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.

 

 

 

Many Together

This afternoon I was one of 240 people showing up to experience the work of the Evolutionary Collective, as facilitated by Patricia Albere, the organization’s founder.  We showed up virtually – on Zoom.  The technology allows us to view 25 people at a time on our computer screens.  Amazing … all in real time.  Some of the folks online today chose not to turn their video on, so their little rectangles were blank, save for their name.  I’m guessing that 200 of us were visible to all of us.

Clicking on an arrow, again and again, allowed me to see 200 human beings.  It took my breath away.  Young folks, old ones and in-betweens.  Men and women.  All the way from sitting erect to almost lying down.  An infinity of clothing choices, and of living rooms.

I had never experienced such a volume of intimacy.

There’s a love that doesn’t require time, history, shared events.  I felt that love today.  And I decided to express it.  I would look at each face and say “I love you.”

I started.  Zoom sets it up with five rows of five people.  In the top row is the person who logged in on this computer (in my case – me!) and four more folks.  I was second from the left.  I looked at the woman in the top left corner and said “I love you.”  Then I skipped me and addressed the third, fourth and fifth person in order.

Then it hit me “I left out Bruce.”  Hmm … such a common mistake in the world of humanity.

So I began again.  In the back of my head was the thought “How am I going to say “I love you” to 240 people and still listen to Patricia and folks who are sharing?  I better speed up.”

Hit again.  “I’m not even seeing these people.  It’s “Hi-Bye” and on to the next.  There was no noticing the beauty of each, no sense of lingering there.

So I began again.  I decided to take five seconds for each of us, and to look inside every one.  A voice intruded: “But you won’t get around to everybody!”  I paused, and realized the voice was correct.  Perhaps, though, the ones not gazed upon will somehow be included.

I reached 59 souls before the call ended, including me
It was enough
We connected
I smiled

How Wide Is Our We?

I fear that some of us are only experiencing “me” right now.  The mind is so full that the “we” is having a hard time finding its way in.  “I want a tan.”  And so Vancouver beaches are full of folks enjoying the unusual sunny weather.

I get that most of us, however, are living and breathing beyond the boundary of our skin.  We think of our parents and grandparents, of our dearest friends.  We’d go through hell for these folks.  We have so many memories of their goodness reaching out over the years.  They must be protected by our physical absence.

But is there more?

At my local coffee shop, now shuttered, there is a fellow who doesn’t like me.  “So … you didn’t know that, school teacher?”  I’ve actually enjoyed my conversations with him.  I’ve felt twinges of antagonism towards him but mostly it’s just curiosity.  Can I include him in my we?  For the sake of all beings, I must.  Personality conflicts represent one layer of reality.  We need to ascend far beyond such boundaries.

Then there are that infinite number of human beings that I don’t know.  On my daily (and solitary) walks, I often meet them.  They show up on my TV screen and on Facebook.  They too are part of my family.  I must include them as well.

I don’t have to like everyone.  For sure, I don’t.  But I do need to love everyone … not the possessive “You’re mine” type of love, but a far wider embrace.  We’re together on this planet.  Your life – apparently unknown to me – is also deeply known.  In whatever language, in whatever environment, you pass through the same joys and sorrows as I do.  You are my brother and my sister.

And so I stay away from your body … but not your soul.

 

The Span of Life

There was a time when Coco was a young girl. Her father sang her songs and played guitar. She was happy.

Then there was a rift between mom and dad. He left, and the music ended. For succeeding generations, singing and playing was always forbidden.

If Coco missed the joyous songs, she never said. The family made shoes for a living, and that became her purpose, along with caring for her children.

So says the film Coco.

Now Coco is very old. She doesn’t make shoes anymore. She almost forgets what was the singing was like … until her great-grandson Miguel came along. He didn’t like making shoes. He wanted to be a musician. So he sang to great-grandma. And a smile appeared.

***

There is a book called Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch. A young woman gives birth to her son. She rocks him and sings these words:

I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be

She keeps singing to him throughout the years … to a kid, a teen, a young adult, and an older one. It is her joy to do so.

In the sweep of time, mom becomes very old and very sick. She needs her son, and he needs his mom. So he holds her, rocks her, and sings:

I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My mommy you’ll be

Moments Shared and Passed On

I went to a lovely concert last night at the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club in London. Singing and playing were Liv and Braden, better known as Tragedy Ann.

I had met this marvelous couple two years ago, as they graced the stage of the London Music Club. That evening I felt our conversation in my heart, and I’ve carried them with me ever since.

Yesterday I saw Braden and Liv in the hallway before the music started. There were hugs and many light words.

I sat in the front row, way to the side of the massed instruments and the two singers. Early on, Liv was introducing a song inspired by The Velveteen Rabbit, and by “a book we were given”. I smiled back two years. Within the walls of the London Music Club, I had given them a copy of Jodiette: My Lovely Wife, the book I had written about my dear wife Jody. She died of lung cancer in 2014. “Is she talking about Jody’s book? Nah … must be some other one.”

Except it wasn’t.

From the song Velveteen:

There’s a tree
Not too far from home
Waving leaves like it knows me

I know such a tree. I wrote about it, and about hearing Jody’s voice there, hours after she died. The bare branches trembled.

I’m waving to you, Bruce. I shelter you. I protect you. I’m here, husband. I will always be with you, cheering you on.

And from Tragedy Ann’s Facebook page just now:

We had been tweaking Velveteen for a long time before starting to perform it live. Inspired by a story read to us as children and a book given to us as adults, we wanted to touch on the nature of lifelong love, loss, and doubt.

Thank you, my friends. We move each other throughout our days and years … you and you and you and you and me.

Lifeguard

Christie Blatchford was a miracle, an outspoken columnist for all four Toronto newspapers over her career.  She died yesterday from lung cancer.

I remember reading her in the Toronto Sun.  Right now, this quote fits her perfectly:

I can’t remember what you said
I can’t remember what you did
But I will always remember
How I felt when I was around you

Christie opened my eyes.  She showed me a powerful woman, a powerful human being, a straight shooter.  She touched thousands of lives.

I don’t want to be Christie Blatchford.  I want to be more fully Bruce Kerr.  Still, there was so much to admire … and so many people who revered her:

Blatchford passionately championed crime victims, Canada’s soldiers, Canada’s athletes – particularly Olympians – and publicly obsessed over law and order issues.  In court, sitting in the front row, she would be relentlessly grabbing at tissues, weeping as she chronicled evidence of child abuse and neglect.  And then she made readers weep when reading her account of the injustice.

In 1977, a copy editor at the Globe made changes and cuts to her sports column without consulting her, and the next day she called the rival Toronto Star.  She started writing for the Star soon after.

[In Afghanistan] she demonstrated to all of us that there was no place too remote or austere for her to live with us in, no situation too dangerous, no Canadian soldier too rough or crude for her not to win over with her unique directness, toughness and impeccable common sense.

[Christie] It was scary, so raw and important at the time, that nothing else will really match that experience.  I loved being with the soldiers.  I loved the fear.  I loved the excitement, the whole thing.

Blatchford connected with people in her stories in unconventional ways.  In some cases, she would hug them and befriend them beyond the confines of journalism.  At one extended trial, a witness became so attached to her that he reached out to clasp her hand for support as he nervously walked up the aisle to testify.

She would frequently help young reporters, all the while exhibiting her renowned profanity.

She was a model for knowing how to put your faith in your truths and not worry about the backlash, not worry about how people respond.  She was unafraid and unapologetic about her views.  It was inspiring for me.

She sparked visceral response.  Nobody was on the fence about Christie.  They either loved her or hated her.  She was never about the middle ground.  She had the most consistent moral compass of anyone I’ve ever encountered.

She took flying lessons.  She was a lifeguard, played basketball, ran marathons.  She was tenacious in everything she did.

I once signed a book for Christie Blatchford. and on the inside page I called her my hero.  She read the scribbled words, turned to me and rather succinctly told me to piss off.  Only she didn’t use the word “piss”.  Then she hugged me.

***

Thank you, Blatch.  You done good