Canada Joy and Toronto Sorrow

On Friday, I went walking down Weston Road in Toronto and came upon an ice cream and coffee shop named God Loves Canada.  Well, with a name like that, who am I to walk by?

Steps inside the door, I was greeted by Rosina, a black woman, and her husband George, a white man.  She had the biggest smile the world has ever seen and assured me that her ice cream was the best in Toronto, straight from Kawartha Dairies.  Rosina and I bantered back and forth about how cool Canada is, much to the delight of George, who sat alone at a tiny table.  Actually the whole place was tiny.

Clearly it was time to sing and Rosina and I launched into “O Canada”.  For some reason, George and the one other customer didn’t join in.  Oh well.  We raised the small roof.

How can anyone smile this much?  Rosina is one happy Canadian.  An hour later, fully supplied with a Rocky Road waffle cone and a cup of “Keswick’s Best Coffee” (decaf!), I walked out the door a grinning man.

Such a fine couple.  They’ve been married for twenty-some years and bug each other playfully.  Ah … the lightness of life that’s waiting if I have the eyes to see.

And then the day turned …

I took bus and subway to the site of Monday’s horrific van attack.  A fellow drove a rental van onto the sidewalk at Yonge and Finch and mowed down pedestrians.  Ten people died and fourteen were injured over a two kilometre stretch.  So immensely sad.

In my backpack I was carrying messages from nine of the Grade 5/6 kids at school, most adorned with art work:

“I am with you”

“Sorry about the accident”

“We are thinking of you”

I climbed the steps out of the subway at Yonge and Finch and looked across the street.  There had to be fifty folks reading all the messages and breathing in the flowers at a memorial set up in a small park.  A long stone wall was covered with the crying of a city.  And I mean covered.  The only blank spot I found was big enough for only one of the kids’ messages.  The thought came that I should just pick one to represent our class.  It only took a second to reject that idea.  Every one of these children needed to have their care seen and appreciated.

So I walked south.  I read an article on my phone that mentioned the sites of death: Tolman Street, Kempford Boulevard, Empress Avenue, Mel Lastman Square.  All places on my route.  No physical evidence remained but the feeling of loss was everywhere.  “The van came by right here, on this very patch of sidewalk.”  (Sigh)

On my way down the street, I looked for other places to suspend the kids’ hearts.  I wanted them to be part of a community outpouring, and nothing showed itself until … Mel Lastman Square – a big open space in front of government buildings.  And there it was: another memorial.  Flowers and thousands of messages.  Jampacked.  I could feel a twinge of frustration but right beside it was faith, that there would be a space for the souls of 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds.

And lo and behold, off to the side, right beside the sidewalk where Torontonians died, was a tree.  Unadorned.  Just naturally beautiful.

I set to work with nine messages of love embraced within plastic page protectors.  I had my packing tape and I had my scissors.  The wind made the stilling of the tape an adventure but with the help of a few local folks, I got the job done.

People came to read.  And take pictures.  And bow their heads.  I met Aurora, who lives nearby.  She read the kids’ words and smiled a lot.  “Please thank them for me.”  I will.  “I live right over there and I’ll come by often to say hi.”  Thank you, Aurora.

***

I was going to drive home today, but I’ve decided to stay another night.  This evening at 7:00 there will be a vigil at Mel Lastman Square.  The police expect 25,000 people to show up.  I’ll be one of them.

 

 

 

Bad Stuff … Good Stuff

On Sunday, I received an e-mail with a negative tone.  On Monday, I received another one, from a different person.  Both sent me into a spin.  Both had great impact on me.  I asked myself what I was feeling in response, and the answers came quickly … fear, sadness and then grief.

There followed the classic question “Now what?”  How do I hold all this?  What would the Buddha do?

I sat with me and let myself feel those feelings.  To really let them in.  And they were most willing to come in.  Soon I was crying.  A day later, not so much, but the underlying current is still woe.

The Buddha was a pretty smart guy.  He talked about the Eight Vicissitudes: pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, and fame and disrepute.  He essentially said that we can be the most happy and kind creatures on Earth, and still we’ll experience the negative halves of those pairs.  So the loss is vivid and the pain intense.  What’s to be done except let it be there?  “Go away” is useless.  Covering it over with alcohol, food or TV goes nowhere.  Wearing a fake smile is transparent to the rest of the world.

So, “Hello, loss.  Thanks for coming by.  Stay as long as you like.  I realize you’ll go when you’re ready to.  After all, you’re just a visitor here.  This is not your true home.”

After yesterday’s e-mail, I was walking along Bloor St. in Toronto, quite lost.  My head had dipped down.  Happily, I noticed this.  Again and again, as the crowds surged around me, I said “Lift your chin up.”  Each time it felt good to do that, to let go of “I’m bad” and realize that there’s a lot of living to be done.  A lot of people to contribute to.  And a depressed human being doesn’t do much of that.

Here I sit, tapping away.  My chin is up.  My fingers are down.  And I have no clue who will come my way tomorrow.  What I do know is that I’ll be ready for them.

 

 

Visiting Kym

I was looking forward to yesterday.  It was time to drive west for two hours along the north shore of Lake Erie.  Kingsville is the home of Kym Brundritt, an exquisitely gifted artist.  Months ago, Kym had given me permission to have her painting “Cosmic Tree” grace the back cover of Jody’s book.  It was so kind of her.  I drove with a copy of the book nearby.  I knew that I wanted to meet Kym and give her the book face-to-face.

I found Kym’s art shop – Paisley Dreamer – parked my car and started down the sidewalk.  A woman turned towards me and said, “Are you Bruce?”  I certainly was.  “Kym’s father has just died.”  Maybe an hour before I pulled in.  The woman was Kym’s mom.  We hugged.  Such overwhelming sadness.

I decide to give Pam the copy of Jody’s book and then head back.  But she said, “Would you come to the house?  I think Kym wants to meet you.”  I didn’t want to intrude on the family’s grief, but the answer was natural … “Yes, I will.”

I followed Pam’s car and parked behind her.  A woman crossed the street and talked to her through the driver’s open window.  I recognized Kym from her photograph.  She was walking towards me as I opened the door.  She was crying.  We hugged.  I don’t remember if we said anything to each other before we touched.

We talked a bit – I don’t know what about.  I gave her Jody’s book.  Then Kym asked me to come inside for a drink of water.  We sat and talked.  Two old friends who had never met.  She mentioned that our timing was surreal.  As the funeral folks knocked on the door, I said that I should go.  “No” was her response.  “Stay.  You’re family.”  Oh my God.  How beautiful.

Kym and I decided that we’d go for lunch someday in Kingsville.  Whether that will be weeks or months away, I’ll be there.  Hugging people I’ve never met.  Isn’t that lovely, Jodiette?  “Yes, husband.  It sure is.”