Days Thirty-Two and Thirty-Three: Birthday Marathon … Lost in Space

At the edge of awakening this morning (Saturday), I heard Jody come in the front door. I smiled and got up to greet her. As I rounded the corner, she barely glanced at me, and retreated into another room.

“Where’s Jody? Where did she go?” … “She’s dead, Bruce.” And it took awhile to let that in.

My mind has crashed and burned over the past two days, with little resurrections yesterday as I was together with the members of the Evolutionary Collective. Now, at 7:45 am in Berkeley, California, my heart is rising again after twelve hours of sleep.

The flight from London, England to San Francisco lasted between eleven and twelve hours. It made for my longest birthday ever, and perhaps the dreariest one. The voice inside said “No pills” although I had a sleep inducer tucked into my wallet. I obeyed the voice.

Within the growing dullness, I could feel that I was being held by friends even though they were all far away physically. I was also being held by life, Spirit, the bigness that permeates all. Still I slumped.

At the beginning, I talked to my seatmate, a young lawyer going home. But then he put on his headphones, and that was essentially that. After dinner, I put my feet flat on the floor, extended the seat back, put on my blindfold and waited. Again, nothing of peace came.

I worried, I fretted. What’s to become of this wayfaring Canadian? Since leaving Dakar, Senegal on Wednesday evening, sleep had given me maybe one hour. I was approaching my previous record of sleeplessness – 34 hours. I remembered the delirium – the thought, jangled with desperation, that I was going to die.

Blessedly, the San Francisco Airport eventually appeared on the horizon … now about 42 hours. There was a long delay before we could get off the plane – some problem with the runway. (Sigh) Finally we moved/stumbled down the aisle. I don’t know how I managed to avoid smashing into the person in front.

Down twisting and turning corridors, grabbing on to the meaning of overhead signs, trying to remember the San Francisco subway system (BART).

Customs ahead. The lines barely registered. And then they did. My foggy eyes seemed to be saying that there were 150 people ahead of me. It wasn’t an illusion … they were right. (Sigh, sigh, sigh)

It took over an hour to reach a customs agent. He was delightful. I was a mess, but hopefully a kind one.

I got to bed at 11:00 pm at the Downtown Berkeley YMCA. Forty-six hours without appreciable sleep. Two minutes later, I was gone.

Yesterday held many joys, all revolving around love shared. We looked into each other’s eyes. We saw who was there. I spoke to the whole group a few times. What I said rang true inside, and that made me happy.

After we returned from lunch, the fade accelerated. I was in a practice with three other folks and I could feel my words starting to slur, my contact with goodness, truth and beauty letting go. I pushed myself into communion but the pull of sleep intensified.

Our day was done at 5:30 and I approached my friend Lara to see if she wanted to go for dinner later. “I need to sleep for an hour first.” Lara took one look at me and said “I’ll walk you home.” I didn’t resist. She took my arm in hers and we meandered the two blocks to the Y.

Thank you, Lara. There was no dinner for this guy. And … VoilĂ ! … it’s today. A perfect time to be with people once more.

Day Two: Jet Lag and Silence

Let’s start with the present moment, which is always a fine place to begin. I’ve just awakened from a 13-hour sleep, and Tylenol Decongestant has emerged as my new best friend. I’m wrapped up in a cozy chair in Lydia and Jo’s living room in Nukerke, Belgium. Either the chair or the world is spinning – I’m not sure which. The family is off to work or school (Lore and Baziel both have exams this morning).

Who is in the house is Lydia’s mom Marie-Paule, their aunt/sister and the weekly housekeeper. I’m sad but accepting that I can’t remember these last two women’s names. “You’re not Superman, Bruce.”

Another relevant fact is that all of these folks are French-speaking. Marie-Paule has a few words of English but I suspect the other two are unilingual. Then there’s the reality that I haven’t studied French in 2019 to prep for my return to Senegal. I summed up my current situation to Marie-Paule with “Je suis trop fatiguĂ© pour parler.” (I’m too tired to talk.) Sad again … since I love talking.

My two flights yesterday, to Dublin and Brussels, probably totalled seven hours. In Dublin Airport, I met a lovely young woman who insisted on serving me coffee, as long as I insisted on paying her. She spoke like a song, reminding me of all the Irish commercials I’ve seen in my time. I was tempted to ask her to marry me but demurred, aware of the fifty years between us. I loved her until she mentioned that I should be drinking Guinness. That bitter beer isn’t for me but the young lass and I are still good friends.

I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with Lorraine and Sean on the way to Brussels. They’re off on a three-day getaway to the Christmas markets of the big city. For the second time yesterday, I visualized marriage but then concluded that Sean would disapprove of the idea. Lorraine spoke with great animation of spirit and I felt at home with them both.

Lydia and her best friend Liesbet picked me up at Brussels Airport. Truly a blessed reunion with my comrade of heart. After dropping Liesbet off, Lydia and I rendezvoused with son Baziel, whom I had hosted for two weeks in Canada last summer. Such a hug between two intergenerational friends.

We got home around 11:00 am, and so began my jetlag ritual. It’s simple, really: stay awake till bedtime in the new place. My goal was 8 or 9 … many hours away. It’s fascinating to see my mind gradually fade away. Clarity of thought goes off to visit someone else. Just for comfiness, I lay down on the couch that I’m currently staring at. Big mistake! Eyelids closing, body sinking towards sleep, unable to process the reality that sleeping daytime Tuesday means not much of the soft stuff Wednesday and Thursday. Wake up, Bruce! Move around. Ahh … go for a walk.

I turned left on Lydia’s road and stumbled towards the small city of Ronse, only a few kilometres away. Ancient row houses greeted me down the hill into town. I came upon a few people enroute but chickened out when it came to say hi. I rationalized that I don’t speak Flemish and they probably don’t speak English. Plus I was so dreary in the head. Still, way down deep I knew that I had fallen short of what the world needs.

Above the red slate rooves, I glimpsed a steeple. It was a magnet. I wanted to sit down somewhere out of the cold and I urged the church door to be open. It was. St. Hermes Basilica was completed in 1526 and welcomed me inside its expanse. Throughout my sojourn within the holy walls, I was alone. Statues, paintings and tapestries hung above me. A winding staircase in the middle of the sanctuary led to a platform from which the priest gives his homily. All was still.

I sat in a padded chair and felt my eyes closing. I teetered to my right and brought myself back. And then some being must have given me a quiet energy. For half an hour, I gazed at the majesty of it all. Soon I realized that complete silence wrapped me in its bosom. No pitter patter of feet. No ringing bells. No sounds of cars outside. It was totally quiet, and I bathed in it. The small voice inside expected interruptions to come but there were none.

Perhaps Sara Teasdale said it best:

From what undreamed of depth within your heart
Have you sent forth the hush that mqkes us free
To hear an instant, high above the earth’s stress
The silent music of infinity?

Jet Lag and Alcohol

What a teacher it is to cross six time zones. My body was basically saying “I don’t like this stuff!” Indeed.

I left Toronto at 6:00 pm on Sunday. Seven hours later, I was landing in Brussels, Belgium. I’d bought a cool pink flight pillow but I still couldn’t lay myself down to sleep. Trying to sit up straight and meditate didn’t work either. I decided to launch myself into a book about Rwanda. That basically kept me going till breakfast on the plane.

At 8:00 am on Monday morning, there were Lydia and her daughter Lore waiting for me as I passed through customs at the Brussels Airport . An hour later, we were sitting in their dining room in Nukerke. The world was my oyster. I was home.

I knew the drill. Stay up till it was bedtime in the new place. I set a goal of 8:00 pm. A quick calculation left me with an awake time of 32 hours. I was determined to meet that goal. My previous record of staying awake was 34 hours, a struggle that left me pretty much delerious. Would that be my reality this time as well?

As the day progressed, and we were out and about on errands, so did the fade accumulate. The head is heavy and the mind is slow. The vision blurs a bit and it was fascinating to watch the disintegration. Did I do something bad? Not at all. In fact, I was doing what needed to be done to get Bruce back as quickly as possible.

I thought of folks who fly to Australia, crossing 14 time zones or so. How do they do it? I guess they’re willing to take on the discomfort for three days or more.

I went to bed at 9:00 pm (!) on Monday night, scared that somehow I wouldn’t be able to sleep. Ten hours later, I woke up – a little tired and a lot refreshed. There! I did it. What a good boy was I. I was all set for the remaining eighteen days of my vacation.

There are problems you can’t control and then those you can. Tuesday evening we went to Lydia and Jo’s friends’ place for dinner. There was a festive mood among us six, and Kurt was the perfect host, continually refilling my wine glass after my last sip. I concluded that resistance was futile, that I deserved a night of excellent food and drink.

Wrong.

This body of mine hasn’t consumed much alcohol during the past few months. It was into a sweet rhythm and our dinner was a major jolt to the system. I was inundated with marvelous flavours and aromas but going with that flow was seductive.

I woke up Wednesday morning with a thorough hangover … dull in the head, exhaustion and bouts of nausea. Death warmed over. I slept for two hours in the afternoon in preparation for another evening out. As I stumbled around in my mind and body, I said a simple “no” to such excess. It’s not what I want my life to be about. If I’m to serve people, I need open channels to my heart and mind. Clarity, not cloudiness.

Dinner approached in a fog. I smiled at my new hosts and attempted conversation. I drank water. I ate small portions of food. And then, during dessert, my mind came back to say hello. “You know what I want, Bruce. Please give it to me.” Okay, from now on I will.

Today is Thursday and I am “normal” once more. Hallelujah. There is much living and giving to be done.

Jet Lag

I knew it would be a challenge – arriving in Toronto yesterday and feeling half-decent today. The advice that many people had given me was to stay up until a decent bedtime in the new location. Okay, I can do that.

We landed in Toronto around 3:30 pm yesterday new time (9:30 pm old time). I figured I needed to stay awake until 10:00 pm (4:00 am). Picking up my car and driving to Anne and Ihor’s was a piece of cake – an alert twenty-minute journey. This jet lag stuff was overrated.

My friends were all decked out in traditional Ukrainian clothing and were heading off to a Christmas Eve dinner. We said we’d talk later about Senegal and their recent trip to Cuba. I settled onto the couch and created the last blog post of my trip. It was both joyous and sad to tap out the words. I posted the journey’s end around 6:30, certainly tired but very pleased with myself. Todd, a longterm resident of the B&B, came to sit with me in the living room.

And then, slowly but surely, my world began to collapse. My head heavier, my eyes vacant, my confusion growing. At exactly eight o’clock, I swirled inside of “What’s this?” Of course I knew what it was, to the tune of six time zones. I sensed that it wasn’t as simple as saying it was now 2:00 am Belgian time. Some unknown but diabolical force was at work. I looked at the clock again. It was 8:07. “What? Seven minutes! How in the name of all that’s good and pure was I going to last till 10:00?”

Downward flowed the mind. I started babbling. My only strategy was to watch something exciting on TV – maybe a movie with lots of explosions and premature death. I usually hate that stuff but something had to be done to keep my eyes open.

The guide said that I could find Independence Day 2 on the telly. Perfect. Mayhem that I previously panned in the theatre. Basically, I started yelling at the screen, much, I suppose, to Todd’s amusement. But I didn’t really know. He was barely a blip on my radar screen. Anne and Ihor walked in and asked if I wanted to talk. I blurted out something to the tune of being totally incapable of such behaviour.

Some grotesque alien face was advancing on tiny humans. I have no idea what I said but I was sure giving him hell. And the commercials – some car was able to keep a good distance from other vehicles on the freeway without human intervention. I gave Toyota hell too, robbing me of my power to be.

I was incomprehensible. I was drooling. I was lost. Sure hope Todd didn’t make a video. 9:12. Forty-eight more agonizing minutes!

Somehow, by the grace of God, 10:00 pm eventually showed up in red. I grabbed the blanket I had wrapped myself in and stumbled upstairs. Just your basic local zombie.

Magically I fell asleep and stayed that way till 1:00. Then, for maybe two hours, I suffered through spiky wakefulness. Something evil kept poking me towards the abyss. Is this what my next few nights are going to be? Maybe I’ll just stay home from now on. I’ll try Belgium again next lifetime.

After countless fits and starts, I awoke again at 7:30. Now it’s 2:00 pm and I’m prepping for the drive to Belmont. Tired yes, zombie no.

May the force be with me.