Day One: Departure Lounge

I’m in Toronto Airport, on the cusp of a grand adventure. Forty-two days from now, I’ll set foot in Canada again. Until then, I’m an honorary Belgian, Senegalese and American. All privileges. During this trip, will I be writing you every day, lilting over the events and people, the landscapes and architecture? I hope so, because no doubt there will be much to describe, to feel into, to celebrate.

There’s a main reason I travel: to come together with people, folks whose outward lives often seem so different from mine, but whose souls resonate with this Bruce. And here they are sitting in front of me in the departure lounge:

A tall young man in dreadlocks and Adidas sweats, fiercely punching his cell phone keys

A middle-aged Jewish couple, she with a head scarf and he with what I’d call a beanie, staring out into the rainy darkness

A well-bearded fellow resplendent in long hair, shorts, argyle blue knee socks and a purple baseball cap whose logo I can’t read

A cute blond teenager, alternating between her pink-edged iPad and her phone, with a glimpse of a smile on her face

A distressed looking Aer Lingus employee dressed in a sharp black suit, him no doubt dealing with the realities of a late-arriving airplane

A young man bouncing on his father’s lap, blissfully unaware of our overnight flight to Dublin, Ireland (and perhaps, like me, venturing on in the morning to Brussels, Belgium).

All human beings, doing the best they can to live this life with grace. Me too.

On we go across the big pond …

Day One: Have You Ever Been to Denver?

I’m sitting in a pub, watching Toronto Airport passengers chow down – some happily engaged in travelling-type conversation and others solitary, perhaps contemplating what their life’s journey will be. Ahh, that’s such a mystery. Out on the concourse, carry-on suitcases zip by with their owners, bound for Gate This or That. Some folks stroll. Others push hard towards boarding times. All is well.

Denver is three hours and forty-five minutes away, Monterey, California a couple of hours beyond that. My layover in Colorado will steep me in airport architecture and the comings and goings of more passengers. I’ll be able to say that I’ve been to Denver, but I won’t. Just like people, it takes time to know the insides of cities. In the same spirit, I don’t know Amsterdam, The Netherlands or Lisbon, Portugal. Name-dropping, anyone?

The five days of the Evolutionary Collective’s seminar in California will offer me the insides of many cosmic travellers. We give each other what is most precious, and we allow the giving to flow well beyond “the group”, for all Earth-dwellers need love. The surface contact of typical social discourse just won’t do on the shores of the Pacific. We’re up for bigger and broader things.

***

Now I’m in Denver and the last three hours have been spectacular. Not because of the scenery, other than the swoop over downtown Toronto on takeoff. After that, it was clouds. The majesty was in the woman who sat beside me across the States. Her name is Shanti. She’s a podiatrist who lives with her husband in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Those details are fine but they don’t touch the spirit of the person. How is it that I’m so blessed to meet such a bevy of fine human beings? I don’t know but I’m totally willing for this to continue.

Shanti told me so many things. I’m sitting here trying to keep her stories straight … unsuccessfully! We both laughed hard when I admitted my confusion. And it doesn’t matter. If I get the facts all jumbled, it’ll just be more fun to read.

Shanti told me about her once nine-year-old daughter who went on a mission trip to Ecuador with church members. This “girly girl”, who at home had to look perfect, didn’t give a hoot about that in the jungle. The group was building a road and the young one spent her days felling plants with a machete. Mom showed me a long ago photo of one beaming young lady.

Then there was longer ago – a family trip to Barbados. Shanti’s childless aunt and uncle lived there and insisted that everybody stayed with them over Christmas. A fine time was had by all. And … the emerging tradition was repeated for the next twenty years! Longterm joy to everyone.

Shanti and I share the blessing of community. For her, it’s the church in Albuquerque. For me, it’s the worldwide members of the Evolutionary Collective. We’re both immersed in the deepest sense of family. In 2020, Shanti and her husband will travel to somewhere in the US for a retreat for church members from probably 90 countries. Maybe more than a thousand folks in this family. Truly a wow.

Do you get the sense of this person? I sure do. She lives her life in a reaching out, a being of service … a bottomless love.

Blessings abound.

Day Nine Some More: To Dakar and Toubacouta

We’re in the air to Dakar. I’m in the window seat beside two black fellows who don’t speak English. The guy next door is massive. He appears to have muscles on his muscles, and he’s totally wedged into his seat. I’d give him mine so he could stretch out but then I’d be wedged – into the overhead bin.

My goodness … what awaits me in Africa? I’ve seen photos of smiling kids and adults. There are a few haunting ones of small children with huge eyes peering into the camera.

I’m looking forward to meeting a fellow aftectionately called Iced Tea. He’s been a leader in the village in making sure the kids get an education. Jo and Lydia are thanking him by raising money in Belgium to build a house for him and his family. It’s under construction.

I’ve been tutoring a kid in Belmont. I asked the family to donate my fees to a charity that he thinks is important. The young man decided to split the money between a local mission that feeds people who are down-and-out, and something for the kids in Senegal. I’ve decided to contribute his funds to the building of Iced Tea’s house. I’ll have a few photos of me on the site so the student can see the impact of his generosity.

We’re here. Actually it’s hours later now but I was too exhausted to write then. At the Dakar Airport (about 1:00 am), two friends of Lydia and Jo were loading our luggage into two vans. In the space of five minutes, four Senegalese men approached me for money. I’ve often used the word “no” in my life and it got a good workout last night. Jo coached me that these folks are trying to survive, trying to take care of their families, and some of them will push to get what they want. So different from what I’m used to. And that’s fine.

My head kept dropping in the van on our four hour ride to Toubacouta but I was conscious enough to see a world so beyond my life.

The land was spotted with the silhouettes of trees that I’d seen in photos. Deciduous ones that sit wide and close to the ground. My blurry eyes joined with shadows of moonlight and I was lost in something so astonishingly new.

We passed many villages and they were full of what appeared to be mud buildings. What I couldn’t get my head around was that people were sitting together in front of their homes, or gas stations at 2:00 am, 3:00, 4:00 and even 5:00. Jo said that many of them sleep during the hottest hours of the day.

The trip was surreal. Towards 6:00 am, we reached Toubacouta. We reached our bed and breakfast. My bed. My closing eyes.

Day Nine: We’re Off!

More human beings to enjoy on my travels, and they’re all coming to Senegal with us. Last night, at The Wizard of Oz, I remet Anja and Curd, the friends of Lydia and Jo who were with them on that hiking trail in Alberta. They didn’t seem to speak English so I didn’t get to know them back then. I wonder if they were surprised to hear that Lydia had invited me to go to Senegal, and that I had said yes.

Along with their parents, Olivia and Camille were also enjoying Dorothy, the Tin Man, the Scarecrow and the Cowardly Lion. We said hi and gave each other cheek kisses right away, as they do in Belgium. So different from how we greet each other in Canada. I like it.

This morning at the airport, I said hello to Sabrine and Lieselotte, both friends of Anja and Lydia. Simpatico. So we are eleven, now flying from Brussels to Lisbon, Portugal.

How many times have I said this? I feel so included, that I deeply belong. Some of the new folks have very limited English, and that’s okay because I have very limited everything else! We make funny faces, we laugh a lot, and already, I believe, we see each other. We’re each part of the tapestry that is the human family.

As we waited in the Brussels Airport this morning, four soldiers walked by in camouflage uniforms, toting machine guns. Oh my. Someone in our group told me that maybe three years ago, just down the concourse from us, terrorists ignited a bomb that was hidden in luggage, killing many people. I walked over to the approximate area where it happened. I stood. I mourned. And then I went back to my family.

I’ll write some more in the Lisbon Airport and then send it to you. I figure that’ll be it for today. There’s a long road ahead to tomorrow morning and I don’t expect to have any internet access. Ciao!

***

I’m so proud of myself! On arrival in Lisbon, we were channelled into a narrow passage which soon opened onto a grand vista – behind a left to right railing stood perhaps one hundred folks waiting to greet their loved ones. I found my right arm rising naturally and a smile curling my lips. I waved to them all. In return were a good many stares and perhaps ten hands raised in response. Perfect.

Lydia lent me her hat for the day. I consider myself very pretty. Folks strolling through the airport seem to have a different opinion. It’s all fun.

Until the next time, dear friends …

Day One Some More: All Aboard

I’ve just finished a three-course meal, with wine. And exactly what universe am I in? Clearly not the world of Air Canada. The entrée was an Indian dish – chick peas blended with some saucy spice, yellow rice that suspiciously tasted like that expensive stuff called saffron, and creamed spinach. Yum!

Earlier, there was a salad featuring some exquisite white seeds, bathed in a sweet cream sauce. (Woh. Maybe I should start writing for some gourmet magazine.) Later it was a scrumptious chocolate cake, plumb full of semi-sweet chips. (That does it … I’m officially moving to Switzerland to scribe for Epicure.)

I’m sitting beside a friendly Japanese couple. They live in Orillia, Ontario and have a getaway condo in Toronto. Alrighty then. Despite their probable wealth, they’re the nicest folks. The gentleman has been helping me figure out the entertainment system. They’re heading to Rome. Actually, I bet I have world travellers all around me. (That does make sense, Bruce. After all, you’re going to Europe.)

I just switched the screen to “Flight Tracking”. We’re a bit past Newfoundland so I’m the furthest east I’ve ever been. More to come.

I’ve paused the movie A Wrinkle In Time for dinner and now it’s time to get back to it. So far the story is delicious. The scientist father of a 12-year-old girl named Meg and her younger brother has disappeared during an experiment about realities beyond time and space. Celestial beings come visiting to coach the kids about finding dad. The girl is très dubious about all this but I can feel her starting to come around, in a stretching sort of way.

Now the film is over. Brother and sister enter another universe in search of dad, and assorted creatures of light and darkness come their way. Meg becomes a girl of faith and at one point leaps back from the alternate world into the void, trusting that she will be deposited back on dear old planet Earth. And there’s a blessed reunion with her father. “I’m sorry, Meg, that I left you. I wanted to shake hands with the universe and instead I should have been holding yours.” Oh my … love abounds.

It’s two hours later. I slept like a baby … crying all night. After the cabin lights went out, I took off my shoes, wedged the two blankets between the edge of my headrest and the window, plunked the pillow on top, and longed for my teddy bear. Sleep? I don’t know. Maybe an hour. Now the lights are on again (5:30 am Brussels time) and we are being plied with breakfast. Bring on the coffee. Conventional wisdom says to adjust to the new time right away. So if I go to bed at 10:00 pm tonight (Sunday), that means I have sixteen-and-a-half hours to go. (Sigh) “I can do it,” he said unconvincingly.

Forty minutes to Amsterdam. Speed 967 kph. Outside temperature -52 degrees Celsius. I knew I should have brought a winter coat.

Breakfast was similar to dinner … delicious. There was a soft ciabatta bun layered with a big slice of mushroom, red peppers, onions and something unknown, all pulled together with a sweet sauce. Then there was raspberry yogurt, not to mention orange juice and two coffees. Guess I’ll just stay awake from now on.

I spared a thought for the human hands who created and displayed the airborne food I consumed. Artistically done. And it’s possible that those hands will never hold such a ciabatta at 39,000 feet.

Amsterdam Airport at 8:30 am local. It’s such a huge place. People look like Torontonians to me, with such a wide range of cultures. What I find really strange is that all the signs are in English. I want Dutch!

Thirteen-and-a-half hours of wakefulness to go. I can do this.

That’s enough for Day One, since I’ve already leaked into Day Two. I’ll see you today, my friends.

Jumping So High

I watched some Grade 5 and 6 kids in the gym today. They were practicing for the high jump. And they soared. Not one knocked the bar off its perch. I was enthralled by the beauty of flowing bodies.

Some were clearly athletes. They threw their backs over and legs followed suit easily … way over the bar. One girl was a little overweight and didn’t have the grace of some others as she approached the pit. But she got over – every time. And the gym exploded with applause at each of her triumphs. It was community.

There’s something about the high jump that transfixes me. Human beings leaving the fetters of their grounded life to be one with the creatures of the air … ever so briefly. May these children rise above in their lives, living moments where the hum and the drum fade into the background, replaced by the bliss of unselfish love, a blinding insight or an act of pure kindness. For we are beings of the stratosphere, citizens of the inner sweetness, followers of an unknown song.

May we never fall back to earth.