Day Four: In the Woods

“Who will show up in my life today?”

It was a good morning question. The answer came in the form of Pil, a well-bearded family friend who waltzed into Jo and Lydia’s kitchen shortly after noon. As we sat in the dining room over lunch, I learned that he was a retired surgeon who was in hospital last week as a patient, with an arterial thrombosis. We had a good conversation about blood clots and then he and Lydia started talking about something.

My plan was to head off to the shower but before I could make a move in that direction, here was Pil again, inviting me to spend the afternoon with him in the woods. I went small inside my head, wondering if my injured knee could handle a lot of rough ground. Seconds later, though, I smiled a “yes” at him.

“Do you have rubber boots?”

Oops. What was I getting myself into? Soon Pil was helping me get into a pair that Jo had. I didn’t know that the idea was to roll your socks down under the soles of your feet, wrap the cuffs of your pants around your ankles and pull the socks over them. Then shove your feet into the boots. The things you learn from a Belgian outdoorsman.

Next, Pil helped me get into coverings for my legs. He was so patient. I was just wondering how wet we were going to get! No matter … it was time for an adventure.

We stopped at Pil’s house in Roonse to pick up an important addition – his dog Chip, a black lab. He came right up to me in the hall and let me pet him. So cool. Soon the three of us were off to a world of narrow, twisting streets and long views across farm fields to tall stands of trees. Pil pointed out the hospital where he used to work and got me close to a stunning 1000-year-old church which just last week was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After a couple of gate openings, we were rolling through groves of trees, some ancient and some planted within the last four years. Then it was a transfer to a 4×4 for some rough trail riding. Yee haw! Pil’s first job was to refill about fifteen seed containers with corn for the pheasants. And we saw lots of them – scurrying along the paths with their red-ringed necks, and taking flight if Chip got too close, which he was good at.

Mr. Chip is a hunting dog and Pil came fully equipped with a squeaky orange ball. Many, many times I threw it in the air and watched as Chip leapt up to catch it in his mouth, usually on the first bounce. Once I tossed the ball into the bush and saw Chip dive in after it. He kept emerging without the ball, and when I investigated, I saw that the target was a thick bramble of raspberry bushes, armed effectively with thorns. Not to be deterred, Pil whipped out a machete and started whacking away. Maybe three minutes later, an orange globe revealed itself on the ground.

Pil loves his land and the beings who inhabit it. The pigeons overhead, the roe deer, the young deciduous trees, the pheasants, the ducks – but probably not the rats. He is a steward of at least 100 acres and he wants life to thrive there. For part of our time, he wrapped saplings with plastic shields that prevents animals from damaging the young ones.

At one point, we stopped beside a small pond. I launched the orange missile again and again, and each time Chip burst into the water and swam like an Olympian towards the floating ball. Back onshore, he shook for all he was worth and ran to me for some roughhousing. Hence the protective wear over my pants.

Almost two months ago, I was bitten by a tiny dog in Cincinnati, Ohio. And here I was today, virtually pummeling Chip and being well pummeled back, and reaching in to get the ball out of his mouth. I smiled at my rediscovered courage.

Pil, Chip and me: what a happy threesome. The generous man asked the adventurous man to join him and his bouncing dog for an afternoon of fun and frolic. And it happened. Yay! Thank you, dear universe.

Under the Tree

Since getting home from my bicycling adventure, I’ve told myself to blog every day.  “It doesn’t matter what you talk about, as long as your words are true to your soul.  And those words need to go out to the world because there are some folks there who will understand.  They’ll see their own lives in your struggles.  It may help them and it will definitely help you.”

Okay.  I’ll do that.

***

Today was hot and humid in Belmont, Ontario.  Kids decorated their bikes and rode in a parade to the community centre.  Such sweet young ones sweating their way to a hot dog lunch, plus a drink, chips and a slice of Canada Day birthday cake.  I love Belmont.

Along the way, I talked to two moms of kids I’ve volunteered with.  I enjoyed both conversations.  I talked briefly about my trials and tribulations out west and they told me how their daughter and son and families were doing, including cool plans for the summer.  I had lunch under a tree with one of the women and two fellow moms.  Thank God for the shade.

One 8-year-old fellow I know climbed way up the tree.  I didn’t see his ascent since I was facing the other way, but when I turned around “Peter” was perched comfortably on a branch about 12 feet off the ground.  I marvelled.  I saw how high the lowest branch was and wondered how he could have reached it.  He must have major upper body strength.  For a second, I lamented that my body couldn’t do such a thing … but just as quickly I let that thought go.  Peter’s job is to climb trees.  Mine is to explore consciousness.  We’re 60 years apart.  Why would I want his job?  And I smiled.  “Climb high, dear Peter.  I will too.”

Eventually the group of us were finished eating and we headed back to the picnic shelter.  I was reaching for the gooeyness of vanilla cake when I saw a third mom.  I volunteered in her daughter’s class last year.  It seems to me that she asked how I was and I think I said “Shaky” in reply. “Denise” looked right into my eyes and said “Let’s talk.  Let’s find a tree to sit under.”  From the very first second, I was touched by her generosity.  I suggested we walk over to Peter’s tree.

And there we sat, for maybe an hour.  Her two kids were with us for a bit and then they wanted to go home.  Denise knew the older would keep the younger safe on the short walk … and off they went.

Denise knew I needed to talk and she let me do so at my own pace.  She looked at me softly, without judgment, just “getting” the contents of my heart – the fear, the sadness, the loss of Bruce.  Denise talked about moments in her life that were hard, wanting her words to be helpful to me.  They were.  And I thought: “Hmm.  She’s not rushing off.  She wants to understand me.  She sees me.”  What a revelation that was.  Sooner rather than later, I found myself smiling.  Plus I do believe there was a laugh or two bubbling up to my surface.

I can feel the light beyond the murkiness, a floating beyond the dead weight, a pulsing beyond the drone.  How about that?  Did Denise do that for me or did Bruce do that for me?  Well … I think we were co-conspirators!

***

People keep giving me gifts
Some folks are 10 years old
Some are 40
Some are 48
Some are 77
All are so very human

Giving

Today was the second last day of school and the Grade 5/6 kids got to play board games most of the day. They had so much fun. Laughter and shouts filled the air. Amid all the hubbub, I occasionally looked around to see what life is all about.

1. For a long while, I played “The Game of Life” with five enthusiasts. It took this adult a bit of time to figure out what the rules were, and the youngsters were so patient with me as I groped along. “No, Mr. Kerr, you need to do this” – said with no edge or impatience. I think they were simply happy that I was at the table with them. I was happy too.

2. As the six of us made choices about education, career, homes, pets and hobbies, and dealt with the money impact of those choices, a girl sat near us but outside the edge of play. “Jessica” looked like she didn’t want to play but did want the companionship. One of the wheeler dealer game players, “Joy”, was the closest to Jessica. Once Joy had had her turn, she would usually lean towards Jessica and update her about her income and property situation. I mostly couldn’t hear Joy’s words but there was no mistaking the smiles on Jessica’s face.

3. As the games in the Grade 5/6 portable continued, a game of tag was in progress among the school staff. If another adult touched you with a certain green highlighter, you were “it”. The job then was to approach another colleague sweetly and calmly whip out the marker when they were lulled into comfort. The dear teachers and educational assistants made sure to include this volunteering human in the festivities. In fact the whole exercise brought us all together – no one escaped the highlighter, or the laughter.

4. On the yard at recess, two Grade 2 or 3 girls came bouncing up to me. One stood in front of me, took my hands in hers and started in on a clapping and slapping and singing game, in which I got to share my favourite colour, my favourite number, and other stuff that I can’t remember. She was directing my hands to go this way and that in co-ordination with hers, laughing all the while. Her friend stood off to the side, beaming. Then it was their turn. The two of them did the whole patter at the speed of light. Giggles all around as the old guy was brought into the realm of the 8-year-olds.

5. It was nearly home time, and Jayne had let the kids out a few minutes early. They were bouncing basketballs, swinging on the swings or just chatting. And here come the Kindergarten kids, some seemingly with backpacks as big as them. Those little ones look at me and launch into yesterday’s chant: “Mr. Kerr! Mr. Kerr!” Oh my God. All this for me. They kept it up and I tried to shhh them but some hardy souls kept up the beat … out of their mouths and out of their eyes. Thanks, kids.

6. Minutes ago, I got in Scarlet and headed to London for a house concert. The hosts aren’t expecting me for weeks. I pulled onto the 401, our local freeway, something I’ve done hundreds of times. Seconds later, fear flooded me. Even though no bicycles were allowed on this road, the speed was the same as in B.C. This time I was in a car, not emotionally naked on my bike. Still, I started shaking.

And then something opened inside. Some force or some person, perhaps my lovely wife Jodiette, was there with me … calming me, holding me.

I give
I receive
All is well

Kindnesses

How do you learn to be kind?  Well, you can read a book with “Kindness” in the title.  You can listen to a spiritual teacher talk about it.  But I think the best is watching the people who show up in your life and catching them in the act.

On Thursday night, my friend Adele and I went to hear The Messiah at a lovely church in St. Thomas, Ontario.  At the intermission, we both had to pee.  Adele uses a walker and when we got to the washrooms, there was a lineup of about twelve women.  “Oh no!” I said inside my head.  Suddenly the woman at the front of the line came up to Adele and with a sweet smile told her she could go first.  Her smile was returned by both of us.  And the kindness continued.  Adele graciously said yes, allowing the woman to feel the full impact of her generosity.

Yesterday, I was at a Christmas carol sing at a London church.  At the end, a father came walking down the aisle holding his newborn child, “wrapped in swaddling clothes”.  He approached a young family across from me.  They brightened to see the child.  A girl, perhaps eight, stood up, approached the baby, and gave him or her a kiss on the cheek.  It didn’t matter to me whether the two were siblings or not.  Love is love.

Last night, my friend Renato and I were at a pub in London.  A classic yellow brick home from the nineteenth century, I’d guess.  The hostess ushered us into our own room, with a big window facing the street, and a gas fireplace only a few feet away.  But the music was a bit too loud for comfortable talking.  I asked the woman if she’d be willing to turn it down.  She smiled and said yes, adding that she’d have to turn it up again if other guests came into the room.  Twenty minutes later, here came those other guests.  But the hostess never turned the music back on.  Such a simple thing to do, but also a kind thing.  Renato and I got to hear each other as we each talked about our lives and enjoyed hearing about the companion’s.

I’m a kind person but I have no interest in searching for moments of the past few days to show that.  Other citizens of this planet show us all we need to know.

Welcomed to Belleville

I had never been to Belleville before.  But I’ll be back.  People were so kind to me.

It started with a phone call weeks ago to reserve a room at the Place Victoria Place Bed and Breakfast.  This fellow Gord was so … conversational.  This is good.  I’m going to enjoy this.  And I did.

Gord and Danielle are clearly proud of their home.  Danielle’s tour was done with such pleasure.  I loved the 12-foot ceilings, the white duvet in my white bedroom, the claw foot tub and clamshell sink, plus my own private sitting room.  But it’s people who make the world go round.  I was looking for a purveyor of liquorious fluids for Thursday’s supper, and Danielle recommended The Beaufort Pub.  The woman who served me at the bar (Valerie?) clearly enjoys Belleville, and I enjoyed her roast beef cradled in the world’s biggest Yorkshire pudding.  And my barmates were happy to talk.  We covered the NHL playoffs and the sad demise of the Bulls.  It didn’t matter that I was a stranger.  Nobody gave me the “Do I know you?” look.  Just folks.

Chatting at breakfast each morning was awfully fun.  On Saturday, I wanted to write a blog about my Friday walk, which took me way east on Dundas St. to a carwash and a convenience store.  I was obsessing about the name of the carwash.  I really wanted to include that but my brain wasn’t co-operating.  Gord took off to his computer and tried to find the name.  No luck.  And none with the Yellow Pages.  Danielle and Gord were even willing to get in their car and drive over there for me, but I asked them not to.  I wanted to write my blog and then get out into the Belleville world.  So the car wash remained anonymous.  But it’s coming to me now … I’m sure it’s called “Sammy’s Shiny Sudsy Car Wash”.  Yes, that’s it.

My hosts told me about the wonders of Sandbanks Park.  I’m definitely going to experience the dunes when I come back.  And Gord helped me locate a little strip of Belleville park near Great St. James St.  It turned out to be a wild place!

Still in the spirit of “We’re glad you’re here,” on Friday evening, after the performance of Jake’s Women, a guy in the theatre’s lobby asked me if I’d like to meet the cast.  “Yes, I sure would.”  This was Phil, who I later found out was the director.  He led me into a room off the lobby … and I’m confused about what occurred next.  It all happened so fast.  I think he looked at the cast members in the room and said, “This is Bruce.”  Then all these bright faces were turned towards me, smiles and hands heading my way.  I was known.  I was appreciated.  And I was welcomed into their dramatic world.  So touching.

Now I’m back in Union.  But Belleville is still vibrating in my heart.  My thanks to you all.

Me or You?

I went to see a movie yesterday – Two Days, One Night.  It hit me hard.  The story is about Sandra, one of 17 employees at a small factory.  She is returning to work after a period of depression, and I guess her job performance isn’t back up to snuff yet.  The boss met with the other 16 people and held a vote: Lay Sandra off and give the 16 a bonus of about 1000 Euros each or keep Sandra and forget the bonus.  The result?  14-2 in favour of the money.  At closing time on Friday, Sandra and her friend meet with the boss and convince him to hold another vote on Monday morning.  Sandra has the weekend to approach each of her fellow employees and ask them to vote to keep her on.

This is life in all its rawness, and realness.  How do you compare the value of someone losing her job (with the family likely having to go on welfare), with the stories of many other people who are just getting by?

One family saving for their kids’ education, a second one wanting a new patio, a husband and wife at war about “the right thing to do”, a man in tears as Sandra approaches him, horribly guilty about having voted for the bonus … it’s all on the screen.  Plus Sandra’s decency – her tears when someone says they’ll vote for her on Monday, and her gracious “I understand” when another person says they need the money.  And then there’s her courage, knocking on door after door, not knowing whether she’ll be hugged, hit or ignored.  Such grace.

I sat in the theatre watching the largeness and smallness of human beings.  All part of the tapestry.  All to be honoured.  And yet … may we be large.