Impossible

Forty years ago, Exhibit A knocked on my door
Four days ago, here came Exhibit B
Who am I to say there’ll never be an Exhibit C?

***

It was 1978 or so. I was the instructor of Project Insight at Lethbridge Community College in Alberta. It was a life skills course for young adults who wanted to get into regular college programs. These folks had seen some tough times, with low self-esteem linking the twelve people together.

I decided to take my students on an outdoor education day trip to the mountains of Waterton Lakes National Park. We’d drive the Red Rock Canyon Road and snowshoe up the trail to Crandell Lake, then back down the other side to the snow-covered Cameron Lake Highway, which was closed to traffic. Then we’d walk back down the road to Waterton townsite, where we’d pick up one of our two vehicles. Adventure!

Some in the group were fit and keen. Others had never been on snowshoes before. We obeyed the good wilderness rule that the faster ones would stop for extended breaks, allowing the slower ones to catch up. Like a caterpillar, we were together.

We were maybe a mile from our vehicle rendezvous when “John”, one of the students, came up to me. “I can’t find my glasses!” John didn’t need them for walking in the wilderness but they were essential for near vision tasks. So many years later, I don’t remember how long it took me to act, but I did. Leaving my friend Cam to be responsible for the other students, I turned around and headed back up the road.

It was irrational. I shouldn’t have been doing that alone. John had no idea when the glasses fell out of his pocket. And what were the chances of finding them? The snow hung well above our snowshoe prints. I could walk right by the glasses as they lay in a snowdrift. And I couldn’t just keep going and going. Darkness would become an issue.

What in heaven’s name possessed me? Good question. In any event – well up the road – I found the glasses.

***

Last Friday was far less dramatic. After two Evolutionary Collective Zoom calls and an afternoon of errands in St. Thomas, I’d returned home for supper. Time was running out to do a blog post since I’d bought a ticket for the James Bond flick Spectre in London. Besides I couldn’t think of anything to write. “That’s okay … mañana.”

It’s a short drive from Belmont to London, and I got in Ruby half-an-hour before showtime. As I was heading north on Westchester-Bourne, and then west on the 401, something strange was building in me. Something non-physical was pulsing. Really weird. I found my seat in the theatre ten minutes before the announced time, and immediately whipped out my phone and the WordPress app. “What are you doing? The movie’s going to start. You sure don’t have time to do a post.”

Someone else was tapping on the keys. The title was “Power” because power was coursing through me. “Where are these words coming from?” I didn’t know, but they kept coming. (I just looked back at the post – it was 219 words long) The theatre had darkened halfway and the future attractions were entering my mind. Undeterred, my lovely brain and lovely fingers kept going. I was proofreading as the manager’s message about Covid precautions came onscreen. It was perhaps a minute away from total darkness and then the surge of Bond action. “Please turn off your phone” reverberated at the back of my head.

I tapped “Publish” in the WordPress app
I tapped “Share” and chose Facebook
I typed “In the middle of …” as a title
I tapped “Post”

And the Bond music began

Earthworm

I was on my Bowflex strength training machine this morning. It’s in the basement. For half of the exercises I’m facing a fun red wall. For the other half, I’m looking up through the window well at the Southern Ontario sky.

As you can tell, the metal well is ribbed and resembles brick. I love the natural look. I was grunting through two sets of the leg press when my vision caught something unusual in the scene. About eighteen inches below the lip, there was an earthworm, basically vertical. As I pressed in, I’d occasionally glance at the newcomer. Between sets, it was clear: the worm had died there, and his body would stay stuck to the side until I scraped it off. I made a mental note to do that … tomorrow. Future exercise sessions wouldn’t be disturbed by a dry thing hanging onto the lovely bricked pattern.

Minutes later, it was the leg extension exercise. Another glance showed that my flexible friend was a bit higher up the well, and not quite so vertical. “It’s alive!”

Closer inspection showed a tiny head wobbling back and forth, and the whole being wriggling upwards. When it came to a rib, it would keep on going, pulling its body above empty space in its pursuit of freedom.

“Oh my God … I’m looking out the window at an elite athlete!”

As the workout continued, I saw “higher, higher…” No cage will constrain. My mouth kept dropping open.

When there were no more exercises, I pressed my nose close to the window. Mr. Worm was pretty much horizontal now, about four inches below the lip. It was approaching a tiny crevice in the plastic surrounding the window. As I watched, there was a full five inches of invertebrate being poking towards the hole. Then four. Three … two … one …

Gone

Fighting For Money

Over my long years, I’ve had many images of myself.  The one that’s hung around the longest is of this nice little Buddhist guy, at peace with the world and everyone in it, simply being love.  Well, I am love … my bones tell me so.

But what if a Mack truck is barreling down on me?  Or somebody wants to strip my home of all its furniture?  Do I simply bow and say “Thy will be done”?

No

Part of me is a warrior, brandishing a sword in defense of myself and others.  Right now, it’s me that comes to mind.

In our pre-Covid life of 2019, I planned two glorious trips to see women play tennis in 2020 – to Montreal and New York City.  I booked a hotel in Canada and an Airbnb in the USA.  This spring, the Quebec Government cancelled all professional sporting events and a bit later the Canadian Government closed our border with American friends, plus the US Open said “no spectators”.

(Sigh)

After the sadness came the resolve to get my $2200 back.  No lying down in the middle of the road.  So began two journeys – two months with Airbnb and five with Expedia.  I probably phoned the Montreal hotel twenty times and reached a human being twice.  Neither time the manager.  At the end of most of my voice mails, I asked the manager to phone me.  Nope.  Valiant Expedia reps dialed the hotel over and over.  The manager was never in.  Really nice people at Expedia said that they were escalating my case to a higher department and so-and-so would phone me within ______ days.  No higher-ups ever phoned.  Twice I sent to Expedia a copy of an e-mail in which the hotel manager agreed to refund my money but no one at the travel company could ever find that e-mail.

There are more details about those five months, and less dramatically the two months with Airbnb, but I’m not going for “poor me” here.  There’s another story.

I hadn’t realized what a determined son-of-my-mother I was.  I’d look in the mirror and see a dog who wouldn’t let that bone go.  Nothing would stop me, including the approximate fifteen hours I spent glued to my phone.  So there was the fierceness walking hand-in-hand with the equanimity.  Does this make me schizophrenic?  No, but as Walt Whitman said long ago, “I am inconsistent.  I contain multitudes.”

I now have $2200 that had gone AWOL for months.  My head is held high.  And I have fond memories of Expedia reps who so much wanted to help.  As for the hotel manager, and whoever in the Expedia Corporate Department let me fall through the cracks …

No way!

Strong People … Please Come Here

I listened to Kamala Harris’ speech this afternoon as she put herself in the public eye as the Democratic nominee for US Vice-President. Passionate, pointed, tender … the whole thing.

Yesterday, Donald Trump wondered why Joe Biden had picked Harris, given her attack on him about busing in a Democratic debate last year.

According to Wikipedia: “Busing is the practice of assigning and transporting students to schools within or outside their local school districts in an effort to reduce the racial segregation in schools.”

Verbatim:

Kamala Harris: Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then?

Joe Biden: I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education.

Harris: There was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. I was part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California public schools almost two decades after [?] Board of Education.

Biden: Because your city council made that decision.

Harris: That’s where the federal government must step in. That’s why we have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. That’s why we need to pass the Equality Act. That’s why we need to pass the ERA. Because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people.

Biden did not wither but I believe he was shaken. Many months later, Joe chooses Kamala as his running mate.

Surround yourself with partners
who are better than you are
Leave them to go get on with it

David Ogilvy

Two Girls … Two Games

I told the Grade 6 kids yesterday that I was spending the weekend in Toronto. “Jess” approached me to say that she was in the provincial hockey tournament in nearby Mississauga at the same time. Would I like to watch her play? I didn’t even think about it. “Yes” burbled out of me. Seize the day, Bruce. “I play Friday at 4:00, and ‘Steph’ (a classmate, on another team) is on the ice in Toronto at 10:30 am. You could see her too.” Yes to both because I love them both. They’re great kids – kind, smart and strong.

I asked Jess to keep it a surprise for Steph that I’d be at her game. I love surprises.

I found the morning’s arena easily, thanks to my friend Google Maps. Even though I was a bit early, the game had already started. I was pretty sure that Steph didn’t see me at the glass, but I sure saw her. How can anybody skate that fast, and keep it up for the whole shift? I could only imagine how fast her heart was thumping along. Steph threw herself into the corners to battle for the puck, often with opponents who were a foot taller than her. If they took it away from her, she’d go right back in there, bodies crunching (even though officially no body checks are allowed). Tenacious.

Steph was also a pest around the opponents’ goal. Once she checked a player behind the net, grabbed the puck, and whirled around to the front, trying for a wraparound goal. Her shot rocketed past the post, just inches wide. Gosh, this was more fun than watching the pros.

I congratulated my young friend after she’d changed. She was surprised to see me two hours from home. And she was happy to see me.

I also found the afternoon’s arena easily. It was a lot farther from my B&B, but who cares? This time the game hadn’t started yet and the kids were doing skating and shooting drills. Jess saw me standing by the glass, wearing my traditional red toque in the chilly arena. She smiled.

Jess is a smooth-skating defenseman. I really enjoyed watching her move the puck up along the boards. Once she burst past her opponent and got a shot on net. Pad save. A few minutes later, she slid a pass across to her defense partner, who skated towards the goal and let fly. She shoots, she scores!

I think the best thing Jess did (and she did this twice) was to skate over to her goalie after the other team scored. Even from a distance, I could tell that Jess was encouraging her. To me, that’s worth infinitely more than personal stats and big wins. It’s a green flag for adult life.

I had planned to go on a long walk by the Humber River today. Saying yes to the girls was far more valuable. I love trees but give me human beings every time.

B-ball

Today I went to the lunch hour practice of the recently named girls’ basketball team at school – a whole bunch of 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds. They’re such nice kids, each very much her own person. Some of them are shy and some are a force of nature. Both are perfect. They’ll all be fine adults.

Most of my life is medium intensity – no incredible spurts and no lolling around. Today was different in the presence of these girls. Take defense for example: arms full out, fingers inches from the opponent’s face, eyes wild. Unlike an NBA arena, I got to be intensely close to the action. And it was exciting. It mattered not a whit that these players were 4’10” rather than 5’10”. The fire burned … and there was no way the opponent was going up for an uncontested basket.

On offense, there’d be stutter steps and surges to the left or right of the defender – blasting into another gear. The ball would go high off the backboard and either clunk off metal or swish in the middle of things. It was all speed … and at such close range for this guy sitting on the stage.

Isn’t it supposed to be true that when I get “older” I settle into being mellow for the rest of my life? Perhaps not. Maybe there’s lots of room for explosions, sprints and orgasms of the spirit.

Bring ’em on.

Tined and Mind

I did laundry this morning, which felt like a perfectly normal activity.  And, oh yes, the dishwasher – I should empty it.  Not being at my alertest, I tumbled my hands down towards the cutlery baskets.  I’ve always been a “forks standing right side up” type of guy.  Today I paid the price.  Tines impaled me beneath my right thumbnail and the blood flowed.  Turned out to be not much of that stuff but pain at the 4 to 5 level on a scale of ten.  And I’m still there.

I like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Abe contended that if our basic physical needs (such as freedom from pain!) aren’t met, we won’t be open to transcendent needs, such as loving and being loved.  Well, I’ve had a day to explore that theory.

At 2:00 pm today, I planned to be on a video call with members of the Evolutionary Collective Global Community.  It’s fair to say we explore the consciousness that’s possible between two or more people.  At 1:30, I was lying in bed, feeling sorry for myself and my grievous injury.  I wanted to hunker down and lick my wounds.  No human contact today, please.  “With pain like this, I won’t be able to give to the people on the call, so why even try?”  Such a whimpering and potentially persuasive voice.

At 1:55, I lifted myself up off the bed and onto the couch, laptop in hand.  And something happened when I saw the 17 of us on my computer screen.  I got that my presence was important.  I was one of 17 presences, each with the ability to contribute to the group, to “be with” other human beings.  It’s not about saying something wise or having my empathy reach another member.  It was simply the fact that I was there, damaged thumb and all.

For part of the hour, we are paired with another person for a mutual awakening practice.  Today I wavered between listening into what my partner was experiencing and falling down the hole of physical pain.  Back and forth I went, knowing that I wasn’t “doing as well as I usually do”.  But that didn’t matter … we were together.

Tonight I went out to a movie with a friend and the pain was still a 5.  Truly – so what?  She needed my contact, our conversation and our exploring of what matters.  And once again I saw that I could deal with the thumb and be present in the relationship.  We had a sweet time.

Bad stuff will no doubt continue to happen to me but the world needs me to deal with it and move on, experience the pain but not wallow in it, fall down and get back up, and return to my real job … loving people.

Fierce

My prep for this summer’s Tour du Canada is coming, and so is my fitness. But are they coming fast enough? I’m so excited to be joining 20 other human beings on the road for 72 days but fear sometimes intrudes like a jagged knife. Take yesterday for example.

I have a 38 kilometre circuit on the country roads around Belmont and it was time to do two laps. Should I have done rides longer than 76 k by this point? Sure, but this is what I have. So off I went.

Facing me for much of the journey was a mounting headwind. First lap not so bad but turning into it the second time was a jolt. Smash! And my speed plummeted.

“76 k is nothing! Some days on the tour you’ll do 160. What’s wrong with you?”

Well … actually nothing is wrong with me. I’ve simply stepped on the path of a long journey. There’ll be considerable pain and joy on the way to Newfoundland.

As the wind stiffened in my face, I started yelling and swearing: “You’re _____ _____ doing this! You are crossing your country!” Thankfully empty fields and woodlots were my only companions as I blasted out the words. My teeth gnashed, my eyes narrowed and my soul erupted.

I looked at my stats on the bike computer and gave them the finger. “Who cares? Just crank those pedals.” I started growling and kept it up until I turned away from the wind.

Yes, I really was growling! Your basic predatory animal … or someone like that.

“Take it ____ home!” And I did.

I will not be stopped
I will not give up
I will not let go of my dream

Caffeine

Last year I got off sleeping pills.  It was a long and arduous weaning after maybe ten years of needing them to cope with the stresses of teaching.  After all was done, I remember thinking that I was never going to get addicted again.

Since getting back from last fall’s meditation retreat, I’ve drunk three cups of coffee a day.  How I missed that wondrous flavour!  I was settling into a rhythm … the joy of coffee with my bacon and eggs.  And then there was Sunday.  I was at a restaurant and ordered decaf.  All was fine until early afternoon, when my brain started going fuzzy.  And I was weak.  Plus a headache starting.  Oh my.  I don’t want this.

I figured it was my lack of caffeine.  And it hit me: “I’m addicted again!”  A deep “No!” swept through me.  “I won’t have my well-being be dependent on consuming a particular substance.”  So there.

I remembered the pain of sleeping pill withdrawal and dreaded the road ahead.  But I knew that I’d walk the path of “no more” again.  So I began.  Monday was essentially yucky and I asked myself how many days this would take.  “It doesn’t matter.  Do it.”

So I’m doing it.  This is day five of decaffeinated life.  And lo and behold … my energy is coming back.  The eyes aren’t closing mid-morning.  The wool is mostly gone from my mind.  Gosh, there’s a faint light at the end of the tunnel.  I’ve been strong, and it’s happening.  Once again I’m proud of myself.

Yesterday’s breakfast accompanied by herbal tea seemed like a foreign land.  “Where’s the coffee that I know and love?”  But strangely, this morning it was “Here’s the peppermint tea that I’m getting to know and love.”  How can this switch be happening so soon?  Where is the prolonged angst and weeping?  Not to be found.

And now I ask:
“What other areas of my life are waiting to be transformed?”
Perhaps the bacon and eggs

Sweat Bands

I like watching myself.  And today I’m watching my tomorrow: I’m going to be on the elliptical in the gym for six hours, the equivalent of 120 kilometres of riding.  My bike is still in the shop, waiting for a part that will help me climb mountain roads like a whiz.  So the gym machine will have to do.

I’m watching my fear.  I haven’t been strong lately and yet my task is huge tomorrow.  I’m also in the middle of getting off caffeine, and the head is a bit fuzzy.  With all of this, I’m strangely calm and excited about the morrow’s adventure.  I don’t understand how this can be.

I sweat a lot on the elliptical and a few days ago I lost my Captain America sweat band.  The only one left is an ode to Batman.  If I go to the gym with just one, my eyes will be flooded with stinging liquid, and finishing the job will be a very large challenge.  So after buying a tent at Mountain Equipment Co-Op this afternoon (for the ride across Canada!), I went searching for reinforcements.

Hey, this should be no sweat.  I’ll go to SportChek.  In I walked and a lovely employee directed me to the band display.  No Captain America, no Superman … just the Nike swoosh and the NBA logo.  I’m not particularly attached to either.

One spiritual perception is that no one thing or moment is better than any other.  So Nike should be just fine.  Except it wasn’t.  I could feel myself pulled towards an expression of me, and there wasn’t any on the stand.  I walked out.

Again, Buddhism would say that there is no me to be expressed.  However Bruceness was clearly alive today and I decided to retrace my steps to MEC.  My tent discussion apparently left no room for sweat band contemplation.  In I walked, and a smiling woman revealed to me that sweat was not an issue for the foreheads of their customers.  No bands.

“Go back to SportChek.” > “No, I don’t want to be branded.  Search on.”  End of discussion.

I know!  A running store.  Makes sense.  So all the way into downtown London to enter the hallowed hall of The Running Room.  A friendly and yet incredulous saleswoman told me they had bands to hold back hair but nothing to mop up perspiration.  Oh.  I wondered how true runners keep their eyes clear.  She suggested I try National Sport.

Runner’s Choice is the other major running store in London, and it’s also downtown.  Due to clogged traffic, it would have been easier to head directly to National Sport but I seemed to be a driven man.  And a huge smile was adorning my face.  It was wonderfully silly to keep travelling between stores just to make sure I survived tomorrow.  So … Runner’s Choice.

Nobody home as I opened the door but eventually an unsmiling clerk came from the back.  No, they didn’t stock sweat bands anymore, except for one patterned pink one.  It didn’t even look like a sweat band to me, and although I love pink, I said no.

National Sport it is.  Another sweat band rack and this time I saw red, white and blue types festooned with some unidentifiable logo.  Sold!  Here’s to Wednesday’s dry eyes.

I marvel at my mind and take joy in watching it at work, with no judgment of the process.  It’s a marvelous instrument, just like yours.  And sometimes it has a mind of its own.