The Snows of New York

I wanted to hear a concert last night, and a shelf of DVDs were handy.  I reached for one I knew well: Chris de Burgh’s Road to Freedom.  Before her death in 2014, my dear wife Jody and I had watched it several times.

I remember our wine-coloured leather couch and our positions on it.  I’d be sitting at one end and Jody would be lying down, her feet in my lap.  We both loved the rubbing.  As familiar songs danced across the screen yesterday, I remembered our love.

Chris de Burgh evokes love … with his ballads and high ringing tenor voice.  So pure.  He stood alone on stage, accompanied only by his guitar and piano.  There were tears among the audience members.  Lighters and tiny glow sticks were waving in the dark, before our world of cell phones.

At one point, Chris launched into a medley of his songs.  Wearing a headset, he and his guitar came down from the stage and walked amid the multiple beloveds.  He got down on one knee to sing to an older woman.  He put his hand on the shoulder of a physically disabled young man.  And he smiled at everyone who was close to his path.

I knew what his final song would be: a soaring anthem called The Snows of New York.  The audience knew it as well.  Many of them sang.

You have always been such a good friend to me
Through the thunder and the rain
And when you’re feeling lost in the snows of New York
Lift your heart and think of me

I think of you, Jodiette … every day

Connection

Last fall was not this fall. One of the many differences is my presence in the classroom as a volunteer. A year ago, I was in the Grade 5/6 class about four half-days a week. Now it’s not at all. No volunteers allowed, plus I’m too scared to go back. Advanced age, you know, and little social distancing.

What you see in front of you is the framed version of a collage, composed of 23 kids and me. We coloured our figure and added words that were important to us. Here were my choices:

Kind, folk music, elliptical
tennis, you, golf, determined
love, 70, connection, meditation
hands, January 9, 1949

Twelve months on, the words still ring true … mostly. I haven’t been on the elliptical at the gym since March, and I don’t care about golf anymore, but love is still the coolest thing around.

I miss the kids but there is still a connection between us. Unspoken right now, unseen with the physical eye, and undoubtedly joined through the heart. Our time will come. I will again sit in my favourite spot – on top of a cupboard – and feel the flow of learning and wondering.

Until then, there is the art of souls.

Elena of Avalor

I love watching shows where kids discover their own power.  For the last four years, I’ve volunteered in a Grade 6 classroom, and my mission has been to hold a mirror up to the children’s faces, so they can see their own goodness.

Subscribing to Disney Plus has been a marvel for me.  I find stories where the 10-year-old or the 16-year-old impacts life.  They step forward, rather than fall back into the shadows. They speak rather than waiting to be spoken to.  They stand tall.

A few weeks ago, I discovered Elena of Avalor – fifty-one episodes that show how the orphaned teenager moves towards being a future queen.  I’ve seen nine of them so far, and I’ve enjoyed Elena’s leadership, courage and kindness.

Last night I couldn’t remember some of Elena’s backstory so I decided to watch the first episode again.  Halfway through, something strange was happening to me. “This is very special, Bruce.  Pay attention.”  So I did.  I realized that while it’s a good story, and while Elena is pretty and smart, something deeper was roaming around my soul.

This photo speaks.  What does it say to you?  I see Elena looking at someone.  There is contact here … a deep joining that’s beyond big eyes and a smile.

This is timeless.  And I believe this is what the world needs.  Now and forever more.

Communion
Being With
Love

The Space Between

What if there were big spaces inside me?  What if the muscles, organs and bones chose to separate to make way for the heart?

 

What if the threads of my shirt opened themselves to let the breezes of the universe flow through?

 

What if the letters sought their own space so that the words disappeared?

Divine

 

                                                                      n

 

                                                                                                      i

                                                                                                                                                      e

        D

 

                                                                                                                                         i                                                                  

 

                                                         v         

 

What if the painting sitting before me opened to show the spaces between brush strokes, with the golf course disappearing in favour of white flecks between green and blue and brown?

 

What if the tree showed spots of blue amidst its leaves and hidden birds?

 

***

And what if the space between you and me was alive with love?

The Best Sentence

I’ve had my own idea over the years. Perhaps it all started one winter evening in 1973. I was 24 … altruistic, wide-eyed and already tender. I had just watched a live musical in an old Vancouver church – Jesus Christ Superstar. Jesus was crucified on a chain link fence. Both agony and love were on full display.

And there was a song that sung its way into my heart. It was “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”:

Yet, if he said he loved me
I’d be lost. I’d be frightened
I couldn’t cope, just couldn’t cope
I’d turn my head. I’d back away
I wouldn’t want to know
He scares me so
I want him so
I love him so

After the performance, I took a bus away from downtown and ended up in Queen Elizabeth Park. I walked over to a big old tree and sat down. For some unknown number of hours, I rocked back and forth, eyes glazed, and chanted …

Jesus Christ Superstar
Do you think you’re what they say you are?

That night changed me. Love was alive in a deeper way than before. “I love him so” became “I love you”. I began searching for the human being who would answer my prayer. Romantically I discovered Rita, and later Jody. They were receivers of “I love you”.

It took years for such a simple sentence to broaden. I began to include others in my love – not romantically but ever so sweetly. Friends not just for hanging out together but for contact.

“I love you” is still with me but a new softness has emerged. “From whence hath it come?” I don’t know. It’s love without a direction. Not me to you and you to me. It’s like hanging suspended within the immensity of love. Being caressed, being held. I still see the other human being across from me (or the other human beings) but there is a vastness of spirit that covers all.

“There is love”

When I’ve heard those words in the past, I saw them as a wishy-washy version of “I love you”, a poor cousin of the true connection between people. I no longer feel that way.

I’m brought back to Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary. He wrote “The Wedding Song”:

The union of your spirits here has caused Him to remain
For whenever two or more of you are gathered in His name
There is love, there is love

We are gathered, Paul

Dad and Me

I was watching a life insurance commercial yesterday.  A couple in their 60s or 70s were sitting in the backyard, each with open arms as their grandkids ran across the grass towards them.

There was a closeup of the man and I paused to look.  “He’s familiar” roamed into my head.  And then an older gentleman came rushing through … my father.  Dad died in 1988.

I remembered all that well-combed grey hair.  And then I paused again.  The fellow on TV also reminded me of someone else … me.  In this world of coronavirus, I’m long and grey.

“I’m just like my dad.”

How did this happen?  The last time I looked, I was 25, fresh off a summer at the Prince of Wales Hotel in the Canadian Rockies.  A hippieish young man.  Had long hair back then too.

Mom always described Dad as a “card” and she was right.  Big smiles and silly jokes.  I used to cringe when the family was out driving in Toronto and we’d be approaching a cemetery.  I knew what was coming: “People are just dying to get in there!”

In the years since, I’ve been known to say a dumb thing or two myself.  (Me with a friend: “I’ve been working out a lot lately and my arms are getting really big.  But I’m worried that I’m becoming … biceptual.”  Folks groan with me just as I did with Dad.)

Dad used to dress up for kids’ parties.  All sorts of weird colours and costumes.  Hmm.  I know a similar guy who donned a pillow-laden Santa suit quite a few times.  Or created truly strange getups for elementary school Halloween dances.

Dad is long gone and also absolutely here with me.  I believe he’s proud of who I’ve become.  I honour him for his contributions to his family, his church and his community.

I love you, Dad

Who Needs Love?

Hatred does not cease through hatred at any time.  Hatred ceases through love.  This is an unalterable law.  (The Buddha)

But I say unto you: Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.  (Jesus)

Nonviolence is based on the assumption that people respond to love and kindness.  (Mahatma Gandhi)

Darkness cannot drive out darkness.  Only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate.  Only love can do that.  (Martin Luther King Jr.)

Love doesn’t mean doing extraordinary or heroic things.  It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.  (Jean Vanier)

People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.  (Barack Obama)

If you judge people, you have no time to love them.  (Mother Teresa)

***

Now, as for the question …

Donald Trump

Derek Chauvin  (the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd)

Gabriel Wortman  (the Nova Scotia shooter in April, 2020)

William Barr  (the U.S. Attorney General)

George Wallace  (the Governor of Alabama in the 1960’s)

Looters

Speakers of hate

***

I have decided to stick with love
Hatred is too great a burden to bear  

(Martin Luther King Jr.)

God At Work

The word “God” holds so many meanings for so many people. For me, God is not a being who’s higher than us humans. God is not a he or a she or a supreme person at all. For me, God is the spirit of love that resides in each of us. The spirit may be hidden beneath layers of ego … or it may shine brightly for all to see.

I know a fellow who runs a tire store near me. I’ll call him Rick. He doesn’t preach from a pulpit or meditate in a monastery. He sells tires, and stores my winters when it’s time for my summers. Anybody with a basic knowledge of tires could do the job, I suppose. But only a few could turn the waiting room and shop into an arena for love.

Rick’s voice, in person or on the phone, has a lilt – a lightness, a welcome. He speaks softly and pulls me in. It’s like he’s beckoning me to join him. It’s just so easy to feel connected in his presence.

I’ve watched Rick talk to customers who are in a hurry. Rick and his staff are very efficient but each job takes the time it needs to. I can’t even remember what he’s said to these folks but invariably the car owner mellows. The voice transforms from staccato to ballad, from harsh to easy. “How did he do that?” I ask myself.

Rick loves the classic car that sits in his garage. He’s spent many hours renewing the old girl. And he gets a faraway look in his eyes when talking about her. He’s beholding the beloved.

It’s been said that God works in mysterious ways. So true. And sometimes he hangs out in car bays … in the world of lug wrenches, tire gauges and hydraulic lifts.

Who knew?

Eros and Agapé

I like reading about love because love is the most important part of my life.  In a book written by Ilia Delio, she and Teilhard de Chardin had immense things to say on the subject.  I wrote stuff down and now I can’t remember who said what.  Oh well … it was one of them.

When people hear the word “eros”, they tend to think of sex, as in “erotic”.  I see sexuality as an immense gift, meant to be thoroughly enjoyed.  But love as eros – is that what we’re talking about here?

The energy of eros is to accumulate for ourselves what we find valuable.

Eros is that ineffable longing that stretches beyond oneself for the sake of oneself.

I don’t know about you, but “me first” doesn’t sound like love to me.  It sounds like possessing someone, keeping them in a box, staying around as long as they meet your needs.

Love is the fire that breathes life into matter and unifies elements center to center.

Love is the fragrance that makes them hasten together and leads them, freely and passionately, along their road of unity.

That sounds much better.  You and me, creating something remarkable together.  That’s the world I want to live in.  It’s called agapé.

Agapé is love unconditioned, spontaneous, unmotivated.  It’s love indifferent to any type of reward or reciprocity.

A person spending himself freely and carelessly for the other person

The unconditional willing of the good

So … I have countless opportunities to pour love into you.  To want you to have a delightful life.  And in my better moments, it doesn’t matter what you do in return.

Friend and friend
Sister and brother
Parent and child
Grandparent and grandchild
Lover and lover

All different … but deeply the same

Just love
It is enough

Skye and Dad

Sometimes CNN pulls my heart out and leaves it lying on the floor.

Conrad Buchanan was a 39-year-old DJ in Florida.  He died from the coronavirus last week.  On March 14, he woke up unwell.  Soon his wife Nicole tried to get him tested but her request was turned down. Conrad was too young and didn’t have any underlying medical conditions.

Days later Conrad was having trouble breathing.  “The 22nd was when I brought him to the hospital.  I never saw him again.”  Staff intubated him (inserted a breathing tube into his airway so a ventilator could push air into his lungs).  Since the hospital was on lockdown, Nicole wasn’t allowed to enter the building.  “I never got to say ‘I love you.'”

Skye is Nicole and Conrad’s daughter.  She loves ballet.  She loves her dad.  “He would do dances with me.”  Conrad even showed up for a “daddy-daughter thing” at the ballet school.  “It was funny because he could perform in front of like millions of people when he DJ’d, but when he danced … it wasn’t the best.”

“We just overall shared everything.  He brought me to school.  He brought me to ballet.  He was my everything.”

Interviewer:  “Skye, give us one last thought on how you want us all to think of your father.”

“I thought he was pretty cool.  I think even if people don’t know him, he brightened up everyone’s day.  Just think of him dearly, you know.  Find your rhythm in life.  Listen to the beat.  Dance and express yourself in order to connect with people from all walks of life.”

Thank you, Skye.