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

After I’m Gone

After sunset then, I’d just finished meditating in the quiet of my bedroom.  My tradition is to ring the singing bowl three times as I come back to this rational realm of living.  That’s a touch that I witnessed many a time during meditation retreats … but I do it differently.  In the hall of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, the teacher rings the bell a second time before the sound of the first strike fades, and the same with the third.  I wait until the flow of each has fallen into silence.  It feels right so I do it.

Headlights passed before my window left to right and right to left, way off in the distance on Harrietsville Drive.  I rose from the chair … and lay down on my bed – an unusual choice in such a moment.  I rested on my back in the darkness and closed my hands over my heart.  There was no intention.  My hands merely found their way to the centre.

A perfect coffin dweller, I thought.  So there I was, feeling into my life.  My casket time may be next week or thirty years down the road.  Either way, it’s coming.  I wondered if I’ll leave something behind.  Would it be so awful if I didn’t?  No.  But I think I will.

A Grade 6 boy approached me at home time today and whispered “Don’t tell anybody, but I think you’re the best teacher in the school.”  I smiled and put my hand on his shoulder.  “Thank you.”  I’m actually a volunteer in the class, but I appreciate his thought.

On the way home, I stopped at the local arena to vote in Canada’s federal election.  On the way out the door, I saw a school bus come to a stop, and out came one of my favourite students from three years ago.  She’s in high school now.   We walked towards each other.  I know I made an impact on her back then but she was nervous with me today … a little distant, a little formal.  We traded news and said goodbye.

One kid, one teen.  I like to think I’ve touched both of their lives, even if that wasn’t so clear today.  And now I smile as I write.  The answer has bubbled up:

Yes, you have

 

More Than One

We’re home in Belgium, having said goodbye to our home in Italy. And then there is the question “What makes these places home?” The roll of the land is very beautiful, as is the grandeur of the old buildings. Tourist attractions abound, as do fine hotels and B&Bs. Still, the answer isn’t there.

It is very simply people who beckon me home. Perhaps we meet in the cool of this baguetteria in Roma. Maybe in our car today on the way to Oudenaarde. We gather. In the evening, Lore, Lydia and I watched The Notebook. It was the first time for me, maybe the twentieth for Lydia. She cried. My eyes were also moist as we watched a true love unfold over time. The three of us shared such a human experience. We all want to touch and be touched.

In a few days, Jo and Lydia’s son Baziel, and Anja and Curd’s daughter Olivia will fly with me to Canada. We will see wondrous things. We will go to wondrous sporting events. The true wonder, however, will be in sharing moments together, caring for each other, hanging loose in a most delightful way.

Grad

Yesterday was my nephew Jaxon’s graduation. I was so proud of him. Seventeen years of life experience, and like any kid many ups and down. Jaxon persevered, buoyed by his commitment to basketball, and there he was before we left home, looking so spiffy in his formal blues. Even his tie was spot on.

As we entered Oilfields High School, there were the young women graduates, with their flowing gowns and dressy hair. The men ranged from formal to western, with five or six cowboy hats sprinkled through the crowd. Smiles abounded.

Before the ceremony, I wandered into the Learning Commons, a fancy name for the library. The woman greeting me glowed as she mentioned the circular drums hanging on the wall. Drumming circles are a regular feature, attracting 15 or 20 students for the creation of music together. Upstairs was a lounge that often features guest speakers, most of whom speak of things that young people face, summed up by “self-esteem”. And throughout the school day, students are welcome to leave class and come to the Commons to work on projects. “There’s a lot of love in this school.”

About 35 graduates paraded one by one along the aisles of the packed gym. Some were confident. Some shuffled. All were honoured. Beamed on the wall were grad photos, plus ones from infancy and childhood. We heard of each person’s favourite memory of Oilfields and what they wanted for the future. The announcer let us know that one boy “simply wants to be happy”. How lovely. No grand athletic achievement, career or lifestyle … just the basics.

The grads sat on the stage. A woman named Jace (same name as Jaxon’s brother), stood in front of us to thank the parents. She spoke so profoundly of the gifts her mom and dad had given. She cried. Many of us did as well. It was a profound message that reached all corners of the room. Hours later at the dinner, I thanked her for the remarkable transmission of love. She put her hand to her heart in response.

Near the end of the ceremony, an Oilfields tradition unfolded. The graduates had chosen a guest speaker, and the vote was nearly unanimous. The teens wanted Mr. Hughes to speak. He retired last year as an Oilfields Math teacher after thirty years at the school. The girl introducing him was clearly moved by Chris Hughes, a fellow who often brought muffins to class, and whose conversations with the kids trumped fractions and parallelograms every time.

I also was moved as Chris spoke. Most of the time, his back was to us because his front was for the kids. It looked like he made eye contact with each one as he roamed back and forth. The smile was non-stop and love flowed freely between teenagers and a 65-year-old man. After the festivities, I approached the revered one and told him how it was so clear that he’s made a huge impact on these young people. He said “Thank you,” his eyes locked with mine.

As a final touch, each grad took a rose as he or she left the stage and sought out someone in the crowd who had helped them complete high school. Lots of reaching out to, lots of grateful receiving.

The dinner was lovely. Our family of six ate together at a round table, one of maybe thirty in the room. There was a joyous buzz in the place, something that naturally developed without a drop of alcohol. During the dancing afterwards, Lance and Nona (Jaxon’s mom and dad) showed the crowd a step or two. Then there was magic: each grad danced with a parent, with love vibrating everywhere.

Thank you, Oilfields High graduates, for allowing me to share in your celebration. I only know one of you and I know you all.

Getting A Bang Out Of Life

I should be a better waterer.  I moved into this condo in Belmont two-and-a-half years ago.  My neighbours and I each have a separate building.  The back of mine faces a farmer’s field.  Shortly after I moved in, my builder had a locust tree planted in my mini-backyard.   It was already ten feet high when it hit the earth.

I didn’t water my leafy friend.

Now, as the leaves are emerging, there are several skinny and very dead branches.  Time to do better, Bruce.  I took a photo and rambled over to my local garden centre, where Jim knows about all things plant.  “Lop off the dead stuff, create an earthen bowl around the trunk, and give it a good watering once a week.  It’ll be fine.”  Ahh … the joy of friendly expertise.

I bought some topsoil and headed over to the rental place, which had just what I needed – a tree pruner.  Long wooden handle for one hand, a rope to pull the blade shut for the other.  Piece of cake.  This was yesterday afternoon at 2:45.  They closed at 3:00.  See?  The Gods were with me.

I was too busy doing nothing at home to get the project underway yesterday, but today was my rendezvous with destiny.  I was out there in my home maintenance clothes, ready to get covered with soil, and all set to show off my tree pruning skills.  The first dead branches were about six feet above the grass.  Insert blade opening around the offending bare one, pull the rope gently, and watch the twig fall gently to the ground.  Oh, what a good boy am I!

Hmm.  That one’s higher and a lot thicker.  I was at a bit of an awkward angle, maneuvering around the live branches.  Pull with right hand, left one on the handle > Nothing.  Pull harder > Pretty much nothing.  Okay, this isn’t working.  “Why don’t you just grab the rope with both hands and really reef ‘er?” > “Okay, I’ll do that.”

[And now for a pause that refreshes: You handy men and women in the crowd may possibly be gasping right now.  How could this homeowner be so … stupid?  Doesn’t he see the probable consequences of his proposed action?  Was he born in a cave, somehow managing to stay there until this moment?]

I pulled like the hero I no doubt am.

Schmuck!  The handle smashes into bone just above my left eye.  Falling.  Soft grass.  Warm flowing.  Heading to lights out … but no.  I stumble up, lurch to the garage and grab the paper towels.  Glasses in one hand.  Masses of white grope from the other to my face.  Red trickle down the lens, pretty against the amber and purple of my frames.

Brain exploding.  The neighbour’s doorbell.  Maddy’s hand on my shoulder.  “Come in.  Sit down.”  She gently removes the roll of paper towel from my elbow.  I keep pressing.  “Lean back against the wall.  Breathe slowly.”  Fading in and out.  Gary appears with a bag of ice.  Later, two big bandaids.  Thank you, my friends.

Twenty minutes later, I’m lying on my bed.  Far from sleep.  Exhausted.  “Go to the hospital.  You may have a concussion.  You’re okay to drive.”

Was I?  I knew I didn’t want to bother Maddy and Gary.  Who knows how long I’d be in Emergency?  “I can do this.”  And I did.  The twenty-five minute drive was almost uneventful.  I was slow and steady.  A wee bit of blood dripped from under the bandage.  I wiped it away.  No big deal.

The wait seemed long but it wasn’t.  My ice bag was now a cold water bag.  The staff were so friendly.  The doc had been around the block a few times.  No concussion.  A few sutures needed.  I gulped at that news, my wimpy relationship to pain coming to the surface.  Injecting the freezing agent hurt some but the four stitches were … seamless.

***

It’s hours later.  There’s a little smile on my face, just as there was during some hospital moments.  Some pain in my noggin.  What a silly guy, but essentially lovable.  It was another rich life experience.  I’m sure there’ll be many more.

To Sing a Song

Next week, The Evolutionary Collective is meeting for five days on the Monterey Peninsula south of San Francisco.  There probably will be a hundred of us there as we explore consciousness together.  Usually EC meetings are just during the day, but this time there’ll be some evening activities, such as … karaoke!

Woh.  I love karaoke.  It doesn’t matter if the voice is elite or if the songs are transcendent.  It’s about self-expression, from the heart rather than the mind.  The e-mail I received actually talked about that – choosing a song that speaks of love, of togetherness, of spirit.

So … what shall I do?  I suppose nothing is a choice but that feels pretty pale.  “Just go ahead and sing, Bruce.  You’ll reach people.”  Thank you, dear inside voice.  That’s what I’ll do.

I sat quietly for about four seconds and then a song burst through.  It’s resided in my heart for decades.  John Denver and Joe Henry collaborated on the creation:

The Wings That Fly Us Home

There are many ways of being in this circle we call life
A wise man seeks an answer, burns his candle through the night
Is a jewel just a pebble that found a way to shine?
Is a hero’s blood more righteous than a hobo’s sip of wine?

Did I speak to you one morning on a distant world away?
Did you save me from an arrow?  Did you lay me in a grave?
Were we brothers on a journey?  Did you teach me how to run?
Were we broken by the waters?  Did I lay you in the sun?

I dreamed you were a prophet in a meadow
I dreamed I was a mountain in the wind
I dreamed I knelt and touched you with a flower
I awoke with this: a flower in my hand

I know that love is seeing all the infinite in one
In the brotherhood of creatures, who the father, who the son?
The vision of your goodness will sustain me through the cold
Take my hand now to remember when you find yourself alone
You’re never alone

And the spirit fills the darkness of the heavens
It fills the endless yearning of the soul
It lives within a star too far to dream of
It lives within each part and is the whole
It’s the fire and the wings that fly us home
Fly us home
Fly us home

How astonishing lovely.  And I’ll be singing it to the beloveds on May 3 or so.

I have about ten days to memorize the words.  Some of them have already worked their way into my heart.  I know that the rest will follow suit in their own good time.  They’ll be part of me when I open my mouth one evening in Asilomar.

And then there’s the singing.  I sat down at the piano last night and discovered what note I needed to start on.  I chose a low F.   The song has a range just beyond mine.  If I start too low, the bottom notes will be lost in a growl.  Too high and I’ll squeak out the soaring ones at the end.  I went to bed with the problem, sweetly confident that an answer would come.  This morning it did.  I can lower the notes of the second last “Fly us home” and make it work.  I’ll now start on the E and take in a lot of air before “There are many ways”.

It’ll be a performance, I guess.  But far more than that, it’ll be a love letter.

Stargirl

The school’s resource teacher, “Stephanie”, came up to me a few days ago and said she’d been reading a book to her young son.  As they got deeper into the story, she realized that the high school heroine reminded her of … me.  She not only suggested I read the book.  She went to the school library and scored me a copy.

Susan transforms into Stargirl and plunks herself down in her new high school.  She wears floor-length dresses, carries a rat around in her backpack, and sings “Happy Birthday” to kids in the lunchroom, accompanying herself on the ukulele.  Now, wait a minute … that doesn’t sound like me.  Stephanie urged me to be patient.  “You’ll see yourself.”

Stargirl dresses weirdly every day … me just occasionally.  I do remember one time two years ago when kindergarten kids had done my hair – about twenty closepins hung from me.  I decided to go to a community dinner that evening at the arena without removing the halo of wood.  Many, many stares greeted me, just like for Stargirl.  But mine is just an occasional burst of strangeness.

Stephanie mentioned that I don’t care what people think of me, just like Stargirl.  That’s partially true but I seek approval from a few people.  Mostly she’s right.  I say lots of spontaneous things, have been known to sing our national anthem loudly, and have done a little jig now and then.  But Stargirl is way more over the top.

“You’re kind, like Stargirl.”  Okay, I’ll go with that.  One time, when she was a cheerleader for football games, Stargirl went over to comfort an injured opposition quarterback.  She held him in her lap.  She would cheer for the other team when they were losing.  “Us versus them” was nowhere near as important as “all of us”.  Wow.  What if we just cheered for everyone in life?  I see myself as doing that.

The community of students rejected Stargirl when she had compassion for the opponent.  Only one girl showed up on her side.  The narrator of the story, who was in love with Stargirl (and she with him), wasn’t brave enough to stand beside her.  I don’t know how I’d fare in the face of massive shunning.

Stargirl was love.  No one was left out.  May I live up to her astonishing standard of care.