Faces

I enjoy sitting in my den, looking over to my bookcase. You’ll be happy to know that I’ve arranged things. If I sit on the left cushion of the loveseat, many eyes are aimed right at me. I hope you can enlarge the photo to see what I mean. There’s a marble sculpture of a man and woman who aren’t really looking my way, but apart from that …

In no particular order, you’re likely to find two Buddhas, two lizards, two native American women, a snowy owl, a cyclist, a Senegalese goddess of fertility, a laughing wooden face, a downcast stone face, Jody and me on our wedding day, Jody at a tiny restaurant in Quebec City, two little kids under an umbrella, an owl with wings spread wide, me at a community dinner in Belmont, my nephew Jaxon’s grad picture, a jovial black kid, the haunting image of a sad peasant girl in 1885, and the Sun.

All meeting my eyes. All saying “Hello”. There is magic on this cushion. I feel radiation coming my way. I am being included in so many lives. Across time and space, we are together.

Fiery Words

And how do I do that … set the world on fire? Somehow the essence of me needs to escape my body and fly out across the land. There’s a presence I can show my neighbours – quiet eyes embracing the eyes of others. A hand reaching out to comfort and be kin. An action here and there that shows I am with you.

Another vestige of communion are the words that travel from me to you. Some soft words, some surging words … all vibrant words. Here is a long list – each one with an edge, vibrating like a fine tuning fork, zooming between beings at supersonic speed. See if you recognize yourself in what follows. See if you can feel the fire.

heavenly triumph unbelievable legendary epic mesmerizing sublime stunning alluring overcome relentless master delightful deep gripping intense ultimate emerging untapped glamorous decadent shocking release strange blast light captivate riveting honest surefire obsessed ravenous magic revolutionary reveal unique delirious launch uncovered free now unleashed barrage forever huge create awesome heartwarming authentic miracle new transform bona fide swooning essential unlimited tenacious stop rowdy tantalizing exposed promise wild unseen priceless weird belonging crazy tricks irresistible naked fierce bold unforgettable alive ironclad ridiculous sacred dangerous fantasy profound inspiring definitive remarkable explosive spellbinding rare suddenly hidden unadulterated ignite exquisite uncontrollable catapult brilliant defying beautiful massive forbidden hilarious secret startling unconventional incredible genuine thrilling undeniable extraordinary sensational intriguing gigantic breathtaking astonishing fascinating gorgeous effortless amazing adorable dazzling unstoppable astounding

Soaring

It’s an evening concert at Koerner Hall in Toronto, a few hours after sleeping was the order of the day. In a preview of coming attractions, a string quartet of young adults has just performed six feet in front of me. I’m in seat A12 … dead centre.

The cellist was an Oriental woman. Her fingers flew and her face glowed. I wafted back to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. I loved the faces there, in sculpture or paint, and I know one of my photos from that visit will be the woman who just sat before me. Give me a minute and I’ll find her.

No, the woman on the canvas is not Oriental, but the shining is the same. The cellist was a goddess. Her fingers flowed and her bow pressed hard on the bending strings. Her male fellows blended and surged as violinists and violist. I was smashed in the face by the music flooding towards me. And I returned the favour, bursting upon the musicians with my awe and with my love.

Her name is Zuri Wells and her instrument is the marimba, which I thought was something like a guitar. Wrong! It’s a huge wooden xylophone, with about fifty wooden bars … varnished 1×2’s. Sometimes she held two mallets, sometimes four or six. The instrument loomed over me. All that was humanly visible was Zuri’s face. Her eyes widened and then closed as the melody and harmonies broke from her hands. The passages were alternately sweet and raucous. Her face twisted in response to the accompanying orchestra. Often there was a tiny grin on her lips as she fell into the music. And right near the end, she exploded in a smile from ear to ear.

We stood. We applauded for three minutes. Zuri bowed and beamed.

Then it was time for everybody. The Royal Conservatory Orchestra played Beethoven’s 7th Symphony for we the audience. Flurries of bow. Soaring notes of all types, coming from all sides of the stage. Vibrating bodies, sometimes swaying and sometime pouncing.

The Concertmistress (the lead first violin) often made eye contact with her counterpart in the second violins, the two women nodding ever so slightly as they timed their entries into the fray. The first player often smiled as the music took flight. So did many others. Sitting in the front row, it felt like orgasm after orgasm flying off the stage. Whew. It was immense.

Quite the contrast to lying in bed, reflecting on my eyes slowly closing. I’d say both are needed in the round of life.

Day Fifteen: The Space Around

There is you over there and me in here … or is that so? Perhaps your skin isn’t the end of you. We might be far broader than that, stretching and stretching till we touch the stars.

Maybe there’s a huge space around everything – a sense of outflow, of joining me to whatever’s beside. And time expands too … into a softness, a lingering. It could be that even the difficult moments blend into the air and extend themselves back into the past and forward into the future. Maybe there’s nothing distinct and limited at all, no edges marking “this” from “not this”.

There is space around the beings and moments of the world – softening them and enriching them. I just need the eyes to see.

Just now, it was easy. Ali, Nima and I sat together. I showed them a video on my phone, of Aretha Franklin singing You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman to an audience that included Barack Obama and Carole King, the co-writer of the song. The three of us cuddled and the singer touched not only a Canadian heart, but also Senegalese ones too, despite the language difference. I feel in my being that this is true.

I could feel us extending together … being with Carole, Aretha, Michelle and Barack in that faraway where of Washington, D.C. and that faraway when of 2015. It wasn’t my brain that knew we were all together, but it was nonetheless so. People of the ages 4, 11, 70, 77, 55, 58 and “dead” were united across such permeable boundaries. The space around us kept reaching outward, animating whatever it touched.

Last night, not so easy. Wrestling is one of the big sports in Senegal and there’s a competition in a nearby village happening now. The singing and drumming starts each night around 9:00 pm and lasts till 1:00 am. This will be going on for the rest of 2019.

The voice easily crosses the few kilometres between Soucouta and Toubacouta. I couldn’t sleep. I felt into the space around but there were jangles in the way. The staccato sound, the fatigue, the unfamiliarity of it all. In my better moments, I sank into the sweetness of the tones, feeling the rhythm of the song. And then the walls closed in. Contract … expand … contract … expand …

Still I knew … all moved outwards, dissipating as the night said hello. I was home, within all that the word can mean.

Day Seven: Nima

What can give you a true sense of Senegal? I have many moments to choose from yesterday but my time with Nima was the best.

She’s a four-year-old girl, the daughter of my friends Ice Tea (Moustafa) and Fatou. As I arrived around midnight a day ago, she was sleepily there to greet Jo and me. At the gate, Jo picked her up and said “She’s grown so much!” I looked over to see two eyes shining in the darkness. Soon she was asleep, and we adults joined in conversation. But those eyes remained in me.

Yesterday morning, it was Nima again, finding me from across the room. She wore a pink t-shirt and her hair fell in countless braids. What was going on that I had trouble maintaining normal conversation with the tall people? There was a power here, in a tiny package, that reached over to me. How we can affect each other.

Later she sat in the next chair and her smile shone. There was Beatles music in the background and I began drumming on the wooden arm of my seat. Nima did the same, and soon we had a beat going that would have made Ringo proud … a Senegalese kid and a Canadian forty-year-old giving ‘er in the percussion section of the orchestra.

As Nima drummed, she stuck out her tongue. And I realized that I’d never really noticed tongues before. Hers was so pink against the black of her skin.

The beat went on and so did we. I plopped my hand on hers briefly. She returned the favour, and soon we were trying to escape each other’s touches from above. And still we drummed, now to the songs of Neil Young. We laughed.

I don’t believe that Nima knows any English, and my French is slowly moving from marginal to moderate. No matter. We were rejoicing in the melodies of life.

Later in the day, we had visitors. Two young boys crammed a chair with Nima. It was her fourth birthday. Conversations in French bounced across the room. And the song with “anniversaire” in the lyrics burst out. Happy Birthday, dear little one. The song morphed to something else and the kids started dancing. Somewhere along the way, I picked up my phone and started videoing. I wonder if I can send it to you. Let’s try:

Une grande célébration! Parfait pour tous les gens.

Perfect for us all

Day Five: Coughing and Hanging Out

So much happens in a day. I feel like focusing on just two aspects of Friday.

***

I’d been hoping that my head cold would dissipate in time for Senegal. Tylenol was doing some good but overnight on Thursday the coughing was getting deeper and more prolonged. The phlegm was going to yellow and brown, and there was lots of it. My travel memories have often included bronchitis. Did I really want to be going through that in a country that would have little medical assistance for me? Strangely the answer was long in coming.

I tossed and turned. I could just hope for the best. I only had one more day before flying and why rush around trying to find a doctor? An hour later, I marvelled at such logic. “Bruce! Your life matters. Go get some antibiotics because that’s probably what you need.” (Sigh) Okay, you’re right.

After considering the hospital a few kilometres down the road, I talked to Lore, the only one home. She thought her mom Lydia could set me up with her doctor. Within fifteen minutes, Lore had talked to her mom, Lydia found out that her doctor didn’t have time to see me, she got an recommendation for another physician, an appointment was set, and Lydia was driving home to take me there. Woh. There’s a woman on a mission!

An engaging young man of perhaps 30 welcomed me to his clinic. He examined me, asked some questions and zipped off two prescriptions – for an antibiotic and a powerful puffer. “An early stage of pneumonia. The antibiotics will stop that.” Wow. Fast, efficient and so kind. Plus my total cost for the examination and drugs was only $125.00 Canadian. Lydia drove me to the pharmacy, then back home, and then she was back to work. Thank you, my friend. I get to be safely in Senegal. Having no alcohol for a week is no problem.

***

The family had dinner yesterday at Anja and Curd’s home. Baziel is Jo and Lydia’s son and Olivia is Anja and Curd’s daughter. The teens spent two weeks with me in Toronto and London, Ontario last August. We had a marvelous time.

Last night there was a table for the seven adults and one for the five kids. The after dinner talk for us older folks was fast and furious and mostly in Flemish, which made sense. Someone would often add some English and I’d respond. After awhile, however, I wanted to sit with Olivia and Baziel, who were watching TV with a young boy. So I roamed over and added myself to the couch. The show was about a teacher becoming a mixed martial arts fighter but I couldn’t hear much of anything. The kids had Flemish subtitles to go by. There was far too much punching for me but I knew I would hang in.

I simply wanted to be with Baziel and Olivia, even though we weren’t talking. The three of us had formed a bond during the summer and it was still alive and well. We didn’t need to talk as the onscreen hero became even more heroic.

The kids presented me with a book of photos from our Canadian adventures. We did so many cool things. By far the best of the book were the inscriptions inside the front cover. Olivia said “Every woman wants to marry you.” That’s definitely not my impression but how sweet of her to say it. Baziel wrote “When I’m old and about to die, I will remember our time in Canada.” Oh, yes … so will I.

***

So life is profoundly good. The whims of the body can’t touch the majesty of the spirit. And that majesty resides in us all.

Contact Then … Contact Now

I walked down Dundas Street this evening. Cradled in my arms was a bag of kettle corn, with the contents easily finding their way to my mouth. I was en route to the London Knights’ hockey game with the Windsor Spitfires. As I walked through the entrance of Budweiser Gardens, there was still a lot of kettle to be consumed. Staff members eyed me warily as I plunked down on a cushy red chair before reaching the ticket gate. “No outside food or beverage.”

A man can only eat so much sugar, but I was giving it the good old college try. Around a corner was a woman’s voice: “Be a fan … bring a can [for the food bank]. We also accept money donations.” As I continued to munch, she continued to spiel, maybe fifty times.

Finally I reached my nutritional limit. I dropped the rest of the bag into a garbage can and turned toward the entrance attendant. The sing song refrain for donations ceased, replaced with “Bruce Kerr”. (That’s me.) The young woman smiled at me and said “I’m Mary Bartlett.” (I’ve made up a name for her.) My mouth dropped. The face I took in was nowhere near the face I remembered from eighteen years ago. Mary said she was 30, far beyond the 12-year-old kid from a school deep in the past.

“I remember you,” I said. “You were such a free spirit, so much yourself. You spoke your mind. I bet you still do.” Mary smiled some more. I went back in my mind to a girl who stood out from the rest. I knew then that she’d be a fine adult.

I told Mary that I was a member of an international group that’s exploring consciousness, with the intention of bringing more love into the world. “If you’re curious, Google ‘Evolutionary Collective’.” She tapped the name into her phone.

Will I ever see Mary again? Probably not. She’s one of the rare former students who re-entered my life, albeit briefly. I detected gratitude in our moments together.

I know that I’ve contributed to the lives of many kids and teens who now are adults. Rarely do I see the evidence of this face-to-face. Thanks, Mary.

Communion in the Air

I had breakfast with my friend Imogen on Tuesday.  She’s a hairdresser, and her face shone as she talked about her clients.  I’m clear that Imogen has found one very deep niche in her life.  Hairstyles and perms are just a convenient excuse for her to be with people and shower them with love.

A lot of seniors come Imogen’s way.  Some of them are alone and simply want a caring human being to talk to.  And the dear hairdresser just might be the only person who touches them anymore.

My friend told me about Grace, an elderly woman who’s sliding down the slope of dementia … ever so slowly.  Imogen has chocolate at the ready, a favourite treat.  Plus there’s plenty of time to linger and enjoy a cuppa tea together.  Imogen could hurry Grace out the door and cram another client into the time, but her bottom line is far from the world of dollars.

One day Imogen set off for a pretty little town nearby, and a workshop that she was looking forward to taking.  The teacher asked her what she did for a living.  Hairstyling led to a mention of Imogen’s shop – Shine Salon – and the lovely clientele that she was privileged to be with.  The teacher knew the shop and when Imogen mentioned her favourite customer (Grace), the teacher knew her too.  Actually, the teacher’s mom Florence was Grace’s best friend.  Even better, Florence lived upstairs in the old home where the workshop was happening.  And she was home right now!

When Florence was beckoned downstairs, her daughter said “Mom, this woman takes care of Grace.”  Florence started crying and rushed over to hug Imogen.  “Thank you … so very much.”

Oh, to have been in that room at the moment of embrace.

It’s a good world, isn’t it?
I wonder what forces are at work
so that Florence and Imogen could share their love of Grace
It’s a mystery, isn’t it?

Choosing “This”

Sometimes I look back on my life and ask what moments I’m most proud of. Right now, one stands out. Maybe thirty years ago, I had gall bladder problems. The pain was intense. I spent a few nights in hospital. I remember talking to a nurse who seemed sad, even depressed. I remember willing myself to contribute to her, to somehow lighten her load. My body hurt a lot but I managed to rise above that. How?

Abraham Maslow talked about a hierarchy of needs. If we’re really hungry or sore, he thought there was no way that our urge to love could come through. I loved your work, Abe, but I wonder. What beauty can we human beings create in the moment, no matter what the world is sending our way?

If my pain is 8 on a scale of 10, it’s some stretch to float my hand down a loved one’s cheek. But what if it’s 4? Do I need perfect comfort in order to give? I don’t think so.

In moments of heat or deflation, I often use a key word to remind me of what’s important. One is “this”. The opportunity is to embrace all that the present brings, rather than yearning for what is not here and not now … “that”. Another is “give”, which brings that dear nurse to mind. Am I willing to send love in virtually every circumstance? My goodness, what a challenge.

If I sit around waiting for life conditions to be perfect before moving towards another human being with care, I lose a lot of zest, connection and aliveness. Seems like a pretty expensive choice.

***

So … my future beckons. The world of people roams by my window. I choose to open the front door, walk down the path and say “Hi!”

Four Moments

I like moments.  When I pay attention to them, they slow me right down.  And some of them are magical … like these ones:

During my meditation retreat, my job was to stay present with what was happening in the now.  But sometimes I looked forward to next summer, when I’ll be crossing Canada by bicycle with an organization called the Tour du Canada.  Twenty-five of us will roll eastward from Vancouver, BC to St. John’s, Newfoundland.  Registration opened in October, but I was in deep silence then, and had no contact with the outside world.  Before I left for Massachusetts, I e-mailed the staff of the Tour and they assured me that I could register in December.

So a couple of days ago I filled out the form and wrote a cheque.  I had some of Jody’s books to send as well so I went to a post office in London.  There I was, envelope in hand.  I reached out to the postal employee, the paper was transferred to her … and the first step of riding the length of my country was complete.  Inside, I was transfixed.  My outsides handled the details of mailing stuff.  Within, though, time stood still.

***

Yesterday morning, I was at an elementary school, reciting “Twas The Night Before Christmas”.  As I signed in at the office, I noticed another name -an old friend of mine.  She was substitute teaching for the day.  I found out where her room was, and just before morning recess I walked in.  “Stephanie” was at the desk, hunched over some papers while a French teacher was finishing up a lesson.  I snuck up on her and just stood there.  She looked up, and the biggest smile crossed her face.  Up out of the chair, arms open wide, and we were hugging.  The moment of reunion.

As recess started, I noticed a Grade 7 girl standing near Stephanie and me.  I looked at her.  (Here comes another made up name.)  “Erin?”  She nodded through her smile.  It was the girl I auditioned with in September, for Jake’s Women.  Erin told me that she got the part of Molly and was so disappointed that I wasn’t chosen for Jake.  Her woe flooded me, and again time stood still.  Seeing Erin, I let my sadness come.  We hugged.

***

Later in the day I was at the workplace of a woman named “Dawn”.  I’ve thought about her many times over the last few months.  As of today, I’ve given away 790 copies of Jodiette:  My Lovely Wife.  Only once did I feel bad about the gift.  After I had left the person, I thought, “She didn’t want the book.  Why didn’t I pay more attention to her body language?”  I’ve lived by the credo “Do no harm” for years, and even more so after the retreat.  The person in question was Dawn.

I was sitting at a table, looking down at my snack, and became aware of someone standing in front of me.  I looked up.  Dawn looked down.  “I read your book this summer.  It really touched me.  Thank you for giving it to me.”

Oh my.  You never know if you’ve truly reached someone.  Until a moment like this.

***

Momentary snippets of life
May they keep coming