Day Two: Sweat

I was standing on the platform of the Mets – Willets Point subway station yesterday – dripping sweat.  It was 11:30 pm.  What an adventure to be bathed all day.  The players were shining in the sun, and so were my 50,000 viewing companions.  At home, I’ve mostly lived in my air conditioning bubble, but not so in New York.  I have a fan in my Airbnb room and I have it on full blast all night.

My day started with a woman, and ended with another one.  Rohina and I met in the Airbnb kitchen.  She works for Unicef and will soon be off to Africa for a short-term posting.  There’s a gentle smile and a love for New York City.  “It doesn’t matter that I’m brown and a woman.  It’s New York!”  I felt the instant connection. 

Since Rohina leaves in a few days, and I get home around midnight each day, it’s likely we’ll never see each other again.  Ah … the moments.  I told her about one of the passwords I use: “lasttime”.  You never know.

At the end of the day, I got off the subway at the 52 Street station.  I was face-to-face with a old woman wearing a head scarf.  She was crying.  “I missed my stop!”  I know all about being frazzled for a reason that other people might find frivolous.  Such as me getting back on the bicycle.  Compassion is needed.  The woman told me the stop that was hers and I walked down the stairs with her and then back up to the other platform.  “Get on the next train and then get off at the first stop: ‘Woodside – 61 Street’.”  She asked me to wait with her on the platform, and I did.  As the train inched away, we waved and smiled through the pane of glass.

At the US Open, the crowds were ginormous.  I loved it!  As we filed out of the tennis center in the late evening, at one point we were funneled towards a narrow stairway.  We advanced slowly to the stairs.  No one pushed.  A woman to my left paused and let me go first.  Lovely.

See?  I wrote an entire post without mentioning tennis matches!

The Little Girl and the Doll

Christmas morning 1952.  Light drizzle was falling as my sister Jill and I ran out of the Methodist church, eager to get home and play with the presents Santa had left for us and our baby sister Sharon. 

Across the street from the church was a Pan-American gas station where the Greyhound bus stopped.  It was closed for Christmas but I noticed a family standing outside the locked door, huddled under the narrow overhang in an attempt to keep dry.  I wondered briefly why they were there, then forgot about it as I raced to keep up with Jill. 

Once we got home, there was barely time to enjoy our presents.  We had to go off to our grandparents’ house for Christmas dinner.  As we drove down through town, I noticed the family was still there, standing outside the closed gas station.  My father was driving very slowly down the highway.  The closer we got to the turnoff for my grandparents’ house, the slower the car went. 

Suddenly my father u-turned in the middle of the road and said “I can’t stand it.”  “What?” asked my mother.  “It’s those people back there at the Pan-Am, standing in the rain.  They’ve got children.  It’s Christmas!  I can’t stand it.”

When my father pulled in to the service station, I saw there were five of them: the parents and three children – two girls and a small boy.  My father rolled down his window.  “Merry Christmas,” he said.  “Howdy,” the man replied.  He was tall – had to stoop slightly to peer in the car. 

Jill, Sharon and I stared at the other three children and they stared back at us.  “You waitin’ on the bus?” my father asked.  The man said they were.  They were going to Birmingham, where he had a brother and prospects of a job.

“Well, that bus isn’t goin’ to come along for several hours and you’re getting’ wet standing here.  Winborne’s just a couple of miles up the road.  They’ve got a shed with a cover there, some benches,” my father said.  “Why don’t you all get in the car and I’ll run you up there?”

The man thought about it for a moment, then he beckoned to his family.  They climbed into the car.  They had no luggage, only the clothes they were wearing. 

Once they were settled in, my father looked back over his shoulder and asked the children if Santa had found them yet.  Three glum faces mutely gave him his answer.  “Well, I didn’t think so,” my father said, winking at my mother, “because when I saw Santa this morning, he told me he was having trouble finding y’all, and he asked me if he could leave your toys at my house.  We’ll just go get them before I take you to the bus stop.”  And all at once, the three children’s face lit up, and they began to bounce around in the backseat, laughing and chattering. 

When we got out of the car at our house, the three children ran through the front door, straight to the toys that were spread out under our Christmas tree.  One of the girls spied Jill’s doll and immediately hugged it to her breast.  I remember that the little boy grabbed Sharon’s ball, and the other girl picked up something of mine.

All this happened a long time ago but the memory of it remains clear.  That was the Christmas when my sisters and I learned the joy of making others happy.

My mother noticed the middle child was wearing a short-sleeved dress so she gave the girl Jill’s only sweater to wear.  My father invited them to join us at our grandparents’ for Christmas dinner but the parents refused.

Back in the car on the way to Winborne, my father asked the man if he had money for bus fare.  His brother had sent tickets, the man said.  My father reached into his pocket and pulled out five dollars, which was all he had left till the next payday, and pressed the money into the man’s hand.  The man tried to give it back but my father insisted.  “It’ll be late when you get to Birmingham, and those children will be hungry before then.  Take it.  I’ve been broke before and I know what it’s like when you can’t feed your own family.”

We left them at the bus stop in Winborne.  And as we drove away, I watched out the window as long as I could, looking back at the little girl hugging her new doll.

Anonymous

 

Love Math

It all starts with love.  I figure that human beings can grapple with the toughest problems if they first sense the unity we share, if each of us is willing to look into the other person’s eyes and see divinity there.  Without that prior sense of being together, our efforts to problem-solve, conflict-resolve, and peace-make will come to naught.  The gap between us will remain a bridge too far.  So … let’s see what we can create with love as its centerpiece.

***

I mostly find math boring but there are certain equations that get my heart a-fluttering:

Love + Pain = Compassion

There are times when we gaze into another’s eyes and see tears welling up.  The pain may be physical, emotional or even spiritual.  All three are real.  Maybe it’s about failing at something, or another person being mean, or a loved one dying.  We know what it’s like.  We’ve been there.  It hurts.

How far you go in life depends on you being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the strong … because someday in life you will have been all of these.

George Washington Carver

Love + Happiness = Joy

Sometimes the face we behold is alight with the glory of God.  The person is bubbling with the good news that’s come their way.  A promotion, a newborn, a task well undertaken and completed.  The joy in response is not a given.  Some of us refuse to celebrate in the wellbeing of another.  It’s as if there’s only so much happiness to go around.  “If you have a lot of it, that means there’s not much left for me.”  Other folks are wiser:

There are so many people in this world that it’s simply reasonable for you to make their happiness as important as your own.  If you can be happy when good things happen to others, your opportunities for delight are increased six billion to one!  [Update: make that nearly eight billion to one]

The Dalai Lama

It’s simple math

 

How Wide Is Our We?

I fear that some of us are only experiencing “me” right now.  The mind is so full that the “we” is having a hard time finding its way in.  “I want a tan.”  And so Vancouver beaches are full of folks enjoying the unusual sunny weather.

I get that most of us, however, are living and breathing beyond the boundary of our skin.  We think of our parents and grandparents, of our dearest friends.  We’d go through hell for these folks.  We have so many memories of their goodness reaching out over the years.  They must be protected by our physical absence.

But is there more?

At my local coffee shop, now shuttered, there is a fellow who doesn’t like me.  “So … you didn’t know that, school teacher?”  I’ve actually enjoyed my conversations with him.  I’ve felt twinges of antagonism towards him but mostly it’s just curiosity.  Can I include him in my we?  For the sake of all beings, I must.  Personality conflicts represent one layer of reality.  We need to ascend far beyond such boundaries.

Then there are that infinite number of human beings that I don’t know.  On my daily (and solitary) walks, I often meet them.  They show up on my TV screen and on Facebook.  They too are part of my family.  I must include them as well.

I don’t have to like everyone.  For sure, I don’t.  But I do need to love everyone … not the possessive “You’re mine” type of love, but a far wider embrace.  We’re together on this planet.  Your life – apparently unknown to me – is also deeply known.  In whatever language, in whatever environment, you pass through the same joys and sorrows as I do.  You are my brother and my sister.

And so I stay away from your body … but not your soul.

 

Compassion

It’s an astonishing painting, by Alex Grey. It hangs in my hallway just inside the front door. I could go on and on about the beauty of it all but I’m sure the message is clear to you. There is giving and there is receiving, with the giver knowing deeply that he or she is being given to as well.

We had an art class this afternoon. The lesson was on perspective, how a line of trees can appear to be stretching to the horizon. The teacher and I roamed around, offering feedback and encouragement. One young man (I’ll call him “Brett”) had his head down and I asked if I could help. He was shaky. When I looked at his pencil drawing, I saw the mistake he was making and I coached him about how to fix it. Then I moved on to other kids. It was fun to offer a hint here and some praise there.

Ten minutes later, I glanced back at Brett. His arms were propping up his head and he was crying. I walked over. “What’s wrong, Brett?” He turned to me and away from the students beside him. “This isn’t any good and my dad will be so mad.”

My eyes welled with his. I flashed to my father and to the unconditional positive regard he sent me, even when improvements needed to be made. Clearly home was sometimes not like this for Brett. I wanted to assist him and I wanted us to have privacy. We found a table off in a corner and sat there with each other, both of us making some marks on the paper. We worked towards the OKness of any tree that emerged from Brett’s fingers and shared the creation of perspective – two tall trees on the left and right edges of the paper, two shorter ones next door and two itsy bitsy versions in the middle of the paper. By the time the first bell rang for home, Brett was calm.

Such a key moment, that one with the tears. Each of us needs to be ready with a helping hand. The Bretts and Lucys of the world deserve our care.

Love and Hate

First of all, I’m fine. The X-ray and CT scan last night showed nothing major. I’ve been taking Tylenol and magically I have no pain right now, just a sensation in my neck. What a lucky boy am I! I’ll rest up and go see Jess, my physio. Scarlet will take two weeks in getting herself repaired and meantime my garage is hosting Bullet, a silver Ford Focus.

***

Second of all, I’m really in the dark about things. The power went off thirty minutes ago and isn’t expected back on for another 2-3 hours. We’ll see if I have enough juice in the phone to complete this post. I’m sitting with my friends Candle and Flashlight. We’re having a good time.

***

I’m an avid tennis fan. I especially like watching the women pros hit the ball. I’m enthralled with Bianca Andreescu, a young Canadian woman who won the US Open in September. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) offers lots of posts on Facebook. I participate. Here are a couple of things I’ve said about Bianca:

I hope you realize, Bianca, what an incredible role model you are for young girls. You’re real. You show sadness, joy, confidence, anguish, determination when you’re feeling each of those things. No false modesty. No suppression. Lots of aliveness.

***

I’m so impressed with the human being that Bianca is. Her smiles are real. Her compassion shines bright. Sure, she plays great tennis and wins championships but she’s far bigger than that.

Some folks’ first response is to criticize. Others start with appreciation. I think the world needs a lot more kindness.

~~~~~

Countless people share my admiration for Bianca. However, there are those on the Internet whose glass seems to be empty. They prefer to attack:

Andreescu is a drama queen and a mercenary traitor.

***

All year she has been faking injuries … See how lying is wrong?

***

I hope she breaks her legs.

***

Ms. Piggy

***

Andreescu is too chubby.

***

That woman is always showing such a lack of sportsmanship. She is certainly one of the worst personalities in tennis right now.

***

So fake.

***

Cheap crap! Same spoiled child attitude!

***

Andreescu is so hard to like.

***

Such a bad handshake from Andreescu. Pathetic.

***

Andreescu is too fat.

***

Theatre.

***

Andreescu needs to stop acting like she’s injured when she’s not.

***

She’s just too full of it and cocky.

***

She’s selfish.

***

Class is so far away from Andreescu as class gets.

***

Bianca’s attitude was a bit unfair and fake.

~~~~~

Oh my. Such venom. It leaps out into the world … and finds its way back to the one starting it all. There is truly no cheese down that tunnel.

I’m sad for those among us who do such damage. What must their lives be like? What must their loved ones’ lives be like?

~~~~~

Let us pray for all beings
Large and small
Hurtful and hurting
Blessing and blessed
We all deserve a second chance

Skunked

On Thursday evening, I was doing a Mutual Awakening practice online with a woman in Vancouver.  All was mellow.  And then … a God-awful banging started downstairs.  Peace evaporated.  My heart revved up.  Home invasion?  Beam collapse?  Or an animal?

I returned to my friend, with visions of a raccoon roaming through my family room.  After we said goodbye, I headed down, resisting the urge to grab a blunt object.  And there, rapping on a basement window, was an all-in-motion white and black furry thing.  A skunk, trapped in the window well.  He or she was ripping apart the screen but I didn’t care about that.

Two parallel thoughts came my way:

1. They’re going to die in there. Claws won’t do much good on four feet of vertical metal.

2. They’re really going to stink up the house.

I felt momentarily guilty about my smell worry but then I reasoned that human beings sometimes obsess about dreaded futures.  I’m a human being so it all works out fine.

As I laid myself down to sleep, the imagined scenario switched to Bruce trying to get furry one out of the window well and getting sprayed in the process.  Halfway through the night, there was still the banging and scratching.

On Friday morning, I girded my loins, grabbed a stepladder and tippy-toed towards the window well.  Such a hero!  I peeked over the edge … and the only thing down there was a plastic bag.  Impossible!  Was I dealing with Super Skunk?  Looking more closely, that bag seemed to be full of something.  I went back into the garage and emerged with a long-handled cultivating tool.  I nudged the bag – and it moved!  A slight rip showed something black-and-white beneath.  I wedged the ladder against the well and headed off to embrace the day.

Late yesterday afternoon, I drove into the driveway.  Another timid peek showed the same full bag.  And then I remembered – skunks are nocturnal.  Reason soon faded away, however, as I imagined my friend dying alone.  I fretted through the evening until engaging joyfully with a friend on the telephone.  Then to bed.  A half hour later, the banging and scratching resumed.  I confess an impatience with the gorgeous-looking animal.  “Haven’t you seen a ladder before?  It’s your way out, your road to freedom, your release from the prison of life.”

I slept fitfully, partially because of an early morning wakeup for a church breakfast, and also due to the furry one.

6:55 am.  No sounds.  Clothes on.  Outside.  Peeking number three.

Mr. Skunk was gone

I’m so happy that my companion didn’t die.  He’s no doubt out there in the woods with his friends and family.  And I’m more than a little pleased that I didn’t have to zoom off to the grocery store for a year’s supply of tomato juice.

On to the next ridiculous adventure …

 

Just A Human Being

I was reading an advertisement recently when I came across this description:

Buffet included soap, salad bar, about 6 entrées, and a selection of deserts

The first thing that drew my eye was “soap”.  That’s pretty funny, imagining myself with a knife and fork chowing down on a beauty bar.

Then I saw “deserts” and moved into critical mode.  Why can’t people learn to spell?  I know how to spell.

After a time of better-worse, I paused.  And it came to me … we’re all human.  Maybe I can spell because I love writing and reading.  Perhaps the author of this ad isn’t so focused on the written word.  What if the writer didn’t finish high school or had parents who didn’t care about reading?  What if he or she was in the middle of some traumatic experience?

This person struggled with the ad.  I can’t swim, can’t skate and am afraid of heights.  We’re all so imperfect and marvelous.  Next time, may my first seeing be of compassion, not criticism.

 

Sweet Music in the Evening

Neal and I went into London tonight to listen to a Canadian folk music group, appropriately called “Eh?!”  Two fiddlers and a bass violinist.  All brilliant performers.  Their concert was held at The Cuckoo’s Nest, an intimate club that takes over Chaucer’s Pub on some Sunday evenings.  Chaucer’s seats about 50, and features a huge stone fireplace, dark wood, and beer steins on a high shelf.

We sat immediately to the right of the band, in the second row.  I was about eight feet from James fiddler’s right arm.  Joe bass violin was on the other side of James, and farther along was Anne fiddler.

Sitting right in front of me was a man of about my age with a very large head.  He kept that head extremely still throughout the concert.  There was no hint of grooving to the fiddle tunes.  I felt sadness and dryness coming off him, even a depression.  And so I felt sad.  I decided to simply be with him.  No beaming of positive energy his way.  Just let him be as he was, with my company.  But sometimes he would lean way to the left or right, trying to see beyond James.  The first couple of times, I was irritated, and then I let that go.  Actually, when he leaned right, I could see Joe playing haunting melodies on the bass, rather than just the top of his head.  So my neighbour was helping me out.

At the break between sets, I decided to talk to the gentleman, to see if I could make a contribution.  “Hard to see past the first fiddler from our angle, eh?”  Big smile in return.  I was happy.

The tops of Joe’s and Anne’s heads were just fine for me because I got to see three musical heads feeling the melody and making the harmony, swaying to the peaceful tunes and jerking wildly during the raucous ones.  Very cool.  Oh, and I also got to see Anne’s left hand on the neck of her fiddle, her fingers alternately caressing and smashing down on the strings.  Cool again.

During the love songs, Joe played his bass like a violin, moving his fingers way down the fretboard to draw out ethereal melodies, with his head bowed as in a trance.  Gone I was in those moments.  Tears came to my eyes as the distinct sound of incredibly high bass notes worked its way into my soul.  Jody came flooding into me.  She was happy I had brought her to the concert.  Always with me, my dear.

It was a lovely evening.  Virtuoso musicians.  Tunes that led me away.  And a bigheaded man who knows how to smile.

 

 

 

Crying for Kindness

A few days ago, I was watching a commercial on TV and started crying.  Deep sobs.  Afterwards I couldn’t remember what they were selling.  All I retained was Person A criticizing someone who wasn’t there and Person B agreeing.  Then that scene was repeated twice.  On the fourth viewing, Person B responded to Person A by saying something kind about the absent someone.

I’ve been crying for Jody every day and I figured that my response to the commercial had something to do with my vulnerability.  But it still seemed a mystery.  And then I stopped analyzing it … the why and wherefore just floated away.

Tonight I was watching a CNN report about a terrorist attack being prevented in Belgium.  It was time for “a message from our sponsors”:

(Scene: two employees chatting in the office)

Person A:  I hear she’s still depressed and on sick leave.

Person B:  We could both use a vacation too.

(Repeat twice)

(Fourth time)

Person A:  I hear she’s still depressed and on sick leave.

Person B:  I’m going to swing by with Mary and see how she’s doing.

(Person A thinks … and nods)

And Bruce cries again, weeping uncontrollably for a minute or two.

Then I used the “rewind live TV” function on my PVR and watched it again.  There was a single message at the end:

Be kind
1 of the 5 ways you can end
the stigma around mental illness

The advertiser?  Bell – a large Canadian company providing TV and phone service.

Lovely to behold
Cry on, Bruce