Many Together

This afternoon I was one of 240 people showing up to experience the work of the Evolutionary Collective, as facilitated by Patricia Albere, the organization’s founder.  We showed up virtually – on Zoom.  The technology allows us to view 25 people at a time on our computer screens.  Amazing … all in real time.  Some of the folks online today chose not to turn their video on, so their little rectangles were blank, save for their name.  I’m guessing that 200 of us were visible to all of us.

Clicking on an arrow, again and again, allowed me to see 200 human beings.  It took my breath away.  Young folks, old ones and in-betweens.  Men and women.  All the way from sitting erect to almost lying down.  An infinity of clothing choices, and of living rooms.

I had never experienced such a volume of intimacy.

There’s a love that doesn’t require time, history, shared events.  I felt that love today.  And I decided to express it.  I would look at each face and say “I love you.”

I started.  Zoom sets it up with five rows of five people.  In the top row is the person who logged in on this computer (in my case – me!) and four more folks.  I was second from the left.  I looked at the woman in the top left corner and said “I love you.”  Then I skipped me and addressed the third, fourth and fifth person in order.

Then it hit me “I left out Bruce.”  Hmm … such a common mistake in the world of humanity.

So I began again.  In the back of my head was the thought “How am I going to say “I love you” to 240 people and still listen to Patricia and folks who are sharing?  I better speed up.”

Hit again.  “I’m not even seeing these people.  It’s “Hi-Bye” and on to the next.  There was no noticing the beauty of each, no sense of lingering there.

So I began again.  I decided to take five seconds for each of us, and to look inside every one.  A voice intruded: “But you won’t get around to everybody!”  I paused, and realized the voice was correct.  Perhaps, though, the ones not gazed upon will somehow be included.

I reached 59 souls before the call ended, including me
It was enough
We connected
I smiled

Day Thirty-Eight: Size

I was walking home to the Y in Berkeley last night when I came upon a football field. Young people were running laps and throwing frisbees in front of bleachers that could seat hundreds. Floodlights brought the scene alive. I assumed this was a college … but then the athletes seemed younger than that. Beyond the goal posts was a huge white building. Off to the side were others. As I continued on the sidewalk, there was a sign: “H Building”. Woh. What is this place?

Between the field and the street were letters carved into a low cement wall. They were partially obscured by bushes but I got the gist – “Berkeley High School”!

Here’s what the Internet told me:

Berkeley High School is a comprehensive four-year school serving approximately 3000 students. BHS is unique in that it is the only public high school in a community of over 100,000. Drawing from a diverse racial, ethnic and socioeconomic population, students embrace a broad spectrum of people and ideas.

A high school with more people than my hometown of Belmont in Canada! Oh my God. I tried to imagine what such size would mean for teens battling self-esteem issues. Would belonging to an immense community come easily, or would many students feel lost? What would lunch in the cafeteria feel like?

I welcome “a broad spectrum of people and ideas” but would I be able to find these folks? Would I be willing to speak up in the presence of the masses or would I retreat into my cave?

Naturally I don’t know what the culture of BHS is like. It could be marvelous. It probably is. I’ll likely never find out. Tomorrow I’m homeward on the big bird.

I love discovering the new … and wondering how I’d be in the middle of it. Seems to me that lots more newness is coming my way. Bring it on.

Day Twenty-Six: Vive La Différence

It was so simple … my great friend Lydia wanted me to taste my favourite flavour. So Marie-paule and Fatou whipped up some penne for lunch, to be adorned with pesto. Ahh … the only thing better than pesto pasta is love.

The family sat down to share the blessed feast with me. Lydia remarked that it’s so unusual for Senegalese folks to eat pasta in the middle of the day. The tradition is rice. And so my friends with their forks were being jolted, while for me it was a natural event.

The previous day, at dinner, pasta also made an appearance, along with a sauce full of unknown goodies. I put a spoonful on my plate. Fatou drew in her breath as she saw my move. I mixed the sauce in with the noodles and got my fork in action. Yum – lots of flavour. Twenty seconds later the burn went deep. I reached for the glass in front of me. “Water won’t help,” offered Lydia. She was right. Grin and bear it for a few minutes … Woh. No more of that. However, lots more of that for Moustapha and Fatou. They yummed their way through plates of fire.

Hmm. A bit different, you and me. And isn’t that what makes the world go ’round?

Sometimes on the patio, I hum opera or Beatles songs. Eyes travel my way. I also love flourishes aloft with my hands, and a pirouette or two. The audience pauses to wonder.

Coming towards me from most every person approaching is “Ça va?” (How’s it going?). It’s expected that my response will be “Ça va” (I’m well), perhaps augmented by “Très bien” (Very well). It’s considered impolite to not give a verbal response. A smile and a wave is not enough.

If it’s in the morning, most Senegalese humans will also ask “Bien dormi?” (Did you sleep well?) I’m not sure how much of that is a true concern for me and how much a ritual. After so many a.m. conversations that went this way, I got really bored with it and replied “Non, je n’avais pas dormi depuis huit nuits.” (No, I haven’t slept for eight nights) Now that was impolite, but I couldn’t resist.

I love periods of silence. I love meditating. As I mentioned yesterday (or was it two days ago? No matter), here in Africa what mostly happens is large gatherings of virtually non-stop conversation, in languages I don’t understand. Maybe I’m exaggerating this contrast, but there’s definitely a difference.

There’s no “better and worse” in all this. Our life experiences and perspectives are sometimes foreign to the other. I figure that’s as it should be.

The world doesn’t need a whole bunch of Bruce’s around every corner. We need large portions of Zidane, Youssoupha, Mariama, Bakerie, Gnima, Nano, Ousmane, Abdul, Luc, Arlette, Anja, Revi, Camille, Pascal, Liesbet, Jo, Lydia, Lore, Baziel, Pil, Jo Jo, Iddy, Kebas, Astou …

… as well

Don Cherry

Don is a commentator on Hockey Night In Canada, a TV show featuring the Toronto Maple Leafs of the National Hockey League.  On Saturday night, he talked about the impending Remembrance Day, which honours our country’s veterans.  In his discussion with Ron MacLean, Don complained that “you people” aren’t wearing the red poppy that is the symbol of this day.  He talked about people coming to Canada for our “milk and honey”, enjoying the rights that were preserved by members of our armed forces.  His comments about immigrants inspired outrage from sea to sea.  Calls came for him to be fired.  Today SportsNet did exactly that.

This incident is being widely covered by the media and this evening I asked myself why I was wanting to write about it.  Hasn’t everything already been said?  Maybe … but maybe not.  Perhaps there will be something fresh in my voice.

Don has been extremely popular with his “Coach’s Corner” segment between the first and second periods of games.  He’s sounded off on all kinds of subjects – hockey and non-hockey.  I’ve admired his courage in speaking out, even when I’ve sometimes disagreed with his opinion.  Many Canadians have suggested that Don should enter politics, even put himself in the running for Prime Minister.

Cherry has often criticized “soft” hockey players, such as ones who wear a protective visor.  He’s criticized European players, whose culture of hockey has focused on skill rather than toughness.  Don is connected with a series of “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em” hockey videos, which focus on big body checks and fights.

As I sit here, what comes is the thought “The world doesn’t need this.”  We don’t need clenched fists.  We need kindness.  We need appreciation for our differences, including personality types and sexual orientation.  We need inclusion.  So far in his life, Don is not that.  Boys and girls who play hockey need to be shown values that bring people together rather than ones who tear people apart.  I’m glad he was fired.  It’s time for the world to move on.

Apparently Ron MacLean gave Don a thumbs up after his anti-immigrant speech.  Really?  How sad.  For years, Ron has been the voice of moderation and understanding on the hockey telecasts.  But not on the weekend.  I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.  He made a mistake.  Actually, on a Sunday night hockey show, he apologized:

“During last night’s broadcast, Don made comments that were hurtful and prejudiced and I wish I had handled myself differently.  It was a divisive moment and I am truly upset with myself for allowing it,” he said on Twitter.  “I have worked with Don for 30 years, and we both love hockey.  But last night, I know we failed you.”

Thank you, Ron.  We needed to hear from you.

***

We human beings have an opportunity to do life a different way.  No longer can we be 7,000,000,000 egos each asserting their right to have it their way.  No longer can we trample on the souls of folks who are doing their best to have a happy life.

I imagine from the quiet of my living room …
Who will be the next person to come my way?
And what will be my response to their presence?

I Include You As Well

No one left out. That’s been a mantra of mine for many years. But do I really mean it? Are there any human beings on the planet, or who were here, that I flat out reject?

Shouldn’t I condemn mean people, especially those who have caused countless deaths, rather than feeling into whatever pain they agonized in? I detest cruel behaviour but should I also condemn the perpetrators to the agony of hell? I say that I need to honour the humanity of everyone … no exceptions.

I’ve seen this quote before, and it still goes deep inside me:

“An unknown poet left the following beautiful prayer beside the body of a dead child at the Ravensbrück death camp during a recent era of unspeakable human darkness:”

O Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will
But also those of ill will
But do not remember all the suffering they inflicted on us
Remember the fruits we have bought thanks to this suffering
Our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility
Our courage, our generosity
The greatness of heart which has grown out of all this
And when they come to judgment
Let all the fruits which we have borne be their forgiveness

Let us forgive, not the behaviour but the person, including these figures of history:

Idi Amin, Uganda

Amin’s rule was characterized by rampant human rights abuses, political repression, ethnic persecution, extrajudicial killings, nepotism, corruption and gross economic mismanagement. The number of people killed as a result of his regime is estimated by international observers and human rights groups to range from 100,000 to 500,000.

Adolf Hitler, Germany

Under Hitler’s leadership and racially motivated ideology, the Nazi regime was responsible for the genocide of at least 5.5 million Jews and millions of other victims whom he and his followers deemed “untermenschen” (subhumans) or socially undesirable. Hitler and the Nazi regime were also responsible for the killing of an estimated 19.3 million civilians and prisoners of war.

Pol Pot, Cambodia

Pol Pot became the dictator of Cambodia in 1975. His government forcibly relocated the urban population to the countryside to work on collective farms. Those regarded as enemies of the new government were killed. These mass killings, coupled with malnutrition, strenuous working conditions and poor medical care, killed between 1.5 and 3 million people of a population of roughly 8 million, a period later termed the Cambodian genocide. Marxist-Leninists unhappy with Pol Pot’s government encouraged Vietnamese intervention. However Pol Pot forced Vietnam’s hand by attacking villages in Vietnam and massacring their villagers.

I also remember reading the story of two former prisoners who shared the same jailer:

“Have you forgiven him?”

“What?! No. Never.”

“Then I guess you’re still in prison.”

May we be free

All of Us

Tonight I’m going to see the musical Prom Queen, about a fellow who wanted to invite his boyfriend to his high school prom.  The school board said no and so began a legal battle.  Eventually Marc and Jason got to go.

The raindrops fall on everyone, equally
The candle casts its glow on each person in the room
Death, in its own time, comes to both you and me
All worthy in this world
All precious in the sight of Spirit
No one left out

And now it’s afterwards.  I’ve just stood in awe of forty teenagers giving their all on the stage … joyous smiles and wild dancing all the way to bowed heads and anguish.  It was a celebration of courage, determination, the deepest of loves and the human family.  All together now.

The songs and the lyrics flowed through me and no doubt helped many of us with our own lives:

We could be something infinite
Or we could be nothing at all
Please let us choose the infinity of our uniqueness

You haven’t heard the last of us
We will not be stopped from doing the good that the world needs

Put your game face on
So no one can see who you really are

Homosexuality is an abomination
As we carve out humanity into us and them

At one point, Marc, a future astronomer, gazes out at the night sky and sees up there three people he loves: his best friend Carly, his mom and his dad, all of them standing on the stage.  Carly and mom’s stars are close but dad’s is so far away, barely visible, as he mourns his son’s gay life.  The scene went right through me.

Later mom prays to Mary:

From the depths of my confusion, my despair
Mother Mary, Mother Mary … hear my prayer

Show this mother, Mother Mary, how to love
Both my precious only child and the Holy Lord above
Oh, the tearing out of the heart as loves and duty both call

***

Here was the agony and ecstasy of being human
Laid out on the stage of the Grand Theatre
In the persons of many young people
Representing us all

Without Distinction

“We are aware of a desire to value all persons equally, responding to their integral concrete being as unique selves, rather than ranking them according to certain abstract qualities by which they can be classified.”

Beatrice Bruteau

I like some folks far more than others.  I find some women sexually attractive and some not.  I don’t want to spend time around mean or distant people.  I love the spontaneity of kids and don’t enjoy being around humans who never use the word “fun”.

Okay.  That sounds like a normal human being.  I include some, I push away others.  Overwhelmingly though, I include.  But what if I could broaden my range of vision to embrace everyone?  What if the quality of consciousness beaming back to me didn’t matter?  What if the only thing that counted was what I put out there in life?

As I read what I’ve written, it sounds simplistic, pollyannaish.

“I know it sounds that way.  But don’t you see, Bruce, that we naturally rank those around us, in order to discover who we want to spend time with?” 

“Well … yes, I get that.”

“Could it be, though, that while one level of your being operates that way, there are more inclusive realms that you can touch?”

“Well … maybe.  But I have favourites, you know.”

“Oh yes, I know that.”

“So stop trying to make me into a Superman.  I’m no perfect person.”

“Yes … I certainly agree with that!”

“Just leave me alone, will you?”

“Okay.  But may I plant a seed?”

(Sigh)  “Sure.  Plant away.”

“What if, once in awhile, you looked out at the world with different eyes?  Most of the time, continue with your comparing mind, but save a little space for something brand new.  As in human beings just don’t go there.  Would you enjoy doing something that you’ve never done before?”

“I don’t think “enjoy” is the right word.  And what you’re suggesting just sounds so weird.”

“Perhaps new stuff is always perceived as weird by people who don’t want to participate.”

“Probably.”

“So give me a chance here.  What do Adolf Hitler, Donald Trump and Karla Homolka have in common?”

“They’re extremely mean people.”

“Many of us would agree with you.  At the same time, they all need love.  They all want to be included in the human race.  They were all kids once.”

“Oh …puleese!”

“The possibility exists of being good to people simply because they’re on the planet, knowing they face the same sorrows and illnesses and fears that we do.”

(Silence)

“It’s easy to love the lovable folks.  They probably receive lots of that.  As for Adolf and Donald and Karla, love is probably in short supply.  Perhaps we should send them some.  No one left out.  No one alone.  No one thrown out of the human heart.”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“Maybe …”

Just A Word

In the early years of human presence on Earth, I was a kid.  I loved going to the matinée at the movie theatre on Avenue Road in Toronto.  It was a bit of a walk but I was young and strong.

Inside, a large waddling woman patrolled the aisles.  Fifty-five years later, I still remember her bellows:

LESS NOISE!

In recent days, I’ve been re-exploring Stephen King’s novella The Library Policeman.  I love how King creates such believable characters.  Poor Sam Peebles, a respected Junction City insurance agent, is about to be devoured by Ardelia Lortz, the town’s bewitching librarian.  He opens the front door, steps into the foyer, and is greeted by a large sign pressing down on its tripod stand:

SILENCE!

In my sixties, I’ve come into the world of Buddhist meditation.  In two weeks, I’m heading to the heart of Massachusetts for a one-month silent retreat.  I’ve been many times before.  Love and peace often surround me there.  Over all, we are embraced by a single word:

Silence

How is it that a human expression can hold such different meanings?  Every muscle in my body tightening.  And then an undoing, a sweet mushing of my structures, a blessed puddling.

Such a mystery, this life.  The agony, the ecstasy and the calm in which high and low seem irrelevant.  I’m for all of it.

Circle of Feet

At Jody’s Celebration of Life on Saturday, I had a lovely image projected on the screen as people came in, and throughout the ceremony.  Maybe twenty African boys, just about naked, were sitting on the ground in a circle, with their feet touching.  A whole bunch of brown soles ringed the grassy centre.  A friend of mine said that she’d seen the photo before.  Yesterday, she e-mailed me the story behind the picture.

An anthropologist proposed a game to the kids in an African tribe.  He put a basket full of fruit near a tree and told the kids that whoever got there first won the sweet fruits. When he told them to run, they all took each other’s hands and ran together, then sat together enjoying their treats.  When he asked them why they had run like that, as one could have had all the fruit for himself, they said: “UBUNTU, how can one of us be happy if all the other ones are sad?”  UBUNTU in Xhosa culture means “I am because we are”.

And so I am.  Saturday was certainly a celebration of Jody’s life, but just as much it shone a light on our shared humanity.  Retired people, young kids, pretty women, handsome men, ordinary-looking folks, outgoing humans, shy humans, husbands and wives, fathers and daughters … smiling, crying, laughing, joining in song, nodding in agreement as someone talked about Jody.  All of it.  All of us.  To be celebrated.

Jody lives.  She’s with me right now.  And she’s entered the bloodstream of many folks, reminding them of love and fun and kindness, so that they can take their loved ones’ hands and run towards the shared prize.

Let’s keep doing that, shall we?

No One Left Out

My friend Pat took me out to lunch today at an Italian restaurant in London.  We talked and talked, looking both at the pains and joys of life.  I am truly blessed to have many such friends, people who love me and allow me to say just what I need to say.  They listen and accept.

Earlier, I drove into London to see my doctor.  Julie is another one of those marvelous friends.

And then there were the two hours between.  I knew that I wanted to be around people, even if I didn’t know any of them.  So I went to my favourite branch library, an intimate space with a huge snow-covered skylight.  People milled around the shelves, picking out treasures.  A mom and her son were having an animated discussion in the kids’ section.  Older gentlemen were sitting in plush chairs, absorbing the daily newspaper.  Another older gentleman (me!) sat on a comfy couch and pulled out my book.  I enjoyed watching the symphony of humanity between paragraphs.

And then there was the woman returning patrons’ books to their spots on the shelves.  She walked stiffly and had a concerned look on her face.  Her clothes were not fashionable.  And I knew she was mine.  I knew that today I was going to make a contribution to her life … I just didn’t know how.

I needed to take my medication and I didn’t know if there was a water fountain in the library.  So I walked up to my pre-friend and asked.  No, there wasn’t.  She suggested I approach one of the staff members at the desk.  “They know more.”  The woman seemed really nervous.

Eventually, I discovered that there was a fountain in the food court, so the med got swallowed.  As I returned to the library, I saw my friend shoving a book into Adult Non-Fiction.  I turned down her aisle and smiled.  “Thank you for helping me.  I found a water fountain by the food court.”  And I received an absolutely brilliant smile in return.  “You’re welcome.”

Enough done.  Enough said.