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.

From We to I and Back to We

I just sat a spell in my hot tub, watching the alpenglow on the bare trees at the end of day.  Except that something’s wrong with that sentence.  How can it now be “my” hot tub?  It’s always been “our” – for our home, for our family room, for our bedroom.

For countless years, when we turned off Sunset Road onto Bostwick,  I would say “Home road, Jodiette.”  To which my lovely wife would reply, “Home road, Mr. Kerr.”  And we continue that nice little conversation after Jody’s death.  May we ever say these words to each other.  They’re ours.

I’ve thought of our e-mail address: jodyandbruce@rogers.com.  Should I change it?  And the answer comes back swiftly … no.  Jody is very much still with me, just not in a physical form.  People who write to me also write to her.

Since I was introduced to the Buddha, I haven’t liked “my, me and mine”.  It just doesn’t seem right.  I share this world with so many others.  It is truly “ours”.  And the prime person with whom I share the joys and sorrows of existence is my darling girl.

And now I’m crying again.  It’s okay.  Jody’s fine with it.  She just keeps reminding me, “I am here, Bruce.”  It is our life to explore … still.

Flying Like a Bird … Dropping Like a Stone

I loved walking by the water’s edge in Cuba, dipsy doodling along the sand.  Nowhere to go and no hurry to get there.  And I enjoyed saying “Hola!” to the people I met.  It was such a blessing to meet and greet, even if many folks gave me a very tight “Hola” in return, or sometimes no greeting at all.  Not being attached to the other’s response created a lightness that I wish all human beings could experience.

Then there were words from Jody on one warm afternoon: “I’m so glad you’re dancing up a storm in the disco, husband.  You’re having so much fun.  Why don’t you try some moving and grooving on the beach?”

Hmmm.  Well, I guess I could dance a bit by the waves.  Sing a few lines from a favorite song or two.  But my goodness, what would people think?  >  Who cares what they think?  >  Well, I do … sort of  >  Will you still be alive at the end of the dance, with all of your body parts intact?  >  Well, sure  >  What’s the worst that could happen?  >  Some of them will think I’m drunk  >  So?  Are you?  >  No, of course not  >  So, how about if you start shaking a leg?  >  (Pause)  Okay

A sudden tightness in the step.  Furtive glances to the left and right.  Waiting for a moment when very few folks were near.  Blah, blah, blah …  Just do it.

So I did.  The singing came first, and then the arms lifted … oh so little.  They floated to the sides, to up and to down.  Rotate that trunk.  Loosen those wrists.  Dip down for the chorus.  Tilt that sexy head of yours … And I was off, soon lost in the melody.  I held Jody like a bird and we floated over the world.  Pirouette.  Bow.  Smile.  For a few yards … till the next beach bar … for three miles or more.  My love and I, tripping the light fantastic, so deeply joined in spirit.

Sunbathers watched.  Strollers noted the mystery couple.  There were smiles, frowns, grimaces, high fives, looking away, looking into, communing, disowning.  Fear, love, anger, peace … the whole enchilada.  And I was fine with it all.  My beloved and I graced the world.

I was lighter than goose down, as rhythmic as Mikhail Baryshnikov.  Lucky me.

And then I pulled a muscle in my right calf.  Pain shot up and down the leg.  I staggered.  I plodded.  I hobbled.  The dance was dead.  I was old.  I was feeble.  I was pretty much extinct.

Such a long walk back to my hotel room.  Sunbathers watched.  Strollers noted.  Sympathy, apathy, fear that it might become them.

Floating and bloating
Reaching to the sun and crumbling to the earth
In God’s green heaven and in the devil’s fiery furnace

All in a day’s work

All Beings Near and Far

In metta, or lovingkindness meditation, I wish wellness for myself and other beings.  Here are the forms of the Buddha’s phrases that I use:

May you be free from danger
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you live with ease

But who is the “you” of which I speak?  The Buddha suggested several pairings of people, and the one that resonates most deeply with me is “all beings near and far”.

Among the human beings whom I know and love, most are close by – in the London area.  Of those, some I see a lot, some rarely.  Even if they don’t come within my sight for weeks on end, I know they’re nearby.  And that comforts me.

Some of my loved ones are far away … Alberta, Connecticut, Nova Scotia, … But still they are near.  They truly live in my heart, and I carry that fine organ around with me every day.  Physical proximity is merely a part of communion, and totally optional.

Some beings whom I love are dead in this reality but still so intensely real to me.  Friends, mentors, family – all still companions on the way.

And what is far?  I guess that’s folks whom I’ve never met, whether they live around the block or around the globe.  I have no sense of them as individuals.  And yet how could they possibly be different in essence from those whose lives I’ve shared?  Do I somehow know them?

Readers from 35 countries have tuned in to my WordPress blog.  Places that are indeed foreign to me, such as Uruguay, the Philippines and Russia.  But the folks who have read my words are certainly not foreign.  I do know them. And they know me. It’s just not important that we’ll likely never meet in this lifetime.

Hey, maybe you’re all near to me.  I think so.  And I wish you well.

No One Left Out

When I’m driving on the west edge of St. Thomas, I come upon a meadow that borders Kettle Creek.  For many years, four horses have graced that field, and they like hanging out close to each other.  There’s a tall black fellow, a mid-sized black one, a medium one with dark brown patches on white, and a honey-coloured Shetland pony.  I look forward to seeing them every morning I’m on the road.

Once in awhile there are only three horses enjoying each other’s company. And that hurts me.  I get scared.  Has the fourth one died?  Maybe they’re sick inside the barn.  Maybe their owner has taken them to some wide open pasture, and my friend is getting to run and frolic.  Whatever’s happened, the fourth one always returns in a couple of days.  And I breathe easy again.

It’s just not right when one of the group is missing.  The circle is not complete, and I feel sad.

It seems that this is a recurring theme in my life.  I remember how much it hurt one time in my teenage years when I was hanging out with two friends, Mary and Brian. We were sitting at a round table.  I’d say things to Mary, but mostly she’d direct her comments to Brian.  It was such a vivid experience of being third wheel, and that sorrow has never entirely left me.  So my heart breaks when I see others live through exclusion or absence.

I’m thinking now of a Grade 6 girl.  Bonnie was enthralled with a certain boy band, especially its lead singer.  Many a time when she spoke to the class, she would work in a comment about her heroes.  The rest of the students quickly tired of her obsession … and she was ostracized, subtly at times, blatantly at others.  And I was sad.  Once again our circle was broken.

And then there was the gentleman in the meditation hall, a very large guy who brought with him a rubber cushion, which he placed on his chair.  Any slight movement and we heard the squeak.  Also he moved fast, stepped heavily and plunked his glasses down loudly on the window sill next to him.  The looks from some other retreatants held a clear message – you’re not welcome here.  More sadness.

The theme continues inside me.  Jody and I have been watching lots of episodes from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” on our laptop, her from the hospital bed, me from a chair.  I’d missed the last three or four, and when I started watching again I noticed that the young ensign Wesley Crusher was nowhere to be seen.  He wasn’t on the bridge.  He wasn’t in Ten Forward, the ship’s lounge.  He wasn’t even in the credits.  And the same reaction from me: I miss him and I’m worried about him.  All for a TV character from 1990.

I smile at myself sometimes.  Hopelessly sentimental?  Overly sensitive?  Naw … just me.

 

 

Sweet Times

Satya gave me a massage yesterday afternoon.  She’s our massage therapist and has been rubbing Jody and me the right way for months.  I spent the whole hour reminiscing about my times on retreat at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts.  I retraced everything right from the moment I kissed Jody goodbye and set off down the driveway in Hugo.  The hills of Richmond, Ontario, the bridge across the Welland Canal in Port Colborne, talking to the border guard in Buffalo, getting lost in Buffalo and asking for directions, the American flags hanging from homes in New York State, lunch at the little cafe in Seneca Falls, the gift shop in Skaneateles, the creeping vine on the power line over the road near Bridgewater, dinner at Babe Macaroni’s in Utica, phoning Jody from the classic old train station, walking in downtown Utica after dark, dreaming of tomorrow as I lay on my bed at the Red Roof Inn, breakie at Denny’s, getting lost in Albany and asking for directions, the steep climb through the woods to the Massachusetts border, the cutesy homes of North Adams, the view and conversation on the balcony of the Golden Eagle Restaurant with the Berkshire Mountains spread all around, the winding country roads leading southeast towards Barre, eating a Rocky Road waffle cone in a little downtown park, my first glimpse of the IMS retreat centre, walking up the driveway from the parking lot, being greeted by IMS volunteers, unpacking in my wee room, eating supper with 100 other retreatants at long tables and not knowing what to say, sitting for the first time in the meditation hall, doing walking meditation on the driveway, listening to the teachers, brewing a cup of tea and sitting on a bench outside with the stars overhead, walking to my room, lying down, the moment of sleep …

And a very large etcetera

At the end of my massage, I was warm and cozy, inside and out.  Such a beautiful thing – memories.  My head has been trained to stay in the here and now, and I know that’s wise.  To fall into the moment, knowing that whatever’s happening, on one level it’s all fine.  I know that there’s danger in leaning forward in life, trying to put pleasant boundaries on a totally mysterious future.  Or taking past experiences and trying to replicate them in the present.  Still …

I think I’ll always allow myself to relive precious moments from my history.  Why exclude anything?  My lips still smack when I think of artichoke dip and pita chips, the world’s most overflowing strawberry shortcake, and a glass or two of local beer at the Golden Eagle.  Yum.