Spreading

Today Canada discovered its first two cases of the Covid variant that originated in the United Kingdom.  A couple in Ontario were infected.  They had “no known travel history, exposure or high-risk contacts”.  Woh!  How did that happen?  The virus is so incredibly transmissible, defying normal reason.

The Earth is a big place.  How exactly did Covid reach Samoa and Fiji in the mid-Pacific Ocean, Greenland and … Antarctica!  On December 22, CTV News reported that “three dozen people have reportedly contracted Covid-19 at a Chilean research base in Antarctica, which for months was the only landmass untouched by the global pandemic.”

I wonder if anything else could go viral.

How about love?

Sometime in the 1980’s, I was crossing a parking lot in Lethbridge, Alberta.  A woman of perhaps East Indian origin was walking towards me.  As we got closer, she smiled and said “Hello.”  I mean a real hello, one that said “I see who you are.  I honour who you are.”  Thirty some years later, she is still with me.  Do you think a “little” gesture of contact like that could change the world?  I do.  What if each of us did the same thing for someone, with the same grandness of heart, only once in our remaining years?  That’s a lot of loving hellos.

In virus talk, the R Number is “a way of rating coronavirus’s ability to spread.  R is the number of people that one infected person will pass on a virus to, on average.”  If we want the virus to subside, the R Number needs to be less than 1.0.

I propose an L Number, a way of rating the ability of love to spread.  Genuine smiles will do nicely.  If for the rest of your life you aimed a lingering smile at two people rather than one, and if everyone else did the same, our L Number would be 2.0.

And a Lovedemic would take over the planet

A Story

Jack Kornfield is a Buddhist teacher, and the founder of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Marin County, California.  He shared this story with us, written by a woman.

It was Sunday.  Christmas, our family spent the holidays in the Bay Area, but in order to be back to work on Monday we had to drive the four hundred miles back to LA on Christmas Day.  Normally an eight-hour drive but with kids it can be a fourteen hour endurance test.  When we could stand it no longer, we stopped for lunch in King City – a little metropolis of six gas stations and three diners.  Road weary, saddle sore, I sat Eric, our one-and-a-half-year-old, in a high chair and looked around and thought “What am I doing in this place on Christmas Day?”  It was nearly empty.  We were the only family.

My reverie was interrupted when I heard Eric squeal with delight and glee.  “Hi there!”  Two words he thought were one word.  “Hi there!  Hi there!”  He pounded his fat baby hands (Whack!  Whack!) on the metal high chair tray.  His face was alive with excitement, eyes wide, gums bared in a toothless grin.  He wriggled and chirped, and then I saw the source of his merriment, and my eyes couldn’t take it in all at once.  A tattered rag of a coat, obviously bought by someone else long ago; dirty, greasy, worn baggy pants; the zipper at half-mast over a spindly body; toes that poked out of the old shoes; a face like none other – gums as bare as Eric’s, whiskers too short to be called a beard, and a nose (varicose) that looked like the map of New York.

I was too far away to smell him but I knew he smelled.  And his hands were waving in the air, flapping about on loose wrists.  “Hi there, baby!  Hi there, big boy!  I see you, Buster.”  My husband and I exchanged a look that was a cross between “What are we doin’?” and “Poor devil.”  Eric continued to laugh and answer “Hi there!  Hi there!”  Every call was echoed.

I noticed waitresses’ eyebrows shoot to their foreheads and several people were going “Hmm … umm” out loud.  This old geezer was creating a nuisance with my beautiful baby.  I shoved a cracker at Eric and he pulverized it on the tray.  I began to get upset.

Our meal came.  The cacophony continued.  Now the old bum was shouting from across the room “Do you know Pat-a-cake?  Atta, boy!  Do you know Peek-a-boo, Peek-a-boo?  Hey look, he knows Peek-a-boo!”  Really loud.  Nobody thought it was cute.  The guy was drunk, and a disturbance, and I was embarrassed.  My husband was humiliated.  Even our six-year-old said “Why is that old man shouting and talking so loud?”

We ate in silence, all except Eric, who was running through his repertoire for the admiring applause of a skid row bum.  Finally I had enough.  I turned the high chair.  Eric screamed and clamoured around to face his buddy.  Now I was mad.  Dennis went to pay the cheque, imploring me to get Eric and meet me out in the parking lot. 

I trundled Eric out of the high chair and looked toward the exit.  The old man sat poised and waiting, his chair directly between me and the door.  “Lord, let me out of here” I thought, “before he speaks to us.”  It soon became obvious that the Lord and Eric had other plans.  As I drew closer to the man, I turned my back, walking to sidestep him.  And as I did so, Eric, all the while with his eyes riveted to his new best friend, leaned far over my arm, reaching with both arms in a baby’s pick-me-up position. 

In a split second of balancing my baby and turning to counter his weight, I came eye-to-eye with the old man.  Eric was lunging for him, arms spread wide.  The bum’s eyes both asked and implored “Would you let me hold your baby?”  There was no need or way for me to answer since Eric propelled himself from my arms into the man’s.  Suddenly a very old man and a very young baby consummated their love relationship.  Eric laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder.  The man’s eyes closed.  I saw tears hover beneath his lashes.  Aged hands full of grime and pain and labour so gently cradled my baby’s bottom and back.  I stood awestruck.  The old man rocked and cradled Eric in his arms for a moment, and then his eyes opened.  He said, in a commanding voice as he looked directly at me, “You take care of this baby.”  Somehow I managed “I will … I will” from a throat that contained a stone.  He pried Eric from his chest – unwillingly, longingly – as though he was in pain.  “God bless you, ma’am.  You’ve given me my Christmas gift.”

I said nothing more than a moderate thanks.  With Eric back in my arms, I ran for the car.  Dennis wondered why I was crying and holding Eric so tightly.  And why I was saying “How could I have forgotten?  How could I have forgotten?”

Revealing

The painting by Alex Grey hangs in my family room downstairs. I bow to the two people nearly every day. It feels right to do that.

Is it two lovers? A parent and child? Best friends? I don’t know. The image goes beyond the particular to the universal. We, all of us, are meant to hold each other in such reverence.

But …

Are the noses too close, ignoring the standards of personal space?

Does Alex showing the arteries and veins so intimately reveal bad taste? Surely things need to be well-covered, preferably with skin and clothing.

If the two people really enjoyed each other, shouldn’t they be smiling widely? All we see are gently upturned lips.

Is that the Earth and moon? What they doing there, distracting us?

If they have to hug, why don’t they do it in a normal way? No hand on top of the other’s head.

Finally, the eyes. It’s pretty uncomfortable holding the gaze like that. Right? Not so direct, please. And what’s with the line of light between? Artistic license, I guess.

***

What do you say, friends and neighbours?

Too much?
or
Just about right

Treasure in the Mailbox

It’s been hard for this volunteer to be away from the 11- and 12-year-olds at school since March.  We teach each other and we learn from each other.  Plus kids often bounce through life.  We adults could use more of that bounce.

A few weeks ago, I got to see my young friends on Google Meet.  That was cool.  All those masked faces talking about their exploits.  “We did (this)!  We did (that)!”  Since then, radio silence from them and me.

However (!) today there was a letter amid all the bills and ads.  It was from “The Grade Six Class”.  My heart soared, and I skipped into the house.  Notices can wait.  I tore open the envelope of what’s really important.  Here are a few gems:

Bonjour, Mr. Kerr.  How are you right now, hopefully doing great.  Make sure to keep exercising and maybe I’ll see you around again.  P.S. Sorry for the hole in the page, I was trying to erase.

Hey, Mr. Kerr.  I hope you are staying safe!  I wish you were here but if the pandemic is over soon the whole class is hoping you come back.  Hope to see you soon!

Hi, Mr. Kerr.  Thank you for everything you have done for us.  I hope to see you soon.  I miss you.

Hi, Mr. Kerr!  Are you still going on walks?  We will be doing some more baking soon!  I wish you were here in the class with us.  I hope to see you soon.

I hope the same thing, dear children.  Absence is absolutely making this heart grow fonder.  And these kids graduate in June.  I’ll be so sad if I don’t get to be with them … at all.

I need to remember
We are together
Even if apart

TV That Does Good

The Mandalorian is a TV series, now in its second season, that’s available on the Disney Plus streaming service.  It carries on the legacy of the Star Wars universe, offering new characters and tantalizing connections with old ones.  The hero is from Mandalore.  He’s a bounty hunter who comes across “The Child” (an infant) and decides to protect him as he hunts down the bad guys.  The Mandalorian lives in a Wild West land, except that land covers the vastness of space.

There are a lot of action adventures on offer in living rooms and movie theatres.  They present an escape from dreariness and fear, well represented these days by Covid.  But is there more?  Can media give us healing and transcendence and love?  Surely our personal relationships are where these values reside.  But only there?

I love going on the What’s New on Disney Plus website to see what folks are writing about this or that show.  A few days ago, a fellow posted this:

“I’ve been trying to get my mom into The Mandalorian because she loves Star Wars.  For some reason, she couldn’t get into it.  When I asked why, she said it’s because she’s a woman.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe there are a lot of women that love this show, and not just for Baby Yoda.”

I started reading the replies.  Here’s a sample from the six hundred.  Please enjoy them.

***

Strong, mysterious man with a soft spot for babies and kids
What’s not to love?

One of the things my wife and I share is our love of Star Wars

Gender is meaningless.  The Mandalorian is awesome

Has she heard Pedro’s voice? [the actor playing The Mandalorian]
That alone should be good reason enough

My mom really enjoys watching The Mandalorian.  She gets excited every Friday.  Even my grandma got into it

Love it!  I think the strong characters and the non-wussy women
are fantastic

I love the sense of humor

Honestly, I think that if it wasn’t for the way Mando protects the child
I wouldn’t be waiting impatiently for the next episode

I love the “space western” feel it has

Far too many men try to gatekeep us out of geeky things
We mustn’t do it to ourselves

It illustrates that a manly man can be a father

Love watching it with my 13-year-old grandson every week

Tell your mom in the Mandalorian way of life, women are equal warriors
and some of the most fierce and famous Mandalorians are female

It doesn’t make you less of a woman to like something

I count the minutes until the next episode

My mom loves anything and everything Star Wars.  And she’s 89-years-old!

I look forward to Friday nights when my husband and I get to watch
The Mandalorian

***

Sweetly said, everyone

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