Day Five: Coughing and Hanging Out

So much happens in a day. I feel like focusing on just two aspects of Friday.


I’d been hoping that my head cold would dissipate in time for Senegal. Tylenol was doing some good but overnight on Thursday the coughing was getting deeper and more prolonged. The phlegm was going to yellow and brown, and there was lots of it. My travel memories have often included bronchitis. Did I really want to be going through that in a country that would have little medical assistance for me? Strangely the answer was long in coming.

I tossed and turned. I could just hope for the best. I only had one more day before flying and why rush around trying to find a doctor? An hour later, I marvelled at such logic. “Bruce! Your life matters. Go get some antibiotics because that’s probably what you need.” (Sigh) Okay, you’re right.

After considering the hospital a few kilometres down the road, I talked to Lore, the only one home. She thought her mom Lydia could set me up with her doctor. Within fifteen minutes, Lore had talked to her mom, Lydia found out that her doctor didn’t have time to see me, she got an recommendation for another physician, an appointment was set, and Lydia was driving home to take me there. Woh. There’s a woman on a mission!

An engaging young man of perhaps 30 welcomed me to his clinic. He examined me, asked some questions and zipped off two prescriptions – for an antibiotic and a powerful puffer. “An early stage of pneumonia. The antibiotics will stop that.” Wow. Fast, efficient and so kind. Plus my total cost for the examination and drugs was only $125.00 Canadian. Lydia drove me to the pharmacy, then back home, and then she was back to work. Thank you, my friend. I get to be safely in Senegal. Having no alcohol for a week is no problem.


The family had dinner yesterday at Anja and Curd’s home. Baziel is Jo and Lydia’s son and Olivia is Anja and Curd’s daughter. The teens spent two weeks with me in Toronto and London, Ontario last August. We had a marvelous time.

Last night there was a table for the seven adults and one for the five kids. The after dinner talk for us older folks was fast and furious and mostly in Flemish, which made sense. Someone would often add some English and I’d respond. After awhile, however, I wanted to sit with Olivia and Baziel, who were watching TV with a young boy. So I roamed over and added myself to the couch. The show was about a teacher becoming a mixed martial arts fighter but I couldn’t hear much of anything. The kids had Flemish subtitles to go by. There was far too much punching for me but I knew I would hang in.

I simply wanted to be with Baziel and Olivia, even though we weren’t talking. The three of us had formed a bond during the summer and it was still alive and well. We didn’t need to talk as the onscreen hero became even more heroic.

The kids presented me with a book of photos from our Canadian adventures. We did so many cool things. By far the best of the book were the inscriptions inside the front cover. Olivia said “Every woman wants to marry you.” That’s definitely not my impression but how sweet of her to say it. Baziel wrote “When I’m old and about to die, I will remember our time in Canada.” Oh, yes … so will I.


So life is profoundly good. The whims of the body can’t touch the majesty of the spirit. And that majesty resides in us all.

Day Three: Snoozing and Awakening

After a thirteen-hour sleep from Tuesday to Wednesday, I followed that up with a two-hour daytime nap and then another ten hours of slumber last night. Part of it is jet lag and part a head cold. Whatever the causes, I’ve been good at accepting the current whims of the body.

Lydia and were talking yesterday on the long and wide couch in their TV room. She gave up consciousness first and I could feel the pull to join her. Even though the voice implored me to stay awake, the intensity was less than the day before. My eyelids closed and so did my awareness of the Nukerke world.

A few lifetimes later, someone’s hand was on my shoulder and “Bruce” floated in. I raised my head to see a woman leaning over me. Who was this spirit? Was it my mom? Was it Jody?

It was Sabrine. She and I had become good friends when we went to Senegal together last Christmas. I smiled … on the outside and all through me. I brought myself up to vertical and then to my feet. We hugged – the gentle prolonged way.

Sabrine and I walked to the dining room table to join Lydia, Georgette and Marie-Paule. Lydia said that I looked so “cute” sleeping away on the couch. I was too dozey to argue, and anyways I’m totally willing to be a cute 70-year-old.

I sat across from Sabrine and tried to stay with her. She talked about a current challenge in her life, and so deserved to have my full attention. Alas, that was not what she received. I tried so hard to concentrate but I was fading in and out. Other conversations were wafting over the table – in French and Flemish – joining my English one. Where was I? Where was Sabrine?

Even amid the dreariness, I felt my commitment to “be with” Sabrine, to give her all of me, to bring the space between us alive. There was a perfect intention and an oh so imperfect execution. I saw this … and smiled. I know that my love reached her in her moments of anguish. Something far beyond the realities of my body was moving from me to her.

I wasn’t bleary-eyed all day. In the evening, Lydia and I watched a movie on the sleeping couch. Partway through the adventure onscreen, I got it: however I am in mind, spirit and body is just fine. Love finds its way through it all.

Riardo Just Out Of Reach

The family has headed into Riardo to poke around. I’m in my room. Another life opportunity.

One reality is that my body isn’t working right. Coughing, tired, some dizzy, vague nausea. It’s nothing spectacular but it’s there. When I go into figuring out mode, I see the 35 degree Celsius heat, the amazing quantity of food I’ve been eating, the “new to me” foods I’ve been eating, and … beer. I especially suspect that last one, even though I enjoy a brew at home.

So, what is bigger and what is smaller? This morning after breakfast, as the crew were planning for the day, I realized I could do something unusual for me. I could rest. I could say no to the streets of Riardo, the ancient buildings with bricks of volcanic ash, the open-air ristorantes. I love venturing forth into new life, meeting new people, gazing in wonder at the previously unknown. But that love need not define me, need not put me into a box of identity. This morning I simply chose differently. Sleep came upon me … and then I awoke.

I gazed up to a sublime curving of light coming through the wooden shutters. I lay in a cathedral, a flow of beauty far larger than physical ills. So I sit, feeling the woes of the body, seeing art on the ceiling, waiting for the family to return.

It is enough.

The Gift of Illness

It’s a strange life, with the body sometimes just zipping along and at other times dragging its feet.  My feet are low right now and it’s such a opportunity to see what life is really all about.

What’s possible in the moment when you’re hurting physically?  To what extent can we move beyond the yuckiness to truly be with people?  These are good questions because I intend to contribute to my fellow travellers no matter what life is serving up.

I’ve discovered that I often cough when I’m moved by other folks, when I’m feeling love.  That started happening in Belgium when I was enjoying the presence of Lydia and Jo and their family and friends.  Then we went to Senegal and the openness of the people touched me deeply.  “I’m glad you’re here” came up to me again and again.

Other parts of Senegal were not so kind, especially to my lungs. Toubacouta is in a very dry area and the town has dirt streets.  Dust floated everywhere, including into me.

A lot of people moved about on motos – small motorcycles.  They not only stirred up the dust, their tailpipes spewed out exhuast fumes without any pollution controls.  I spent a lot of time on the back of a moto.  When we travelled on the highway, passing cars and trucks fed me more poisonous gas.

Finally, some folks near me smoked.  I often moved away when they were lighting up.

Given all these inputs, what to do?  Certainly not hide out in my room.  The beauty of the Senegalese people far outweighed my breathing problems.  I continued to interact with the kids and adults, to joy in their joy, to revel in a deep level of personal contact with each other.  And I’ll do exactly that when I come back in December.

In Senegal, I coughed a lot and Lydia worried about me.  Back home in Canada, the doctor says I have bronchitis and penicillin will fix me up fine over the next few days.

I got home last night and soon had a two-hour internet call with about forty members of the Evolutionary Collective.  This was a call we had all agreed to be on and there’s great power in keeping your word.  But the coughing was out of hand and I felt myself contract.  “These people shouldn’t be exposed to all this noise you’re making.”  Well, that is an opinion but it wasn’t going to hold sway with me.

Soon into the session, we were paired up.  “Jessica” spoke for the first five minutes.  I worked hard on suppressing the cough instead of totally being with her.  Then it was my turn.  Speak, cough, speak, cough … My eyes kept leaving Jessica’s, and then returning.  She just was with me, all of me.  I felt so naked and yet so loved.  Everything was fine, even my body’s loud reactions to congestion.  Thank you, Jessica.

Later seven of us did an exercise together.  Part of the experience was to have each person read the agreements we were entering into.  When it was my turn, I couldn’t get the words out so others took turns picking up the slack.  One more time I felt included.

Yes, these moments are gifts if I have the eyes to see.  And I intend to keep looking.


On Tuesday, I was sitting in my living room, ready to head off to the gym for an hour on the elliptical.  Since I hadn’t eaten for awhile, I plucked a power bar from the cupboard.  “Better have something to wash it down with, Bruce.”  I picked a Diet Coke.  The beginning of oops.

Firmly positioned on my steed at Wellington Fitness, I flung my arms and legs into space.  Hmm.  I didn’t feel as strong as I usually did.  In fact, I was exhausted after the hour.  Then it was 20 minutes of yoga … but something was amiss.  Why was I so tired?

On the drive home, the nausea hit.  Mild but irritating.  And it stayed with me for the rest of the day.  That evening, I went to a meditation group in London.  At one point, the leader talked about a possible benefit of meditation: a decrease in reactivity.  Since I’ve learned that others often find it helpful for me to talk about what’s happening in the present moment, I spoke up.  “I’m feeling exhausted and nauseous, probably because I drank a Diet Coke just before exercising.  My recent retreat was helpful in dealing with stuff like this.  Although I had a burst of telling myself I was stupid, that self-condemnation passed quickly.  I felt into my body and into my feelings (sadness) and after awhile I was left with just the physical pain, not endless thoughts about what it meant.”  It was a contribution, and I was pleased.

The pain got worse overnight.  Hardly any sleep till 3:00 am, when I started consuming Tums and Gas-X.  Not to mention a laxative.  I also placed a barf bucket close to my bed.  Proliferating thoughts returned.  “It’s the flu.  I’ll be out of commission for the next two weeks.  Tomorrow’s my birthday and I need to cancel all the cool things I’ve planned.  What a horrible way to spend my special day!”  I phoned my hairstylist’s answering machine right then and cancelled my 10:00 am appointment.  “And I’d better cancel my volunteer time this afternoon with the Grade 6’s.  And my dinner with my friend (I’ll call her Mary).”

And then I fell asleep.  I was awake at 6:30 and feeling some better.  I looked at those earlier thoughts, and within a minute of two, decided that they no longer applied.  I phoned my hairstylist and left another message that I was coming.

The vague nausea continued throughout the day.  “Surely a reaction to Diet Coke wouldn’t last this long!  I must have the flu.”  Blah, blah, blah.  Despite what my body felt like and what my mind was churning out, I saw the opportunity.  “It’s easy, Bruce, to be happy when your life is rolling along smoothly.  How cool would it be to enjoy your birthday while this pain does its thing?”

Here’s what happened:

1. My hairsylist (I’ll call her Jessica) counted down with me to 10:00 am (my time of birth, according to mom).  At the dot of 10, I rose from the chair as Jessica squealed “Happy Birthday!”  We hugged, and all was right with the world.

2. At about 1:15, the Grade 6 kids sang “Happy Birthday” to me.  I tried to convince them that I was 45 but those young ones are just too smart.  For the rest of the afternoon, I had some fun conversations with 11-year-olds.  Yay for volunteering!

3. Mary and I had a fine time at Boston Pizza.  My meal was ginger ale, chicken noodle soup and a garden salad with a non-creamy dressing.  Just what I needed.  And so was our talk.  Mary has been having a tough time lately and I think she heard me when I suggested she feel her pain deeply but not to linger on it, then to stand tall and continue moving her life towards happiness.


I’m happy.  This morning I woke up to energy and a calm stomach.  No flu.  I went back on the elliptical (without a Diet Coke appetizer).  I lived my birthday.  And I’m committed to doing good in the world no matter what my body is telling me.


It’s supposed to be a bad thing but I felt it big time yesterday and I’m happy about that.

It’s been a grind getting off sleeping pills.  My weaning is now into Week Seven and I’m proud to announce that I haven’t had any for the past seven nights.  But, oh, the fuzziness!  One night recently, I must have woken up ten times … but magically tottered back to sleep soon after each one.  Overall, a lot of recent dullness in my life.

So yesterday morning I raised myself up and floated through the morning in a light stupor.  I also think I was suffering from food poisoning.  But I was scheduled to volunteer at South Dorchester School in the afternoon and I love those kids.  Mid-morning, I was leaning towards the comfort of my bed but later roused my cells enough to get in the car and head to school.

I arrived at lunch recess and walked towards the Grade 6 portable.  Tiffany, the teacher, was nowhere to be seen so I plunked myself down in her rocking chair and sat in the darkness.  Almost immediately came the message from within:  “Go home.  Rest.  The kids will do fine without you.”  Which is, of course, true.  Kids can have fun wherever they are.

I could feel my hands pressing down on the arms of the chair, preparing for an exit.  But the rest of my being wanted to stay.  “But what good will you do?  Maybe you’re not dizzy but you’re somewhere in the ballpark.”

“Oh, be quiet.  I’ll give what I have to give.”  And so I did.

Good things happened in the afternoon:

1.  I talked to the girls’ basketball team and told them that my ecstatic happiness after their win must be because I love them, and want them to be happy.

2.  Several times, I accompanied various kids to the art supply room, where they found colourful construction paper and plasticene for their projects.  Many thanks came my way.

3.  While I was waiting for one group of kids to find their stuff, a teacher came up to me and asked “How are you?”  I thought for a millisecond and replied with the truth:  “I’m happy.”  One young lady chimed in with “Mr. Kerr, you’re always happy.”  I smiled.

4.  I scoured the school for empty cardboard boxes, bugging this staff member and that, ending up with two big ones and one small one – perfect for the creation of dramatic sets.

5.  One girl, after some running frustrations in PE, declared “I am nothing.”  I let her know, forcefully, that she was something, and a very special something indeed.

6.  Four boys were hunched down inside a playground hut, practicing their recorder pieces during an outdoor Music class.  I applauded at the end, and one fellow reached his ball cap towards me, for a tip no doubt.  I reached into my wallet and found four coins – two dimes and two nickels.  Into the hats the money went.  Their first professional performance!

7.  I watched the kids pass the baton during relay practice.  I did very well as a corner post, managing to stay vertical the whole time.  What a thrill it was to have sprinting 12-year-olds blowing by me at full speed.

8.  I watched from a distance as a boy and girl sat together way out there on the playground grass, playing their recorder duets.  Sweet.

9.  I read to the kids from a diary written by an aboriginal residential school student.  Such hard words to read, and for the kids to hear.  Children identified only as numbers.  Having to say white man’s prayers while any expression of their own religion was punished.  Not being able to talk at meals.

10.  During the end-of-the-day “Shout Outs”, I applauded a girl who was on yesterday’s victorious basketball team, but couldn’t play because of a concussion.  She was a great cheerleader, and dealt with the feelings of loss that no doubt came up.


Ten reasons to get out of bed
Because the world needs me (and you) even if we’re not 100%

Pride before a fall?  Maybe.
But what’s a bruise or two in the course of a lifetime?

Day Six: Saying Yes To It All

I slept for ten hours last night.  The body is not behaving nicely.  I look at yesterday with wonder, at all the ailments (real and imagined?) that came my way:

1.  Exhausted

2.  Dizzy in the heat, head achy

3.  Nose stuffed up here and there

4.  Coughing up yellow phlegm

5.  Constipated

6.  Sand flea bites on my feet and lower legs, itchy on and off

7.  Certain unmentionable body parts are now four times their original size

The lack of wind meant that flies were my frequent visitors.  I was open to a rarified air of consciousness but I guess it wasn’t open to me.  So I retreated to my air conditioning and my book.

I read about Birdie, a Canadian aboriginal woman who was sexually abused by her uncle but hadn’t lost her spirituality.  Her love for the women in her life was immense.  There was so much anguish in the book but Bernice poked her head above it all, time and again.  As I read about the violence and her depression, my body was doing its thing.  Her pain mixed with mine.

Her home wastwisted with heat”.  Physical and emotional, like me right now.

One night, Bernice slept in a dumpster, holding thrown away flowers to her breast.  I too cling to the symbols of hope, such as this blog, knowing that as for my current malaise, this too must pass.

As Bernice’s aunt said, “The Kid looks like she’s melting.  Dimming.  Half gone … But.  She also looks lovely.  Like her body fits her spirit.”  Yes, it feels like I’ve dimmed on this vacation but the essence of Bruce is here.  Untarnished.  Still shining.

[Interlude:  My waiter friend has just brought me a coffee.  Milk is foaming above the rim of the cup.  I realize that I need to stir very slowly to prevent it from slopping over.  And so I do.  I’m pretty slow right now.  It’s what’s needed.]


I walked behind two men this morning on the way to breakfast.  They were strolling.  I was strolling a bit slower.  They both had grey hair, blue shirts and grey shorts.  (We’re all the same.)  One fellow had brown legs, the other perfectly white.  (We’re all so different.)  I made no judgments … exterior or interior.  We share the path.


I’m alone here.  I’ve been friendly to folks I’ve met, those from Cuba and elsewhere.  Our conversations are brief and then they’re off to visit with their friends.  I wish there was a special someone to share experiences, thoughts and emotions with me.  It wasn’t to be this time.

Writing to you is essential, even if “you” only represents ten people.  I get a fair number of likes but hardly any comments.  That’s okay.  I know I’m reaching a few folks.  Another type of contact for me is to post on “Toronto Golf Nuts”, a website about the best sport in the world.  I love what Brooke Henderson from Canada is doing on the LPGA Tour, and here’s what I said on Wednesday:

“What I most enjoyed about Brooke at the ANA was her willingness to do an interview after her opening round 73.  She kept answering reporters’ questions, despite no doubt feeling down.  She didn’t make much eye contact with them but hung in there and gave honest answers.  It says so much about her as a person.  I respect her humanity as much as I respect her golf, more actually.”

Yesterday, some kind person responded with “Well said.”  I cried.  Just those two tiny words of appreciation and I was gone.  Good for me.  Good for us.

Day Two:  Not Me … Or Me?

My head is fuzzy and stuffed up.  I’m weak.  And I don’t want to get out there and do things, such as dancing and chatting.  So I sit in the lobby bar with a morning coffee and reflect upon Bruceness.  Gosh, I guess it can mean a lot of different things.  Skilled and not skilled.  Vibrant and almost comatose.  Making meaning with other people and staying away from them.  It’s all me.

How can I not want to dance?  Go to tonight’s evening show?  Pump iron at the gym?  Well, actually it’s easy.  I just want to write blog posts, read Golf In The Kingdom and lie on the beach towards sunset, when it’s cooler.  All perfectly fine.

At breakfast, I watched a couple and their two young boys.  Mom and dad took turns getting food.  Dad made funny faces at the tiny kid in the high chair.  Mom cut up his papaya and swished away the flies when they came too close.  It was lovely to behold.

Last night, I watched a performance of Grease in the theatre.  Sixteen months ago, I was enthralled in the same room, with probably the same songs and singers.  This time I was pretty flat about it all, despite an inspiring performance from the two leads.  A strange conversation entered my head:  “Bruce, you seem to be devolving, not evolving.  What’s happened to your spirit?”  The answer is simple – I’m sick.  I need to allow myself to be so.  Sleep most of the day if that seems right.  Stick to fruit and other non-greasy things at mealtime.  Let go of creamy alcoholic drinks for a bit.

To be present in the moment rather than leaning forward to a “better” future – quite the trick, I’d say.  This headache, for instance.  “Hello.”  Eyes that want to close.  “How ya doin’?”  Nothing to say to anyone.  “Works for me.”

A light brown cat just walked through the bar.  Someone made a purring sound.  Ahh … maybe that’s it.  As slow as I am, I can just watch life passing in front of me, look into some tourist and Cuban faces as they walk by, and watch the palm fronds wave in the breeze.

See you tomorrow.



Sending Love Out Into The Universe

Sharon Salzberg is a Buddhist teacher, and also a co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts.

“Whenever I teach lovingkindness retreats in an urban setting,” Sharon explains, “I ask students to do their walking meditation out on the streets. I suggest they choose individuals they see and, with care and awareness, wish them well by silently repeating the traditional phrases of the lovingkindness practice, ‘May you be happy.  May you be peaceful.’  I tell them that even if they don’t feel loving, the power of their intention to offer love is not diminished.  On this day our retreat took place a few blocks from downtown Oakland.  Since we were directly across the street from the Amtrak station, several people chose to do their practice on the train platform.”

“When a train pulled in, one woman from the class noticed a man disembark and decided to make him the recipient of her lovingkindness meditation. Silently she began reciting the phrases for him.  Almost immediately she began judging herself: I must not be doing it right because I feel so distant.  I don’t feel a great wash of warm feeling coming over me.  Nonetheless, reaffirming her intention to look on all beings with kindness instead of estrangement, she continued thinking, ‘May you be happy.  May you be peaceful.’  Taking another look at the man, who was dressed in a suit and tie and seemed nervous, she began judging him: He looks so rigid and uptight.  Judging herself, she thought, Here I am trying to send lovingkindness to someone and instead I’m disparaging him.  Still, she continued repeating the phrases, aligning her energy with her deep intention: to be a force of love in the world.  At that moment the man walked over to her and said, ‘I’ve never done anything like this before in my life, but I’d like to ask you to pray for me.  I am about to face a very difficult situation in my life.  Somehow, you seem to have a really loving heart, and I’d just like to know that you’re praying for me.’”


For the last week, I haven’t felt loving.  My whole focus has been on me being sick.  Sometimes, when I’m composing a post, the old Bruce makes himself known.  But it feels like I’m a far cry from the human being who wished others well throughout my three-month meditation retreat.  Perhaps I’m wrong.  Maybe you can’t go back to a less inclusive form of consciousness.  It could be that the physical symptoms are merely masking the essence of Bruce.

Tonight I choose to meditate.  I don’t imagine that tomorrow a guy in a suit is going to say “I’ve never done anything like this before.” and that’s fine.  In Massachusetts, I was clear that my love was reaching people.  I’m somewhat less clear right now … but actually it still touches others, whether I’m feeling euphoric, sublime or flat.

So … I will do what I’m meant to do, through the good times and bad.


It hit me last night – probably a cold, hopefully not the flu.  Today I’m very weak, sort of stuffed up, headache, coughing.  Just like every human being on the planet has experienced.  No big deal.

Why write about this?  It’s so ordinary.  And shouldn’t I take a break from tapping on the keys?  I’ve decided no.  Some of my favourite writing has been when I’m right in the middle of some experience.  It’s so much cooler than “This happened to me yesterday.”

During the meditation retreat, I learned how to watch my mind, without judgment.  To be curious about where it goes.  This morning, it’s gone off in many directions.

At 2:00 pm today, I’ve scheduled a Skype call with the organizers of the Tour du Canada.  They want to know more about me and I have lots of questions about the summer bicycle ride.  “But I have no energy.  I won’t sound like a potential crosser of my country.”  Too bad, Bruce.  Give them what you have in the moment.  It’s enough.

“What if this turns into seven weeks of bronchitis, like it did after Jody died?  How will I possibly get fit enough for the ride?”  Now there’s a little smile on my face.  I’m not quite laughing but I’m getting there.  Silly man.

“Will I have to cancel my trip to Cuba?  And the BC tall ship trip in early June?”  No, Bruce.  You won’t have to.  It’s just a cold, my friend.

“Is this the end of my newfound strength training?”  Oh, my.  That’s quite the mind you have there.  “Well, right now it’s an ill mind, having trouble putting thoughts together.  And struggling to maintain my self-esteem.”

“And I got turned down a couple of weeks ago for further life insurance – ‘a current abnormal ECG and blood profile results.'”  Don’t sweat it, Bruce.  Julie, your doctor, is looking into this stuff.  She’s always thought you were a very healthy specimen.


The Buddha had a word for the proliferation of negative thoughts … papancha.  “Well, hello papancha.  Nice to hang out with you.”

No judgment.  Just a human being being human.  I sort of like the guy.