Day Thirty-Six: Rinzin

I was on a mission. Three girls in Belmont, Canada asked me months ago if I’d bring them back something from San Francisco. They all wanted the same thing: a Tree of Life necklace. I said yes, in the spirit of rewarding people who speak up, who politely ask me to do something.

About two weeks ago in Senegal, I sat with a couple who mostly live in Berkeley, California – where I am. They told me where I’d find street vendors who’d sell these necklaces. So cool to get directions from so far away.

The Evolutionary Collective conference ended on Sunday, and yesterday I set off to find three gifts.

This is the third time I’ve been to Berkeley. I like staying at the YMCA. Each morning, on the way to my favourite breakfast spot, I pass a lovely shop offering Tibetan treasures. It was always too early for them to be open but yesterday my timing was perfect. And who knows, maybe a Buddhist tree of life would be hanging somewhere.

In I walked, to be greeted by a jolly Tibetan soul – Rinzin. In the span of multiple lifetimes, I think he’s been around the block a few times. Rinzin welcomed me with his entire heart and soul. At the top left of the photo I took of him, you may be able to make out the Dalai Lama. My new friend is the person one to the left.

I could feel it: there’s something for me to buy in here. There was a sweetness hanging in the air.

I asked about a tree of life. He wasn’t sure, but went searching. I was absolutely fine with him finding nothing. But lo and behold, he came back with an object of exquisite beauty. I felt a “yes” … such a deep yes that this pendant would be around a girl’s neck in a week or so. I stood there staring, stunned at the silver trunk and leaves of tiny white stones.

Rinzin watched my eyes widen and was ecstatic that he had contributed.

We talked about the exile of Tibetans from their homeland, and his great sadness about that. Then we both wandered off down separate aisles. I looked down and there was a shining stainless steel tree pendant. Yes again. A minute later, Rinzin pranced up with a third. All were different and all were sublime. No street vendors on Telegraph Avenue would be needed. Someone was watching out for the girls and me.

As I readied my wallet, the feeling returned: there’s something else calling me in this shop. My eyes wandered, already softened. And I came upon the banner, hanging high above the cash register. “We must try to do something good.” Yes once more. The kids need to see this. They need to feel the value of contributing. Hopefully the teacher will let me hang the banner in the classroom.

My credit card emerged but again I hesitated. Some other object was beckoning. It didn’t take long for me to discover the oval piece of coral, stained red. Its energy flew out in arrows to the curved edge of the piece. Yes, it needed to come with me as well. The smooth ruby oval was so Bruce.

And then the voice inside boomed out into the world: “You’ll be giving this away too.” > What? No way. It’s for me > “No it isn’t. It’s for life.”

Three girls will receive their necklaces next week. As for the glowing red oval … I don’t know the destination. I just know that it will reside in someone else’s home.

Ahh … the mystery
I’m not here to figure things out
I’m here to act in love
Thank you, Rinzin

Day Four: A Walk on the Wild Side

I helped out for an hour yesterday at Lydia and Jo’s funeral services business, taking tape off a flat of urn boxes and then placing them on shelves according to colour. It felt great to contribute.

She had to continue working after that and suggested I go for a walk. Lydia knew of a scenic route that would take me into Oudenaard, where I could meet up with daughter Lore at 5:00 pm, after her exam.

Lydia wrote out detailed directions, naming all the streets and a few landmarks. As she told me all this, I followed along with Google Maps on my phone. Piece of cake!

Soon I was out and about on the streets of Maarkedal, joying in my touristic explorations. Ah ha – there’s the Boulangerie Vermeire that Lydia mentioned. A bakery sounds good to me. My purpose is not merely to admire architecture, but also to eat yummy food. Inside, a large custard tart beckoned me and resistance was futile. I munched as I strolled on, happy in the world.

The street curved past city hall and a towering church. Lydia’s directions were spot on. Okay, jog right at the t-intersection and find the sign for Ladeuze (a street). Yes, there it is. Now onwards to an imposing cream coloured house, then turn left onto a narrow paved path (about two feet wide).

The next half hour was bliss … fields to the left and right, cutesy homes out in the middle of nowhere, a stream cutting in from the left and accompanying me on my journey. A ringing bell came from behind and I made way for a smiling cyclist. And another. Then an unsmiling runner. We shared the path. Past a wee stone bridge, I climbed onto a vista of farm and home, clumps of trees and a meandering waterway. Such a gentle place was surrounding me.

And then …

No more named streets
No more juice in my phone
A niggly trembling in the heart

I paused. I breathed. I smiled. This was going to work out. I’ll guess about the turns. I’ll ask locals to point the way. I have Lydia’s list of street names. I’ll be there for Lore.

The path widened into a narrow road, with railway tracks joining me on the left. Ahead was a woman walking her dog. I never caught up with her to say hello. The land was slumbering under a grey sky.

“Turn left at the Nissan,” said the instructions, assuming I was on the road called Diependale. I wondered if that was a big assumption. I walked into a shop and faced a rough-looking fellow. “English?” I intoned. The reply was a vigorous shake of the head and a flood of Flemish. I pointed to “Diependale” on the sheet, and the gentleman shoved his hands downward, which I took to mean I was in the right place.

So onward, and soon a Nissan dealership presented itself. There was supposed to be a bridge over the Scheldt River but none graced my eyes. A gentleman was sitting on a bench. “English?” > “A little.” A minute later I was pointed to the river and city hall beyond. My step sprinted.

What astonishing beauty glowed from the walls of the building. I broke away from the wonderment as I realized I didn’t know what time it was, nor the location of the Tacambaro statue where Lore and I were to meet.

The solution was obvious: go into another shop. The woman inside was surrounded with jewelry displays, and was fully anchored in English. She went outside with me and pointed past the city hall. “Go straight. You’ll see the statue.”

And so it was. Lydia had shown me a photo of a young woman reposing in marble, and after several blocks a shining whiteness parted the moving cars and people. I stood beside the lady at 4:50 pm. Lore came along shortly thereafter.

It was a grand day for walking into the unknown, trusting that the goodness of the world would blossom.

You Ask … I Do

I wonder if it’s as simple as that.  You ask me to do something, and I do it (unless the doing would be harmful to me or others).  Should I hold myself back a little more?  Show some discretion?  Pick and choose which requests I’m willing to act on?

Last Friday afternoon, the kids were working on an art assignment.  Each one drew a deciduous tree and coloured the background in tiles of varying shades of green (for the grass) and blue (for the sky).  Someone asked if I was going to create one.  I said yes, grabbed a piece of art paper, and sat down amid a glom of children.

Most of the student trees looked pretty much the same, and I decided to venture elsewhere.  I made the ball of leaves far bigger and the branches spreading wider.  The wood of the kids’ trees was uniformly brown, it seemed.  It was time for me to rock the tree world.  I plucked orange, blue and yellow highlighters from their bin and set to the task.  Soon the trunk and branches were layers of these colours.  My tree glowed and so did I.  The kids nearby noticed, and sent a few ooos and ahhs my way.

As the first bell rang, I sat back and admired the fluorescence.  From behind me came a voice:

“Mr. Kerr, may I have your painting?”

With nary a thought entering my head, I said “Yes” and handed over the tree.  You ask … I do.

***

Now it’s today.  The teacher needed a bathroom break and asked if I would cover for a few minutes.  As soon as he was out the door, another girl said “Mr. Kerr, sing us a song.”

I smiled.  Inside the words “Of course” welled up and I started in.  I had sung The Wings That Fly Us Home at a meeting of the Evolutionary Collective in May.  This time, I was forgetting lots of the lines.  I stopped, pulled out my phone and found the lyrics, just as the recess bell rang.  Probably fifteen kids got their coats on and headed out to the yard.  Eight stayed and gathered around me.  I sang the whole song.  Someone had asked me to.

***

Why resist the requests?
Why say no to life?
Why not just do it?

The spirit fills the darkness of the heavens
It fills the endless yearning of the soul
It lives within a star too far to dream of
It lives within each part and is the whole
It’s the fire and the wings that fly us home

The Quarter Auction Revisited

I wrote about this marvelous event about six months ago.  I can’t remember what I said then.  Maybe tonight it’ll be the exact same stuff.  And who cares if that’s so?

Take two hundred women and three men.  Arm them with numbered paddles and globs of quarters for participating in the draws.  Surround them with vendors offering products for the kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. Mix in an MC with a barrel of numbered balls.  The recipe yields two hours of fun, with endless servings.

It’s cool being in such a minority.  Some women smiled, some laughed and a few just stared at me.  That’s fine.  I simply wanted to contribute to folks having a good time.

The three of us got to have a bathroom all to ourselves.  There could have been lineups at the women’s for all I know.  Ahh … the perks of specialness.

As I rambled around the room for the first few minutes, up came a woman to complete a transaction.  I had ordered and paid for a book at the last auction but she’d lost my contact info.  So she fretted for six months, praying that I would show up for the next one.  And I did.  The relief was everywhere on her face and empathy on mine.  Actually I had forgotten all about the purchase.

Once more I sat with Linda and her daughters.  The funnest part of these auctions for me has been to drop quarters in their change purses when they’re looking the other way.  In the past, many people couldn’t understand such behaviour when they found out.  It seemed so irrational.  But it’s not.  A few quarters given propels deep happiness into my heart.

Ten minutes after I sat down tonight, four of the five women near me got up to inspect the treasures that were on offer.  I sat alone with Linda’s daughter Emma and with my five rolls of quarters.  I didn’t think, I just unwrapped, and plunked the contents of one roll into each of the four unguarded purses.  Emma stared and smiled.  And I was ecstatic!  Maybe giving freely is what this life is truly about.  And the sweet receiving is just a peripheral perk.

My number was 78.  Partway through the proceedings, The MC said “And the winning number is 78.”  I leapt up with a “Yes!” and romped over to the table holding decorative plates and tumblers.  People saw my joy and chimed in with chuckles and murmurs.

For the very next draw, the winning number was … 78!  Again I climbed high and skipped over to my prize.  I was examining my spoils at the table when I heard “78” ring out once more.  This time it was some gel that’s meant to produce faster orgasms, something that didn’t seem all that beneficial to me, but I jumped up once more.  My goodness … what are the chances?

That was it for the winnings.  I gave all the things away.  That made me very happy.  The evening flowed on – a series of paddles standing tall, winners’ squeals, and vendors sharing the joy of giving.  Ohh, and there were a few more opportunities to have coins fall into purses when heads were turned the other way.

I do believe a fine time was had by all.

 

 

Voices and a Cookie

I volunteer in a Grade 5/6 class.  Wonderful kids.  They create so many moments for me, some of which I’ll remember for the rest of my days.  Last week, I had challenged these young ones to sing “O Canada” with me when our anthem was played over the PA system.  Today, when I realized that the announcements were coming on in a few minutes, I piped up with “Remember the challenge!  You don’t have to do it, but …”

And then the opening chords of the song.  I looked at the wall and let the words flow from my mouth.  Tilting my head a mite, there was the chorus.  I don’t know how many kids of the twenty-four were singing but it was more than a few.  Ahh.  Life is good.

There is great power in putting out a challenge and having it accepted by some.  It feels warm inside.  It makes me wish that I had a time machine and could leap forward into these folks’ lives.  Will thirty-year-olds sing their anthem at hockey games?  Will they believe in their country?  I hope so.

***

As the bell rang, announcing recess, I plucked my coat from its hook.  “Lisa”, a Grade 5 girl, came bouncing up to me, plastic bag in hand.  “Would you like a cookie, Mr. Kerr?”  I gazed down into the bottom to find some black spots on said cookie.  Red alert!  Specifically a raisin alert.  I looked at Lisa, grimaced, and said “I hate raisins.  That’s so kind of you to offer and someday soon I’ll definitely accept if you give me another variety.”  She smiled and I returned the favour.

How lovely that she thought of me and was brave enough to come over and hold out the bag.  I feel honoured, cherished.  Just as lovely was me telling her the truth.  Kids deserve the truth.  My dislike for raisins has no impact on my relationship with Lisa.  I’ll always enjoy the kind and generous humans who come my way.  One of these days, another plastic bag will hold a chocolate chip goodie, or maybe a peanut butter one.  Lisa will give and I will receive.

***

I need kids in my life
Some kids enjoy having me in theirs
We are both teacher and student

Tyrrell

Lance, Jace, Jagger, Nona and Jaxon

An ancient fish – thirty feet long and weighing as much as three elephants

A 71-million-year-old dinosaur.  Check out the teeth.

Our tour guide, plus some folks on the left

I arrived in Longview, Alberta last night to see my brother-in-law Lance and his family.  This morning we were up bright and early for the three-hour drive to the Royal Tyrrell Museum.  We were immersed in the paleontology of long ago creatures, especially dinosaurs.  The above four photos all depict ancient ones.

I could give you the science of it all but that wouldn’t be as cool as goofing around.  It’s astounding how old these creatures are … so many millions of years.  What’s not astounding is how much I like having fun.  I revel in doing strange things just for the joy of it.  At one point, the family came upon a mummified dinosaur.  It was protected by a rectangular glass cage, and a yellow line on the floor eighteen inches from the structure asked us to stay back a bit.  I decided to put my toes on the line and see if anyone would walk between me and the glass.  Ahh … the study of human behaviour!

Two adults and nine kids made the journey between.  I was hoping the numbers would be zero.  Jace, Jagger and Jaxon saw me standing strangely and came over.  Once I revealed my strategy, their toes joined mine.  I guess our lineup was intimidating because no more “trespassing” ensued.  Yes, it was a goofy thing to do, and yes, it made me happy.

When I was in Alberta a few weeks ago for Jaxon’s high school graduation, I arrived as a stranger to the family’s little white dog Melody.  For four days she barked at this bad guy and nipped at my ankles.  Then she gave it a rest.  Yesterday, Melly yapped at me for half an hour before concluding that I was okay.  Good news for my skin and vital organs.  I told Jace that I’d “slipped her a ten” to get her to leave me alone.

This morning Jace asked me if I was going give a ten dollar bill to anyone else.  I laughed.  But as we strolled the Tyrrell, I decided to play.  I folded a ten spot in half and subtly slipped it into Jace’s hand.  A minute later, he returned the favour, with all the smooth grace of a drug dealer.  We were having fun.  Then I sat on a bench near a woman.  I think she was cluing into what we were doing.  So I reached over and put the ten dollar bill into her hand.  We smiled together.  “Give it to somebody else.  You can have the experience of receiving and then giving.  And so can the next person.”  She nodded.  She stood.  She walked over to a dad, standing close to his daughter.  She started talking.  I walked away.

That ten dollars hopefully travelled throughout the Tyrrell Museum.  Maybe its journey was brief, ending in an opened wallet or purse.  But perhaps it went on for hours.  I’ll never know.

I’m smiling now as I remember the giving.  Priceless.

Seeking Gifts

Just before I went to California in April, a boy in the Grade 6 class asked me if I’d bring him back a snow globe. I thought for a second and then said yes. In Monterey, I had so much fun tracking down just what he wanted – a version that featured a sea otter.

On Tuesday, I was in class before my afternoon flight to Alberta. A boy had already asked me to find a wooden sculpture for him. I bet everyone knew that I’d said yes. As time wound down towards my departure, two girls came by separately and each shyly said how much they’d like to have a necklace from Alberta. I asked for details of what they’d prefer and they were happy to oblige. I overheard another young lady telling her friends that she’d love to have a souvenir from the west.

So, Mr. Kerr, do you give these kids what they’re asking for? Immediately the answer came back “Yes”. I choose to reward the kids who speak up, who are brave enough to ask.

On the plane to Calgary, I decided to give the last girl the gift she wanted – some depiction of a horse. It’s true that she didn’t ask me directly but at least she tossed her intention out there.

Today was my first full day with Nona, Lance, Jaxon, Jagger and Jace. Nona knew of a few gift shops in nearby Black Diamond and I promised to be no more than half an hour. I figured I had six more days to score any unfound treasures.

First the recommended drug store with its gift section. A small rearing horse caught my attention on the top shelf. Cool. But so did the $89.99 price tag. My eyes roamed and soon came to rest on a pile of small plates. The top one had a sublime painting of a mom horse and her foal. I stared. “Yes” rang through me. Just like that, one of the four was complete. I could see the future smile on the 11-year-old’s face.

The accompanying shelves weren’t yielding further secrets so I readied myself to leave. I asked the saleslady where in town I was likely to find necklaces. She smiled and gestured over to where I had been. Little boxes, each with a pendant, graced the glass. I hadn’t noticed their silver chains. Before me were jewelry designs in abalone shells – shimmering greens and blues.

The first one to my eyes showed the shining feathers of a dreamcatcher, and the face of one of the askers appeared. Less than a minute later, I saw a “Tree of Life” pendant, and the other young face was smiling at me. How can this be? Three out of four in ten minutes!

I meandered down the street, peeking into this shop and that. The warmth of one place beckoned me inward. My request for “a little wooden sculpture” drew a smile from a clerk and an offer to shift my attention to tiny stone animals. I looked at the small ones in their rectangular compartments and knew that the answer was no. But I was being nudged onward, past several displays of artistry. There, sitting on a vibrant scarf, were four small wooden boxes. One was rounded at the top and a tree stretched over. Mango wood from India. Four.

In ten days, my young friends, gifts will be given.

To Give a Gift

The Evolutionary Collective meets in California for five days starting next Thursday. And I’m going! We’ve received e-mails to prep us for the proceedings and one sentence grabbed me and wouldn’t let go:

Bring an item that holds special significance for you that you are also willing to give to another Core member.

The Core folks have been immersed in this consciousness for years and are no doubt eager to welcome us newbies to the fold. The context of it all is love.

Something that’s significant to me. Perhaps you’re guessing that I entered into a cost-benefit analysis of my homebound objects, furrowing my brow to see what I’m just willing to let go of. And you’d be wrong.

I’m sitting in a pub, gazing at a small wooden statue of an adult and child, their eyes locked. As I read the e-mail, these two presented themselves to me immediately. I knew I loved this piece of sacred art and I knew that it would be in someone else’s living room in two weeks. I smiled. How strange. How new. Not wrapping my fingers around the wood in a death grip. Instead an open palm. Something is moving in me.

In December, I was so struck by the humanity of the Senegalese people. Their smiles were genuine. Their joie de vivre was real. I wanted to take them home with me. Instead I sought a symbol of the connection I saw. There were lots of artisans in Toubacouta but for days nothing “sang” to me. Many creations were exquisite but I needed more than that … I needed the depiction of relationship. And then I came upon the parent and child. The statue said it all. I could have it in my home. But there was a problem. I had lots of Euros but the local artists needed to be paid in CFAs, the Senegalese currency. And the money changer wouldn’t be by for a day or two. So I waited, and watched my lovelies in the shop, wondering if they’d be scooped from me by some other tourist. I could feel the wanting, the pull to make the statue “mine”. Many hours later, it really was.

Now there’s the letting go of beauty, of communion. Another object of the heart will come into my life. “All is calm. All is bright.” All is wonder in the mystery of what’s flowing.

Tarts

I was talking to a teacher a few days ago about our favourite flavours of pie. I mentioned that there was a tie for first in my tummy: pumpkin and lemon. She replied that a gift would be coming my way, and yesterday I received it – six yummy-looking pumpkin tarts. Cue the salivation.

I gazed at the little darlings with lust on my tongue … but then there was a pause. What could I create around these tiny brown circles with 26 Grade 6 kids? I decided to ask them.

“There are six of these and twenty-six of you. How should I decide who gets one?” Here are the young suggestions:

1. Someone who doesn’t talk to friends when we’re working

2. Someone who does something kind

3. Someone who gets all their work done

And there were a couple of others that I can’t remember.

“Okay. I’ve picked one of your ideas and I’ll deliver one of the tarts when I see an example of it. I’m not going to tell you what idea I’ve picked.”

I picked kindness.

Kids were on the carpet as the teacher led a discussion. One boy was massaging the head of the fellow in front of him. Unusual but tender. (Tart)

Then the class was divided into groups, working on putting a series of pictures in some order and labelling each drawing. One girl had been doing the writing in her group and sensed that a boy wanted a turn. She told him to go ahead. He smiled. (Tart)

Four kids were sitting at their desks in a group. One girl dropped her eraser and another one reached down to pick it up. (Tart)

Three more to go but no more examples of kindness showed themselves. So I switched gears. I decided to reward speaking up about important things in front of the class.

I had mentioned to the kids that my wife Jody died four years ago. One young man asked “What did she die of?” > “Lung cancer.” (Tart)

A girl said something that I thought was brilliant, but darned if I can remember her gem. Still … (Tart)

And then I changed my guideline again. As the bell rang for hometime, one girl looked so sad. I walked over to her. (Tart)

***

Yes, I love pumpkin. But that version of love pales before the beauty of human beings.

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