Being Gay

Eric Radford just won a bronze medal at the Olympics.  He’s a Canadian pairs skater with partner Meagan Duhamel.  Like any elite athlete, Eric has shown years of dedication to his sport.  But there’s been another mountain for this man … he’s gay.  I read about him this morning in the Toronto Star.

I think of the challenges I’ve faced.  My wife Jody with a terminal disease, and dying.  Some people perceiving me as “less than”, weird and perhaps even dangerous.  Being close to death three times in one summer.  But Eric?  What an astonishing warrior.

“It’s a gold mining town, in the north, hockey town, male figure skater.  And the only one.  It was very hard for him.”

What are the depths of loneliness that can touch a human being?

“And not only not being accepted by other people, but there was a long time where I didn’t accept myself.  And that took time.  And I think that I just look at that, and if I had someone like that to look up to, it would have been easier.”

Can I look myself in the mirror, see my version of a face, and still smile?

Eric came out to his mom and dad when he was 18.  Their reaction?  “So what?”

“It was a couple of days later, and she came in and she was weepy and she said ‘You turned out so well despite going through all of that.  I wish you had told us sooner so I could have been there for you.’  And she felt so guilty and bad that I hadn’t told her sooner, and I really was kind of on my own.”

And what is beyond a mother’s love?

“I remember arguments about money when we were kids.  You know how you hear things?  And they never said once ‘We can’t do that.’  They said ‘How are we going to make this work?'”

What do I need to do to turn my dreams into realities?

“When Radford has gone home to Red Lake, he attracts crowds when he practises in the old rink, and many of the kids from the old days have come up and apologized.  ‘And I really appreciate that they come up and talk to me … It probably can’t be that easy, you might feel stupid or shy … It’s nice to have their respect, and to know that these people have grown up, they’ve matured, and they’ve learned.”

What does it take to let go of the familiar old and open to a more inclusive life?


The definition of gay: Homosexual
The definition of gay: Lighthearted and carefree
How about both?

Two Movies on a Sunday Afternoon

Off to the Hyland Cinema in London for stories about life.


First up was Phantom Thread, about a famous dressmaker who becomes entranced by a young waitress.  And she too is mesmerized.  She comes to work for him and waits for Reynolds to fall in love.  But it’s a hard go.  He’s obsessed with his work and she places a distant second.  It was sad to see the distance between, a buffer so obvious in many couples.

Alma isn’t allowed to be herself.  Breakfast for Reynolds needs to be a quiet time, and Alma’s noisy buttering of toast and dripping of orange juice into glass just won’t do.  The household of family and employees jump to his every whim, and Alma needs to follow suit.

Reynolds is “obsessed with perfection” and Alma finally has had enough.  She poisons him with a toxic mushroom – not enough to kill him but plenty to make him sweat and shake.  It feels like Alma wounds him so she can nurse him back to health, on her own, without a roomful of design associates in the scene.  Through all his insensitivities, she loves the man.

This is messy love … two human beings with flaws and spites.  Not a saint to be seen, but a tenderness hiding under the gowns and dress shirts.  Hey, there’s hope for all of us imperfect ones, hope for connection with the beloved.


After a suitable interlude, which I spent reflecting on life and the bliss of popcorn, along came Darkest Hour.  This is the story of Winston Churchill at the height of Hitler’s power, when it looked like Great Britain was about to be invaded.  Three hundred thousand British soldiers were near Dunkirk in France, with the massive German army closing in.  Churchill asked his cabinet what the plan was for rescuing these men.  The response?  “There is no plan.”  So Churchill came up with one – recruiting the pleasure boats of countless British citizens to pluck the soldiers from Dunkirk’s beaches.  And it worked.

I watched the agony of the man as he struggled with how to serve his people.  His colleagues pushed for peace talks with Hitler, and threatened a vote of non-confidence if he refused.  But Churchill knew in his heart that the end result would be the swastika flying over Buckingham Palace.

To see the courage of the man was inspiring.  He seemed alone in his resolve to fight, save for his wife and secretary.  He was called “delusional” and seen to be sacrificing the lives of 4,000 soldiers at Calais.  How to be yourself, and true to your beliefs, when the world was collapsing around him.  Oh to have such steadfastness.  When his commitment started to flag, Churchill fled his home on Downing Street, snuck into the underground, asked a passenger for directions to the station nearest to Parliament, and got onto the subway.

Churchill then asked his travelling companions what the country should do.  “Fight!”  What about entering into peace negotiations with Hitler?  “Never!”  The Prime Minister then got off at the appropriate station, marched into the government building, and hours later addressed Parliament:

“Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail.  We shall go on to the end.  We shall fight in France.  We shall fight on the seas and oceans.  We shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air.  We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be.  We shall fight on the beaches.  We shall fight on the landing grounds.  We shall fight in the fields and in the streets.  We shall fight in the hills.  We shall never surrender.”

Oh my.  I was stunned silent to hear his words.  And to think what hung in the balance if Churchill chose to flag or fail.


Cinema as an eye opener
Twice in one day

How shall I lead my life?
Will love and courage lead my way?
They must

Live Big

I went out to the movies tonight.  I saw “Chavela”, a documentary about a singer.  Sounds basic but it was intense.

“She not only slept with women, but also sang love songs about them, wore trousers, smoked cigars, drank heavily, carried a loaded pistol and credited her recovery from polio to shamans.”  All of this was shocking to Mexican society in the first half of the 20th century.  I’m not gay, I don’t like smoking, I drink only a bit and I abhor violence.  But I like the shaman stuff.

As a kid, Chavela wasn’t loved much by her Costa Rican parents.  They hid her when guests came by.  When she was 7, the minister of a local church said “You can’t bring her in here.  Get her out.”  In her early teens, Chavela had enough.  She ran away to Mexico City and started singing in the streets.  And what courage will I show in my approaching 70’s?

“Every word that rolls off her tongue is suffused with pure emotion.  Anyone can listen to her, know what she is feeling, and feel it with her.”  I saw this in the film.  Her voice was not pure.  But her soul ran through every word.

“I became obsessed with her ability to draw people in.  I was fascinated by her lightness and ease, her masculinity.”  Well, I also want to draw people in, and sometimes I do.

“Chavela Vargas turned abandon and desolation into a cathedral within which we all fit,” Almodóvar wrote after her death.  “She emerged reconciled with the errors she had made and ready to make them again.”  Hey, I’ve made big mistakes too.  I like to think I’ve learned from them but some repeats have crawled back into my life.  Still, I will not live careful.  That’s withering.

“At age 81, ranchera singer Chavela Vargas officially came out as a lesbian.”  Perhaps I’ll officially come out as a chronicler of the world’s wisdom.  That’s the secret project I’ve worked on sporadically since 1987.  I’ve accumulated thousands of quotes that touch me to my toes.  (Shh.  Don’t tell anybody)

“I am proud that I do not owe anybody anything, and it is wonderful to feel free,” she said in 2009.  “Now I have the desire to lie down in death’s lap, and I am sure that will be quite beautiful.”  And what will my response be to my final days?  Maybe the physical pain will be great but I intend to go out laughing.

What do I want?

To love people deeply
To suck the juice out of life’s bones
To have others laugh around me
To look way into human eyes and celebrate what’s there
To flood the world

Make it so

Pastor and Me

I had breakfast with a local pastor this morning at the Belmont Diner.  I’ll call him Peter.  Due to the heavy snow falling, he was a half-hour late.  As I sat at the counter waiting for him, and engaging in conversation about the weather and (less convincingly) about the placement of garages, I felt into the sense of loss I was experiencing.  “If he doesn’t show, how will I get to see him again?  I don’t have any contact information.  And then who will I talk to locally about spiritual matters?”

On the retreat last fall, we were encouraged to classify our present moments as “pleasant, unpleasant or neutral”.  This was unpleasant.  Then we’d be asked to see what feelings were present.  This morning it was sadness and fear.  And then the experience of “OK-ness” washed over me.  I didn’t need Peter to show up.  Confidence came … that the universe would create spiritual discussions for me.  Peace was here.  And I continued on with my bacon and eggs.

The Diner door opens and in walks Peter!  I was happy.  Thank you, dear universe.  He had loads of questions about the retreat, starting with what the daily schedule was like (wakeup bell at 4:50!)  I talked about the Buddha’s focus on the present moment, on his insistence that certain types of suffering were always going to be with us (such as sporadic physical pain), but other forms of it were optional.  Mr. Buddha said that craving people and things was the source of that second type.  Peter smiled and expressed his sense of relationship with the Divine, in the form of Jesus.

I marvelled at what was happening.  There was no judgment from either of us.  And no sense of contraction that I could feel, even as we revealed our differences.  Four or five folks sat near us at the horseshoe-shaped lunch counter.  Some, maybe all of them, were listening.  I told Peter that occasionally in Belmont I’m brave enough to venture into spirituality in conversation.  Often people change the topic quickly, but sometimes not.  “A lot of folks think I’m weird, Peter.”  His response?  “Welcome to my world!”  I love it.

To expand my range of spiritual contacts, I’ve decided to rejoin a meditation group in London, usually about a 40 minute drive away.  Their first meeting after Christmas is tonight but the snow continues to fall.  Travel is not recommended.  But it doesn’t matter if that reunion happens tonight.  I’m drawn to it.

Peter and I arranged to talk again next Monday.  Who knows what epiphanies might arise?  Or maybe not.  But we will connect in a way that transcends the rational mind.

Energy Out At School

The energy that I throw out into the world is infinitely more important to me than the energy that comes in.  People will respond to me as they choose, or not respond at all.  I have no control over that.  But I can create intentions and then follow through with the skillful actions that I want folks to receive.

I was volunteering today in the Grade 5/6 class at South Dorchester School.  It was basically assembly and party day before the Christmas break.  And I wanted to express.

During the carol sing and brain teaser contests, there was room for me to read “Twas The Night Before Christmas” to the 200 kids.  I sat in a rocking chair and moved from page to page, with the illustrations beamed to the screen behind me.  The real action was what comes next.  Many of the children knew what I was about to do but it was a surprise for most.  After I finished reading, I said “You know, I’ve read this story for years.  I wonder if I could do it without the book.  Do you think I should try?”  Lots of yeses from the assembled clan.  “Okay, but you need to be patient with me.”  Gosh, it was a perfect setup.

I got up from the chair and leaned towards the kids and then launched into Twas at superspeed.  My record is 1 minute and 3 seconds.  Young eyes widened as I ran all the words together, and mouths turned into little o’s.  The kids who had heard me before were just laughing.  Such happiness for me, and for many of the young souls I was facing.

I love creating moments, really to animate moments, as in bringing them alive with something special.  This morning’s Twas certainly qualified.  May I have many more such experiences before I exit the stage.

During the class’ afternoon party, while being jolted with cupcakes, candy canes and marshmallow/rice krispies treats, I asked Tiffany if I could sing a song.  I wanted to sing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”, leaving out the verse with a sexual theme.  Tiffany said yes.  A week ago, the trustworthy voice in my head told me that I would sing the song to a roomful of people “in the near future”.  Well, twenty 10- and 11-year-olds certainly is a roomful.

Before performance time I got nervous, worried that I might start the song at too low a note, so that I wouldn’t be able to reach the deep “Hallelujah” note later on.  I told Tiffany that I wasn’t going to do it, and almost immediately my insides started churning.  I had just made a choice that wasn’t life affirming, wasn’t brave, and my body didn’t like it.  A girl sitting next to me (I’ll call her Mary) told me “You can do it, Mr. Kerr.”  So I flipped one more time, this time back to courage.

I haven’t memorized the words to “Hallelujah” so I stood up with cell phone in hand and gave ‘er!  I started on a note that was a bit too high, so no worries about the deep note later but some wavering on the high ones.  It didn’t matter.  I didn’t care and the kids didn’t care.  They sung the choruses with me.

I survived.  I thrived.  I expressed … with an energy that I believe reached some of those kids.  It feels like I’m building up the “out there” muscle.  And that makes me happy.  The world needs more personal expressions, more inspiration  and more courage.  I’m willing.


I was walking by the junior kindergarten door on my way to volunteering with the Grade 6’s.  There seemed to be a flurry of activity inside.  I wandered into the comings and goings of short people and saw that the class was having a spa day … hair makeovers and pretty nails.

A 5-year-old hairstylist invited me to take part.  I was ushered to a tiny chair and covered with a tiny plastic apron.  Then the clothes pins.  At least ten of them were artfully placed through my short grey hair.  After much debate, my two stylists declared that I was ready for the world.  Except for the nails.

Across the classroom I floated to the nail salon.  A palette of colours was presented to me by a young esthetician.  “I’ll take pink.”  That would go well with my glasses and fitness tracker.  Soon a brush laden with water-based paint descended towards my digits.  A few minutes later and I was as pretty as punch.

An assistant walked me to the floor fan, where my fingers dried.  Gosh, I looked good.  I really should go the spa more often.

I traipsed over to the Grade 6 classroom, where eyes widened upon my approach.  A couple of guys said, “That looks really good, Mr. Kerr.”  I wasn’t totally convinced of their sincerity, but there were lots of laughs too.

It was time to head home from school.  I was scheduled to visit a 92-year-old resident of a seniors residence with her niece, my friend Pat.  I asked a few 12-year-olds if I should lose the accessories and got a mixed response.  A few said dump it all, some said yes to one and no to the other and a couple of adventurous souls thought I should show her the whole enchilada.  So a full meal deal it was.  Was Thelma going to have a heart attack?  I’d soon find out.

On my way to London, I dropped into the Belmont Diner, my favourite haunt.  It pretty much came down to women laughing and men staring.  Not to be thwarted, I approached a few guys, telling them that they too could look like me.  All of them declined.

I was walking towards the front door of the home when I saw a woman sitting in a wheelchair.  I asked her if I looked good.  She said something fun and positive.  And I went off looking for Pat.  It turns out that the woman was Thelma.  I hadn’t seen her for 45 years.

The three of us sat in the lobby, enjoying coffee and tea (and cookies!).   Residents and staff came by, for some reason looking at my hairstyle.  I got many compliments and smiles.  I told them that it was the latest style from Paris.  I’m sort of a cutting edge guy, you know.

So … no heart attacks and lots of happiness.  I should see my young stylist more often.

Back in Belmont, I had a ticket to a community dinner in my hot little hand.  It was at the arena, at the far south end of town.  I’m at the north end, about a 25 minute walk away.  So again the question was yes or no.  I voted yes.

The walk southward was uneventful, just a few quizzical looks from passersby.  The real test was my entrance to the arena’s meeting room.  There must have been 150 folks chowing down when I walked through the door.  (Actually the door was open).  Immediately there was a mélange of raised heads and icy stares.  A few giggles.  I went over to my friend Rosemary to tell her my story.  She knows me well so I don’t think my coiffure was any big surprise.  Later she told me that several people had come up to her to see if she knew that man.  I’m pretty sure she didn’t disavow all knowledge of the human.

I saw a lot of men with arms crossed as they no doubt contemplated my sanity.  Women don’t seem to cross their arms so much but they too were curious.  I explained myself to my tablemates and really enjoyed heading out on the dance floor to get more baked beans or another glass of orange drink.  Hey, if you’ve got it, flaunt it!

Finally, I started visiting the residents of other tables, and the warm-ometer needle gradually rose.  After hearing me yap away about JK kids, I guess the adults realized I was a benign character.

So there’s my adventure.  It could be that a hundred people laughed at me.  Not a bad day’s work.



Joyful On The Drums

Well, it was four nights out in a row – the art gallery and then three concerts.  Yesterday evening I listened to Nagata Shachu, seven performers from Toronto showing us the art and passion of Japanese drumming.  Years ago, I’d heard a similar group blast the skies above the Sunfest music festival.  This time, though, the beat would be within the confines of Aeolian Hall, renowned for its acoustics.  Ear plugs or not?  I decided no.

Most of the artists were young adults and one in particular drew me in.  She had long black hair tied at the back, and a lovely face.  She’d crouch behind her barrel drum, hold the sticks high and then smash them down on the horizontal skin in a flurry of strokes.  One by one, her feet would lift off the floor.  But the best was that face: it burst out in ecstasy.  Shine on, my dear.

I was enthralled.  The other drummers had their own excellent energy, and one guy even donned a cheek-revealing loincloth for one of the pieces, but all paled before my girl.  (Hmm.  Guess I shouldn’t be quite so possessive.)

What are you seeing, Bruce?  Something that teaches.  And not just about music.  What if I lived my life that way, virtually all of the time?  Gosh, that would be astonishing.  To be so “out there” that I would:

Say whatever I felt like saying, knowing that I wouldn’t hurt people
Joke around if I sensed the person was happy to play
Wear a silly costume for Halloween
Sing “Do Wa Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy Doo” at the drop of a hat
Dance down the sidewalk with my loved one
Paint my kitchen red

Oh, bliss
To be thoroughly me
To be thoroughly happy


I like the way the French folks say it … koo-rawj’.  I need to be that.

When I was choosing the colours for my new condo in Belmont, Ontario, I don’t remember being brave.  I wanted red, blue, yellow, green, teal, purple and reddish brown walls, and that’s what I got.  Some people love it, some decidedly not.  No problemo.

The inside of the front door, however, gave me pause.  My original plan was cream, to match the baseboards.  But day after day I’d look at that door with unease.  No, cream was not it.  So red lives there now.  And I feel a surge of energy from having leapt out of beigeness.

Last night I went to Hugh’s Room to hear Jez Lowe, a British singer-songwriter.  What a sweet guy, full of stories about coal mining men and women, and usually sung with a twinkle in his eye.  I loved his song “The Bergen”, about a woman waiting back in Norway for her love to return from a sea voyage.  But the Bergen sunk off the coast of Scotland.

Sleep, why wake me with these dreams that you bring?
Dreams came to me where I lay
Deep the melody the wild waves sing
My love is far, far away

 Pity the heart, the wild waves part
My love sails the bonnie barque the Bergen

I tried to remember a song of his that used to thrill me, about a gold rush and the speaker’s partner being swept away in a flood.  Jez told us that he wanted to do one long set rather than have a break.  Hmm.  No opportunity for a request.  Except … right now!

“He’s just finished a song, Bruce.  The applause is fading away.  Ask him!  But nobody else is saying anything.  So what?  Do it.  Okay.”

“Jez, will you sing the one about the gold rush?”

“Gold rush?  I can’t remember.”

“The one where his partner died in a flood.”

(?) … … Oh.  I didn’t write that one.  It’s called “Farewell to the Gold”.

“Yes, that’s it!  Will you sing it anyway?”  (Laughter throughout Hugh’s Room)

The song is such an anthem for us humans who deeply want something but it always seems to elude our grasp.  I’ve never heard it sung live and last night was no exception.  (Sigh)

For it’s only when dreaming that I see you gleaming
Down in the dark, deep underground

A bit later in the evening, Jez introduced a song about a guy who was always a pain in the ass to his friends.  Then he looked at me, smiled, and said “Sort of like this gentleman here.”  I raised my arms in the bliss of acknowledgment.

At the end of the evening, Jez announced his final song.  I loved his music and his spirit so I knew what I was going to do as the last chord hung in the air.  I stood and clapped.  Since I was up front, I couldn’t tell if the folks behind me were joining the standing ovation.  It didn’t matter.  Jez Lowe had captured me and he deserved to be appreciated.

On we go in this life of ours

Being Different

Yesterday’s Toronto Star had a story about a little girl who loves bugs.  Sophia is seven years old.  Grasshoppers, worms, ants and snails are also part of her repertoire.

Her family moved to Ontario last year and Sophia had high hopes for her new school.  On the first day, she carried a caterpillar around.  A classmate wasn’t impressed:

“You’re weird.  You shouldn’t be playing with bugs.”

And when Sophia brought another caterpillar in for show-and-tell , a boy crushed it underfoot.  This fall, Sophia is transferring to another school where hopefully she will be accepted for being herself.

I thought back to 2001, when I was assisting a blind student in her sixth grade classroom.  One day the topic was your favourite type of music and a girl whom I’ll call Jessica stood up.  “I like classical music.”  Groans, grimaces and knowing looks followed.  But Jessica wasn’t to be swayed.  She loved playing her cello.

Hello, dear Jessica and Sophia
Carry on loving what you love
The world needs you


Since getting home in December from my long retreat, I’ve started lifting weights.  I want to be strong.  My hours of meditation in Massachusetts were often sublime, often other-worldly peaceful.  But doing the chest press at World Gym is bringing something else out of me.

Marcin, my personal trainer, tells me that I need to “explode” on the push and then go slow on the release.  I tried exploding but it was more like a little sparkler catching fire.  Until a few days ago.  Something inside me ramped up.  My lips set tight.  I almost growled.  “I’m doing this!”  And today I did it some more, with a fierceness that I didn’t recognize.  Talk about the yin and the yang … meditation and determination, both lighting up the present moment.

Way back in my brain cells, I remembered a woman staggering to the finish in an Olympic marathon.  The awe from long ago seeped into today.  So I Googled, and here’s what I found:

Gabriela Andersen-Schiess is a former Swiss long-distance runner who participated in the first women’s Olympic marathon at the 1984 Summer Olympics.  Though living in Idaho and working as a ski instructor at the time, Andersen-Schiess represented Switzerland in the 1984 Los Angeles Games.

Fourteen minutes into the 1984 Olympic marathon, Joan Benoit began to pull away from the rest of the pack.  She went on to win in a time of 2 hours, 24 minutes, and 52 seconds.  Twenty minutes after Benoit finished, then 39-year-old Andersen-Schiess entered the stadium.

The crowd gasped in horror as she staggered onto the track, her torso twisted, her left arm limp, her right leg mostly seized.  She waved away medical personnel who rushed to help her, knowing that, if they touched her, she would be disqualified.  The L.A. Coliseum crowd applauded and cheered as she limped around the track in the race’s final 400 meters, occasionally stopping and holding her head.

While the effects of her heat exhaustion were plainly evident, trackside medics saw that she was perspiring, which meant that her body still had some disposable fluids, and let her continue her march to the finish line.  At the completion of this final lap—which took Andersen-Schiess five minutes and 44 seconds—she fell across the finish line.  She finished 37th, ahead of seven other runners.

Oh my.  You can see Gabriela on several YouTube videos.  Infinitely beyond the chest press but really they both have the same incredible intensity.  I think we humans need to express some of that.  And we need to be moved to tears sometimes when others stretch themselves, as thousands of folks were in that California stadium 32 years ago.