Day Twenty-Three: To Toronto

It was a 6:00 am rising for the trip home. Lore and Baziel promised they’d get up at 7:00 to say goodbye. They kept their word. I hugged each of them and told them that I loved them. Such wonderful teenagers who will be great adults, ones with big hearts and huge contributions to make in our wide world. As we loaded the car, Baziel stood at the window for a few minutes, staying in touch.

Jo and Lydia drove me the hour to Brussels Airport. Sometimes she was sniffling in the front seat in the darkness.

We sat in a café having a coffee and croissant but the time was soon for parting. They walked me to the gate. Jo and I hugged and I told him that I loved him.

And then … Lydia. We turned to each other and started crying. We held each other with Jo smiling beside. She messed my hair and we said what was oh so very true.

As we walked in Belgium and Senegal, Lydia would often grab my arm. Sometimes it was her linked with Jo on one side and me on the other. A great joie de vivre as we strolled along.

If in August, 2017 on a hiking trail in Alberta Lydia Dutrieue hadn’t said “Would you like to come with us?” I wouldn’t be crying right now. I wouldn’t have held hands with Senegalese kids and kissed the cheeks of many adults. I wouldn’t now have Mareama and Youssoupha in my life. (I’ve been spelling his name wrong.) Thank you, Lydia, for moving right into my life and calling it home. You are my friend.

***

It’s four-and-a-half hours into the sky. I’ve had a delicious meal of penne pasta with a tomato sauce; a multi-flavoured salad full of greens, reds, little cheese balls and walnuts; a warm bun; an almond tart … and definitely the red wine. Wow. And that’s not even the best. I just finished watching Les Misérables for the first time. So much human communion there – love, sadness, loneliness, death – all wrapped in a blanket of song. Stunning.

***

I wonder what’s next in this life of mine. I know it’ll be about friends – in Belmont, in the Evolutionary Collective, in London, in Toronto and most definitely in Belgium and Senegal. I am blessed.

***

Okay, that was a very long flight. I am quite perfectly pooped and very glad to be staying with Anne and Ihor in Toronto tonight. I need to be good to myself and stay off the 401 in the dark when I’m this tired.

Belgium and Senegal were marvels in my world. I loved and was loved. Can you think of anything better? No, I can’t either. I’m going back in 2019 to both places … with bells on.

Thank you for sharing these twenty-three days with me. I’ve loved writing to you.

Day Fifteen: On the Water to Paradise Island

We started early this morning – two small boats carrying about twenty human beings down the river to the ocean. I sat with Lieselot, Sabrine and Jan. Normal conversations were punctuated with vistas of biabab trees, broad expanses of smooth water, and birds flying high. Other boats passed us by, mostly local folks out fishing. We waved and they waved.

Far, far away was Jackson Island, home of a lonely and all-encompassing white sand beach. Several of us began strolling by the water’s edge. The softness under my feet was a caress. The invitation was so clear – slow right down and feel the moments drip away. It was just me and my Speedo, a clothing choice that’s inspired quite a few giggles, and truth be told I wish I could have been nude. I realize, though, that ultimate freedom is an inside job. Paradise Island is just one more external thing … it’s not where the action is.

I sat on the sand for awhile, just drinking it all in. Ansou, one of our young Senegalese friends, probably was wondering if I needed assistance and lingered near me till I set off again. We walked along side by side, him apparently asking questions about Canada and me getting lost in his fast French. None of that mattered. We were together.

Our captains went out fishing, along with Jo and Curd. The group of them came back with several barracuda, which a Senegalese woman accompanying us prepared beautifully.

I had two beer, and that combined with the intense heat just did me in. I nibbled on the barracuda and spiced potatoes but my stomach wasn’t in it. Sabrine worried that I wasn’t well, and I tried to tell her that I was fine. It seems that I have a lot of mothers on this trip, as old as 55 and as young as 16. Although I bug them about it, it’s very cool that people care about me.

After lunch, six of us lay down in the shade. Nothing to do, nowhere to go. Just friends resting, and occasionally snoring. It was lovely. Out in the sun, the seven teens were working on a fancy sand castle. Sometimes they’re verging on adulthood, and at other times they’re just little kids trying to build something pretty.

Before I lay down with my friends, Sabrine warned me that there were little twigs in the sand, with big thorns. “You should put on your shoes, Bruce.” I didn’t. I got up at one point to take a photo of the long beach and was thoroughly impaled. Ali was near me, saw what my face did, knelt down and pulled the thorn out. I thought of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples as I smiled my thanks to the young man. We help each other.

On the way home, our two boats were often beside each other. Eva was looking over at her kids, and I asked her to share what she was thinking. “They look so happy.” And they did. Eva went on to tell me that Louisa, Jean and Giraud all hug her before they go to school and when they come back home. So wonderful. Plus they tell her their problems (most of the time). Even the kids’ friends trust Eva with their issues. She sounds like Super Mom to me.

We arrived back in Toubacouta just before sunset, in time to watch lines of birds heading to the big tree for a safe sleep together.

And may we too have a safe sleep within the spiritual presence of each other. Wherever we are in the world, our wings touch.

Day Eight: Visiting Buckeye

And then there was that woman with horror on her face. She said something like “buck eye” and I responded with “What’s that?” Thought the poor lady was going to have a heart attack. For the uninitiated, the Buckeyes are the beloved football team of Ohio State University. The name comes not from a deer (“buck”) but from the buckeye tree. Who knew? Well, clearly not me. Ontario isn’t far from Ohio but obviously I don’t possess the local consciousness. Oh well. I just hope the distraught woman didn’t end up in Emergency.

My friend “Kayla” walked me through part of the university campus yesterday. Towering trees and some dramatic brick buildings. Plus there was a tranquil little lake bordered by water grasses and black iron benches. I sat there for a long time while Kayla was doing an errand, and watched Ohio folks stroll by. Well, actually some rushed by but the peace remained.

There were memorial stones forming parts of the path. So many human beings were celebrated with love. More than a few professed love for the Buckeyes. Okay, I’m getting the hang of this.

I meandered through a grassy and tree-festooned area aptly called “The Oval”. Kayla had told me that decades ago, when the university fathers and mothers were deciding where to put sidewalks in the space, they simply watched where people walked. The natural routes became obvious. How beautiful – people before policies.

The Evolutionary Collective Global internet call was coming up in less than an hour. My plan was to find a picnic table and hang out there. But then the rains came … and stayed. Across the way was a big building named R-PAC. “I’ll try there.” Turns out it’s a huge fitness and athletic complex.

I dipsydoodled up to the Welcome Center and asked the young fellow if they had an empty room where I could talk out loud to folks from across the world. He didn’t flinch, but set to work in fulfilling my request. He consulted with his fellow employees. He asked a woman to walk me upstairs to see if a particular meeting room would work. She smiled and we were off.

My guide opened a door for me and I walked into a lecture hall that would seat 100 students. And it was all for me! Thank you, OSU human beings. Seventy-five minutes later, I emerged, thankful for the contact with my EC friends and for the generosity of my hosts.

You know, life is pretty darned good

Day Two: Friend in Flesh

This is so cool. I’m sitting in the Waffle House south of Cincinnati, Ohio, eagerly waiting breakfast. I’m in a booth facing two lines. On the left, I see the profiles of five hungry guys wearing well-used jackets, some sporting toques on their heads. Man, do they know how to eat!

The right line features busy waitresses almost yelling detailed orders at the cook. He repeats the details and gets to it. The grill is right beside me, crackling away. My active friend is stirring eggs, flipping hashbrowns, and in general bouncing along. Food smells waft to my nose and soon a big waffle is entering my mouth. The place is nearly full and the atmosphere is so alive.

Hours later, my world has been filled with three lanes of speeding cars, impossibly steep hills, and the glory of coloured leaves. It was such a long day of driving and my right arm has been majorly sore. I think I jerked it madly to get away from yesterday’s tiny dog and then I held it rigidly all day at the steering wheel. Oh well.

I made it to Asheville Airport about thirty minutes before my friend “Derek”‘s plane landed. We arranged to stay at the same B&B as we experience the Evolutionary Collective orientation together. I’ve talked to Derek many times during our online practices but I was about to meet him in the flesh. I gazed down the arrivals corridor with great joy. And here he came, looking just like my laptop said he would. I first just stood and stared … here was one of my beloveds. We looked into each other’s eyes and then reached forward in a slow hug. Hello, my friend.

I was fascinated to see Derek in front of me. “You’re real. You’re three dimensional.” Yes he was, and I laughed at how marvelous it was to have him with me. This moment will be repeated several times tomorrow morning as EC Global folks show up at the registration table. Yay!

Derek and I got into Scarlet and started exiting the parking garage for our trip to downtown Asheville. Only one problem: I couldn’t figure out how to leave the building. There were gates, but no obvious place to pay and those ornery gates refused to rise when Scarlet nestled close to them. We did circles in the garage, seeking the Holy Grail of release, but none was to be found. Derek headed into the airport to seek professional advice but came back essentially empty handed. While he was gone, I watched vehicles in my side mirror approach a gate – and it magically went up for them! With Derek back in Scarlet, I tried to replicate others’ behaviour but the darned gate still stuck its tongue out at me.

There were two gates beside each other. Finally I figured that while my mirror had shown a left gate, I should have approached the right one in real life. And so I did … and up it went. Thoroughly humbled, we discovered that the true toll gate was outside the garage at the far end of the parking lot.

Defeated by a parking garage, we ventured into the world of animated discussion, a classic old B&B with wraparound porch, and a delicious meal at the Mountain Chef Bistro in Burnsville. Ahh.

See you tomorrow.

Day One Some More

So many vibrant moments as Scarlet and I wound our way along highways and byways. Imagine this: straight ahead is a roiling grey sky. In the near, however, the sun shines bright, animating two rows of yellow and orange trees. The contrast takes my breath away. I think of the three days ahead of me with other members of the Evolutionary Collective, and how we often reach stunning levels of consciousness.

Speaking of which, I had supper at Crosley’s Pub in Cincinnati, Ohio. John and Rich were sitting with me at the bar. “Why are you going to Asheville?” The most common thing that happens as I respond to a question like this is that my answer leads to an immediate change of subject. Not this time. These guys were interested.

It’s such a challenge to tell folks about “consciousness”. This is usually what I say:

“Let’s say you’re doing some job at work [or reading the menu at Crosley’s]. What’s going on in your mind is nothing special … just ordinary. But what if you’re thinking about someone you love? You want the absolute best for him or her. You want them to be supremely happy. Whatever is going on in your mind right then is different – richer, sweeter. Our group is heading towards experiencing that expanded consciousness far more often.”

Rich and John nodded and then shared moments of openness from their lives. John talked about the ecstasy he feels when playing the piano and I added that he was likely “being played”. We had a fine time.

When they got up to leave, the three of us fought over the bill. John said “You’re the visitor. I’ll pay.” I smiled and let him do that. “Besides,” he added, “you just got bit by a dog.”

Sadly, that was true. I had just settled into my B&B, and was walking down the street towards food. An older fellow came walking along with his mini-something doglet on leash. Little one took one look at a Canadian stranger, rushed me, and set his teeth into my right calf. Oww! Blood dripped, pain exploded and an apology flowed. “I’m so sorry. But you need to know that he’s had his rabies shots.” Yes, I did need to know that. Still, what a welcome to Cincinnati.

On we go. (Scarlet and me)

Day One: The Journey Begins

It’s a journey down roads and across borders … to Asheville, North Carolina. It’s also a journey of the heart. I’m heading to an orientation to the work of the Evolutionary Collective, a network of people from around the world who are exploring consciousness.

I’m a member of their Global Community where we meet several times a week on our laptops and smartphones. We ponder questions: What are the possibilities of relationship between two or more people? What is the future pulling us towards as we evolve? The heart of our work is a 30-minute practice where two human beings face each other and ask the question “What are you experiencing right now?” And on Friday, Saturday and Sunday I get to do this in the flesh, three-dimensionally.

To fall into this loving consciousness for an hour online is a blessing. What in heaven’s name will it be like when we’re in a room together for eight hours a day? That’s twenty-four hours of communion. I can’t even imagine.

I walked into Amy’s Restaurant in Strathroy, Ontario a few minutes ago. They just opened and breakfast beckons. I’m the only customer. A woman who I’m guessing is Amy just walked over to me, smiling. I returned her greeting and turned to face the empty tables.

“Welcome to Amy’s, one of the finest places to eat in Canada. I’d highly recommend you make a generous donation to her in your will since the food is so great.”

Amy just stares, and then breaks into another huge smile. She rushes over and gives me a sweet hug. (By the way, she is indeed Amy.)

We humans touch each other, if both parties are willing. And I’m so willing.

Thank you, Amy. We’re on that precious road together.

This Marathon Life

I was rooting through my phone this afternoon for sports news, and came upon this headline: Levins Breaks Canadian Marathon Record.  In Toronto today, Cam Levins ran the 42 kilometres (or 26 miles) in two hours, nine minutes and twenty-five seconds.  Good for you, Mr. Cam.

I thought back to my own history in the marathon, grieving my natural aging and the decline in my athletic performance.  This summer’s early exit from the Tour du Canada bicycle ride still hurts.

How has it come to pass that a potpourri of body parts ache?  My left hip, left ankle, right knee, right thumb and central self-esteem – they all hurt!  But as soon as I type this litany of loss, I start smiling.  What a wacky life we lead.  Everything is changing, virtually every day.  New marathons of experience beckon.

I ran in five marathons, all previewed by many miles of training in the coulees of Southern Alberta.  In four of those marathons, I hit the mythical “wall”.  Somewhere around the 20 mile mark, the legs feel dead, with its many muscles demanding I stop.  Four times I did.  I especially remember the Calgary Marathon.  Vices planted themselves on every square inch of leg flesh.  On the count of three, they all squeezed.  Not only could I not run, I couldn’t walk.

1985 was special.  I finished the Vancouver Marathon, in a time of four hours and fourteen minutes.  The thrill was all mixed up with intense pain, and this time it wasn’t the legs.  My heart hurt.  I thought a little cool down walk might help.  I had three hours to kill before my bus would be leaving for Lethbridge, Alberta.  Hmm … bad choice of words.  I dragged myself through some downtown streets, and the pain worsened.  Oh my God, was this a heart attack?  Was this the end?

My steps became staggers and I fell onto a bench by the sidewalk.  I think I curled up into a ball.  “I’m dying.”  I waited for the closing to come.  No long replay of my life.  Just agony.

A gentleman who I later found out was a cab driver came over.  “Are you all right?”  >  “No.  Please call an ambulance.”  He helped me into his car and we sped off to St. Paul’s Hospital.  I stayed put for two weeks.  “Mr. Kerr, you have pericarditis, an inflammation of the walls of the heart.  You will recover.”  Judging by my current typing, I did.

I’ve dreamt of being an elite athlete, but it won’t be happening in this lifetime.  That’s okay.  There are other horizons to move towards.  I sense that mine will be in the realm of consciousness.  Slow and steady will get me there, certainly in a much longer time than 4:14.

 

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.