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.

Roy McDonald

Roy was a longbearded poet who walked the highways and byways of downtown London, Ontario, greeting all who crossed his path. Roy died in February at the age of 80.

Today, on one of the small workshop stages of the Home County Folk Festival, Roy’s friends paid tribute. Love was in the air. The first speaker asked us “What would life be like if all of us were as unique, as thoroughly ourselves, as Roy was?” Oh my. What a fine question. See the power that one human being can have. Are we inspired to let our souls bubble up into our homes and schools and offices? I hope so.

Roy was known as “The Mayor of Richmond Row” – a fun stretch of shops and restaurants. One speaker said that his death left a huge hole in downtown London. Yes indeed. Another told us “Many people loved Roy. Many others didn’t quite get him. But nobody who’s met Roy will ever forget him.” And those words also ring true.

“Did he ever come up to you and offer to do a rendition of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’?” Sadly, not for me. What I remember is a late night conversation at the McDonalds on Wellington Road, sprinkled with wisdom and choice nuggets from his poetry. Lucky me.

Roxanne Andrighetti sang one of her songs for Roy, and the words point to the man:

Did we take hold of each of our days
Before all this passes away?

And to finish things off, another young woman favoured us with Roy’s favourite song – Frank Sinatra’s My Way. Goodbye, dear Roy. Thank you for being in the world.

For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way

Day Eleven: The Plane Again

Off I go into the wide blue Eastern yonder. In my life as well, the yonder beckons. Unknown. Moments that show up unbidden, by grace.

My day started in the breakfast room of the Abbotsford Travelodge. I sat near a gentleman named Tim and we got talking. I wavered between drowning in my sadness and rising above it. As expected when I’m in the throes of something, I started coughing.

Tim told me it was his birthday. I know me … I had to sing “Happy Birthday” to him but my throat was saying no. “Don’t listen to it, Bruce. Sing.” So I started, soon losing air and grinding to a halt, but then beginning again. I finished the birthday wish. Tim smiled.

I found out that my companion sells health products with an accompanying commitment to improve the immune system of malnourished children across the world. Scientists have developed a powder that’s added to local food. So far, 14,000,000 servings have been shared with kids. My goodness, wow.

I realized that I was sitting beside a true hero, although he would never describe himself as that. Deep down, I saw that my commitment to humanity is no less than his. My focus is just different … deepening the quality of the moments I share with folks who come my way.

I’ve often glimpsed that comparing myself to others is without merit. Just do and say what my heart is leading me to. “And while you’re at it, Bruce, hold your head up high. The world needs your elevation, not your descent.” Okay. Tim gives. I give.

22F was my spot on the plane from Abbotsford, B.C. to Edmonton. A window seat, selected on purpose, and I hardly glanced outside the whole trip. The reason? A young woman named Kalysha sat down in 22E. She was pretty, and that’s nice, but our contact was infinitely more than that.

Kalysha is a committed Christian and has recently been a missionary in Nepal. Soon she’ll be heading out on another spiritual adventure, to Papua New Guinea. Right now, she’s going home to Mayerthorpe, Alberta to be with her family for a few precious weeks.

Kalysha’s eyes glowed as she talked about Jesus. She clearly has a deeply loving relationship with Him. I told her that I was a Buddhist, and later asked if she was tempted to lead me away from the Buddha towards Jesus. She smiled and basically said that she speaks what’s true for her and leaves it up to the other person to make their decision. Cool. So there we were, talking about our spiritual lives, enjoying each other’s presence. My coughing came and went and I felt great acceptance from 22E.

Beyond the words about her family and the Grade 5/6 kids who await me near Belmont, Ontario, there was a stillness between us. Age doesn’t matter. Contact does.

Now I’m on the leg from Edmonton to Toronto. I’m sitting beside an elderly couple. I ordered a burrito bowl and couldn’t open the plastic tube of guacamole. My neighbourly guy did the deed with ease and pleasure. His wife told me they were out west visiting the fellow’s brother, who was sinking through dementia. Yesterday the two had reminisced for a long while, exactly the intention. The couple’s ticket had been selected for today. This morning, in the wee hours, the brother died. Two seats away from me, a grief-stricken senior had opened my guacamole package. Heroes everywhere.

Tomorrow afternoon, I going to the school where I volunteer. There’s a Grade 5/6 potluck at noon and a school play day till the buses pick the kids up. The final event is a water balloon fight between the graduating Grade 6’s and the staff. It was so much fun last year. This time, I’ll be a sitting duck. I can’t throw with my injured right hand and trying to throw overhand with my left would be something to behold. So … I’m going to wing the bombs lefty underhand. No way those kids are going to get the better of me!

Talking to Tim, Kalysha and my current companions has been so therapeutic. The sun is now shining brightly. I can’t wait to see who I can greet on the flight from Toronto to London, Ontario.

On we go.

Johnny Bower

Johnny died yesterday at 93.  He was my hero in the 1960’s as the goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  I loved hockey and I loved watching this 40-year-old make spectacular saves on TV.

In those days, the first period of Saturday night hockey games wasn’t telecast.  Mom and dad let me soak in the tub with my radio nearby, cheering on Johnny and the Leafs.  I was so happy, and even more so when I got to come downstairs, all scrubbed clean, to watch the rest of the game.

For so long, I wanted to meet Johnny.  I read that he’d walk out of his house most mornings and pick up the garbage that showed up in nearby Johnny Bower Park.   I made plans to show up there sometime to thank my hero for making me a happy kid.  Sadly, I never did that.

For the past couple of years, I’ve walked past Johnny’s statue in downtown Toronto on my way to concerts on the island.  I put my hand on his forearm and say “Thank you, Johnny.”  And I’ll keep doing that.

I wonder if I’m a hero to any kid in Belmont.  It’s possible.  So I get to be the best Bruce possible when I’m in the presence of those marvelous young people.

Passing it on.