Unlike Them?

I enjoy reading many of the articles in The Athletic, a sports website.  They go far beyond the score and the thrilling plays to find the human beings.  That’s what I’m interested in – how other lives can relate to mine, how there are lessons out there for me to learn.

Yesterday I read about Tyler Parsons, a 21-year-old prospect with the Calgary Flames hockey club.  A couple of years ago, while I following the progress of the London Knights (my local junior hockey team), Tyler was the goalie.  I loved seeing his spectacular saves and he seemed like a good person.  And that’s where my pondering about him ended.  But who knows what’s beneath the surface of our skin?

The article laid bare Tyler’s emotional life, with his blessing.  It was so unlike the culture of male professional sports, where one need to be tough, without feeling, totally focused on achievement.

“I finally spoke up.”  Indeed he did, and well done, young man.  Here’s what he had to say:

I don’t want anyone to feel bad for me.  I’m better now.  But before all this happened, I thought mental health and all that stuff was a bunch of bullshit.

One thing builds into another.  You start with a small issue, and it seems to just build up and build up and build up till it becomes physically and mentally painful.

Problems in your life are what molds you.  I’ve been through so much in my life in such a short span that it grew me as a person.

If I wouldn’t have opened the doors and started talking, I wouldn’t be sitting in this chair right now doing this interview.  I probably wouldn’t be playing hockey.

I’m not going to sit back here and hold it in when my words, my story, can change somebody else’s life.  If I can help somebody get out of that state, possibly save their life … because there were many times when I was in that state that I didn’t want to be alive.

It seems to me that when the world is collapsing, it’s just ME … my feelings, my woes, my long victim-laden story.  Tyler has found a way to spend time in US … empathy, kindness and compassion.  May we all find this togetherness.

 

 

 

 

Unlike Them

Last night, during a hockey game between the Montreal Canadiens and the Florida Panthers, Maxi Domi of Montreal tried to goad Aaron Ekblad into a fight.  As they tussled, Max punched Aaron with his glove on.  But Ekblad didn’t want to fight.  Then Domi whipped off the glove and smashed him in the face with his bare fist.  Aaron was bleeding and left the game for concussion testing.  Max was ejected, and today was suspended for five games.

The culture of hockey has always included fighting.  The general expectation is that you stand up for yourself, that you fight if provoked.  But here comes a fellow who doesn’t want to play that game.  He wants to play hockey.

What does it take to create a paradigm shift?  Well, a few brave souls for one thing.  I don’t know of another sport where fighting is acceptable, where assaulting another human being is seen by many as “being a man”.  Congratulations, Aaron.  By saying no to violence, you’re beginning to create a new groove in the sport, one that will deepen as more courageous athletes join you.

Speaking of shifts, a couple of days ago, the teacher I volunteer with presented the kids with little plastic boxes for the books they’re reading.  His first question was “Who wants a pink one?”  As well as a few girls, six boys put up their hands.  I wonder how many of them would have done that 20 years ago.  (Zero)

Who are other pioneers of change in our world?

1. Women who opt for careers in areas traditionally dominated by men, e.g. police officers, plumbers and professional coaches

2. Men who opt for careers in areas traditionally dominated by women, e.g. hairstylists, primary school teachers and ballet dancers

3.  Men who cry

4.  Women who demand to be heard

5.  Kids who have ideas for bettering our world and speak of them assertively

6.  Elders who dive into sports

7.  Folks with a physical handicap who get out there and make things happen

8.  Religious leaders who see God in other faiths

9.  Politicians who applaud the good ideas coming from members of other parties

10.  Those of us who think of all of us

Come on down, you movers and groovers!

 

Parallel

I was sitting in the living room this morning with Ihor, my Toronto B&B host. We talked about life. He mentioned that his all-time favourite teacher was Mr. Whiteside in Grade 7. He helped the kids feel like human beings, like they mattered.

Years later, Ihor saw Mr. Whiteside on the subway one evening. He was snoozing. Ihor decided to leave him alone. He no doubt was exhausted from a day of teaching, marking and creating lesson plans. The intended message was simply “Thank you.” But there was no joyous giving and no likely joyous receiving. Ihor was sad in the years proceeding that he didn’t speak up.

I listened … and remembered the same. It was about 1970 and I was a student at the University of Toronto. As I approached an old stone arch on campus, I looked through to see “a little old man” coming towards me from the other side. Closer, I recognized the fellow: it was Lester Pearson, the recently retired Prime Minister of Canada. Pearson had been a leader in promoting peace in the world. He was a true Canadian hero. “Say something, Bruce!”

And now we were both entering the arch. I looked towards him with a dry mouth … and averted my gaze as we passed by. (Sigh) My sadness lingered for many years.

Ihor nodded.

Then he began again. “Many years later, I was walking on the Lake Huron sand near Wasaga Beach. A guy was walking towards me. It was David Crombie, known as ‘the tiny perfect mayor’ of Toronto. Visions of Mr. Whiteside. I walked right up to him and said ‘Hi.’ David smiled back and we had a good talk.”

I nodded.

Then I shared the story which took place in Bruno’s Fine Foods, a few decades after Mr. Pearson. I wheeled my shopping cart into the next aisle, and there at the far end was a little old man, pushing his. Closer. I knew him. It was King Clancy, a former player and coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now he was 80 or 90. He reached for his shelf and I reached for mine. Soon we were cart to cart …

“Hello, Mr. Clancy.”

(Big smile) “Hello.”

“Thank you for your contributions to the Leafs and to hockey.”

“You’re most welcome.”

And we talked some more.

***

Lesson learned, eh, Ihor?
May we always remember

Two Folks

I met two fine human beings today. In the spirit of “scarcity”, I could tell you about one of them now and the other tomorrow. Then it would be smooth sailing. I wouldn’t have to create a topic from the events of Saturday.

I’m now shaking my head “No”. That’s not how I want to write this blog. Right now, I’ll talk about what’s fresh … and that means both people. Tomorrow something else will emerge.

***

I’m staying at my friends Anne and Ihor’s B&B in Toronto. Last night I met another guest and she beat me to breakfast this morning. Lucy is from Beijing, China. She’s been here for a week, helping her son get established at his new school. I couldn’t help it – I had to find out her Chinese name. “Zhao Yu.” I asked which name she preferred and it became clear that her English was very basic. Eventually she understood my question, and said “Lucy is okay.” After a bit more prodding from me, she smiled and said “Zhao”.

I struggled to understand Zhao’s English and yet I could glimpse the full human being across the table. She worked so hard to have me get her messages. At one point, she got a container of raspberries out of the fridge and offered them to me. So sweet of her.

Zhao had bought bacon at the grocery store but didn’t know how to cook it. Our hostess Anne was going to help out here. I could feel judgments creeping into my brain but as I let them be there they soon floated away. The woman simply hasn’t had any experience with bacon.

Zhao was all excited that I live in London, a two-hour drive from Toronto. She wants to visit there someday. Anne pulled out maps of Ontario and the world and it became clear that Zhao thought I lived in London, England. Again judgments intruded and again quiet looking allowed them to fade.

Zhao is an accountant in Beijing and had stories about the city of 30,000,000 souls. Absolutely crammed sidewalks, roads and subway cars. Clearly this was an intelligent woman and the real problem was my inability to grasp her words. She was groping through a language that was foreign to her, offering me raspberries along the way. Thank you, Zhao!

At one point in our meeting of minds, I learned that Zhao was scared last night as she walked along Weston Road near the B&B. The reason? Because there was virtually no one on the street. Anne explained that in this intense heat people stayed indoors.

Toronto (3,000,000) is in between my home Belmont (2800) and Beijing. I experience Toronto as crammed with folks and Zhao sees it as empty! Perspective is a lovely thing.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Zhao. We hugged our goodbyes.

***

I just spent an hour with Barry in the Tim Hortons at Bloor Street and Dufferin. I was sitting at a table with my only company being a toasted bagel. Since the place was full, he asked if he could join me. I was happy to say yes.

Barry said it’s important to ask permission, not just to barge in, and I immediately liked him. I sensed that here was a fellow with cool things to say. Good sensing, Bruce.

My new friend tows large passenger planes away from their berths at Toronto Airport. It’s a job with a huge responsibility to keep people safe. Barry’s been doing it for thirty years and knows how to avoid accidents and deal with emergencies. He quietly admitted that he’s saved a few lives along the way.

The more Barry talked, the more I sensed that he’s been the topic of conversation at many supper tables over the years … all complimentary, I’d guess. He’s stood up for probational employees and taken more than a few of them under his wing to teach them the subtleties of the trade. He’s told his charges that if there’s a big problem, and only one tow-er of the two gets to come home that night, it’ll be the one who’s learning. He takes care of his guys.

Barry’s the one that management calls on when there’s a bomb scare and a plane has to be moved away from the terminal and far out on the tarmac. It’s volunteer work and he always raises his hand.

I was sitting across from love and courage. It was a privilege to be there. We shook hands goodbye, with deep respect flowing through them.

***

I’m going to a folk music concert tonight at Hugh’s Room
Will another vessel of motherhood or brotherhood come by?
I say yes

Stand Up

Sue-Ann Levy writes for the Toronto Sun newspaper.  She speaks her mind about the city’s ills, such as guns and violence.  Another straight shooter is our new Ontario premier, Doug Ford:

We’re coming after you.  We’re going to catch you and you’re going to end up in jail … If I were you, I’d think twice before you pull out a gun because you’re going to get caught.

On Thursday Ford announced that the province was committing $25 million for Toronto to fight gangs and violence.

And what was Sue-Ann’s take on Ford’s announcement?

There was no hug-a-thug talk about the root causes of violence …

There was no deferring to political correctness and blaming systemic racism and poverty for the epidemic of gun violence in Toronto …

It’s about time somebody had the balls to do something.

Indeed.  I’m a Buddhist, a man of peace.  That does not mean, however, turning away from the injustices in the world.  If someone does something that hurts others, there need to be logical consequences for that behaviour.  Just like in school: If you beat on a kid at recess, you don’t get to go on the class trip.  In extreme circumstances, the police are involved.

The tyrants of the world, whether down the street or in the halls of government, need to be resisted.  Canada needs to have sanctions against regimes that allow the abuse of human beings.  The “Letters to the Editor” section of newspapers should be full of reasoned responses to hurtful words and actions, responses that don’t demean anyone but that call a spade a spade.

I believe we’re meant to express what’s true for us, rather than hesitating because someone won’t like what we’ve said.  In my life, some people love me and some have no use for me.  I leave my detractors alone.  They will not prevent me from looking at the current moment and expressing my reactions to it.

Waydago Doug and Sue-Ann.  And my mom agrees.  She always said “Don’t hide your light under a bushel,” which for the uninitiated refers to a big basket.  Thanks, mom.  You were right.

 

Unknown

All the stars, planets and galaxies that can be seen today make up just 4% of the universe.  The other 96% is made of stuff astronomers can’t see, detect or even comprehend.

These mysterious substances are called dark energy and dark matter.  Astronomers infer their existence based on their gravitational influence on what little bits of the universe can be seen, but dark matter and energy themselves continue to elude all detection.

“The overwhelming majority of the universe is: Who knows?” explains science writer Richard Panek, who spoke about these oddities of our universe on Monday at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) here in Manhattan.  “It’s unknown for now, and possibly forever.”

Clara Moskowitz

***

We have an enormous amount still yet to discover and understand.  For instance, science now knows that 96% of the known universe is invisible.  It’s called dark matter and dark energy, and it’s called “dark” because you can’t see it.  But here we are, in the 4% that’s visible, and I say to people: If we’re going to make materialism our life path, we’re essentially giving our lives over to the 4% solution.  Because the 96%, the invisible part, we’re just completely ignoring.

Duane Elgin

***

Reports that say that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns.  There are things we know we know.  We also know there are known unknowns, that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.  But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.  And if one looks throughout the history of our country and other free countries, it is the latter category that tend to be the difficult ones.

Donald Rumsfeld, former United States Secretary of Defense

***

Difficult indeed.  And if Duane is right, and we can legitimately move from the physical universe to how we lead our lives, what now?  How do I do, feel and think on this planet if immense mystery surrounds us?  Do I swan dive off the solid cliff into the mists below or do I hunker down in my all-inclusive?

The task of letting go seems monumental.  Maybe I can start exercising my 96% muscle by simply doing one thing in a new way.

I get together several times a week with the online global community of the Evolutionary Collective.  For the latter part of our hour, we can share in the large group.  You simply click on the “Raise Hand” button.  Tomorrow, when the time comes, I’ll click even if I have no idea what to say.  That’s a start.

***

Love is always a leap into the unknown.  You can try to control as many variables, and understand a situation as you can, but you’re still jumping off a cliff and hoping that someone catches you.

Lisa Kleypas

 

Who Is It That I Say I Am?

Who is this Bruce, anyway?

Conventional wisdom points to what I’ve done, what I’ve said … an accumulation of the past.  Sounds logical.  Perhaps, though, I can choose to move beyond reason.  Could it be that hidden beneath “unreasonable” things, the truth abides?

Maybe “Bruce” is fresh at every moment, a flow leaning into the future.  Nothing to do with my mistakes, insensitivities and misadventures – all stuff that’s dead because it’s in the past.  Beyond the reality that society honours, I could simply be a spiritual presence, moving in love.

What if a thousand people said to me “Don’t be silly.  You are your history, your body, your ideas, your joys and sorrows, your relationships, your home … the sum of your life experiences.  There is nothing else!  Grow up and march to the music.”

And what if I said:

No

I seek companions on this journey and I believe I’ve found one.  Her name is Beatrice Bruteau.

The emotional personality may feel like life to us.  The life story that is called by our name may seem to be our only way of conceptualizing our life.  That is why it seems that we would be losing our life if we were to give up identifying ourselves in these ways.

[The word “metanoia” means “a transformation of the heart”]

Metanoia is a shift in our sense of where our selfhood is located, from the dead periphery of the personality description to the living core of transcendent and creative freedom.  The metanoia is said to be like dying and being reborn.  It is a shift in our sense of real being, our sense of being alive, from the emotional personality to the transcendent spirit … By seeming to die, we release ourselves from identification with the dead, and by realizing ourselves as transcendent persons, we establish ourselves in true life and can begin to do divine things.

Airy fairy … dumb … pie in the sky … true … ridiculous … infantile … lost marbles

***

Is the pull of the past so strong that brand new things can’t enter the world?
Is the pull of collective opinion so overwhelming that anything else is rejected?
Am I strong enough to stand with Beatrice?
What could happen if I did?

 

Day One: The Plane

So I’m off … to my country. Two big sports bags, one carry on, and a bike box full of a partially disassembled ta-pocketa. I sat this morning in the Ramada Inn waiting for the bus that would take me on the two-hour trip to Toronto, and just gazed upon all my stuff.

What will the journey be? And who will I be at its end? Will the twenty of us be a family? Will we be happy together?

As the bus floated over the 401, our local freeway, I got to watch the passing world and other drivers, something I don’t usually get to do. As we overtook semitrailer after semitrailer, I came to love seeing their hands on the wheel. I watched the knuckles and thought of how similar we all are … human beings wanting to have a happy life.

I often slipped into meditation as my eyes closed. The gentle rocking of the bus felt womb-like. I was safely on my way to Canada west and east.

I didn’t have a seatmate and so didn’t talk to anyone on the trip. This felt strange since I’m usually bending somebody’s ear. But a different way is fine too.

As we approached Toronto Airport, I wondered how I would haul around my heavy objects. Happily, a row of luggage carts appeared as we stopped. Even the bike box was well accommodated.

I lined up in the wrong place but a smiling woman pointed me towards the promised land. Stuff like that doesn’t phase me anymore – imperfect moi sometimes stumbles towards the finish line. And that’s okay.

After the normal stuff, it was time to deal with the bike box. It wouldn’t go through the scanner so the agent opened it up, removing the saddle and pannier for closer inspection. A big delay here but so what? Time proceeds according to its own agenda and my wishes for convenience don’t move it much. Finally the employee was finished and lent me some packing tape to reseal things. He became angry that I was using so much of his tape but I wanted to thoroughly secure my dear bike. I’d like to say that I stayed perfectly calm during his angst but that’s not true. No perfect person here. Oh well.

Going through security was a breeze until the officer came upon sunscreen and my chain oil. They should have been in my checked luggage. Oops. I was told that if I wanted the liquids, I’d have to check my carry on, at a probable cost of $100. Ouch. I pleaded my case to the supervisor and she magically checked my bag for free. O, great karma awaiteth you, dear lady.

All this is marvelous, of course, as life continues to unfold in its magical ways, but the best was yet to come. I’ve been taking a live online course on relationships, with people participating from around the world. There was a one-hour session scheduled for Noon today but I’d be in the departure lounge then. I told myself I wasn’t going to be holding my Samsung phone aloft, listening to folks through earbuds, and talking out loud to my international companions while surrounded by fellow travellers.

After passing through security, however, and walking down the long hall to Gate B4, the voice inside said “Just do it. You have more than an hour before boarding. Find a quiet spot and be with people on your screen.” So I did. The walls of restriction came tumbling down. The few folks near me didn’t seem bothered in the least. And we across the world shared a sweet presence together.

Now I’m on the plane, perhaps nearing Winnipeg, sitting beside two friendly women from Alabama who are jetting towards an Alaskan cruise. Good for them and good for me. May each of us dip ourselves deeply into adventure.

That’s enough for now. Happy landings to me.

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