Homesick

My first encounter with this word was when I was perhaps ten.  Mom and dad had sent me to a summer camp on the eastern shore of Lake Simcoe, north of my home in Toronto.  It was my first time away from them … and I was terrified.  I was basically scared of life and everyone in it.  That included adult leaders and other campers.  I didn’t know how to swim, I wasn’t any good at baseball and even a hike through the woods seemed dangerous.

There I was at night in a cabin, not at all snug in my bunk bed, surrounded by breathing boys.  They all seemed to be asleep, but I sure wasn’t.  I wanted my mom.  So I decided to go find her.  I whipped on my clothes, tiptoed across the floor and out of the cabin.  I walked to the beach.  I knew if I turned left at the shore, I’d end up in Toronto with my parents.

I don’t how many miles of Lake Simcoe shoreline I walked, but eventually adults with flashlights found me.  I was a mess, and I don’t remember what happened after that.

***

Many years later in Grade 12, I sat in the guidance counsellor’s office.  Grade 13 was next and it was expected that I’d go to university.  “You’re so good in Math, Bruce.  You should be an accountant.  The University of Toronto has an excellent Commerce and Finance program that will lead you to a fine career.”  As a teenager, my future penchant for independent thinking was in embryo: “Yes sir,” I replied.

So there was the academic year of 1967-1968, with me sitting amidst a bevy of eager commercial hopefuls.  While others no doubt dreamed of financial independence and a bungalow in the suburbs, I was a further mess.   Principles of economics, balance sheets and actuarial science.  I could become an actuary, living in luxury within a respected insurance company, using Math to assess various risks of insuring someone.  I remember something called “A double dot N” (two letters of the alphabet) but right now I have no idea what that means.

Sitting in lectures, or having lunch with my upwardly mobile classmates, I sensed the same sadness that I felt in that cabin.  “What am I doing here?  Can’t I just go home?”

***

Today I feel at home.  I have many friends who meet me in the eyes.  Together we discover the beauty of connection.  But there are no doubt millions of humans who feel solitary in a strange land:

Nobody really sees me … really sees who I am
I don’t make a difference to anyone
My best years are behind me
I’m in a party, surrounded by people talking, and I feel so alone
Nobody talks about their hopes and dreams, about what is truly important to them
My friends are full of opinions – about politics, sports teams, social problems
There’s all the stuff I need to do every day, and no time left for me
There’s all the people in my life that I need to be with, and no time left for me
Where are my true companions, those who will share the journey?
Where is a purpose that I can hang my hat on, and pursue with joy?
Where’s the juice?

***

We all need home

Lullaby

“Freedom From Fear”
Norman Rockwell

Yesterday’s energy was surging, exploding, seeking the brand new in the far reaches of existence.  The step had rhythm, the arms were pumping, and I sang a happy tune.  “Come join me,” I said, ” and we will discover together in the light of day.”  My eyes were fierce and my arms far flung.  My voice rose on the wind and I pointed to the blazing sun.

Today … I rest.  There is slumber, my eyes closing, my breath slow and easy.  I look out at each of you with soft eyes and my arms flow around you.  

I’m laughing at the difference.  They’re both parts of what I bring to the world.  They’re friends, certainly not opponents.  I applaud them both.  

Three years ago, as I sat in meditation on a three-month silent retreat, music kept slipping inside me.  Fragments of one song in particular took up residence in my mind.  Not once did I sing out the words but they swept through me, and I could feel them reaching out to my fellow yogis in the meditation hall.  Today I remember a phrase here, a phrase there: “Sleep my child and peace attend thee”, “Hill and dale in slumber keeping”, “Breathes a pure and holy feeling”.  Ahh …

Just now, for the first time, I Googled “All Through The Night”.  The entries were dominated by a Cyndi Lauper song, not at all the one I remembered.  But resting beneath all the fame and fortune was a link to a “lullaby”.  Time for my phone again: “a quiet song that is sung to children to help them go to sleep”.  Today I feel like a child, safe at home with mom and dad pulling the covers up under my chin.

Sleep my child and peace attend thee
All through the night
Guardian angels God will send thee
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loved ones’ watch am keeping
All through the night

Angels watching, e’er around thee
All through the night
Midnight slumber close surround thee
All through the night
Soft the drowsy hours are creeping
Hill and dale in slumber sleeping
I my loved ones’ watch am keeping
All through the night

While the moon her watch is keeping
All through the night
While the weary world is sleeping
All through the night
O’er thy spirit gently stealing
Visions of delight revealing
Breathes a pure and holy feeling
All through the night

Angels watching ever round thee
All through the night
In thy slumbers close surround thee
All through the night
They will of all fears disarm thee
No forebodings should alarm thee
They will let no peril harm thee
All through the night

Though I roam a minstrel lonely
All through the night
My true harp shall praise sing only
All through the night
Love’s young dream, alas, is over
Yet my strains of love shall hover
Near the presence of my lover
All through the night

Hark, a solemn bell is ringing
Clear through the night
Thou, my love, art heavenward winging
Home through the night
Earthly dust from off thee shaken
Soul immortal shalt thou awaken
With thy last dim journey taken
Home through the night

An Unbounded View

I’m sitting in my red man chair, looking across my living room and out into the world. The sun is preparing to say goodbye. The field of winter wheat beyond stretches to trees bordering the faraway creek. It’s home I see.

The tall panes of glass reveal a young tree in the foreground and a slope of newly-mown grass. It’s quiet out there.

Awhile ago, the windows showed me the soaring of a hawk … such lovely curves in the sky. I stared. Then my airborne friend flew to the left and out of my world. I was sad. “Come back, new companion!” I cried inside my head, but it was not my call to make. I know the hawk is somewhere nearby, and his path through the air is still etched in my mind. There is “hawkness” here, the remembrance of gracious flying. And that’s enough.

On the left edge of the photo, you’ll glimpse the dome covering my nyger seed feeder. Birdies come and go in search of the good stuff. The male goldfinches are so yellow! Sometimes the feeder (and its nearby sunflower seed cousin) are frantic with the wings of visitors. Sometimes the feeders hang limp and alone. Such rhythms.

Way to the north is the left and right expanse of Harrietsville Drive. Cars are so tiny from my living room. And they look so slow. I wonder who’s going where, who’s happy and who’s tormented … all brothers and sisters of mine.

See the glass on the window sill? It’s full of little pebbles of couscous. I see them as the citizens of Belmont, my village of 2800 souls. It’s convenient to wish them all well in one spot. The glass is dead centre in my view.

It’s nice being home.

Finding Home with Disney

So I bought a fancy new TV. It comes with apps installed, one of which is Disney Plus. I remember loving Disney movies all the way from Bambi to Frozen 2. But I wasn’t prepared for what I discovered after shelling out $90.00 for the year.

I wish you could see my face … my astonishment at the stories, the clarity of the picture and the wondrous computer-generated graphics.

My first foray into the programming was the film Strange Magic:

A realm is divided between a land of fairies and light, and a land of bog creatures and darkness, living in the dark forest. Primrose flowers, which are a crucial ingredient to love potions, mark the border between the lands. Marianne is a fairy princess and heir to the throne of the Fairy Kingdom, and is engaged to be married to Roland, a handsome warrior who disappoints her when she discovers him kissing another fairy on their wedding day. Marianne vows to never fall in love again. In the dark forest, the Bog King also shares the same view on love.

Spoiler Alert

Marianne and the Bog King, after much blustering and many harsh words, eventually fall in love … a state of being that has been absent from the dark forest. Residents there share in the emergence of tenderness. The sombre opens to sweetness. The feeling of home melts through the muted tones of night.

***

Today was the tale of One Strange Rock, also known as Planet Earth. Again, the visuals were stunning. Again, I was beckoned into an exploration of “home”. Peggy, a US astronaut, has gone way beyond Iowa in her thinking:

It was like I had lived my whole life in a semi-dark room and then somebody flipped on the light.

As a kid, Peggy dreamed of becoming a pilot. Her sister tried to set her straight. You can’t do that. Be a stewardess. But Peggy saw a wider future.

Home is our whole planet. And back on the family farm, Peggy’s mom and dad watch a light move across the starlit night. Here she comes. There she goes. And within the mystery of my TV screen, I go with her.

Day Forty-Two: Home

It’s been such a long road, and now I’m back in my world of orange brick and red walls.

I arrived home late yesterday afternoon. In Senegal I had lost my house key but I knew there was a spare on my back patio, under the statue of the Buddha. Before seeking entrance, I stood on the street and looked at my dear sanctuary. I knew it very well … and yet I didn’t. I felt disoriented after weeks of other lands, other cultures.

I tipped Mr. Buddha and there sat the key. Reaching down, I discovered that it was firmly attached to the paving stone beneath. I stared. I whipped out a credit card and tried to pry the key loose. No go. My next thought was to knock on a neighbour’s door and ask for a flat screwdriver. As I walked down the driveway, I glanced back at the open garage and realized that my toolbox was sitting in there, complete with the instrument I needed. How strange … what was dulling my mind?

I knew there was a concert at the Cuckoo’s Nest folk club in London last night. Despite the long journey, I felt drawn to go. I didn’t even care who was playing. As I walked in, there was a deep breathing. Something was easy here, familiar. I sat down and looked around. My eyes were drawn to the huge stone fireplace. Many a time I’d heard melodies and harmonies while the stone framed the performers. I smiled a wee bit.

Then there were the big windows looking out on the night, with stained glass panels at the top. Another sigh. Finally the long wooden bar stretched out, reminding me of previous escapades in this very room with the Belgian beer Delirium Tremens.

The Andrew Collins Trio enchanted us with their instrumental treasures, including a Bach masterpiece arranged for two mandolins and the deep tones of a mandocello.

All was right with the world. The tunes and the wood and the stone were welcoming me home. I slumped in my chair and closed my eyes.

Forty-two days are done.

Day Forty: Canada

Here’s the view out my Toronto bedroom window. It’s been forty days since I’ve seen the white stuff. I’m home in Canada. Tomorrow I’ll be home in Belmont.

On my trip to Belgium, Senegal and San Francisco I encountered one Canadian – on yesterday’s flight. Pablo lives in Durham, Ontario and runs a furniture business. He was returning from Singapore, where many of the tables and chairs are made. I loved his stories about world cities. Only partway through our time together did I realize “He’s from Canada – like me.”

If you would have told me two years ago that someday I’d be absent from my country for five weeks, I’d have said you’re crazy. And yet here I am, having immersed myself in African life, enjoying the people whose languages I mostly didn’t speak. The geography was stunning but it’s the human beings I love.

And now I return to what I know. I come back to my local beloveds, to see what they have to say about life. There are so many Pablo’s to discover … and rediscover.

Especially there are the kids. I promised the Grade 5/6 children that I’d return to them on Monday, January 20 and spend the whole day at school. And I will do that, despite possible snow on the highway home.

I want to hear the ideas of 11-year-olds, and those of the regulars at the Belmont Diner. On Wednesday evening, I want to hear Ken Thorne sing his songs at the Acoustic Spotlight house concert in London. And if he does covers, I want to sing along!

I’m bringing faraway worlds back to Belmont. And the folks of my village and city are welcoming me home. The rhythms of life continue.

Day Thirty-Seven: Tiburon and Soucouta

I took the ferry from San Francisco to Tiburon yesterday. It’s fair to call the scenery spectacular. Broad vistas across the water, the greenest of islands, the Golden Gate Bridge twinkling on the horizon, the sun lighting our way. A seagull journeyed with us, hovering above the ship in search of yummies. And the breeze filling my soul.

In Tiburon harbour, I gazed up at monumental homes clinging to the hills. Just now, I asked Google about the average house price in town … $2,300,000 US.

As I wandered down the main boulevard towards the public library, it felt like ultra chic suburbia, adorned with wondrous trees and plants. It seemed like one long strip mall, with modern façades of warm colour. There were many consulting firms and financial services companies. People walking by averted their eyes, except for one engaging woman out walking her dog. She waxed poetic about the Italian restaurant whose menu I was perusing.

I strolled up a hilly street past lovely homes in rich tones, homes that blended in so well with the cliffs and open views back towards San Francisco.

Everything seemed dramatic, splendiferous … and actually surreal. It felt like being inside of the old TV series Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

It didn’t feel like a home, even though there are no doubt countless residents who feel Tiburon is the best place on Earth to live. Good for them. As I felt into this supposedly idyllic world, what came through was the feeling of money and not relationship. Quite soon I wanted to leave and eventually the ferry obliged.

***

On the way back, I thought of Soucouta and Toubacouta in Senegal. Most Westerners wouldn’t call the environs beautiful. There’s nary a patch of green and buildings are composed of cement blocks. There’s lots of garbage on the ground and lots of noise in the air: roosters, donkeys, goats, screaming birds, evening drums and spiritual leaders calling the faithful to prayer.

Soucouta is plain, brown, smoky and oceanless. But the people smile and say hi. (“Cà va?”) Folks gather together and tell stories. Like residents of Tiburon, they probably spend too much time on their cell phones but in Senegal I feel the flow of family, and everyone is invited. “Veuillez vous joindre à nous pour le déjeuner.” (Please join us for lunch.)

I respect the town of Tiburon
I love the village of Soucouta

Day Fifteen: The Space Around

There is you over there and me in here … or is that so? Perhaps your skin isn’t the end of you. We might be far broader than that, stretching and stretching till we touch the stars.

Maybe there’s a huge space around everything – a sense of outflow, of joining me to whatever’s beside. And time expands too … into a softness, a lingering. It could be that even the difficult moments blend into the air and extend themselves back into the past and forward into the future. Maybe there’s nothing distinct and limited at all, no edges marking “this” from “not this”.

There is space around the beings and moments of the world – softening them and enriching them. I just need the eyes to see.

Just now, it was easy. Ali, Nima and I sat together. I showed them a video on my phone, of Aretha Franklin singing You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman to an audience that included Barack Obama and Carole King, the co-writer of the song. The three of us cuddled and the singer touched not only a Canadian heart, but also Senegalese ones too, despite the language difference. I feel in my being that this is true.

I could feel us extending together … being with Carole, Aretha, Michelle and Barack in that faraway where of Washington, D.C. and that faraway when of 2015. It wasn’t my brain that knew we were all together, but it was nonetheless so. People of the ages 4, 11, 70, 77, 55, 58 and “dead” were united across such permeable boundaries. The space around us kept reaching outward, animating whatever it touched.

Last night, not so easy. Wrestling is one of the big sports in Senegal and there’s a competition in a nearby village happening now. The singing and drumming starts each night around 9:00 pm and lasts till 1:00 am. This will be going on for the rest of 2019.

The voice easily crosses the few kilometres between Soucouta and Toubacouta. I couldn’t sleep. I felt into the space around but there were jangles in the way. The staccato sound, the fatigue, the unfamiliarity of it all. In my better moments, I sank into the sweetness of the tones, feeling the rhythm of the song. And then the walls closed in. Contract … expand … contract … expand …

Still I knew … all moved outwards, dissipating as the night said hello. I was home, within all that the word can mean.

Day Nine: Just Like Home

I lay in bed this morning, watching the breeze flutter the leaves outside my window. Just like home. Nearby the mosquito netting billowed … ever so softly. The hush flowing through the tree was familiar. So was the growling of my stomach.

But then there’s all the rest …

Around 2:00 the morning before, I awoke to a choir of male voices, singing melody and harmonies in another language. Within the fogginess, I wondered if this was real. I still don’t know.

At 6:30 am or so, an hour before sunrise, another song is sung. The Muslim imam climbs the steps of the Toubacouta mosque and begins his long nasal notes. No words come to my ears but the tune easily enters in. There’s no doubt a holy message wafting over the village as he calls the faithful to prayer.

A piercing tone comes. It has to be man-made. It sounds so mechanical, like one of those kids’ whistles that squeals at different pitches as you work the plunger. But fear not … it’s completely natural – a bird unknown to North Americans. And unseen by this one.

Roosters and chickens make themselves known throughout the day. I’m able to make animal sounds, such as horses, cows, sheep, dogs, cats and assorted feathered creatures. Yesterday afternoon, I sat on Jo and Lydia’s patio and called back to the scurrying birds. The roosters looked confused. My fellow humans laughed.

Goats are everywhere in Toubacouta. Short little bleats come and go in the air. The brayings of the many wild donkeys last longer and somehow bring to mind science fiction novels. No doubt Stephen King could make good use of a few of them in his pages.

While dozing this morning, I was assaulted by raucous clapping. It sounded like The Price Is Right was happening outside my door. I haven’t seen any TVs in Senegal and this noise sounded so foreign to the flow of life in Africa. And after only three days here, it was foreign to me.

So … the feeling of home is broadening. It’s not about a particular continent, a particular culture. It’s where I can sink into, whatever the sounds around me.

Just like home.

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.