Poof!

I was sitting in the Bloor-Gladstone Library in Toronto yesterday afternoon, wanting to write about Thursday evening’s concert with Robert Pilon.  I whipped out my Android phone, went to WordPress and started inputting.  Sadly though, a sentence such as “I don’t know what to say about all this” showed up on the screen as “I don’t know whawhat to say abouabout all thithis.”  Wha?

Not deterred by the mysteries of technology, I went to my e-mail program and began to tell the story.  An hour later, I walked over to Hugh’s Room, where I’d later be enjoying a concert celebrating the music of Leonard Cohen.  Before the songs started up, I finished my blog post.

Perfect.  Now all I had to do was copy and paste the groovy words from Internet Explorer to WordPress.  I highlighted the whole enchilada … and watched in horror as the whole thing disappeared.  Oh my God!  That’s about 500 words of the best I had.

I furrowed my brow and began the rescue attempt:

Work, work, work
Grump, grump, grump
Work, grump, work

Nothing worked.

The despair arose in me, along with the anger, sadness, impotence and any other yucky word you can think of.  Spiritual Bruce was stuck in a poop hole.  “Maybe tomorrow morning when I fire up my laptop, I’ll find that the post has been archived somewhere.”  (‘Fraid not.  It’s now tomorrow morning and Robert is nowhere to be seen.)

As I sat there watching the musicians walk onstage, there was a shift.  There was peace.  There was a quiet voice: “This doesn’t matter, Bruce.  I get that you want your words to touch people, but don’t worry – you do that with or without words.  Tomorrow you’ll do your best to resurrect your thoughts.  It won’t be as good but it will be good.  And today’s vanishing will not diminish the whole of your life.”  Thank you, dear voice.

Well … shall we get to it?

***

Last night’s concert was a fundraiser for the Wounded Warriors organization.  It honoured Canadian veterans of combat, and first responders, who are in the throes of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It was a privilege to be there.

Our host and entertainer was Robert Pilon.  He was the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera.  He sang in Les Miserables.  And in 2017 he loved the vets in song at the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge in France.

I got to sit front row centre and look into the eyes of human beings first, performers second.  Robert strolled onto the stage, and from the first second I knew I was in the presence of greatness.  He had a power about him – not of force or intrusion – but of grace and love.  I couldn’t take my eyes off his face.  The eyes shone.  The smile radiated to us all.  And his spoken words were a melody.  He hadn’t yet sung a note.

Robert melted us with Danny Boy, and in an inspired duet of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah with the woman who directs the Laura Secord Secondary School Concert Choir.  Oh … how their voices blended!  Again and again, Robert let his voice soften as hers soared.  He was the star of the show, but not in his mind.

And the kids!  Choir members often spread throughout the theatre as they backed up the other musicians.  There were young women four feet away, facing me and the audience.  I beamed love at them and said words of thanks after each number.  My neighbour and I briskly applauded the teens as they filed back onto the stage.  Some of them smiled.

Jully Black loomed above me later in the program.  She’s a soulful black singer who had us embrace all citizens of the Earth.  Her eyes also spoke joy.  Then there was Dr. Draw, a young man who has embraced electronic violin music.  His melodies shook us down deep.  Sometimes he knelt close to the floor, eyes closed, lost in his world.  Stunning.

Near the end of the evening, Robert told us that he has a certain signature song.  I had an inkling … “Go, Phantom, go!”  He said that he hadn’t donned the mask since retiring from the role, but tonight was special.  Robert turned away from us and then whirled back, half of his face covered in silver.  He stood above me as a God.  When he opened his mouth, The Music of the Night spilled forth.  Robert snarled at us.  Robert loved us.  Oh my.

The songs were lovely
The voices were transcendent
And that’s fine

But the best?
The hearts were way wide open

***

How about that?  I remembered.  Thanks for listening

Rest In Peace

I thought this morning about my overwhelmed reaction to normal group conversation at the school’s staff party last night.  “What is happening to me?”  I went out to breakfast at Wimpy’s Diner in St. Thomas, mostly to see my friend and usual waitress Angie.  She was wonderfully supportive about my early exit from the bike ride and made sure I got the message “No failure there.”  Still, I lingered in the restaurant for at least an hour after the meal was toast, really vacant in the head.

Afterwards, I wanted to wash Scarlet, who was massively dirty after I laid my sodden tent over her a couple of weeks ago.  I like manual car washes and I heard there was one on the east edge of St. Thomas, which would be a good ongoing choice for me.  When I pulled up to the place, however, I realized that it was an automatic one.  I told myself I was too tired to go further into town to use the manual one I knew, so I pulled into line.  It was so strange – I couldn’t figure out how automatic car washes work.  The attendant who eventually came into view was very patient but was perhaps seeing me as a new arrival on the planet.  “What is happening to me?”

My plan was to spend a good part of the day at the St. Thomas Library but as I approached the right turn for such a location, my mind said “Turn left.  Go home.”  I obeyed.  “Meditate.”

I sat down in the cozy meditation chair in my bedroom.  As I was about to close my eyes, the telephone rang.  It was my friend Adele.  She reads all my posts and was concerned about me.  “I wonder if you have PTSD.”  Immediately my head said “Yes.  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.”  Maybe that conclusion is a little dramatic, but I fear (appropriate word, I’d say) it’s in the ballpark.  Adele continued: “You need to rest.  Take a week and be with yourself.”  >  “I could have a meditation retreat … at home.”  >  “Yes, you could.”

Before that phone rang, I felt immersed in “badness, lostness, sadness”.  The term that came to mind, also with the potential of exaggeration, was “The Dark Night of the Soul”, a spiritual state of despair that many people have experienced and documented.  And then Adele shows up in my ear.

After we finished talking, I did close my eyes … for one hour and forty minutes of blessed sitting.  Very few thoughts came.  I slipped deeply into rest.  Some lovely energy floated down over my face and over my body.  Down, down and down, and yet always alert to the world of my bedroom.  I nodded off nine times, five or six of them with tiredness so profound that I nearly fell off the chair.  After each one, some voice said “Continue.”  So I did.

Now it’s an hour after I rang my singing bowl three times as an expression of completion.  The Dark Night is not here.  No demons assail me.  Will the darkness and fear return?  I have no doubt they will.  They have a mind of their own.  The healing, I believe, will take time.

The Buddha said some cool things.  Here’s one:

You can search throughout the entire universe
For someone who is more deserving
Of your love and affection than you are yourself
And that person is not to be found anywhere

Thank you, Mr. Buddha

Day Five: Victoria

This was our first day of riding and I was nervous. Would everyone disappear past the horizon? Happily, I found out that our leader Bud had recruited a cyclist friend to “sweep” – hang out at the back and make sure the slow riders weren’t left alone. That would be me.

It soon became obvious that my bicycle skills weren’t up to snuff. I had trained on country roads, and twisty bike paths, wooden bridges and folks zipping close by in the other direction wasn’t part of my preparation.

I was indeed the slowest but Len stayed with me. Thank you, sir.

I should have taken a CanBike course to teach me the subtleties of movement but I didn’t. Being slow with Len bugged me a bit but not bad. Then there was a time we were veering left onto a side street. The pavement sloped away from me and I zoomed into someone’s driveway. (Sigh)

My cycling shoes have metal cleats on the bottom that clip into the pedals. All day long I struggled to attach the two, feeling so embarrassed that I hadn’t mastered this basic skill. Sometimes, in trying to get going from an intersection, I would hook my cycling shorts on my saddle and go nowhere.

The pièce de résistance splatted my way when I tried to climb onto a sidewalk using the cutout section. I should have aimed to the right of a pole on the sidewalk but instead chose the left, smashing into the curb, bending my handlebar and propelling myself (somewhat gently) into a tree. After a quick kiss, I was on the ground. From across the way, I heard “Are you okay?” I muttered a “yes” but the bod said differently. I was bleeding a bit, but far more from my soul than from my arm and leg.

Our leader Bud was beside me in a flash and whipped out a bike tool to straighten my handlebar. And Len put my chain back where it belonged. Thank you, gentlemen.

I walked ta-pocketa to the ice cream shop where the others were waiting. Embarrassment and sadness flooded me. To be so naked in my deficits in front of skilled cyclists was hard. I walked away for a minute and let the sadness take me.

The last part of today’s journey included wooden bridges, which I rattled through, and a paved bike path with hordes of fast cyclists bearing down at me. You might say I freaked out, and I started crying. I know I’m a good person but the despair was intense.

Finally we arrived at our destination – a hostel in Victoria. The male cyclists had a room with lots of bunk beds. I stood there in a stupour and realized that all of the bottom berths had been taken. The pain of the world fell on my shoulders. Cardio was fine, legs were a bit sore and the soul was shattered. There was no hope for me. I was lost.

Then Tony spoke up. “I think Bruce deserves a bottom bunk.” And he switched his stuff to the top. “Thank you, Tony.” I walked away into a sheltered alcove and started crying anew. Such kindness. And Tony was one of several folks who showed that to me today. Thank you all.

Each of us needs each of us