The Rails Ahead

On Sunday at 7:30 am I get on a train in London, Ontario.  Two trains, two buses and one ferry later, I arrive in St. John’s, Newfoundland on Thursday.  The next day I get to greet the cyclists of the Tour du Canada as they end their cross-country journey.  So I’m on a journey of my own.

All told, I’m gone for ten days.  And I ask myself: “What can I create in that time?”  Seems like a odd question.  Am I not going simply to absorb all that the world of travel offers?  To consume the land, the food and the people I meet?  Well, yes, that’s part of it.  I want to draw experiences, conversations and scenes inside of me … so they may nourish me.  Yes, I want to be fed.  But if my life is all about eating, I fear that I’ll bloat – be so full of incoming energy that I don’t even give a thought to what I’m sending forth.

Very simply, I want to contribute to the lives of the folks I meet.  That starts with the attendant at the London train station, as I figure out how I’m going to make my luggage work for both the train travel and the return flight from St. John’s on September 4.

There may be a human being sitting beside me as the fields give way to the towers of Toronto.

There may be a hot dog vendor outside the Montreal station.

There’ll be a waiter or waitress as I get to eat three fancy meals in the dining car while we roll through Quebec.

There may be fellow travellers watching the world go by from the next table.

There may be a host or hostess orienting me to my sleeping berth.

And on and on.

Will I share my heart with the human beings I meet?  Yes, I will.  And if they turn their head away or move the topic to the fortunes of the Toronto Blue Jays, then I’ll gracefully follow their lead.  It may be, however, that some of my companions will be fellow explorers of consciousness … and we’ll fall together into the mysteries of living.

Will I make people laugh?  I’ll sure try.  The thing about meeting new folks is that they haven’t heard my repertoire of silly comments.  It’ll all be fresh to them.  Perfect.  And as for those who just stare when I sing them “a little number” (i.e. “3”) I’ll bless them as they retreat.

Maybe the coolest thing is that every day I’ll be blogging to you cyber inhabitants.  I bet there won’t be any shortage of material.  We human beings are good at being noteworthy.

See you on the train and boat and plane

Tenderized

When I was away in B.C., my massage therapist Nicole sent me a wonderfully supportive e-mail as I was dealing with quitting the Tour du Canada bicycle ride.  She’s so much more than a rubber of my skin.

Today I had an appointment with Nicole.  I had a laundry list of body parts that hurt, and I could feel myself sinking into “I am old” mode.  That’s a deadly mind space – I know that – and sometimes I have trouble bringing myself out from under that particular rock.  My mind tells me that I shouldn’t need another human being to do the heavy lifting for me, but today Nicole did just that.

There I was, naked under a few sheets, and feeling naked in my soul.  My right thumb, my right calf, my right knee and my left ankle all cried out for attention.  Plus my heart needed some massaging too.  So Nicole set to work …

“I’m falling apart!” I joked to the dear therapist.  Except that deep down I wondered if I really was.  The words stayed inside but here they are: “The cane will be next, then the walker, then the wheelchair, and then perma-bed.”  How my fragile mind does proliferate!  I realize that these possible futures may indeed become part of my aging life but why jump to it with such haste?  I smiled under the sheets.  “Bruce Kerr, you are a strange dude.”

Once I was past this burst of self-pity, I returned to the job at hand … welcoming Nicole’s touch.  Sweeping pressure, nodes of pain, a sense of caress – they all made their appearance.  Throughout the hour, I was being held, nourished, given to.  Hours later, my pains have less oomph and I know I have been lifted up.  Some of what Nicole did was her professional and compassionate touch, some was her sharing the athletic exploits of her daughters and the family times centred around farm chores.  She sure loves her hubby and kids.  And I was enlivened by her aliveness.

Okay … now it’s my turn.  I’m fully capable of lightening the loads of my friends and neighbours.  No need to remain stuck in my story, my deficiencies, my “Woe is me’s”.  We’re too important to each other to stay down when we’re down.

Here’s to raising each other up
Salut!

Saying Yes to Kindness

I phoned Greyhound today and found out that my bicycle has arrived from the west coast.  I felt myself contract, knowing that I’m nowhere near ready to get back on the saddle.  But it was time to pick ta-pocketa up.  Happily, my boxed steed fit nicely into Scarlet and it was off to Cyzzle Cycles.  Sygnan was out and about somewhere when I arrived but would be back in half an hour.

I knew that around the corner was Cyprus Pizza and I thought it would be a slice to show up there.  Tony was very friendly and I headed outside to eat and drink.  The wooden bench I aimed for was in the sun, and it was a hot and humid day.  Tony intercepted me and moved the bench into the shade.  How very kind.  He was sitting with Koula, his sister-in-law.  Since there were no other customers, the two of them were luxuriating under a tree.

Immediately the three of us were cozy together.  Those were real smiles looking my way.  I asked if they were from Cyprus and the answer was yes.  With great longing, they described the beauty of their homeland, an island near Greece.  Isn’t this just the way life should be … instant friends chatting in the shade?

Their pepperoni pizza was thoroughly yummy and I made sure to tell them so.  Little grins appeared.  Koula asked me about Belmont, my home village, and we three were off to the conversational races.  She offered me strawberries, cherries and a peach from her tray, and I unthinkingly said “No thanks.”  After all, I was perfectly immersed in pepperoni.   But there was a niggling something in the back of my head, which didn’t move into the thinking part of my brain for a few minutes.

Was Koula’s head a little lower than it has been a bit earlier?  Was there a slump in her body?  I believe there was.  Seconds later, she asked again if I’d like some fruit.  Without consciously sensing my earlier mistake, I said “Yes.”  Her glow and her outstretched hand said it all.

The gift is in graciously receiving the other’s gift.  It’s a two-way street of generosity.  From unconscious to conscious, I made the course correction.  It’s what the world needs.

Koula, Tony and I waved goodbye after the strawberry of life was savoured.  We knew what had happened and we were glad.

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

Win-Win

We live and breathe within a win-lose context.  On one level, that’s completely obvious.  Stanley Cup champions are face-to-face with hockey also rans.  Elected Prime Ministers and parties are up against colleagues who garner 2% of the popular vote.  And then in Toronto there are the mansions of Rosedale down a few roads from the public housing of Jane and Finch.

How deep does this cultural attitude stretch?  Maybe it’s completely insidious and virtually unnoticed in most interactions we humans have with each other.  If I’m talking to you, is there an unspoken current below to the tune of “I’m better than you, smarter, more handsome, kinder … blah, blah, blah?”  I hope not, but I worry that it’s so.  And perhaps you’re having the same thoughts about me.  Two isolations.  And it doesn’t have to be this way.

The Buddha talked about empathetic joy, in which I can be supremely happy when you have success.  It’s not that there’s only so much happiness to go around and I get antsy if you score too much of the pie.  No.  Have yourself a piece or two and there’ll be plenty left for me, and for everyone else.

What if I knew that my well-being revolved around being good to other people?  What if I wanted you to have everything, to be so deliciously happy and peaceful?  And that became far more uplifting to me than any worldly accolades that come my way?  Is that so very far out in left field?  Can we create a world like that?  I wonder.

What if I knew that in the expanse of life’s goodies there is actually nothing but love?  I’ll cheer when my team scores the winning goal and revel in my promotion and enjoy beach time in the Caribbean while sensing that only we are the world.  Or as Walt Whitman said, “We were together.  I don’t remember the rest.”

I want you to have joy in your heart
Maybe you’ll want me to have the same
Wouldn’t that be the sweetest dessert?

Pride

It’s supposed to be a bad thing but I felt it big time yesterday and I’m happy about that.

It’s been a grind getting off sleeping pills.  My weaning is now into Week Seven and I’m proud to announce that I haven’t had any for the past seven nights.  But, oh, the fuzziness!  One night recently, I must have woken up ten times … but magically tottered back to sleep soon after each one.  Overall, a lot of recent dullness in my life.

So yesterday morning I raised myself up and floated through the morning in a light stupor.  I also think I was suffering from food poisoning.  But I was scheduled to volunteer at South Dorchester School in the afternoon and I love those kids.  Mid-morning, I was leaning towards the comfort of my bed but later roused my cells enough to get in the car and head to school.

I arrived at lunch recess and walked towards the Grade 6 portable.  Tiffany, the teacher, was nowhere to be seen so I plunked myself down in her rocking chair and sat in the darkness.  Almost immediately came the message from within:  “Go home.  Rest.  The kids will do fine without you.”  Which is, of course, true.  Kids can have fun wherever they are.

I could feel my hands pressing down on the arms of the chair, preparing for an exit.  But the rest of my being wanted to stay.  “But what good will you do?  Maybe you’re not dizzy but you’re somewhere in the ballpark.”

“Oh, be quiet.  I’ll give what I have to give.”  And so I did.

Good things happened in the afternoon:

1.  I talked to the girls’ basketball team and told them that my ecstatic happiness after their win must be because I love them, and want them to be happy.

2.  Several times, I accompanied various kids to the art supply room, where they found colourful construction paper and plasticene for their projects.  Many thanks came my way.

3.  While I was waiting for one group of kids to find their stuff, a teacher came up to me and asked “How are you?”  I thought for a millisecond and replied with the truth:  “I’m happy.”  One young lady chimed in with “Mr. Kerr, you’re always happy.”  I smiled.

4.  I scoured the school for empty cardboard boxes, bugging this staff member and that, ending up with two big ones and one small one – perfect for the creation of dramatic sets.

5.  One girl, after some running frustrations in PE, declared “I am nothing.”  I let her know, forcefully, that she was something, and a very special something indeed.

6.  Four boys were hunched down inside a playground hut, practicing their recorder pieces during an outdoor Music class.  I applauded at the end, and one fellow reached his ball cap towards me, for a tip no doubt.  I reached into my wallet and found four coins – two dimes and two nickels.  Into the hats the money went.  Their first professional performance!

7.  I watched the kids pass the baton during relay practice.  I did very well as a corner post, managing to stay vertical the whole time.  What a thrill it was to have sprinting 12-year-olds blowing by me at full speed.

8.  I watched from a distance as a boy and girl sat together way out there on the playground grass, playing their recorder duets.  Sweet.

9.  I read to the kids from a diary written by an aboriginal residential school student.  Such hard words to read, and for the kids to hear.  Children identified only as numbers.  Having to say white man’s prayers while any expression of their own religion was punished.  Not being able to talk at meals.

10.  During the end-of-the-day “Shout Outs”, I applauded a girl who was on yesterday’s victorious basketball team, but couldn’t play because of a concussion.  She was a great cheerleader, and dealt with the feelings of loss that no doubt came up.

***

Ten reasons to get out of bed
Because the world needs me (and you) even if we’re not 100%

Pride before a fall?  Maybe.
But what’s a bruise or two in the course of a lifetime?

Bloom Where You’re Replanted

I’m waiting for Jody’s bronze plaque to be inserted into a recessed spot on the back of her bench.  My dear wife will be known in front of the Belmont post office.  I’m so happy I’m doing this.

In Memory Of
Jody Kerr
A marvelous human being and my life wife
I love you, my dear Jodiette

When I was hatching my plan, I was happy to see a deciduous tree behind the bench, shading all who sit there on a hot summer’s day.  I want the place to be a refuge for all Belmontonians, actually for everyone who comes by and lingers awhile.

A few weeks ago, I was driving by and something seemed to be missing.  The tree!  It had been removed.  It had looked a little worse for the wear but I hadn’t expected a disappearance.

I moped about this reality for a week or two and finally decided to talk to Eva in the post office.  “I sure hope Canada Post will be replacing that tree.”  “Oh yes, but it’ll take some time before they come up with the money.”  (Sigh)

And then I did what any virgin Belmontonian would have done in my circumstance:

“I’ll buy the tree”

Eva smiled.  Me too.

The next day I sauntered off to Canadale Nurseries to seek a tree.  I wanted a big maple, fast growing, with brilliant red leaves in the fall.  “That would be an Autumn Blaze,” so said Jim, the knower of all things plantacious.  “We don’t have any in stock but I can get a fifteen footer next April.”

And so it will be.  For Jody.  For me.  For Belmont.  For human beings everywhere.  The tree will grow 2-3 feet a year, topping out at around 50 feet, most likely after I’ve exited the planet.  May it bring joy to us all.

Would You Like A Cup Of Coffee?

So I heard as I sat in my pedorthist’s office this morning as I waited to have my orthotics adjusted.  Such a simple gesture of friendliness, and yet so profound.  It was as if I was blessed with these words:

Is there something I can do to lighten your load?

May I bring a touch of coziness into your life?

May I serve you?

I said yes to the coffee, not really needing the beverage, but seeing the moment in front of me, and wanting to allow the completion of the giving.  I was presented with a smile, and with a grey china mug full of the hot stuff.  I wrapped my hands around it and felt the warmth from cup and human being.  This point in time was sufficient.

Long ago, I walked into a Woodstock, Ontario elementary school for the first time, to visit a visually impaired student.  An educational assistant came up to me in the hallway.  I didn’t know her.  “Would you like a cup of coffee?”  The same welcoming, the same honouring, the same inclusion.  How lovely across the years.

May I have the eyes to see the things people do to show me I matter
And may I return the favour

Chapters

Yesterday morning was my second book signing at Chapters.  Jody sent her love with me as I left home.  I was wonderfully calm and was so looking forward to whomever would be strolling down the aisle.

What does it mean that I sit at a table in a bookstore and sign copies of Jody’s book?  Am I famous?  No.  Is there a sign in the lobby mentioning my name?  Yes.  I don’t think that the signing itself means anything.  It’s just another opportunity to spread the love that Jody and I share.  There’s my desire to have ever more folks read our story, hopefully be touched by it, and then give a little more love to their precious ones.  Yes, that’s what I want.

I had 1000 copies of Jodiette: My Lovely Wife printed.  When I sat down at Chapters, I had given away 746 of them.  In one context, that’s better than 300, but in another it doesn’t matter.  Our love migrates outward whether on the written page or not.  Somehow, in a universe not far, far away, Jody and I touch people, whether or not they realize it.

So .. there sits my bum in a chair behind a table decorated with feng shui-like piles of books.  People come and people go, most of them not making eye contact.  Those that do receive a “Hello” from me.  Nothing more, unless they want to talk.

Several friends show up and I get to hug and palaver.  How wonderful that they came.  The little part of me that’s tied to stats is disappointed, though.  “They already have one of Jody’s books.”  Oh, Bruce … let go of the smallness.

Here comes Trevor (all names here are changed to protect the happy).  He’s the employee that has set up the table for me.  He asks about Jody’s story.  He talks about the importance of love.  He invites customers to come over and see me.  He wants to have a book.

Here comes Barry.  He’s an older gentleman, just like me.  He wants to write about the tapestries of his life.  He’s put this off for a long time.  I tell him about self-publishing with Blurb.  I talk about my writing challenges and delights.  He smiles.  He wants to have a book.

And then there’s Nicole, probably in her 70’s.  We talk of love and loss.  Her husband and my wife.  We both soften.  She wants to have a book.  A half hour later, she comes back to the table with a man who has become her second husband.  They’re holding hands.  They’re caressing each other’s arms.  Nicole says that neither of their partners were very affectionate physically, but the two souls in front of me sure are.  Everyone smiles.

What a privilege to sit there and welcome human beings into my space.  I just might do that every day, no matter where I am.

Eleven Readers

It was going to be an ordinary “get ready to go to Massachusetts” day.  I went to the tire shop to have new tires installed on Hugo, my Honda CRV.  And I got to see Brian again, the manager.  This man is friendly to everyone.  There was a stream of folks walking through his door and he lit up as he noticed each one.  He actually reminded me of the Dalai Lama.  So cool.

Next I went to the drugstore, parking a block away, when something hit me.  No … not a car!  A thought.  All I did was look through the front passenger window at the store beyond.  It was the office of a company which provides occupational therapy and physiotherapy to folks in their homes.  When Jody came home from the hospital in March, 2014, Kerry Ann and Kathy were of great service to her.  They were both kind.

I had a box of Jody’s books in the car.  I took two out and walked into the office.  A smiling receptionist greeted me.  My therapist friends weren’t in.  I sat there and wrote messages in the books and gave them to the receptionist, who was happy to pass them on.

Back in Hugo, I realized that there were other professionals who had been good to Jody.  I marvelled at why I hadn’t made this trip before, prior to leaving for Western Canada.  No guilt showed up, just a fascination with the waywardness of my mind.

Now, how do I find these fine humans?  I remembered that a new public health facility had been built in St. Thomas so I went there.

“Does __________ work here?”  >  “No.”

Times four.

Even though I was shooting blanks here, the receptionist was helpful in tracking down where these health care people might be hanging out.

So Hugo and I resumed the quest.  Down the street, I parked in front of another office. And voilà!  A second receptionist told me that Laura (our nurse practitioner) and Charlotte (our co-ordinator of services) each had a desk there.  They were both kind.  And they weren’t in.  More inscriptions ensued and again the woman welcoming me said she would pass on Jody’s books.

Office number three was the home of two marvelous visiting nurses – Henry and Cindy.  Henry always made Jody laugh and Cindy loved talking about non-nursey things that Jody was interested in.  Just folks, but plenty smart.  They were both kind.  And they weren’t in.  So … signing > receptionist > to be delivered.

As well as the health care heroes who had looked into Jody’s eyes, three receptionists and two drug store employees took a copy of our book.  And I know that all of them were happy to receive the gift.  Each of them will laugh.  Each of them will cry.  It’s what we human beings do.  It makes me happy.