Day Eleven: Yesterday and Tomorrow

The Keur Saloum Hotel is a fifteen-minute walk along the dirt streets of Toubacouta from Jo and Lydia’s place. I walk through the entrance, greeted with a “Ça va?” (How are you?) from the security guard. I proceed unimpeded because I’m a white tourist with money to spend. The black residents of the village would not be allowed in, and that makes me sad. In the words of Werner Erhard, this is meant be “a world that works for everyone”.

Now I sit by the pool, writing these words. I see many pink blossoms floating on the blue of the water. Pink and blue … the colours of young children. I want the beauty of the world’s moments to endure but alas those flowers might block the water intake, or perhaps the pink ones might disturb swimmers. Whatever the reason, an employee is soon out there with a big net, and in minutes the blue is pure. I get the likely practicality but I’m sad once more.

What life of beauty and inclusion is available to us all? What richness of spirit can stroll through it all, reaching towards the future? Even if I don’t have the words to describe such a reality, I know it’s real.

***

For twenty years, Jo played guitar throughout Europe with a band. His life has been permeated with and enriched by music. Over the past few days, he’s spoken glowingly about a wide variety of luminaries – Hoagy Carmichael, Leonard Bernstein, Aretha Franklin, The Who, José Carreras … Back at the house, the little speaker often tells me about The Beatles. They’re really the only musicians from Jo’s heart that are in mine as well.

I remember the Ed Sullivan TV show in 1964 when the mop heads were introduced to North America. Fifteen-year-old girls in the audience were going crazy, leaping in the air and professing their love. I was that age as well, and although I kept my butt on the couch, I realized that there was something new here … and exciting.

I know many of The Beatles’ songs by heart. They’ve been absorbed through my skin, become part of me. However, I’ve never paid much attention to the words. Until yesterday, and Yesterday. The words came onto me as I sat innocently on the patio. Was I really hearing what I thought I was hearing? If so, have I allowed myself to be hypnotized over all these years? Have I become a different person than the oh so receptive teenager of the 1960s? The answer is “Yes”.

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday

Oh no, I disagree. I face the future, not the past. I look back, sometimes fondly and sometimes shaking my head, but that’s not where my action is. I still have challenges, of course, but they are outshined by possibility, togetherness, smiles.

Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be
There’s a shadow hanging over me
Oh, yesterday came suddenly

I don’t think in terms of fractions, and whoever “me” is lies both within and far beyond the boundary of the skin. There is no weight coming down, except so very briefly. There is open sky, with room to roam to the stars.

Why she had to go I don’t know
She wouldn’t say
I said something wrong
Now I long for yesterday

There is companionship of the heart. It surrounds me. Jody has died and yet there is love on all sides. Some people some close, some back away. All is well. I say wise things. I say dumb things. And I keep saying …

Yesterday love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
Oh, I believe in yesterday

No games. Open arms welcoming the world. Yes, I give myself time alone to renew but my home is in the marketplace of life, being with people.

Rather than “On I go” it’s very much “On we go”
Happiness is here

The Best Home Is Over There In You

In Buddhism, there are four brahma viharas.  A common translation of the term is “best home” – a place to hang out that brings happiness and peace.  The virtues are lovingkindness, compassion, equanimity and sympathetic joy.  The last one has long fascinated me.

The word “sympathetic” throws me.  I don’t want to feel bad for you.  I want to feel with you.  So “empathetic joy” rings far more truly for me.  It’s about me feeling great happiness when you are happy or successful.  It points to the idea that there isn’t a limited amount of joy to go around.   There’s plenty for us all.  It’s taken me a very long time to figure this out.

I remember watching some really popular guys in high school.  They had Hollywood faces … chiselled and acne-free.  They usually were great in sports and seemed so confident in a group, always with something cool to say.  I remember wishing that something would go wrong in their lives.  How about a pimple or two?  “Tone down the good vibes, please.”  I had bought what society was selling us: that happiness is a scarce commodity.  If they have lots, there’s no way I can have much.

According to Sharon Salzberg … “As the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet, puts it, there are so many people in this world, it simply makes sense to make their happiness a source of our own. Then our chances of experiencing joy ‘are enhanced six billion to one,’ he says. ‘Those are very good odds.'”  Indeed.  To multiply happiness by way of a simple shift in attitude.

How about if I surround myself with people who are smarter than me?
How about if I celebrate the skills of someone who writes better than me?
How about if I simply throw my appreciation over there into your eyes?

Problems in Doing … Lightness of Being

For most of my life, I’ve done the tasks of life well. Sure, I had to study this and put some effort into that, but I usually basked in the aura of accomplishment. I’m a good teacher. I’m a good writer.

There’s a casualness in doing well. It’s predictable. And I easily fall into a peaceful rhythm. But what if something happened to disturb that rhythm, to knock me off my comfy chair? Would that be a problem? I guess. But maybe not. Perhaps that would open me into the fresh air of brand newness.

For a long time, I’ve thought that it’s easy to be happy when the world is honouring your words and actions. Far more of a challenge is to continue going towards people when I lack skill, when I fall short, or when the environment seems to be conspiring against me.

Ahh … how life teaches its lessons. Such as today.

I enjoy my work with the Evolutionary Collective. There are opportunities to meet online many times a week with folks from here, there and everywhere. A couple of months ago, I decided to start the training for being the support person in these calls, the one who organizes everything – managing the technology, putting people into breakout groups, unmuting and muting them when they share in the large group, and handling special requests. Today my job was to do the whole thing, while being coached by an experienced tech person.

I started well in the welcoming but then I piled mistake upon mistake. I forgot important parts of the sequence of tasks. I went into overwhelm when faced with the job of moving twenty-two folks into pairs in a way that followed certain guidelines. I panicked more than once, and was grateful when my friend rescued me. I had studied all the details but performed poorly in the heat of the action.

After all the participants left, we two did a debriefing session. Lots of feedback, communicated with kindness. A recognition that I’m nowhere near independent in this role. As my coach and I ended the call, there was laughter … and then quiet smiles. We were together, on a journey.

I left home soon after on my way to the gym. Behind the steering wheel was a man fascinated with the lightness that surrounded him. There was peace. My goodness, how can this be? Why am I not beating myself up, a skill which I had honed to perfection over many decades? Why was my head high, looking straight out at the world? Why was I happy?

It doesn’t seem to be about me – positive thinking, determination, a commitment to do better. There’s no doing here. Something seems to be washing over me in the face of apparently distressing conditions.

And I smile.

I Just Wanna Have Fun

“Animation” is one of my two favourite words.  I’m not talking about cartoons here.  I’m thinking about the Latin word animus, which means “to breathe life into”.  So … take an ordinary moment in your day.  How can you bring it alive?  It’s become my hobby, and it comes to me easily now – no effort, no planning, just fun.

I was walking into GoodLife Fitness this morning at 11:50.  A session with my trainer Tony was scheduled for 12:00.  I’d have to boogie through the clothes changing to make it on time.

On the way to the locker room sat five men in a row.  Some had white goo on their faces.  Off to the side was a table hosted by a smiling woman.  It was laden with paper plates.  Pressurized cans of whipped cream waited for their time to shine.  The hostess told me that GoodLife staff were raising money to help kids with autism or intellectual disabilities get fit.  For $5.00, I could whip a plate full of cream into the visage of one of these captive employees.

First

“Do it, Bruce!”  What does five minutes of lateness mean in the span of your life?

Second

I whipped out my wallet and plunked it into the tub of five dollar bills.  Then I just stood there.  Gentlemen gaped.

Third

As the hostess was explaining things, I stared at the young man on the left end of the line. I tried to look fierce.  As I picked up the overflowing plate, I continued my gaze.

Fourth

Still fixed on Lefty’s eyes, I walked forward ever so slowly, a delicious circle in my right hand.  Closer, and then right up to him, I raised my arm … and splatted the wet goodness into the face of the fellow beside him.  Squeals of delight (both male and female) then ensued.

Fifth

I picked up my gym bag and strode heroically towards the locker room, accompanied by a chorus of “Your wallet!”  I didn’t look back.

Sixth

I took the scenic route through the locker room, creating the pregnancy of time, and returned to the lobby via a back entrance.  Perhaps a minute had gone by.  Up to the table, a crisp bill removed from the rescued wallet, a smiling glance at the assembled ones, and I was off once more.  I believe there was a gentle murmur behind me.

***

Worth its weight in gold, those five minutes
Mouths were opened and smiles engaged
Life was made good

Choosing “This”

Sometimes I look back on my life and ask what moments I’m most proud of. Right now, one stands out. Maybe thirty years ago, I had gall bladder problems. The pain was intense. I spent a few nights in hospital. I remember talking to a nurse who seemed sad, even depressed. I remember willing myself to contribute to her, to somehow lighten her load. My body hurt a lot but I managed to rise above that. How?

Abraham Maslow talked about a hierarchy of needs. If we’re really hungry or sore, he thought there was no way that our urge to love could come through. I loved your work, Abe, but I wonder. What beauty can we human beings create in the moment, no matter what the world is sending our way?

If my pain is 8 on a scale of 10, it’s some stretch to float my hand down a loved one’s cheek. But what if it’s 4? Do I need perfect comfort in order to give? I don’t think so.

In moments of heat or deflation, I often use a key word to remind me of what’s important. One is “this”. The opportunity is to embrace all that the present brings, rather than yearning for what is not here and not now … “that”. Another is “give”, which brings that dear nurse to mind. Am I willing to send love in virtually every circumstance? My goodness, what a challenge.

If I sit around waiting for life conditions to be perfect before moving towards another human being with care, I lose a lot of zest, connection and aliveness. Seems like a pretty expensive choice.

***

So … my future beckons. The world of people roams by my window. I choose to open the front door, walk down the path and say “Hi!”

Monster Walk

On Saturday morning, at least 200 mini-ghosts and princesses walked down Main Street in Belmont, Ontario, searching for goodies.  “Mary”, the owner of the Belmont Diner, had asked me to dress up and hand out candy from 10:00 till noon.  Yes, of course I would!

The day before, I went to a costume store and picked up a greyish black handlebar moustache that made me look extinguished.  I thought about adding a black wig for consistency but then reasoned that the blond one I had at home would do just fine.

Then it was off to Value Village for the subtle tones of a shirt and pants.  A bright orange top drew me in and resistance was futile.  As for the pants, I couldn’t imagine I’d find an appropriate pair in the men’s section, so I asked a saleswoman what size I’d be in female lingo.  She thought a 12.  Alrighty then.  Lurking on the rack in front of me were bright pink trousers.  I rushed to the change room to check out the effect but couldn’t get into the pinks.  Down another aisle was a glowing turquoise version of conservatism.  Yes again.  A perfect 14!

At home there was the wig, a red foam nose and a blue fish head to frame it all.  When I created costumes in the past, I always got the question “What are you?”  Saturday was the same.  I still didn’t have an answer.

Mary had cute little plastic bags stuffed with chocolate unknowns.  I was ready.  Shortly after 10:00, the trail of young costumites and their parents wound its way to the Diner’s front door.  I had the vague idea that my job would be done in thirty minutes but the answer to that was “Not!”  The flow flowed for nearly two hours.

Kids would come into the restaurant looking impossibly cute and glance around, not knowing where to go.  I was at the far end in full regalia, waving my hands in unison and yelling “Hello!  Over here for the candy.”  Wary little ones, often urged on by mom, found their way to me.

I saw so many glimmering dresses.  So many masked demons.  And I looked into so many eyes.  Put so many bags into so many hands.  It was special.  Many kids didn’t know what to make of me but they all enjoyed receiving my gifts.  The stream of young humanity was virtually constant and so was my happiness.  Eyes of wonder.  Mine and theirs.

When the bags were just about gone, Mary pulled out a box of tiny chocolate bars.  All was well … until about 11:30, when there were maybe thirty bars left.  I moseyed over to a table of women regulars and asked if someone would walk over to the nearby grocery store and pick up more treats.  “Barb” bounced up off her seat and headed out the door.  I was handing over my very last bars when she came back.  The universe was truly unfolding as it should.

I was happy
The kids were happy
And I think the cosmos was wearing a big smile

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.