Day Twenty-Six: Vive La Différence

It was so simple … my great friend Lydia wanted me to taste my favourite flavour. So Marie-paule and Fatou whipped up some penne for lunch, to be adorned with pesto. Ahh … the only thing better than pesto pasta is love.

The family sat down to share the blessed feast with me. Lydia remarked that it’s so unusual for Senegalese folks to eat pasta in the middle of the day. The tradition is rice. And so my friends with their forks were being jolted, while for me it was a natural event.

The previous day, at dinner, pasta also made an appearance, along with a sauce full of unknown goodies. I put a spoonful on my plate. Fatou drew in her breath as she saw my move. I mixed the sauce in with the noodles and got my fork in action. Yum – lots of flavour. Twenty seconds later the burn went deep. I reached for the glass in front of me. “Water won’t help,” offered Lydia. She was right. Grin and bear it for a few minutes … Woh. No more of that. However, lots more of that for Moustapha and Fatou. They yummed their way through plates of fire.

Hmm. A bit different, you and me. And isn’t that what makes the world go ’round?

Sometimes on the patio, I hum opera or Beatles songs. Eyes travel my way. I also love flourishes aloft with my hands, and a pirouette or two. The audience pauses to wonder.

Coming towards me from most every person approaching is “Ça va?” (How’s it going?). It’s expected that my response will be “Ça va” (I’m well), perhaps augmented by “Très bien” (Very well). It’s considered impolite to not give a verbal response. A smile and a wave is not enough.

If it’s in the morning, most Senegalese humans will also ask “Bien dormi?” (Did you sleep well?) I’m not sure how much of that is a true concern for me and how much a ritual. After so many a.m. conversations that went this way, I got really bored with it and replied “Non, je n’avais pas dormi depuis huit nuits.” (No, I haven’t slept for eight nights) Now that was impolite, but I couldn’t resist.

I love periods of silence. I love meditating. As I mentioned yesterday (or was it two days ago? No matter), here in Africa what mostly happens is large gatherings of virtually non-stop conversation, in languages I don’t understand. Maybe I’m exaggerating this contrast, but there’s definitely a difference.

There’s no “better and worse” in all this. Our life experiences and perspectives are sometimes foreign to the other. I figure that’s as it should be.

The world doesn’t need a whole bunch of Bruce’s around every corner. We need large portions of Zidane, Youssoupha, Mariama, Bakerie, Gnima, Nano, Ousmane, Abdul, Luc, Arlette, Anja, Revi, Camille, Pascal, Liesbet, Jo, Lydia, Lore, Baziel, Pil, Jo Jo, Iddy, Kebas, Astou …

… as well

Nook

It was time to get my hair cut this morning since I won’t be seeing my hairstylist in Mount Brydges, Ontario for the next five weeks. Pop’s Barber Shop, complete with the traditional candy stripe barber pole, sits on Main Street, Black Diamond, Alberta. I showed up before the shop opened and spent a few minutes reading the historical sign beside the building. The old blue structure had been moved from nearby Royalties around 1950. Royalties once was the home of 5000 folks dependent on the emerging oil industry. Today its population is zero.

Past the sign, I was vaguely aware of some bushes. A closer inspection revealed a little path. It was an alley that I so easily could have missed. Entering the greenery, what to my wondering eyes should appear but a wooden bench, hidden from the street.

I sat down.

A place of peace, adjacent to the madding crowd … or as madding as four people passing by can get. A semi-trailer roared along Main Street. Only its stack was visible to this hidden one.

A place of sanctuary, untouched by the rushing, the to do lists, the lives lived with pressured purpose. I loved the respite from the hustle and the bustle, but steps away it was available to me if I wanted it.

The cave or the marketplace? Which beckoned more vividly? In the waiting for shorn hair, I chose the resting. In the next hour, I was back with the flow of people. Both have a place in my life.

Now the sheltering bushes
Now the sidewalk and stores
And now … ?

Wandering Up and Down

I walked twelve kilometres yesterday, through the parkland by Toronto’s Humber River.  All was green.  I meandered past tennis courts and fire circles, wooded slopes and wide lawns, with benches a-plenty for sittin’.  And I went slow.

All sorts of folks came my way.  Unless they looked supremely grumpy, I said hi.  Only three people gave me a sincere hello back.  I wonder if I look dangerous.  Or maybe it’s just the big city mentality, perhaps “Someone who says hello wants something.”  Oh well.  I wasn’t going to let the prevailing responses besmirch my day.

Near the end of the journey, I parked my bod in the lounge of the Old Mill Inn.  Lots of nice stonework and comfy chairs.  I found myself facing the portrait of a severe young man.  I asked myself whether he ever smiled in his earlier life.  I sure hope so.  I sipped my glass of white wine and read sports articles on my phone.  Sort of a mixed metaphor but I don’t mind.

Off again, this time to the mysteries of Bloor Street.  The sidewalks were full of all and sundry, enjoying the spring sunshine.  But I was fading.  Was it the wine, or the long walk, or my continued movement away from sleeping pills?  My head beat out a nasty rhythm and my legs were declining towards the asphalt.  “It’s okay, Bruce.  You’re off these pills and there’s no going back.”

My walking plans fell apart and I stumbled towards a subway station.  Fifteen minutes later I was slurping coffee in a Tim Horton’s, watching outside folks scatter under a sudden thunderstorm.  I was happy to be dry and sad to be vacant.  Coffee completed, I continued to stare out at smashing raindrops.  How would I stay awake at the concert?  So … another twelve ounces of Dark Roast.

Koerner Hall was only a three-minute walk from Tim’s and the rain had faded when I poked my pounding head out the door.  Inside the gorgeous concert hall, I awaited the presence of Rosanne Cash.  Slowly my brain cleared and I was ready for tunes.

Rosanne’s voice filled the space with sweetness, accompanied by the guitar runs of her husband.  One song especially hit home:

We’re falling like the velvet petals
We’re bleeding and we’re torn
But God is in the roses
And the thorns

I left The Royal Conservatory of Music with “500 Miles” on my lips and a skip in my step.  All deficits were in the rear view mirror.  Until, that is, I got to my home bed-and-breakfast.  Head banging again and a troubled caffeine-laden sleep.

So it seems to me this morning that life is both A and B
Despite my efforts to call it A
I guess I can live with that

Just A Word

In the early years of human presence on Earth, I was a kid.  I loved going to the matinée at the movie theatre on Avenue Road in Toronto.  It was a bit of a walk but I was young and strong.

Inside, a large waddling woman patrolled the aisles.  Fifty-five years later, I still remember her bellows:

LESS NOISE!

In recent days, I’ve been re-exploring Stephen King’s novella The Library Policeman.  I love how King creates such believable characters.  Poor Sam Peebles, a respected Junction City insurance agent, is about to be devoured by Ardelia Lortz, the town’s bewitching librarian.  He opens the front door, steps into the foyer, and is greeted by a large sign pressing down on its tripod stand:

SILENCE!

In my sixties, I’ve come into the world of Buddhist meditation.  In two weeks, I’m heading to the heart of Massachusetts for a one-month silent retreat.  I’ve been many times before.  Love and peace often surround me there.  Over all, we are embraced by a single word:

Silence

How is it that a human expression can hold such different meanings?  Every muscle in my body tightening.  And then an undoing, a sweet mushing of my structures, a blessed puddling.

Such a mystery, this life.  The agony, the ecstasy and the calm in which high and low seem irrelevant.  I’m for all of it.