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.

The Desiderata

As a young adult, I had the poster on my wall for many years.  Within the delicate emergence of something beyond my self-centered concerns, it spoke truth.  The words vibrated inside me.  The poem rightfully took its place next to empty bottles of Chianti Ruffino wine, which I transformed into candles.

I would often look long at the whole spectrum of love that Max Ehrmann created.   I don’t remember analyzing the thoughts.  Instead I simply let them waft over me.  Somehow I knew that was enough.

There must have been one too many moves in my nomadic youth, because The Desiderata left me one day.  I don’t even remember missing it.  My walls filled instead with paintings – visual heart-tuggings rather than the majesty of the phrase.  I didn’t think of Max’s masterpiece for decades.

But the man has returned.  He smiles at me once more.  And it’s all so gentle.  Not all of the sentences still shimmer, and that’s okay.  The whole has guided me over the years, and I didn’t even know it.  A magical absorption was at work.  And I am the better for the words having roamed around within me for so long.

Here is The Desiderata.  I hope you enjoy it.

***

Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.  As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.  If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter, for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.  Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.  But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; many persons strive for high ideals, and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.  Especially do not feign affection.  Neither be cynical about love, for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.  But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.  Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.  You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.  Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.  And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.  With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.  Be cheerful.  Strive to be happy.

Dad

Today being Wednesday, it was time to venture into London to hear folk music at the home of Christine and John.   “Acoustic Spotlight” is their creation.  The first set always features the piano majesty of Jake Levesque, and usually includes Jake accompanying the impeccable vocals of his dear wife Julia Webb.  I’m especially moved when she sings one of Jake’s songs.  Tonight these lyrics slipped from her lips:

The stars burn bright over this town tonight
And it sure feels good to be home

Home indeed, within a living room of music lovers.

Tonight’s feature act was Emily Garber, a singer-songwriter of vividly “real” compositions, and with an edginess that reminded me of Alanis Morissette.  Sitting on the couch right in front of Emily was her dad Nathan.  Once she pointed him out to us, I could see that we were in the presence of family.  It wasn’t similar looks.  It was the bond that stretched between their eyes.

“I wrote dad a song.”  Emily admitted that the two of them have often tangled but the love I felt between them filled the room.  She sang “Forty Years” to him, and to us.  Her eyes never left his face.  Emily wrote about long ago, when her tiny hand fit into his, and she felt safe.  And then recently, when her two young daughters did the same with Gramps.  Dad was melting on the couch.  I watched him closely, wishing that I too had been a father.

Half an hour later, Nathan came to the front and Emily took his seat.  As he sang and played guitar, their eyes were once more joined.  Stillness hung in the air.  Father and daughter share a love of the song, and so much more.  It was as if they were thanking each other all evening.

I’m not a dad.  I’ve often wished I was.  But as I sit at home tonight, having witnessed the tenderness stretching between two human beings, I feel myself relaxing into not being a father.  I’m nodding my head in recognition of there being no deficit.  My life has not been “less than” because I don’t have children.  I feel the richness of many relationships.  The fact that no one has ever called me dad brings an ache to my heart and also a smile to my face.  So bittersweet this life sometimes is.  May I embrace it all till my time here is done.

 

Loving Profoundly

During the Last Supper, Jesus used the analogy of food to show his disciples what he wanted to give them: himself.

While they were eating, Jesus took a piece of bread, gave a prayer of thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples.  “Take and eat it,” he said; “this is my body.”  Then he took a cup, gave thanks to God, and gave it to them. “Drink it, all of you,” he said.

(Good News version of the Bible)

What does it mean to give all of myself to the other?  It is the deepest love, where I want you to be supremely happy.  I want to pour myself into you, and draw forth your best.  I want all of you – all of your sweetness and all of your power and all of your frailty – because every part is sacred.

Beatrice Bruteau reflected on Jesus’ commitment:

He means to put himself literally inside the other persons and … wishes to nourish them.  This is his way of expressing his love for his friends.  That love is offered to the very heart of their beings as persons.  It is not an approval based on their performance, nor an affection elicited by their agreeable qualities.  It is unmerited and unconditional, free and creative.

The effect of accepting this love is a whole new image of oneself, other persons, and the way the world is structured.  To be loved so profoundly and so securely, beyond all the circumstances of one’s conditions and qualities, satisfies the deepest longings of the human heart and therefore releases the energy that had been committed to the tasks of defending and augmenting oneself.  The loved person has an experience of being the interior and central person who is loved in this unconditional way, instead of being identified with the social positions and roles of circumstantial life.

Realizing oneself this way, one is able to perceive other persons as their interior and central selves instead of their social circumstances or temperamental qualities, and one is able to relate to them on that basis.  There is now energy to do this, because one no longer needs to protect oneself against the other person.  In fact, there is a surplus of personal energy that can be offered to other persons for their benefit.

If I love so immaculately, if my attention is “over there” in you, rather than focused on self-analysis, what’s possible for me, you and the world?  My eyes lift away from my belly button to meet yours.  I look into you and also pass through you to the entire human family.  All is relationship.  All is service.  All is love.

Day Nine: Homeward

It’s over … my west coast communion with Evolutionary Collective friends and my sojourn in the world of Berkeley, California. I’m in the big bird heading to Toronto and Belmont and home. I’m happy in the going, in the abiding, and in the returning.

There was a lovely long lineup at airport security this morning. All I did was mention to the woman behind me that the post-and-strap system to create weaving lines of people was a great invention. And then we began. Priya is Indian in origin and is heading to Singapore to surprise her mom and dad. It’s a big anniversary for them and the husband has orchestrated a surprise party for his dear wife. Neither know about the daughter showing up. She’s so excited. We talked of love, family and the joy of reunion. It didn’t matter an iota that she was young and I was old, that she’s from the business world and I’m from education, that she’s a woman and I’m a man. We felt the same need for connection even though our time together was measured in minutes. We hugged goodbye.

***

A huge mural at the San Francisco Airport filled a wall. You’ll see a photo of it if you’re seeing this on Facebook. It celebrated immigrants finding a new home in the Bay Area. The words on the plaque nearby drew a parallel between those people and the birds who arrive in the nearby wetlands. The painting was orange and green and blue. Flying off the canvas was a mother lost in the eyes of her son, a father tossing his infant daughter high in the air, a likely husband and wife whose auras were blending, a woman holding the head of a monk, folks dancing … It was such a celebration of life, of being thoroughly alive. The power of art to transform.

***

I was packing up this morning when I came upon the card I bought yesterday. A huge owl in mid-flap is looking right at me as he bursts through the sky at sunrise. There’s such power in his gaze and upstretched wings. I want that to be me: unstoppable, unwavering, unaffected by crosswinds. He’s going to have a place of honour in my home as a reminder of what’s possible in life. He’ll be on my Facebook page too.

***

An hour to Toronto. I’m looking forward to being with my loved ones – young, medium and old. I’ll have stories to tell, and I’ll delight in theirs. Home … by midnight.

I See Me

Long long ago, in a Canadian province far away, I worked with a psychologist in giving personal development seminars.  I was also active in the est organization, particularly The Hunger Project.  One of our local TV stations thought it would be a good idea to interview me about such matters, and so it happened.  I was nervous but engaged as I answered the interviewer’s questions.  Afterwards I was pleased with myself.

In a week or two, the TV folks provided me with a video tape of the interview.  I put it in the VCR and started watching.  Two minutes later, I turned the machine off.  I never looked at the tape again.  I was horrified to see how I looked and hear how I sounded.  Just swimming in “not good enough”.

I’ve pushed this incident to the back of my mind and it’s stayed there for the last thirty years.  A month ago, I got to participate in a “Love Panel” online.  Four members of the Evolutionary Collective Global community were being interviewed by an EC teacher.  The intent was to have people with some interest in Global hear from us what we’ve experienced.  I spoke from the heart, and laughed some.  Afterwards I was pleased with myself.

And now a week ago.  Patricia  Albere, the founder of the EC, sent us an e-mail containing news and teachings.  There was also a P. S.  Basically, click here to watch a 30-minute interview with four Globalites.  I stared at the words.  I froze.  I moved on … fast.  Thirty years and still the same fear of seeing myself.

And now last night.  A voice said, very calmly, “Watch it.”  Miraculously, just as calm, I said “Okay.”  I tilted my head in wonder.  Is this the Bruce I know speaking?  Maybe not.  It could be the Bruce who’s just emerging giving voice to wholeness, sufficiency, connection.

Thirty minutes later, I sat here on my couch, stunned.  I was loving the man who spoke.  I was seeing his beauty.  I was seeing his heart.  There’s no deficiency here.  There’s one marvelous flavour of human being just as yummy as all the other flavours I meet during my day.

Perhaps I am free.