The Dance

I went to the school board’s dance festival this morning – nine elementary schools doing their thing.  The music was high energy and I tapped out the beat in the bleachers.  It brought me back to the disco on a Cuba vacation.  What a joy to move, to throw the arms into the air with gay abandon.

The kids helped me remember how dearly I love to dance.  I remember my wife Jody staring at me as I gyrated to the tunes.  Apparently I didn’t look too graceful but I was sure having fun.

I also remember Halloween dances at a long ago elementary school.  All costumed up, I moved amid the 12-year-olds – not as fast as them but usually just as expressive.  Oh, the joy of mindless response to great melodies and rhythms!

For the last year, I’ve been careful.  What a yucky word.  I was worried about the pain in my knee and my hip.  “Don’t break something, Bruce.  Take it slow and easy.”  Especially after today, I’m tired of measured and moderate.  My trainer and I have set me on a course to health in its many forms, including having stronger muscles around my knees.  Does this mean that my future holds dancing, maybe even running?  “Why not?” I say.

The gym was crowded with young dancers and their loved ones.  Troupes of kids dressed all in black, or all in white or tie-dyed t-shirts rocked the house.  Most wore big smiles.  Some were athletic.  Some seemed focused on remembering the steps.  The occasional kid was overweight but moving smartly nonetheless.  Some children were tiny but still pumping their arms madly beside classmates a foot or more taller.  There was even a line dancing group topped with cowboy hats, taking us through our paces in Cadillac Ranch.  No one was left out.

Boys were in short supply but they didn’t care.  It’s possible that “friends” back at school razzed them for choosing hip hop over football but the faces still shone as Magic in the Air had kids in the audience shaking their bods along with the performers.

Well, young ones, you inspired me today.  I also have two feet and fully functioning legs.  It’s time to launch assorted body parts into the air again.  There’s a place for calm and an equal spot for raucous.

Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world
for I would ride with you upon the wind
and dance upon the mountains like a flame!

(William Butler Yeats)

The Vienna Boys Choir

They stood in front of me as I sat in the front row – 23 boys from about age 8 to 16, dressed in sailor suits. But all wasn’t as I expected. They sure weren’t all blue-eyed blond Austrians. Their conductor did look Austrian, his long light hair flowing. He wore a tuxedo and moved with a flourish from piano to stage and back. When he got really excited, exhorting the kids onward, he often went up on tip toes (the advantage of having a front row seat).

The leader told us he was going to have each boy introduce himself. As he passed the microphone around, I heard words such as Germany, France, England, the United States, China, South Korea, Thailand, Colombia … and Austria.

Some kids were so “out there”, some seemed shy. Some sang full-throated, mouth wide open. Some voices rose above the others, in great beauty. Five boys had the highest soprano sound that you can imagine, and at one point those kids held a soaring note for many, many seconds. As the conductor kept his baton hand raised and the boys held the tone, we the audience roared our approval.

Most of the songs seemed to be in German but I didn’t need the translation. The energy coming off the kids was staggering. There was a left section and a right one. Two singers, one from each side, often seemed to be looking at each other. It was like they were throwing their passion for the music from one side to the other and back again.

I met their energy with mine. I was pouring myself into every singer, wanting them to be great, drawing forth their sublimity.

At the end of most songs, the final note hung in the air – a pure expression of spirit. And then it faded to silence. There seemed to be a little space between the end and our applause, as if we were all stunned by what we were hearing.

I made eye contact with six or seven of the boys. I looked at every member of the choir and was pleased that some were willing to return the favour. I wondered if they could feel the happiness and love that I was sending their way. As the concert rolled on, I sensed that the boys were being reached by the goodwill flowing from the 1100 of us. They seemed to be leaning forward into the music, and towards us.

I was lifted by the songs in English, especially “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” and “There’s a Place for Us”. The purity of the voices met the purity of the words. With this music, there seemed to be an even longer delay before our clapping started.

The final number was drawing to a close. At the last piano chord, we rose as one, drowning the kids in wild applause. There were shouts of “Bravo!” and “Encore!”. The boys’ faces were smiles. Three more pieces came our way. More standing O’s. The last one rose while the choir was lined up along the front edge of the stage. Their bows and my clapping hands were a foot or two apart. Eye contact up close.

Thank you, young men from around the world. Your eyes and your voices did their job … you and we were together in the song.

Day One: The Energy

It was a long trip from Newark Airport to Manhattan. An Air Train dipsy doodle to the New Jersey Transit Station, then a long wait, then a leisurely float to New York’s Penn Station. One fellow asked me for directions. I laughed and told him I was an absolute newbie. The folks standing around at the transit station seemed normal. It could have been a scene from downtown Toronto.

At Penn Station, I climbed all these stairs, building up my biceps as I hauled my suitcase upwards. A fellow hosting a tourist booth downstairs laid out my options. A cab would work. That’s certainly what a woman on the plane had suggested. As we landed, she said there was no way I should be navigating the subway system, in the rain, with luggage, on my very first visit to New York. I agreed. But Mr. Tourism Agent got me thinking: walk three blocks to a subway station. The train could deposit me within a thirty minute walk of my new home. Why not? Go for it, young man.

Finally a door, and the street. And then … whoosh! The sidewalk was packed with almost sprinting New Yorkers. The buildings soared above the canyons. Huge neon video boards sold their wares. And I was stunned. Sirens howled, horns blasted and the world was electric. Oh my God, who are all these people? And what am I enjoying all this noise, me of the silent mediation retreats? Just fall into it, Bruce.

I found my home … at 515 East 5th Street, and proceeded to be mystified by the lockbox that faced me. Oh, Bruce, I thought you were smarter than this! Apparently not.

Finally gaining entry, I noted that my apartment was 5C. In the first floor hallway, all I saw was 1B, 1C … A woman left her room and we smiled. “Is there an elevator?” > “No, it’s a walkup.” > (Sigh) A long haul indeed.

It was 7:00 pm. In my sweet room, with its red brick wall, I worked at translating the NYC subway map. Good luck. I Googled this and that, trying to figure out how I was going to arrive at the Affinia Shelburne Hotel tomorrow morning at 7:30 am.

Okay, it was time for action. I figured out that a northward bus was nearby. I asked folks for directions. Every single one of them was friendly! That’s not what I was told about New Yorkers.

Off the bus here, onto probably the right subway line there. Confused a lot, happy even more. And everywhere the surge of humanity. Wow, I love this stuff! At the end of exploration, there I sat in the lobby of the Affinia Shelburne, hoping I’d see a few members of the Evolutionary Collective hanging around. But no.

Now I’m in a bar called “Niagara”, congratulating myself on conquering New York. Except I didn’t. I’ve merely begun to embrace the city.

More to come …

We Are the Champions

I went to see Bohemian Rhapsody tonight.  It’s the story of Freddie Mercury and Queen.  We met his loves (female and male), saw his explosive personality (firing anyone who didn’t share his vision) and watched him descend into alcohol and drug abuse.

We also heard Freddie soar.  The grand finale was onstage at Live-Aid, the 1985 concert in Wembley Stadium to raise money for the starving people of Ethiopia.  Closeups showed the passion of the man, his full-throated blasting of the lyrics into the hearts of the 72,000 in attendance, and millions around the world.  The man of the hour jumped, twisted and twirled.  He threw hit fist aloft and spat out the words.  Thousands of fans sang along to Radio Gaga as Freddie strutted his stuff.

The best for me was We Are the Champions.  Freddie’s power tore me apart.  My mouth dropped open:

We are the champions, my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting till the end
We are the champions, we are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions of the world 

Power.  Such intense power, surging through Queen and their adoring devotees.  Oh, if we could harness such joy for the good of the world.  Imagine thousands and millions united in love, not for a celebrity, but for all of us.  We’re all champions.  Love exuded not for someone famous, but just to do good in the world.  To know in the end that we matter.  We give and someone out there is receiving.

Oh, Freddie
You made ’em laugh, you made ’em cry
You made us feel like we could fly

Thanks

The Dance

I was online yesterday with some members of the Evolutionary Collective Global Community.  Part of the experience is practicing 1-1 with one other person.  As we let go of concepts, images often come.  While I talked to “Sherry”, the dance entered my mind.  We were doing a slow waltz to the most celestial music.  We whirled so gently.  And I gazed deep into the eyes of the Beloved.  I was lost in the moving, in the glory of another human being moving with me.  Time stopped.  Even within the flow, there was stillness.  We danced.

Jody and I often danced.  We jived to the accompaniment of glorious smiles.  We did the fox trot and the waltz, imperfectly but lovingly.  We held each other close.

Decades ago, I was involved in a personal development program called Est (Erhard Seminars Training).  We leadership candidates met in person occasionally and we’d go dancing.  Fast dancing.  No-mind dancing.  We called it breakthrough dancing.  My body parts moved every whichway, unattached to my head.  When I was able to let go completely, it was glorious.

Rita and I were married before Jody and I were married.  The family lived on a grain farm in Southern Alberta.  Saturday nights during the winter were often times for old time dancing – whole families getting together in a school gym to share “The Road to the Isles”, “The Schottische” and the allemande lefts of square dancing.  I danced with lots of women, not just Rita – older ladies, kids and my dear mother-in-law Amy.  It was family.

So dancing is in my jeans.  And in my meditations.

And clearly not just me.  Here are some words from those who are danced through life:

We should consider every day lost in which we have not danced at least once

To dance is to be out of yourself.  Larger, more beautiful, more powerful.  This is power, it is glory on earth and it is yours for the taking

Dance when you’re broken open.  Dance if you’ve torn the bandage off.  Dance in the middle of the fighting.  Dance in your blood.  Dance when you’re perfectly free

While I dance I cannot judge, I cannot hate, I cannot separate myself from life.  I can only be joyful and whole.  This is why I dance

There is a need to find and sing our own song, to stretch our limbs and shake them in a dance so wild that nothing can roost there

To watch us dance is to hear our hearts speak

And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music

Indeed, wise friends
Bring on the insanity

Out There

As in throwing myself out into the world, gracefully or awkwardly. On one level, it doesn’t matter what I do with the throw. It’s just happening. And actually I feel launched … by some unknown force.

I went to a concert last night and found such a person. Carlos Nunez is from Spain. Five musicians had gathered on the stage, along with an empty chair. All instruments were at the ready but the troupe didn’t bring forth music. They just sat there, looking to the back of the hall.

And then! The wail of bagpipes filled the space. A tall man, dressed Western, and looking remarkably like Pierre Trudeau (former Prime Minister of Canada), strode majestically towards us. The music was loud. Onto the stage he climbed and walked slowly towards my front row viewing spot. So tall, so passionate, so much air being moved, so there.

I could only gape. Charisma is too small a word for this man. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. His final note was a high squeal, and then he stood in front of us – eyes flashing and mouth widening. Carlos was amongst us. I know that sounds like I’m bowing down to God, but that wasn’t it. Here simply was a human being whose cells seem to burst out of his body and shower us with blessings. But still … merely one of us.

During the concert, Carlos played a variety of whistles as well as the pipes. Almost always, his eyes were closed as the melodies soared. And there was great stillness surrounding him. At the end of a number, he would often gesture towards the other soloists, willing our attention onto them. When his eyes were open, Carlos wrapped the audience in contact, seeming to make a connection with many individual faces.

Carlos is no better than me or anyone else. He’s found a way, however, to let the filters drop away, and to throw celebration to the far corners of the room. “Here I am,” he seems to say. “Love me or loathe me – it doesn’t matter. I’m here to show you me.”

What a fine job he did of just that.

Canada Joy and Toronto Sorrow

On Friday, I went walking down Weston Road in Toronto and came upon an ice cream and coffee shop named God Loves Canada.  Well, with a name like that, who am I to walk by?

Steps inside the door, I was greeted by Rosina, a black woman, and her husband George, a white man.  She had the biggest smile the world has ever seen and assured me that her ice cream was the best in Toronto, straight from Kawartha Dairies.  Rosina and I bantered back and forth about how cool Canada is, much to the delight of George, who sat alone at a tiny table.  Actually the whole place was tiny.

Clearly it was time to sing and Rosina and I launched into “O Canada”.  For some reason, George and the one other customer didn’t join in.  Oh well.  We raised the small roof.

How can anyone smile this much?  Rosina is one happy Canadian.  An hour later, fully supplied with a Rocky Road waffle cone and a cup of “Keswick’s Best Coffee” (decaf!), I walked out the door a grinning man.

Such a fine couple.  They’ve been married for twenty-some years and bug each other playfully.  Ah … the lightness of life that’s waiting if I have the eyes to see.

And then the day turned …

I took bus and subway to the site of Monday’s horrific van attack.  A fellow drove a rental van onto the sidewalk at Yonge and Finch and mowed down pedestrians.  Ten people died and fourteen were injured over a two kilometre stretch.  So immensely sad.

In my backpack I was carrying messages from nine of the Grade 5/6 kids at school, most adorned with art work:

“I am with you”

“Sorry about the accident”

“We are thinking of you”

I climbed the steps out of the subway at Yonge and Finch and looked across the street.  There had to be fifty folks reading all the messages and breathing in the flowers at a memorial set up in a small park.  A long stone wall was covered with the crying of a city.  And I mean covered.  The only blank spot I found was big enough for only one of the kids’ messages.  The thought came that I should just pick one to represent our class.  It only took a second to reject that idea.  Every one of these children needed to have their care seen and appreciated.

So I walked south.  I read an article on my phone that mentioned the sites of death: Tolman Street, Kempford Boulevard, Empress Avenue, Mel Lastman Square.  All places on my route.  No physical evidence remained but the feeling of loss was everywhere.  “The van came by right here, on this very patch of sidewalk.”  (Sigh)

On my way down the street, I looked for other places to suspend the kids’ hearts.  I wanted them to be part of a community outpouring, and nothing showed itself until … Mel Lastman Square – a big open space in front of government buildings.  And there it was: another memorial.  Flowers and thousands of messages.  Jampacked.  I could feel a twinge of frustration but right beside it was faith, that there would be a space for the souls of 10-, 11- and 12-year-olds.

And lo and behold, off to the side, right beside the sidewalk where Torontonians died, was a tree.  Unadorned.  Just naturally beautiful.

I set to work with nine messages of love embraced within plastic page protectors.  I had my packing tape and I had my scissors.  The wind made the stilling of the tape an adventure but with the help of a few local folks, I got the job done.

People came to read.  And take pictures.  And bow their heads.  I met Aurora, who lives nearby.  She read the kids’ words and smiled a lot.  “Please thank them for me.”  I will.  “I live right over there and I’ll come by often to say hi.”  Thank you, Aurora.

***

I was going to drive home today, but I’ve decided to stay another night.  This evening at 7:00 there will be a vigil at Mel Lastman Square.  The police expect 25,000 people to show up.  I’ll be one of them.

 

 

 

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.