Day Twenty-Three: To Toronto

It was a 6:00 am rising for the trip home. Lore and Baziel promised they’d get up at 7:00 to say goodbye. They kept their word. I hugged each of them and told them that I loved them. Such wonderful teenagers who will be great adults, ones with big hearts and huge contributions to make in our wide world. As we loaded the car, Baziel stood at the window for a few minutes, staying in touch.

Jo and Lydia drove me the hour to Brussels Airport. Sometimes she was sniffling in the front seat in the darkness.

We sat in a café having a coffee and croissant but the time was soon for parting. They walked me to the gate. Jo and I hugged and I told him that I loved him.

And then … Lydia. We turned to each other and started crying. We held each other with Jo smiling beside. She messed my hair and we said what was oh so very true.

As we walked in Belgium and Senegal, Lydia would often grab my arm. Sometimes it was her linked with Jo on one side and me on the other. A great joie de vivre as we strolled along.

If in August, 2017 on a hiking trail in Alberta Lydia Dutrieue hadn’t said “Would you like to come with us?” I wouldn’t be crying right now. I wouldn’t have held hands with Senegalese kids and kissed the cheeks of many adults. I wouldn’t now have Mareama and Youssoupha in my life. (I’ve been spelling his name wrong.) Thank you, Lydia, for moving right into my life and calling it home. You are my friend.

***

It’s four-and-a-half hours into the sky. I’ve had a delicious meal of penne pasta with a tomato sauce; a multi-flavoured salad full of greens, reds, little cheese balls and walnuts; a warm bun; an almond tart … and definitely the red wine. Wow. And that’s not even the best. I just finished watching Les Misérables for the first time. So much human communion there – love, sadness, loneliness, death – all wrapped in a blanket of song. Stunning.

***

I wonder what’s next in this life of mine. I know it’ll be about friends – in Belmont, in the Evolutionary Collective, in London, in Toronto and most definitely in Belgium and Senegal. I am blessed.

***

Okay, that was a very long flight. I am quite perfectly pooped and very glad to be staying with Anne and Ihor in Toronto tonight. I need to be good to myself and stay off the 401 in the dark when I’m this tired.

Belgium and Senegal were marvels in my world. I loved and was loved. Can you think of anything better? No, I can’t either. I’m going back in 2019 to both places … with bells on.

Thank you for sharing these twenty-three days with me. I’ve loved writing to you.

Day Fifteen: On the Water to Paradise Island

We started early this morning – two small boats carrying about twenty human beings down the river to the ocean. I sat with Lieselot, Sabrine and Jan. Normal conversations were punctuated with vistas of biabab trees, broad expanses of smooth water, and birds flying high. Other boats passed us by, mostly local folks out fishing. We waved and they waved.

Far, far away was Jackson Island, home of a lonely and all-encompassing white sand beach. Several of us began strolling by the water’s edge. The softness under my feet was a caress. The invitation was so clear – slow right down and feel the moments drip away. It was just me and my Speedo, a clothing choice that’s inspired quite a few giggles, and truth be told I wish I could have been nude. I realize, though, that ultimate freedom is an inside job. Paradise Island is just one more external thing … it’s not where the action is.

I sat on the sand for awhile, just drinking it all in. Ansou, one of our young Senegalese friends, probably was wondering if I needed assistance and lingered near me till I set off again. We walked along side by side, him apparently asking questions about Canada and me getting lost in his fast French. None of that mattered. We were together.

Our captains went out fishing, along with Jo and Curd. The group of them came back with several barracuda, which a Senegalese woman accompanying us prepared beautifully.

I had two beer, and that combined with the intense heat just did me in. I nibbled on the barracuda and spiced potatoes but my stomach wasn’t in it. Sabrine worried that I wasn’t well, and I tried to tell her that I was fine. It seems that I have a lot of mothers on this trip, as old as 55 and as young as 16. Although I bug them about it, it’s very cool that people care about me.

After lunch, six of us lay down in the shade. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. Just friends resting, and occasionally snoring. It was lovely. Out in the sun, the seven teens were working on a fancy sand castle. Sometimes they’re verging on adulthood, and at other times they’re just little kids trying to build something pretty.

Before I lay down with my friends, Sabrine warned me that there were little twigs in the sand, with big thorns. “You should put on your shoes, Bruce.” I didn’t. I got up at one point to take a photo of the long beach and was thoroughly impaled. Ali was near me, saw what my face did, knelt down and pulled the thorn out. I thought of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as I smiled my thanks to the young man. We help each other.

On the way home, our two boats were often beside each other. Eva was looking over at her kids, and I asked her to share what she was thinking. “They look so happy.” And they did. Eva went on to tell me that Louisa, Jean and Giraud all hug her before they go to school and when they come back home. So wonderful. Plus they tell her their problems (most of the time). Even the kids’ friends trust Eva with their issues. She sounds like Super Mom to me.

We arrived back in Toubacouta just before sunset, in time to watch lines of birds heading to the big tree for a safe sleep together.

And may we too have a safe sleep within the spiritual presence of each other. Wherever we are in the world, our wings touch.

Day Eight: Everybody Gone

I’m sitting in the Basilica Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, an immense building with ceilings as high as the sky. The feeling is white, with rich blues and purples, as well as 12-foot-high stained glass windows. They’re domed, and feature many views of Jesus and his disciples. Not one that I see shows two people looking into each other’s eyes, and I feel the loss of such contact. It’s what I treasure.

I just sneezed, and despite my sleeve, the sound echoes upwards. There are only four or five folks here potentially to be disturbed. It’s a lonely place, and for me an emotionally flat one.

High on the walls, four statues of the apostles seem to stand guard. I wonder what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John think of this sanctuary. I want a simpler church, far less ornate, one that feels good for a face-to-face meeting. Just a few pews, please, and a simple cross at the front.

Yesterday’s circle of musicians and the sight of Paul’s family smiling at him drew my spiritual breath far more deeply. But I wonder what energy would issue forth if the Basilica was full with 2000 souls.

I’m now in the Duke of Duckworth pub but I remember what came next at church. A gentleman started playing the pipe organ high in the back of the sanctuary. The deep tones went right through me but still I was left wanting. I wanted to be singing a stirring hymn with those 2000 souls, to have our voices bouncing off the ornamented walls.

What’s true is that the Tour du Canada riders have all headed home and I miss them. I miss the conversation. Today it was “Goodbye Paul, Ruedi, Ken, Jin-si, Kathy, Jane and Al.” Back to their real lives, or at least to their usual ones. Feeling lonely, I sat in the hotel lobby and joked with the guests who were coming and going. But our time together was measured in seconds. I need more than that.

On the TV is tennis – the US Open. I sip and cheer for Milos Raonic, the sole remaining Canadian. Around me are groups of friends, enjoying life together. No, I’m not going to approach them, declaring “Isn’t tennis great?” It’s time to be alone with Milos.

***

Milos lost … but he gave ‘er. I finished sipping and headed home. I was tired after a day of St. John’s slopy streets. And so to bed.

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

Circle of Peace

How strange that yesterday my mind was floating free and today I’ve come gently back to earth.  No pulses of energy behind my eyes, no sublimities.  And that’s okay.  We’re all rolling along within some unknown rhythm of life.

I did meditate today and an image presented itself.  I’ve been thinking of the type of sculpture I want for my bathroom and had settled on a human figure in metal – arms outstretched and head down.  But this morning came a circle, one composed of people, holding hands.  It was so vivid as I floated in quietness.  They were all smiling.  And I thought back to other circles I’ve known.

1982.  A suburban parking lot in Honolulu.  Christmas morning.  Perhaps one hundred of us held hands for awhile and then sang carols.

Mele Kalikimaka is the thing to say
On a bright Hawaiian Christmas day
That’s the island greeting that we send to you
From the land where palm trees sway
 Here we know that Christmas will be green and bright
The sun to shine by day and all the stars at night
Mele Kalikimaka is Hawaii’s way
To say Merry Christmas to you

And then “Silent Night”.  So sweet a time in the presence of strangers who became not that.

Years later, fifty of us stood in another parking lot, joined in a prayer circle for my lovely wife Jody.  We held hands, we talked of Jodiette, and we prayed for her.  Sweetness again.  A fellow was walking through the lot and decided to join us.  We made room and he favoured us with tender words for my dear wife.

Hawaii and London, Ontario … just places where the heart resides.  And in a month of two, the same spirit will call my bathroom home.