In The Presence Of

I’m sitting in the back room of Streamliners Espresso Bar in St. Thomas, Ontario, enjoying my fancy coffee. An easy chair enfolds me.

The only other human beings in the space are two young women talking about life. They know I’m here, and they’ve chosen to have a very real conversation despite my presence. That’s pretty cool.

During the last half hour I’ve sometimes felt like a voyeur, but I know that’s not my intention. Their voices are simply loud enough to reach my ears. Actually, it’s a privilege to hear them laughing now, to see how natural they are together.

The conversation has been wide-ranging – from careers to family to … men. And that last topic has focused on the positive, worlds away from bitching about the male species. I’ve heard words such as “kind” and “generous” and “sexy”. Now they’re rambling through a certain young man’s life with “lonely” and “funny” and “I wonder if it’s possible”. Oh my God. They must be so comfy with their lives to talk like this with me here.

Lucky me!

And now it’s time to go.

Jann

I was in a gorgeous theatre last night in Kitchener, Ontario.  The Centre in the Square hosted Jann Arden, a singer-songwriter from Alberta.  A friend of mine at the Belmont Diner had seen her in London last week.  She and her daughter cried when Jann spoke and sang about her mom, who has Alzheimer’s.

For a long while as her mother waded the murky waters of dementia, Jann tried to convince her that “the orange men on the patio” weren’t really there.  Orienting her to reality seemed like a smart thing to do, but it wasn’t.  Jann had always been competitive but finally decided to let go … the illness wins.  The key moment came one day when Jann walked through the door and mom put up her hands as a shield.  Was she thinking that Jann was about to hit her?  That was it.  Jann changed from shooing the orange men out of her mom’s mind to suggesting that if they’re on the patio, they should at least pick up a broom.

The woman on the stage showed herself to be a full human being.  I enjoyed that even more than the singing and the songs.  A group of women in the front row held up images of Jann’s face in front of their own.  Groupies!  Jann laughed with them … and with us.

At one point she talked about a failed relationship.  “If you’re going to be with a singer-songwriter, and everything starts going to *****, you better expect that you’re going to end up in a ***** song!”  I wouldn’t have chosen some of her words but so what?  Jann was thoroughly herself for 2 1/2 hours.

The woman was transparent.  Her father was an alcoholic and her brother was often beaten up by the man.  The younger one fell into a spiral and ended up murdering someone.  He’s been in jail for many years and every month she visits him, setting aside her judgments again and again and returning to love.

Jann wrote a song for her brother – Hangin’ by a Thread.  It was inspired by something their mom said as mother and daughter walked out of the prison: “I’m so tired of looking at my feet.”  Jann goes inside him and honours what’s there:

When I cry I close my eyes
And every tear falls down inside
And I pray with all my might
That I will find my heart in someone’s arms
When I cry, cry
When I cry, when I am sad
I think of every awful thing I ever did
Oh, when I cry, there is no love
No there is nothing that can comfort me enough
When I cry, cry, cry
All the salt inside my body ruins
Everyone I come close to
My hands are barely holdin’ up my head
I am so tired of lookin’ at my feet
All the secrets that I keep
My heart is barely hangin’ by a thread
Hangin’ by a thread
Oh, look at me, at all I’ve done
I’ve lost so many things that I so dearly loved
I lost my soul, I lost my pride

 

Thank you, Jann, for being with us.  It was a privilege to share the concert hall with you.

The Heart Speaks

I received a handwritten letter yesterday from my friend “Angelique”.  It was 30 pages long.

Yes, it took me awhile for that to sink in.  And the letter wasn’t “I did this, I did that”.  Instead, it was an outpouring of the woman’s soul.  And I was privileged to be on the receiving end.

Page after page, my writer friend was naked, open to my gaze, no doubt realizing that I would hold her heart gently.  As I ended my journey on Page 30, I felt overwhelmed.  Fear ran through me.  How can I possibly reply to this?  I still don’t know what to do.

Angelique previously gave me permission to quote her words anonymously on WordPress, hopefully as a gift to you.  So I’ll continue that today.  But before sharing her thoughts, I’m sitting here stunned.  How often does another human being show you everything?  How often do they trust you so deeply?

I’ve begun to study the ideas of Patricia Albere.  She talks about “mutual awakening”, in which two people (family, friends or lovers) look way deep into each other’s eyes and feel the divinity there.  Angelique, I believe, held nothing back.  The eyes of the printed page seeped beneath my skin to the deepest parts.

Is it possible that you, reading some of her soul-filled comments, will feel that union as well?  Let’s find out.

When I write letters, I truly enjoy the writing itself, which is a kind of artistry.  I might start using a more beautiful pen with a plume (!) and dip it in ink or something more artistic, to truly enjoy writing to the maximum and to create a more beautiful letter (as a gift) to whomever I am writing.

I went to Plum Village in France, where Thich Nhat Hanh’s monasteries are … Everything became meditation practice and the three monasteries and the grounds surrounding them are filled with this energy.  And it is powerful! … When people first arrive and sit down to eat, many start crying because that strong energy of mindfulness brings them down to the pain inside themselves they have been ignoring being busy.

Whatever I do now is better, more profound, more meaningful, more satisfying and better received by my colleagues, friends and family, and I am much more relaxed, happy and feel as if I am always in touch with the divine, God, consciousness as I experience it – the wisdom and consciousness of the cosmos!

Sometimes I fail, and mindlessness emerges and messes up things.  I do my best to be alert and make amends right away and to change, to grow, to evolve and be more mindful.  It’s a practice, and I am committed!

My beloved father, who passed away in winter, 2007, all but physically appeared.  I could feel the heat of his body next to mine when I went for walks.  One morning, I awoke with his breath whispering in my ear “I love you” and since then I have known he is always with me.  It is impossible for us to be separate.  I often see his beautiful physical form in my mind’s eye, happy and contented with my behavior.

I appreciated the concern you expressed.  I felt it was God speaking actually in the present moment and that all was as it should be.  I knew good judgment had been used to break silence in that moment.  Thank you for allowing yourself to be an instrument of the divine at that time.

***

Angelique’s last comment, about a moment we shared during the meditation retreat, is such a gift to me.  I feel seen.  My intentions are understood.  I’m not just a separate “thing”.

We can be such blessings to each other … in the written word, while we stand face-to-face, and in our thoughts.  Thank you, Angelique.

 

Where Have I Been?

I don’t know.  Somewhere that doesn’t honour the written word.

“But you love writing.”  Yes I do.

“But as someone in your childhood world said, ‘The proof of the pudding is in the eating.’  How can you say you love something if you never do it?”

I wouldn’t say “never”.  It’s been a month, or maybe six weeks.  “Pretty close to “never”, I’d say.  What don’t you just get your rear in gear and be like Nike?”

Okay.

***

In the months following Jody’s death, I gave myself little gifts.  One of those was a Jackie Evancho DVD called Awakening.   I didn’t watch it … until tonight.

Jackie has a voice for the ages.  On “America’s Got Talent” she blew the world apart with classical gems such as “Nessum Dorma”.  I remember the energy coursing through me.

So tonight I set myself up for ecstasy.  After all, this is Jackie Evancho.  I had to love the singing and the songs.  There can’t be any other response.  Except there was.

1. The video quality was poor.  Blurry.  And on medium and long shots of Jackie, little white horizontal lines would flicker on her face and arms.

2. Most of the songs were dull, with very little potential for lifting me up.  One reviewer likened it to elevator music.  There were beauties:  “Think Of Me” from Phantom of the Opera, “Made To Dream” and “Say Something”.  But pretty much I was flat in response.

“Oh, Bruce.  Something’s wrong with you.  This is the most beautiful voice you’ve ever heard.”  I agree that Jackie sang sweetly, but where was the soul?

3. I don’t think Jackie was totally “there”.  It didn’t seem like she loved most of the songs.  Her smiles were small.

***

I should be writing
I should be loving this DVD
I should be happy all the time

Nonsense

Admitting Deficiency

I could have done better

So said a Canadian political leader yesterday about his party not doing well in a recent election.  And how often do we hear words like that?

I love golf, and I love following the heroics of professional golfers.  Years ago, there was one particular fellow that I was cheering on.  It was sad … I was living and dying on whether he got a birdie or a bogey.  Part of the reason that my enthusiasm for him waned was that when he scored poorly he would blame bad lies in the fairway, an unlucky bounce into the rough, or less-than-smooth greens.  Anything but the fact that he hit a lot of poor shots.

My political friend apparently looked at himself in the mirror and saw that he had made some questionable campaign decisions, or that he had focused on the shortcomings of his opponents rather than on a thorough analysis of the issues and his response to them.  Whatever he was thinking, he then spoke to the media and took full responsibility for the lukewarm results.  Not the party organization, strategy or candidates.  Just him.  How refreshing.

I too need to look in that mirror.  Here are some things I see:

1.  As a young adult, I was often irresponsible with my money, even to the extent of getting a cash advance to make the minimum payment on my credit card

2.  In marriage, I sometimes bulled ahead with what I wanted to do rather than seeing what Jody’s needs were

3.  Many a time, friends would send e-mails to me and I would take forever to respond

I’m a good person, and a thoroughly imperfect one
Just like that politician
Just like all of us