Day Thirty-Six: Rinzin

I was on a mission. Three girls in Belmont, Canada asked me months ago if I’d bring them back something from San Francisco. They all wanted the same thing: a Tree of Life necklace. I said yes, in the spirit of rewarding people who speak up, who politely ask me to do something.

About two weeks ago in Senegal, I sat with a couple who mostly live in Berkeley, California – where I am. They told me where I’d find street vendors who’d sell these necklaces. So cool to get directions from so far away.

The Evolutionary Collective conference ended on Sunday, and yesterday I set off to find three gifts.

This is the third time I’ve been to Berkeley. I like staying at the YMCA. Each morning, on the way to my favourite breakfast spot, I pass a lovely shop offering Tibetan treasures. It was always too early for them to be open but yesterday my timing was perfect. And who knows, maybe a Buddhist tree of life would be hanging somewhere.

In I walked, to be greeted by a jolly Tibetan soul – Rinzin. In the span of multiple lifetimes, I think he’s been around the block a few times. Rinzin welcomed me with his entire heart and soul. At the top left of the photo I took of him, you may be able to make out the Dalai Lama. My new friend is the person one to the left.

I could feel it: there’s something for me to buy in here. There was a sweetness hanging in the air.

I asked about a tree of life. He wasn’t sure, but went searching. I was absolutely fine with him finding nothing. But lo and behold, he came back with an object of exquisite beauty. I felt a “yes” … such a deep yes that this pendant would be around a girl’s neck in a week or so. I stood there staring, stunned at the silver trunk and leaves of tiny white stones.

Rinzin watched my eyes widen and was ecstatic that he had contributed.

We talked about the exile of Tibetans from their homeland, and his great sadness about that. Then we both wandered off down separate aisles. I looked down and there was a shining stainless steel tree pendant. Yes again. A minute later, Rinzin pranced up with a third. All were different and all were sublime. No street vendors on Telegraph Avenue would be needed. Someone was watching out for the girls and me.

As I readied my wallet, the feeling returned: there’s something else calling me in this shop. My eyes wandered, already softened. And I came upon the banner, hanging high above the cash register. “We must try to do something good.” Yes once more. The kids need to see this. They need to feel the value of contributing. Hopefully the teacher will let me hang the banner in the classroom.

My credit card emerged but again I hesitated. Some other object was beckoning. It didn’t take long for me to discover the oval piece of coral, stained red. Its energy flew out in arrows to the curved edge of the piece. Yes, it needed to come with me as well. The smooth ruby oval was so Bruce.

And then the voice inside boomed out into the world: “You’ll be giving this away too.” > What? No way. It’s for me > “No it isn’t. It’s for life.”

Three girls will receive their necklaces next week. As for the glowing red oval … I don’t know the destination. I just know that it will reside in someone else’s home.

Ahh … the mystery
I’m not here to figure things out
I’m here to act in love
Thank you, Rinzin

Day Thirty: Communion en français

I was hanging out with Fatou and Fatou at Le Bar Jean-Jacques yesterday afternoon. The aunt creates yummy meals for the family (occasionally including a random Canadian). The niece runs the bar, serving drinks with aplomb.

I was curious about who was who within the Jean-Jacques family, and Aunt Fatou did her best across the span of two languages to fill me in. So many grandparents, daughters, sons and little ones. I wanted to learn but soon I was lost. That’s okay.

The older woman left at one point to work on dinner for the clan. Niece Fatou and I sat together under the mango tree, the only folks there. We got talking, me with my stuttering French. Fatou is a young woman … and a gentle soul. There were gaps in our speaking because we were comfy with each other (plus holes in my knowledge of words).

Fatou wanted to know about the meeting I was going to in San Francisco. I told her that I’m a member of a group that intends to bring more love into the world. She smiled and replied in words I didn’t understand. I spoke of “les yeux”, about how our work revolved around a gentle meeting of the eyes. Fatou was so with me. She got it, and there was a merging of our hearts. We sat together for much time. Often there were no words. And all doing paused.

***

This morning I awoke in the dark and reached over to turn on my watch’s light. The digital screen wavered back and forth … I couldn’t read the time. I switched on the little lamp beside me. The ceiling was roaming around. Someone really should slow it down.

Oh my. This afternoon, I will start a travel adventure that will join four countries. After probably a five-hour drive to Dakar, it’ll be a six-hour flight to Brussels. Then an hour or two to London, England. The pièce de résistance will carry me over an ocean and a continent to San Francisco … a tidy fourteen hours. I tried to imagine how my spinning head would handle all that.

I got up and had a last breakfast at Mariama Counda. The omelet in front of me looked inedible. I had a coffee and contemplated my dubious future. Some song was playing in the dining area. A French chanteuse soared in her language, and the melody came from the past. What was it?

It was The Rose! I smiled. The lyrics would come to me later … but I knew I was home – at breakfast, on the road, in the air, even in San Francisco.

All is well

Some say love, it is a river
That drowns the tender reed
Some say love, it is a razor
That leaves your soul to bleed
Some say love, it is a hunger
An endless aching need
I say love, it is a flower
And you, its only seed

It’s the heart, afraid of breaking
That never learns to dance
It’s the dream, afraid of waking
That never takes the chance
It’s the one who won’t be taken
Who cannot seem to give
And the soul, afraid of dying
That never learns to live

When the night has been too lonely
And the road has been too long
And you think that love is only
For the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter
Far beneath the bitter snows
Lies a seed that with the sun’s love
In the spring becomes the rose

Day Thirteen: Touch

Nima, Bruce and Ali

Back home in Belmont, Canada, I volunteer in a class of 10- and 11-year-olds. They’re marvelous kids. In our culture, if an adult touches a child who’s not in his family, he’s suspected of being a bad person. Therefore I don’t initiate hugs with kids. Still, if they come at me with arms open, I don’t turn away. We hug.

Our society is so touch poor compared to Senegal. Yesterday an old friend came to visit. Ali and I became buddies when I travelled to Africa for the first time – last December. He spoke very little English and I spoke very little French but we connected. Deep communication includes the subtleties of language but goes far beyond that. There are the eyes … and there is the touch.

Ali snuggled close in the chair with me and fingered the bracelet on my left wrist. He gave me that bracelet long ago, gesturing that I should hold up my arm and then slipping it over my wrist. Back then, the beads were held together with yarn, and one day in Toronto, in my room at the bed and breakfast, the beads spilled onto the floor. Happily I found them all, and soon began the search for repair.

Kids at school tried their best with more yarn but soon that one broke as well. The owner of a jewelry shop experimented with a few things, without success. Finally she found a stainless silver chain narrow enough to enter the holes of the beads. Two days before I flew to Belgium and later Senegal, Ali’s bracelet reappeared on my wrist. And now he was touching the beads and the skin beside them.

Ahh … the warmth of the skin, two arms just resting together. There is an abiding with no desire to move on to something else. Ali is fascinated with my grey hair and sometimes runs his fingers through it. He’s also made valiant efforts to braid little bits of it … amazingly with a little success!

Ali and his brother Ansou accepted my offer of bracelets from Canada. Several kids in the Grade 5/6 class created them for the Toubacouta children. Right now I can’t remember which Canadian child provided the adornments that now rest on the brothers’ wrists. “That’s okay, Bruce. The donor will be revealed in the fullness of time.”

I’ve never been a dad or a grandpa. Oh … what I’ve missed! With the help of Ali, Ansou and a whole bunch of young ones in Belmont, I get to know all about family. Lucky me.

Day Three: Snoozing and Awakening

After a thirteen-hour sleep from Tuesday to Wednesday, I followed that up with a two-hour daytime nap and then another ten hours of slumber last night. Part of it is jet lag and part a head cold. Whatever the causes, I’ve been good at accepting the current whims of the body.

Lydia and were talking yesterday on the long and wide couch in their TV room. She gave up consciousness first and I could feel the pull to join her. Even though the voice implored me to stay awake, the intensity was less than the day before. My eyelids closed and so did my awareness of the Nukerke world.

A few lifetimes later, someone’s hand was on my shoulder and “Bruce” floated in. I raised my head to see a woman leaning over me. Who was this spirit? Was it my mom? Was it Jody?

It was Sabrine. She and I had become good friends when we went to Senegal together last Christmas. I smiled … on the outside and all through me. I brought myself up to vertical and then to my feet. We hugged – the gentle prolonged way.

Sabrine and I walked to the dining room table to join Lydia, Georgette and Marie-Paule. Lydia said that I looked so “cute” sleeping away on the couch. I was too dozey to argue, and anyways I’m totally willing to be a cute 70-year-old.

I sat across from Sabrine and tried to stay with her. She talked about a current challenge in her life, and so deserved to have my full attention. Alas, that was not what she received. I tried so hard to concentrate but I was fading in and out. Other conversations were wafting over the table – in French and Flemish – joining my English one. Where was I? Where was Sabrine?

Even amid the dreariness, I felt my commitment to “be with” Sabrine, to give her all of me, to bring the space between us alive. There was a perfect intention and an oh so imperfect execution. I saw this … and smiled. I know that my love reached her in her moments of anguish. Something far beyond the realities of my body was moving from me to her.

I wasn’t bleary-eyed all day. In the evening, Lydia and I watched a movie on the sleeping couch. Partway through the adventure onscreen, I got it: however I am in mind, spirit and body is just fine. Love finds its way through it all.

Frozen II

At the movies tonight, I was swept up into the blast of Elsa and Anna.  I didn’t see the original Frozen and that didn’t matter.  The intensity of II was extreme and I fell in love with the two heroines.

Right now, I can’t remember much about the film, which is thoroughly strange, since I just got home.  So how the heck can I write about it?  Somehow I’m confident that what will come out of my mind will touch home.

Elsa and Anna have huge eyes and the contact between them goes deep.  There’s an aliveness in the relationships here, a sense of going to the core of things, casting off the trivial, and seeing the beauty of the human being facing you.

Elsa hears a voice calling her forward to the unknown.  The music swells as she steps out into the fullness of life.  At one point she walks resolutely into the mist, somehow knowing that she will be safe as the landmarks disappear.  Hers is indeed a calling, and she holds her head high as she embraces the mystery of it all.

There are separations and there are joinings.  The ebbs and flows of living are well represented but the ebbs can’t stop the surge of spirit.  When Elsa sings, there’s a brilliant intensity, a full-throated volume as her mouth opens.  No half measures.  Something huge is propelling her into the marketplace of life, grappling with shallow forces and keeping wide eyes on the vibrancy beyond the mundane.

So it remains for all of us to reach out, touch our dreams, stay true to the world we know in our hearts and want to bring forth in reality.  You don’t have to be pretty or handsome, young and virile, or wise beyond your years.  You just have to see it and want it real bad.

Elsa and Anna stand tall in their vision and in their love for each other. They beckon us onward to our own individual promised lands and to a world that serves all beings.  We dare not settle for less.

Communion in the Air

I had breakfast with my friend Imogen on Tuesday.  She’s a hairdresser, and her face shone as she talked about her clients.  I’m clear that Imogen has found one very deep niche in her life.  Hairstyles and perms are just a convenient excuse for her to be with people and shower them with love.

A lot of seniors come Imogen’s way.  Some of them are alone and simply want a caring human being to talk to.  And the dear hairdresser just might be the only person who touches them anymore.

My friend told me about Grace, an elderly woman who’s sliding down the slope of dementia … ever so slowly.  Imogen has chocolate at the ready, a favourite treat.  Plus there’s plenty of time to linger and enjoy a cuppa tea together.  Imogen could hurry Grace out the door and cram another client into the time, but her bottom line is far from the world of dollars.

One day Imogen set off for a pretty little town nearby, and a workshop that she was looking forward to taking.  The teacher asked her what she did for a living.  Hairstyling led to a mention of Imogen’s shop – Shine Salon – and the lovely clientele that she was privileged to be with.  The teacher knew the shop and when Imogen mentioned her favourite customer (Grace), the teacher knew her too.  Actually, the teacher’s mom Florence was Grace’s best friend.  Even better, Florence lived upstairs in the old home where the workshop was happening.  And she was home right now!

When Florence was beckoned downstairs, her daughter said “Mom, this woman takes care of Grace.”  Florence started crying and rushed over to hug Imogen.  “Thank you … so very much.”

Oh, to have been in that room at the moment of embrace.

It’s a good world, isn’t it?
I wonder what forces are at work
so that Florence and Imogen could share their love of Grace
It’s a mystery, isn’t it?

No One Came … Everyone Came

Fifty summers ago, I was working at the Prince of Wales Hotel in Alberta. My roommate was Adrian, a fellow with a British accent. I think for both of us it was our first time living away from home.

Adrian wanted to host a party in our room. He sent out invites to the employees and we stocked up on pop and snacks. Around 8:00 one evening, we were ready. We sat on our beds and waited for our friends to show. We waited until 8:30 and then 9:00. No one came.

Adrian’s pain filled the room. It certainly flooded over me. Such a deep sigh of sadness. Both of our heads dropped down. There wasn’t much to say.

That memory of the dorm room at the PW is still vivid today. Human beings should not do such things to each other.

***

Earlier this week, I heard about a boy named Kade in Corner Brook, Newfoundland who had sent out invitations to his 11th birthday party. Dad agonized on Twitter with the news that none of those friends showed up. “I’m asking my Twitter friends to show him some love today.” There was a photo attached of Kade in his Toronto Maple Leafs jersey, proudly displaying his birthday cake adorned with hockey players in the icing.

And what happened, you ask. Lots.

50,000 happy birthday messages, including some from Leafs players

A phone call from the Leafs’ captain John Tavares, wishing Kade well and letting him know that a big surprise was coming his way

An Air Canada flight from Newfoundland to Toronto

A lovely hotel suite

Meeting the players at their morning skate today

Cool seats for the Leafs’ game with the Philadelphia Flyers tonight

(Ahh)

There is love in the world
Somewhere Adrian is smiling

Love and Hate

First of all, I’m fine. The X-ray and CT scan last night showed nothing major. I’ve been taking Tylenol and magically I have no pain right now, just a sensation in my neck. What a lucky boy am I! I’ll rest up and go see Jess, my physio. Scarlet will take two weeks in getting herself repaired and meantime my garage is hosting Bullet, a silver Ford Focus.

***

Second of all, I’m really in the dark about things. The power went off thirty minutes ago and isn’t expected back on for another 2-3 hours. We’ll see if I have enough juice in the phone to complete this post. I’m sitting with my friends Candle and Flashlight. We’re having a good time.

***

I’m an avid tennis fan. I especially like watching the women pros hit the ball. I’m enthralled with Bianca Andreescu, a young Canadian woman who won the US Open in September. The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) offers lots of posts on Facebook. I participate. Here are a couple of things I’ve said about Bianca:

I hope you realize, Bianca, what an incredible role model you are for young girls. You’re real. You show sadness, joy, confidence, anguish, determination when you’re feeling each of those things. No false modesty. No suppression. Lots of aliveness.

***

I’m so impressed with the human being that Bianca is. Her smiles are real. Her compassion shines bright. Sure, she plays great tennis and wins championships but she’s far bigger than that.

Some folks’ first response is to criticize. Others start with appreciation. I think the world needs a lot more kindness.

~~~~~

Countless people share my admiration for Bianca. However, there are those on the Internet whose glass seems to be empty. They prefer to attack:

Andreescu is a drama queen and a mercenary traitor.

***

All year she has been faking injuries … See how lying is wrong?

***

I hope she breaks her legs.

***

Ms. Piggy

***

Andreescu is too chubby.

***

That woman is always showing such a lack of sportsmanship. She is certainly one of the worst personalities in tennis right now.

***

So fake.

***

Cheap crap! Same spoiled child attitude!

***

Andreescu is so hard to like.

***

Such a bad handshake from Andreescu. Pathetic.

***

Andreescu is too fat.

***

Theatre.

***

Andreescu needs to stop acting like she’s injured when she’s not.

***

She’s just too full of it and cocky.

***

She’s selfish.

***

Class is so far away from Andreescu as class gets.

***

Bianca’s attitude was a bit unfair and fake.

~~~~~

Oh my. Such venom. It leaps out into the world … and finds its way back to the one starting it all. There is truly no cheese down that tunnel.

I’m sad for those among us who do such damage. What must their lives be like? What must their loved ones’ lives be like?

~~~~~

Let us pray for all beings
Large and small
Hurtful and hurting
Blessing and blessed
We all deserve a second chance

Hobson and Juliette

I had lunch today with my friend Arlene at Shelly’s in London.  We talked for two hours.  It seemed clear to me that what brings her the most happiness is her two grandchildren.  Juliette is 10 and I think Hobson is 7.  The smile across the table said it all.

I thought Arlene said “Thompson” but, no, that wasn’t right.  It was “Hobson”.  Such an unusual name.  The young man’s parents, Lydia and Chris, are in the Canadian Forces, stationed at Petawawa, Ontario.  They met long ago when they both joined the Hobson Platoon.  I wondered what inspired them to give their son that name.

Frederick Hobson emigrated here from England and enlisted when Canada entered World War I.  He was sent overseas and fought the Germans.  He died in Lens, France in 1917 and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for bravery.  Here’s a newspaper account:

During a strong enemy counterattack, a Lewis gun in a forward post in a communication trench leading to the enemy lines was buried by a shell, and the crew, with the exception of one man, was killed.  Sergeant Hobson, though not a gunner, grasping the great importance of the post, rushed from his trench, dug out the gun, and got it into action against the enemy who were now advancing down the trench and across the open.  A jam caused the gun to stop firing.  Though wounded, he left the gunner to correct the stoppage, rushed forward at the advancing enemy and with bayonet and clubbed rifle single-handedly held them back until he himself was killed by a rifle shot.  By this time however, the Lewis gun was again in action and with reinforcements shortly afterwards arriving, the enemy were beaten off.  The valour and devotion to duty displayed by this non-commissioned officer gave the gunner the time required to again get the gun into action, and saved a most serious situation.

Chris and Lydia were so moved by Sergeant Hobson’s sacrifice that they wanted his name to live on.  A happy young boy now carries it.

***

Lydia was pregnant in 2008.  She had learned about General Romeo Dallaire, a general in the Canadian Forces.

Dallaire served as Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda, the ill-fated United Nations peacekeeping force for Rwanda, between 1993 and 1994, and attempted to stop the genocide that was being waged by Hutu extremists against the Tutsi people and Hutu moderates.

Seeing the impact of this great humanitarian, Lydia wanted to name her future son “Romeo”.  Except that a girl was placed in her arms.  Mom and dad knew what to do.  They chose the name “Juliet”.  Since Chris’ mom was French-Canadian, the parents expanded the name to the Francophone version “Juliette”.

***

I sat enthralled as the grandkids came alive for me.  “They love each other so much,” said grandma.  Juliette and Hobson are at the same school but on a different recess schedule.  As Juliette’s recess ends, she lingers on the yard until Hobson emerges from the school … to give him a hug and a kiss.

Ahh, love.  Where would we be without it?

Post-Elton

Sometimes at school, there’s a sharing circle where kids talk about their weekend.  With some of them, there’s a feeling of “I did this, I did that.”  The listing of events usually doesn’t move me.  I want to hear about some juicy moment.

Last night’s concert was stunning.  Wanting to tell you the details, I feel myself searching for a list: This happened, and then that, and then the other thing.  This song, then that one.  But right now, those details aren’t coming to me.  What can I say that will give you the juice?  Well.  I don’t know.  Maybe I’ll just trust that something good will come out of my fingers.

The man sat and stood at his piano for two and three-quarter hours.  Just Elton and his band.  No breaks.  Both the tiny figure on the stage and the vibrating human on the big screen were committed to us, determined that we would have an outstandingly good time.

The voice is absolutely unique – resonant, passionate, so beautifully present in every phrase.  The fingers flew over the keys in impossible combos.  And thanks to a close-up view on the screen, we got to see the flying.

Elton wore one long sequined coat and later another one.  I especially liked the floral jacket.  And the glasses … shining in the night.  He often stood and received our applause.  His extended his arms and gave it right back to his 15,000 friends.  It was a love-in.

He’s been making music for us for fifty years.  Last night was his twenty-sixth concert in Toronto.  He said he doesn’t need any more applause.  He wants to stop.  He wants to be with his young sons.  You go do that, my friend.

Onstage he loved Marilyn Monroe throughout Candle in the Wind.  He called out to Daniel.  He sang seemingly forever to Levon while his three drummers traded virtuosities back and forth.  He called out to us fans in Your Song.  And he took off with Rocket Man, treating us with out-of-this-world visuals and a sweet echoing of the title.  Gosh … Elton did just about everything.

Often I looked around the arena and watched the love.  So many times we stood and applauded.  So many times we thanked this humble British fellow who’s filled our lives with music.  Fifty years of contributing to human beings.  Wow.  And yet I know I’ve done the same, just without the public persona, the huge crowds, the fame.  We need to honour both Elton John and the spirit shining bright in each of us.  We make a difference, we human beings, as we stroll the sidewalks of our lives, as we talk to those who come our way.

Someone saved my life last night, and we the audience saved his

Sweet freedom whispered in my ear
You’re a butterfly
And butterflies are free to fly
Fly away, high away
Bye bye

Goodbye Elton.  Thank you