A Light Touch

I seem to be getting sillier.

I went for a walk today through my village of Belmont.  The air was bright and the snow was just enough to feel Christmasy.  I was hoping to see kids in the graduating Grade 6 class, kids I miss so much.  I realize that I might not be volunteering in their classroom for the entire school year.  (Sigh)  May I be wrong.


“Ahh … here comes a middle-aged couple!”  I was so eager for contact.  From six feet away, we smiled at each other.  And the words just tumbled out of my mouth: “I knew that if I saw somebody out here, I’d be so happy that I’d pack a good snowball and throw it at them!”  The two of them cringed ever so slightly as their smiles took on a stationary look.  Then I laughed a Santa laugh, and so did they.  The snow remained on the ground.  And  we were off in our separate directions.


I smiled and waved at a mom and her adult daughter who were passing by.  Our conversation amounted to “Hi.”  A bit later, as I was doing a loop pattern through residential streets, I came upon a path between subdivisions.  Coming towards me were the two women.  Seizing upon a potential moment of irrationality, I looked at them as we got close and said “I was just on Robin Ridge Drive and saw two women just like you.  Do you realize you have twins?”  Their eyes widened and then relaxed.  And we all chuckled together.


Further down the path of life came a young mom strolling her infant son or daughter.  Another “Hi” and another smile.  Funnily enough, she also looped back to my reality.  Not being bored with my previous rendezvous, I said (with awesome originality): “I was just on Kettle Creek Drive and saw folks just like you and your child.  Do you realize you have twins?”  I mean really … why waste a good line?


Approaching Belmont Community Park, I saw three adults approaching – two men and a woman.  One of the men had a cane, and was hunched over.  We smiled and said “Hi.”  

(Me)  I knew that if I saw somebody out here, I’d be so happy that I’d pack a good snowball and throw it at them!

(Old man)  Well, start with these two!

(Me)  No, no … you appear to be older.  You get the first shot at it.

(Old man)  [Huge laugh, bending over even more]

(The other two)  [Smiling as they watched the old fellow’s delight]


On the home stretch, down the street came a mom and her two daughters.  As I got closer, I saw that one was “Brittany”, a Grade 6 kid I know.  Her sister “Terra” said that she was in Grade 2.  I told Brittany how much I was missing volunteering with her and her classmates.  She got the message.  I asked what recesses were like.  “Do you have to wear masks outside?”  >  “No, we just have to socially distance.”

Looking at Terra, I said “So you have to stay sixty feet apart?”  >  “No!  Just six feet,” she sputtered with a giggle.  Terra met my gaze and noted that she and I were closer than six feet.  (Actually we were maybe eight feet apart.)  “No way!”  > “Yes, way!”  >  “You’re wrong.”  >  “Okay, then I’m right!”  Etcetera.  Fun was had by all.  And then we went our happy ways.


I should get out more often


A bluebell woodland in England

Terraced rice fields in China

The hills of Tuscany in Italy


I ask myself “What is beauty?” There are many possibilities. Before your eyes are some of the world’s wonders. Drink in the mauves, the spring leaves, the shining waters, the touches of yellow, the feminine curves of the land. Our souls delight in the display.

Of all the images, though, my soul flies to the white horse. She is gazing at all of us, seeking out the end point of her affection. The Earth gladdens the eyes but the breathing being reaches the heart.

My personal favourites are human. They need not be splashed with colour, have cascading hair or smoothness of skin. They might be young, they might not. But there is an entrance to mystery that brings me to silence. And so I abide at the windowsill …


Let’s go back in time and still enjoy each other in the present moment. Shall we meander together through the streets of Ghent? I think so.

Belgium offers many places to sit and talk. Like Italy, families come out, filling the squares and their sidewalk cafés. There is much to discuss and many people to watch.

We sat on a terrazza at lunch. Old men chattered away merrily in Flemish, which is incomprehensible to me. No matter. At the next table, a black woman with a delightful British accent hurried her family along. Perhaps there was a lot of shopping to do.

I wanted to pay for the meal and saw once more that in Belgium there’s really no tipping. It looked like the friendly young man serving us could have used some extra cash for school. It’s still mindboggling to me that a meal of ninety Euros would be paid with exactly that. I pulled out a five Euro bill and the fellow’s eyes widened. I told him that such a tip in Canada for his good service would be considered an insult. All at the table listened in wonder.

We sat near the canal for a long time. Two women dangled their feet over the water, their arms around each other. Young boys chased back and forth. Across the way, a island stage was being dismantled, now that the Ghent Festival had said goodbye to 2019. And many, many folks strolled by with their loved ones.

Lydia and Lore wanted to visit their favourite jewelry shop, and I tagged along. Jo and Baziel took their traditional position on a nearby bench. Inside, the hostess looked familiar, and so did the displays. After she was done with a customer, she looked at me and said in English “I remember you. You’re Bruce.” Indeed I was. “You sang your national song to us.” Indeed, I had … in December. A few minutes later I repeated the performance. Two of the three women I met back then were there in front of me. “Our friend will be sorry she missed you.” Ahh … So lovely to be seen.

I ate a Belgian waffle slathered in chocolate. An hour later, my stomach protested. As we explored downtown Ghent, I watched the dull pain. It was large, but not as large as the old city and its human beings. And I’m glad that’s true.

Bye, bye Ghent. Until December then, and another rendezvous with lovely bejewelled ladies.

A Tale of Two Doggies

Melly is a tiny white bundle of energy, maybe two years old. Ember is a black Cocker Spaniel who’s a lot slower, no doubt due to her nine years on the planet. They’re quite a pair. It looks like Melly rules the roost, what with her yappy barking, but Ember has a quiet dignity that isn’t shaken by the young pup.

Years ago, Ember and I had an extended conversation under a Montana tree while the rest of the family were hiking up to Hidden Lake. Doggie and I wanted it slow and easy. We had lots of time to talk about life.

Although I met Melody when I was in Alberta two years ago, she treated me like a stranger when I showed up for Jaxon’s high school grad a month ago. Just to be clear, strangers are to be yelled at and bitten. It took four days for Melly to calm down and start treating me like a decent human being.

This morning, I had spread out my yoga mat in the living room and was spreading out my body in various contortions. As I leaned forward in an attempt to kiss my knee, a tongue brushed the back of my ear. I was pretty sure it wasn’t Lance. Instead it was my newfound friend Melly, seeking contact. Twenty minutes later, a larger being, this time black, took up residence at the back end of the mat. Ember rubbed up against me. Doggie affection times two.

My canine companions sometimes loll around on the living room floor. Occasionally they come over for a pet. Mostly though, they wander over to Lance or Nona for loves. Such an ultimate letting go for me. Come close when you want to. Stay away when that feels right. I’ll be fine either way.

Goodnight, my dear four-legged ones.

Come Closer

I’ve felt a flow of energy for weeks, bursting out from my heart to human beings. Parallel lines of light stream off in all directions – ahead, behind, left, right, up and down. It’s a surging, sometimes an explosion. But no one gets hurt. It could be that nobody in Belmont and London notices the movement of Bruceness towards them, and that’s just fine. But I sure feel it.

And there’s more. I feel my arms reaching out, my fingers curling, and me beckoning folks to come into my world. “Come over here. I want you close.”

Plus it’s not just people I feel warm and fuzzy about. I want everyone near! How strange and wondrous. Even the mean ones, the distant ones, the emotionally flat ones … my hands are motioning for them to come forward.

Here’s the strangest: my local freeway is three lanes in each direction and I mostly drive in the right one, at the speed limit. For the last few months I’ve been tailgated while doing this, even though there’s lots of room to pass me. Then there’s the Wellington Road exit ramp, which is long and straight. Where it curves at the end, the speed is 50 kilometres per hour (30 mph). Cars pile up behind me as I slow, and there’s no room to pass.

What’s weird is that I’m willing these drivers to virtually nudge my back bumper with their front one. Woh. This does not compute. Whatever happened to my commitment to personal space?

There’s no sense in trying to make sense of this. Just float with it, Bruce. See where it leads.

I think I’m unusual.

Saying Hi

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

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

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

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

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


I went to a concert at Koerner Hall last night.  Two violinists, two cellists and two violists.  The ticket said that I was in Row AA.  And was I ever!  At the very front, virtually in the middle.  About ten feet from the performers.

It was astonishing.  I saw fingers smash against the strings … and then caress them.  I saw glances between musicians, and smiles.  I heard the worlds of Brahms and Tchaikovsky in sound surround.  It was all so vivid, so immersing.


I thought back to the Three Tenors performing in Toronto’s Skydome.  Jody and I paid nearly $100 per ticket (unheard of!) and took our spots way up high on the far side of the stadium.  Mr. big Pavarotti was reduced to Mr. tiny ant.  Several times during the performance, I pulled my eyes away from the JumboTron.  No way was I going to watch TV at a hundred bucks a throw.

Decades later, I’m a regular at the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club in London, Ontario – capacity about 60.  To hear Jez Lowe sing his ballads right in front of me, with the passion of the songwriter, is transporting.


I have many hobbies.  One is wandering down residential streets, looking at the furniture on the porch.  If two chairs sit there, I hope that they’re right next to each other, so the unknown occupants can hold hands.  Alas, there’s usually a sturdy patio table in between, or maybe just a swath of blank space.  Hands can’t reach that far.


Speaking of hands, many couples stroll my way, and so very few of them are holding each other.  Oh, there might be a brush against the other’s thigh every so often, but no real contact.  The exceptions include young and old who swing their arms together gaily, or reach the other hand over to hold the back of their lover’s, or just gently press the soul into the flesh.  I like that.


On the subway, some folks will stand rather than take the empty seat beside me.  Others will sit down, and our bodies are in contact for the rest of the ride.  I’ll take option two.


Life erupts all around us, sometimes with joy, and sometimes sorrow.  Or it flows like honey.  May I always face the action, and move towards it, where the sweetness (or bittersweetness) lies.


To Express

Sometimes I think about how much time I spend just sitting in my body, nice and quiet, not doing anything, and how much time I spend putting energy out into the world, reaching towards people, expressing something of value in their direction.  I like both.

Yesterday, I wanted to sit in London’s Victoria Park before going to a movie.  I also wanted ice cream.  The Marble Slab Creamery is the most decadent place.  I ordered up a waffle cone full of sweet cream (not vanilla), Smarties (a good old Canadian chocolate yummy), Crispy Crunch (more chocolaty goodness) and peanut bits.  And onto a park bench I plunked.  No reaching out, just putting in.  Upon completion of consumption, I wandered over to the bandshell, where about 30 women in long gingham dresses were lined up, in front of young men in white shirts.  Nothing was happening. They were just standing there, with a man in a black suit facing them.

The conductor then raised his arms.  The choir raised their hymn books and a lovely sound came forth.  Expression.  These folks were Mennonites and favoured the audience with several hymns, including “Amazing Grace”, a favourite of mine.  None of the men and women smiled but the tones were pure.  Their expression reached me.  And I was glad to hear them.

Afterwards a young Mennonite fellow approached and invited me to come out to his church.  We talked, sending a gentle energy to each other.  I wanted to keep the dialogue going even though our spiritual perspectives differed.  To express with love is a blessing.

Back at home, I thought of the many kind expressions that we human beings give each other: smiling, dancing, speaking, holding hands, hugging, laughing …  So many.  I thought back to my teaching days, and the type of child that I worried about.  It wasn’t the rough-around-the-edges kid who might yell and swear.  It was the boy or girl who wouldn’t say boo, who wouldn’t show me anything of the Spirit inside.  I hope they’ve all found their way and are reaching out to their fellow beings every day.  The world needs them.  The world needs us all.

Giving Books

I’ve worried occasionally about how I’m going to give out 500 copies of the book I’ve written about Jody.  Today eased that concern considerably.

I started this morning at Parkwood Hospital, where Jody worked for 20 years.  There were five or six people I was trying to find, folks who had asked for a copy.  First I met a fellow who had been a colleague of Jody’s years ago, when she worked with veterans at the hospital.  He knew that Jody had died but not that I had written the story of her illness and death.  I sat on an angled stand that showed a map of the fourth floor and wrote some thankful words about him and Jody while he watched my pen move across the page.  I was thrilled to give the book to him and he was so happy to have it.

Within a few minutes, three women were gathered around me.  I felt a wee tiny bit like a rock star.  Two of the women had been looking forward to having Jody’s story but the third person was approaching me to let me know that she was going on the Heart and Stroke Big Bike Ride in June.  She was doing it in honour of Jody and another Parkwood occupational therapist who died recently.  I was so happy when I heard her news.  I mentioned that I had written a book about Jody and asked her if she’d like a copy.  She started crying … and kept going.  How very beautiful to be present for her tears.  She cried some more when I handed Jodiette: My Lovely Wife to her.

Later, in the elevator, I told a young woman how much fun I was having, signing Jody’s books.  She told me that she was an occupational therapy student.  “I saw a book in the office, with the photo of a woman on the cover.  Is that your wife?”  “Yes … … Would you like a copy?”  She lowered her head, paused, and said “yes”.  Such lovely shyness.  I sat with her for a few minutes in the cafeteria and wrote, “May you serve your patients with love, as Jody did.”

Next I drove over to one of the schools where I assisted visually impaired kids until I retired last June.  More inscriptions, more signings, and the chance to sit with a class of Grade 2/3 children and tell them about my dear wife.  What a privilege.

Then it was off to another school, where person after person welcomed me in the hallway, and several of them said yes to Jodiette.  The principal was so pleased to have me back in her school.  She had read many of my e-mails about Jody to her husband, and some of my thoughts touched them.  Gosh, that’s what I want in life – to touch people.  In the photocopier room, an old friend of mine said no to the book, and cried as she did so.  It had been too heartrending when she read some of my e-mails.  Not receiving Jody’s book was a good decision for her.

Okay, now it was hometime.  Should I follow suit?  Not quite.  I drove a few miles to The London Free Press.  A writer I had met on the train ten days ago had suggested I leave a copy for a certain columnist there, in hopes that he would review it in the paper.  So I did, attaching a note: “In a perfect world, someone at The Free Press would review my book.  But if that doesn’t happen, at least they can read a love story.”  Who knows what will happen?

One final stop: Chapters on Wellington Road South.  Would a big bookstore put our book on display?  A manager told me to e-mail the guy who’s responsible for consignments.  I’ll do that later tonight.  Who knows what will happen?  Again.  I left a copy for him.

An employee who had heard this conversation told me where I’d find books on Buddhism.  I found what looked like a good one and sat down on a chair to do some page flipping.  Okay, done deal.  I walked over to the till and there was my navigator friend.  As I paid for How To Wake Up, he wished me good luck with the consignment and said he’d buy a copy.  “How about if I give you one right now?”  (Pause.  “No, no.”  Smile.  “Well, okay.”)  So I did.

As I was heading towards the entrance, I glanced over to a young female employee who had also been there for the original conversation.  She was sitting at a desk, reading a book.  A familiar-looking book.  One with a beautiful woman on the cover … my Jodiette.  She smiled and said, “This is good.  I’m going to buy one when we display them.”

(Now’s the time for Copy and Paste.)

“How about if I give you one right now?”  (Pause.  “No, no.”  Smile.  “Well, okay.”)  So I did.

The world is a wonder.

Proof Positive

A couple of weeks ago, I thought that by March 6 I’d be pretty close to welcoming a UPS guy on my doorstep, laden with boxes and boxes of Jodiette:  My Lovely Wife.  It wasn’t to be.  I wrote to you about how it took me a couple of hours before I had the gumption to even open the package containing the proof of Jody’s book.  After a quick perusal, I remember thinking that all I needed to do was have Blurb change the colour of the tree painting on the back cover.  Plus make the print level at the bottom of the pages.  No sweat.

But then I looked more carefully.  A very long time ago, someone told me that in your writing, and in your speaking, don’t give the audience any errors that they can focus on, rather than paying total attention to your message.  So … I looked through the 193 pages of our story.  And I found lines such as these:

My   queen   is   safe   at   Victoria   Hospital.        Her   nurses   are   all
marvelous human beings.  I love her quadruple oodles.  All is well.
Thank you for your prayers.  I see them in Jody’s eyes every day.

I loved the words.  I didn’t love the spacing.  What I did in response was spend at least six hours looking for opportunities to put hyphens at the ends of lines, so that there wouldn’t be huge gaps between words.  Not too many hyphens – that would be distracting too.  Moderation in all things, so I’ve been told (but not necessarily lived).  This time, I did.  It looks better.

The image of the tree is so central to Jody’s and my journey.  The back cover of Jodiette is graced by the most lovely of creations, coaxed into existence by Kym Brundritt, an artist from Kingsville, Ontario.  Kym’s tree is radiant … bare curlycue branches set against a yellow background.  Except the proof rendition’s context is a heavy orange.  It doesn’t shine.  My friend Neal has worked his magic on the photo, and now the yellow will reach out and touch the reader, revealing the life of the tree.  I’m happy.

Then there’s the centerpiece of the whole shebang … Jody’s eyes and smile looking out at all of us from the front cover.  The proof was too dark, and too red.  Jody, with a sunburn, was sitting in a dark room of the Chez Temporel restaurant on Rue Couillard in old Quebec City.  Not so.  The photo needs to glow, just as my darling wife did in life.  Just as she still does.  Neal made the adjustments.  I’m happy some more.

On Wednesday I uploaded the second incarnation of Jody’s book to Blurb.  I should have the proof by Friday, March 13.  May it be a lucky day.  And I’m definitely not waiting two hours to tear open the cardboard.