Day Two: Sweat

I was standing on the platform of the Mets – Willets Point subway station yesterday – dripping sweat.  It was 11:30 pm.  What an adventure to be bathed all day.  The players were shining in the sun, and so were my 50,000 viewing companions.  At home, I’ve mostly lived in my air conditioning bubble, but not so in New York.  I have a fan in my Airbnb room and I have it on full blast all night.

My day started with a woman, and ended with another one.  Rohina and I met in the Airbnb kitchen.  She works for Unicef and will soon be off to Africa for a short-term posting.  There’s a gentle smile and a love for New York City.  “It doesn’t matter that I’m brown and a woman.  It’s New York!”  I felt the instant connection. 

Since Rohina leaves in a few days, and I get home around midnight each day, it’s likely we’ll never see each other again.  Ah … the moments.  I told her about one of the passwords I use: “lasttime”.  You never know.

At the end of the day, I got off the subway at the 52 Street station.  I was face-to-face with a old woman wearing a head scarf.  She was crying.  “I missed my stop!”  I know all about being frazzled for a reason that other people might find frivolous.  Such as me getting back on the bicycle.  Compassion is needed.  The woman told me the stop that was hers and I walked down the stairs with her and then back up to the other platform.  “Get on the next train and then get off at the first stop: ‘Woodside – 61 Street’.”  She asked me to wait with her on the platform, and I did.  As the train inched away, we waved and smiled through the pane of glass.

At the US Open, the crowds were ginormous.  I loved it!  As we filed out of the tennis center in the late evening, at one point we were funneled towards a narrow stairway.  We advanced slowly to the stairs.  No one pushed.  A woman to my left paused and let me go first.  Lovely.

See?  I wrote an entire post without mentioning tennis matches!

Day One: To New York City

The blog posts I’ve most enjoyed writing have been part of a trip.  And here I go again.  I’m heading to the US Open tennis tournament.  Adventures will abound over the next sixteen days.  And I’ll try not to write about tennis all the time!

Toronto Airport is where I sit.  I hadn’t driven the two hours from Belmont, Ontario to Toronto for eighteen months.  This morning I welcomed the 401 highway as an old friend.

The airport is quiet.  Only passengers and employees are allowed onsite.  I wait happily in the departure lounge. 

As I walked the long halls to Gate F98, the moving walkway hummed beside me … empty.  Until two little girls on their scooters came rambling along – going the wrong way on a one-way street.  And here came a young couple entering the walkway, masked up like all of us.  They noticed the sliding kids at the last second, and I think their faces tightened.  It definitely looked different than when folks smile under their masks.  I wanted them to celebrate the exuberance of childhood.  I guess they had other ideas.

And now the plane. I was thrilled to have a window seat. Minutes after sitting down, however, everything shifted. I started talking to the young woman who had joined me. She mentioned her husband, who was sitting two rows ahead. Bam! Window seat out the window and I heard myself offering to switch so they could sit together. No thought … just a flooding of words. I marvelled how something so important could shift to meaningless.

My new seatmate was another woman, maybe ten years older than the first. We talked briefly about visiting New York. I told her about two of my local favourites: the Circle Line cruises around Manhattan and McSorley’s Pub. I was super duper enthusiastic, and she went quiet. Memories of “You’re too much, Bruce” came for a visit. I decided to be silent and see if she’d initiate more conversation. She didn’t. So we just said goodbye on landing. Should I tone it down? Am I scaring some people? No and yes. Marianne Williamson appeared in my brain:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves “Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?”  Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine, as children do.  We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It’s not just in some of us.  It’s in everyone.  And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

And that’s enough for tonight.

All of Us

Tyre Brett Sidney Jaidyn Jordyn Nicolas Jaycee Shea Maritza Judah Saige Yandel Hallie Kira Quinten Penelope Ignacio Luz Aliyah Kaden Ismael Alan Madeleine Fatima Gwendolyn Milo Chelsea Elisha Tiara Nathalia Jada Isaac Aydin Julien Nathan Terry Ryan Annabel Benjamin Eleanor Layton Janiah Bianca Quinn Kane Ximena Jaylan Jovan Pamela Luis Whitney Scarlett Amber Isai Riley Faith Dalia Arabella Kathleen Cristofer Abel Aliana Janiyah Delaney Alyson Milton Perla Moshe Kolton Rafael Ciara Reed Katelynn Robert Bryant Savion Byron Avery Kenley Madisyn Tyson Richard Luna Jax Courtney Guillermo Mya Dayanara Emmett Margaret Shayna Haley Corinne Luke Austin Dereon Uriah Hamza Yosef Josie Cael Andrea Henry Aaliyah Kaylynn Hudson Adison Valentino Tomas Roselyn Sariah Noemi Amina Alani Waylon Ariana Terrence Raquel Ayana Colten Amir Stephanie Callum Gemma Marlie Keagan Kellen Alvaro Kianna Eden Shayla Anabella Jennifer Destiny Estrella Marely Amirah Shane Brodie Demarion Carlos Bruce Molly Adam Ibrahim Kamron Alfred Cali Nikolai Cale Jeremiah Kelton Lilia Libby Landen Emery Meredith Trevon Jordin Mariama Yousouppha Lydia Jo Lore Baziel Alissa Leanna Damon Gregory Nathanial Diya Conor Clinton Aleah Jaxon Brayan Johan Leland Payton Keyla Alden Annalise Heath Kaleb Emely Kate Eduardo Titus Melody Anay Davon Kayden Cristal Angelina Adrianna Brennan Mohamed Gordon Beckham Carolina Ace Destiney Reginald Jean Kaylyn Yurem Tristan Lexie Rylie Adrian Gideon Parker Ronnie Alexandra Alicia Tristen Cordell Karli Juliet Kale Everett Jolie Jaliyah Elaine Leonel Dexter Esperanza Asia Hector Jamari Kymani Anabelle Rodrigo Saul Jason Amelia Kaya Carl Rihanna Ariel Saniya Mckenna Zoie Aspen Amiya Camila Jaiden Rex Brycen Kaylie Kasen Elianna Xavier Talon Khloe Kenyon Marcelo Liam Nathalie Denise Kyra Moses Jovanny Janiya Anna Maximillian Morgan Sandra Payten Madyson Makena Ashleigh Lauren Brooke Nataly Regan Johnathan Kole Anton Slade Zoe Jaxson Ada Kyleigh Ashly Jadyn Emilia Ean Joshua Allie Callie Kamden Samir Isla Matthew Jamal Deven Javier Kylan Darryl Desiree Miah Mohammed Arjun June Hannah Brandon Draven Erica Haylie Yair Micah Donna River Gerardo Antwan Charlize Ryann Kolby Omar Bridget Alivia Marlene April Sarahi Caitlyn Izabelle Kyson Savannah Jair Jenny Deacon Rudy Jaidyn Ronan Mariah Alyvia Katherine Amara Grayson Andreas Kiersten Fabian Cassie Mario Gary Genevieve Preston Davis Azul Jayda Shania Mallory Laila Taylor Marie Cora Juan Jayden Lola Claire Zack Garrett Darnell Bryce Arielle Aubrey Santino Dylan Lennon Cedric Brynlee Walker

Old Yeller

I was just a kid when I sat in a dark theatre to watch the 1957 film Old Yeller. I didn’t have a dog but I could feel the love between Travis and the yellow retriever. Old Yeller was a stray who ended up saving the family from an angry mother bear, a cow, a hog and a wolf (not at the same time!) The wolf bites Old Yeller on the neck, and the beloved dog contracts rabies.

To protect the family and other folks, mom brings a rifle out to Travis and Old Yeller. Travis kills his own dog.

I would have been around ten when I saw the film. I don’t remember being devastated about the ending … but clearly many people were.

Disney Plus shows Old Yeller, and a post on the Facebook fan page has brought lots of response. My take about many of the posters is they think crying is bad, dangerous, to be avoided at all costs:

Never want to see it again because of the ending

Umm … no thank you. Once as a child was enough for a few lifetimes.

I refuse to watch it again because the ending made me cry so much.

I can’t watch this while I’m pregnant. I cry too much.

My heart is still scarred from the book. Jesus, not a chance. That movie messed me up when I first saw it when I was like 6. Never again.

We were shown it at school when I was a kid. Imagine a whole gym full of 6th and 5th grade kids and teachers crying.

I don’t wanna cry …

***

So here we are as human beings
Some of us feel so much
Some of us shut it down

Tears show weakness
Tears are a blessing
There’s no right or wrong about this
Just people in their infinite variety

Sitting … Now

The sun is long gone as I open my eyes. From my meditation chair, I see a bit of grey in the sky and the sweep of snow across the field. Soon all will be black, except for two dots of light out past Harrietsville Drive – farms to the north.

I don’t know these folks but I usually greet them at night from my bed or chair:

Hello neighbours.

At this moment the world consists of the candle on my keyboard and the shining twins near the horizon. But I know that sooner or later they’ll have company. (I’ll stop tapping until the mystery guests appear.)

(I’m still waiting.)

Ahh … another light. This one enters from the right and passes through my life so briefly, leaving me at the left edge of the window.

Hello traveller.

And now from left to right flow two lights tied together, one red and one white.

Hello traveller.

I used to call out “travellers” but I soon realized that I couldn’t see who was in those cars. Perhaps it was just a single soul. I find myself hoping that there’ll also be a passenger in the front seat … so the driver isn’t alone.

Who are the human beings who live on those farms?
Who are the human beings who float over the land on the road?
And who exactly is the fellow sitting in this chair?
We don’t know

Day One: Departure Lounge

I’m in Toronto Airport, on the cusp of a grand adventure. Forty-two days from now, I’ll set foot in Canada again. Until then, I’m an honorary Belgian, Senegalese and American. All privileges. During this trip, will I be writing you every day, lilting over the events and people, the landscapes and architecture? I hope so, because no doubt there will be much to describe, to feel into, to celebrate.

There’s a main reason I travel: to come together with people, folks whose outward lives often seem so different from mine, but whose souls resonate with this Bruce. And here they are sitting in front of me in the departure lounge:

A tall young man in dreadlocks and Adidas sweats, fiercely punching his cell phone keys

A middle-aged Jewish couple, she with a head scarf and he with what I’d call a beanie, staring out into the rainy darkness

A well-bearded fellow resplendent in long hair, shorts, argyle blue knee socks and a purple baseball cap whose logo I can’t read

A cute blond teenager, alternating between her pink-edged iPad and her phone, with a glimpse of a smile on her face

A distressed looking Aer Lingus employee dressed in a sharp black suit, him no doubt dealing with the realities of a late-arriving airplane

A young man bouncing on his father’s lap, blissfully unaware of our overnight flight to Dublin, Ireland (and perhaps, like me, venturing on in the morning to Brussels, Belgium).

All human beings, doing the best they can to live this life with grace. Me too.

On we go across the big pond …

Napoli

Lydia and me in Napoli

***

I had heard lots of negative stuff about Naples: it was dirty, smelly, and so congested with traffic that you couldn’t drive into the city. So why go? Lydia was interested in seeing the catacombs – underground burial sites from as long ago as 200 AD. She and Curd figured out that we could drive to Caserta, take the train to downtown, and then the subway to the resting place of the ancients. Okay, let’s do it. I’ll hold my nose when the time comes.

We climbed the steps out of the Metro station, and just like my first view of New York in January, I was blasted with life – tall buildings with their laundry flapping off balconies, surges of smiling faces, cobbled streets. “Oh my God … where am I?” I just stood.

We headed up an incredibly narrow street, with five levels of balconies looming above, and cars squeezing by as we hugged the walls. Sadly, we were in destination mode, and I wasn’t fully being with my world. Soon we were at the gate of the catacombs and descending many stairs to the dark entrance. Stone walls said “Come on in” and we walked where the flesh and bones of thousands of people had come to rest. There were large holes in the walls for adults, small ones for kids. It was quiet and we were quiet. Only the tones of our tour guide broke the spell.

What did I want down here? It wasn’t holes in walls. There were many frescoes painted in recesses, showing wealthy folks. I wanted their eyes. And so I wandered around, seeking communion. Eye contact with those who have been dead for centuries … it was magical. There were messages coming towards me but they were just beyond my conscious mind.

We meandered through Napoli for hours. Little cafés welcomed us in. Servers smiled. Lovers kissed. Folks walked through the squares hand in hand. The descending sun shone golden on old stone. Life rippled around us and through us. Alleys hosted tiny bars with a couple of tables. I looked and looked and was everywhere mesmerized by the beauties.

I’m coming back, dear Napoli, hopefully with a new life partner. Together we will join the smiles, the pizza, the light on the harbour towards sunset. Such a home for celebrating love. All of us human beings deserve to be here.

Watching All the World Go By

“Lighthouse is a Canadian rock band formed in 1968 in Toronto, Ontario. Their sound included horns, string instruments, and vibraphone; their music reflected elements of rock music, jazz, classical music, and swing.”

I have proof in my pocket that “included” is really “includes”. In an hour, I’ll be in the front row of Koerner Hall, listening to them rock the house.

I’m sitting on a bench on Philosopher’s Walk, a path I strolled, also in 1968, as a University of Toronto student. Such great memories of open windows at the Royal Conservatory of Music – the tones of violin or voice drifting down. I look up to a glass balcony where I will no doubt be standing at intermission, looking down to a bench once occupied.

People in all their human flavours are moving left to right and right to left before me.

***

Eight runners just zoomed past: young adults, mostly in blue shirts and black tights. Their mouths were little O’s and the heavy breathing sounded synchronized. They were giving ‘er, one of the best parts of life, I’d say.

Now a little boy dressed in yellow, and in a stroller, leading his mom up the path. I say “Hello”. He gives me a sweet smile while she turns away. There is such yinning and yanging in this life.

To the left, just off the path, a grey-haired man gazes at a small sign, in the presence of fourteen trees. It’s a memorial to the fourteen female engineering students who were murdered in Montreal in 1989. His female companion lingers back on the path, looking impatient.

As I type, I hear a woman’s voice coming in from the right. She’s crying. I looked up to see her passing in front of me, laughing with her boyfriend. It’s so easy to get it wrong in this life.

Here comes a portly fellow with three friends. He points to Varsity Arena. “I used to play hockey in there. Our music department team was called the Gustav Mahlers. We were terrible.” The friends smile. Mahler was a Czech composer at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

I look up. Folks in fancy clothes are on “my” balcony, many of them drinking wine. I’ll share a room with them in a bit. They’re physically above me but we’re all charter members of the human family.

Time to go in. I’ll see you at the break.

***

As I walk to the front of the Royal Conservatory building, a trumpet sounds from above. Windows then and now.

***

I look down from the balcony, down to the twilight trees, down to an empty bench. The CN Tower shines blue in the distance. A couple walk the path hand in hand. All is well.

Presence in Absence

Objects contain absent people

Julian Barnes

I was watching a TV show last night about the wonders of New Zealand and its people. The host was very engaging. He had a syrupy voice that almost hypnotized me at times. At one point, I was nodding off when he spoke the words above. Huh? What did he say about objects? And what does it mean?

The day after, it’s clear. Dear human beings remain in place after they move on in life or in death. They continue to reside in precious objects. Such as …

1. I wrote a book about my loved one, called Jodiette: My Lovely Wife. About 1200 copies are spread around Canada and beyond. One sits on Anne and Ihor’s coffee table here in Toronto. Jody radiates from the pages.

2. The totem poles of Haida Gwaii, a huge island off the mainland of British Columbia, stand guard. Twenty-six of them tilt in the abandoned village of Ninstints. Hundreds of years of the Haida people remain in the wood.

3. I’m sitting in the waiting room of a walk-in clinic on Weston Road. Six others wait with me. The chair beside is empty and I think of the thousands of sick people who have put their rear end down in that spot. May they all have found health.

4. I wandered through the 911 Museum in New York City last week. I came upon a piece of paper, charred at the edges. It was a report about some project that a company was initiating. I imagined some young account executive holding this sheet as he or she spoke to colleagues and bosses. The person was still there in the paragraphs.

5. Value Village is a thrift store in London, featuring lots of quality used clothing. I go to Wellington Fitness next door and often see crowds of folks coming and going with their treasures. I think of the folks wearing other folks’ clothing and wonder if the energy of the previous owner shines through to the new one.

6. I bought a wooden mask in Toubacouta, Senegal in January. The smile is big and the eyes are wide. The fellow offering it said that his great-great-great? grandfather carved it over a hundred years ago. That man’s hands are still in the crevices of the face, in the high cheek bones, in the joy.

7. I’ve been privileged to see many bears in the Canadian Rockies, even the occasional grizzly. And yet most times on the alpine trails there was no sign of the majestic animals. But I would look to the way ahead and realize that the bears were here – I just couldn’t see them. I would sense their footfalls on the dirt and exposed rock.

8. At home I have a ticket stub for a Bruce Springsteen concert in Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium, around 1980. What lives on in that little slip of stuff is … me. A younger version. Dancing in his seat. In love with life, just not as deeply as now.

9. I’m still in the waiting room, and a huge window allows me to look across the street to a brick building. Its side is covered with a mural, depicting Weston Road as it once was. A streetcar rumbles down the street. A two-storey brick building is topped with a bell tower. Mother and daughter are strolling on the porch of what might be a general store. The people are created in paint but they stand in for real folks who walked this street decades ago. And the artist’s love lingers on the wall.

***

Ghosts from the past
Real in the present
Leaning into the future

Day Eight: The 911 Museum

I knew I wanted to go there, to let the sorrow come at the loss of so many human lives. Upon climbing the subway stairs, I saw the tips of a huge silver wing past the buildings ahead. A block later, the whole expanse spread itself before me. The Oculus. Hearts took flight, heads were lifted again after the trauma of 2001.

Now I was approaching a large square reflecting pool, the exact footprint of one of the twin towers. The water flowed into a central cavity. Angled all around the edge was metal plate, on which were inscribed the names of the nearly 3000 victims. Every so often, a yellow rose grew from a name, noting a birthday. I came upon a fellow whose name was Bruce. It could have been me.

Inside the museum stood a cross of girders – a huge rust red symbol of love and hope. Other artifacts, large and small, took their place in history. Papers burned at the edges, eyeglasses beside a toasted case, a crushed fire truck. And the photos, screaming of human anguish. The videos of impact and devastation.

Down a ramp, rectangular images were projected on a wall. They would slowly appear, linger for awhile, and then fade away. These were posters pleading for the recovery of loved ones – friends and family who also faded away, to reappear forever in the hearts of others. One scrawl under a name said it all: “Have you seen my daddy?”

I took a photo, and then spent minutes studying it. Right at the bottom was the smile of Brooke Jackman, a young woman leaning into a delightful life. I decided to stare at the wall until she returned. It probably took twenty minutes … and there she was, for a few seconds.

I looked for Brooke in the Memoriam room. On the walls were colour photos of all who died on 911. A screen allowed me to input her name. Photos of white dresses, beaming parents, friends at a party. An audio clip from mom sharing Brooke’s love of books, even word of a phone call home from a crossing guard, warning that the young girl was crossing a busy street while reading. And then a wavering dad … saying how Brooke always included everyone. Oh my. Real live human beings.

In an alcove, a sign said “Advisory”, warning of disturbing content. And it was. Photos of people jumping from the burning and smoking. Plus a few quotations. To paraphrase one: “She was dressed in a business suit, her hair awry. She smoothed out her skirt (such an innocent gesture) … and fell.”

Another display tucked in a corner told of Flight 93, and the passengers who overwhelmed the hijackers, causing the plane to land in a Pennsylvania field, rather than in the hallways of the White House. Several passengers reached loved ones by cell phone. I heard the spirit of an overcome woman’s words to her husband:

I pray that I will see your lovely face again

I love you

Goodbye

***

Who amongst us would be moved by this place
and the events it describes?

Every single one