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.


No One Left Out

My friend Pat took me out to lunch today at an Italian restaurant in London.  We talked and talked, looking both at the pains and joys of life.  I am truly blessed to have many such friends, people who love me and allow me to say just what I need to say.  They listen and accept.

Earlier, I drove into London to see my doctor.  Julie is another one of those marvelous friends.

And then there were the two hours between.  I knew that I wanted to be around people, even if I didn’t know any of them.  So I went to my favourite branch library, an intimate space with a huge snow-covered skylight.  People milled around the shelves, picking out treasures.  A mom and her son were having an animated discussion in the kids’ section.  Older gentlemen were sitting in plush chairs, absorbing the daily newspaper.  Another older gentleman (me!) sat on a comfy couch and pulled out my book.  I enjoyed watching the symphony of humanity between paragraphs.

And then there was the woman returning patrons’ books to their spots on the shelves.  She walked stiffly and had a concerned look on her face.  Her clothes were not fashionable.  And I knew she was mine.  I knew that today I was going to make a contribution to her life … I just didn’t know how.

I needed to take my medication and I didn’t know if there was a water fountain in the library.  So I walked up to my pre-friend and asked.  No, there wasn’t.  She suggested I approach one of the staff members at the desk.  “They know more.”  The woman seemed really nervous.

Eventually, I discovered that there was a fountain in the food court, so the med got swallowed.  As I returned to the library, I saw my friend shoving a book into Adult Non-Fiction.  I turned down her aisle and smiled.  “Thank you for helping me.  I found a water fountain by the food court.”  And I received an absolutely brilliant smile in return.  “You’re welcome.”

Enough done.  Enough said.


Just a few days ago, I threw an ice cream cone into the air.  And now I am overwhelmingly sad.  I ache for my Jodiette.

Last night, I watched a movie called “Unfinished Song”.  It’s the story of a vibrant woman named Marion who dies of cancer.  So close to home.  I saw her husband Arthur cradling her, bringing her food, caring deeply for his beloved … and it was Jody and me.

For supper, I ate some fetuccini alfredo that was past due, and nausea crept up on me.  As Arthur sang a song to his dear one near the end of the film, I cried and cried.  And felt like I was going to throw up.  Sorrow and nausea showered down upon me and I was deeply depressed.  Later, sleep wouldn’t come.  Thinking that I was going to vomit on the bed, I put my housecoat on, a coat and toque, and walked down the driveway.  I hoped that the cool air would lift the physical pain, and it did help a bit.  I was able to sleep some.

I had made arrangements to go for a walk with my neighbours Linda and Tony this morning.  I went over but they were busy preparing a holiday meal.  Time had dribbled away for them and now they were in deadline mode.  I talked, I cried, I ached.  No joy in Mudville.  And little ability to talk to Jody and to hear her love.  Such desolation.  Feeling so alone.

Tony and Linda didn’t know what to say and neither did I.  I wept for Jody.  I told them about Cuba.  We talked about going for a walk tonight after they return from their dinner.  I don’t want my grief and sickness to intrude upon their evening.  But I don’t want to be alone.  Oh, how I wish I could talk to Jody right now, but it’s so hard.  My stomach is overwhelming my soul.

These are the moments when I need to be kind to whomever comes my way.  It’s easy to be kind when the world is rolling along tickety boo.  But now?  How amazing it would be.  I need to reach out to my fellow man, no matter how I feel.  I need to do it now.

And so I write a few e-mails to friends.  They deserve my best.


Love Him or Leave Him

Cuba was vividly alive … the people, the flowers, the ocean, and also the experiences that came my way.  Sometimes the contrasts were huge, and took my breath away.

One day I went on a catamaran trip.  On the outward leg, there I was in my Speedo, watching the waves and talking to a delightful woman.  All was good.  I had developed a pinched nerve in my neck a week before flying, but big drugs seemed to be doing the job.  I had a delicious lobster lunch with another woman and her daughter, and then settled in for the return trip.

Then the pain.  Starting in my left shoulder and then blasting down my arm.  On the scale of pain, where 0 is nothing and 10 is excruciating, mine started at 5.  No sweat.  Half an hour later, it was steady at 7 with bursts to 8.  Up and down my arm.  My face was a grimace.  I just about crushed my upper left arm with my right hand.  I moaned inside.  And I rocked forward and back.

The depth of these moments was the fact that no one except the captain came over to see how I was.  None of the folks I had talked to.  No couples.  No pretty girls.  No friendly senior citizen.  No one.  Within the physical pain was a horrible loneliness, an abandonment.  I knew that there really was nothing medicinal that anyone could do.  I just had to wait the rest of the four hours between allowed medication consumption.  But I needed a friend, someone to touch me, hold me, talk to me.

Could it be that everyone was so tied up in their own world, so engaged with their loved ones, that no one noticed my agony?  I don’t know. I guess that’s possible but I don’t believe it.  That sunny Cuban afternoon I lost some faith in my fellow man.  And I was so sad because of that.  To feel such sorrow that could outstrip my 8 out of 10 was remarkable.  Stunning.  Moments somehow to cherish.

Day two.  The meds had done their job.  It was evening.  And there was a street carnival in the village beside my hotel.  Maybe 200 of us dancing and getting soaked by the foam machine.  My newfound Sudbury friends were there, and we boogied.  One precious woman, Liz, was trying to rein in my dancing.  Such fun.  I tend to close my eyes and throw my body parts every which way.  Liz would take the first two fingers of her right hand and point them at her eyes … a gesture to get me to open the lids.  Again and again, she pointed.  I kept my eyes open for awhile.  I’d close my eyes.  Liz would say “Bruce” and start pointing again.  Then she’d gesture to have me contain my wild flailings, to dance like a normal human being.  Such a great person, that Liz.

After the festivities wound down, it was time to walk home and I set off.  I had had just one drink but I was tired.  In the village square, I had a few steps to climb.  It was dark and I missed a step – my toe hit the riser and I flew forward, schmucking my head, elbow and hip.  For a few seconds, I lay on the cement, stunned.  I saw blood.  As I tried to come out of the swirl in my head, I heard for the first time in my life my name yelled:  “Bruce!”  It was Amy, another lovely Sudbury friend.  The next thing I knew, hands were under my arms, dragging me to my feet.  I slumped to a bench.  And then Amy, Angel and Tristan were right beside me.  They were going to walk me home to my hotel bungalow.

Amy held my left hand in her right one and I stumbled along the path to my bungalow.  The pain and the wooziness opened me to my sorrow, and I cried for Jody.  Sob after sob.  My loved one was no longer touching me.  I was alone.  And yet these new friends buoyed me up.  They loved me.  They would not let me fall.  They saw who I was.

Eventually we reached my bungalow and climbed the steps to my room.  Amy, Angel and Tristan sat me on my bed and said they wouldn’t leave until they were sure I was all right.  Amy got some toilet paper for the cut on my hand.  I hugged each of them.  “Thank you for helping me.”  I think they all smiled.  And then they were gone … but their kindness lingered for hours.

So there you have it.  Two days in the life of this tiny human being.  Loved and lost.  Life displayed in rich colours.  Both days to be cherished.

Thank you, Cuba.