Day Ten: The Pull of Home

I said goodbye to Kayla yesterday morning. She too is on a spiritual path, one quite different from mine. When we go out to dinner, it’s obvious that we have some contrasting perspectives but there’s a celebration in the space. “I’m so glad that you and I have a spiritual life. It brings our words alive.”

As soon as I moved behind the wheel of Scarlet, I could feel the tug – Canada, Belmont, home. There was no sense at all of getting rid of the United States. My last ten days have been full to the brim with precious moments, all of them centered on the presence of one or two other human beings. Those were shining times and now I want to bask in the light of folks who sit at the counter of the Belmont Diner.

I felt immense peace as I followed Scarlet up Highway 23 from Columbus, then 15, 68 and the I-75. I guess I passed a car or two but mostly it was a flood of humanity zooming by on my left. I wished them well, with the possible exception of the truck driver who just about ripped off my front bumper as he pulled back into the curb lane. Oh heck, I’ll wish him well, too!

The freeway through Detroit was surprisingly light with traffic and soon I was on the approach to the Ambassador Bridge to Canada. As Scarlet climbed, I glanced at the water below. No boundary down there or up here on the bridge. Just folks on both sides. You could describe them as American or Canadian but identity goes infinitely deeper than that.

A leisurely two hours to Belmont. Tonight there was a community fish fry at the arena and both my stomach and heart wanted to go. I climbed the steps to the big meeting room with anticipation. The place was packed but as I looked around I realized that I only knew about twenty people. I’ve lived in Belmont for two years now and I want to know far more locals than that. “It’s okay, Bruce. It’ll come.”

My favourite conversation of the evening was with a girl I’ll call Terri. Two years ago, I volunteered in her Grade 6 classroom. Now she goes to another school in another town. I hardly ever see her. We talked about this and that, including her eagerness to take Drama and Art when she goes to high school next year.

As I looked at her, I knew that I loved her. She’s so spontaneous … so very much herself. While we continued talking, I realized that I wanted nothing back from her. Not her time, not her compliments – nothing. And that’s a very sweet kind of love.

I’m home
I’m happy
I’m me

Mitch … or Me?

Last night was the first National Hockey League game of the season for my beloved Toronto Maple Leafs.  I was ready to be glued to the TV set.  This could be the year that the Leafs hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time since 1967.  I was a teenager back then, a Torontonian who watched four cup parades in that decade … a fanatic fan.

I watched the game last night, waiting for my body and soul to explode as the Leafs peppered the Montreal net with brilliant shots, and as our goalie Frederick made one stunning save after another.  And then, of course, we’d win.  As it turned out, we did win, but I didn’t explode.  Actually I was pretty flat during the whole affair.

Why?

I went to sleep clueless about my waned devotion.  I woke up with one word on my lips … “Mitch”.  A few years ago, Mitch Marner played for my local junior team – the London Knights.  I loved watching him zoom up the ice, make impossible passes and blast the puck into the top corner of the net.  An 18-year-old was my hero.  And then the Leafs drafted him.  Thus rekindled was passion for my team.

Mitch didn’t do much last night.  His passes went awry.  His shots missed the net.  And I wasn’t engaged in the game.  The truth seems clear: I create heroes.  I imagine myself as them.  If they don’t perform well, I’m bummed.  Somehow it’s an attack on my self-esteem.  I want heroic moments so I can bask in the glory of their excellence.

I did the same thing with Mike Weir, Canada’s champion golfer who won the Masters in 2003.  I lived and died on every tournament result.  If I was watching on TV, it was on every shot.  What sense does it make to allow my happiness to be blowing in the wind of Mitch and Mike’s performance?  None!

I’m a different person than I was in 2003.  There’s a richness to life, to the possibilities of consciousness, that wasn’t as fully developed then.  Could it be that my ho-humness is less about Mitch’s lack of results and more about competitive sports no longer floating my boat?  I wonder.  I still love the transcendent moments in hockey, golf and tennis but something has changed.  What animates my life these days is a conversation with one other person where we touch each other’s souls.  The flow of a hockey game can’t hold a candle to communion.

Lucan

I’m sipping coffee in Ilderton, a stone’s throw or two from Lucan, Ontario, where tonight there’s a hockey game. The Toronto Maple Leafs and the Ottawa Senators face off in the community centre, in front of perhaps 1300 souls.

The tickets were divvied up through a lottery and I’m excited to reveal that I …

Don’t have one

So why have I headed up here, you ask. I just want to be a part of the vibe on Main Street. Maybe I’ll hug the outside walls of the arena. Or sit down with 1000 other fans in front of a giant TV screen to watch the game.

I love seeing Mitch Marner skate, pass and score. Perhaps he’ll see me in the parking lot and invite me inside … the building, the dressing room, his heart. Oh, Bruce, you are so strange.

Main Street Lucan. I parked blocks from the arena to get a feel for downtown Hockeyville. Store after store was festooned in blue and red ribbons for the two teams. Canada Post is naturally decked out in the appropriate colours but they added wraps of crepe paper to their wheelchair ramp. So cool. Hockey sweaters and sticks filled store windows. And somewhere in town, apparently there’s a church with this message on its lawn: “Love thy neighbour even if they are not Leafs fans.”

The sidewalks were full with families walking to the game, sporting Leafs and Senators jerseys, mostly Leafs. There was joy in their strolls towards town history.

At the community centre, there were TV trucks, huge buses, lots of police cars and the general milling around of folks who had little paper rectangles in their hands. Those people went inside.

I was directed to a long line behind the arena, winding its way to a huge white tent glowing in the distance. Everyone seemed to have a ticket for the giant TV showing of the game. Somebody said there were 100 tickets left an hour ago. As I joked with the locals near me, I kept an eye on a woman in the distance. She was behind a table at the gate, and kept opening and closing a small metal box. I took this to be an excellent sign that there were tickets left. When I finally reached her table, I heard these golden words: “There are twenty left, sir.” I’m in!

I never thought of bringing a lawn chair, unlike 700 other souls. Oh well. Knowing that my feet couldn’t handle three hours of standing, I went to the front left edge of the crowd and plunked myself down behind a couple in their chairs. Between them, from the vantage point of the ground, there was a perfect viewing angle. My butt hurt a lot over the next three hours but so what? I was in Lucan, two hundred metres from my team and my hero. I was roaring approval at John Tavares’ first goal as a Leaf, surrounded by the cheers of my neighbours. Otherworldly!

Smiles everywhere
Town pride everywhere
What a privilege to be immersed in such life

Excess

(I sent out an incomplete version of this post this morning. Oops! If you received it, you may have wondered what follows “A 40”. Read on.)

I’m sitting in the living room of my B&B in Toronto, staring at the cover of a local magazine. There sits a gigantic hamburger in high definition, piled with two patties, two onion rings, bacon, carmelized onions, lettuce, tomato and cheese … cheese … cheese. The burger looks to be four inches in diameter and six inches high.

My knee jerk response is lust, but then I settle down. My eyes narrow and desire fades to revulsion. How would you get such a thing in your mouth? Do we really need five vivid flavours competing for space in our consciousness? Well … no.

I wonder what other examples of animal magnetism I’ll find in these pages:

1. A 40-storey condo tower will be prime real estate – at Bloor and Yonge. If you have a few million dollars lying around, you’ll be able to call “a shimmering sculpture of light and gold” home.

2. How about a fitness experience? If you join this club, you’ll feel “a great energy and flow to the space”, not to mention the change room and “its accoutrements: the towels, the shower products, the padlock-less lockers, the vanity, and even that earthy rug/mat”. Perhaps especially the vanity.

3. “I splurged on a $350 sweater for my boyfriend [Aimé Leon Dore microfleece]. We’re both obsessed with this designer.”

4. A weeklong event to “bring the city’s celebrated bars, bartenders, brands and cocktail lovers together. Come for the amazing parties and bar crawls, the one-of-a-kind seminars and tastings, and even a boozy film screening or two.”

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with any of this. If you have the money it’s one choice you can make. But subtle messages shine through:

Bigger is better
Look at me
Happiness is an outside job

I don’t think so

Friends of Fiddler’s Green

This is a folk music group which was founded in 1971.  Last night at the Cuckoo’s Nest in London, Ontario, five fellows treated us to accordion, guitars, keyboard and a tiny squeeze box, as well as impassioned singing.  The musicians used to play at the old Fiddler’s Green folk club in Toronto.  They played songs and tunes from wide in the world, some raucous and some tender.

I got the last chair in the place, back and to the left of the keyboard player.  I was immersed in sound.  Closing my eyes and tapping out the rhythms on my thighs came naturally.  And so did watching Jeff’s fingers fly over the keys.  Propped up in front of him was a little notebook, with only a few hen scratches shown for each song … and yet he played such beautiful runs!

Usually there was a chorus where we the audience could sing along.  What joy to reach a harmony or two amid the sweet melodies.  I love the blending of voices – it both sends me away and drops me inside.

Our choir throbbed inside an old Tom Paxton folk song – “The Last Thing On My Mind”:

As I lie in my bed in the morning
Without you, without you
Each song in my breast dies a-borning
Without you, without you

Are you going away with no word of farewell
Will there be not a trace left behind?
I could have loved you better, didn’t mean to be unkind
You know that was the last thing on my mind

Oh my God … we were so fine.  We knew the humanity within the words.  And the instruments soared with us.

Alistair Brown is a very funny guy.  Between his singing and playing, he peppered us with jokes:

(A man and his young son)

Daddy, why is the sky blue?

I don’t know, son.

Daddy, how do birds fly?

I’m really not sure, son.

Daddy, do people live out there in space?

I really don’t know, son.

Daddy, do you mind me asking you all these questions?

No, son.  If you don’t ask questions, how are you ever going to learn things?

It was a delightful evening.  From my angle, I got to look at a lot of glowing faces in the audience.  We stood at the end.

 

Home County

Tonight is the beginning of this weekend’s Home County Folk Festival in London, Ontario. I just showed up at the bandshell in Victoria Park. Maybe thirty folks were scattered among the sea of folding chairs and I did what any self-respecting folk purist would do. I gave a speech.

“Welcome to Home County. This is my 80th time here [the festival is celebrating its 45th anniversary!] I’m happy to announce the results of our draw. One of you lovely couples has won an all-expenses-paid trip to Mexico!” I then pulled a nickel from my wallet and flipped it. Looking at a middle-aged couple in row six, I approached them with handshakes. They smiled a lot and didn’t believe me for a second … but it was fun.

And then the music started – a duo of women with lovely voices and sweet lyrics. But all around me people were talking, and they kept doing so song after song. Yuck! What about respect for the performers? I wasn’t brave enough to tell the folks to be quiet and just watched the situation, fascinated with what I was tempted to call a lower state of consciousness. But really, yapping during the singing is just another way of being. I decided to let it go.

And the skies started dribbling. A drop here and a drop there, and suddenly the umbrellas were up in full force. I wanted to feel superior to people who are so protective of their comfort, but I realized there was no cheese down that tunnel. So more letting go. The drops doubled and so did the umbrellas. I was enjoying the refreshing spatters on my arms and shirt and reflecting on the differences among us.

Halfway through the performances, I thought it would be cool to throw my consciousness inside all these festival goers. I tried, which is never a good sign, and nothing happened. Oh well. You’re such an idealist, Bruce.

An hour later, Donovan Woods was wrapping a song, and I looked out over the crowd. Zap! I was there, inside them all. And within the band members too. Bruce was beyond the edges of Bruce’s body. Bruce had spread himself wide. He was inside all those heads.

Then the rains really came and guess whose umbrella was up like a shot? And … the expansion into other folks’ souls had gone poof.

Ain’t life a mystery?

What Nourishes Me?

I sit quietly and wonder about the activities I choose to do, the thoughts that I allow to proliferate. Will the choice I make right now enhance or diminish my life, and the lives of others?

I wonder some more. Here are the nourishments I’ve discovered while sitting under a tree in London’s Victoria Park:

1. I need to open my heart, when I’ve allowed it to close, and keep it open throughout the day. My eyes need to be soft as I gaze out at the human beings near me. I need to feel into their joys and sorrows and let those energies sit within me. More than anything, I need to “be with” my fellow travellers, in a state of union, rather than separation.

2. I need waving leaves and dappled sunlight. To see the massive trunk of this maple tree sink into the earth and to feel the softness of the grass beneath my feet. Simply, I need to be outside in the natural world.

3. I need to have conversations that matter with one human being at a time, hopefully many throughout the day. To look into each other’s eyes and see the universe there. To touch each other’s essence and smile in response. To see who’s there.

4. I need to have children in my life, to bathe in their spontaneity and giggles. For that to happen, I’ll keep volunteering at the elementary school nearby, probably staying in Grade 6. Many of those 12-year-olds love to talk. I need to show the kids one example of a positive male role model, and let them decide whether to emulate me.

5. I need to write for an audience. “Bruce’s Blog” will do just fine. Whether there are three of you out there or three hundred, I hope that my words touch you and contribute to your life. I intend to continue saying what’s true for me, knowing that my heart is good.

6. I need to meditate, to close my eyes and watch what appears, to allow anything to emerge. The stillness opens me to life’s energies and allows me to be in place. I am being held gently by something very big and I’m grateful. I need these moments of awareness.

7. I need to move … walking, the elliptical at the gym or (gulp) riding my bicycle. The last choice still elicits huge fear, so it remains on the back burner for a bit. But I need to feel the tendons stretch and the muscles press, the deep grabs of air, the bowed head of fatigue.

8. I need to sing. I need to harmonize with others. I need to have tender love songs fall from my lips. I need to speak lyrics that tell of the human condition, in all its sweetness and despair. I need to vibrate way down deep.

9. In the spirit of “not this”, I need to be vigilant, to avoid that which has me contract: mean people, surface conversations, overeating, mindless TV watching, the urge to keep busy, wondering “How am I doing?”

***

I get to choose
And those choices determine my impact on others
Choose wisely, Bruce

Ouch

I went to see the fireworks last night at the soccer fields in Belmont.  I saw lots of people I know and love.  As I was moving over the uneven grass with my chair, on the way to the best spot, a sharp pain in my right knee said hello.  After sitting a bit, I went for a hobbling walk with two wonderful kids.  It was fun to talk to them.  But then it was time to sit down and await the light show.

The sky was full with bursts of colour.  I especially liked several explosions that looked like the multiple blossoms of a rhododendron.  So cool.

Alas, all good things come to an end.  As I got up to leave, the knee shrieked.  In the dark it was hard to see the subtleties of grass contour and I paid for my missteps.  For awhile I held on to the top of a low fence as I muddled along.  Not good.

The strangest thing was that I smiled through it all.  Despite the pain, I felt peaceful.  Somehow I knew that all would be well.  I crawled into bed and strategically arranged my legs for comfort, trusting that life would continue working.

Early this morning, there was trouble in River City.  Rolling over sent shoots of yuckiness through the bod.  “All right, that’s enough.  Go to Urgent Care in London.”  I’m getting better at obeying those commands.

Walking in the bedroom was in slow motion.  I tried to keep my right leg straight and pretty much dragged it along.  Still I was fine in the head.  Remarkable.  I then took the most careful shower of my life.  Images flooded back of the ruptured tendon I had in 2003.  That produced a tendon transfer surgery and 17 weeks on crutches.  Then those pictures floated away.  I remained calm.

Once I was shoehorned into Scarlet, driving was fine.  I parked in the garage at St. Joseph’s Health Care and began a tedious shuffle towards the door of Urgent Care.  How humbling to be so slow, to make sure there were no cars for 100 metres before crossing the street.  I felt very old … so why was I happy?  I don’t understand me.

As I reached the receptionist, words unfolded in my head: “Be good to them, Bruce.”  Well, of course.  That’s why I’m on the planet.  And I followed through with that intent.  I made the triage nurse laugh and she made me comfy in a wheelchair.  I also shared chuckles with the X-ray technician.  Plus the doctor (“Call me Danielle”) and I reflected on the mysteries of the body while she expounded on the meniscus, a collateral lateral ligament strain, Tylenol, Advil and ice.  She told me that I wouldn’t damage the knee any more by walking on it, so I said no to crutches.  “It was a pleasure to meet you,” she smiled, as we said goodbye.  And the same from me.  Thanks for helping me, doc.

I’m happy.  I’m icing.  I’m medicating.  And I’m going to the visitation tonight for a dear friend and neighbour.  Bill deserves my presence, even a limpy version.

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?

Community of Music

Since I moved to Belmont 18 months ago, I’ve been creating communities for myself.  Now that the worst of my grieving for Jody is over, I need to be out there in the world.

I love going to the Belmont Diner three times a week for breakfast.  The horseshoe-shaped lunch counter means that I get to talk to lots of folks.  Then there’s the elementary school where I volunteer in a Grade 5/6 class.  Kids and adults know me there and being known is a blessing.

And there are more gathering places: the Barking Cat pub, the Belmont Library, community events in the upstairs meeting room at the arena.

I often go to brunches and concerts at the church on Toronto Island, 200 kilometres from home.  I’m a familiar face there.  Also in London at the Cuckoo’s Nest folk club, Wellington Fitness and the Aeolian Hall concert venue.

Last night was a new opportunity.  A friend told me about weekly folk music gatherings in an old house by the Thames River.  Why not?  I’ve thought for years how cool it would be to go to a Newfoundland kitchen party, where everyone shows up with an instrument and their voice.  But that’s thousands of kilometres from me.

I got out of Scarlet and walked a little nervously towards the lights and parked cars.  I reached for the door, crossed the threshhold and there was Christine, smiling at the newcomer.  She and her husband John have hosted Wednesday evenings at their home for fifteen years.

The living room was narrow, with a small stage set up along one wall.  Chairs and couches were getting full with music fans, and smiles were aimed every which way, including at me.  I felt warm, included, seen.

The first set featured Jake, a mellow pianist, who shared his melodies, his knowledge of how to play jazz, and the voice of his lovely wife Julia.

Then there were the Back Seat Girls, four women (sometimes 5 and even 6) who loved belting out the fast tunes, many of which were so singable.  I was in heaven, sitting there with instant friends, sipping ginger tea, munching chocolate chip cookies, and throwing in a harmony or two.

Wow.  What’s happening?  Another community … and so effortless to embrace.  I am blessed.

The music lasted till 11:00, the smiles no doubt much longer.  I got to drive a fellow home.  He just happened to be the king of trivia questions and how to coach people in answering them.  At red lights and beyond, I tackled this one: Name nine pro baseball, basketball or hockey teams in North America whose names don’t end in “s”.  Here’s one to get you started – the Tampa Bay Lightning.

So I got to do a good deed, stretch my brain cells and laugh a lot.  Earlier I got to sing, drum my fingers on my thighs and enjoy a lot of happy human beings.

Wednesday evenings sound good to me.