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.

Close

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.

Irrational Me

The script for the play Jake’s Women came in the mail today.  I sat down and read the whole 99 pages.  Is this obsession?  Maybe some other version of pathology?  I don’t know.  But I want to be Jake.  It’s the story of a writer and the six women in his life – his dead wife Julie, his daughter Molly, his present wife Maggie, his sister Karen, his potential girlfriend Sheila and his therapist Edith.  Jake is loving, tortured and unstable.  I can do this.

The play will run in St. Thomas in February, 2016.  Auditions will probably be in December.  So why is my tongue hanging out now?  Unknown.  After I finished my read this afternoon, Jody said, “It’s you, Bruce.  Go for it.”

Julie died years ago in a car accident.  Molly was eleven at the time.  Julie’s spirit visits Jake and wants to come again on her birthday – October 12 – to get to know Molly as a young adult.  October 12 is Jody’s birthday.  I just stared at page 47 when the date was revealed.  Oh my.  What’s at work here?

At the end of Act 1, Maggie is walking out on Jake, wanting a six-month separation.  Two Mollies (ages 12 and 21) appear to Jake and sit next to him on the couch.  He holds their hands as the three of them sit together in silence.  I cried.  Jody and I decided not to have kids, and in the many years since I’ve often wished I had a daughter.  So will I have one, for the two months of rehearsals and performances?

My brain is skewed.  It must be, for I’ve decided to start memorizing Jake’s lines in the play.  There are lots of them.  Who’s to say I’ll even get the part?  And you know, it doesn’t matter.  There’s something magical about the possibility that I’ll have learned every word dear Jake says and never perform it onstage.  I would be fine with that … really.

So I begin with the first paragraph, smiling and shaking my head.  What kind of human being have I become?  Time will tell.

Lap Dance

Jody and I went to hear Bryan Adams at London’s Budweiser Gardens last night.  My dear wife was deep within my heart as I walked in and sat down.

Jody loved, and loves, Bryan.  As “Heaven” rolled over us, I realized that my darling girl was sitting on my lap.  I reached around and held her thighs, just above the knee.  My wife and me.

And love is all that I need
And I found it there in your heart
It isn’t too hard to see
We’re in heaven

Then we were rocking to one of our favourites – “Summer of ’69”.  Jody’s hands were way up high, punching the air.  Oh, that smile!  And how we loved to dance.

Standin’ on your mama’s porch
You told me that it’d last forever
Oh, and when you held my hand
I knew that it was now or never

But Jody was just warming up.  Bryan found a lady in the audience who was willing to dance in the spotlight to “If Ya Wanna Be Bad, Ya Gotta Be Good”.  And my wife was just as nasty as she turned to me, snarling and pointing to my chest.  Oh my.

I’ll give you what you want, boy, but let’s make it understood
If ya wanna be bad, ya gotta be good

And more of the same with “The Only Thing That Looks Good On Me Is You”. Go, Jodiette!

The only thing I want
The only I need
The only thing I choose
The only thing that looks good on me … is you!

For many years, Jody caressed me with a Bryan Adams song.  The title says it all – “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)”.  And she did.  Jody loved me so much.  Bryan started.  I held my hands over my heart and cried.

Look into your heart, you will find
There’s nothin’ there to hide
Take me as I am, take my life
I would give it all, I would sacrifice

Near the end of the concert, as the anthem “Straight From The Heart” began, Jody’s hands were flying, palms forward.  I placed my hands over hers, and our arms swayed to the music.  Just the two of us.

Give it to me straight from the heart
Tell me we can make another start
You know I’ll never go
As long as I know
It’s comin’ straight from the heart

May there be another start for us, Jodiette, just beyond the horizon.  I love you.

King Kong

It’s always been one of my favourite movies (the version with Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow) and I watched it again last night.  I knew why.

It wasn’t because of the rip-roaring adventure, nor the special effects.  It’s because of the love between Ann and Kong.  Pure and simple.  First she’s terrified, of course, and he’s playing the he man.  But little by little, the look in her eyes and his softens, the gazes linger, and it matters not that one is a human and the other is a giant ape.

When Kong extends his open hand to her, and she climbs aboard, I melted.  When he’s leaping from rock to rock, and holding her so gently, I smiled.  When he slips off the top of the Empire State Building, I cried.

It doesn’t matter who or what the love is between.  Time stops.  Hearts open.  Hands hold.  What more could there be in life?