Notes from the Davis Cup

For the last two days, I’ve been watching men’s tennis at the Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto. Canada versus the Netherlands. Here are some of my thoughts:

1. The place was only half full. I was sad for the players and for me. I’ve been to many sporting events when the building was packed and the energy sky high. I just love that energy. It makes me bigger. It reminds me of the spiritual realms that human beings can reach.

2. On Friday, Milos Raonic was playing a match when his Dutch opponent blasted a ball right at him. It went through Milos’ legs and struck the linesman standing behind. The man or woman (I couldn’t tell) crumpled, and Milos was there in an instant, offering support. That’s what the world needs. Sure, Milos has the status and the big bucks, but we’re all human beings who hurt every so often.

3. These players are so powerful and serve the ball at over 100 miles an hour, but it’s the delicate shots I love – a sliced backhand that seems to go sideways when it hits the court, a big backswing disguising a slow-motion drop shot falling softly out of the opponent’s reach, a lob that arches way over a player’s head and lands six inches inside the baseline. Give me the artists, please.

4. Then there are the very few fans who make a noise just as a Dutch player is starting his serving motion. No one does this when a Canadian is serving. Spare me from the world’s ethnocentric folks … my group is better than your group and maybe I can do something to have my group win. I love cheering for Canada and I also love applauding a brilliant shot, no matter who makes it.

5. The first day, I had a lovely couple on my right and two lovely women on my left. I had a great time bantering in one direction and then the other. Strangers became friends. Caution gave way to smiles. Yesterday the two women sat several seats further to my left. I don’t know why. I had fun with the couple but within that was a sadness, that a relationship had faded, that close had become distant. I hope the two women come back today but they may not. It seems that so much of life is a letting go.

6. The Coca-Cola Coliseum has been the home of the Toronto Marlies hockey team for a long time. They’re one level down from the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Inside the front entrance is a sign: “Building Maple Leafs since 1927.” Very cool. And all around the arena, on the little wall separating the lower seats from the balcony, are many of the team’s leafy logos, each with a name.

“Armstrong 1949” – the year of my birth. And that must be George Armstrong, whom I idolized in the Stanley Cup years of the 1960’s. George was the Leafs’ captain for 13 years. I looked up at all those names and thought of the history of the place. Tennis below … hockey above. May we always remember the history of those we love.

7. Daniel Nestor. The greatest tennis player in Canadian history. And yesterday was his final match, a doubles loss to the Netherlands. Daniel played poorly and later admitted that he wasn’t good enough anymore. Jean-Julien Rojer, his opponent and friend, said “You can say that eventually Father Time was undefeated because it catches up to you.”

Daniel cried as he spoke to the crowd after the match. “I love you guys [the Canadian team]. I love you fans. I love the city.” Well said.

I read an article last night about Daniel retiring. The writer said that Nestor “lost his composure”. Thank God he did. I don’t want to be a composed human being. I want to feel life, down deep in my bones.

Like you, Daniel

Thirteen

The contrasting number is 69, which happens to be my age.  Tonight I’m going to see Eighth Grade, a film about a girl trying to figure out who she is, how to be herself in the face of friends and parents.  I volunteer with 11-year-olds, kids who are starting to experience similar angst.

I tell myself that I’m an empathetic adult who can sense what kids are feeling.  After all, I used to be one.  Well, maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe I forget the young wallows of self-esteem, the despair of loneliness, the pull towards conforming so you can have friends.

So tonight I learn.  There’s so much I don’t know.  And I want to know more so I can love more.  These kids need love.  They need to have people in their life who “get” them, who “see” them.  I can be one of those folks.

And now the movie …

Kayla has full-blown acne and there are many who can’t see beyond the texture of her skin to find the person.  She hardly says anything in school as fear usually rules her day.  As the school year winds down, she wins an award … as the quietest female student.  And she shrinks some more.

In band class, as her peers try on the trumpet and trombone, Kayla gets to clang the cymbals.  Sometimes even that is too much – she can’t quite get the rhythm right.  Her world continues to fall apart.

Throughout the film, despite the pressures on her mind, Kayla is remarkably brave.  She creates Internet videos, full of tips for kids her age.  Apparently hardly anybody watches them but she keeps going.  A stuck up girl in her class is forced by her mother to invite Kayla to her birthday party.  Kayla knows she’s disliked and still goes to the party.  She’s a little overweight but still puts on her bathing suit and heads to the pool … where everyone awaits.  Waydago, Kayla.

It was painful to see how most of the teens rejected her, since she was deemed not to be “cool”.  Kayla initiates conversation with two of the “in” girls in the school hallway and they barely respond, staring at their phones the whole time.  Kayla keeps talking.

It’s so hard for dad, a prince of a single parent, to feel Kayla distancing herself from him.  There’s really no dinnertime conversation, just the phone.  At one point, he’s driving her somewhere, not saying anything for the moment.  Her response?  “Don’t be weird and quiet.”  He’s baffled.  It teaches me that sometimes I just won’t understand what’s going on in the teen’s brain.  There’s nothing wise I can say.  Just love them from afar.

Kayla has a crush on a boy and tells him that she’s created nude photos of herself (which she hasn’t) – anything to get him to be her friend.  Another boy tries to initiate sexual activity in his car, and she’s sorely tempted, but courageously says no.

In the fifty-six years after being thirteen, I’ve forgotten so much about the horrors that kept popping up back then.  And I didn’t have to deal with social media.  I left the theatre with huge love and respect for the young people who are groping through the mists to answer the question …

Who am I?

Two Folks

I met two fine human beings today. In the spirit of “scarcity”, I could tell you about one of them now and the other tomorrow. Then it would be smooth sailing. I wouldn’t have to create a topic from the events of Saturday.

I’m now shaking my head “No”. That’s not how I want to write this blog. Right now, I’ll talk about what’s fresh … and that means both people. Tomorrow something else will emerge.

***

I’m staying at my friends Anne and Ihor’s B&B in Toronto. Last night I met another guest and she beat me to breakfast this morning. Lucy is from Beijing, China. She’s been here for a week, helping her son get established at his new school. I couldn’t help it – I had to find out her Chinese name. “Zhao Yu.” I asked which name she preferred and it became clear that her English was very basic. Eventually she understood my question, and said “Lucy is okay.” After a bit more prodding from me, she smiled and said “Zhao”.

I struggled to understand Zhao’s English and yet I could glimpse the full human being across the table. She worked so hard to have me get her messages. At one point, she got a container of raspberries out of the fridge and offered them to me. So sweet of her.

Zhao had bought bacon at the grocery store but didn’t know how to cook it. Our hostess Anne was going to help out here. I could feel judgments creeping into my brain but as I let them be there they soon floated away. The woman simply hasn’t had any experience with bacon.

Zhao was all excited that I live in London, a two-hour drive from Toronto. She wants to visit there someday. Anne pulled out maps of Ontario and the world and it became clear that Zhao thought I lived in London, England. Again judgments intruded and again quiet looking allowed them to fade.

Zhao is an accountant in Beijing and had stories about the city of 30,000,000 souls. Absolutely crammed sidewalks, roads and subway cars. Clearly this was an intelligent woman and the real problem was my inability to grasp her words. She was groping through a language that was foreign to her, offering me raspberries along the way. Thank you, Zhao!

At one point in our meeting of minds, I learned that Zhao was scared last night as she walked along Weston Road near the B&B. The reason? Because there was virtually no one on the street. Anne explained that in this intense heat people stayed indoors.

Toronto (3,000,000) is in between my home Belmont (2800) and Beijing. I experience Toronto as crammed with folks and Zhao sees it as empty! Perspective is a lovely thing.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Zhao. We hugged our goodbyes.

***

I just spent an hour with Barry in the Tim Hortons at Bloor Street and Dufferin. I was sitting at a table with my only company being a toasted bagel. Since the place was full, he asked if he could join me. I was happy to say yes.

Barry said it’s important to ask permission, not just to barge in, and I immediately liked him. I sensed that here was a fellow with cool things to say. Good sensing, Bruce.

My new friend tows large passenger planes away from their berths at Toronto Airport. It’s a job with a huge responsibility to keep people safe. Barry’s been doing it for thirty years and knows how to avoid accidents and deal with emergencies. He quietly admitted that he’s saved a few lives along the way.

The more Barry talked, the more I sensed that he’s been the topic of conversation at many supper tables over the years … all complimentary, I’d guess. He’s stood up for probational employees and taken more than a few of them under his wing to teach them the subtleties of the trade. He’s told his charges that if there’s a big problem, and only one tow-er of the two gets to come home that night, it’ll be the one who’s learning. He takes care of his guys.

Barry’s the one that management calls on when there’s a bomb scare and a plane has to be moved away from the terminal and far out on the tarmac. It’s volunteer work and he always raises his hand.

I was sitting across from love and courage. It was a privilege to be there. We shook hands goodbye, with deep respect flowing through them.

***

I’m going to a folk music concert tonight at Hugh’s Room
Will another vessel of motherhood or brotherhood come by?
I say yes

Not About Me

Here I was, fresh off my trip to Newfoundland, full of memoried moments about the people I’d met. It was time to visit Julia, my hairstylist, to get my locks shorn. Our history together is that she loves hearing me tell my stories but usually doesn’t have much to say when I ask about her life. Well … history doesn’t need to be repeated.

Sometimes I don’t have many words either but there’s nothing like a vacation to replenish my supply of tales. As Julia was shampooing my hair, I wondered what picture I should paint first.

And then I looked at my friend. “C’mon, Bruce, what’s coming up in Julia’s life?” I gulped as the answer hit home: her son Kyle is getting married on Saturday, September 15. She deserves the stage. She deserves to be the painter of motherly love, far more than I deserve to describe the sight of 18 cyclists climbing Signal Hill.

So I asked about her family’s special day … and I listened.

Julia is so proud of her son. Kyle and his soon-to-be wife are foster parents for dogs, helping them recover from illness or injury before passing them on to adopting humans.

Julia is thinking and thinking about what she wants to say at the reception. The plan is to go up there with her hubby Kevin and build off each other’s words of love. Sounds good.

The rehearsal dinner is the first thing and Julia is grappling with the details. Just lasagna and Caesar salad or should she add some chicken? Frozen or fresh? The details need to be handled but my friend is revelling in the prep of it all, for it’s all for love.

Julia is guessing that the blessed couple will be starting a family soon, and she’ll be a grandmother! “I’ll be a good one.” Yes, you certainly will.

I stayed with Julia through her wedding twists and turns. She’s worried about being nervous. I tell her that my wish is that she savours the beauty of the moments, from the rehearsal to the wedding to the reception and to the couple opening gifts on Sunday morning. She smiled.

I’m so happy for you, Julia
Thank you for sharing your joy
And thank you, Bruce, for stepping back
And letting your friend speak her love

Watching the Mind

I got home last night, tired from a day of travelling. For some reason I unpacked immediately. “Odd. That’s not me.” Except I guess it gets included in the symphony that is Bruce.

I remembered tennis. The US Open is in full swing. Rafael Nadal from Spain and Dominic Thiem from Austria were facing off. Expecting an epic, I started watching. Nearly five hours later I stopped watching, with Nadal the victor. They smashed the ball at each other in 26 degree Celsius heat, with a healthy dose of humidity on top. Stunning! I loved the long rallies, the zapping serves and the deft drop shots.

What I didn’t anticipate was falling into a meditative state for most of the match. It was so similar to sitting in the meditation hall in Massachusetts a year ago. But this was sports … the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Is it possible that this sweet freedom will keep showing up in my daily activities? Yes, it is. When it comes again, it will be by grace, unbidden.

I felt myself swooning as the games rolled on, falling into a shining place that was totally safe. At 10:30, there was a scheduled live meeting online with members of the Evolutionary Collective global community. I could feel the pull of the group but even stronger was the space of peace within the tennis. I happily let go of contributing to the collective last night. I fed me, and perhaps my stillness reached my internet friends.

I smiled and flowed onto the pillow at about 2:15 am. Some unknown time later, I was barraged by a dream that seemed to go on forever. I was riding my bicycle up extremely steep streets (sounds like St. John’s). There were sculptures everywhere of Tour de France moments: the big group of riders, each jostling for position; two cyclists nose by nose, sprinting for the finish line; two crashed riders lying on the pavement, bleeding; happy onlookers cheering for their favourite; and spectators throwing pebbles at an acknowledged drug cheater. I weaved in and out of these scenes, terrified of the energies in the stone.

Where, oh where, did the peace go? I was being assaulted with mental barbs and whips, and there was no end in sight. I woke up time and time again, drenched in sweat. What evil force was doing this to me?

How can these two poles show up in me only hours apart? My evolutionary possibilities were so quickly squashed by the rudeness of the climb. My mind must be a many splendoured thing.

In the afternoon, I logged on to today’s Evolutionary Collective call. There were about twenty of us. Part of our hour together is a 30-minute 1-1 practice with a partner whom the organizers select. Today it was Arthur. As I listened to him speak, I felt flooded with a huge energy. I soon realized … that energy was love. I had never met Arthur before and I felt an immense wish for his well-being. I wanted his life to be great. I wanted him to be supremely happy. The experience was overwhelming.

***

No travelling today by trains and boats and planes
But I traversed some special territory between my ears

Tined and Mind

I did laundry this morning, which felt like a perfectly normal activity.  And, oh yes, the dishwasher – I should empty it.  Not being at my alertest, I tumbled my hands down towards the cutlery baskets.  I’ve always been a “forks standing right side up” type of guy.  Today I paid the price.  Tines impaled me beneath my right thumbnail and the blood flowed.  Turned out to be not much of that stuff but pain at the 4 to 5 level on a scale of ten.  And I’m still there.

I like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  Abe contended that if our basic physical needs (such as freedom from pain!) aren’t met, we won’t be open to transcendent needs, such as loving and being loved.  Well, I’ve had a day to explore that theory.

At 2:00 pm today, I planned to be on a video call with members of the Evolutionary Collective Global Community.  It’s fair to say we explore the consciousness that’s possible between two or more people.  At 1:30, I was lying in bed, feeling sorry for myself and my grievous injury.  I wanted to hunker down and lick my wounds.  No human contact today, please.  “With pain like this, I won’t be able to give to the people on the call, so why even try?”  Such a whimpering and potentially persuasive voice.

At 1:55, I lifted myself up off the bed and onto the couch, laptop in hand.  And something happened when I saw the 17 of us on my computer screen.  I got that my presence was important.  I was one of 17 presences, each with the ability to contribute to the group, to “be with” other human beings.  It’s not about saying something wise or having my empathy reach another member.  It was simply the fact that I was there, damaged thumb and all.

For part of the hour, we are paired with another person for a mutual awakening practice.  Today I wavered between listening into what my partner was experiencing and falling down the hole of physical pain.  Back and forth I went, knowing that I wasn’t “doing as well as I usually do”.  But that didn’t matter … we were together.

Tonight I went out to a movie with a friend and the pain was still a 5.  Truly – so what?  She needed my contact, our conversation and our exploring of what matters.  And once again I saw that I could deal with the thumb and be present in the relationship.  We had a sweet time.

Bad stuff will no doubt continue to happen to me but the world needs me to deal with it and move on, experience the pain but not wallow in it, fall down and get back up, and return to my real job … loving people.

The Danforth

I’m sitting in a coffee shop on Danforth Avenue in Toronto. Four hours ago I was having breakfast at the New Sarum Diner, near my home in Belmont, Ontario. I had just been joking with the server that I should have one of their real and delicious milkshakes, made with ancient equipment and metal tumblers, sort of a breakie dessert. And … I actually had a vanilla one. So good!

I was pleased with myself as the tall glass emptied. Just sat back and sighed. And then my eyes widened and the voice came through crystal clearly:

Go to the Danforth

Toronto is two hours from home. Sunday evening a young man took out a handgun and started shooting people on Danforth Avenue. A girl and a woman died. Thirteen others were injured. It’s Toronto’s second mass shooting in four months. Horrifying.

I’m at a counter by the window, watching traffic crawl by. Across the street is the Second Cup, where the gunman fired shots. The place looks so placid and normal right now. Couples walk by smiling. The terror is long gone … except in people’s hearts.

Why am I here? I don’t know. I could feel the pull from New Sarum.

It’s time to walk again. I wonder what I’ll find – on the street and in my soul.

***

Now I’m sitting on a bench steps away from where the shooter killed himself, surrounded by police officers. Above me, on the brown bricks of the Danforth Church, stretches a rainbow banner simply saying “PEACE”. Perhaps not such a simple thing to keep alive in the world. But then again, that’s up to us.

I search for the Demetres restaurant, where Julianna, 10-years-old, died. Why can’t I find it? Finally Google tells me to cross the street. Behind a large truck sits a building, its name covered with a green tarp. In front is an arc of flowers and candles, accompanied by chalk messages on the sidewalk. About ten of us stop to think of Julianna.

There’s a message on the glass door, written in white marker: “How many times have we walked through this door on a warm summer night like any other?” And another on the window: “Julianna – gone but never forgotten. Rest in peace, baby girl.” The tears come.

On the sidewalk, a chalked message says what I need to hear: “Love abounds.” An hour later, after a lengthy cloudburst, I walk by Demetres again. The love is longer visible but it’s there.

At the parkette near Danforth and Logan, a large fountain is embraced with flowers and messages. This is where 18-year-old Reese was shot and killed. “Dear beautiful Reese. You were brave. You will always be in our hearts.” Yes. Onlookers like me snap photos and go deep inside to grieve. I sit on a curved stone bench, perhaps in the very spot where Reese was chatting with her friends.

***

What now, Bruce?

Cast no one out of your heart
See the beauty of all who approach
Give them what they need

Roy McDonald

Roy was a longbearded poet who walked the highways and byways of downtown London, Ontario, greeting all who crossed his path. Roy died in February at the age of 80.

Today, on one of the small workshop stages of the Home County Folk Festival, Roy’s friends paid tribute. Love was in the air. The first speaker asked us “What would life be like if all of us were as unique, as thoroughly ourselves, as Roy was?” Oh my. What a fine question. See the power that one human being can have. Are we inspired to let our souls bubble up into our homes and schools and offices? I hope so.

Roy was known as “The Mayor of Richmond Row” – a fun stretch of shops and restaurants. One speaker said that his death left a huge hole in downtown London. Yes indeed. Another told us “Many people loved Roy. Many others didn’t quite get him. But nobody who’s met Roy will ever forget him.” And those words also ring true.

“Did he ever come up to you and offer to do a rendition of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’?” Sadly, not for me. What I remember is a late night conversation at the McDonalds on Wellington Road, sprinkled with wisdom and choice nuggets from his poetry. Lucky me.

Roxanne Andrighetti sang one of her songs for Roy, and the words point to the man:

Did we take hold of each of our days
Before all this passes away?

And to finish things off, another young woman favoured us with Roy’s favourite song – Frank Sinatra’s My Way. Goodbye, dear Roy. Thank you for being in the world.

For what is a man, what has he got
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels
And not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows
And did it my way

1 … 2

I am me.  Could I be we?

Walt Whitman knew a thing or two about relationship.  His poems often sang with love, and although many words passed through his fingers, my favourite ones are these:

We were together.  I forget the rest

To create a girl or boy, you need a partner.  All the solitary wishing on your part won’t bring forth a new life.  It takes two.  And to create the most exquisite spirals of consciousness, I also don’t think one is enough.  We are meant to unfold each other into realms unknown.  The whole thus revealed is way beyond the sum of the two parts.

Last night, I had a dream
We were inseparably entwined
Like a piece of rope made out of two pieces of vine
Held together, holding each other
With no one else in mind
Like two atoms in a molecule
Inseparably combined

So true.  May we entwine each other.  May ribbons of light float between our eyes.  May we see the beauty.  I sat quietly tonight and waited for the majesty of communion to emerge in a song.  What a marvelous thing – this brain – for the title came to me: Old French Lane.  From somewhere in my past, a very long time ago.

“Yes … this is what I want to share with my WordPress friends.”  But Google was silent on the matter.  YouTube was no help.  And I abided, feeling into the way home.

“Bruce, you wrote about Old French Lane years ago in your blog.  Search.”  And so I did.  And so it is here.

Seven jewels lie in the channel
South of England’s shores
Where you and I once walked together
Where I’ll walk no more

Hand in hand we would go
In the sun and in the rain
Through the streets of St. Helier
Down the Old French Lane

With Jersey sunshine falling on your hair
Shines in strands of red and gold
And eyes of green like the emerald sheen
Of your ancestral home

That was so long ago
Red and gold turn silver now
But eyes of green will never change
In my memory somehow

 

The Transmission of Love

A few hours ago, a voice in my head said “You will write in your blog tonight about the transmission of love.”  Most of my evening has been about online group calls with likeminded souls in the Evolutionary Collective, calls about deepening contact with other human beings.  We’re done now and here I sit at 11:44.  I don’t know what to write.

I’ve learned over the years to tell the difference between the raucous demanding voice and the quiet one.  I trust the softness that spoke to me earlier.  But now what?

The loud voice spews out an opinion:  “Who do you think you are, some author of personal growth textbooks?  You’re not exactly ready to create a treatise on love, bunko!”  Bunko?  Where did that come from?  Anyway, time to tune out Mr. Loudness.

So how does the depth of love move from one person to another?  Anyone can read a Hallmark Valentine’s card and speak similar sentiments but words without the soul’s participation are meaningless.  You can be a champion at sex, know where all the sweet spots are, and be well equipped for the task, and still have the other person feel like a thing.

I think the transmission of love comes down to these objects:

Two hands … as in holding
Two feet … as in playing footsie
One hand and one foot … as in rubbing
Four arms … as in lingering within a real hug
Four eyes … as in holding a soft gaze for a long time

It’s a short textbook but it’ll do just fine.