The Sadness of Absence

There were warning signs yesterday.  Twice I stood on the Zuivelbrug, the bridge over the Leie near my home … and there were no seagulls.

I love watching them fly, especially when they soar unflappably.  But where were my friends yesterday?

I think of a quote I love:

If you love something, set it free

If it comes back, it’s yours

If it doesn’t, it never was

Those words have rung true down the years, with friends romantic and not.  So often I’ve felt the need to grab on and hold tight.  That would be squeezing the life out of them. 


And so it is with the gulls.  Often I sit on my back terrace and watch for the wings above.  If you look at the photo, see if you can enlarge it.  Look through the willow and you’ll see a slanted roof.  I’m on the other side of the slant – facing the river but not seeing it.


The glassed building is the Ghent River Hotel.  Below the circular openings in the brick is the Leie.

I feel the yearning to unite with the birds, to be one with them.  To feel the lift below my wings.  To smile into the wind.  To dip and dive with the touch of a feather.

I was frantic as the sun descended yesterday.  Clutching with all my might.  I had a Zoom call at 7:30 and I sat rigid on my terrace as the time approached.  “Seagulls!  Now!”

O the error of my ways …

After the call, the darkness was full.  In my intensity of need, I decided to go to bed early and get up before sunrise, when the gulls fly left to right down the Leie.

And so I did.  In my robe, down jacket and slippers I sat on the terrace as pink filled the bottom of the sky.  I waited … No one came but the pigeons.

And then, right over my head (!) a blurred whiteness zoomed.  I caught the wingtips as the gull disappeared beyond the rooftop.

My reaction was instant.  It was a non-sexual orgasm, a jolt, a shudder.  My friend!

And what if tomorrow is friendless?  I would be sad but the vision of the long wings would remain.

And true companions reappear


The Buddha said it well 2600 years ago: life is both gain and loss. You can be the smartest, richest, kindest, most emotionally stable human being … and your life won’t be an unbroken surging of happiness. Jolts will come.

There are so many big losses, and a myriad of smaller ones. But even if it’s a paper cut, there’s a slumping of the soul. The reaction could be soft and slow or it might be a burst of “Why me?” “This isn’t fair” or “Life sucks!”

One of my conclusions is that every person I meet on the street or on Zoom is dealing with some painful issue. And our list of defeats, burdens and sorrows can so easily pile up. We get to choose how we respond.


In the realm of “biggies”, let’s start with death. Our loved ones die. With respect to Covid, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently spoke anguished poetry:

The smile that will now only be a memory, the seat forever empty at the dinner table
the room that echoes with the silence of a loved one

And then there’s one’s own death … my death. All the Bruce accumulations, whether physical or spiritual, will be gone. My writings will remain but who knows if anyone will read them. I feel sad when I think of me ending.

Dying may be long and agonizing or a closing of the eyes at night. The approaching end may be vivid or just some vague thought of the future.

Physical pain cuts like a knife or pulses in the background. It may be in spurts or a lingering throughout the day.

Emotional pain may be full-blown terror or sorrow. It may be a vague feeling that I can’t find my home. Or I’m not much of a human being. Or you don’t like me.

Financial demise may mean not being able to feed your family and keep a roof over their heads. Bankruptcy perhaps. Or it may mean no Christmas presents under the tree, no hope for future family travel, or even not being able to afford the magazine you want to read.

There are many other diminishments that may come our way:

Someone breaks their word with you

Late for an appointment, you run into a string of red lights

At a friend’s home, dinner includes a vegetable that you can’t stand

You love snow, and it seems like this winter we’re hardly getting any

Your Internet connection magically disappears. It comes back hours later

Nobody sends you a Christmas card

You’re scammed for $600 while you thought you were helping a friend

The ache in your shoulder just won’t go away

The last time you looked, you were 25

Covid is keeping you physically away from the ones you love

You can’t speak much French to the folks you care about in Senegal

You were born female but you really think you’re a man

You’re still feeling the PTSD years after the incident

You wish Monday was Friday

You know the work you’re doing doesn’t make a difference

The U.S. Capitol was attacked


There are so many woes
There’s no clear winner in the land of joys and sorrows
So let’s stay close to each other

It Flew Away

I was pleased with the post I wrote yesterday.  In “Flying to You”, I talked about my two trips to Alberta this June, first to see my nephew Jaxon’s high school graduation and the second two weeks later to visit my friend Sharyn, and later Jaxon and his family.  The highlights of the intervening time back home will be a Grade 6 grad and a Grade 8 one.  I’m happy about being with the people I love.

This afternoon I couldn’t resist – I had to find out how many folks had viewed my words.  “Wow!  That’s quite a lot.”  So much for not needing people’s feedback.  Maybe tomorrow I’ll be empty of ego.

One of the WordPress pages gives me the stats.  Another one simply lists my recent posts, with the first sentence or so shown.  I looked back on my week.  There were “Daddy!”, “Fresh” and “Skaters”.  Above was “Flying to You” but something looked different.  Hmm.  Then it hit me – no first sentence.  I clicked on the title …


No words.  All gone.  Bye bye.

My heart leapt up.  My muscles collapsed into my bones.  My mouth gaped.  Bottom line: this was a disaster.  Four hundred words that I was proud of were no more.  I thought of the damage to me, and I also thought of the loss to folks who enjoy reading what I have to say.

I felt violated.  There was a huge gap ripping through me, plus a compulsion to recall the words of twelve hours past and put them into a new post – “Flying to You 2.0”.  I was leaning towards the laptop keys, shaking below the surface.  Isn’t there an “Undo” button here somewhere?

And then … I sunk back into the couch.  I loosened, all over.  I smiled.  My heart rate fell back to 60 or 70 beats a minute.  I was at ease.

So what happened?  How is it that I let go of thoughts that were “mine”?  That it didn’t matter if anyone will ever read them in the future.  That I have peace.

Are the possessing parts of me starting to break up, being shuffed off like dead skin?  Is there a new, far broader identity emerging, one that stretches far out into the world?  Or is it that I just don’t give a poop anymore?

Whatever’s happening, I sense it’s good.  The unravelling is something I can trust.


And how about these sentences that lie before me right now?  Just for laughs, should I press “Delete” instead of “Publish”?  Naw.  A guy can only have so much fun.

Tame Me

A friend of mine recently reintroduced me to the book The Little Prince.  The narrator had crashlanded his plane in the desert and was approached by a young boy.  He told the narrator about meeting a fox, who had a lot to say:

“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.

“What does that mean – ‘tame’?”

“It means to establish ties.”

If you tame me, then we shall need each other.  To me, you will be unique in all the world.  To you, I shall be unique in all the world.”

As I love in this life, it’s clear to me that a few people have tamed me, and I them.  Although I tell myself that I don’t need these precious folks to do or say any particular thing, I am tied to them with ribbons of grace.  One I know is at a great physical distance from me, but she is as close as my heart.  Even if we hardly ever talk, maybe never see each other again, the contact is there.  I can feel it.

“If you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life.  I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others.  Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground.  Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow.”

When I enter a room and see one who has tamed and is tamed, a hush falls down my body.  It may be a romantic impulse or perhaps not.  There is a surge of inbreath, an excitement and yet a stillness.  He or she is unique in my world.  I feel pulled towards the source of such peace.

“You have hair that is the color of gold.  Thank how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me!  The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you.  And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat.”

Jody and I tamed each other.  There are two trees in Belmont that I’ve christened “Jody’s tree”.  And when I’m in their presence I’m also in the presence of my beloved wife.  Although many tears have dripped down my face in the last three years, our taming often produces a little smile of remembrance.  For the good times.  For the laughing and the dancing and the cuddling.  Our trees remind me.

“One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets himself be tamed.”

And weeping I do.  For what more is there in this life than relationship, in loving another as oneself?  Weeping in sadness at the distance between us, measured either in miles or in lifetimes.  Weeping in joy for the privilege of being tied to great souls.  And smiling too.


All Hooked Up … All Spaced Out

For 48 hours, I’m accessorizing in a profoundly medical way.  Cleverly disguised under my T-shirt are electrodes, wires and a little analysis machine, tracking the health of my heart.  I feel like The Borg, a race of robots who absorbed human beings in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Their favorite line?  “We are Borg.  Resistance is futile.”  So I’ve decided not to resist the varying performance of my body.

Why am I wearing this contraption?  For weeks, I’ve avoided telling you what happened to me one fine Spring day.  I usually enjoy sharing whatever’s going on with me but I was too scared to talk about this.  I don’t know why.

It was an early afternoon and I decided to go to the gym, about a 30 minute drive from home.  I glanced at the wall calendar and saw some appointments coming up.  They were actually times when an auction company and Bibles For Missions were coming to remove stuff from my home.  But all I saw was words that I didn’t understand.  “I must be tired,” I reasoned.  I got into Scarlet and headed off towards London.

I drove north from Union into St. Thomas.  I knew what road I was on, and my driving skills were fine, but I felt “lost”, empty in the head.  “It’s nothing, Bruce.  Go work out” morphed into “It’s something, Bruce.  Go to Emergency.”

I listened to the second voice.

After triage, a nurse soon came in to see me.  “Just a few questions, sir.  What year is it?”  She was looking intently at me.  I was looking intently at her.  And no year came.  “I don’t know.”

“How old are you?”  I remembered I was born in 1949 and I tried to do the math, which is quite difficult when you don’t know what year it is.  I told the nurse that I was moving into a new condo soon.  “Where is that?”  I racked my brain but never got close to the word “Belmont”.

They did an MRI on my head.  Back in the bed, I thought of a female staff member at Wellington Fitness.  I really like her.  I searched for her name … nothing.  The next day, I was to go to Ann Arbor, Michigan to watch the women pros play in a golf tournament.  “I need my passport.  It’s in the fire safe.  I have no idea what the combination is.”  Sadness fell over me.  “Guess I’m not going.  And is this it for me in life?”

An hour later, the results came back – normal.  Blessed relief but still a horrible vacancy.

I drove home.  I went to bed.  And early the next morning I woke up with “99-72-36” on my lips.  It was 2016.  I was 67.  I’m moving to Belmont.

What a huge unknown this body is.  May I always cherish the moments of lucidity.

Not Jake

The dear old Messiah will have to wait for another day.  I found out half an hour ago that I didn’t get the part of Jake in the play Jake’s Women.  I got off the phone and sat down in my man chair.  I’d been sorting through some papers and felt the pull to get back at it.  No.  How about grab the sports section?  No.  So I sat.  My friend Renato came into the room and I told him the news.  He wanted to talk.  No.  And I sat some more.

I’ve been so light lately but now the sadness weighed me down.  I wasn’t slumping exactly but I felt … compressed.  And then … there was quiet inside me.

I realized how hungry I was and decided to have some breakfast.  I didn’t want distractions from how I was in the moment but I needed to eat.  So I did.  Quietly, with virtually no thoughts about the director’s decision.  I committed to sit down with my laptop as soon as I was done eating.  And here I am, alone in my bedroom.

So, what’s true?  My mind flits to the upside – not having to memorize over an hour of dialogue, no rigorous rehearsal schedule, don’t have to worry about stage fright, there’ll be another play …  I let those thoughts do their thing and now they’ve floated away.  Sitting some more, this time with fingers moving over the keys.

What does it mean when I say to myself “I am Jake”?  I don’t know, but I am.  In my heart, I celebrate the humanity of Jake.  He’s happy, sad, angry, loving and momentarily crazy.  He’s all that each of us is.  How about if I don’t nix any of that out of my life, if I let in the fact that we all hurt?  And if my neighbour is suffering, can I allow their pain and simply sit with them?

This doesn’t seem to be sadness now.  I’m very slow and quiet.  The experience of “not chosen” is common to all of us.  I feel my energy moving towards all the human beings I know and all the ones I’m just meeting.  This doesn’t feel like suppression.  Maybe I’ll cry later.  Hey, maybe I’ll laugh later.  (Oops.  I just laughed!)

Here I am, alone in my bedroom.  That’s fine for the moment but my place is out there in the world, loving and having other people laugh with me.  Time to go.

Love Floats By

In the late 80’s, I was a waiter at a fancy restaurant in Lethbridge, Alberta.  I was engaged to Jody and loved her very much.  But I loved another woman as well, not sexually but as friends.  Marianne worked at the restaurant too.  One night a group of us went out dancing after our shift.  And I got to dance to “The Lady In Red” with Marianne.  We were quiet together, just holding each other.  It was tender.

It’s been at least ten years since I’ve seen Marianne.  She’s married and happy in Lethbridge.  I phoned her a few months ago to tell her that I’m coming west this summer and that I’d love to see her.  Answering machine.  And in the weeks that stretched away … no response.  So I phoned again.  Answering machine.  No response.  And that scenario has repeated itself several times.

Do I let Marianne go or show up at her door?  The Buddhist in me says to let her go.  She’s on her path and it looks like it’s not going to intersect with mine again.  But then there’s the part of me that wants to thank her for being kind to me all those years ago, and wants to hang out again.  I don’t know what to do.  I’ll be in her neighbourhood for four days.  How strange it would feel to not even try.

There won’t be a resolution in my mind tonight.  I’ll just let the discomfort and uncertainty sit there … all the way to Lethbridge.  There’s no right answer to this.  My love for Marianne is still there.  Maybe her response is not important.  Maybe what goes out from me is all that matters.  What comes back is through the grace of God.