More Than One

We’re home in Belgium, having said goodbye to our home in Italy. And then there is the question “What makes these places home?” The roll of the land is very beautiful, as is the grandeur of the old buildings. Tourist attractions abound, as do fine hotels and B&Bs. Still, the answer isn’t there.

It is very simply people who beckon me home. Perhaps we meet in the cool of this baguetteria in Roma. Maybe in our car today on the way to Oudenaarde. We gather. In the evening, Lore, Lydia and I watched The Notebook. It was the first time for me, maybe the twentieth for Lydia. She cried. My eyes were also moist as we watched a true love unfold over time. The three of us shared such a human experience. We all want to touch and be touched.

In a few days, Jo and Lydia’s son Baziel, and Anja and Curd’s daughter Olivia will fly with me to Canada. We will see wondrous things. We will go to wondrous sporting events. The true wonder, however, will be in sharing moments together, caring for each other, hanging loose in a most delightful way.

Together

Dinner in Riardo with the birthday folks behind

***

It was just a ten-minute walk from our B&B to downtown Riardo. I had asked my family to go ahead towards dinner since I had an appointment with an antibiotic needle. So now it was just me, on a dark residential street. I could hear the music of Italian voices on the higher floors of the homes I passed. Just like Flemish, I didn’t understand a word … and that was fine. Kids played in the muted light of a side street. All was well.

As I reached the main drag, I came upon a restaurant full of folks on its streetside patio. Two men were yelling at each other, gesturing wildly. I loved the energy, even though I’m not the yelly type. It reminded me of Roma and New York.

To my left, I heard “Bruce”, and there was Lydia in the street, waving me on to the pizzeria. Thank you, my friend.

The blackboard by our table told all, except I needed my friends to tell me. I knew I wanted pasta. After all, when in Riardo … Spaghetti porcini (with mushrooms) sounded fine and “Oh my God!” it was. What was that sublime flavour on the noodles? I told my gracious hostess that it was the best pasta I’d had in Italia. Her smile was all I needed in reply.

Behind us sat a large family. At least twelve folks, young and old and in between. Lots of gay chatter, again unknown to me. I loved it. My birth family was small and I wanted to borrow some energy from the humans at the next table. Mission accomplished.

The swimming family was tucked into a corner and three other groups soon sat down at the remaining tables. Wow … together indeed.

The big family started saluting the woman of the hour with the familiar tune of “Happy Birthday”, although naturally the words were Italiano. I zoomed to Google Translate and found “Buon Compleanno”, which I said to the woman when she came over to us, offering two plates of cake and other sweeties. She smiled and said something enthusiastic. Soon other desserty plates were being placed in front of all the other diners. I whirled around to the partygoers and yelled “Buon Compleanno!” Laughter erupted.

Ahh … there was such contact, across permeable boundaries of tables and languages. Just human beings, laughing in the night.

Home comes in many flavours.

Inside You

Jesus offers himself to his companions under the guise of food and urges them to eat and to be filled with his life and energy … He shows that he means to put himself literally inside the other persons, and that he wishes to nourish them.

The basic spiritual practice we do in the Evolutionary Collective offers us the possibility of throwing our consciousness out into space, having it arc upwards and then fall through the eyes of the beloved sitting across from us.  There can be an urging to go “over there” and to know it as home.

Until recently, I’ve thought of home as being inside me.  Over there was a you, with your own home.  We were separate.  We may have loved each other, and joyed in each other’s company, but there was a membrane between.

What if that’s not true?  What if we’re joined into one at the heart, while I still get to be Bruce and you get to be you?  What if, in our entering in, we feed each other the most nourishing of foods?  Salmon, kale, garlic, mussels, potatoes and blueberries pass from your fork to my mouth and from mine to yours.  The nutrients flow out to our fingertips and the flavours bring joy to our soul.

Our bodies lean towards each other.  As our foreheads touch, it’s as though there aren’t any bones.  We simply merge.  And we wonder … are there two beings here, or just one?  I can feel me, I can feel you, but most deeply I can feel us.

Inside you, there is a wonderland.  We sit together on the couch, in a room of dark wood, brightened by the glow of the fire.  We are full together, wanting for nothing, knowing we can bring the world alive.  I am inside you and there’s nowhere else to go.  No need to move our bodies apart, or to get up from the couch, or to burst out into spasms of opinion.  We simply rest in the touching, gazing in wonder at the shimmering coals.

Day Two: Family

“Je sens déjà une partie de ta famille.” Lydia and Jo, the friends I met on a hiking trail in Alberta, are sitting with their children Lore and Baziel (and me) as we shared a meal. I had been in their home for only an hour or two but I knew what was true: “I already feel a part of your family.”

I picked up my luggage at the Brussels airport and there was Lydia greeting me at the gate with a big hug. On our serpentine way home, we laughed a lot and actually giggled about me being here. Lydia’s friends had said “You mean that Canadian guy is really coming?” Yes, indeed he is.

Lydia is so in love with life. Enthousiasme! Tonight we walked down a dark street on the way to watching Lore and her horse doing jumping training. We bounced along walking arm in arm. I made animal sounds and Lydia smiled lots.

Jo started almost two months ago turning a dusty attic into a sanctuary for me. His home is a marvel of his own making and my bedroom fits right in. Right now I’m sitting in his designed living room with a wall of windows facing a horse meadow sloping down to a pond. There’s such a feeling of space. Thanks, Jo.

Last night, Baziel stayed up to 11:30 to do the finishing touches in the room – and this with exams looming on Monday. Such dedication to someone he’d never met.

Baziel’s passion is basketball. I saw him shooting hoops in the farm’s courtyard … swoosh, swoosh, swoosh. And tomorrow evening, I’m going to watch him practice with his team. That should be fun. I think I’ll be the proud uncle.

I walked into the muddy yard to greet Lore’s two Shetland ponies: the 24-year-old mom and her son. What a wonder to run my hand through that long hair. And then there was the star of the show – Jackson, truly Lore’s horse. I watched the two of them together, and the love between animal and human flowed freely.

Tonight Lore and Jackson had a jumping session at a nearby horse barn. Poles were set up in various configurations for Jackson to float over … and mostly he did! I stood nearby to watch the grace and power.

Lore was the main chooser of objects to display in my bedroom. The first thing I noticed was Jody’s book standing proudly on a cupboard. Across the way was a small statue of the Buddha – perfect for me. Her attention to detail was a perfect expression of love for, again, someone she’d never met.

I’m home here. The old sharp-sloped rooves, the shale tiles and the red brick are a factor, but essentially the people in this home are the beauty. Thank you, dear loved ones.

The Santa Parade

I couldn’t help myself last night.  I just had to dress up like Charles Dickens for the Belmont Santa Claus Parade.  It was full regalia: dress shirt and tie, top hat, long dress coat and a red scarf (courtesy of the TFC soccer team).  Oh, and I used spirit gum to develop an instant moustache, a black handlebar jobbie.

I walked down Main Street to the staging area an hour before the departure time, coming across various gaggles of humanity.  Each time, I announced myself as Charles Dickens, arrived earlier in the day from England, and asked if there was a parade happening soon.  Most people laughed and joined in the fun.  One couple playfully directed me to the wrong end of town.  A few folks just stared but that’s okay.  I guess I was an abrupt shock.

Down at parade central, I joshed with kids and adults, many of whom I knew, as the rain began.  It would last for the next hour.  My task was to walk beside the Belmont Diner float, handing out mini-chocolate bars.  Based on my parading two years ago, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to keep up.  Kids deserved their five seconds of eye contact.  So my bag was plum full of tasty treats.  I felt “like a peddler, just opening his pack.”  Strength training here I come.

As our cavalcade spilled onto Main Street, there were the kids … hundreds of them on the route.  One bar for each small human, and a huge mustachioed smile.  “Merry Christmas!”,  “God bless us everyone”, and other assorted holiday greetings.  I mentioned to the adults that they’d get chocolate if they were under 15, and many of them happily volunteered that they were.  The ones who spoke up got a bar.  Why not?

I told a few kids that hidden beneath the plastic wrapping of their treat was a lovely piece of broccoli.  Pained faces, until I corrected that to chocolate, “which as we all know is one of Canada’s four major food groups.  By the way, the other three are also chocolate.”  So … many smiles.

I saw lots of kids I knew, and received several hugs from children who could see beneath my disguise to the Mr. Kerr within.  I only forgot one name and awkwardly looked at the boy for a few seconds after “Merry Christmas”.  I was sad that I couldn’t remember his name.  After all, he was in the class where I volunteered last year.  But that’s life.  Perfection is not me.

I was so happy to see people, young and old, who are part of my life.  And they were happy to see me.  Belmont has been my home for two years and now I belong.  What a sweet feeling.

As someone wise once said
“Home is where the heart is”

Coffee Shop

I’m sitting in a Tim Hortons in London, gazing at the span of humanity before me. People-watching is so much fun.

Across the way, two guys and a girl, all seniors I’d guess, are having a grand old time. They’re probably setting a world’s record for laughs per minute. I can’t quite hear their topics of conversation but it seems like they’re not laughing at anyone. It’s more like they’re chuckling at life. Every so often they greet someone in line so these folks must be regulars.

Off to my right, another old guy sits alone. He’s wearing a grey plaid beret, plus a scowl. Wow, does he look unhappy. His arms are crossed and he’s looking down. Such a contrast to the laughers nearby. I ponder going over and talking to him, but leaving him alone and wishing him well feels like a better plan. So that’s what I do.

I look at the teenager who served me half an hour ago. Her face is pretty, when you think of Hollywood. It’s buried, however, under a white coat of makeup. And there’s a paleness about her spirit too. She filled my order with the contact of a robot. I felt like a “thing” in her eyes. Still, I also wish her well. May she discover what’s truly beautiful in our world.

Now a young guy sits down with the laughers. Green ball cap, camouflage jacket, heavy growth on his face. F-in this and F-in that. Complaining about someone or something almost continually. The smiling ones adjust and smile some more.

I switch seats to watch the parade of cars at the drive-thru. Faces waiting in line:

A young man at the wheel, passenger seat empty, an elderly woman in the back. What does that mean?

A 60-something woman wearing a bright red coat, surgical mask tucked under her chin. What could this story be?

A blue Dodge Ram truck looming above me, with two bearded fellows talking loudly to each other.

A teenaged girl driving her mom, I suppose -the young one gesturing in the air and the old one smiling.

A black SUV climbs the curb. Inside, there’s a grey-haired fellow with a black coat and sunglasses. I look to see if there’s an earpiece.

And beyond the drive-thru lane is the traffic on Wellington Road. The flow of human beings, slowed only by red lights. I’m in the midst of us and it’s a pleasure to be here. Home is not alone. Home is with you.

Finding Home

Most Wednesday evenings, I go to a house concert, generously hosted by Christine and John. Jake does a first set on the piano, followed by the feature performer of the evening.

Not only does Jake entertain us, he teaches. Last night, he talked about “home”, the resolution of notes that sooner or later leads to a feeling of completion. Take John Lennon’s Imagine, for instance. Early in the song, we’re flowing upwards:

Imagine all the people, living for today

But at the end, John brings us down again with a sweet message, and we know we’re “there” … we’re comfy … we’re home:

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

Jake played the tune Misty for us, written by Erroll Garner. It’s a haunting melody and, at the same time, it wanders around, away from home, toying with us. For it seems that our dear human ears (and souls) want to go home. As Jake’s fingers caress the keys, it feels like I’m being seduced, drawn in and let go, again and again. Only at the last note do I breathe the sigh of “yes”.

Some songs are long ballads, where home shows up at the end of every four-line stanza. Take Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair:

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Remember me to one that lives there
For once she was a true love of mine

Tell her to make me a cambric shirt
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Without any seam or fine needlework
And then she’ll be a true love of mine

Tell her to wash it in yonder dry well
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Where water ne’er sprung nor drop of rain fell
For once she was a true love of mine

The rhythm is hypnotic but there’s a sameness there that I yearn to break out of.

***

I guess it’s all in the ear of the beholder
Are we nomads?
Are we homebodies?
Or do we dance between the two?

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

Day Ten: The Plane

First the breakfast. I walked by two fit-looking fellows and said hi. I soon found out that Clive and Alen had just completed a cross-country bicycle ride. I chose not to mention my recent Tour du Canada experiences but instead showed my appreciation of their achievement.

“Do you think you’ll look back on this as a life-changing experience?”

“No. It’s just something else for the bucket list.”

I wasn’t expecting that answer. Turns out that the two of them specialize in crossing countries on their bicycles. Twice they’ve “done” the USA. This fall is Africa. Just part of a cycling lifestyle.

How different these guys’ lives are from mine. And that’s just fine. No better or worse … just different. I love hearing of other folks’ journeys.

Alen and Clive talked about cars bombing by less than a metre from their handlebars, how so few drivers will pull over a bit or wait if there’s oncoming traffic. Many is the time that they’ve had to veer off into the gravel. Now why does all that sound awfully familiar? Just listening to them moved my heart into my throat.

Next was Brian, my cab driver to the airport. He loves St. John’s because everyone is so “laid back”. “Hurry” just isn’t in the vocabulary. Brian is a passionate Montreal Canadiens hockey fan and I’m a lover of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Along the road, we talked hockey, about the great Canadiens players of the past, such as Henri Richard and Jean Beliveau. Not a whiff of antagonism between us.

Now I’m flying high aboard WestJet’s flight to Toronto. I have a window seat in Row 4. The rows ahead are for “Plus” passengers. The three seats on the left side of Row 3 hold two people. The middle seat boasts a tray with two cup holders. So one of the basics of Plus is that you don’t have to sit beside anyone. Speaking to your seatmate would be over a greater distance. No doubt the folks ahead will have a fancy meal but how sad that “better” includes isolation from other human beings.

Jimmy is sitting next to me. He works in Ottawa but is a true Newfoundlander, friendly and “down home”, with a wonderful thick accent. He ordered a rum and coke, offering cash to the flight attendant, except that WestJet accepts credit cards only. Both the fellow to Jimmy’s right and the handsome guy to the left were ready to pay with credit cards … but the female employee gave Jimmy his drink for free. Waydago, WestJet!

A male flight attendant is serving the Plus passengers. He’s an older fellow (younger than me) and I like watching him. Even from a distance I see his easy smile and the graceful way he moves as he pours wine or delivers a dessert. Nothing forced, just natural. Clearly he likes people. Very cool.

A couple of minutes ago, we were coming in for a landing at Toronto Airport. “Wow. Look how big those homes are getting!” And then they weren’t. They were getting small again. A few seconds later, our plane was swooping gently to the left. Out my window, there was the world of solid ground. Happily the pilot came on the intercom to announce that another plane was slow in getting off the runway so we were going on “a tour of Toronto”. He was so calm and reassuring. Now we’re on final approach number two. May the wings be with us.

Touchdown! Piece of cake.

Now I’m on the bus from Toronto to London. A young Chinese woman has sat down beside me. Yan Nan Gu has been in the air from China for 14 hours. And she’s just given me an orange candy. What a sweet thing to do.

Yan Nan was going to give me her English name but I really wanted to know her real one. She’s in fashion marketing at Fanshawe College in London and is a delightful human being to talk to. We’re laughing a lot.

I keep struggling with her name but I’m determined to say it right, to spell it right, to know the real person. We smile and bow as we say goodbye.

***

And now only one word remains … home
It’s where I am

St. Andrew-by-the-Lake

I got on the tiny ferry to Toronto Island this morning, and a chilly, windy one it was.  Go inside or stand at the bow.  An easy choice, and I loved watching the ducks take off as our vessel chugged into the fog.  I kept hoping that one duckie would be brave enough not to fly, that it would just steer clear of the big metal thing.  No such luck.

Once ashore I wandered the narrow paths between the Ward’s Island houses.  Many were tiny.  I loved the ones that were lit from within.  Such a cozy place to call home.  Flowers and bushes were past their seasonal best and the trees arched over me in their skeletal blackness.  My coat and toque kept me warm.  I was happy.

It was time to wander down the island to the church.  I came upon a geodesic dome, about fifteen feet tall.  Lots of silver metal triangles.  As I got closer, an intricate web of black ropes revealed itself.  A climber!  The shapes inside were squares and hexagons.  I imagined kids loving every second above the earth.  The floor was a spongy rubber, ready to cushion the occasional fall.  I smiled.  Waydago, designing adults.

And then the church … brunch at 12:30, folk concert at 2:00.  I knew no one but I didn’t think that would last for long.  And it didn’t.  Anne and I talked about the brilliance of Stan Rogers, a singer-songwriter who died in a smoke-filled plane in 1983.  And not just talk.  The two of us broke into a rollicking chorus from Northwest Passage:

Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Tracing one warm line through a land so wide and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea

Soon I met Julia, Roger, Jo, Linda and Karen.  We all sat at the same long table and chatted away as we dug into salads, beans, squash and cheesecake, all grown in island gardens (with the possible exception of the cheesecake).  The church was a small wooden structure built in 1884, all white outside and all brown wood inside.  The tall stained glass windows included Jesus praying at Gethsemane.  Lovely all around.

Our musicians were a guitarist from California and a violinist from Toronto.  They showed us Bach and Vivaldi and an Irish reel and a Balkan dance.  We clapped and cheered as the sound surrounded.

Outside the wind was whipping the season’s first snow sideways.  Inside the building and inside our bodies, all was well.

It’s a community I found today and I became a part of it.  Blessedly home.