Crying

For the first twenty years of my life, I don’t believe I cried.  Maybe for an owwie when I was three.

At age 25, I went to a performance of Jesus Christ Superstar in a Vancouver church.  Afterwards I sat in the dark under a tree in Queen Elizabeth Park and cried for an hour.

My wife Jody died in November, 2014.  For the next year at least, I cried every day.

Now it feels like I’m on the verge of tears a lot … eyes moist, soul overwhelmed with sadness or beauty.  But it’s not about me.  It’s about all of us, in our agony and joy.  It’s about moments of grace.  It’s about the acts of kindness I see.  It’s about the largeness of life, whether “positive” or “negative”.

Yesterday I sat with Karen at a Toronto Island church, listening to a string quartet.  I wondered where her boyfriend Barry was.  I had seen them together before I went on a meditation retreat in September.  Karen told me … he died on February 5 of melanoma.  Two weeks earlier, she and Barry were married.  I’m crying now about their lost love.

I grew up in a life where no one seemed to cry.  Certainly mom and dad didn’t, at least in my presence.  Aunts, uncles, family friends, teachers, ministers … no tears.  Maybe actors and actresses did in movies but I must have been watching the wrong films.

And then there are desperate situations in the world that would force anyone to shut down their emotional life:

I once heard a young man talk about his life as a child in Cambodia.  All of the children in his village spent years imprisoned in a barbed-wire encampment.  Four times a day, people were brought to the outskirts of that encampment to be killed.  The children were all lined up and forced to watch.  According to the rule, if one of them started to cry, then he or she would also be killed.  This boy said that each time people were brought to be killed, he was absolutely terrified that among them would be a friend, neighbor or relative.  He knew that if that happened, he would start to cry, and then he would be killed.  He lived with this terror for years.  He said that in that circumstance the only way he could survive was to completely cut off all feeling, to dehumanize himself altogether.

How immensely sad, and terrifying.

I was reading to the Grade 5/6 kids today from The City Of Ember, a fascinating novel.  Lina, a 12-year-old girl, was sitting with her grandma.  As she cared for her ill loved one, Lina thought of her dad:

In the back of her mind was the memory of the days of her father’s illness, when he seemed to grow dim like a lamp losing power, and the sound of his breathing was like water gurgling through a clogged pipe.  Though she didn’t want to, she also remembered the evening when her father let out one last short breath and didn’t take another.

“This is how Jody died,” I told the kids and Jayne, their teacher.  The room was very quiet.  My eyes were wet but I fought off the tears.  And I’m sorry I did.  It would have been a fine lesson for them to see a man cry.  “That’s okay, Bruce.  Please forgive yourself for not letting go completely.”  I do.  And now I’m crying for my dear wife.

It’s a tough job we human beings have, but I’m glad we all signed up.  The horrors are real and so is the beauty.  Let’s celebrate each other as we do our best to navigate the maze of life.

Strings Of The Heart

I’ve rediscovered tennis over the last week, first in person at the men’s Rogers Cup tournament in Toronto, and then on TV as the men and the women (in Montreal) battled for the championship.

I played tennis long ago and, just like golf, would occasionally hit a great shot that kept my spirits high.  But eventually the knees said no to the quick movements needed on the court.  My love went underground.

Sitting in the stands a few days ago, I was enthralled with the brilliant strokes … a zooming serve that just caught the line, a thirty-shot rally that exhausted both players, a sweet drop shot that just ticked over the net, and a high lob over the opponent’s head.  So cool.  It was mano à mano, and womano à womano on TV, each one drawing the best from the other.

Last Monday night, I watched Denis Shapovalov, a 17-year-old Canadian, best Nick Kyrgios, one of the top-20 players in the world.  On match point, the energy in the Aviva Centre was astonishing.  Transformational.

As stirring as the competition was, another factor emerged for me – the personality of the athlete.  Some stoic and strong and tough, almost machine-like.  But one player’s humanity caught my attention.  I watched a match on TV between Canada’s darling Eugenie Bouchard and Kristina Kucova from Slovakia.  Genie was supposed to win but Kristina was tenacious.  And as the last stroke was struck, the winning Kristina went down on her knees, overwhelmed with joy.  She was ranked 121st in the world and wasn’t supposed to be doing what she was doing.

On Saturday, Kristina played Madison Keys, a hard-hitting American, in the semi-finals.  Madison’s serve was so fast, and smacked into corners that Kristina couldn’t touch.  Late in the match, as the players rested in their chairs between points, TV showed us a tear rolling down Kristina’s cheek.  My heart and soul stopped.  I was lost in the beauty of the moment.

In 50 minutes, the contest was over.  Madison completely dominated.  Kristina walked off the court crying.  She later told the press she was sorry that she hadn’t given Madison a better battle, and that she had let down the fans.  Not this fan.  Give me a full human being any day.

Next summer, the women come to Toronto for the Rogers Cup.  I’ll be there … in Kristina’s court.

Tears

An hour ago I sat down with my laptop to write a blog post.  Couldn’t think of a thing.  Fifty minutes later I gave up.  “Read your Stephen King novel, Bruce.  Nothing to say tonight.”

Brian’s dad gave David a strained smile.  There was sweat trickling down his cheeks and standing out on his forehead in a galaxy of fine dots.  His eyes were red, and to David he looked like he had already lost weight … Mr. Ross now had one arm around his wife’s waist and his other hand clamped on her shoulder … David then realized that it wasn’t sweat trickling down Mr. Ross’s cheeks but tears … He realized that he was shortly going to be crying himself.

I’ve spent most of my life not crying, willing my face to stay dry even in the most despairing situations.  All that changed when Jody died.  I’ve cried for my wife most days in the 14 months that her body hasn’t been with me.  Often this happens in the car when I’m alone, remembering Jody’s hand in mine as we floated towards London.

Lately I’ve been crying because I’m lonely and finally ready to look out into the world for a new love.  I go out for meals with friends, partake of a weekly yoga class, and talk to the staff at World Gym.  I contribute.  But so often when I get back home, the tears come, both for me and Jody.

Oh so strangely, my eyes may moisten at the simplest moments.  Why do I start crying when I see:

A mom and young daughter walking up steps towards their front door?

A couple holding hands on the street?

A most likely homeless guy looking for handouts by the left turn lane?

A symmetrical tree looming ahead?

A driver trying to enter the flow of traffic and no one letting them in?

An Asian golfer being interviewed on lpga.com and struggling to express herself in English?

A two-storey house at night, with a light shining from an upstairs bedroom?

9000 fans cheering in a London hockey arena?

Hardly anybody singing “O Canada” at that same game?

Person after person walking downtown with head tilted to their Smart Phone?

An obese woman shuffling down the sidewalk?

Three teenaged girls laughing and poking each other in the mall?

A man sitting alone in the library, tucked into a good book?

 

 ***

Is there something wrong with me?
Or is there something right with me?

Restaurant Light

I’m quite partial to Wimpy’s Diner in St. Thomas.  I won’t admit to you how many seniors’ (Who me?) breakfasts I’ve consumed on Talbot St.

I was in London yesterday around supper time and decided to partake of Wimpy’s excellent Greek salad.  I knew the staff in St. Thomas.  Not so for London.  A young woman named Katie was my server.  She was so courteous, even calling me “sir” a few times.  She also arranged for me to receive eight black olives on my salad, virtually a world’s record.  After digesting the olives,romaine lettuce, onions, green peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, feta cheese and Saturday’s edition of The London Free Press, I contemplated dessert.

Bruce to Katie:  Would it be decadent and excessive to have dessert after consuming such a large salad?

Katie to Bruce:  No, not at all.  It would be entirely appropriate (or words of that nature).

Bruce:  What kinds of pie do you have?

Katie:  (Blah, blah, blah), coconut cream, (Blah, blah)

Bruce:  If I had the coconut cream, do you think I’d be alive at the end of it all?

Katie:  Oh yes, I’m sure of it.

(Katie leaves to serve another customer)

(Katie returns)

Bruce:  I’ve decided to show moderation, in that eating pie right now would be seen by many as excessive.  So … I’ll have the coconut cream.

(Katie smiles)

(Katie returns with the biggest piece of pie I’ve had in this lifetime)

Katie:  I thought you deserved it.

(Bruce eating and eating and eating some more … pie mostly gone)

(Katie comes over)

Bruce:  Excuse me, miss.  I have a complaint.  You see that fellow over there in the next booth?  (I had been talking to him and his wife, and I was sure he was willing to play, as I knew Katie was)  He came over here, said that coconut cream looked awfully good, and proceeded to put his face in my pie, devouring almost all of it.  (Man smiles.)

Katie:  Well, that’s it.  The next time you two come into Wimpy’s, I’m seating you at opposite ends of the restaurant.

And so it went.  We all had fun.  Good people.

***

As Katie brought me the handheld machine for my MasterCard, I decided to ask her a question:

“My wife Jody died in November.  I wrote a book about what we experienced during the last year of her life.  I’m giving it away to anyone who’d like to read our story.  Feel free to say no, but would you like a copy?”

(Katie starts crying, and keeps crying for the rest of my visit at Wimpy’s)  “Yes.”

I go out to Hugo to get one of Jody’s books from the trunk.  I open the door of the restaurant.  Three servers – Katie, Robyn and Yasmin – are staring at me.  Katie continues to cry.  “May I have a copy?”  “Of course.”  “Me too?”  “Yes.”  And another trip to Hugo.

It’s all life.  It’s all love.  It’s all who we are.

Jody’s Day at IMS

During my retreat at the Insight Meditation Society last week, yogis had the opportunity to pay for a meal in honour of a loved one.  I chose lunch on Saturday, April 11, the second last day of the retreat.  And there it was on the white board at the entrance to the dining room: “Lunch is offered ‘for my wife Jody’.”

When I arrived at IMS, I signed up for the job of bell ringing for each lunch.  I would stand near the serving area, gong in hand, beside three lineups of silent yogis.  After the cooks had placed all the food on tables, one of them would take a tiny xylophone and hit three notes.  She would then nod to me, I would hit the gong with the little wooden baton, and all of us would bow.  As retreatants came forward to take a plate, I would set off on a journey through the IMS buildings, ringing the gong loudly so that no one would miss their lunch.

On Saturday, April 11, after pausing several times that morning to see Jody’s name on the board, I lifted up the gong and baton and walked towards the dining room, telling myself not to cry.  I stood stationary for three or four minutes while I waited for the cook’s notes.  “Don’t cry, Bruce.”  Oh my, how silly of me.  But I held things together throughout the experience, and replaced the gong on its stand.  Then I walked into the coatroom and cried for my darling wife.  How I miss my Jodiette.

Later in the afternoon, from 3:00 till 4:00, I went to the optional daily qi gong session (pronounced “chee”) in the meditation hall.  I’d say 80 of the 100 yogis came every day.  Qi gong is a Chinese movement art, gently uniting us with heaven and earth, and with all of life.  Franz, our leader, had opened his soul to us.  We were much blessed.  This would be our last session, and Franz had a surprise.  Halfway through the hour, he mentioned that we would now link together the 18 qi gong movements … to music.

A resonant male baritone voice ripped through me, singing in Hindi, I believe.  I didn’t know what the words meant.  But my being knew.  I started crying for Jody, and I think for all of us.  I moved my body and kept crying.  Sometimes I would be overwhelmed and stood still, shaking.  A few of the movements involved twisting and looking back to the left and then right.  “Oh, no.  Now the folks behind me will see me crying.”  So silly again.  For one thing, if I’m looking backwards, so are the people behind me.  But more importantly, the human beings I was with honoured each other’s humanity, however it was expressed.  They didn’t know I was crying about Jody but they accepted my tears.  I kept crying.

It was a good day, Jodiette.  You deserved every moment, my dear.

Crying for Kindness

A few days ago, I was watching a commercial on TV and started crying.  Deep sobs.  Afterwards I couldn’t remember what they were selling.  All I retained was Person A criticizing someone who wasn’t there and Person B agreeing.  Then that scene was repeated twice.  On the fourth viewing, Person B responded to Person A by saying something kind about the absent someone.

I’ve been crying for Jody every day and I figured that my response to the commercial had something to do with my vulnerability.  But it still seemed a mystery.  And then I stopped analyzing it … the why and wherefore just floated away.

Tonight I was watching a CNN report about a terrorist attack being prevented in Belgium.  It was time for “a message from our sponsors”:

(Scene: two employees chatting in the office)

Person A:  I hear she’s still depressed and on sick leave.

Person B:  We could both use a vacation too.

(Repeat twice)

(Fourth time)

Person A:  I hear she’s still depressed and on sick leave.

Person B:  I’m going to swing by with Mary and see how she’s doing.

(Person A thinks … and nods)

And Bruce cries again, weeping uncontrollably for a minute or two.

Then I used the “rewind live TV” function on my PVR and watched it again.  There was a single message at the end:

Be kind
1 of the 5 ways you can end
the stigma around mental illness

The advertiser?  Bell – a large Canadian company providing TV and phone service.

Lovely to behold
Cry on, Bruce