Day Eleven: The Plane Again

Off I go into the wide blue Eastern yonder. In my life as well, the yonder beckons. Unknown. Moments that show up unbidden, by grace.

My day started in the breakfast room of the Abbotsford Travelodge. I sat near a gentleman named Tim and we got talking. I wavered between drowning in my sadness and rising above it. As expected when I’m in the throes of something, I started coughing.

Tim told me it was his birthday. I know me … I had to sing “Happy Birthday” to him but my throat was saying no. “Don’t listen to it, Bruce. Sing.” So I started, soon losing air and grinding to a halt, but then beginning again. I finished the birthday wish. Tim smiled.

I found out that my companion sells health products with an accompanying commitment to improve the immune system of malnourished children across the world. Scientists have developed a powder that’s added to local food. So far, 14,000,000 servings have been shared with kids. My goodness, wow.

I realized that I was sitting beside a true hero, although he would never describe himself as that. Deep down, I saw that my commitment to humanity is no less than his. My focus is just different … deepening the quality of the moments I share with folks who come my way.

I’ve often glimpsed that comparing myself to others is without merit. Just do and say what my heart is leading me to. “And while you’re at it, Bruce, hold your head up high. The world needs your elevation, not your descent.” Okay. Tim gives. I give.

22F was my spot on the plane from Abbotsford, B.C. to Edmonton. A window seat, selected on purpose, and I hardly glanced outside the whole trip. The reason? A young woman named Kalysha sat down in 22E. She was pretty, and that’s nice, but our contact was infinitely more than that.

Kalysha is a committed Christian and has recently been a missionary in Nepal. Soon she’ll be heading out on another spiritual adventure, to Papua New Guinea. Right now, she’s going home to Mayerthorpe, Alberta to be with her family for a few precious weeks.

Kalysha’s eyes glowed as she talked about Jesus. She clearly has a deeply loving relationship with Him. I told her that I was a Buddhist, and later asked if she was tempted to lead me away from the Buddha towards Jesus. She smiled and basically said that she speaks what’s true for her and leaves it up to the other person to make their decision. Cool. So there we were, talking about our spiritual lives, enjoying each other’s presence. My coughing came and went and I felt great acceptance from 22E.

Beyond the words about her family and the Grade 5/6 kids who await me near Belmont, Ontario, there was a stillness between us. Age doesn’t matter. Contact does.

Now I’m on the leg from Edmonton to Toronto. I’m sitting beside an elderly couple. I ordered a burrito bowl and couldn’t open the plastic tube of guacamole. My neighbourly guy did the deed with ease and pleasure. His wife told me they were out west visiting the fellow’s brother, who was sinking through dementia. Yesterday the two had reminisced for a long while, exactly the intention. The couple’s ticket had been selected for today. This morning, in the wee hours, the brother died. Two seats away from me, a grief-stricken senior had opened my guacamole package. Heroes everywhere.

Tomorrow afternoon, I going to the school where I volunteer. There’s a Grade 5/6 potluck at noon and a school play day till the buses pick the kids up. The final event is a water balloon fight between the graduating Grade 6’s and the staff. It was so much fun last year. This time, I’ll be a sitting duck. I can’t throw with my injured right hand and trying to throw overhand with my left would be something to behold. So … I’m going to wing the bombs lefty underhand. No way those kids are going to get the better of me!

Talking to Tim, Kalysha and my current companions has been so therapeutic. The sun is now shining brightly. I can’t wait to see who I can greet on the flight from Toronto to London, Ontario.

On we go.

Day Eight: Mission

Well, well, well. Here I am in Mission, B.C. I was by far the slowest human being but I got a cheer when I rolled down the driveway of the campground. I have such supportive companions. Today Mike, Ken and Paul specially made sure I was okay. To be cared for is so marvelous. I need to continue letting people do this, because it not only touches me but it’s a gift to them.

What would it take for me to cross Canada? I could do it very slowly, taking all the hours I need. I could walk any hills that are too much for me. In fact, that’s what I did today.

The day after tomorrow, we’re doing a long and steep ride. I have a front light on my bike. Maybe I could show up at 10:00 pm!

I wonder at the possibility that I could actually complete the tour. I’m slow on the bike, and unskilled. But there still could be a way.

I was so down during yesterday’s post. Many folks responded to me but I don’t have a good enough Internet connection to reply. In fact, I don’t know if this post will fly. Thank you all for caring so much about me.

I’m very tired and I’m heading to my tent. May I be strong enough to get to Hope, B.C. tomorrow.

Day One: Some More

Over the world we flew. On the prairies I came upon a long stretch of tiny lakes. Didn’t exactly fit with my image of endless grain fields. Above the Rockies, fresh snow etched the rocks in pencil-thin lines but bowls above the tree line were flush with a blanket of white. Then the coast, with the Pacific stretching between all those islands. Canada lay beneath me, as it will lie beneath my bicycle wheels in the coming weeks.

At the luggage carousel in Vancouver, I called to a woman to watch out as I swung my heavy bag off the belt. And then we talked. Sarah and Stephanie wanted to hear about my bike ride across Canada. I talked too much, roaming from Canada to the wise words of the Buddha. He essentially said “What you resist will persist.” And that hit home with Sarah. Both women seemed to enjoy my presence, as I enjoyed theirs.

Then it was time for a taxi ride to UBC. Jaswant so loves Vancouver, even with his long hours at the wheel. We searched and searched for the Bike Kitchen, folks who’ll be putting my bicycle back together tomorrow. And … success.

Now I’m at Koerner’s Pub on the UBC campus. A beer or two and a burger later, I’m reflecting with Andrew about the joys of the bicycle. Rap music fills the space … and I’m on vacation on the left coast, where the land is green and the trees soar above. A private party is about to begin and I’m revelling in the freedom of it all.

What will become of me over the summer? Will a book leak out of me in the fall? Will Canadians step forward to say hi as I roll through their town? Will we riders hold each other up through the rain and the hills and the heat? Will I look in the mirror and see a new man looking back at me? I think yes.

On we go.

The Journey Begins 

I’m sitting in Scarlet on the main street of Alliston, Ontario.  I’m way early for the Annual General Meeting of the Tour du Canada.  The TdC is the organizer of the cross-Canada bicycle trip I’m going on this summer, with 19 other riders.  I’m not super keen on motions and policies but there’s one thing that has my juices flowing – the possibility that I’ll meet one of my fellow cyclists at today’s meeting.  Right now I know not a one of them.

I’ve been on the Tour’s website.  Two people have introduced themselves.  I look at the print on my laptop screen and see a name: Joe somebody.  But in a few months, Joe will be my friend and we’ll share many adventures and no doubt numerous obstacles.  Joe will be so very real to me.

Okay, this is a more reasonable time to knock on the door.  Here goes.

***

I shake hands with Bud and hug Margot.  They’re the two sources of the TdC, which they created 30 years ago.  Soon, about 10 other faces are saying hi.  All except one are veterans of the ride.  But sadly no other 2018 cyclist is at the meeting.  I smile to myself.  I can wait another 3+ months.

The meeting is about lots of issues unfamiliar to me.  Doesn’t matter.  It hits me, more than once, that these human beings in front of me mean that the Tour du Canada is now real.  Websites and correspondence and Skyping are fine but now I’m looking folks in the eye.  Again and again, I’m brought to silence when this reality hits home.  It’s not just a long-held dream, a “maybe” – it’s 20 of us setting off from Vancouver on June 22.  And I’m just as valuable a team member as anyone else, probably slower than most but so what?

During the meeting and the supper afterwards, folks tell their stories of the road.  One woman did the ride 29 years ago, but her description of a long ago moment is relived vividly in her eyes.  Actually, every person who spoke transported themselves back to a magical summer, full of joys and heartaches.  The weather, the hills, the aches and pains.  Exhaustion towards the end of the day and then a road sign appears announcing the campground is still 16 k away.  Being on the road for the sunrise.  Eating impossible quantities of food.

I heard about the tremendous feeling of achievement in reaching St. John’s.  About the couples who met on the ride.  Might that include me in 2018?  About the lovable quirkiness of a rider or two.  And smiles all around.  “Do you remember that morning when I looked at the schedule and told you ‘Oh good, only 130 kilometres today’?”  And then we laughed and laughed.”

Advice came at me from all directions.  “Buy $200 cycling shorts.”  (What?)  “Buy a really good tent that won’t fall apart in a fierce storm.”  “Buy three different brands of excellent shorts so the edge of the chamois [padding] isn’t always rubbing away your skin in exactly the same spot.”  (Who would have thought?  Not me.)

As we left each other and walked out into the darkness, everyone wished me good luck.  A few said they were jealous.  And I just said “Thank you.”

I think I’m doing a remarkable thing come June.  Just like hundreds of other folks have done.  I’ll be creating another community for myself, and that makes me happy.  The nineteen other riders deserve my best.  I’ll give them that.

Ants Below

Construction started on Toronto’s CN Tower in 1973.  Until 2010, it was the tallest freestanding structure in the world.  I’d never been up it … till yesterday.

What does it mean that millions of people across the world have gazed out from the sky high observation deck, but not me?  How about “absolutely nothing”?  It’s becoming clearer to me that life is not about accumulating experiences but rather about living in accord with my highest values.  And those are love, compassion, kindness and peace.

But I still wanted to take an elevator to the heights.

My eyes widened as I approached the glass.  The world was so far down.  The sun was shining on Lake Ontario and the ice was breaking up, creating a jumble of geometric patterns.  Two channels of smaller floes showed the way to Ward’s Island and Hanlan’s Point on Toronto Island.  A ferry found its way through.

Directly below was another spot of ice – a skating rink bordered by tall condos.  But “tall” didn’t seem to fit from up here.  The penthouses were hundreds of feet below.  On the ice, little dots of colour circled.  And I got it … each speck was a human being.  Someone with joys and sorrows, health and illness, high and low self-esteem, leading lives so much like mine.  I just stared.

Then there was the Royal York Hotel, a classic Toronto landmark since 1929.  Way, way below me.  I thought of my dear wife Jody, and the time that we stayed there.  I smiled.  And I imagined all the human beings inside the building right then … showering, sitting in the lobby, enjoying a drink in the lounge.  All like me, those folks.  Some differences, sure, but just minor variations on the theme homo sapiens.

The Gardiner Expressway flowed beneath me, although that’s not the right word.  It was late afternoon rush hour in the big city, and the cars crawled.  The backup stretched way to my left and way to my right.  There’d be one or two people in each tin can, maybe tired after a day of stress, longing for home, longing for a “beam me up” machine that would transport them to their couch.  All with hopes and dreams, successes and failures, pleasure and pain.  I tried to place my soul in each car but immediately felt overwhelmed.  “They’ll find their way, Bruce.”

From on high, life didn’t seem so darned serious.  Just a whole bunch of people walking or riding from here to there, each on their path.  It’s okay.  There’ll be a few dead ends, a few traffic jams, but also moments of flowing free.  On we go, fellow travellers.

On The Tracks

I love walking.  I love Belmont.  I love finding places to walk in Belmont.

Today I went ‘splorin’.  Many times I’ve crossed the railway tracks at the south end of town in Scarlet.  I knew from the map that they headed northeast, crossing two east-west roads – Avon Drive and Harrietsville Drive.  Once I reached that second road, I could walk west till I hit the T-intersection at Belmont Road.  I figured that the whole thing would take me two to three hours.  Adventure!

As I sauntered south from my condo, I talked to three people about my journey.  Every one said “Be careful” while all I wanted to hear was “Have fun”.  Oh well, I’d do both.

At the entrance to the Belmont Farm Supply yard, I turned sharp left, and stepped onto the tracks.  Yay!  My plan was to walk on the gravel beside the rails but I soon found that it sloped steeply down to the side, and my ankles said no to that nonsense.  So that left a path between the rails, maneuvering over the wooden ties.  Sometimes the gravel between the ties was a few inches below, and that took inspired footwork.  But who cares?  I was out and about and all the vestiges of civilization were fading behind me.

My first visitor was a bird – a kildeer.  I’m guessing that it was a she because it puffed itself up on the gravel and screeched unkindly at me.  The babies must have been in the tall grass nearby.  “It’s okay, mom.  I’m not going to hurt you or the little ones.”  I skirted way around her and passed by, whistling a happy tune.

It was hot today, maybe 28º Celsius.  For the first bit, my way was enclosed by trees and bushes, and the old forehead was dripping.  That’s all right.  Adventurers need to overcome lots of stuff.  Then the village park on the left came to an end and so did all the trees.  Fields of brown (to be planted) and green (winter wheat) beckoned.  And the breeze caressed my face.  Ahh.

I could see a long way in both directions.  Farmsteads were wee in the distance and I was alone in the world.  Sometimes I like that.  I thought of train trips I’ve been on and how wondrous it was to see the natural world, far from roads.  It was the same today.  Just me and my ties and my gravel.

Swallows swooped and I was entranced with their beauty.  Sometimes pampas grass accompanied me, waving in the wind from their eight-foot highness.  I crossed Kettle Creek on a short trestle bridge, letting the sweetness of the flow mix with my fear of a suddenly approaching train.  No train, just the water below.

Once the tracks curved and for awhile there were no signal lights to be seen way forward or way back.  Wilderness!  So I told myself.

Soon Avon Drive was behind me and I knew that Harrietsville Drive would meet my feet within half an hour.  I felt a touch sad, knowing that cars would soon be my companions.

And then they were.

Pavement home was still fun, if missing the aura of mystery.  I looked at houses passing by and wondered about the lives of the folks inside.  Up ahead was a fellow whippersnipping some weeds in front of his place.  I went over to talk and he smiled.  “I saw you in the paper.”  And indeed I had been, in an article about the tree that a landscaper planted for me in front of the post office … for Jody.  We had a good talk.

And then it was just a couple of kilometres back to orange brick.  Home.

***

I guess I’m a Belmontonian
Starting to know the land and the people
It makes me happy

Wandering Up and Down

I walked twelve kilometres yesterday, through the parkland by Toronto’s Humber River.  All was green.  I meandered past tennis courts and fire circles, wooded slopes and wide lawns, with benches a-plenty for sittin’.  And I went slow.

All sorts of folks came my way.  Unless they looked supremely grumpy, I said hi.  Only three people gave me a sincere hello back.  I wonder if I look dangerous.  Or maybe it’s just the big city mentality, perhaps “Someone who says hello wants something.”  Oh well.  I wasn’t going to let the prevailing responses besmirch my day.

Near the end of the journey, I parked my bod in the lounge of the Old Mill Inn.  Lots of nice stonework and comfy chairs.  I found myself facing the portrait of a severe young man.  I asked myself whether he ever smiled in his earlier life.  I sure hope so.  I sipped my glass of white wine and read sports articles on my phone.  Sort of a mixed metaphor but I don’t mind.

Off again, this time to the mysteries of Bloor Street.  The sidewalks were full of all and sundry, enjoying the spring sunshine.  But I was fading.  Was it the wine, or the long walk, or my continued movement away from sleeping pills?  My head beat out a nasty rhythm and my legs were declining towards the asphalt.  “It’s okay, Bruce.  You’re off these pills and there’s no going back.”

My walking plans fell apart and I stumbled towards a subway station.  Fifteen minutes later I was slurping coffee in a Tim Horton’s, watching outside folks scatter under a sudden thunderstorm.  I was happy to be dry and sad to be vacant.  Coffee completed, I continued to stare out at smashing raindrops.  How would I stay awake at the concert?  So … another twelve ounces of Dark Roast.

Koerner Hall was only a three-minute walk from Tim’s and the rain had faded when I poked my pounding head out the door.  Inside the gorgeous concert hall, I awaited the presence of Rosanne Cash.  Slowly my brain cleared and I was ready for tunes.

Rosanne’s voice filled the space with sweetness, accompanied by the guitar runs of her husband.  One song especially hit home:

We’re falling like the velvet petals
We’re bleeding and we’re torn
But God is in the roses
And the thorns

I left The Royal Conservatory of Music with “500 Miles” on my lips and a skip in my step.  All deficits were in the rear view mirror.  Until, that is, I got to my home bed-and-breakfast.  Head banging again and a troubled caffeine-laden sleep.

So it seems to me this morning that life is both A and B
Despite my efforts to call it A
I guess I can live with that

The Last Post (For Awhile)

Around 3:00 pm today, I enter into a month of silence at the Forest Refuge near Barre, Massachusetts.  Hey, maybe I should start right now, which would make this a very short post.  Naw.  I still have a few hours of yapping in me.  Barre is three hours away and no doubt there’ll be human beings on the way to whom I can say silly things.

These fingers really enjoy tapping on keys.  Well actually, just my two index fingers – the rest are just along for the ride.  And this brain enjoys looking at the world, finding a stimulus (Is that the right word?) and then going with it into a potpourri of tangents.

Okay, how about a stimulus?  A good-sized snowfall last night in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  Do I hope for dry roads today or the beauty of a winter wonderland?  Am I willing to embrace the losses and pains of life right alongside the gains and pleasures?  Oh, I could go on, but why bother?  All this writing stuff is about to come to an end.  The thinking stuff?  Not so much.

Over the next month, I expect to be sitting in meditation for perhaps eight hours a day.  Then there’ll be periods of walking meditation, work meditation (maybe potwashing!) and eating meditation.  Imagine thirty folks having lunch together in silence, with nary a clattering of silverware to be heard.  Sweet (although we’ll only get desserts twice a week).

I’m going on retreat to love people.  That’s it.  And that’s enough.

See you on the far side, with all due respect to Gary Larson.

With love,

Bruce

Paths Of The Soul

Tricycle is a spiritual magazine and website, offering the lens of Buddhism to our daily lives.  Included in the yearly membership of $40 US is their Film Club.  The November offering – Paths Of The Soul – was my companion a few nights ago.

My way is one way.  But there are so many others.  Start with an elderly Tibetan fellow who’s never travelled, instead serving family throughout his life.  Imagining death, he decides to go on a pilgrimage to Lhasa, the holy city.  It’s 1200 miles away.  Members of his family volunteer to accompany him, including an 8-year-old girl.  And others join in too.

They walk.  An animal skin covers their chest and legs.  They wear wooden paddles on their hands.  They clap the paddles above their heads, then twice at chest level.  And then they throw themselves forward onto the ground – a sliding prostration, a bow.  This happens every ten steps or so.

Oh my.  They’re really doing this.  All without griping.  Supporting each other through the pain.  Smiling.  It’s a spiritual journey far more than a spiritual destination.

I was transfixed by the young girl.  At one point, her hands hurt.  Adults encouraged her to stop bowing.  She didn’t … until they reached Lhasa.  She encouraged others.  She led.

One person drove a small tractor, which pulled a trailer full of tents and provisions.  Towards the end of the journey, a car sideswiped the tractor, breaking its axle.  No repair shops on the road to the holy city.  So the men pushed and pulled the trailer while the women continued to bow.  Once the men had completed a section of road, they left the trailer and went back to the beginning of that stretch.  They prostrated themselves while returning to the trailer.  And not a “poor me” to be heard.

Transport trucks roared by within feet of the travellers during the day, and kept them awake for much of the night.  So?  We carry on.

The group came to a flooded section of the road, with water about a foot deep.  They looked for a minute and then proceeded.  Paddle high, paddle middle, slide.

The patriarch died before reaching Lhasa.  The family mourned most tenderly, and finished the journey for him.

Another way.  A good way.  And I was privileged to see it all.

Saying Goodbye To Stuff

Yesterday Jeff and Rick from Shackelton Auctioneering came by to pick up items for their spring lawn/gardening sale.  It was the first step in getting rid of things that Jody and I shared for years but that I don’t want at my condo.  I thought the process would be sweatless.

Nope.

Even though they were just “things”, some of the objects held the love that Jody and I still share.  A round patio table inlaid with dark shiny squares accompanied by matching wicker chairs.  Jody and I sat there in a little alcove at the front of our home, enjoying a lemonade.  Just chatting.  A large rectangular table with ceramic squares on the deck out back … the site of many summer meals.  Two comfy loungers where we’d sit beside each other, reading our books and listening to the birds.  All vehicles for togetherness.  Goodbye vehicles.  The magic that you hold will stay in my heart, alongside my lovely wife Jodiette.

Then there was the Roper lawn tractor that breezed over the grass for many a year.  How marvelous to change the world from scruffiness to parkland in an hour.  And our snowblower.  I felt so accomplished in transforming impassible to a clear path for Hugo and Scarlet.

Later in the day, I struggled with weights in my strength training at Wellington Fitness.  Odd, I thought.  I didn’t have trouble with this amount of weight a few days ago.  Then I realized … not odd at all.  The emotional and the spiritual morph into the physical.  Such a journey we’re all on, of gain and loss.  May I embrace them both because both is what I will continue to receive.

Old chapter, new chapter.  Nice book.