Walking Alone

I love my Belgian family. We laugh together. We explore together, often wandering off the beaten path. And we support each other: Curd getting tired after so much driving in unknown areas, me coughing over here and over there. Etcetera.

And then there was a time for me to go out and about … alone.

I wandered along the Viale della Repubblica towards downtown Riardo. A narrow street beckoned upwards to the right and I followed my raised eyes. Beyond a tiny square stood a stone shrine to Maria. I thought of the thousands who have stood there.

The cobbles launched again, so steeply. Soon I was at the base of narrow steps that soared above the world. Balconies and potted plants greeted my climb. It was just like in the movies, and like a painting of an Italian piazza that hangs in my home. I stopped … stunned. I was really here.

The beauty of the scene embraced me, and yet a niggling feeling came my way: there were no people. Closed wooden doors told me that there were homes here but no one came out to say “Hi.”

I stood in the loneliness. It was so clear that ancient architecture and grand vistas only go so far in the creation of happiness. I need eyes meeting mine.

I ventured up and around and up some more till I saw the shade beside the castle approach. The gate was closed but I enjoyed resting in the lee of the stones. Just me. Just what I needed.

***

In the evening, we decided to eat at a restaurant a couple of miles out of town – the Masseria delle Sorgenti. I wanted to walk some back roads to get there. I believe my friends found that strange. They drove. My old friend Google Maps showed me the way, through a neighbourhood of Riardo and then out into the countrywide of vines, rows of small plants and huge bushes overflowing with white and pink flowers.

Once again, I wanted to be alone in the world.

The light was fading and I’d agreed to meet the folks at 8:30. All was quiet over the fields and part of me lounged in the solitude. Sadly, the other section of Bruce was well-scheduled, and so I didn’t give myself fully to the fragrant moments. Didn’t even take any photos.

Mr. Google told me that taking this road, that one and then the other would take me safely to my destination. And then I spotted a twinkling terrasse across the flowing land. Perfect … only about ten minutes late. That’ll do fine.

As I turned into the driveway, I noted that the sign said “Villa Ida” rather than “Masseria delle Sorgenti”. Not a problem. I pushed my chest out and strolled onto the patio, seeking my kin. There were little knots of humans spread across. I made my gracious rounds of the tables but there wasn’t a Jo or Lydia to be seen.

Huh? How could they have got lost? Google said I was here. You’d think that in a car they’d have been able to achieve that as well.

I spoke to a chef. I had just uttered the word “Masseria” when he threw his arms in the air, aiming his outstretched fingers way to the left.

Well … Back to the road. Down to the highway. A large sign announced my restaurant but I had no clue about how to find it. Two young men in a car pointed down the way I had come.

***

Just so you know, thanks to WhatsApp, and Curd picking me up amid the darkness, I was reunited with les Belges. The pasta was delicious. The company was better.

Ciao until tomorrow.

Roma

It slowly sinks in: I’m in a majestic city, an entrancing city.  Some buildings have been in place for 2000 years.  I think of the people who walked where I walk, who looked out of the windows above me.  I think of the Colosseum as I stand beneath it in the evening, its arches glowing with golden light.  So peaceful, and yet the same place where thousands cheered the upcoming deaths of human beings as lions ripped into flesh.

Everything feels so “big” here – from the towering buildings with their balconies and flower boxes, to the thousands of people filling the squares in the relative cool of the evening, to the long span of history.  What I’ve enjoyed most is the countless sidewalk cafés full of human beings, especially the ones on narrow cobbled streets.  Cars will fit their way through, with pedestrians moving closer to the walls to allow passage. No one seems bothered by the volume of vehicles and people.

I love watching folks walk hand in hand, whether it’s romance or a mom holding her daughter.  I love the hugs I see, the occasional public kiss, the smiles that seem to be everywhere.  And I love being together with Lydia, Jo, Anja and Curd.  We go ‘sploring together as a family.  Yes, I’m been adopted by these fine Belgian folks.  I’m included, which is a wonderful thing for a guy who lives alone.

Often we’ve been on the “hop on – hop off” tourist bus, up on the second floor.  Huge windows and an open sky show me the world.  I love the delicate details of the architecture and the flow of humanity below.  At our stops, I have a few minutes to really look at the human beings passing by.  Some are lost in their ear buds but most seem engaged with this rich environment.  I study the faces and ask myself what their lives are like.  Just as textured as mine, I’m sure.

Here are some more images:

A family of four arranging themselves for a selfie in a cobbled square – the two little girls giggling

Our waiter Luigi engaging us with great spirit in English, and then presenting us with a complimentary dessert of sweet buns and whipped cream.  He also offers us a free bottle of wine if we come back.

Standing in line with a woman from Los Angeles, reflecting on the beauty of Roma, as well as the smog and freeways of LA.  We laugh a lot.

Watching an artisan use pliers to turn a tiny tube of metal into a girl’s name and then attach it to a maroon leather bracelet.  One of the Grade 6 girls near Belmont in Canada had asked me to bring her back a bracelet from Italy.  I’ve kept my word.

The glow of sunset behind Mussolini’s palace, silhouetting two winged charioteers

Pressed together with hundreds of folks to get a view of the Trevi Fountain.  The sheer mass of humanity was overwhelming.

The blessed silence of being inside the Pantheon, an ancient church filled with sculptures and paintings from long, long ago

Sweat pouring off bodies in the 33° Celsius heat as we all choose to be out and about in such beauty

***

How can it be?  In just two days, Rome has become my favourite city.  Somewhere ahead of me, a lovely lady will present herself into my life, and we will walk hand in hand through these sacred streets and lift a glass of wine to each other in a café.  Ciao!

 

 

NBA2K19

It’s a video game. I told myself that such things were locked in my past, never to reappear. Hmm. I’ve changed my mind.

Everybody in this house is a rabid Toronto Raptors fan. They’re one game away from winning the National Basketball Association championship. It’d be the first time the trophy comes to Canada.

Tomorrow night at 7:00, we six human beings will be glued to the TV, with hands dipping into bowls of popcorn. The roof will be raised.

Today at 7:00, I watched Jaxon play as Kawhi Leonard for the Raptors … in tomorrow’s game! The announcer mentioned the Warriors’ big loss on Friday night, and how the return of Kevin Durant should help. What?! A video game that’s updated with daily news? What is happening here?

I gaped at the graphics … the dribbles, the balls arcing through the wavering strings of the hoop, the pinpoint passes, the high fives, the facial expressions after missed shots, the crowd going nuts in their red Raptors shirts. Oh my.

The cheers in Scotiabank Arena were deafening: “Let’s go Raptors! Let’s go Raptors!” and “De-fence!” It was immersion. And I was hanging on every shot, every steal, every long pass. Reality was twisting. I really was in the middle of tomorrow’s game. What was happening on the screen would dictate who really wins the championship. So strange.

I have a sense of what deep happiness is about. Relationship. Communion. Love. Playing video games isn’t in the same time zone. I want to spend most of my time giving to people. The pleasure of sports simulations isn’t the profound sweetness of gazing into a beloved’s eyes.

And yet … seeing the Raptors become world champions 24 hours before they really do was great fun.

Long Haul Trucker

I went to a men’s breakfast at a church in London this morning.  Before the food was rolled out, I took a seat in the foyer next to a fellow wearing shorts.  He was an old guy (sort of like me!)  We talked a bit of this and that and then I asked if he was retired.  He was.

“I was a long haul trucker for 45 years.”

I love learning about other people’s lives, especially if they’ve done things that I never have.  I’ve often wondered what a trucker’s life is like.  The flow of the open road sounds marvelous but being alone for so long feels like misery.  I’m not a “go it alone” type guy.

Robbie has been happily married for many decades.  But he’d often be on trips for five weeks at a time.  I asked him if 90% of his married life was spent away from each other.  “Yeah, that sounds about right.”  I asked how you keep a relationship going through such lengthy absences.  He smiled immediately and his eyes seemed far away.  “It’s not a problem.”  I looked again, and there was love.

My new friend mentioned that he had an accident once but that was 8,000,000 miles ago.  I asked about driving across the continent in winter.  “I know what to do when it snows, even when there’s freezing rain.  There’s a lot of weight in that rig but I just go slow when it’s slippery.”  Alrighty then.  Clearly driving truck isn’t for me.  I get so tense when the temperature is around 0º Celsius and the clouds are dripping their blessings.

I asked about whether trucking companies put pressure on drivers to cover a lot of ground fast, to absolutely make deadlines that are thousands of miles away.  “No, I had plenty of time to meet their schedule.  But I didn’t want to sit in coffee shops blabbing to other guys for two hours.  Can’t make money that way.”  Okay, I like making money too but I also want to spend time with folks.

Robbie said that often he’d have a trip that went something like this: Toronto > Laredo, Texas > Vancouver > Boston > home.  I can only imagine.  Did he drive alone?  “Yes, I love the peace and quiet, just turning on the cruise control and watching the world go by.  I’m a loner.”

He showed me a photo of his bright blue rig.  He was beaming.  “Two bunk beds in the back of the cab.  Lots of room.  After I got my max ten hours of driving in, I’d pull off somewhere and snooze away.”  Oh my.  So alone, but that’s what Robbie chose, so good for him.

Now the man is retired but I can see the blacktop in his eyes.  He says it’s a challenge for both him and his wife now that he’s home so much, but no big deal.  Here’s a fellow who has so many miles to look back on.  He seems at peace with himself.

We’re both a lot hungry and the bacon, eggs, beans and pancakes are ready for us now.  And anyway, I’ve already been nourished.

Slimming Down

No, I’m not talking about my weight or the size of my belly.  I’m looking at what’s “extra” in my life, what I can quite happily do without.  I’m finally getting that the extras don’t bring abiding happiness.

I’m 70.  Maybe I have 20 years left on this planet.  What do I want them to be about?  The answer comes clearly – I want to make a huge contribution to the consciousness of the world … without ego, without “look at me”.  If I’m stuck in my “stuff”, putting lots of energy into fixing my problems, that energy is not available to flow outwards as love.

So, what do I need to let go of?

1.  The question “How am I doing?”  It’s been walking beside me for decades.  This morning, I wanted to shower, stretch into yoga poses and do my physio exercises before driving a friend to breakfast at the Belmont Diner.  I know approximately how long each of these activities takes.  After showering and shaving, I could feel the pull of the alarm clock.  But I didn’t look.  I’ve lost the essence of so many minutes by not flowing with the present moment.  Not today, thank you.  I’ve used the question to analyze my weight, my spiritual development, my “progress” through the day.  Enough.

2.  External standards of appropriate behaviour.  “I should write a blog post every day.”  My goodness, who made that one up?  Sometimes I’ve gone to bed without writing anything, with the plan to create a post the next morning, and then a second one in the evening to “catch up”.  Catch up to what, may I ask?  And in association with that, I’ve declared that I need to keep frequent track of how many views my writings have scored on WordPress.  How many likes on Facebook.  Well, that’s just dumb, although I would have answered differently a few days ago.  What a colossal waste of energy.

3.  I love sports but I need to figure out why.  I say that I love the Toronto Maple Leafs but is that just an echo from the 1960’s when the Leafs won four Stanley Cups and I went to all the parades?  Does the belonging I feel as a Leafs fan hold a candle to the belonging possible when a group of people are actively spreading love across the planet?  No.  Why am I reading endless articles analyzing the successes and failures of players and teams?  Seems stupid.

What’s true is that I love the transcendent moments in sport, when one player does something amazing.  Those great plays remind me of how “above and beyond” each of us can be in our daily lives.  If that’s what drives me, I can watch the half-hour highlight shows on TV, where athlete after athlete breaks beyond the norm.

4.  Being afraid of strong female leaders.  It’s all part of the historical Bruce: “I’m less than.  I’m not good enough.”  Powerful people surround themselves with powerful people.  I want to be a powerful person so bring on all the “out there” movers and shakers I can find.

5.  Beer.  It just makes me tired and woozy.  I then don’t have the clarity to “be with” the other person in a deep way.  I feel good for awhile but the beauty fades so easily.  I’m looking for something far more durable in life.

6.  Small talk.  Critical talk.  Participating in them just makes me shrink.  Maybe I’ll say a thing or two about politics or local issues but a drawn-out discussion verging on argument just takes me away from what’s important.  If the group is hot and heavy into the topic, I can stay quiet and love them silently from a short distance.  It can be a one-way flow, not always a mutual sharing of spirit (but I love it when that happens).

7.  Too much energy in … not enough energy out.  Being happy is not about accumulating experiences, such as Oscar-winning movies, gourmet meals and lush landscapes.  They’re fine.  And so are cool things that people say to me.  But the real joy is in what I put out there to the world.  Am I big enough often enough to spread love, peace and freedom far and wide?  I think so.

***

Getting down to the essential Bruce
Shaving down the hard edges
Finding that well full of sweet water … and sharing it

TV Commercials … Do I Buy It?

To what extent am I hypnotized by the messages of mass media?  Or do I see beyond the compulsion to add more stuff to my life?  Usually I don’t even notice commercials, but without my alertness am I simply allowing their underlying tone of “more, better and different” to seep into my being?

The commercials I do notice are ones that depict the tenderness of  human relationships, moment of kindness, soft eye contact.  But then there are the others.  Perhaps I should pay attention.

1.  Say it with diamonds

There’s nothing wrong with a lovely ring or a dinner out at a fancy restaurant but even better is saying it with your mouth.  And within the speaking, let’s include the words that are so often withheld … “I love you.”

2.  There’s no better time to get …

Apparently it has to happen now, or at least it should to foster maximum happiness.  Maybe I’ll be missing out, squandering some once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, if I hesitate.  Can I be just as happy without making that big purchase tomorrow morning?  Yes.

3.  Beat the blues  [Buy what we sell]

The thought is that happiness is basically an outside job.  If I accumulate more precious things, depression has no chance.  Whether it’s gourmet food, designer jeans or a car that goes from 0 to 60 in the flash of an eye, I’ve got this.  Or does it have me?

4.  Get the exceptional handling of intelligent all-wheel drive

And who doesn’t want to be exceptional and intelligent?   Maybe the glory of my car will somehow rub off on me.  No, I don’t think it works that way.

5.  Twenty winners every Thursday

Well, I better get in on that or I might just end up being a loser.  Could it be, though, that the zero sum game of win-lose doesn’t point to happiness, that helping someone else brings me more than I give?

6.  Broadway’s best musical

I would certainly like to be associated with the best.  Actually, I’d like to be considered the best in some area of life.  Then I could feel good about myself.  I don’t know … that doesn’t seem to leave much space for contentment.  Perhaps I can be happy without being an exceptional athlete, singer or teacher.  Just a human being who cares.

Oh … and another thing – who is saying this musical is the best?

7.  This is as good as it gets

Unspoken and insidious > There’s a ceiling to your life.  And this is pretty much it.  It may not simply be downhill from here but nor will you be breaking through the stratosphere to touch the stars.  Says who?!  The future beckons, and I don’t know what beauty will reveal itself for me, for my loved ones, and for humanity.

8.  Insane deal!

Naturally, I don’t want to be considered insane for missing this golden opportunity.  I want to be respected.  I want to be normal.  I better buy this thing.  I think not.  Another type of insanity comes to mind.

9.  When I’m holding your wheel
All I hear is your gear
When I’m cruisin’ in overdrive
Don’t have to listen to no run of the mill talk jive
I’m in love with my car

(Queen)

Oh please.  Give me the sweetness of the soul and the softness of the skin before the shine of the metal.

***

No hypnotism
Eye-to-eye
Real

Cozy

6:30 pm

AccuWeather is calling for ten hours of snow overnight.  Right now it’s freezing drizzle.  I’m sitting in my den at the front of the house, watching for snow signs in the streetlight.  I’m eager for the storm and so very thankful that I’m safe inside.

I think back to forty years ago, in the mountains of Manning Park east of Vancouver, British Columbia.  A group of us had rented a chalet for a few days and the snow was coming down hard.  A fire kept us warm and the windows looked like a Christmas card.  After dark, we ventured out to the neighbouring chalets, singing carols to the occupants.  We smiled and they smiled.  What a great memory.

Tonight, though, I don’t want to be out and about.  I’m curled up on my love seat with a marvelous book – Wonder.  It’s the story of a 10-year-old who has a deformed face.  His spirit, however, is just fine.  And he’s starting to draw people in.

I’ll keep watching the streetlight and will tell you when there’s some action up there.

8:15 pm

It’s starting!  Essentially horizontal snow.  Oh, bring it on!  So far, the street is still black but I have great faith that white is on its way.

11:30 pm

Snowflakes still dipping and diving in the light … but very little on the ground.  (Sigh)  I want inches blanketing the road.  Blizzard, wherefor art thou?  It’s time to lay my head on the pillow and dream of a white world on the awakening.  Goodnight.

8:00 am

Boo.  Just a skiff of snow, with patches of grass showing through on the lawn.  The street remains black.  What happened to my blessed blizzard?

Once I sat with these thoughts for a few minutes, I realized that I don’t need the outside world to do what I want it to do.  I can bring forth “sanctuary”, “nestling down”, “coziness” whenever I choose.  Now, as I look over my backyard, I see a delicate painting … a covering of white sprinkled with strands of green.  It’s beautiful.  It’s home.

An Inside Job

I was riding the UP Express train to downtown Toronto just now. Houses and streets flashed by. For two seconds, I saw something special: attached to a tiny house was a sunroom. Inside, there sat a cutesy round table and two chairs.

I imagined a couple holding hands and having a glass of wine. Lovely. And then another thought: the train roars by every fifteen minutes from 5:00 am till 1:00 am. Wouldn’t that put a damper on romance? Well … not necessarily. What if their love shone like the sun? What if each of them was looking deep into the eyes of the beloved? What if time stood still in the other’s presence? Hurtling missiles outside the glass would matter not.

***

Now I’m on Toronto Island, walking towards St. Andrew-by-the-Lake Church. It’s been six months since I’ve attended a brunch and a concert here. I think of all the Island residents I’ve met … and many of their names are lost to me right now. I feel the contraction, the “should” of remembering their names, and then, magically, the deficit disappears. A little smile crosses my face and stays for a visit.

***

Two hours later, it’s music time. A saxophone quartet is here to entertain. Their loud and fast pieces bang against my ears. But I listen more carefully and the deep notes of the bass saxophone vibrate my heart. I watch how the musicians blend, how they take turns in the spotlight. I see their smiles and give them one in return.

***

Next, on the ferry back to the mainland. A fellow I met at the concert sees that a young boy is wearing the kit of the Chelsea football (soccer) team. Both of them are fans and their conversation flows along. I wrinkle, wanting to be the man talking to the boy. And then … I open my eyes wider and see the beauty of the moment. I bask in their joy together. And that is enough.

***

Moments in a day, each containing the same lesson
And all is well

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.