I Include You As Well

No one left out. That’s been a mantra of mine for many years. But do I really mean it? Are there any human beings on the planet, or who were here, that I flat out reject?

Shouldn’t I condemn mean people, especially those who have caused countless deaths, rather than feeling into whatever pain they agonized in? I detest cruel behaviour but should I also condemn the perpetrators to the agony of hell? I say that I need to honour the humanity of everyone … no exceptions.

I’ve seen this quote before, and it still goes deep inside me:

“An unknown poet left the following beautiful prayer beside the body of a dead child at the Ravensbrück death camp during a recent era of unspeakable human darkness:”

O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will
But also those of ill will
But do not remember all the suffering they inflicted on us
Remember the fruits we have bought thanks to this suffering
Our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility
Our courage, our generosity
The greatness of heart which has grown out of all this
And when they come to judgment
Let all the fruits which we have borne be their forgiveness

Let us forgive, not the behaviour but the person, including these figures of history:

Idi Amin, Uganda

Amin’s rule was characterized by rampant human rights abuses, political repression, ethnic persecution, extrajudicial killings, nepotism, corruption and gross economic mismanagement. The number of people killed as a result of his regime is estimated by international observers and human rights groups to range from 100,000 to 500,000.

Adolf Hitler, Germany

Under Hitler’s leadership and racially motivated ideology, the Nazi regime was responsible for the genocide of at least 5.5 million Jews and millions of other victims whom he and his followers deemed “untermenschen” (subhumans) or socially undesirable. Hitler and the Nazi regime were also responsible for the killing of an estimated 19.3 million civilians and prisoners of war.

Pol Pot, Cambodia

Pol Pot became the dictator of Cambodia in 1975. His government forcibly relocated the urban population to the countryside to work on collective farms. Those regarded as enemies of the new government were killed. These mass killings, coupled with malnutrition, strenuous working conditions and poor medical care, killed between 1.5 and 3 million people of a population of roughly 8 million, a period later termed the Cambodian genocide. Marxist-Leninists unhappy with Pol Pot’s government encouraged Vietnamese intervention. However Pol Pot forced Vietnam’s hand by attacking villages in Vietnam and massacring their villagers.

I also remember reading the story of two former prisoners who shared the same jailer:

“Have you forgiven him?”

“What?! No. Never.”

“Then I guess you’re still in prison.”

May we be free

Haida Gwaii … Islands Of The People

I was aboard the schooner Maple Leaf for seven days in June.  Thirteen of us experienced the wonders of Haida Gwaii, north of Vancouver Island.

Part of the learning centred on humpback whales, sea lions, black bears and many species of birds.  But there was more.

Haida watchmen are the guardians of ancient villages and their totem poles.  We got to visit five of these sites.  Many years ago, there were hundreds of villages scattered among the islands of Haida Gwaii.  Then came the white people.  Then came smallpox.  Ninety per cent of the Haida died.

For much of the 1900’s, another reality was residential schools.  Kids were removed from their homes and sent away, as far as PEI.  They weren’t allowed to speak their language.  If a brother and sister were at the same school, they weren’t allowed to talk to each other.  Their long hair, a deep symbol of identity, was cut.

At one of the villages, I stood beside Ken, a watchmen in his 30’s.  Do I ask him what I really want to ask him?  Yes.  I mentioned the smallpox and the residential schools.

“You folks seem so happy.  Have you forgiven us whites for what we did?”

Ken smiles.  “Oh yes.  We welcome everyone.”

Oh my.

The people are alive and so very well.  It was a privilege to spend time with them.

Wounded

For many years, Jody and I frequented a grocery store in St. Thomas.  I loved goofing around with the staff.  My favourite trick was grabbing a big tub of margarine as Jody was heading towards the cash.  Here’s our script:

“Oh, Bruce.  Put it back.”

“But Jodiette, it’s one of Canada’s four major food groups and we’re running short.”

Sometimes I even put the tub on the cashier’s belt before succumbing to my dear wife’s wise counsel.

Occasionally, I’d be shopping alone, but why omit margarine pleasure?  Staff members, especially a woman named “Jessica”, would almost yell across the store, “Put it back!”

One time, I was heading to the pile of yellow goodness and was greeted by a big white sign, authored by Jessica, which said something like “Bruce, leave our margarine alone.”  Great fun.

Eventually, Jessica moved on to another job, and when Jody got sick we left the grocery store too.

Six years later is today.  I walked into a gift shop in a London mall.  And there behind the counter was Jessica.  We knew each other’s names and our hug was a natural one.  We had a good talk for a few minutes and then I said this:

“I have some sad news to tell you.  Jody died a year ago.”

Jessica laughed.

“No, Jody died last November.”

More laughing.

“Jessica – stop.  Jody really died.”

More of the same.

I was lost in space.  I thought there’d be tears but there weren’t.  There was anger.  After coming back from the meditation retreat, it felt like there was no antagonism left in me.  I was wrong.  I guess Jessica couldn’t move past the kidding relationship we’d had years ago.

“Jody has died.  Stop it!”

She didn’t.

I walked out.

“Oh, Bruce.  This is so not you.  You can’t leave it like this.  Go back.”

I went back.  Big smile from Jessica.  “Let’s hug.”  I backed away.  (“So not you.”)  I left.

I came back.  We hugged.  I believe Jessica still thought I was kidding.  But who on our fair planet would ever kid about your life partner dying?  I said goodbye and left again.

“You can’t leave it like this, Bruce.  It’s too damaging for both of you.  Go back and forgive her.”

So I came back again.  “I forgive you, Jessica.”  And now a real hug.  “I wrote a book about Jody and I’d like to give you a copy.  When are you working before Christmas?”

Tomorrow I’ll walk into that gift shop once more, Jodiette:  My Lovely Wife in hand.  More forgiveness.  Friendship renewed.  Completion.

I don’t have the luxury of living any other way.

Now I’m crying.

 

 

 

Day Thirty-Two … What Does It Mean?

Things happen.  I make conclusions about those things and about what it says about me.  Oh well.  Sounds like a human being.

1.  Yesterday was a snowy day (in August!) and I was mostly feeling dopey.  We watched several episodes of “Border Security”, about Canadian officers dealing with people who smuggle stuff into the country.  It’s a show that I never would have chosen but so what?  I started studying the officers.  Some seemed more humane than others.  And I became fascinated by someone trying to get $1.5 million of heroin into Canada in the packaging of a painting.  What are those lives like?  Are they happy people?  And as I let myself fall into the shows, it became irrelevant that they weren’t “my thing”.  What’s important is that I was with my family.  And then I started wondering what exactly my thing is.  Does it exclude all those other things?  Mostly no, I’d say, but it still omits any acts of belittlement and violence.

***

Interlude:  Jagger just came up to me and shoved a handful of raisins under my nose.  What’s happened to the young people of today?

***

2.  Jaxon and I played the NBA video game last night.  It was his Chicago Bulls against my Toronto Raptors.  I fell behind early, amid a wash of wrong controller button choices.  At any given moment, I couldn’t figure out which player I was controlling.  So I pressed the triangle button.  That makes the player jump up into the air, trying to block the opponent’s shot.  So there was my guy in the middle of the court, nowhere near another player, leaping high in the air again and again.  Jackson’s player would block my shots effortlessly, it seemed, and then his teammates would rush down the court in a flurry of passes, culminating in a sweet layup into the basket.  I could feel my whole body contracting as the score mounted.  Gosh, what was this saying about Bruce Kerr – the real human rather than the computer-generated player he was controlling?  At the final buzzer, I looked up and saw that the Bulls had just squeezed by the Raptors 67-28.  And I let my sadness just sit there, alongside the litany of deficiencies that my brain applied to reality.

The Buddha talked about each of our moments being either pleasant, unpleasant or neutral and asked us not to get all wrapped up in any of those realities.  To hold it gently, no matter what was happening.  So I choose to do just that concerning points 1 and 2, as well as the dreaded number 3.

3.  On my road trip, I’ve partaken of much beer and many nachos, resulting in a net gain in  my … body.  To the tune of 5-10 pounds, I imagine.  Sort of on the unpleasant end of things.  You might expect that a nice little Buddhist guy like me would take the high road here, realizing the impermanence of weight gain (especially when you consider the decline of life towards death).  To take a mellow approach, in which the poundage has no impact whatsoever on the essence of Bruce.  Hmm … well, I guess I’m not ready for the monastery quite yet.  My vision has been centred on my belly leaking out over my belt.  In fact, that’s not even been accurate on my trip.  I’ve studiously avoided wearing jeans so far, instead favouring loose-fitting shorts, all to conceal my personal growth.  Maturity, wherefore art thou?

This morning, it was a cold one, and I had an appointment in High River to get Scarlet serviced.  So on went the jeans, and overboard went the tummy.  Oh, time for a gigantic “So what?”  Rather than indulging in a spasm of belly consciousness.  Truly, I am often humbled by life and my frequent choices in response.

***

Sit with all of this gently, Bruce
You’re a thoroughly imperfect human being
And it doesn’t mean anything

Humbling

Oh, to let myself be exactly as I am in the moment!

Today my friend Leslie invited me to join her and a few of her friends for breakfast.  It had been over a year since I’d gone out for breakie.

For most of the meal I did fine, chipping in during the conversation, and telling the folks some of the plans I have in my head.  And then suddenly my four companions were off like a speeding bullet into topics that clearly were old favourites.  I couldn’t handle it.  I was overwhelmed with all the words and just wanted to be with Jody.  How I faded away.  From inside came the parental voice “Be better company!”  But I couldn’t and wouldn’t.  I let go of social appropriateness and lost track of Bruce in society.  I allowed myself to go away.

Later in the day, my friend Neal and I planned to deliver Jody’s hospital bed to Lynne, one of her former colleagues whose husband was having breathing problems.  Gosh, that was a heavy so-and-so, and I wrenched my back as we hauled it out to Neal’s truck.  Big muscle spasms.

I was a hurting unit when we pulled into Lynne’s driveway.  “Pull your weight, Bruce!” screamed the inner critic, but I couldn’t and wouldn’t.  Sure I helped some but really it was the Neal and Lynne show.  I was feeling sad and feeble as we got the bed set up.  And again I chose to let go … of performance, of participation, of ego.

Two emptinesses in one day.  But it’s okay, Bruce.  You’re merely a fragile human on a little green and blue planet.

Forgiveness

I read something recently that touched me:

O Lord, remember not only the men and women of goodwill but also those of ill will.  But do not only remember the suffering they have inflicted on us.  Remember too the fruits we have found thanks to this suffering – our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage and generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this.  And when they come to judgment, let all their fruits which we have borne also be a part of their forgiveness.

(Prayer written by an unknown prisoner
in the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp
and found on a piece of wrapping paper in the camp
near the body of a dead child)

Love thine enemies, indeed.  I wonder if this prisoner was able to love his captors more deeply than feel the pain they were inflicting on him or her.  Could he or she look first at the horrible karma they were creating for themselves, and be sad for them?

In my life, many have sent me ill will.  Some of them, I believe, were furious about my spontaneity.  Some no doubt hated me for being popular.  Who knows … maybe the fact that I enjoyed life and other people was an affront.  Here are a few of those folks:

1.  I was out with a friend at a restaurant.  He had driven.  I said something that offended him.  He stood up, glowered at me, and left.  I walked the five miles home.

2.  A supervisor didn’t like how I was doing my job.  He reported me to the powers-that-be.  I was grilled during two long meetings with Human Resources, with the possibility of being fired hanging in the air.

3.  A teenaged girl accused me of sexual harassment.  I was innocent.  She apparently had to lash out at someone, and she picked me.  Until I was cleared of this charge, I suffered a lot.

These three people are probably still out there in the world somewhere.  I hope they are happy.  I hope they are surrounded by human beings who love them.  I let them go.