Day Eleven Some More: Hands

So simple this. A group of us were walking to a store that sells rice. Lydia wants to give good quality rice to the families of the kids she supports. We deliver it tomorrow morning, and it will be much appreciated.

We were strolling down the back streets of Toubacouta. And two of Lydia’s kids were with us. I was struggling to learn their names and suddenly the boys stopped. One of them picked up a stick and drew “Ali” in the sand. Then the other fellow grabbed the stick and drew “Aziz”. So there we have it … the names of my new friends.

As we walked on, Ali took my left hand and Aziz the right. For the first time in my life, I believe, I felt like “dad”. Words cannot express the joy that flooded through me. An astonishing experience. I know I would have been a good dad and today, for a few minutes, I got to live beyond the yearning for fatherhood. Such a fortunate man I am.

Back at Lydia’s home, Aziz sat beside me at the table and let his arm touch mine. Oh my. Time stood still.

There’s something astonishing happening in Toubacouta. A Canadian fellow is experiencing love flowing, from within and from without. It’s a gift beyond my dreams.

What does this all mean? I feel a supreme opening of the heart – beyond language, beyond skin colour, beyond environment. I am blessed.

Goodnight, my friends. I await the drums.

Day Five: Friends From Away

Lydia, Jo, Lore and Baziel are officially my Belgian family. They care about me, want me to thoroughly enjoy their country, and laugh with me. Having lived alone for four years, I feel blessed that they want to spend time with me.

Lore’s name is so difficult for me to pronounce. I won’t even try to explain it to you. But I’m determined. It’s been three days and I’m getting a little better. I know at home I feel the same way – people, such as “Johanna” (Yo-haw’-na), deserve to have their name pronounced correctly. It’s a huge part of who they are.

Lore invited me to go walking with her and her horse Jackson this morning. She’s 16 and a most kind human being. We set off on the main road and then narrow country lanes and then muddy paths through fields. All three of us were having a grand time. Lore absolutely loves horses and Jackson is the prime example. She can see herself owning a riding stable someday, and both massaging and shoeing her four-legged friends. I just know she’ll do it.

We came upon a fellow named Didier on a country road and stopped to chat. What a great smiling guy, and he knew English so I could fully participate. He and Lore talked some in Flemish and I was happy to stand back and listen to the cadence of the language.

Further on, we stopped at the home of one of Lore’s friends. The girl was still sleeping but no worries – her mom came bouncing out of the house to say hello. She only spoke Flemish but I thanked her with my English for the yummy cookies she had made for me and the rest of the crew. What she understood was my eyes.

Our third stop was at Lore’s old elementary school. Young kids were out for recess and crowded the fence to get close to Jackson. All those bright eyes. The Canadian couldn’t compete with the horse, and that was fine.

Lore, Jackson and I talked so easily together. It didn’t matter at all that our ages were 16, 3 and 69. We were simpatico.

***

This afternoon, Lydia, Lore and I took the train to Ghent, to be joined later by Jo and Baziel for dinner. The trip was a flow of green fields and red slate grooves, but then there was our arrival! Ancient murals adorned the walls of the train station, and as we exited the building a panorama of classic European architecture sank into me. I stopped and stared, again and again. Canals and bridges welcomed us here and there … and everywhere.

Happy people rode by on their bikes (with nary a helmet to be seen!) Couples strolled arm in arm. Little kids zoomed between the tall folks. Trams flowed along. Sirens occasionally wailed, and had me realize that I’d never heard this authentic European sound except in movies.

There’s an energy in Ghent that’s palpable, fueled in part, I believe, by the large university population … it seems to be simple happiness. And I fell into it almost immediately.

I sang O Canada twice today – once to the two hostesses in a jewelry shop and once to Baziel as our family (!) meandered through the curvy streets after dark. The lights of Christmas animated the old buildings, casting shadows over the brick. “C’est magique!”

I am loved in Belmont. I do believe I am loved in Belgium. And I give it right back in both places. Salut, mes amis!

Safe Landing

How easily today fades into yesterday.  I planned to blog last night but the last minute events of Friday ran away with me.  Today I fly to Belgium.  Yesterday I did things I love with people I love and crammed packing and erranding between.

The love part was reciting “Twas the Night Before Christmas” to five classes yesterday morning and listening to my friends Liv and Braden sing their hearts out in concert last night.  Wide-eyed 5-year-olds gazed up at me as I jollied my way through the poem.  Their mouths as little o’s transformed into glee as I said “Twas” a second time … really fast.  My record yesterday was one minute and one second.  Oh, what a good boy am I!

My friends form the duo “Tragedy Ann” and they blend beautifully – as singers, as instrumentalists, and most impressively as human beings.  Their love for each other shone from the stage.  And songs such as the haunting “Regulars” shine a light on us human beings, this time the stories of ordinary folks who frequent a bar that is home.

Morning and evening were deliciously slow.  Still, the nasty little voice would sometimes intervene.  “Why did you say “Twas” to so many classes today?  You’ve got a big deadline tomorrow.  And what’s with the concert?  You should be focused on the task at hand.”  Silly voice.  People are infinitely more lovely than schedules.  Don’t worry, frantic one, I’ll get the job done.  I’ll fly from Toronto tomorrow (today) at 6:00 pm.

Other parts of my day were a blur of doingness.  A stop at Best Buy to pick up an electrical outlet adapter for Europe and Africa.  Hmm.  Do I also need it to be a voltage converter?  I didn’t know and neither did the well-meaning salesman.  I bought a combo unit.

The kitchen counter was covered with stuff.  Most crucial was all the health info.  Make sure I take the vaccination card so Senegalese officials know that I’m protected from yellow fever.  And oh, where did I put the bottle of insect repellent – the type with super-DEET?  Clothes for very cold and clothes for very hot …

Wait a minute … I forgot to fill the nyjer feeder.  The new seed that I bought is still in the trunk.  C’mon, go go go!  Scissors to open the bag.  Feeder all dry now in the sink after a good washing.  Remember your physio appointment in London at 2:30.

Feeders filled, birds soon to be happy, I set off for London, just a little late for comfort.  Seven minutes to the freeway and now I can rev it up.  110 kph, not many cars … I’m golden.  I greeted the clinic receptionist with three minutes to spare.  Ahh …

Slow through the session of exercises and muscle stimulation.  That’s better.  But my re-entry into Scarlet got me going again.  “Once you’re home again in Belmont, you’ll have at least two hours of organizing time before you have to drive back to London for the concert.  No sweat.”

And then the moment of the day: At a stoplight, there’s a woman knocking on the passenger window.  She’s holding something.  I roll down the window.  “These scissors were on your trunk.”  Oh my.  “Thank you so much.”  As we started up on the green, I waved to my new friend in the rearview mirror.

Now you tell me … How exactly am I still in possession of my dear scissors?  Is there some benign force that’s wishing me well as I head off into the world?  I say “yes”.  And that voice simply says “Be with people.”

 

 

Crying and Sport

The Athletic is a fairly new website which follows the stories of professional sports teams in several North American cities. I love the Toronto news. Gifted writers analyze the play of the Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team with a level of insight that I haven’t seen before. And then there are the human interest stories about the players – some famous athletes and others recently uncovered. Bottom line: I click on The Athletic and find myself nodding or smiling or ah-hahing. It makes me happy.

Then there was today, and a masterpiece of writing from James Mirtle. The Leafs are on their annual Florida swing, with games Thursday in Tampa and Saturday near Fort Lauderdale. The history is that the players’ dads come on down but this time it’s the moms. James writes about the tender relationship between superstar Auston Matthews and his mother Ema. She talks about her parents in Mexico:

He started watching. They can see (Maple Leafs games) in Mexico. I would buy it (on satellite) for them, and they can see it. He kind of understands the game better than my mom. Mom only wants to go to see where Auston is. She’s always asking “Where is Auston?” She just wants to see her grandson, not the sport.

Woh. The tone is set, and it’s called love. Here’s more from Ema:

I’m very excited. I’m looking forward to seeing what Auston actually does. Because usually when you ask Auston – everything is cool, it’s fun. But he doesn’t tell you details. Guys don’t explain to moms what they do. I’m looking forward to seeing what goes behind all the work the team does before the game. And to spend some time with the team, with the moms, and of course with my boy.

Well … this is worlds away from how many goals and how many assists, how well Auston gets his wrist shot off, and whether he has what it takes to be a good backchecker. There’s something else, something big, going on.

I admire Auston so much. You’re going to make me cry because it’s hard for me to talk about Auston. He knew what he wanted since he was little. He always knew. Even myself, now looking back, all the things he used to tell me – he knew what he wanted. And to get in this market (in Toronto), who would have thought, right?

We’ve always asked our kids to be humble. It doesn’t matter if you have money or if you don’t. You always be humble. Don’t get things into your head. We always loved people like that. We wanted to raise our kids like that. We always saw kids that were spoiled, and they didn’t appreciate what they had. We didn’t want that for our kids. Auston, we tell him just to enjoy what you have. Be grateful.

I’m sure you feel it … Ema Matthews is a full human being. And you and I aren’t the only ones with brimming eyes. Here’s a sample of the comments that readers sent in:

I’m not crying. It’s just been raining … on my face.

For many years my wife sacrificed for our 19-year-old but even without the NHL, it was worth it. Auston’s mom is the real star. As are hockey moms everywhere that just want the game to be fun for their boys and girls.

I have to go call my mother and tell her I love her.

My next jersey is going to be Matthews. Ema Matthews.

Greatest story I’ve read on The Athletic so far. Thank you Ema for raising such a good young man. It’s both a pleasure and a thrill to watch him play for the team I’ve loved since I was a little boy.

Is any athlete’s mother as beloved by their fanbase as Ema Matthews is by Leaf fans?

***

We touch each other

Tomorrow, Death Comes

Ardently do today what must be done
Who knows?
Tomorrow, death comes

The Buddha

What if the rumour is true, that I will die tomorrow? First of all, I don’t have time for this. I need to pack for Belgium and Senegal. Secondly, I like a gradual approach to things. Knocking off in a few hours would be far too … spontaneous. Not to mention that I’d need to get my affairs in order first. And no, no – not that type of affair.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I could die right now and be happy. No regrets. It’s been a fine life. I’ve touched many people and have welcomed their sweet influence in return. I have done my part in having the Earth be a better place. I’d prefer to have twenty more years of human contact but if the jig is up tonight, I’ll lie down with a grin on my face.

But back to tomorrow. If the sands run out at 4:00 pm, how will I spend my morning? If I had superdupersonic speed at my disposal, would I jet off to some vacation spot that I’m supposed to visit before I die? Hmm. Guess I need to give you an example:

Bora Bora is the poster child of the iconic tropical paradise. This island sits 143 miles northwest of Papeete, in the South Pacific, and features the extraordinary turquoise waters, white sand beaches, and beautiful greenery you’d hope to find in the tropics – only it’s more fantastic than you can imagine.

Would that do it? Surely turquoise would provide the ending bliss appropriate for an ending human being. I’ll just cram some turquoise inside and all will be well. Maybe.

***

Speaking of cramming, how about a sumptuous meal at the world’s finest restaurant, which as we all know is … Osteria Francescana – twelve tables in the heart of Modena.

Italian hospitality is in the details
the ironed tablecloths and the polished silver
It is an ensemble of gestures that define a way of life
The table is where the journey begins

Blah, blah, blah

But if I’m about to expire, do I really want to be loosening my belt so my stomach can breathe? To need a nap before the really lengthy one sets in? No thanks.

***

Okay, what else? I know … sex! Eight hours of orgasmic bliss with multiple Hollywood beauties? Uhh … then a short remaining life of being sore and exhausted. More sleeping needed, again before the big snooze.

***

So, if not these imposters … what is left to ardently do?

How about finding one open-hearted one
either male or female
and looking deep into their eyes until mine close
gazing upon the beloved as my finale nears?

Yes, that will do nicely

Leaping

I was driving to school this morning on a country road. At one point, I was vaguely aware of a cornfield to my right, full of old, yellow stalks. Suddenly a deer comes out of the corn and leaps the fence, clambering onto the road. I slammed on my brakes and saw the doe pass by about fifteen feet in front of my bumper.

“Oh my God, I could have killed that beautiful animal! How could I live with myself?” My mind zoomed back forty years to another country road, in Alberta, and the sickening sight in my rearview mirror of a red fox flying through the air. He died on the asphalt and I was undone in grief.

“Do no harm, Bruce.” That’s been a mantra of mine for many a moon. Killing a living being, even unintentionally, is a gross example of harm, but so is ignoring someone at a party or not opening a door for a struggling senior.

There was the beauty of the being bounding over the fence. There was the sacredness of life. There was blood and ruin in my mind. There was transcendence of our earthly fetters. There was love. Thoughts mingled and twisted. All springing from a single moment in time.

Part of me doesn’t want to soar on the wings of ten seconds here, ten seconds there. “It’s too tiring.” A wiser Bruce, however, says to feel it all … because all will come my way.

We leap
We fall
We leap again

Two Statues

First of all, for those of you who read yesterday’s post, Willie signed at 4:55!

***

I’m a Buddhist. I feel it in my bones. Mr. Buddha was a smart guy. He saw that life is not only pleasure, praise, gain and fame. It also has its fair share of pain, blame, loss and disrepute. And we humans can embrace it all.

On my back patio sits a cement Buddha, about a foot-and-a-half tall. His eyes are closed, his head is bowed … perfect repose. I used to look at my friend a lot, but not very much lately. I wonder why. I still meditate about four times a week, adopting the same pose. Sometimes I reach a deep peace, or rather a deep peace comes upon me. And often love bubbles up: for my friends, for all of us human beings, for life. It’s very soft and quiet.

On an end table in my living room sits another Buddha, this one in polished stone, an inch-and-a-half tall. His head is up, his eyes meet mine, his smile includes and his belly rounds. I like him more than my friend who’s just shed his mantle of snow. Hmm.

A few weeks ago, I experienced an orientation to the work of the Evolutionary Collective. It was in Asheville, North Carolina. I got to be in the physical presence of some fine folks whom I had previously only known online. I sum up the experience with one word: “eyes”. We really looked at each other. We talked to each other, often within a sublime space of love.

On my meditation retreats, I was always encouraged to avoid eye contact, to leave people alone so they could deal with their issues. And these were silent retreats. Within them, I felt love for my fellow yogis but couldn’t express it outwardly.

I revere the tall statue
I adore the short one
They’re both fine fellows

Couple Love

I went to another house concert last night.  It was folk music – the songs of stories.  I listened to marvelous lyrics and voices … and I watched love unfold.

I’ll make up names for the stars of the show, and no, I don’t mean the performers.  Lillian and Mike are our hosts.  Most Wednesday evenings, they open their home to all who have ears to hear.  While the musicians were playing last night, this lovely couple sat close to each other, touching.  They held hands.  I think we should all do that.  Every so often, I’d sneak a glance over to them, and a tiny smile would show up on my lips.

Each week, Todd plays a first set on the keyboard.  His fingers float and caress.  After a few creations, he asks us to welcome “the amazing” Erica, she of the haunting voice.  Often at the end of a song, she’ll lean over and kiss the side of Todd’s head.  I’m sure that Lillian and Mike were in the background, nodding.

Jake’s voice has deteriorated.  It’s raspy.  I never heard him when the flow was sweet, and that’s just fine.  Last night, in the third set, he joined the evening headliners for a rendition of Comfortably Numb from Pink Floyd.  Jake didn’t hold back:

There is no pain, you are receding
A distant ship smoke on the horizon
You are only coming through in waves
Your lips move but I can’t hear what you’re saying
When I was a child
I caught a fleeting glimpse
Out of the corner of my eye
I turned to look but it was gone
I cannot put my finger on it now
The child is grown
The dream is gone
I have become comfortably numb

As Jake gave us his all, I caught a fleeting glimpse of Julia.  She was beaming at her hubby and soon joined in with a delicate harmony to his melody.  The room fell into the beauty of it all.

Love lives
We take turns, you and me
One with the top line, the other with the bottom
So deeply in tune

Hayden

A 21-year-old athlete and a 6-year-old girl … friends.  Mitch Marner is a magician with the puck in the National Hockey League.  Hayden Foulon has battled leukemia for most of her life.  They’re each other’s heroes.

Mitch met Hayden in 2015 when he played Junior hockey for the London Knights.  He and some teammates visited kids at the Children’s Hospital.  And a bond with a very young human being was formed.

“She is my hero,” Marner said, his eyes welling up.  “What she has gone through and the way she has fought in her brief life is an inspiration for all of us.  All I want to do is try to bring some happiness to her life any way I can.”

He gets it.  This life is not about fame and money and status.  It’s about love.  It’s about looking over there and seeing a person who’s undoubtedly dealing with some big issue – whether it’s health, self-esteem, relationships, money or the death of a loved one.  They need our presence.  Not necessarily wise words.  Just being there.

On tonight’s hockey telecast, we saw a video message from Hayden to Mitch:

“I love you, Mitch.  I miss you.  Please score a goal for me tonight.”  And then she blew him a kiss.  I bet millions of us were pulling for him to put a puck in the net for Hayden.  I had all my digits crossed every time Marner took a shot.  Alas, no goal.  But look what did happen: Hayden got to watch her hero.  Mitch got to think about his.  And we at home were warmed by their friendship.

Oh, how powerful we can be.

We Are the Champions

I went to see Bohemian Rhapsody tonight.  It’s the story of Freddie Mercury and Queen.  We met his loves (female and male), saw his explosive personality (firing anyone who didn’t share his vision) and watched him descend into alcohol and drug abuse.

We also heard Freddie soar.  The grand finale was onstage at Live-Aid, the 1985 concert in Wembley Stadium to raise money for the starving people of Ethiopia.  Closeups showed the passion of the man, his full-throated blasting of the lyrics into the hearts of the 72,000 in attendance, and millions around the world.  The man of the hour jumped, twisted and twirled.  He threw hit fist aloft and spat out the words.  Thousands of fans sang along to Radio Gaga as Freddie strutted his stuff.

The best for me was We Are the Champions.  Freddie’s power tore me apart.  My mouth dropped open:

We are the champions, my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting till the end
We are the champions, we are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions of the world 

Power.  Such intense power, surging through Queen and their adoring devotees.  Oh, if we could harness such joy for the good of the world.  Imagine thousands and millions united in love, not for a celebrity, but for all of us.  We’re all champions.  Love exuded not for someone famous, but just to do good in the world.  To know in the end that we matter.  We give and someone out there is receiving.

Oh, Freddie
You made ’em laugh, you made ’em cry
You made us feel like we could fly

Thanks