Humboldt

I watched the final round of The Masters golf tournament this afternoon.  I saw spectators jumping up and cheering when a long putt went in.  Such delight!  Also vivid was the drooping head of a player who had just hit his ball into the water.  And at the end, as the winner Patrick Reed walked from the 18th green to the scorers tent, there was Rickie Fowler, the second-place finisher, hugging Patrick and giving him such a sincere smile.

All of these were fine human moments.

Then the TV feed switched to TSN’s sports news show – Sportcentre.  There was a view of flowers on the steps of the hockey arena in Humboldt, Saskatchewan.  On Friday evening, the bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team collided with a semi-trailer.  Fifteen people died, most of them players ages 16-21.  As people spoke onscreen, I felt immensely sad.  All those lives gone, along with their future dreams, accomplishments and loves.

It was time to show photos of each victim, along with a few details about them.  A woman read the words as the pictures went by.  She kept clearing her throat, catching her breath, and finally she could speak no more.  Just the photo of a young man … and silence.  I think tears were flowing on the other side of the TV.

More fine human moments.

As if I needed to be reminded of the contrast between the human spirit and the so-so of daily life, it was time for a commercial break.  Obviously I needed a certain brand of hamburger.  Plus who knew that a new vacuum could bring a woman such joy?

Flatness in a world of dimension.

It’s clear to me that the heart needs to be involved in huge expanses of my day.  Otherwise, where is the joy and sorrow?  Where is the depth?  Where is the awe?

 

Fire in the Sky

I love traditions, and the residents of Toronto Island have a doozy.  Last night, they hauled dozens of Christmas trees to Ward’s Beach and had a bonfire.  I went last year and no doubt wrote about it in WordPress but my memory of such writing is tucked away in some inaccessible spot.  It’s time for now.

I took the ferry across as the sun was setting.  When what to my wondering eyes should appear but smoke rising above the trees.  “They started without me!”  And indeed they had.

I followed the path of humanity across parkland and through the brush … and there was the fire, licking high into the darkening sky.  Maybe 200 people stood at a respectful distance.  The local costume-clad band pounded out a rhythm on their drums and horns. I was in the presence of a community.

A family emerged out of the black, carrying a large Christmas tree.  Mom, dad, son and daughter.  With a ho heave ho and a “One … two … three!” the evergreen lofted and plopped into the blaze.  The crackling sound burst upon us, along with a light that illuminated all.  And the blast of heat!  Yes.  The heat without clearly inspired the heat within, as smiles broke open faces and cheers danced with applause.

Some ploppers waltzed around the flames before depositing their treasure.  Gifts ranged from gigantic spruces to the tiniest of boughs.  Givers from 70-somethings to wee kids. One train of five children launched a long pile of wood shavings upward.  There were endless crackles and glows for ninety minutes or more.  Sparks flew upwards against the crescent moon and sometimes sideways towards faces.  I felt some pricks of fire and brushed them off.  All part of the astonishing energy.

Two women hooped around the fire.  How someone can keep a hula hoop going just above her knees is beyond me, but she did it.  Later she reappeared rotating a hoop alive with fire.  The glow circled up and circled down, much to the joy of kids young and old. The second woman hooped with ecstasy lighting her face.  Her body moved sensuously and the vibrancy of her soul added to the erotica.  A young girl tried to keep a hoop aloft with little success but frequent visits to the ground wouldn’t stop her smile.

Many a time I looked around to wonder at the togetherness, the relationship, the community feeling.  The water lapped softly on the beach.  All was dark save for the blaze and a few far off lights.  The intensity of the city was worlds away.  All was well.

Perspective

I decided to do two hours on the elliptical yesterday afternoon.  No sweat, I thought, since I’d done much more than that recently.  The first hour was smooth.  A good rhythm and I felt strong.

On we go to Part Two.  And I started well.  Somewhere around twenty minutes, though, something was wrong.  My arms slowed, my legs slowed, and I swear my brain slowed. My breath was no longer silent and the weight of the world pressed on me.  “How can this be?”  I’d eaten enough, had a good sleep, and felt happy.  But I continued to spiral down.  forty-five minutes, I stopped.

And then it was time to choose … an attitude.

A. You’re a weak and uncommitted and just plain bad person.

B. For some unknown reason, you don’t have it today.  This says nothing about you as a person.  Accept what is.

A smile came as I chose Option B.  Sure I was disappointed but life keeps showing me its yins and yangs.  O great imperfect one … celebrate it all.

***

Last night I watched eight short films at the Wolf Performance Hall in downtown London.  One lasted just ten minutes but will stay with me considerably longer than that. It was about a figure skater.  We saw her being interviewed and the woman’s face was vibrant.  As they say, “Her smile reached her eyes.”  And the skating!  In a glowing dress, our heroine spun and floated, radiant on the ice.

Then there was the matter of her age … 91.  She winked and said that she doesn’t fall much anymore.  Good thing, I thought.  Over the last few years, she’s won several medals in her age group – 50 and above.

After our skater had finished her comments for the film, words appeared on the screen: her date of birth … and her date of death.  Most of the two hundred of us present let out an audible “Aww.”  I so much wanted her to still be alive.  And then more words: “She died as she lived – on the ice.”

I thought of my earlier weakness.  I thought of her thoroughly alive face.  Definitely something to learn here.

Who am I to play small?  I know someone twenty-two years older who rocked the house every time she did a spin.

TFC

I’m sitting in a downtown Boston Pizza, wearing my TFC scarf.  That’s the Toronto FC soccer team for the uninitiated.  They dominated Major League Soccer (MLS) last year but tonight they’re playing Tigres, one of the best teams in Mexico, and TFC are the underdogs.  It’s two-and-a-half hours from game time.  I’m a 45-minute walk from BMO Field … and I have a ticket!

I bought my team scarf last year and I still don’t know how to wear it “right”.  Tonight I tied it in a knot around my neck and walked down the street.  It didn’t feel good but then again who cares?  So I held my fan head high as I strolled towards the stadium.  And … the knot just came undone and my adornment now hangs down from my neck.  Perfect!

Okay, I just entered BMO Field and found my seat, about 2700 stair risers up from the gate.  I’m getting high!  And my next door neighbours are a family from Mexico.  They respectfully suggest that TFC doesn’t have much of a chance.  We’ll, we’ll see about that.  The good-natured banter has already started and I’m sure I’ll have fun sitting beside them.

The Mexican fellow next door laughs a lot and so do I.  Lovely.  I like  bugging his son, a dedicated Tigres supporter.  And son laughs along with me.

Okay, it’s really cold in this open air stadium.  The wind brings the effective temperature to well below 0 degrees Celsius.  I bundle up and then bundle up some more.  How are those Mexican players coping with our Canadian deep freeze?

Tigres dominates the first ten minutes.  It seems like they have the ball all the time.  No big scoring chances though.  Both teams pass the ball magically, like it’s on a string.  The crowd leans forward, perched on the edge of our seats.  Zoom this way, zoom that way … and then it’s halftime.  0-0.

As soon as the referee blows his whistle I’m out of my seat, praying that a urinal has my name on it.  Trouble is, hundreds of other folks seem to have the same idea, unless they have a yearning for hot dogs.  The trek down the stands reminds me of the 401 at rush hour … a slow go.  And I thought it was just women who lined up at washrooms.  At least 50 guys were waiting their turn.  So much for that stereotype.  By the time I was back in my seat, the teams were five minutes into the second half.  (Sigh)

Tigres scored a gorgeous goal early in the second frame.  The folks beside were up on their feet in a shot, highfiving each other.  Being a curious type, I asked why they were so happy.  We chuckled.

All through the night, the TTC supporters behind the goal banged their drums and chanted their chants.  So exciting!  It’s how I imagine European sporting events to be.  And we amateur TFC supporters responded with “TFC, TFC, TFC!”  Lots of noise.

Jozy Altidore blasted home the tying goal later in the second half.  We stood as one, with the wave of sound no doubt reaching Niagara Falls 130 kilometres away.  My seated companions smiled (and grimaced a bit).

On and on the game went, with each side taking turns pushing the ball forward.  There were “oohs” of joy and “awws” of despair as the deadlock persisted.  And then … in the very last minute, a pass was slightly behind Jonathan Osorio.  He twisted around and nudged the ball home with his heel.  I was up.  My arms made a sky high V.  And 20,000 voices hit a note of ecstasy.  We win!

I shook hands with father and son.  Dad was still smiling.  Such a good sport.  We fans walked off into the night to our various cars, trains and streetcars, most of us with smiles plastered on our faces.  The wind had frozen us.  Sport had warmed us from the inside.  All was well.

You Are Free

It feels like I wrote about this same topic a few weeks ago.  My yappy voice says that therefore I shouldn’t repeat myself.  But I don’t care.  I was walking home from breakfast at the Belmont Diner today when this thought once more exploded in my brain:

It doesn’t matter what comes back to you in life
All that matters is what you put out there

It feels like a cozy new age message but no, it’s a world beyond that.  As I sauntered down the snowy sidewalk, joy wrapped itself around.  “It doesn’t matter.”  The pains will continue when they do.  The sadness, the fear, the loneliness will still come calling.  And none of that directs me.  Waves of energy roamed behind my eyes on Main Street and fell down my face.  “You are free,” spoke the quietness inside.

“No, I’m not free.  That’s ridiculous”

You are free”

“No.  I’m bound by self-esteem issues”

“You are free”

“No.  I’m bound by what other people say and do”

You are free”

“No.  I’m bound by what my body chooses to do”

You are free”

“No”

“Yes”

***

I’m sitting on my couch, thinking about going to yoga class tonight.  The mouth tightens.

“I’m so inflexible … can’t get my knees anywhere near the floor”

You are free”

“You’re not strong enough to do most of these poses”

You are free”

“You can’t even balance on one leg”

You are free”

“Your fellow yogists see your flaws, and are critical”

You are free”

***

“And about that bike ride of yours this summer … you suck”

You are free”

“You don’t even have the balance to get your water bottle out of its cage”

You are free”

“Too old, too weak, too far”

You are free”

***

“You’re alone in life”

You are free”

“You’ll never be in a committed relationship again”

You are free”

“You’ll never have sex again”

You are free”

***

Quite a persistent voice, wouldn’t you say?
Perhaps I should listen

Live Big

I went out to the movies tonight.  I saw “Chavela”, a documentary about a singer.  Sounds basic but it was intense.

“She not only slept with women, but also sang love songs about them, wore trousers, smoked cigars, drank heavily, carried a loaded pistol and credited her recovery from polio to shamans.”  All of this was shocking to Mexican society in the first half of the 20th century.  I’m not gay, I don’t like smoking, I drink only a bit and I abhor violence.  But I like the shaman stuff.

As a kid, Chavela wasn’t loved much by her Costa Rican parents.  They hid her when guests came by.  When she was 7, the minister of a local church said “You can’t bring her in here.  Get her out.”  In her early teens, Chavela had enough.  She ran away to Mexico City and started singing in the streets.  And what courage will I show in my approaching 70’s?

“Every word that rolls off her tongue is suffused with pure emotion.  Anyone can listen to her, know what she is feeling, and feel it with her.”  I saw this in the film.  Her voice was not pure.  But her soul ran through every word.

“I became obsessed with her ability to draw people in.  I was fascinated by her lightness and ease, her masculinity.”  Well, I also want to draw people in, and sometimes I do.

“Chavela Vargas turned abandon and desolation into a cathedral within which we all fit,” Almodóvar wrote after her death.  “She emerged reconciled with the errors she had made and ready to make them again.”  Hey, I’ve made big mistakes too.  I like to think I’ve learned from them but some repeats have crawled back into my life.  Still, I will not live careful.  That’s withering.

“At age 81, ranchera singer Chavela Vargas officially came out as a lesbian.”  Perhaps I’ll officially come out as a chronicler of the world’s wisdom.  That’s the secret project I’ve worked on sporadically since 1987.  I’ve accumulated thousands of quotes that touch me to my toes.  (Shh.  Don’t tell anybody)

“I am proud that I do not owe anybody anything, and it is wonderful to feel free,” she said in 2009.  “Now I have the desire to lie down in death’s lap, and I am sure that will be quite beautiful.”  And what will my response be to my final days?  Maybe the physical pain will be great but I intend to go out laughing.

What do I want?

To love people deeply
To suck the juice out of life’s bones
To have others laugh around me
To look way into human eyes and celebrate what’s there
To flood the world

Make it so

Golf Balls

When I was a kid, I’d often show up at the Don Valley Golf Course in Toronto.  At 6:00 am on Saturday mornings.  Juniors could tee off starting at 7:00 and meanwhile I had a job to do – replenishing my dwindling supply of golf balls from the flow of the Don River.  I had so much fun getting so wet.

Decades later, Jody and I enjoyed walking by the Oldman River in Lethbridge, Alberta.  Lovely trees in the river bottom, a golf course beside and always the flow of water gurgling nearby.  I didn’t need to find golf balls but I did it anyway, much to my dear wife’s amusement.  And the joy I felt when a white treasure winked up at me from the fallen leaves!

Yesterday, it was pouring buckets but I wanted to walk the fairways and rough of Tarandowah Golfers Club, a spiritual home of mine.  I put on rain pants and my trusty winter coat.  In the parking lot sat three lonely cars, one belonging to the ever hopeful pro who stood patiently in the clubhouse.  He knew about my shtick:  “Enjoy your walk, Bruce.”

Off I went into the stiff breeze and the barrage of raindrops.  I was just so happy!  I sauntered down the middle of the first fairway, all alone in the world.  Behind the first green, the grass falls down to a creek.  That’s where I needed to go.  I searched amid the long leafiness, seemingly without success.  Then a small white object appeared, tucked into its nest of grasses.  And – no more than a foot away – another ball made my acquaintance.  Joy times two!

I have a system, no doubt set in place to massage my ego after a round of 112 at Tarandowah.  When I’m walking, and not playing, I par a hole when I find one ball there.  Two balls is a birdie, no balls a bogey.  So par for the entire course is having my pockets bulge with 18 of the little darlings.  My record has been 22 under par (40 balls)  which would equate to a score of 50 in the real game of golf – eight strokes better than anyone has ever accomplished.  I’ve told a few golfers about my clubless exploits but they all seemed unimpressed.

Wow – it was getting wet out there, but happily I was three under par after four holes.  Now for the gem:  The fifth is a long uphill par four with a farmer’s field bordering it to the right.  The soil was gooey, the pondlets were several, the shoes squished at nearly every step.  But look what I found!  1, 2, 3, 4, 5, … 33 golf balls poked their dimples at me.

Many a time, I thrust my forefinger into the mud and pried out the prize.  Some wiping on my rain pants and into the pocket it went.  As you might suspect, my coat has big pockets, and as I finally trudged back to the clubhouse, I looked like a squirrel with its cheeks full of nuts for the winter.  But there was nobody around to see my personal vestige of loveliness.  Oh well, I knew I was glorious … complete with mud smears, coated hands and wet everything, despite the rain protection.  I was just so dirty … so wild … so strange.

The grand total?  43 balls, which represents a new standard for all golfers to aspire to.  I expect any moment now that my doorbell will ring and TSN/ESPN/CNN will come calling.

Team

On Sunday evening, I stood in Maple Leaf Square with thousands of other Toronto fans.  Inside the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs were battling the Washington Capitals in a National Hockey League playoff game.

When Auston Matthews scored for the home team, we went nuts, waving our white flags and jumping up and down.  I was so happy.

But that joy pales in comparison to yesterday afternoon.  I was watching the Grade 6 girls from South Dorchester School play in the finals of a basketball tournament.  The score was 9-8 with about two minutes left.  “Monica” was well outside the foul line when she launched a ball skyward.  A sweet touch on the backboard and then nothing but net.  Ecstasy coursed through my arteries and veins.  I stood and cheered.  After a few close calls at the other end, the whistle blew and there was a mass of hugging 12-year-olds.

The difference was love.  I know those youngsters as human beings and I care deeply about them.  Oh, I say I love the Leafs but we all know that’s a junior version of a very fine thing to feel.

The image staying with me is all the jump balls that were called.  Two girls would have their hands on the basketball and wouldn’t let go.  Sometimes they’d be rolling around on the floor, still hanging on.  Go South Dorchester!  You girls are fierce.  I loved seeing your energy – pushing the ball up the floor, falling down and getting up, missing a shot and keeping your head high.  Wow.

My wish is that twenty years from now, when you think of yesterday, the first thing you’ll remember is your teammates – how you hung in there together, patted each other on the shoulder when things were bad, high fived each other when things were good.  You gave it all for your friends.

So this is what walking on air feels like.

In The Arena

Many years ago, Jody and I went to a Toronto Raptors basketball game.  It was at the Air Canada Centre.  Last night I retraced our steps.

I walked in the door, escalated myself to the heavens, and then proceeded even more upward to the very top row of the ACC.  Way below me were an array of red and blue ants, otherwise known as professional basketball players warming up.

Directly ahead of me, about twenty feet away, was a large screen hanging from the ceiling. As the game unfolded, I forced myself to watch the ants rather than lapsing into TV mode.  I’d glance up occasionally at a closeup of a player taking a free throw but mostly I was faithful to the “here and nowness” of it all.

A Raptors game can be a full body experience.  Employees roamed around with heavy cameras on their shoulders, watching for fans jumping up and down, smiling, laughing, hugging and in general having a good time.  Although I suspected that part of the fervor was an effort to get oneself on the big screen, it was still great fun.  Kids bouncing, arms of all ages in the air, mouths agape … go for it you Raptorites!  Children especially were totally themselves.  Their friends and their parents shared in the joy.  So very cool.

Adult moving and grooving seemed to peak when the team’s dancing girls bounced up the stairs with t-shirts to throw.  There even was a multi-barrelled gun on the court, sending a rain of shirts skyward.  But who cares about the motivation?  Give me an event with happy faces and I’ll be happy.

I loved the energy of cheering fans in their thousands.  I also love the energy of sitting with one person, talking about our lives.  And the energy of silent aloneness, watching the tapestries of life parading behind my closed eyes.

I love it all

 

In Spirit Together

My neighbours invited me to a London church, to eat good food and hear a gospel concert.  I said “Sure.”  I like eating and singing along.

I’m not a Christian.  I’m a Buddhist.  But Gospel’s just fine.  I tapped my toes to a group from London who had their beginning forty-eight years ago!  Then it was the turn of a family from North Carolina – mom, dad, two sons and a friend.  They gave ‘er too.

I heard songs like “I’m Going Home With Jesus”, sung with passion.  Throughout, the faces onstage were alight with joy, and love as they looked at each other.  Very cool.  In the audience, some folks raised their arms in blissful devotion.  A few swayed in their seats.  And most of us blasted out the fast songs we knew.  A mom held her tiny daughter on her lap, the two of them moving and grooving.

The small voice residing in my head said “This is not you, Bruce.”  But the big one countered with “Yes it is.”  It didn’t matter that Baptist worship wasn’t my spiritual expression.  It was Spirit.  I don’t worship God.  Nor do I see Jesus as my personal savior.  But I saw the light in those faces, both in front of me and beside, and it was the real deal.

I don’t see Buddhism as a religion, although some say it is.  To me, it’s a philosophy, a way of life.  Mr. Buddha was a smart guy who happened to hang out 2600 years ago.  He had some fine ideas about leading a life.  I feel at home when I’m on a retreat.

I don’t compare one religious expression to another.  I figure that opening to a depth of love and peace is a fine thing for all of us to do.  To look over there and see God in the other’s eyes.  To move beyond “I’m better than you” and “I don’t care about you” and “More, better and different”.  Just let the present moment in and be good to those around me.  Yay for religion.  Yay for Spirit.