Gander

The population of Gander, Newfoundland is about 10,000.  On September 11,  2001, they had 6,700 visitors.  When terrorists brought down the Twin Towers in New York City, the federal government shut down US airspace.  Thirty-eight passenger jets en route to the States were diverted to this tiny outpost.

In late August last year, I was crossing Newfoundland by bus.  We stopped at the Gander Airport and inside the terminal I found a fitting monument – a twisted girder from the 911 tragedy.  It was a gift from the people of New York to the people of Gander.  As one of the welcomers said in 2001, “We’re all Americans today.”  I looked around the terminal and imagined hundreds of frightened travellers milling around.

There’s been a play created based on those days in Newfoundland.  I’m going to Come From Away in April, and I’m sure I’ll be moved by human kindness and resiliency.  In prep for my trip to Toronto, I bought a book called The Day The World Came to Town.  The same people, the same humanity on display.

Here are a few quotes from the book.  They make real an event of terrorism and emergency because real folks are saying real things.

First, a song:

Raise your glass and drink with me to that island in the sea
Where friendship is a word they understand
You will never be alone when you’re in a Newfie’s home
There’s no price tag on the doors in Newfoundland

There will always be a chair at the table for you there
They will share what they have with any man
You don’t have to worry, friend, if your pocketbook is thin
There’s no price tag on the doors in Newfoundland 

I felt the generosity of Newfies in Port-aux-Basques, Gander and St. John’s.  And not a pretend giving, but genuine.

Here’s more:

***

The biggest problem facing officials was transportation.  How do you move almost 7,000 people to shelters, some of which were almost fifty miles outside of town?  The logical answer was to use school buses.  On September 11, however, Gander was in the midst of a nasty strike by the area’s school bus drivers.

Amazingly, as soon as the drivers realized what was happening, they laid down their picket signs, setting their own interests aside, and volunteered en masse to work around the clock carrying the passengers wherever they needed to go.

***

Roxanne and Clark decided to buy something comfortable to wear, a change of underwear, and some deodorant.  No sooner had they returned to the Lions Club than another woman who they hadn’t seen before asked if they would like to take a shower.  Roxanne hadn’t seen any showering facilities but assumed they must be tucked away in a part of the club that this woman would now show them.

“No,” the woman said.  “You can come over to me house and shower.”

Roxanne stopped herself from laughing.  A complete stranger was inviting her to her home to use the shower.  Roxanne and Clark had both grown up in small towns but this went well beyond small-town hospitality.  These were the nicest people in the world, Roxanne thought.

***

Cindy and Reg Wheaton took Vitale to their home just down the street.  They told him to help himself to anything in the refrigerator and to use the phone to make calls or the computer to send e-mails.  They showed him where the remote for the cable television was located, handed him a clean towel, and left.  He could stay as long as he wanted, and they told him that when he was done he should just leave the door unlocked on the way out.  Vitale was speechless when they left.

***

Fast found herself on a residential street, where she spotted a man on a porch waving at her.  He asked if she was one of the stranded passengers.

“Yes,” she said.

He explained that he and his family were preparing a big birthday party for his grandson in the backyard.  He asked if she’d like to join them.  She agreed and followed him around the house.  The boy’s parents were still decorating the backyard with balloons and streamers in anticipation of other children arriving.  Fast was introduced to the guest of honor.

“Happy birthday,” she said.

“Thank you,” the boy replied.

“How old are you?” 

“Seven.”

Fast was energized by the family’s sense of warmth and their willingness to share this time with an outsider who just happened to be walking down the street.

***

As its old slogan implies, Canadian Tire is more than just tires.  One of the clerks was able to scrounge up a pair of air mattresses and two sleeping bags and then asked, “Do you want a tent as well?”

Zale said it wasn’t necessary but Wood cut her off.

“Hell, yes, we want a tent,” she declared, her Texas accent almost bowling the clerk over.  It might rain, Wood reasoned, so a tent could come in handy.  Zale and Wood piled their supplies onto the checkout counter and started reaching for their credit cards.

“You’re off the plane, right?” the cashier asked.

When Zale and Wood nodded, the cashier announced that they could just take the items.  Anything the stranded passengers needed, the store was happy to provide.  The store even offered to send one of their employees over to the Knights of Columbus to help them set up the tent.

…..

No sooner had the first planes started to land in Gander than O’Donnell received a phone call from her bosses telling her she had carte blanche to donate everything in the store, if necessary, to the relief effort.  “Anything the passengers need that you can provide, please do it,” she was instructed.  Money was not to be an issue … In fact, if another store had something the passengers needed, and that store had reached its limit in terms of donations, then O’Donnell was authorized to go in and buy it for the passengers.  It was like a scene right out of Miracle on 34th Street.

***

Newtel, the telephone company for Newfoundland, set up a long bank of tables on the sidewalk in front of its offices and filled them with telephones so passengers could make free long-distance calls to their families.  On another set of outdoor tables, they placed computers with internet access.  Newtel officials kept the tables running day and night for as long as the passengers needed them.

***

Harris called one of her assistants, Vi Tucker, and the two women loaded up a truck with pet food, water, cleaning supplies, and anything else they thought they might need, and lit out for the airport.  Once they arrived, they began sizing up the situation.  The animals were stowed away in cages in the same compartments as the luggage.  As Harris went around taking a quick look inside each of the planes, she knew these animals were going through their own emotional ordeals.  In some cases, Harris couldn’t even see the animals, as they were buried behind mounds of suitcases.  But she could hear them crying and barking … One at a time, they crawled into the belly of the airplanes, tunneling their way through the mountains of bags, to reach each animal.  As best they could, they would clean the cage and then lay out some food and water.

***

Following the van driver’s directions, they approached a large house with off-white vinyl siding and white trim.  Mark joked that he would protect them if there was any trouble, and the women laughed nervously.  They noticed an older woman standing in the driveway.

“George invited us over for coffee,” Deb said.

“You must be the plane people,” the woman replied, introducing herself as George’s wife Edna.  “Come on in, my dears.”

***

Well said, Edna
Come on in

Mitch and Jonas

What do I love about sports? It’s the individuals who play them. What do I love about those men and women? What’s so special about them?

There’s the incredible artistry of brilliant players. I’m in wonder when Mitch Marner floats down the ice for the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, twisting and turning and slipping a soft pass to a teammate. But there’s far more. I want my heroes to be full human beings, people who see beyond winning and losing, beyond personal glory … to a life of service. Mitch knows his fame is a tool, and he uses it to impact the lives of children, especially six-year-old Hayden Foulon. She’s in the middle of leukemia, and Mitch is with her. “His impact reaches all the way down to her heart, a beacon of hope in a young life that has experienced far too much pain.”

Mitch isn’t the only athlete who has seeped his way into the smiles of Toronto fans. Up until a few days ago, Jonas Valanciunas played centre for the Toronto Raptors basketball team. Then he was traded to Memphis. Whether or not it’s a good move on the court, it’s hard for the fans, including the journalists who cover the team.

(Steve Simmons)

You get lucky once in a while in this business. You get to cover someone like Valanciunas. Someone real. Someone unpretentious. Someone with great pride, little ego and a sense of humour. It was our pleasure.

(Eric Koreen)

[Years ago, a rookie reporter was interviewing a rookie basketball player, a fellow who was learning English]

In hindsight, though, the only moment that mattered was that momentarily frightened look he gave when he saw my notebook. It was a clear moment of humanity. Journalists live for those. More than really explaining the cap mechanics of a trade, more than speaking truth to power in a thundering column, more than getting a scoop, we want to capture those moments.

…..

Of all the players I’ve covered, Valanciunas is right near the top on the list of those who were transparent about their emotions and humanity.

“He gave me the start. He gave me that boost,” Valanciunas told me in October about his relationship with former coach Dwane Casey, who was part of the reason Valanciunas’ goals and role were always being re-defined. “He gave me something that let me still be here. If I’d started with a different coach, maybe I’d be out of the league or playing in Europe or being the third big somewhere. He gave me something that kept me here. He had that trust in me. I can only say good things about that. There was so much talk: minutes, touches, likes, dislikes. Over those six years, he had some feelings, I had some feelings. But the end of the story, I can just say thank you to him because he gave me a big boost, big confidence. He had big trust in me.”

…..

One moment stands out the most. Last year, veteran Toronto Star beat writer Doug Smith was hospitalized shortly before the playoffs started. Doug is always around the team, and it is profoundly strange when he is not. I was walking away from the court before Game 6 of the Raptors-Wizards series began, through a tunnel toward the visitors locker room at the Capitol One Arena. Valanciunas had just finished his warmup, and was headed in the same direction. He put his massive left arm around me, and inquired about my colleague. I told him what I knew, and he expressed hope that Doug could return before the playoff run was over.

“That’s what matters,” Valanciunas said of Doug’s health. “Not all this stuff.”

(The man and woman on the street)

The worst part of being a fan is seeing the guys we grow to love and see as family get traded.

You made us cry, man.

If you’ve ever met him, the first thought that pops into one’s head is “What a nice man.” An absolute natural in making people smile. There’s good things ahead in life for Jonas Valanciunas.

***

Waydago, Jonas
Waydago, Mitch
You done good

The Man in the Arena

Today the kids in Grade 6 were at the Jaffa Environmental Education Centre for a day of wilderness structure-building, orienteering and fire-starting.  I wanted to see them again so I showed up in the afternoon.  Apart from my coughing, I had fun – it’s always great to talk to 11-year-olds.  A few kids hugged me.  One boy asked permission first and then came close.  Very sweet.

We headed back to the school in time to catch the buses home and that same boy came up to me with a gift-wrapped present.  Inside were yummy cookies and waffles plus a pair of cool blue socks, with little bow ties scattered on them.  The gem, though, was the card.

I had met the mom just before I left for Senegal, at the school’s Christmas concert.  We got talking.  I told her about my wife Jody and the book I’d written about her, and mom wanted a copy.  I got one from my car Scarlet and signed it for her.  Little did I know …

“Jenny” lost her dad six months ago and misses him so very much.  Jody’s book helped her heal.  Wow.  That makes me feel so good …to think that my dear wife contributes to others’ lives after her death.  Thank you, Jodiette.  You sure contributed to mine.

Jenny wrote: “You were part of my journey and choosing happy.”  Wow again.  Thank you, Jenny.

Towards the end of her card, Jenny mentioned Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech in 1910.  He’s a former President of the United States.  Here’s what he had to say:

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat. 

And then … “I think you’re an arena man too!”

When people praise me, I’ve learned to simply say “Thank you” from my heart.  I know that life is a mysterious mixture of praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and pain, and that these experiences touch us all.  Attaching myself to praise doesn’t work.  Acknowledging my good points does.

I do believe that I am:

Actually in the arena
Marred by dust and sweat and blood
Someone who strives valiantly, who errs, who comes short again and again
Someone who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions
Someone who spends himself in a worthy cause

***

Does this make me better than anyone else?
No

On we go

Day Two: Family

“Je sens déjà une partie de ta famille.” Lydia and Jo, the friends I met on a hiking trail in Alberta, are sitting with their children Lore and Baziel (and me) as we shared a meal. I had been in their home for only an hour or two but I knew what was true: “I already feel a part of your family.”

I picked up my luggage at the Brussels airport and there was Lydia greeting me at the gate with a big hug. On our serpentine way home, we laughed a lot and actually giggled about me being here. Lydia’s friends had said “You mean that Canadian guy is really coming?” Yes, indeed he is.

Lydia is so in love with life. Enthousiasme! Tonight we walked down a dark street on the way to watching Lore and her horse doing jumping training. We bounced along walking arm in arm. I made animal sounds and Lydia smiled lots.

Jo started almost two months ago turning a dusty attic into a sanctuary for me. His home is a marvel of his own making and my bedroom fits right in. Right now I’m sitting in his designed living room with a wall of windows facing a horse meadow sloping down to a pond. There’s such a feeling of space. Thanks, Jo.

Last night, Baziel stayed up to 11:30 to do the finishing touches in the room – and this with exams looming on Monday. Such dedication to someone he’d never met.

Baziel’s passion is basketball. I saw him shooting hoops in the farm’s courtyard … swoosh, swoosh, swoosh. And tomorrow evening, I’m going to watch him practice with his team. That should be fun. I think I’ll be the proud uncle.

I walked into the muddy yard to greet Lore’s two Shetland ponies: the 24-year-old mom and her son. What a wonder to run my hand through that long hair. And then there was the star of the show – Jackson, truly Lore’s horse. I watched the two of them together, and the love between animal and human flowed freely.

Tonight Lore and Jackson had a jumping session at a nearby horse barn. Poles were set up in various configurations for Jackson to float over … and mostly he did! I stood nearby to watch the grace and power.

Lore was the main chooser of objects to display in my bedroom. The first thing I noticed was Jody’s book standing proudly on a cupboard. Across the way was a small statue of the Buddha – perfect for me. Her attention to detail was a perfect expression of love for, again, someone she’d never met.

I’m home here. The old sharp-sloped rooves, the shale tiles and the red brick are a factor, but essentially the people in this home are the beauty. Thank you, dear loved ones.

Thank You

I was walking down Weston Road in Toronto an hour ago. On my left was a familiar funeral home, and here came an elderly gentleman through the parking lot, wearing a suit, tie and dress coat. Assuming he was an employee, I called out “Hope you don’t have to stand out here for long!” He looked at me funny … but came closer.

“I’m looking for 1273 Weston Road.” I glanced across the street and saw 2056. “You’re not really close. Here, I’ll look it up on my phone.”

Google Maps, I praise you. Within thirty seconds, I showed the screen to my new friend. He needed to drive past Lawrence, past Jane, and then watch for his destination five blocks later. How marvelous that technology helps me give.

The well-dressed gent put his hand on my shoulder, looked me way deep in the eyes, and said “Thank you.” I smiled in return. “You’re most welcome.”

***

I was walking down Bloor Street half an hour ago, on the way to my favourite library. A fellow wearing a turban was taking a box out of his truck. As he turned towards a store, the sheet perched atop the box fluttered away. I watched it zoom forwards on the sidewalk and then make a sharp right turn past a parked car. “Come back,” I muttered. On command, the paper exited traffic and renewed its relationship with the sidewalk, coming to rest at the base of a garbage can.

I pumped my legs purposefully and plucked the sheet from the cement. Yay! Truly an athletic move. I whirled around to find the delivery guy gone. “He’s in the cab.” I walked briskly to the passenger window to see that the truck was unoccupied. Another whirl left me with a row of businesses to choose from.

Hmm.

Seconds later, the guy emerged from a doorway just ahead, looking away from me towards the last known location of the sheet. I came up to him from the side, holding aloft the precious documentation. The fellow’s eyes widened, he burst into smile and accepted my gift. “Thank you.” We bowed to each other.

***

Two simple words, anointing us both

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

Kindness

I like words.  My second favourite one, right after “love”, is “kindness”.  I’m sometimes moved to tears when one person gives of themselves to another.

Reporters were gathered around The Dalai Lama.  One of them asked “Sir, how would you describe your religion?”  The world’s most visible Buddhist smiled and simply said “My religion is kindness.”  Four words that say so much.

I’ve often written about moments of kindness.  Today I yield to the intelligence and open hearts of many other folks.  I hope you let their thoughts flow into you.

*

Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world
For indeed, that’s all who ever have

Margaret Mead

What is true power?

*

The simple act of caring is heroic

Edward Albert

Who are true heroes?

*

No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted

Aesop

How about picking up an eraser that a classmate has dropped?

*

When I was young, I admired clever people
Now that I am old, I admire kind people

Abraham Joshua Heschel

I’m good at using words in unusual ways
Putting my arm around someone’s shoulder is far better

*

Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind

Henry James

What, no cunning intellect, no dashing good looks?
No … neither of those

*

I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance

Pablo Casals

Pablo was an astonishing cellist
He also knew a thing or two about life

*

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle

Plato

And if what if that’s true?
How would that change my speaking and doing and being?

*

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Will this be the last time I’m with this human being?

*

Be kind whenever possible
It is always possible

The Dalai Lama

Even when someone is being mean to me?
Yes

*

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better
It’s not

Dr. Seuss

Maybe everybody is like me … down deep

*

Always stop to think whether your fun may be the cause of another’s unhappiness

Aesop

Let’s laugh together
Let’s not laugh at together

*

Never be so busy as not to think of others

It might be the worst four-letter word

Mother Teresa

*

There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up

John Holmes

The physical heart and the spiritual heart … companions

*

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around

Leo Buscaglia

Just say hi

*

That best portion of a man’s life:
His little, nameless, unremembered acts of kindness and love

William Wordsworth

Do it
Even if the person forgets that you did it
Or even if they didn’t know it was you

*

Not About Me

Here I was, fresh off my trip to Newfoundland, full of memoried moments about the people I’d met. It was time to visit Julia, my hairstylist, to get my locks shorn. Our history together is that she loves hearing me tell my stories but usually doesn’t have much to say when I ask about her life. Well … history doesn’t need to be repeated.

Sometimes I don’t have many words either but there’s nothing like a vacation to replenish my supply of tales. As Julia was shampooing my hair, I wondered what picture I should paint first.

And then I looked at my friend. “C’mon, Bruce, what’s coming up in Julia’s life?” I gulped as the answer hit home: her son Kyle is getting married on Saturday, September 15. She deserves the stage. She deserves to be the painter of motherly love, far more than I deserve to describe the sight of 18 cyclists climbing Signal Hill.

So I asked about her family’s special day … and I listened.

Julia is so proud of her son. Kyle and his soon-to-be wife are foster parents for dogs, helping them recover from illness or injury before passing them on to adopting humans.

Julia is thinking and thinking about what she wants to say at the reception. The plan is to go up there with her hubby Kevin and build off each other’s words of love. Sounds good.

The rehearsal dinner is the first thing and Julia is grappling with the details. Just lasagna and Caesar salad or should she add some chicken? Frozen or fresh? The details need to be handled but my friend is revelling in the prep of it all, for it’s all for love.

Julia is guessing that the blessed couple will be starting a family soon, and she’ll be a grandmother! “I’ll be a good one.” Yes, you certainly will.

I stayed with Julia through her wedding twists and turns. She’s worried about being nervous. I tell her that my wish is that she savours the beauty of the moments, from the rehearsal to the wedding to the reception and to the couple opening gifts on Sunday morning. She smiled.

I’m so happy for you, Julia
Thank you for sharing your joy
And thank you, Bruce, for stepping back
And letting your friend speak her love

Day Seven: Roaming St. John’s

First, a bit about last night …

Riders, staff, family members and friends gathered at the Knights of Columbus Hall for the celebratory banquet. Cool stories of Canada travel were flying fast and furious. I kept asking questions such as “What did you like best about the Tour du Canada?” and “What impact do you think the ride will have on your life?” The answer to that one will no doubt take time to percolate through. The wife of one of the riders looked at me and said “You like asking deep stuff.” So true. The undeep is usually boring.

I spent a lot of time looking around the room, remembering conversations I’d had with each of the cyclists. Precious moments recalled. And I wondered what could have been if I’d stayed. I also thought about the goodbyes that were coming after these fine people had spent ten weeks together.

Several folks gave short speeches after dinner. Jim shocked me by talking about the impact I’d had on the group. (Gulp) I stood up and told the riders that they’d always be with me. And that’s true, whether or not we ever meet again. Paul also spoke about me, saying that I had inspired him, that I had tried so hard. (Accept it all with grace, Bruce)

I’m sad that I didn’t say goodbye to every cyclist. I was talking to Uli when a few of the folks left the hall. Fare thee well, friends. Afterwards, several of us went to a pub. Good old Newfoundland music competed with our conversations and I mostly couldn’t hear anyone at a distance. Across the table, Ken and Mary talked about the time they climbed France’s Mont Ventoux on their bicycles. The Tour de France riders go there! What an epic achievement. I hope it’s touched their lives deeply.

***

Now I’m writing about Saturday, even though it’s Sunday morning. Oh well. I like the slow pace.

Paul and his family invited me to join them for the day. That was so generous of them. Al came as well. We went to see the Terry Fox memorial on the waterfront. Terry lost his leg to cancer in the 1980’s and began running across Canada to raise money for research. He averaged a marathon a day (26 miles) until the cancer brought him to a halt halfway across Canada. Terry’s statue in St. John’s was slightly bigger than lifesize and I got to look right into his eyes. We connected. I think deep eye contact is one of the great gifts in life.

Paul’s daughters Hayley and Lindsay suggested we go on a five-kilometre hike around Signal Hill. Paul, Laurie, Al and I were up for it. Laurie drives so confidently, like she’s a Newfoundlander, and we were off.

My left ankle and right knee continue to be unfriendly and it soon became clear to me that the trail wasn’t a good idea. A few rocky downhill stretches and I knew I was in trouble. How humbling to be poised above a tiny slope, not knowing if my body will get the job done.

To say something or not? Well … clearly I needed to speak up. I told Paul and friends that I’d sprained my ankle recently and I needed to take the road up Signal Hill. They understood, and Paul and Al chose to accompany me.

One delicious and expensive hot chocolate later, we were atop the hill where 24 hours earlier 18 cyclists had completed their journey across Canada. The slope just below the parking lot was so steep and they would have been so tired. Chapeau, dear riders!

The family wanted to take the trail to Quidi Vidi, whatever that was. A St. John’s bus driver, leaning against her vehicle, mentioned that part of the trail was a bit rugged, but that her route would take me right there. I could feel my pride swallowing and voted for the bus.

Quidi Vidi is a rocky inlet, with a few of the old homes on stilts over the water. I came upon a wedding party, red dresses and black tuxedos, plus one special woman who got to wear a white dress. After all the photos, I went up to the bride and groom and said “Have a happy marriage.” She especially smiled.

I had a seat in the Quidi Vidi Brewing Company with my Iceberg beer. The fellow singing announced that the next song would separate the CFA’s from the Newfoundlanders. CFA means “Come from away” – anyone who’s not local.

I tried unsuccessfully to pick up the lyrics. Across the room, a woman in her 60’s was belting out the words and looking at me. I threw my arms into the air with my hands spread, letting her know that I was CFA. She smiled.

Then the whole crew arrived and we settled into a beer-laden table for six. As the singer sang and the room vibrated with conversation, I looked over to Paul. He was talking to his wife and two daughters, all of them sitting to his right. And the looks of love between him and them were marvelous. What a family.

Later I came upon a big circle of folks, singing and playing their instruments. For some unknown reason, I pulled out my MasterCard and flung it into the middle of them. Then I called out “2112”, which just happens to be my PIN. A few smiles came back, as well as one thumbs up. And a woman rushed over to return the card.

In the evening, we were on George Street, being screeched in at a bar called Christian’s. All six of us were sitting at the bar, watching drinks be poured and taking in the din of the place. Wow, was it loud! I was basically yelling at Hayley next door. Our host wore a newfie fisherman’s hat and regaled us with stories, Newfoundland lingo and an astonishing ability to remember the names of the 25 or so people who were being screeched.

The highlight of the day lasted several hours. Paul, Laurie, Lindsay and Hayley included Al and me. We were welcomed into the family, and how precious that was. Paul had been away from his kin for two-and-a-half months, and the family could have kept him to themselves yesterday. Happily for me, they didn’t. Thank you, folks.

Day Two: Rocking and Rolling

Walking on the train was an adventure. The dining car was about ten cars ahead of where I slept, with the dome four back. Since people’s small cabins stretched across most of the width of the train, the corridor was sixteen inches wide. As the train moved and grooved on the rails, so did my bod, caressing the walls as I stumbled forward. I was left to imagine what travel would be like if I had a beer or two in me … “Bruising on the Halifax Express”!

I loved my tiny space – two comfy chairs that a staff member transformed into a bed in the evening. I had visions of leaving the drapes open overnight so I could be bathed in moonlight, but a series of red lights flashing by soon dampened my romantic aspirations.

My bed was just fine, although I half expected to fall off at 2:00 am, given how narrow it was. As I laid down my head, the jostling of rail travel had me thinking that it would be a short night but that thought soon fell into sleep.

At breakfast yesterday, I looked out at the views – left was a wide stretch of water and right forests and fields. I had asked a gentleman sitting alone if I could join him and he smilingly said yes. Habib was a Pakistani fellow from Toronto, a commercial real estate agent.

And … we had the most marvelous conversation – my life and his life, and how important it is to be kind. I asked him if he experienced much discrimination, and he said yes. He spoke without antagonism. In fact he spoke with love. The scenery around me faded away and our words flowed.

Other meetings followed. Karen in the dome car, just returning from a yoga retreat and so interested in my long term meditation experience. Like-minded voyagers on our dear planet. Then there was Jo at lunch. She was from the UK and had fallen in love with Kelowna, B.C. A future possibility as a Canadian was beckoning.

Late in the day, a staff member told me that our train was an hour behind schedule. Oops. I was supposed to get off at Truro, Nova Scotia at 4:20 pm and get on a bus to North Sydney at 5:00. As the minutes ticked by, it became clear that I wasn’t going to make it. Jo stayed by me as I grappled with sketchy phone service to call the bus company, my soon-to-be B&B hostess, and other transportation options. Jo was so supportive.

I was amazed at how calm I was. I just knew that the universe would provide. I would get to North Sydney tonight and take the ferry to Newfoundland tomorrow afternoon. I sat there quietly pleased with who I’ve become.

Via Rail arrived in Truro at 5:05. The bus had left at 5:00. And a shuttle van was picking me up at Murphy’s Fish and Chips at 6:30. All was well.

I had a homemade piece of coconut cream pie and a fine chat with my server. When it was time to pay, I approached an older woman at the counter. I told her my Via Rail story. Her response? “Okay then. This is on the house.” I was tempted to protest but the look in her eyes told me not to. Thank you, Natalie, and to the other fine human beings who have come my way.