Day Six: Back to Vancouver

There we stood, in front of the “Mile 0” sign, marking the beginning of the Trans-Canada Highway, and the beginning of our journey. Fifteen souls had their photos taken, and then we were together for a group shot. And together we are. So far I’ve met 19 of the 20 Tour du Canada riders (including me!) and in my perception we’re all “Green flags” – genuinely nice people who care. Not just caring about your family and friends, but looking beyond our groups to the human condition, where we all need shoring up sometimes.

For two-and-a-half months we twenty will be creating a new group – friends to hang out with. Plus we’ll meet Canadians, some happy and some not so much. How can we lift their spirits? For one thing, we can honour their slice of Canada. We can listen to learn about what life is like in their hometown. We can smile. We can include.

I struggled on the bike yesterday. But friends were there to lift me up. Terry coached me all day on cycling skills. “Dig deep! You need to be in the middle of the bike lane so the trucks don’t hit you.” She was relentlessly kind and assertive, just what a friend needs to be.

We were on a pretty and leafy path for awhile, and Keith would go ahead of me and give me a thumbs up at intersecting roads when the way was clear.

Ken stayed with me for the last few kilometres, patiently adjusting his speed to mine. No hurry.

Uli inspected my bike last night, giving me advice about how to make cycling easier for me. We did this in the first floor lounge of our UBC residence. Afterwards, I was basically falling asleep in my cozy chair. I was about to reach for my bicycle ta-pocketa to carry it up to my second floor room, when Dorcas beat me to it.

Ahh … friends

Day Five: Victoria

This was our first day of riding and I was nervous. Would everyone disappear past the horizon? Happily, I found out that our leader Bud had recruited a cyclist friend to “sweep” – hang out at the back and make sure the slow riders weren’t left alone. That would be me.

It soon became obvious that my bicycle skills weren’t up to snuff. I had trained on country roads, and twisty bike paths, wooden bridges and folks zipping close by in the other direction wasn’t part of my preparation.

I was indeed the slowest but Len stayed with me. Thank you, sir.

I should have taken a CanBike course to teach me the subtleties of movement but I didn’t. Being slow with Len bugged me a bit but not bad. Then there was a time we were veering left onto a side street. The pavement sloped away from me and I zoomed into someone’s driveway. (Sigh)

My cycling shoes have metal cleats on the bottom that clip into the pedals. All day long I struggled to attach the two, feeling so embarrassed that I hadn’t mastered this basic skill. Sometimes, in trying to get going from an intersection, I would hook my cycling shorts on my saddle and go nowhere.

The pièce de résistance splatted my way when I tried to climb onto a sidewalk using the cutout section. I should have aimed to the right of a pole on the sidewalk but instead chose the left, smashing into the curb, bending my handlebar and propelling myself (somewhat gently) into a tree. After a quick kiss, I was on the ground. From across the way, I heard “Are you okay?” I muttered a “yes” but the bod said differently. I was bleeding a bit, but far more from my soul than from my arm and leg.

Our leader Bud was beside me in a flash and whipped out a bike tool to straighten my handlebar. And Len put my chain back where it belonged. Thank you, gentlemen.

I walked ta-pocketa to the ice cream shop where the others were waiting. Embarrassment and sadness flooded me. To be so naked in my deficits in front of skilled cyclists was hard. I walked away for a minute and let the sadness take me.

The last part of today’s journey included wooden bridges, which I rattled through, and a paved bike path with hordes of fast cyclists bearing down at me. You might say I freaked out, and I started crying. I know I’m a good person but the despair was intense.

Finally we arrived at our destination – a hostel in Victoria. The male cyclists had a room with lots of bunk beds. I stood there in a stupour and realized that all of the bottom berths had been taken. The pain of the world fell on my shoulders. Cardio was fine, legs were a bit sore and the soul was shattered. There was no hope for me. I was lost.

Then Tony spoke up. “I think Bruce deserves a bottom bunk.” And he switched his stuff to the top. “Thank you, Tony.” I walked away into a sheltered alcove and started crying anew. Such kindness. And Tony was one of several folks who showed that to me today. Thank you all.

Each of us needs each of us

Impact From Long Ago

I was walking in downtown London yesterday and was passing a group of women.  They all had Tim Hortons coffee cups in their hands.  “I could use a coffee,” intoned the inner me.  I approached one of the women and asked where I could find a Tims store nearby.  As she opened her mouth, I heard a voice off to the side:

“Mr. Kerr!”

I whirled around to see a young woman who I’ll call “Monique”.  Long ago, I had worked with a blind child at an elementary school, and Monique was one of her sighted classmates.  She wore a huge smile, as did I.  We hugged.  Sure she’d changed in fifteen years but I recognized her.

It didn’t matter what we talked about.  There was a sense of contact between us.  She told me about her musical career and I mentioned my cross-Canada bicycle ride this summer.  We joyed in each other’s adventures.  Monique’s friends simply watched us, enjoying the reunion.

At one point, I told Monique that a few years ago I decided why I was on the planet: to love people and make them laugh.  Her reply?  “You accomplished that well before then.”  What a sweet thing to say.

Later she said “You were one of the adults who influenced me most.”  Oh my.  I thanked Monique for saying something that I hadn’t heard very often over the years.  We smiled a lot, hugged again and were off into our separate lives.  But we’ll remember each other and our chance reunion on King Street.

May I always tell people how deeply they’ve influenced me.  It’s an act of such kindness.  We all deserve to be on the receiving end.

Kindness Times Three

I was listening to CBC Radio while driving to Toronto this afternoon.  I was hoping for a good human interest story … and I found one.  A woman was being interviewed about a remarkable kindergarten moment.  As she talked, I could hear tears in her voice.

One little girl had shown up in the morning wearing her top backwards.  Some kid laughed at her.  The teacher was right on it and gently reproved the laugher.  The target human being, however, was very sad.  At this point, I guess the teacher had decided to carry on and leave the messiness behind.  But one child had another idea.  I can’t remember if it was a he or a she but the child removed their top and put it on backwards.  And then lots of other kids followed suit.  “I didn’t want her to be sad.”

My eyes moistened.  The interviewer was just about overcome.  And I imagined thousands of listeners reaching for their Kleenex.  Oh, what power a five-year-old can have.

And then …

I was walking along Lawrence Avenue, a main street in Toronto.  A taxi came out of a side street and pulled right up to the intersection so the driver could see the traffic on Lawrence before turning right.  I jogged a bit left and walked behind the car.  As I headed back to the sidewalk, the fellow behind the wheel called out to me:

“Sorry for blocking your path!”  He wore a big smile.

“That’s all right.  You couldn’t see.”

So much for the stereotype of Toronto drivers being discourteous.  I was stunned and so thankful for his friendliness.  It was a privilege to be in his presence.

Now I’m looking for kindness number three.  I’m not going to force it.  If no wave of goodness comes my way before I lay me down to sleep, so be it.  I won’t twist my reality to line up with the title of this piece.  Think I’ll head to Tim Hortons for coffee and see what beckons.

Okay, now I’m on the subway, gently seeking kind behaviour.  But seeking isn’t it.  By grace will it come my way … or not.  I’ll just wait.

Minutes ago, I looked to my right on the train.  A fat guy is two seats away, leaning over.  His eyes are closed … and he’s yelling.  Pointing his finger at something.  I can’t make out what he’s saying.  I’m too scared to say anything in the realm of “Are you all right?”  I shut my eyes.

I think of the classic Buddhist phrases of care:

May you be free from danger
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you live with ease

And I sent them his way.  Soon it was just one: “May you be happy.”  The gentleman keeps yelling, still with eyes closed.  Here’s my stop.  “Goodbye, dear one.”

Mission accomplished.

Kind Athletes

I’m my own person, and although I love being loved, I don’t need other folks to validate my existence.  Having said that, I still have heroes.  Most of them are humanitarians, such as Martin Luther King, but some are from the arena of sports.  For me, there’s something about striving to the depths of your sinews to get the job done on the ice, on the tennis court, or on the playing field.  I love the instant replays of sweet passing plays, great saves or the long home run ball.

But there’s something else.  I so much want my heroes to be nice people.  I want to imagine feeling comfy while having a coffee with the Dalai Lama, Meryl Streep or Dave Keon.  I want to know that they’re “just folks”, not some highfalutin’ celebrity full of themselves.

This morning I was reading the sports section of The Toronto Sun.  And I came across words that made me smile.  Larry Walker was an outstanding baseball player with the old Montreal Expos team.  Pedro Martinez, a Hall of Fame pitcher, was talking about why Larry too should be in the Hall.  Beyond the man’s performance stats was this:

Your boy was the best guy, the most outgoing veteran, the easiest to deal with.  He was like a big kid all the time.  He was always playing and trying to make you smile.

Okay, there’s a fellow I’d like to know.  Anyone who can augment the world’s output of smiles is just fine in my books.  The great plays are to be applauded but so is the kind heart.

Another article spoke of Rasual Butler, a retired player from the National Basketball Association.  Rasual and his wife were killed in a car crash a few days ago.  Sadness has flowed through the NBA this week.

He was a wonderful young man, a pure heart.  That’s why people felt about him the way they did.  He was genuine.  There was no fake about him whatsoever … The news hit Lowry hard, reinforcing how fragile life is and how every moment must be cherished. 

Ahh … to have a giving heart, one that continually reaches out while not sacrificing one’s own well-being.  And to know that the person isn’t putting up a wall, that he or she is giving you all of them.  Oh yes.  I’d love to sit in Tim Hortons with such a one.

I still love the highlight reels and the world records.  But a quiet word with a full human being is even better.

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