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.

TFC

That’s as in the Toronto FC soccer club, part of the best professional league in North America.  Last night was the semifinal game in Toronto with 36,000 rabid fans expected.  I just couldn’t stay away.

The bus dropped me off about a ten-minute walk from BMO Field.  That was around 7:20, with the game having started at 7:00.  Toronto gridlock strikes again.  All around me were power walkers, apparently each faster than me.  As we got closer to the bright lights of the stadium,  quiet rhythms became medium chanting became a wall of sound from high above me.  So cool.

Inside the building, nature called, and so did Chicken and Kimchi Fries, a whopping pile of the stuff.  I maneuvered my way to Section 205, Row N, Seat 4, balancing my styrofoam container with immense aplomb.  My seatmates made way and I sat down, surrounded by Toronto supporters.  Often they would stand, spread their arms wide, yell “TFC” and clap three times.  Whoa!  More energy than my gourmet meal.  A Montreal goal bowed the heads and terminated the applause, while above me a small section of Québecois picked up the pace.  “Allez!  Allez!  Allez!”  “Courage!”  Oh, they gave ‘er.

Only the occasional local gave the opposition fans grief.  Mostly the cheers got our juices flowing again.  A few minutes of mourning gave way to “This is our house!”  And then a corner kick zoomed towards the goal, ready for the foot of TFC’s Armando Cooper.  The world lifted beside me in decibel squeals, while I lowered my nose towards the fries.  I cheered in vertical seclusion.

Later, my appetite vanquished, I was up with the rest of them, moving and grooving.  More Toronto goals, more bouncing on the spot, hugging my neighbours, high fives all around.  If folks were talking to me, I couldn’t hear them.

The Montreal folks chanted right to the end, even with the game lost.  I respected them for that.  Once, though, there was a commotion two rows behind me.  I turned to see a police officer holding a Montrealer in a headlock, while another was holding back the punch that a Torontonian was brandishing.  Lower down, a third officer was restraining a male fan whose face brimmed with hate.  I don’t believe I’d ever seen hate in real life.  Scary.

After the offenders were whisked away, the first fellow in handcuffs, we were back to the run of play.  Cheers and cries and moans flowed among the stands.  I was being held in an ecstasy of energy.  Almost all of us were standing.  And this was completely new in my life.  I was lifted up, time and again.  Guess I’m a crowdaholic.

By the way, Toronto won, and that was sort of important to me.  But the energy?  Worlds beyond the score, rampant with bliss.  I’ll have some more, please.

String Of Magic

It wasn’t a reasonable day, but rather a responsive one.  I didn’t do dishes or set up Christmas decorations.  I simply indulged, starting with breakfast at the Belmont Town Restaurant.  It’s only open on weekends and the buffet is immense.  Never in my life had I had baklava for breakie dessert.  Poppy kept plying me with coffee and the Toronto Sun sports section lured me in.  Plus Christal, the owner of the beloved Diner just down main street, was sitting at the next table with her hubby, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. Mid-baklava my friend came up to announce that she’d bought my breakfast.  “Christal – no!  Christal – thank you.”

What’s next?  Well, my friend Jane was hosting a booth at a gigantic Christmas craft fair in London.  What the heck?  Go up there and surprise her.  The event was at the Bellamere Winery, the same venue that welcomed Jody’s friends at her celebration of life two years ago.  I walked into a flurry of festive humans, some selling and some buying.  A band was playing.  A little girl stamped my hand.  And there was Jane.  Surprise!  We hugged and chatted.  After a bit, I wandered over to the front of the room, where a stone fireplace rose to a vaulted ceiling of reddish wood.  Lovely.  At the fireplace, I turned around and faced the throng.  All this colour and movement.  And I remembered.  The rows of chairs, the Kleenex boxes, the songs of love, the words spoken by so many.  My whole being stopped.  Two very different experiences, in the same space.  And both were perfect.

Now zooming back to Belmont to the United Church, for a 50s Christmas performance by Frankie and the Fairlanes.  Elvis songs, California songs, Hawaii songs, reindeer, Santa and “O Come All Ye Faithful” – mostly rockin’.  And we the audience boogied in our seats.  I flirted with the 80-something woman in front of me.  We both loved singing along.  Behind me, Sterling, a former compatriot of mine in the Port Stanley Community Choir, sent and received some good-natured barbs.  Great fun.  Plus some of my new condo neighbours showed up and snarfed banana bread with me during the post-concert festivity.

Two of those neighbours – Bill and Eileen – invited me in for a glass of wine.  We laughed at each other’s stories.  I recited “Twas The Night Before Christmas”.  All was calm.  All was bright.

Back to London to the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club, to hear Boreal.  They’re a trio of harmonizing women from Guelph.  Tannis Slimmon was one.  I approached her at the break and said “You are responsible for one of my finest musical memories.”  And that’s true.  Years ago, at the Home County Folk Festival, Tannis invited audience members to come up on stage and sing “There’s A Lift” with her.  Such an anthem.

There’s a lift that I get when I sing this little song
There’s a lift that I get dum dee dum
There’s a lift that I get when people sing along
That’s a lift I’m getting right now

Jude, Katherine and Tannis finished with “Silent Night”, offering us exquisite harmony.  And we fifty souls offered it right back.  No instruments, just the voice.

I’m so glad to be alive.

.

Include

I’ve always wanted to attend a concert at Toronto’s Massey Hall and last night “wanted” became “did”.  Loreena McKennitt sat on stage way below me, with a cellist and guitarist.  They were accompanied by five tall candelabras, each hosting seven candles.  Soft light was everywhere, including the ceiling, which reminded me of a cave’s stalactites.  Massey Hall is a grand old building, erected in 1894.  It has two horseshoe-shaped balconies.

And then there was Loreena, she of the soaring voice, and a love affair with the Celts and their music.  She has travelled the world in search of their stories and we are the richer for it.

How can a blog post describe that voice?  It flowed through me, vibrating.  And so did runs from the cellist.  I was brought to silence and then to wild clapping.  Everything stopped inside and out.  I believe we were all touched.

Within this aura were other things:

1. Staff members walking left and right across my field of vision during songs – at least thirty times.

2. The young woman sitting in front of me usually leaning forward, partially blocking my view of the performers.  She had lovely long hair.  At intermission, I asked the guy beside me a question about the ceiling lights.  The person in front turned around to answer … and it was a man.

3. The cell phone of the woman beside me went off during a song.  She managed to get it shut off but soon was perusing the glowing screen to find out the latest from her world.

4. I needed a bathroom break but so did a hundred other men.  Washrooms were located next to the merchandise table so it was pedestrian gridlock, of the bursting bladder variety.

To all of which I say “So what?”  The context of the evening was transcendental.  No amount of life’s tiny travails could change that.  I glowed along with Loreena.

Joyful On The Drums

Well, it was four nights out in a row – the art gallery and then three concerts.  Yesterday evening I listened to Nagata Shachu, seven performers from Toronto showing us the art and passion of Japanese drumming.  Years ago, I’d heard a similar group blast the skies above the Sunfest music festival.  This time, though, the beat would be within the confines of Aeolian Hall, renowned for its acoustics.  Ear plugs or not?  I decided no.

Most of the artists were young adults and one in particular drew me in.  She had long black hair tied at the back, and a lovely face.  She’d crouch behind her barrel drum, hold the sticks high and then smash them down on the horizontal skin in a flurry of strokes.  One by one, her feet would lift off the floor.  But the best was that face: it burst out in ecstasy.  Shine on, my dear.

I was enthralled.  The other drummers had their own excellent energy, and one guy even donned a cheek-revealing loincloth for one of the pieces, but all paled before my girl.  (Hmm.  Guess I shouldn’t be quite so possessive.)

What are you seeing, Bruce?  Something that teaches.  And not just about music.  What if I lived my life that way, virtually all of the time?  Gosh, that would be astonishing.  To be so “out there” that I would:

Say whatever I felt like saying, knowing that I wouldn’t hurt people
Joke around if I sensed the person was happy to play
Wear a silly costume for Halloween
Sing “Do Wa Diddy Diddy Dum Diddy Doo” at the drop of a hat
Dance down the sidewalk with my loved one
Paint my kitchen red

Oh, bliss
To be thoroughly me
To be thoroughly happy

Courage

I like the way the French folks say it … koo-rawj’.  I need to be that.

When I was choosing the colours for my new condo in Belmont, Ontario, I don’t remember being brave.  I wanted red, blue, yellow, green, teal, purple and reddish brown walls, and that’s what I got.  Some people love it, some decidedly not.  No problemo.

The inside of the front door, however, gave me pause.  My original plan was cream, to match the baseboards.  But day after day I’d look at that door with unease.  No, cream was not it.  So red lives there now.  And I feel a surge of energy from having leapt out of beigeness.

Last night I went to Hugh’s Room to hear Jez Lowe, a British singer-songwriter.  What a sweet guy, full of stories about coal mining men and women, and usually sung with a twinkle in his eye.  I loved his song “The Bergen”, about a woman waiting back in Norway for her love to return from a sea voyage.  But the Bergen sunk off the coast of Scotland.

Sleep, why wake me with these dreams that you bring?
Dreams came to me where I lay
Deep the melody the wild waves sing
My love is far, far away

 Pity the heart, the wild waves part
My love sails the bonnie barque the Bergen

I tried to remember a song of his that used to thrill me, about a gold rush and the speaker’s partner being swept away in a flood.  Jez told us that he wanted to do one long set rather than have a break.  Hmm.  No opportunity for a request.  Except … right now!

“He’s just finished a song, Bruce.  The applause is fading away.  Ask him!  But nobody else is saying anything.  So what?  Do it.  Okay.”

“Jez, will you sing the one about the gold rush?”

“Gold rush?  I can’t remember.”

“The one where his partner died in a flood.”

(?) … … Oh.  I didn’t write that one.  It’s called “Farewell to the Gold”.

“Yes, that’s it!  Will you sing it anyway?”  (Laughter throughout Hugh’s Room)

The song is such an anthem for us humans who deeply want something but it always seems to elude our grasp.  I’ve never heard it sung live and last night was no exception.  (Sigh)

For it’s only when dreaming that I see you gleaming
Down in the dark, deep underground

A bit later in the evening, Jez introduced a song about a guy who was always a pain in the ass to his friends.  Then he looked at me, smiled, and said “Sort of like this gentleman here.”  I raised my arms in the bliss of acknowledgment.

At the end of the evening, Jez announced his final song.  I loved his music and his spirit so I knew what I was going to do as the last chord hung in the air.  I stood and clapped.  Since I was up front, I couldn’t tell if the folks behind me were joining the standing ovation.  It didn’t matter.  Jez Lowe had captured me and he deserved to be appreciated.

On we go in this life of ours

I Get To Go

I’ve been on many silent retreats at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts.  All of them have been at the Retreat Center, the facility at IMS which provides great support, and regular routines, for the yogis.  Basically, all one hundred of us would be doing sitting meditation at the same time – the same with walking meditation.  There’d be talks every evening to educate us about Buddhist principles and meditation.

There is another way at IMS … a second facility, called the Forest Refuge.  This is where you can work with a teacher in developing your own program.  Maybe really short walks and sits would be best.  Or a long sitting session of two hours (but for some yogis that would be far too long).  Fewer talks.

At the Forest Refuge, unlike the Retreat Center, yogis can read.  They can study some aspects of the Buddha’s wisdom in depth.  I’m especially interested in the Brahma Viharas: lovingkindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity.  I’d like to deepen them in my life.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to apply for a month’s stay at the Forest Refuge.  I knew I could handle the independence.  So I did all the paperwork, including a detailed questionnaire … and waited.

One day stretched into two, four, seven.  I listened to what was inside.  “I’d love to have this opportunity.  I’m excited.  But IMS might say no.  I’d be sad.”  As time ran onwards, I watched my feelings ebb and flow.  And my thoughts would sometimes explode.  “What are they thinking?”  “Maybe I’m not good enough.”  “Of course I’m good enough.”

And yesterday, I just let go.  All is fine.

***

Lots of condo details to handle today.  Wrong toilet seats arrived – too big for the bowls.  Wanted to pick up the lights I’d ordered but some of them were still at the warehouse.  Kitchen counters won’t be ready until maybe September 26 but I can still move in on the 20th.

Take a break, Bruce.  See who’s e-mailed you.

And there it sat, titled “Your IMS Forest Refuge Acceptance”.  That last word barely registered.  Click and here was the letter:

Dear Bruce,

Your application for retreat at IMS’s Forest Refuge has been approved, and I’m happy to say there is currently space available for your dates of February 1-28, 2017.” 

And lots of etcetera.

I stared.  I get to go.  I cried.  I get to go

Thank you