settled beside the ancient tower at the very top, I glanced over to the parking lot and saw him again. My goodness – he was doing laps!

On my way up, I passed lots of folks walking down. I decided to say the same dumb thing to each one of them: “You’re not even breathing hard!” Most of them smiled. That’s the thing about people new to me: they’ve never heard my silly lines before.

A few minutes after plunking my lawn chair down out of the wind, I see two more bicycles crest the parking lot. And these ones have the telltale TdC reflective triangles under the seats! I hurry down the path to the smiles and handshakes of Tony and Chris. So glorious to see them again. Neither has words yet for what the tour has meant to them. That’ll come.

Jim from Colorado is the next rider to top the hill. I head out into the wind with my hood up and sidle up to him. “Nice day to finish riding across the country.” “Yes it is, Bruce.” So much for surprising him. We stood on top of the tower and talked about the journey and about how very much Jim longs to be back with his wife Margaret. A little smile.

An hour later, there’s a whole string of cyclists climbing the hill. As they reach the top and dismount, the world is full of smiles and hugs and handshakes. I join in. “So happy to see you.”

The wind whips letters off a poster that family have created. “Congratulations, Carolyn” becomes “Con ratulatio s, arolyn.” A great family portrait ensues.

Then there’s Paul’s crew, all the way from Nanaimo, B.C. Large orange signs laud the achievements of “Paul/dad”. Three women are beaming at the man.

Soon it’s time for the group portrait. Nineteen cyclists, Bud our tour director and Grant our truck driver pose in front of the tower. I look on from afar, bittersweetness filling my mouth. Congratulations, my friends. May your monumental achievement touch the rest of your lives. I was part of your family for awhile. In fact, I’ll be part of your family forever.

Tonight’s the Tour du Canada banquet. I’m going. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

Sleep tight.

The Danforth

I’m sitting in a coffee shop on Danforth Avenue in Toronto. Four hours ago I was having breakfast at the New Sarum Diner, near my home in Belmont, Ontario. I had just been joking with the server that I should have one of their real and delicious milkshakes, made with ancient equipment and metal tumblers, sort of a breakie dessert. And … I actually had a vanilla one. So good!

I was pleased with myself as the tall glass emptied. Just sat back and sighed. And then my eyes widened and the voice came through crystal clearly:

Go to the Danforth

Toronto is two hours from home. Sunday evening a young man took out a handgun and started shooting people on Danforth Avenue. A girl and a woman died. Thirteen others were injured. It’s Toronto’s second mass shooting in four months. Horrifying.

I’m at a counter by the window, watching traffic crawl by. Across the street is the Second Cup, where the gunman fired shots. The place looks so placid and normal right now. Couples walk by smiling. The terror is long gone … except in people’s hearts.

Why am I here? I don’t know. I could feel the pull from New Sarum.

It’s time to walk again. I wonder what I’ll find – on the street and in my soul.

***

Now I’m sitting on a bench steps away from where the shooter killed himself, surrounded by police officers. Above me, on the brown bricks of the Danforth Church, stretches a rainbow banner simply saying “PEACE”. Perhaps not such a simple thing to keep alive in the world. But then again, that’s up to us.

I search for the Demetres restaurant, where Julianna, 10-years-old, died. Why can’t I find it? Finally Google tells me to cross the street. Behind a large truck sits a building, its name covered with a green tarp. In front is an arc of flowers and candles, accompanied by chalk messages on the sidewalk. About ten of us stop to think of Julianna.

There’s a message on the glass door, written in white marker: “How many times have we walked through this door on a warm summer night like any other?” And another on the window: “Julianna – gone but never forgotten. Rest in peace, baby girl.” The tears come.

On the sidewalk, a chalked message says what I need to hear: “Love abounds.” An hour later, after a lengthy cloudburst, I walk by Demetres again. The love is longer visible but it’s there.

At the parkette near Danforth and Logan, a large fountain is embraced with flowers and messages. This is where 18-year-old Reese was shot and killed. “Dear beautiful Reese. You were brave. You will always be in our hearts.” Yes. Onlookers like me snap photos and go deep inside to grieve. I sit on a curved stone bench, perhaps in the very spot where Reese was chatting with her friends.

***

What now, Bruce?

Cast no one out of your heart
See the beauty of all who approach
Give them what they need

The World Cup of Spirit

I love watching the soccer games in Russia this week and I wonder what they can say to me about a transformed life.  Are there perspectives open to me that can bring alive the events of the game and point to other realities?

The World Cup is about nations, people cheering for their countrymen.  It’s about belonging to a group, and what a fine feeling that is.  But what if the group was … everybody?  We could cheer for all the great passes, shots and saves, no matter who made them.  We could cheer for players who push the ball forward, launch lots of shots at the net, throw themselves through the air for a header, rather than those who play defensively, hanging back, not risking a pass in heavy traffic.  I would like that.

I love watching the ball fly through the air.  When a right-footed player curves a ball towards the goal, and it looks like it will miss to the right, but then tucks inside the post, it’s a thing of beauty.  It makes me think of times when something I’m doing isn’t working out right but somehow providence intervenes and I’m being carried on the winds of goodness to a safe landing.

I love seeing the fans go crazy when their team scores – the ecstatic smiles, the hugging, the jumping up into the air.  Especially little kids, maybe with painted faces, their eyes so wide with delight.  What if we could have the same explosion of joy because we love each other – a celebration of including everyone in our human family?  No one left out.  What if a man or woman walks into the room and our immediate response is “You’re here!  I’m so glad to see you”?  That would be lovely.

Near the end of the Portugal – Uruguay game today, Edinson Cavani, who had scored both of Uruguay’s goals, fell to the ground, injured.  Portugal’s Ronaldo, acknowledged by some as the best player in the world, helped Cavani limp off the field.  What life is all about, I think.  Fierce competitors, yes.  Companions on the human journey, even more so.

And then there were the national anthems.  It looked like every player on both teams held their head high and belted out the familiar lyrics.  What if we all expressed ourselves that way, looking into the eyes of those around us and saying what was true, expressing ourselves without antagonism or a beating of the breast?  That would be so fine.

Sport points to the truths of transcendence and community and love.  May we have the eyes to see that winning and losing are pale shadows of what really matters.

Giving

Today was the second last day of school and the Grade 5/6 kids got to play board games most of the day. They had so much fun. Laughter and shouts filled the air. Amid all the hubbub, I occasionally looked around to see what life is all about.

1. For a long while, I played “The Game of Life” with five enthusiasts. It took this adult a bit of time to figure out what the rules were, and the youngsters were so patient with me as I groped along. “No, Mr. Kerr, you need to do this” – said with no edge or impatience. I think they were simply happy that I was at the table with them. I was happy too.

2. As the six of us made choices about education, career, homes, pets and hobbies, and dealt with the money impact of those choices, a girl sat near us but outside the edge of play. “Jessica” looked like she didn’t want to play but did want the companionship. One of the wheeler dealer game players, “Joy”, was the closest to Jessica. Once Joy had had her turn, she would usually lean towards Jessica and update her about her income and property situation. I mostly couldn’t hear Joy’s words but there was no mistaking the smiles on Jessica’s face.

3. As the games in the Grade 5/6 portable continued, a game of tag was in progress among the school staff. If another adult touched you with a certain green highlighter, you were “it”. The job then was to approach another colleague sweetly and calmly whip out the marker when they were lulled into comfort. The dear teachers and educational assistants made sure to include this volunteering human in the festivities. In fact the whole exercise brought us all together – no one escaped the highlighter, or the laughter.

4. On the yard at recess, two Grade 2 or 3 girls came bouncing up to me. One stood in front of me, took my hands in hers and started in on a clapping and slapping and singing game, in which I got to share my favourite colour, my favourite number, and other stuff that I can’t remember. She was directing my hands to go this way and that in co-ordination with hers, laughing all the while. Her friend stood off to the side, beaming. Then it was their turn. The two of them did the whole patter at the speed of light. Giggles all around as the old guy was brought into the realm of the 8-year-olds.

5. It was nearly home time, and Jayne had let the kids out a few minutes early. They were bouncing basketballs, swinging on the swings or just chatting. And here come the Kindergarten kids, some seemingly with backpacks as big as them. Those little ones look at me and launch into yesterday’s chant: “Mr. Kerr! Mr. Kerr!” Oh my God. All this for me. They kept it up and I tried to shhh them but some hardy souls kept up the beat … out of their mouths and out of their eyes. Thanks, kids.

6. Minutes ago, I got in Scarlet and headed to London for a house concert. The hosts aren’t expecting me for weeks. I pulled onto the 401, our local freeway, something I’ve done hundreds of times. Seconds later, fear flooded me. Even though no bicycles were allowed on this road, the speed was the same as in B.C. This time I was in a car, not emotionally naked on my bike. Still, I started shaking.

And then something opened inside. Some force or some person, perhaps my lovely wife Jodiette, was there with me … calming me, holding me.

I give
I receive
All is well

Homecoming

For what indeed is home?  Whether it’s blood relations, a circle of friends or a class full of kids, home is the experience of loving and being loved.  Such was my day.

I got home from B.C. at midnight and proceeded to sleep for ten hours.  I woke up knowing that Jayne, the Grade 5/6 teacher with whom I volunteer, had invited me to the class’ potluck lunch and the school play day all afternoon.

A tiny part of me wanted to hide out, safe under the covers, but I love those kids, so tiny did not defeat huge.  My car Scarlet and I drove to the school.  As I pulled into the driveway, three or four kids were bouncing up and down and waving.  Oh my.  I’ve had horror stories in my head about the kids being distant because I didn’t complete my ride across Canada.  What a silly head I sometimes have.  When I think deeper, I see that children “see” me.  They know my heart is pure.  And usually their hearts respond in kind.

I went in the front door of the school to sign in.  There was some kerfuffle in the hall but I blocked it out.  As I walked out of the office, the whole class surrounded me, smiling and yelling something.  Jayne rushed forward to hug me.  I was being held.  I tried holding the tears back but I was deeply touched by their love.  I felt electricity smash through me and it all seemed headed to my right hand.  It started shaking and appeared to have no interest in stopping.

Back to the Grade 5/6 portable for the communal eats.  My head was reeling, thoughts were jumbled, and I even struggled to get the meatballs on my plate.  I was invited to sit with a group of girls and happily obliged.  My eyes moistened again and again.  I stuttered.  I knew I was surrounded by love but the fear of my bicycle days had not disappeared.  The hand continued to shake.  One girl reached out and put her hand over mine, trying to still the unruly beast.  What a sweet thing to do.  When she lifted her hand, mine went vibrating again.  Later another girl did the same, with the same results.  I guess my body has things to do.  There must be a natural rhythm that can’t be rushed.

There was a sign on the board welcoming me home.  Little hearts adorned some of the names.  Some kids came up to say they were proud of me.  I walked around stunned, feeling disoriented, embarrassed at the result I’d produced, sad at the loss of a dream, and scared still about nearby semitrailers whizzing past.

After eating was done, I was going to take something to the office for Jayne but she asked me to stay in the portable.  We had a fine talk.  She’s such a marvelous support for me, and I hope I am for her.  After a bit, she held out a red “Canada” t-shirt and asked me to put it on.  “Jayne, did you buy me this shirt?”  She smiled, and I’d guess the answer was “Yes”.

The dear teacher then led me out of the portable.  I glanced towards the back corner of the school and saw a Grade 5 girl and some young kids standing there.  They seemed to be saying something.  As I got closer, I made out “Mr. Kerr!  Mr. Kerr!”  Sure seemed to be a loud chant for a few kids.  As I rounded the corner, spread before me in a long line were all 230 children and all the staff members.  The first group held up a sign with the flag of British Columbia.  Then it was Alberta … Saskatchewan …  “My God!” I thought.  “I’m crossing Canada.”  Oh … I was being held in the arms of love.  I have failed as a cyclist able to cross my country and I have succeeded as a human being.

A teacher gave me a bullhorn and I told them all that I loved them, and I do.  I haven’t talked to every one but I know their hearts.  Those vital organs were on full display along the length of the school.

Blessings show up unbidden
We see each other
All is well

Day Six: Back to Vancouver

There we stood, in front of the “Mile 0” sign, marking the beginning of the Trans-Canada Highway, and the beginning of our journey. Fifteen souls had their photos taken, and then we were together for a group shot. And together we are. So far I’ve met 19 of the 20 Tour du Canada riders (including me!) and in my perception we’re all “Green flags” – genuinely nice people who care. Not just caring about your family and friends, but looking beyond our groups to the human condition, where we all need shoring up sometimes.

For two-and-a-half months we twenty will be creating a new group – friends to hang out with. Plus we’ll meet Canadians, some happy and some not so much. How can we lift their spirits? For one thing, we can honour their slice of Canada. We can listen to learn about what life is like in their hometown. We can smile. We can include.

I struggled on the bike yesterday. But friends were there to lift me up. Terry coached me all day on cycling skills. “Dig deep! You need to be in the middle of the bike lane so the trucks don’t hit you.” She was relentlessly kind and assertive, just what a friend needs to be.

We were on a pretty and leafy path for awhile, and Keith would go ahead of me and give me a thumbs up at intersecting roads when the way was clear.

Ken stayed with me for the last few kilometres, patiently adjusting his speed to mine. No hurry.

Uli inspected my bike last night, giving me advice about how to make cycling easier for me. We did this in the first floor lounge of our UBC residence. Afterwards, I was basically falling asleep in my cozy chair. I was about to reach for my bicycle ta-pocketa to carry it up to my second floor room, when Dorcas beat me to it.

Ahh … friends

The Vigil

Last night 20,000 of us gathered at Mel Lastman Square in Toronto to honour the victims of last week’s van attack, where a driver mowed down pedestrians on the sidewalk of Yonge Street.

I went to Olive Square Park two hours before the ceremony.  It was the site of a massive memorial: flowers, messages, photos and candles.  Soon thousands of us began walking the 1.5 kilometres to the square.  We were quiet and we walked slowly.

I thought of the ten folks who died, ages 22 to 94.  And of their families and friends.  I saw sorrow in the faces of those near me.  I felt like crying but I didn’t.  Many did.  On we walked.

About 50 feet away, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau comtemplated life, surrounded by TV cameras.  I watched him for a bit and then turned back towards the flow of humanity.  This was not the time to be gawking at celebrities.  Perhaps there’s never such a time.  We were here for all of us.

Young and old, black and white, Caucasian and Asian … we were together.  A voice within said “Look inside” and I realized right away that it was not urging me to self-reflect but rather to look into the souls of my companions.  “Look inside each one.”  And I did just that for many, seeing the beauty of human beings.

At the Square, I found a spot where I could see the stage.  Although it was far away, I was right there.  Looking out over the crowd, I felt our union.  Of course, we each have our life issues, but for that hour I sensed they were essentially laid down.  We stood with our grief and compassion and love.  How marvelous, I thought.  May we harness this sweetness even when there’s no crisis to bring us together.  May we love … just ’cause.

Speakers spoke, spectators shared and many of their words touched home:

In Toronto, in Ontario, in Canada, we don’t run away – we run to help others.

It’s amazing how on this one stretch of street, so many people are connected and affected by it.

Each of those who died are remembered as wonderful human beings who brought light into our world through a combined 539 years of their own acts of lovingkindness.

This is my town and my heart is just rocked by this, and I just want to be strong for my friends and my family and everybody in this city.  Everybody needs love.

Amen

 

Canada Joy and Toronto Sorrow

On Friday, I went walking down Weston Road in Toronto and came upon an ice cream and coffee shop named God Loves Canada.  Well, with a name like that, who am I to walk by?

Steps inside the door, I was greeted by Rosina, a black woman, and her husband George, a white man.  She had the biggest smile the world has ever seen and assured me that her ice cream was the best in Toronto, straight from Kawartha Dairies.  Rosina and I bantered back and forth about how cool Canada is, much to the delight of George, who sat alone at a tiny table.  Actually the whole place was tiny.

Clearly it was time to sing and Rosina and I launched into “O Canada”.  For some reason, George and the one other customer didn’t join in.  Oh well.  We raised the small roof.

How can anyone smile this much?  Rosina is one happy Canadian.  An hour later, fully supplied with a Rocky Road waffle cone and a cup of “Keswick’s Best Coffee” (decaf!), I walked out the door a grinning man.

Such a fine couple.  They’ve been married for twenty-some years and bug each other playfully.  Ah … the lightness of life that’s waiting if I have the eyes to see.

And then the day turned …

I took bus and subway to the site of Monday’s horrific van attack.  A fellow drove a rental van onto the sidewalk at Yonge and Finch and mowed down pedestrians.  Ten people died and fourteen were injured over a two kilometre stretch.  So immensely sad.

In my backpack I was carrying messages from nine of the Grade 5/6 kids at school, most adorned with art work:

“I am with you”

“Sorry about the accident”

“We are thinking of you”

I climbed the steps out of the subway at Yonge and Finch and looked across the street.  There had to be fifty folks reading all the messages and breathing in the flowers at a memorial set up in a small park.  A long stone wall was covered with the crying of a city.  And I mean covered.  The only blank spot I found was big enough for only one of the kids’ messages.  The thought came that I should just pick one to represent our class.  It only took a second to reject that idea.  Every one of these children needed to have their care seen and appreciated.

So I walked south.  I read an article on my phone that mentioned the sites of death: Tolman Street, Kempford Boulevard, Empress Avenue, Mel Lastman Square.  All places on my route.  No physical evidence remained but the feeling of loss was everywhere.  “The van came by right here, on this very patch of sidewalk.”  (Sigh)

On my way down the street, I looked for other places to suspend the kids’ hearts.  I wanted them to be part of a community outpouring, and nothing showed itself until … Mel Lastman Square – a big open space in front of government buildings.  And there it was: another memorial.  Flowers and thousands of messages.  Jampacked.  I could feel a twinge of frustration but right beside it was faith, that there would be a space for the souls of 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds.

And lo and behold, off to the side, right beside the sidewalk where Torontonians died, was a tree.  Unadorned.  Just naturally beautiful.

I set to work with nine messages of love embraced within plastic page protectors.  I had my packing tape and I had my scissors.  The wind made the stilling of the tape an adventure but with the help of a few local folks, I got the job done.

People came to read.  And take pictures.  And bow their heads.  I met Aurora, who lives nearby.  She read the kids’ words and smiled a lot.  “Please thank them for me.”  I will.  “I live right over there and I’ll come by often to say hi.”  Thank you, Aurora.

***

I was going to drive home today, but I’ve decided to stay another night.  This evening at 7:00 there will be a vigil at Mel Lastman Square.  The police expect 25,000 people to show up.  I’ll be one of them.

 

 

 

Go For The Waking Up

It’s likely that for much of my day I’m asleep, pulled by society’s values into a good/bad, right/wrong world.  And then there are moments when my mind floats free, when the peace descends and I see my neighbours with fresh and loving eyes.

On Wednesday evening I sat by my computer, waiting for a webinar called “Evolution Revolution: The Reality of Shared Unity”.  The talk by Patricia Albere was beamed out to nearly 200 people.  She invited us to join a community of souls across the world who would spend a year, each of us in our own homes, reaching out to each other, making a deep connection.  Patricia talks about “mutual awakening”, in which one person enters the consciousness of the other and the two experience being seen, in their essence, perhaps for the first time in their lives.

Through “Zoom” technology, we would see each other on our screens and do exercises which could lead to a deep sense of contact.  I could be looking into the eyes of a fellow from Afghanistan or a woman from New Zealand.  Can you imagine the possibilities?  Wow.

Another part of the program is presentations by spiritual teachers and Q&A sessions where we can all see each other.  Works for me.

As I watched the webinar on Wednesday, I felt a surge of “This is it” as in what I’ve been waiting for all my life.  I yearn for a deep connection with many other human beings – local as well as across the world.

I decided to sign up, and there was a financial incentive if I did it that evening.  But I thought about my cross-Canada bike ride this summer.  How could this transformational web program mesh with being on the road for seven hours each day?  What to do? Somewhere in the messages I’d received from the Evolutionary Collective (the organization Patricia created) was a phone number.  Minutes later I found it and dialled, not expecting that anyone would answer well into the evening.

Patricia answered!  How is that possible?  Well, I guess it’s very possible, since it happened.  She was excited about my bike ride and essentially said “Come on down.”  So I’m coming.

For the next year, I will be seeing human beings on my phone screen two or more times a week, and I really mean “seeing” them, as they in turn experience my essence.

And will I be able to transfer this sense of connection to nineteen other riders this summer?  I think so.

I’m 69. I don’t know how many more years I have on the planet.  All that time is really a huge bunch of moments.  I can’t think of a better way to have those moments break through into something totally new.

Fire in the Sky

I love traditions, and the residents of Toronto Island have a doozy.  Last night, they hauled dozens of Christmas trees to Ward’s Beach and had a bonfire.  I went last year and no doubt wrote about it in WordPress but my memory of such writing is tucked away in some inaccessible spot.  It’s time for now.

I took the ferry across as the sun was setting.  When what to my wondering eyes should appear but smoke rising above the trees.  “They started without me!”  And indeed they had.

I followed the path of humanity across parkland and through the brush … and there was the fire, licking high into the darkening sky.  Maybe 200 people stood at a respectful distance.  The local costume-clad band pounded out a rhythm on their drums and horns. I was in the presence of a community.

A family emerged out of the black, carrying a large Christmas tree.  Mom, dad, son and daughter.  With a ho heave ho and a “One … two … three!” the evergreen lofted and plopped into the blaze.  The crackling sound burst upon us, along with a light that illuminated all.  And the blast of heat!  Yes.  The heat without clearly inspired the heat within, as smiles broke open faces and cheers danced with applause.

Some ploppers waltzed around the flames before depositing their treasure.  Gifts ranged from gigantic spruces to the tiniest of boughs.  Givers from 70-somethings to wee kids. One train of five children launched a long pile of wood shavings upward.  There were endless crackles and glows for ninety minutes or more.  Sparks flew upwards against the crescent moon and sometimes sideways towards faces.  I felt some pricks of fire and brushed them off.  All part of the astonishing energy.

Two women hooped around the fire.  How someone can keep a hula hoop going just above her knees is beyond me, but she did it.  Later she reappeared rotating a hoop alive with fire.  The glow circled up and circled down, much to the joy of kids young and old. The second woman hooped with ecstasy lighting her face.  Her body moved sensuously and the vibrancy of her soul added to the erotica.  A young girl tried to keep a hoop aloft with little success but frequent visits to the ground wouldn’t stop her smile.

Many a time I looked around to wonder at the togetherness, the relationship, the community feeling.  The water lapped softly on the beach.  All was dark save for the blaze and a few far off lights.  The intensity of the city was worlds away.  All was well.