Clothes Make The Man

Last week it was super cold in Toronto.  And I walked outside a lot.  In my pocket, and soon rolled up on my head, was my red balaclava – a knitted hat.  When the mercury really plunged, I did something that I hadn’t done in 25 years: I aligned the eye holes and the mouth hole with the appropriate body parts, placed my glasses into the contraption, zipped up my coat and headed out into the frozen world.  And I did the same thing today.

Walking down main street Belmont to the Diner, I noticed faces sitting behind passing windshields, faces that were tilting my way without saying hi.  As I entered our convenience store, the owner looked at me, I thought fearfully.  Someone asked if I was going to rob the place, the same comment I got twice in Toronto.

My entrance into the Diner was met with a group silence until I disrobed and revealed my inner Bruceness.  I wondered why folks didn’t seem to understand that it was darned cold, and that I wanted to keep my nose from freezing.  Instead, everyone was on high alert, wary of the intruder.  As a society, are we really that afraid of each other?  I hope not.

Farther along in my day, it was time for the gym.  The elliptical beckoned.  I had pulled a t-shirt from my dresser drawer, the one on top of the pile.  It was black with a white script: “Lovely Is Your Heart”.  It’s one of my favourites.  I don’t think I’ve worn it to the gym before.

Well … did I get some stares from the muscled gentlemen working out on machines!  No vomiting, but the disapproval of some was clear.  I’d often worn the same shirt during last fall’s meditation retreat, and at the end, when we could talk, two yogis mentioned how much they appreciated the message.  But the gym?  Another animal.

What were the athletes thinking?  That I’m gay?  (I’m not)  That I’m hopelessly sentimental?  (I am)  That I’m weird for having “Love” plastered on my chest?  (I suppose I am, but who cares?  Certainly not me)

I walk through life, choosing to be visible.  I know no other way.  It feels healthy not to be slinking around, out of the public view.  I talk a lot and no doubt many folks take issue with that.  I say silly things and perhaps some see me as the height of immaturity.  But one thing I know – I am pretty thoroughly myself.  And that makes me happy.

What a shame that it’s too cold for me to wear my Speedo!

 

What’s True

Here are more thoughts in response to my friend’s long e-mail, after we both attended a three-month silent meditation retreat recently.

“Dear _________,

Your words are sure getting me thinking.

“You have what we all need, unconditional love.”

My knee jerk response is to say, “Oh no, I’m not that good.”  But I need to look more carefully.  What’s true is that I have been reflecting on love for something like twenty years.  The Buddha essentially said that what we think about, we become.  And I see it in my life.  How about that, I do have unconditional love bubbling to the surface for big parts of my day.  And it’s not that I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread.  It feels like there’s very little ego in the territory.  I’m just naturally gravitating to love.

I appear to be quite strange.  Sometimes in traffic, when I’m facing left turning cars that have an advanced green, I find my eyes getting wet if all of those vehicles make it through before I get to go.  I’m just so happy that no one was left out.  Wow.  Writing this makes me sound like a very weird duck … but so what?  It’s true!  And what should be my response to wholesome states?  As my teacher James Baraz says,  “Don’t miss them!”  Don’t poo poo them, saying “It’s nothing.”  Don’t block them by suddenly getting interested in watching Toronto Maple Leafs hockey games or hiding within the pages of the latest Stephen King novel.  They’re here … embrace them.

“I for one would come to all your talks.  You could record talks as well and share them via YouTube maybe.”

Not that good, I say.  But what voice is speaking?  Is it expansive and calm or a whiny contraction?  No, it’s the small voice – anxious and fearful of really making an impact in this world.

There’s a sangha near me in London, Ontario.  I went to a few of their evenings a couple of years ago but the periods of silent meditation were short and I told myself that there was too much talking.  What if back then I didn’t have eyes to see the beauty, wisdom and love in front of me?  Okay, that’s it: I’m going back to their weekly meetings.  I can be a gift to them and they most certainly can be a gift to me.  Over time, I can start giving talks, if the folks are willing.  It’s true that I have things to say that may be valuable for some people to hear.

About a week ago, I’m walking down the street, and my quiet, trustworthy voice says “In the very near future, Bruce, you will sing Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” a capella (just voice, no instrument) to a roomful of people.”  I love that song.  I printed off the lyrics and in the last few days I’ve sung it to two people, individually.

This Friday, I’m back volunteering in a Grade 5/6 class.  Sing it to them, Bruce, leaving out the verse with a sexual theme.  Ask the teacher if she will give me permission to do that.  If she says no, look for another environment.

“But they’re too young to hear “Hallelujah”.

“No they’re not.”

“Yes they are.”

“No.  They’re not.”

Oh my.  What journey beckons?  What’s happening to me?  What is my gift?  What is my contribution?

‘I’m on the road to find out.’  (Cat Stevens)”

Self-Disclosure

To what extent in this life do you share with others the truth about yourself, the good things and the bad?  Well, it depends on the you.  I think letting people know about my feet of clay, as well as my triumphal moments, frees up my body and soul … to flow.  And if the energy is moving largely unimpeded, I can touch other human beings.

Which brings me to Roberto Osuna.  He’s a relief pitcher with the Toronto Blue Jays, a young guy.  Imagine the pressure of coming on in the late innings with the bases loaded and the game on the line.  A few days ago, he did something remarkable: he told the world that he had anxiety issues and right then he was feeling “lost”.  So much for the male ego ruling the day.  Instead, the human heart had its say.  Well done, Roberto.  Some folks will be highly critical when you tell the truth.  Some will be clapping their hands.  But sooner or later you will have a tiny smile on your face.  No more charade.  No more looking over your shoulder to see who’s there.  No more being strategically careful.

I remember being in a meeting about the computer needs of a visually impaired student.  I’m okay with computer stuff but no whiz.  It seemed like everyone else in the room knew far more, and I too became lost.  What to do?  Fake understanding?  Cover up my terror with a big smile?  Press hard to control the shakes?  I chose elsewhere.  I told the assembly that I didn’t understand what people were saying, that I was feeling overwhelmed, and I needed to leave the meeting.  Which I did.  There was no tiny smile on my lips, just a red face.  The smile came later.

In Sunday’s sports section of The Toronto Sun, Steve Simmons had his say about Roberto:

“I can’t begin to tell you I know what Roberto Osuna is feeling.

I do know how troubling it can be when you lose a portion of yourself and you don’t necessarily know why.

But I can tell you with absolute certainty, from my own experiences, from the daily challenges, that the challenges of anxiety and mental illness aren’t easily explained or understood and they can be all-consuming.

Hopefully Osuna gets the kind of help he needs and finds the kind of peace all of us deserve.”

Well said, Steve
Well said, Roberto
Well said, me

On The Bike Again … Part One

It’s been months since I’ve ridden my bicycle.  And I get scared whenever I start up again.  I guess it makes no sense, but I have a history.

“How old were you, Bruce, when you learned to ride a bike?”

(Gulp)  “47.”

I was afraid of lots of things when I was a kid.  I knew I didn’t have the balance or confidence to ride.  My parents never asked me if I wanted a bicycle and I never pursued the matter.  Strangely, even though I guess all my friends had bikes, it never was an issue among us.  When I was around, we just walked everywhere.

My first job was flipping hamburgers at Hanlan’s Point on Toronto Island.  I was 17.  One day, my boss took me to the back of the snack bar, pointed to a bicycle, and told me to take a box of frozen patties to the stand on Centre Island, a few miles away.  And then he was gone.  It was just the offending bike and me, staring at each other.  Had I been wearing a heart rate monitor, it no doubt would have read 225 beats per minute.

I’d never even been astride a bike.  But now I was, with one arm wrapped around the frozen food.  Seems to me that there wasn’t a carrier to put the box in.  My feet found the pedals.  My right hand found the handlebar, and I set off.  Within a second or two, my body found the ground.  I remember lying there, thinking that I was the slimiest human being on the planet.  Oh teenage angst … how I know thee well.

I got up, glanced around to find that I was alone, and ran the bike towards some bushes.  In it went, nicely covered by the foliage.  And then … I ran to Centre.  That’s where the memories stop.  I have no idea how much humiliation I swallowed from my peers.  Maybe that’s a blessing.

Fast forward a few decades.  Jody knows about my bike trauma.  She’s taken me at night to a subdivision under construction in Lethbridge, Alberta.  Street lights, asphalt and bare lots.  She pushed, she ran beside, I pedalled.  And I stayed up for a hundred yards or so.  Was I exhilarated?  No.  I was terrified.  At the end of my trip, Jody rushed up to me, saying “You did it!  You rode a bike.”  My response?  “No, I didn’t.”  To this day, I don’t know what that was about.  How skewed is my brain when drowning in fear and embarrassment.

A few YEARS later, I finally agreed.  I could ride a bike.  Did I mention the 47?

Dish Drainer

The kitchen and I have never been good friends.  Jody was a marvelous chef and created many brilliant meals for me over the years.  As for this entity, I was an incredible dishwasher.  But I’ve never learned to cook.

Since moving into my condo six months ago, I’ve wanted to have friends over for dinner but I’ve been too scared.  What would I feed them?  How would I do this and how would I do that?  You can’t just wash dishes – you have to present the yummies.

Farm Boy has been my frequent rescuer with tasty dinners.  On Wednesday, I walked in there and threw myself on the mercy of the manager.  I was so embarrassed and she was so kind.  “Happens all the time.  Gentlemen who don’t know what to do.  We give good advice.”  Whew.  My heart slowed down a mite.  And I left the store with a plan: mesquite chicken, oven roast potatoes and corn with coriander.  Not to mention a kale salad and something called maple cream pie.

Now it’s yesterday, and I realized in all my months in the condo, I’d never washed a pot.  The dishes from the few little faux meals were gobbled up by my dishwasher.  When I left Jody’s and my home last summer, I got rid of a lot of little things, such as a dish rack.

Here I was, worrying about how to dry pans, how to warm things up in the oven, and where the heck was the corkscrew for the wine.  Goodness.  I ventured forth to the supermarket and found a small white dish rack.  It sat proudly on my counter overnight.  This morning, however, it looked wrong.  (Remember, I’m the professional dishwasher.  I should know this stuff.)  It finally hit me – I didn’t buy the accompanying drain board.  Silly me.  Back to the store.  Unfortunately, the only drain boards they had were black, even though they sold white racks.  Arghh.  To another supermarket I went and now the two white folks sit companionably in the kitchen.

Okay, I’m exhausted.  Dinner is tomorrow at six and somewhere in a celestial realm, Julia Child is cluck-cluck-clucking at me.  (Sigh)

And then my dear wife’s voice to the rescue: “It’s okay, Bruce.  All is well.  Your guests won’t die tomorrow night.  In fact, they’ll enjoy themselves.”  Thank you, Jodiette.  Perhaps I’m overreacting just a tad.

How can I be so confident in some areas of life
and so plastered with sweat in others?
I don’t know
Maybe just a human being being human

And I’d Do It Again

It doesn’t make sense to head to Toronto at 5:15 in the afternoon to see a bonfire for two hours and then drive home.  It’s two-and-a-half hours each way, counting the ferry trip to Toronto Island.  But since when is making sense the way to go?

I’ve been to three brunch and concert afternoons at the island church this winter.  Marvelous food, sweet sounds and a bunch of friendly people.  Someone thought I should come on down for the humungous bonfire on March 21 and who am I to disagree?  There are about 800 residents on the island.  These fine locals save up their Christmas trees for the big evening in March.  I stepped off the ferry and followed the train of people and trees to the beach.  And there, past the bushes, was the glow.

As I got closer, embers rose forty feet above me.  Eventually, maybe 200 treegoers circled the flames.  The wind swirled, blowing the sparks this way and that.  Lake Ontario lapped onshore a few metres away.  And beyond the bursts of white and orange, all was dark.  Folks sipped their favourite beverage and chatted away.  Away from the fire, it was darn cold.  A young woman did wonders with a shining, multicoloured hoop.  A well-dressed band beat their drums for the twentieth year or more.  Gosh, it was fun.

I got back to Scarlet at 11:15, savouring the festivities.  I almost felt like an island resident.  A smooth two hours on Highway 401 and I’d be cozy in my bed.  The traffic was light and I was zipping along at 110 kph.  All was well … until Guelph.  Sideways snow jolted me and soon the car ahead was dimming, despite its emergency flashers.  A few kilometres later I could barely see it and 110 was now 20.  Plus I was gaining on the fellow.

As the margins of my world disappeared in whiteness, I imagined getting schmucked by a semi-trailer.  I was scared.  If that car wasn’t out front, I’d have no idea where to go.  “Okay, Bruce, get off this road.  You need to stay alive.”  I could just make out the sign for an off-ramp and I edged to the right.  Here it is, I think.  I could feel the slope of the road bending but were it not for those yellow diamond reflecting signs, I’d have launched into No Man’s Land.  Thank you, dear Ministry of Transportation.  I’d never noticed those suckers before but I’ll watch for them from now on.

I spent an hour at a Tim Horton’s coffee shop, sipping a brew and watching my heartbeat descend.  What exactly was I doing here?  Well, having fun … and there’s lots more of that to come.

Skating In My Mind

I don’t know how to skate.  As a kid, my ankles just kept flopping over.  I was scared to fall.  I was scared to look stupid, which I guess I did.  Come to think of it, I was scared about most things.  But I turned out okay.

Last night was New Year’s Eve and I didn’t know what to do.  My massage therapist told me that there was some sort of family festival happening in the early evening in Aylmer so I decided to go.

It was a short drive to the East Elgin Community Complex and I was greeted by a packed parking lot.  Lots of folks were heading to the entrance with ice skates over their shoulder.  Somehow I forgot mine.

Inside, the lobby was overflowing with festive types young and old, with the pull of the crowd leading to the skating rink.  I got myself a coffee and climbed the stairs to the upper level.  Below me were a hundred skaters looping around the ice surface.  I looked … and I marvelled.

And there I was, in teenaged female form.  The young lady was walking unsurely on her skates, with none of that graceful pushing off motion to the sides.  She jerked when gravity threatened to take over.  The fear shot through her body.  For several laps, she skated  alone.  But then an older gent, perhaps her father, came alongside.  They talked and smiled.  And my unknown friend kept going, undeterred by the graceful forms flowing by her.  Good for you.

The music of Abba was flooding the scene:

Chiquitita, you and I know
How the heartaches come and they go and the scars they’re leaving
You’ll be dancing once again and the pain will end

And on the world glided.

***

A young mom pushed her son in a wheelchair.  He was laughing every time around

Two ten-year-old girls skated unsteadily together, holding hands and sharing the latest news

A six-year-old boy burst past the slow ones in a flurry of speed and skill

A teenaged fellow tried to look cool as he moseyed along, hands in his pockets

A girl practiced her figure skating, shifting suddenly from one foot to the other, and then took a lap moving backwards

Parents on the boards smiled at their kids and shared the video they’d just taken

And a guy sitting in the balcony took it all in

Pre-Op

A few months ago, I wrote a post where I was afraid to press “Publish”.  It was about my testicles and how the presence of benign cysts had caused personal growth … to the tune of 3-4 times their normal size.

My surgery is on September 21.  Yesterday I met with a doctor and a nurse for a couple of hours.  I’ve been pretty calm about it all so far, but it’s amazing how a raft of paperwork can send me back to the terror of my only previous surgery.  In 2003 I had a tendon transfer operation on my right foot after creating a pretty good rupture.

Point number one:  Back then, the stitches were removed too late and I was in agony during the procedure.  I remember yelling at the top of my lungs, no doubt creating a heart attack or two in the clinic.  I’ve had long experience with the pain scale of 1 to 10, and that moment has been my benchmark ever since for what 10 feels like.  This time, I was reading in the patient booklet about removing the plastic bandage 24 hours after the operation.  I glanced at the next sentence and saw the word “stitches”.  There goes the old heart rate!  After marshalling my forces, I read.  The stitches will dissolve.  (Huge and lengthy sigh)  Oh, how I fear pain.

Point number two:  The booklet went on at length about constipation.  I know the topic well.  What came to my quivering mind, however, was lying in my bed hours after the surgery and not being able to pee.  The horror came back to me like a slap in the face.  The pain mounting.  The nurse saying “We may have to insert a catheter, sir.”  More liquidless hours.  Insertion.  (Oww)  And still nothing.  “Try singing a song.”  “Imagine a waterfall.”  “Here, dip your fingers into this water glass.”

Not a drop.  6 … 7 … 8 …

And then, in the wee hours – a drop.  Eventually followed by a torrent.

***

I’m a mature adult (most of the time)
My Buddhist training will see me through
I’ll be fine

And still I fear the 21st

Fear Of Colour

I’m living in the Comfort Inn in St. Thomas, Ontario for about fifteen days.  My condo in Belmont should be ready for me sometime between September 15 and 20.

Jane is the interior designer I hired to “stage” my home in Union for sale and to help me design my new living spaces.  A couple of weeks ago, it was time for us to decide on colours for the walls.  You’ll be happy to know that as well as a warm white, I’ve picked bright red, green, teal, yellow, purple and blue, as well as a cozy reddish brown for the den.  I love them all!  At one point when Jane saw the directions I was heading, tears came to her eyes.

How strange that along with the grief in losing my dear wife Jody comes an unexpected silver lining:  I don’t have to run wall colours by anyone else, except getting Jane’s opinion … It’s the Bruce show.

My bedroom will be teal – both walls and ceiling, with a warm white crown molding separating the two surfaces.  It’ll look so cool.  The new owners of my former home in Union asked for Jody’s and my reddish wood sleigh bed in their offer to purchase so I needed to buy a new headboard, footboard and rails.

Friday I went to The Brick on a furniture hunt.  I rounded corner after corner with nothing singing to me.  And then, there sat a creamy white bed with a sweetly curving headboard.  And I’m pretty sure there was a sign hanging on it saying “B-R-U-C-E”.  I fell in love.

Soon thereafter, I realized I could buy a matching dresser, mirror, chest and two night tables, all for a very good price.  I wanted to leap to the sky but I felt myself contracting.  “I must see if Jane thinks this stuff will go in my bedroom.”  So I texted her, even though she had told me the day before that she was heading off on a week’s vacation.  No answer Friday.  No answer yesterday morning.

As I waited for a text that probably wouldn’t be coming for a few days, I thought about Bruce.  The guy has some design skills.  He can recognize “esthetically pleasing” (most of the time).  And I noticed that over the past few weeks, I’d fallen into the trap of depending on the professional’s opinion.  Thank God Jane agreed with me about the bold colours.  But here I sat, afraid to say to myself “This works.”  Afraid to be the sole one choosing.  Afraid to head back to The Brick with my MasterCard.

I just watched this fear, as a good Buddhist is wont to do.  My body was rigid.  And then it wasn’t.  And then it was again.  Then another letting go.

I got in Scarlet
I drove to The Brick
I sat on my bed
I opened the drawers of my dresser
I looked in the mirror to see who was there
And I pulled out my credit card

Done deal

Haida Gwaii … The Best Ten Minutes

From June 12 to the 19th, I was a passenger on a 90-foot wooden ship which was built in 1904.  The Maple Leaf took us to wondrous spots amid the islands of Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands).  We were an hour-and-a-half north of Vancouver by plane.

There is much to say, so why don’t I start at the end?

The last evening on board, Captain Greg invited us into the wheelhouse for a slide show of our trip.  That’s why he and First Mate Ashley were taking all those photos!  We cozied up and watched our moments together .. so many smiles and cheers!

As the last slide showed its face, Greg asked us to think of our favourite ten minutes on board or on shore.  Someone next to me started.  I wasn’t a good human being right then.  Instead of listening, I prepared my oration.  I would talk about a time when we were in our Zodiac inflatable boat and Greg took us into a cave opening.  It was sublimely green and quiet.  And so were we (the quiet part, I mean).  Okay, I’m ready.

“Why don’t we go in this direction.  Bruce?”

Inside, the voice said “No”.  No to the cave.  Yes to … the log.  I protested to myself a bit.  “Nobody wants to hear that.”  >  “The log.”

And so I began.  “My favourite ten minutes was a time when I was terrified.  We were walking through the forest.  I was last in line.”  As we rounded a luxuriant corner, there sat a log across a creek.  It was a big log, with a one foot flat part shaved off the top for walking.  I gulped inconspicuously.  I’m afraid of heights.  Whether the drop is six feet or six hundred, my brain puts me in trouble.

“It’s okay, Bruce.  Just walk assertively.”  The journey was maybe thirty feet.  I was about ten feet on when our mother-daughter duo (Jenny and Miranda), made a joyful decision to sit down amidships for a photo op.  Trudy, our naturalist, was ready on the far shore with a camera.  The three of them were all giggly.  Such happiness in the face of disaster.

There I was, nowhere to go.  My muscles tightened.  I froze.  I couldn’t bring myself to turn around and walk off the way I came.  “Say something, Bruce.  You need help.”  >  “But what will they think of me?”  >  “Speak.”

“Trudy, I have big balance issues.”

In a shot, Trudy put down the camera and splashed across the creek.

In a shot, Miranda leapt up from the log and was walking towards me.

Miranda reached out for my right hand.  Trudy reached out for the left.  We held tight.  And there was the union I long for in life.  Timeless.  The three of us walked back to the safety of the trail.  And then we crossed the creek on a few stones.

Caves?  Eagles?  Humpback whales?  All marvelous.  But none of them was the best.