Meeting Royalty

I still have two hours of the “What Now?” conference to watch on my laptop so my “Day Four B” will have to wait.

***

Johnny Bower died last week at age 93.  He was my boyhood hero, the ageless goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Tributes for this hockey player and humanitarian have been pouring in, and I got to thinking about another human being.  I wonder if they ever sat down for a coffee.

Johnny Bower

“Everyone had a story about the way the Hall-of-Famer treated every Leafs fan who asked for an autograph, who asked for time.  He smiled.  He laughed.  He cared.  He was kind.”

“Bower’s grandson … told stories that involved his grandpa laughing: laughing when he fell off the three-legged wooden ladder he had built; laughing when he spilled a can of paint on the carpet when trying to paint the living room when his wife was away; laughing when he would take out his dentures, put on his wife’s swimsuit and hat, and walk around the cottage trying to make other people laugh too … Grandpa could laugh at anything, especially himself.”

“Johnny considered it a privilege, and not a right, to be a Toronto Maple Leaf.  Gratitude drove him to be the best he could be.”

“Every Canadian team is a public trust, a repository of hope and obsession and love, and Johnny Bower never wanted to let anyone down.  So he spent a lifetime making the people he met feel like they mattered, because he thought they did.”

“Overwhelmed by how genuinely nice he was and just a beautiful human being.  He seemed so sincere when he talked to you, and always had such a great smile on his face.”

“I got a good 10 to 15 minutes to talk to him … and he spoke to me as if there was no one else in the room.”

“An honorary member of the Union of Ontario Indians with the name ‘Johnny With A Heart As Big As An Eagle’s Wingspan Bower'”

“Generous, soft-spoken, warm and welcoming.  I’m sure Johnny had an ego but he didn’t show it.  There was no entitlement in Johnny Bower.”

“He took time for every person, for every kid, every fan.  He made sure they got what they were looking for.”

“Not only had Johnny played Santa Claus for many years at the Toronto Maple Leafs family Christmas parties, every day felt like Christmas when you had a chance to chat with Johnny Bower.”

“I read an article a few years ago.  A park in Mississauga, Ontario had been renamed after Bower.  Then the story related how Bower took it upon himself to be the person who would go out on a daily basis and clean up the litter in the park that bore his name.  That was his credo.  Get the job done right.”

“He never had a bad day and he made a point of never having anything but a positive interaction with anyone.”

The Dalai Lama

“We spoke of universal consciousness … We spoke of current military actions and politics.  We laughed.  We mostly laughed in amazement at his bellowing belly laughs … I felt a complete sense of clean, sincere, awesomeness.  In my most humble estimation, this guy registered as The Real Thing.”

“In the West, you have education, and this is good.  And you have technology, and this is good.  But you do not educate your people in values.  Values of the heart.  Compassion.  This you must do.”

“And then the Dalai Lama did the most incredible thing.  When I thought he was about to exit left and hightail it out of there, he moved toward the doorway entrance and waited patiently for each of us to file out.  And then he hugged each one of us goodbye.  Slowly.  Firmly.  Like your favorite grandparent hugs you – with thankfulness and deep care, like they have all the time in the world.  And when he pulled back from our Most Holy Bear Hug, he looked me in the eyes, as he did with each of us, and he smiled wide and nodded.  And let me tell you, without an ounce of romanticism, being in his gaze was like having the Milky Way grinning down at me.  I have only rarely in this lifetime felt so clearly seen, and so clearly loved.  The simultaneity of recognition and acceptance was intoxicating.”

“I tried to contain my excitement but it exploded when we saw him arrive.  Everyone stood up and rushed to the walkway and security held us back.  He is already 81-years-old and had to be supported by people as he walked.  Still, he looked at us with a cheeky smile.  He didn’t just walk past.  He stopped to watch the crowd carefully and made sure he greeted all of us.”

“His infectious smile and laugh came suddenly and exuberantly, and rippled through the whole gathering each time.  He regularly made jokes, looking around to see if we were all paying attention.”

“I felt like I was meeting a small kid who cheers you up with a merry smile.”

“There is a real joy surrounding him.  When he looks at you, he looks into you.”

“Having met HHDL numerous times, I would say it’s like meeting yourself.”

“During the talk, the subject of Tibet came up.  You could tell this was a very painful subject for Tibetans because the Tibetans around us were either weeping or holding back tears, but he talked with such serenity, without a single trace of anger in his voice, and he repeatedly emphasized non-violence, mutual understanding and his appreciation for the Chinese people.”

“What a sweet soul he is.”

***

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s not just about two famous guys
It’s about you and me

At the Bottom of the Heap or Standing Tall?

Yesterday was South Dorchester School’s track meet.  Kids from Grade 3 to 6 strutted their stuff.  Many athletes were on display, throwing, jumping and running to exquisite lengths.  I enjoyed their performance but was especially taken with other students.

I saw one girl far back from the field in the Grade 6 girls’ 800 metre run.  Another girl went back to run with her, to encourage her.  They crossed the finish line with their arms over each other’s shoulder.  Just awesome.  What sports should be about.

I watched as some kids jumped only half as far as others in the long jump.  And I saw lots of children get their footing all mixed up in the hop, step and jump.  Gobs of anguish on the field.  Many adults and students encouraged the kids who simply weren’t athletes.

Are the less physically accomplished less valuable as human beings?  Not for a second.

These lessons made perfect sense but they weren’t gut wrenching, since I wasn’t running, jumping and throwing.  They became up close and personal a few hours later, however.

Last night was the first yoga class of six offered at the Belmont Library.  I signed up for the series and headed down.  My classmates were nine women, with grey hair well represented.  I had tried a few classes without much success but now it was time to get back on the horse.

I hadn’t counted on a bucking bronco.

Sitting down with my legs out ahead, I could hardly bend forward.  My feet were a land too far.

Standing on one foot lasted approximately three seconds each time, before toppling behaviour ensued.

Lunging forward sent pain through various body parts, and I had to give myself relief before the sequence of poses was complete.

Throughout all this, my brain brought me back to the kids.  How they struggled.  How I tried to encourage them.  And now it was time to encourage me.  My skills and strength were far below my companions’.  So what?  To use a martial arts term, I was “on the mat”.  I had shown up in the yoga room and was doing my best.  The same as those kids.  They had walked out to the track, to the ball throwing field, to the long jump pit.  And they gave what they had.

I think we’re all fine people.  It’s one thing to be on public display when you’re good at something.  Quite something else when your skills are low and your strength ebbing.  Life seems to throw gain and loss at us, both in liberal portions.  With a little help from our friends, we can handle it.

Kids At Work

I went to a silent movie festival last night in St. Thomas, Ontario, with some early “talkies” thrown in.  The evening was to celebrate the life of Dell Henderson, a St. Thomas native who starred in many pioneering films.  It was wondrous!  Especially a five-year-old girl in 1912’s Sunbeam.  Our host told us that the wee actress died in her 40’s.  So I was looking at a darling ball of energy who’s been dead for 65 years.  Wow.  That stops me in my tracks.

I’ll call her Mary.  She lives in an apartment upstairs with her mom.  In the first scene, it appears that mother dies in bed, with the little one sitting beside her.  Mary looks to be in shock.  As the movie progresses, she befriends a depressed single lady who live in an apartment on the first floor.  The woman tries to shoo Mary away until the child gently takes her hand.  Then their eyes meet.  Then the woman melts.

Across the hall is a harried single fellow, caught up in the stress of life.  Mary walks right into his apartment.  He’s aghast at her intrusion and tries shoving her out the door.  But Mary works her magic again and soon he too is putty in her hands.

Older friends of Mary post a “Scarlet Fever” sign on the gentleman’s door.  Somehow Mary gets the lady to check on the apparently ill fellow.  Then the police come and quarantine the three of them in his apartment.  Mary holds hands with both of them and soon the adults are looking into each other’s eyes.

Once Mary’s dead mother is discovered upstairs, the young man and young woman, through the magic of non-verbal communication, launch a plan to wed and adopt Mary.

Not a sophisticated film, but so what?  A very sentimental effort, but again so what?  Look what a five-year-old girl can do.  I volunteer with twenty-seven 12-year-olds.  I sense they’re just as powerful.

***

And then there was Choo Choo, made in 1932.  Here’s a review:

“Without a doubt, Choo Choo has to be one of the finest Little Rascals films ever made.  [The kids were also known as “Our Gang”.]  During a stopover, some orphans convince the gang to take their place on the train that’s taking them to their new home.  The gang manages to make the train ride a living hell for the prissy, child-hating Mr. Henderson, (played by Dell Henderson) who is assigned the unenviable task of shepherding the “orphans” to their final destination.  There is enough mayhem here to rival any Three Stooges short – perhaps this was inspired by the Stooges themselves who were as popular during this period.  There is not one wasted performance here – Wheezer, Stymie, Sherwood and Breezy, and of course Spanky, who steals the show without a single word of dialogue, socking Henderson in the nose.  Henderson’s response (“Nice boys don’t do that!”) earns him another bop in the face.  The mayhem accelerates as a drunken novelty salesman passes out noisemakers to the gang in the sleeper car.  Things then go from bad to worse when Stymie and a monkey in the freight car release a menagerie of animals into the sleeper section of the train.  One can tell that everyone involved in the making of Choo Choo must have had a great time doing it – and it shows.”

So … a somewhat different display of kid power.  I sure don’t condone hitting people in the face, but oh, was it funny!  The adults had no chance against the cunning of children.  Makes me want to be one again (maybe for a day).  I wonder what mischief I could get up to.  And as for Sunbeam, what kindness could I send to sad adults?

Choosing A Golfer

It’s Saturday morning, “Moving Day” in golfing parlance.  During the third of four rounds, players often move way up or way down the leaderboard.

I’m about to head downstairs at the B&B for breakie.  Among the weighty matters I must ponder is  which golfer I will follow for eighteen holes.  Brooke Henderson is Canada’s sweetheart, an 18-year-old who’s pretty, hits the ball a long way and has a glowing smile.  She’s the obvious choice … but maybe not.  Cheering for Canada feels good but it has the sense of ethnocentrism – my group is more important than people outside my group.

Going with someone close to the lead seems natural too.  I feed off the drama of win-lose situations.  So Marina Alex from the USA is the head of the pack right now.  Wander with her … or perhaps not.

In the spirit of the human family, I could choose any twosome on the fairways of Whistle Bear Golf Club.  We all have the joys and agonies of being human.  I could watch life reflected in the birdies and bogeys of the golf course.  Just pick someone at random, Bruce.  Hmm.  No, I don’t want to do that.

Okay, I’ve decided.  I will walk with whom I perceive to be the nicest person out there – kind to her fellow golfers and to the fans, accepting of her mishit shots, loosy goosey on the fairways and greens, with an easy smile.  Lydia Ko from New Zealand.  She also happens to be the number one player in the world, but right now she’s eight strokes behind Marina.  I want to see a full human being.  I want to see her interact with other human beings.  I want to cheer her on.

Time to eat.  Time to walk.  And my day unfolds before me.

Would You Like A Cup Of Coffee?

So I heard as I sat in my pedorthist’s office this morning as I waited to have my orthotics adjusted.  Such a simple gesture of friendliness, and yet so profound.  It was as if I was blessed with these words:

Is there something I can do to lighten your load?

May I bring a touch of coziness into your life?

May I serve you?

I said yes to the coffee, not really needing the beverage, but seeing the moment in front of me, and wanting to allow the completion of the giving.  I was presented with a smile, and with a grey china mug full of the hot stuff.  I wrapped my hands around it and felt the warmth from cup and human being.  This point in time was sufficient.

Long ago, I walked into a Woodstock, Ontario elementary school for the first time, to visit a visually impaired student.  An educational assistant came up to me in the hallway.  I didn’t know her.  “Would you like a cup of coffee?”  The same welcoming, the same honouring, the same inclusion.  How lovely across the years.

May I have the eyes to see the things people do to show me I matter
And may I return the favour

Distant At Starbucks

I hadn’t seen my friend Karina for ten days or so and I was missing her.  For the last four days, the only person I’ve seen is Renato, the Italian chef who’s staying at my place for awhile.  That’s because I’ve been sick.  Haven’t left the house.

Karina and I exchanged e-mails this morning and agreed to meet at Starbucks at 1:30.  How I wanted some more human companionship!  As I drove north towards London, however, I realized this was a big mistake.  I was dizzy.  So what exactly was I doing driving a car?  Where’s the compassion for innocent folks on the road who could be killed by my wandering mind?

I was coughing.  So what exactly was I doing, planning to sit down with a dear friend and thereby share my germs with her?  A couple of days ago I was talking to my friend Cathy on the phone.  She’s a pharmacist.  Cathy thought it possible that I’d contracted a virus that some people have seen stretch on for six weeks.  Did I want Karina to experience that unsavory result while I got to meet my face-to-face conversational needs?  No!

I’ve been lonely the past few days … but so what?  We all go through this.  Do no harm, Bruce.

I got to Starbucks, opened the door and saw Karina getting her drink at the counter.  I walked sort of up to her (six feet away) and said:

“This was a bad idea.  I’m sick.  I don’t want you to get sick.  I’m going home.  I love you.”  We smiled.  And out of the corner of my eye, I saw a woman look up from her laptop, perhaps fascinated by the dialogue that unfolded.

Karina and I waved to each other.  No hugging.  No lingering conversation.

“Make sure you text me that you got home safe.”

“I will.”

And I did.

 

Kindnesses

How do you learn to be kind?  Well, you can read a book with “Kindness” in the title.  You can listen to a spiritual teacher talk about it.  But I think the best is watching the people who show up in your life and catching them in the act.

On Thursday night, my friend Adele and I went to hear The Messiah at a lovely church in St. Thomas, Ontario.  At the intermission, we both had to pee.  Adele uses a walker and when we got to the washrooms, there was a lineup of about twelve women.  “Oh no!” I said inside my head.  Suddenly the woman at the front of the line came up to Adele and with a sweet smile told her she could go first.  Her smile was returned by both of us.  And the kindness continued.  Adele graciously said yes, allowing the woman to feel the full impact of her generosity.

Yesterday, I was at a Christmas carol sing at a London church.  At the end, a father came walking down the aisle holding his newborn child, “wrapped in swaddling clothes”.  He approached a young family across from me.  They brightened to see the child.  A girl, perhaps eight, stood up, approached the baby, and gave him or her a kiss on the cheek.  It didn’t matter to me whether the two were siblings or not.  Love is love.

Last night, my friend Renato and I were at a pub in London.  A classic yellow brick home from the nineteenth century, I’d guess.  The hostess ushered us into our own room, with a big window facing the street, and a gas fireplace only a few feet away.  But the music was a bit too loud for comfortable talking.  I asked the woman if she’d be willing to turn it down.  She smiled and said yes, adding that she’d have to turn it up again if other guests came into the room.  Twenty minutes later, here came those other guests.  But the hostess never turned the music back on.  Such a simple thing to do, but also a kind thing.  Renato and I got to hear each other as we each talked about our lives and enjoyed hearing about the companion’s.

I’m a kind person but I have no interest in searching for moments of the past few days to show that.  Other citizens of this planet show us all we need to know.

Magic Times Three

I got up yesterday morning and realized that I hadn’t listened to my answering machine for a couple of days.  There were three messages:

1.  (During Jody’s illness, Manulife was so good in approving prescriptions and in supporting me when I was on short term disability.  For months, though, I have been trying to have them accept receipts for services that occurred within the three months after Jody’s death.  According to Jody’s employer, St. Joseph Health Care, these receipt submissions were legitimate.)

Message from my contact person at St. Joe’s.  Manulife accepts my receipts and will issue me a cheque.  He and his supervisor had gone to bat for me.  Thank you!

2.  (A month ago, I had left a copy of Jody’s book with The London Free Press, asking someone on staff to review our story.)

Message to call my contact at the newspaper.  He told me that although they don’t review the works of local authors unless a major publisher has picked up their work, he’s writing an article about us local folks, and Jody’s lovely cover photo, plus contact information for me, will be in the piece.  It will be published this Saturday, or maybe the next one.  Thank you!

3.  (I’ve gone to the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association retirement banquet in May for fifteen years.  I love seeing friends, eating a great meal, and listening to retirees speak about what their career has meant to them.  As an employee, I would be contacted by my OECTA rep weeks before the banquet to see if I’d like a ticket.  Now that I’m retired, no such e-mail.  The banquet is tonight.  I called my union office on Tuesday.  (Oops)  “I’m sorry, Bruce.  There are no tickets left.”  Sad but determined, I decided to show up at the banquet anyway.  There’d be no food for me but surely I could pull up a chair to a table of 10 and chat.)

Message from the union office.  “One ticket just became available.  It’ll be waiting for you at the registration table.”  Thank you!

***

I’m such a lucky guy … blessed left, right and centre with kind human beings

All Of Life’s Hues

Life is timing, I’d say.  Months ago, after Jody died, I decided to buy a ticket to see Celtic Woman on March 25, 2015.  Jody and I loved to watch their DVDs.  Some truly enchanting songs.

Nearly four weeks ago, I started coughing.  Bronchitis, the doctor said.  It subsided for awhile but came back with a vengeance maybe four days ago – deep coughs, lots of mucus, stuffed nose, and intermittent nausea.

So, what to do?  Well, go to the concert.  I sat down next to my unsuspecting neighbours and tried my darndest not to cough.  The first song (three sublime female voices and a brilliant violinist) wasn’t bad, but halfway through the second one I was rocked with eruptions.  Totally unfair to the audience members.  I told the woman to my left that I’d be leaving at the end of the song, and to be ready.  She was feeling for me.

I made my stumble along the row, apologizing mightily.  Then down the tunnel to the concourse, where I just about fell onto a bench.  Down went my head and up came the mucus.  Later, I wondered how my noises echoed in the empty space, empty except for several employees getting ready to serve drinks and snacks.  One woman brought me over a paper cup for water.  Thank you.  A supervisor said she’d search for an empty area in the arena where I could enjoy the show and not disturb other patrons.  Thank you.  A third woman suggested I stand beside her in the tunnel and catch a glimpse of things that way.  Thank you.

But I wasn’t ready for any of that.  My ample supply of Kleenexes was dwindling and the mucus wasn’t.  And I was dizzy.  Somewhere far, far away I could hear the sweet strains of “Danny Boy”, one of Jody’s and my favourites.  Beauty and spasms with their arms around each other.

Later, I felt strong enough to stand in the tunnel, leaning on the handrail.  Such a unique view of the music.  Then, from behind a blackout curtain, came the supervisor.  She had found a spot for me.  Up the escalator we went, and then past a balcony filled with folks enjoying their meals at tables.  Through a secret door, and then another secret door.  And there I was – in a private box, which normally would seat twenty, but tonight was dark.  Thank you again.

Coughing continued, but at least people were far away.  And down below me, I listened to the magic of melody and harmony: “Amazing Grace”, “Caledonia”, “You Raise Me Up” and “The Parting Glass”.  Jody and I held hands and sang along.  I cried when she raised me up.  She thanked me for bringing her.  “The pleasure was all mine, my dear.”

Just your basic date night.

Ella

I went to see a fine movie last night.  Cinderella was beautiful, which is nice, but far more importantly, she was courageous and kind.  She was asked to be that way by her dying mother, and she did as she was asked.

When Ella came to the young king’s ball in a stunning blue dress, and started down the grand staircase with all eyes on her, I thought of Jodiette.  Especially one time at a bed-and-breakfast in Nova Scotia.  I was sitting at the breakfast table with other guests when my darling walked slowly down the stairs.  “It’s my lovely wife,” I said.  I was in love, and still am.  I cried when Ella came walking down, with her friend the king smiling up at her.

Later the two of them danced, swirling around in a flurry of blue, loving each other’s touch, eyes shining.  Oh, how Jody and I loved to dance!  The joy in her eyes.  The moving and the grooving.  I miss my girl.

Ella was so kind, to the mice who were her friends, and even to the people who oppressed her.  Near the end of the film, as she and the king were leaving her home, hand-in-hand, Ella looked  up at her stepmother, slumped halfway up the stairs.  With great presence, Ella simply said, “I forgive you.”  And I knew she had.

May we all have the love that Ella and the king share, that Jody and I share, and may we all be kind.  The world needs us.