Children have usually been a big part of my adult life … but not now. I miss them.

I taught blind and low vision children. I got to know a lot of fully sighted kids as well. My favourite moments in school were when the child and I were in conversation. It didn’t matter what the topic was, as long as there was connection.

I’m sure you know when you and another human being are connected. It’s mysterious – beyond words, beyond eye contact – but you know it’s real.

Last night I went to the Celebration of Life for my dear friend Wim. First there was a Mass (in Flemish). The words escaped me but I could feel the love in the room. Three young kids read something. I smiled to see them play a part.

Afterwards, Lydia, Baziel, Lore and I were invited to join the family for drinks and snacks. I had a couple of cool 1-1 conversations in English. Often though, I was on the outside of a small group discussion in Flemish.

I decided to go find the kids. I walked into the TV room and there they were – five of them stretched out on a huge ottoman watching some show and a few others gathered around cell phones. Someone at the party had told me that children in Belgium start learning English at age 12, and all of these folks looked younger than that.

Some of the viewers noticed me sitting off to the side. Only one girl connected with the eyes. She came over to sit with me for a minute.

So … ten young speakers of Flemish and one adult speaker of English. Still worth a smile. Clearly “the conversation” was not going to happen. So I just sat there, happy to be in their presence. It was enough.

A task awaits in my Belgian future:

How to make an impact on young people in my new home

I’ll find a way

Walk Right In … Sit Right Down

I decided to go a-wanderin’ last night.  On the surface I was in search of another fine Belgian beer.  Down deep, I wanted to be with people and see if a conversation might emerge, most likely with someone whose first language wasn’t English.

I live on a street called the Oudburg – action central for cool restaurants and bars in Ghent.  Despite lots of tourists strolling the street, the Oudburg feels genuine.  But it was time to roam more widely.  A café (i.e. pub) called Minor Swing wasn’t far away and previous glimpses in the windows were enticing.  So here I go!

It’s really old.  It’s really small.  And it’s packed with couples and friends and families.  There was even a girl of perhaps six years wearing a frilly layered dress.  She enjoyed her juice while mom and dad went for stronger stuff.  I wasn’t used to seeing a kid in a bar but I smiled at how inclusive Belgium feels.

The Flemish words were rolling from wall to wall – music to me.  So many eyes were wide.  So many hands were sweeping through the air.  Minor Swing was alive.  I smile some more.  Even though language lessons haven’t become part of my life, I feel at home here.

I hope you love the photo.  A violinist and guitarist poked their heads in the door and walked to the bar.  There were sweet melodies that I didn’t recognize, plus flurries of notes accompanied by flying fingers on the strings.  The buzz, the music and everyone close together felt so natural.  I do believe I’m in Europe.

My favourite folks in the café were two old fellows sitting at the bar.  You see one of them on the left.  The other guy had a very long and white beard.  Maybe he was a poet.  For over an hour their voices rose and fell, and fingers told stories – none of which I could understand. 

The place was so full and people kept coming in the front door and passing through a doorway to the right of the bar.  Perhaps Minor Swing isn’t so small after all.

Eventually I approached the bar to pay my bill.  The bartender seemed to be fixing six drinks at once and I was in no hurry.  A guy spoke to me in English and then translated for his Flemish friend.  “Canada!”  Our eyes met in mirth even though the vocabulary was unknown to the other.  All was well.  And I know that all will continue to be well.


At the back of the school there’s a bench. It’s a perfect spot to place an adult bum. This morning before the bell rang, the kids were told “tarmac only” since the grassed part of the yard was oozing with mud from the recent rain. So the asphalt was crammed with kids.

I took off my mitt, wiped off a layer of water, and sat down. Some kids seemed revolted by this act, as it would surely result in wet rear end syndrome. Inside this particular adult, I chuckled about how so many athletic kids flinched at the thought of water invasion. Three children did join me on the bench, no doubt safe in the knowledge that what becomes wet will later become dry.

For five minutes, we seated folks and a few standing ones talked about I don’t remember what. All I know is that it was silly.

A Grade 1 girl came up to me. “Please sing the song.” It took me a few seconds but I finally figured out what she wanted … for me to recite Twas The Night Before Christmas, just as I had done for the classes in December.

I looked her in the eyes and solemnly shared “Oh, I forget how to do that. Every year I have to study the song before saying it to you.”

(A very turned down mouth from the little one)

I leaned towards her … and started blasting out the fast version of Twas. Her eyes went wide and the other kids held on for the ride. I do believe a fine time was had by all. I was a mite rusty but that didn’t matter. It actually made my reciting more fun.

A few minutes later I engaged in a staring contest with the same young lady and two of her friends. I lost every time. I guess old folks blink a lot.

Then the bell. From Grade 1 to Grade 6, the kids tootled off to one of three entrances. I lingered a bit on the smooth wood and thanked my lucky stars for the privilege of hanging around open eyes, easy laughs, and emerging hearts.

Day Two: Wandering … Inside and Out

I began my day in the breakfast room of the Lighthouse Lodge in Pacific Grove, California. I talked with a woman my age (we’re both approximately 85). She and her hubby had moved to Reno, Nevada a while back. “Do you like it there?” > “No.” [a refreshingly straight answer, I thought] > “How come?” > “Just a lot of cactus.” > “So why did you move there?” > “They don’t have income tax.”

We talked about other stuff but the deepest part of me was way behind the conversation. I was sad for her. I could feel her heart shrivelling within the bonds of practicality.

Next up in the “butter your bagel” parade was a mom and her adult daughter. They had heard me mention the word “consciousness” to the first woman, and apparently their antennae were up. Mom came over and asked about the seminar I’m in at Asilomar starting on Thursday. I smiled and turned my chair to them. Ryan and Kaitlyn work with kids, trying to head off adult problems at the pass. They were happy to hear about the Evolutionary Collective.

If Ryan hadn’t come forward, I may or may not have started a conversation. Her courage opened windows between us, and we flew through together. I hope they’re back pouring their coffee tomorrow morning.


I’m tapping away in the lobby of Asilomar. It’s a grand wooden space with a row of beams way up high and simple chandeliers watching from above. Even though I’m a day early, I’ve been hoping that some EC folks stroll by. There’s lots of room on the leather couch for our hearts to join. Many people come and go but I don’t know any of their faces. Alas … my friends and future friends are elsewhere. I miss them.

It’s time to wander in the world. But wait a second. A gentleman has just sat down at a piano that I didn’t even notice. He kisses the keys with his fingertips. I’ll wander a bit later. Oops … he just stopped, plunking himself down on a nearby bench. I call out to him: “Play some more!” He smiles but doesn ‘t return to the piano. His wife comes out of the gift shop. He stands and walks away with her, waving a goodbye to me.

So, Bruce … now what? After all, that piano is looking a bit lonely.


If you guessed that I sauntered right over and tickled the ivories, you’d be right. Oh my goodness, that made me happy. I don’t read piano music so I just let my fingers find their way. Probably twenty years ago, I let myself do this in public … and then I shut it down. It was a general fear of people that mounted year by year. I let it put a lid on my natural expression at the piano. Not today!

There were about five folks in the lobby while I played. Afterwards, not a word, not a clap, not a problem. I’m no concert hall pianist but my heart does have a way of migrating into my hands.


I decided on a supper destination – the Red House Café in downtown Pacific Grove. To get there, I’ll walk on the coastal path, around the big point and eventually find streets again.

I set off amid the wonder of blue sky and the whisper of a breeze. Along the way, I was greeted by rock outcrops, the whitest sand beaches, gulls and cormorants, tidal pools, blankets of a green tubular plant, flowers, and … Adriana Massino.

I spotted a young woman ahead on the path wearing a glowing ball cap. It looked so cool as she sauntered along. As I caught up to her, I smiled and said “I love your hat!” She smiled back. I waited a second to see if she wanted to extend the conversation, and she did. She asked if we could walk together. And we did.

Adriana is Italian, now living in Paris. She and her partner have started a company, and are in the US to see if some Americans want to join them in the endeavour. The business focuses on an online service that makes it easier for pet owners to access veterinarians (at least I think that was it!)

Adriana was so easy to be with. No hurry, let’s see what’s on the side paths, look at the beauty of this place, time for another photo. We talked of life, of the wide open spaces here, of the crush of people in Paris, of Senegal, of Canada, of kindness. Sometimes she went first on the path, sometimes I did. Sometimes we bubbled in our talking, sometimes we were silent. All was fine.

Adriana and I hugged goodbye, knowing that the most likely thing is that we’ll never see each other again. Still, we shared an hour of contact, of smiles, of ease.

I am blessed.

Day Four: Staying Put

It was my day to explore Port-aux-Basques. I started off in the dining room of St. Christopher’s Hotel, where I’m staying. The young woman serving me was emotionally flat. Rehearsed words seemed to be coming out of her mouth. I had to go looking for her to get a second cup of coffee. Negativity started bubbling up in me and then I took a step back. Here was a girl, maybe 20, no doubt dealing the same self-esteem issues that I faced back then. “Cut her some slack, Bruce.” So I did. Silently I wished her well as I left. It’s true that she was very different from the other newfies I’ve met … and that’s fine.

I walked down to the harbour and gazed past the tiny islands to the free water beyond. Such an immense feeling of space. Something caught my eye and I looked left. The huge ferry was leaving port. Way up on the promenade deck, where I had stood yesterday, about twenty-five souls stood looking towards the land. I waved madly and kept it up for probably a minute. Not a single person waved back, and I was sad. I so much yearn for true contact with other human beings, and in those moments it was not to be.

Off I strolled to the often steep streets of Port-aux-Basques. How do they get cars up some of those driveways? At the high points, I had other views of the ocean. I enjoyed the vistas. Still, it’s people who move me the most, not nature or architecture.

I saw little fishing boats. My favourite was “Eastern Comfort”. Marine Drive was an empty little road by the water, lined with industrial buildings and the occasional house. It was such a contrast to Marine Drive in Vancouver, British Columbia – a busy and speedy thoroughfare between lush greenery and opulent homes. But contrast is everywhere in life, I’d say.

My ankles had puffed up with the walking and I was sore. A tiger waffle cone at a convenience store helped immeasurably and so did my conversation with a young girl, about ten years old. She liked her summer adventures but was absolutely thrilled to be returning to school and being with some friends who were absent from her life for the past eight weeks. She talked to me as if I was a local. Cool.

I came upon a gaggle of teens in front of a grocery store. There was a yellow cylindrical cement post, about four feet tall, to keep cars from smashing into the building. A young man was standing on top of it. I couldn’t resist – the opportunity was too sweet. Crossing the street, I called out “Does everybody put you on a pedestal?” He smiled and replied “Pretty much.”

His friends seemed to be looking at me in wonder so I kept going: “I hope you’re not looking down on these fine folks!” Smiles all around. We talked for another couple of minutes and then I was off. They waved goodbye.

As the afternoon waned, I headed to the cluster of tiny pastel buildings which were near the music stage. It was time to sample Geraldine’s food. She gabbed gaily with me while her friend or sister was off to the side, peeling PEI potatoes for the fries. I succumbed to a cheeseburger and natural fries, and when Geraldine told me she’d gone home last night after the singing and baked chocolate chip cookies, I succumbed again.

At one point, I looked over to the orange kiosk across the way. It had a sign saying “Intuitive Tarot Readings”. I spied the young woman inside and asked Geraldine loudly “I wonder where I could get a Tarot card reading.” And there was a small smile from inside the orange place.

I went over to meet Justine, who kindly gave me the only chair in the place. She’d overheard my chattering over at Geraldine’s and concluded that I was “a happy person”. I am.

Her Tarot reading pointed to the image of an arrow flying off to a target. Wow! That’s so true. I experience myself as being launched towards an unknown future, one of beauty and contribution.

Justine and I talked of the spiritual life. She was slow in her soul and it felt like home. I told her of the book I wrote about my wife Jody and her eyes brightened some more. I’ll send her a copy when I get home.

I like people.

Day Three: The Ocean

I’m on a huge ferry, taking six hours to cross from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia to Newfoundland. Before boarding, I sat with a fellow from Newfoundland at a Tim Hortons in North Sydney. I had asked a friend of his if I could look at the sports section from his newspaper, and had received an enthusiastic “yes” in response. So I offered to put the gentleman into my will. He seemed pleased with the prospect, but soon toodled off to another table to woo a woman.

So now we were two. I asked my new friend how folks from Newfoundland feel about being called a “newfie”. He smiled and said “depends on the attitude.” As I struggled with his accent, I had no problem with his being. We chuckled together … and then said goodbye.

On the ship, I sat with a mom and daughter from Digby, Nova Scotia, off on an adventure together before the younger begins her university adventures. Taylor was the Prime Minister of Student Parliament in high school and seems to have a firm sense of what leadership is all about. I marvelled at her commitment to contribute and wished for a time machine to view the adult she’ll become.

Now I’m in the forward lounge, facing a straight line of water and sky. Not a ripple of land at the horizon. The simplicity is sweet. I want to be alone with my beer, on a break from human beings. A bit of yin, a bit of yang … and so we go.

Finally the land – Port aux Basques – pastel-coloured houses on a mass of rock. The beauty of the sea bounding the end of the world is stunning. Welcome to Newfoundland, Bruce.

My hotel is on a hill facing the ocean and I sit on a bright yellow chair, taking in the horizon. Way below me I hear music – guitars and accordion punctuated with voices cranking out newfie songs. I go down to investigate. A outdoor dance floor is surrounded by colourful bleachers, and a couple are strutting their stuff. She especially is smiling her way through the twirls.

Now the band moves into a tender one:

Put me in your pocket so I’ll be close to you
No more will I be lonesome and no more will I be blue

The dancers flow and the audience nods in approval. We’re down home together. Nice. I chat with a few folks and lean towards bed.


The Rails Ahead

On Sunday at 7:30 am I get on a train in London, Ontario.  Two trains, two buses and one ferry later, I arrive in St. John’s, Newfoundland on Thursday.  The next day I get to greet the cyclists of the Tour du Canada as they end their cross-country journey.  So I’m on a journey of my own.

All told, I’m gone for ten days.  And I ask myself: “What can I create in that time?”  Seems like a odd question.  Am I not going simply to absorb all that the world of travel offers?  To consume the land, the food and the people I meet?  Well, yes, that’s part of it.  I want to draw experiences, conversations and scenes inside of me … so they may nourish me.  Yes, I want to be fed.  But if my life is all about eating, I fear that I’ll bloat – be so full of incoming energy that I don’t even give a thought to what I’m sending forth.

Very simply, I want to contribute to the lives of the folks I meet.  That starts with the attendant at the London train station, as I figure out how I’m going to make my luggage work for both the train travel and the return flight from St. John’s on September 4.

There may be a human being sitting beside me as the fields give way to the towers of Toronto.

There may be a hot dog vendor outside the Montreal station.

There’ll be a waiter or waitress as I get to eat three fancy meals in the dining car while we roll through Quebec.

There may be fellow travellers watching the world go by from the next table.

There may be a host or hostess orienting me to my sleeping berth.

And on and on.

Will I share my heart with the human beings I meet?  Yes, I will.  And if they turn their head away or move the topic to the fortunes of the Toronto Blue Jays, then I’ll gracefully follow their lead.  It may be, however, that some of my companions will be fellow explorers of consciousness … and we’ll fall together into the mysteries of living.

Will I make people laugh?  I’ll sure try.  The thing about meeting new folks is that they haven’t heard my repertoire of silly comments.  It’ll all be fresh to them.  Perfect.  And as for those who just stare when I sing them “a little number” (i.e. “3”) I’ll bless them as they retreat.

Maybe the coolest thing is that every day I’ll be blogging to you cyber inhabitants.  I bet there won’t be any shortage of material.  We human beings are good at being noteworthy.

See you on the train and boat and plane

Day Two: UBC and Beyond

I’m sitting in the sun on the University of British Columbia campus, waiting for the Bike Kitchen to open. Check that … I just moved to the shade, since I couldn’t see the darned screen. Made seven spelling mistakes in one sentence, which tends to diminish people’s confidence in my intelligence.

I’m about to impart words of wisdom from my bike mechanic to theirs. So I’m a conduit with very little bike tech knowledge. That’s okay. Surround myself with good people and life works.

I slept nine hours last night – just what my body needed. Headed for the shower to find out that hot water was in short supply. I jumped up and down a lot, probably good practice for the wide variety of campgrounds we’ll face.

I really feel that some mysterious force is drawing me towards my future summer. For instance, in checking my luggage this morning, I saw that I forgot my tiny daypack, which I was going to use for roaming on rest days. But then I realized that the Camelbak water carrier that I’ll wear on riding days will do just fine as a backpack. As for the daypack, I didn’t need it. Then I opened another sports bag to find that the hard plastic glass I was going to use for taking meds was smashed. (Sigh) Seconds later, the words “water bottle” burbled up. As for the glass, I didn’t need it.

After showering, I put my yoga mat under arm and scoured through the residence for somewhere to lay it down. And voilà … a lounge appeared. Eight large windows brought in the sun. At the base of one, a large flying bug was trying to get home. Way up top, a transom window winked at me. As I reached for the handle, Mr. or Mrs. Wide Wings climbed the bottom pane and met me at the opening. And away …

On the road to downtown Vancouver, I boarded a packed bus. Not a square inch available for another human. I said hi to a woman who was dressed in a melody of colours. She smiled widely in response and told me she recruits Asian students for UBC, spending most of the year in India. She’s had marvelous conversations with young people throughout Asia and seemed thoroughly happy with her life. She also thought my bike trip was an awesome way to spend the summer. I so agree. And then I was moving toward the door for my stop. “Goodbye,” we echoed.

Another bus, another woman. Ana and I were both moved when a handicapped passenger implored the driver to make room for a patron in a wheelchair, so she wouldn’t have to wait anymore on the sidewalk. The driver responded. I applauded the courageous woman.

Ana and I talked on the street later as we strolled to our destinations. She’s a coach for Israeli women and loves being a mentor. My story got her thinking how much she loves the bicycle and how she misses being on it. Ana committed to me that she’d ride again soon. And she wants to follow my cycling blog. I responded by offering to send her a copy of the book I wrote about Jody. She accepted.

Ah … the fine folks of the planet.


It’s a word that has never been sent my way.  Jody and I didn’t have any children.  That’s one of only two regrets I have in life:  Her early death at 54 is the other.

When I’m out there in the world, I often hear a kid call the man beside him or her “Dad”, and a little bit of me winces.  Oh, to sit on the couch with my son or daughter, watching TV, eating popcorn and chatting about the events of the day.  But it’s not to be (this time around anyway).

I love volunteering in the Grade 5/6 class and sometimes imagine that I’m dad (or more accurately grandpa).  I’ve had many fine conversations with kids, and I like to think that I’ve made an impact on many of them, but at the end of the day they go to their homes and I go to mine.  And that’s okay.  At least we get to talk some on the days when I show up at their school.

Yesterday, the class was on a field trip to a conservation area – a well-treed park surrounded by farmland.  We had fun, especially the geocaching experience, where we used our handheld GPS units to find spots in the woods where tiny treasures were hidden in Tupperware containers.  Our group found one about six feet above the ground in the crotch of a tree.

When it was time to get on the bus for the return trip to school, a Grade 5 kid asked me to sit with her.  I’ll call her Sarah.  We talked about the day we spent exploring both technology and nature.  We talked about the training I’m doing to get ready for my bicycle ride across Canada this summer.  Her assessment of the hours I spend on the elliptical at the gym?  “Crazy!”  Well, maybe I am, but I’m going to be fit enough to traverse my country, starting in June.

Sarah is a hockey player.  This winter, I’ve gone to a few games featuring kids from school, but I’d never seen her team play.  “Next year, I’ll come to a game of yours.”  She smiled.

Apparently, Jayne, the teacher, plays a game with the kids just before lunch every Friday.  Sarah asked me if I’d come to volunteer some Friday morning so I could play too.  I said yes, and was very pleased that she invited me.

Getting off the bus, Sarah wanted to know which car was mine.  “That red one over there – Scarlet.”  She seemed amused that I named my cars.  For me, it’s always felt like a natural thing to do.

These kids spend some time with me and then next year they’ll be off on new adventures.  Elementary school turns into high school turns into whatever’s next.  They’re building their lives, step by step.  Even though my time with them will be brief, I’m happy that I get to have moments like a simple bus ride back to school.

On last fall’s meditation retreat, one of the teachers said “When you’re in the presence of one of life’s wholesome moments … Don’t miss it!”  So true.  May we all be awake to the people who come our way, whether they’re 10 or 82.


A Tale Of Two Pubs

Last night, it was Babe’s Macaroni Grill and Bar in Utica, New York.  I had a burger and fries.  Tonight I tried Mingo’s Sports Bar and Grill in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  In the interest of consuming a wide variety of food, I had a burger and sweet potato fries.

Last night, I told my bartender friend Michelle about the silent meditation retreat I’ll begin on Wednesday.  She was fascinated about longterm meditation.  I told her about falling in love on my last long retreat (a mistake), about the peace I felt in the meditation hall, about the Dalai Lama telling an interviewer “My religion is kindness”, and my opinion that the truest realm of spirituality is in the real world when I’m one-to-one with another human being.

Michelle told me about the Grafton Peace Pagoda, erected in the 1990’s by a Buddhist monk as a monument to world peace.  And guess what?  Grafton, New York was on my route to the retreat.  This afternoon, I climbed the steps of the pagoda – a giant white dome shining in the sun, way out in the woods.  A large statue of the Buddha was inset in one wall.  Plus carvings depicted the demon Mara tempting the Buddha with power, glory and pleasure while he refused to abandon the peace that had enveloped him.  All this majesty spread before me on a sunny winter’s day.

Tonight my companions were sports fanatics.  That’s okay.  So am I.  “Go, Leafs, Go!”  (That’s the Toronto Maple Leafs in the National Hockey League.)  The bartender was waxing poetic about football’s Super Bowl.  Next Sunday, he’ll be experiencing spasms of delight or agony while I’ll remain blissfully unaware within the grounds of the Insight Meditation Society.

Next to me at the bar was a fellow watching a women’s basketball game between the Universities of South Carolina and Tennessee.  “Which team are you cheering for?” I asked.  “Neither.  I’m scouting South Carolina.  They play UConn in thirteen days.”  The gentleman has been a University of Connecticut basketball fan for thirty years.  They’re the top women’s basketball program in the nation.  I learned about their marvelous coach and the factors that have made UConn the best, such as conditioning and defense.  I marvelled at this man’s universe, about which I knew little.

Such different conversations one night to the next.  But just like the burgers, they were somehow the same.  Human beings reaching for the sun.