Without Skill

I was walking on Bloor Street in Toronto yesterday. My ankle was sore and I was going slow. Just ahead was a woman in a flaming yellow dress, carrying a parasol on this most humid day. Beside her was a boy of 10 or so, on his bike. The sidewalk was heading up for an extended climb and it looked like the boy was matching his mom’s pace. She was taking her time.

The distance between us never narrowed or expanded. There they were, always thirty yards ahead of me. And I wondered: “How is this possible?” How is that young man staying upright? What an immense gift of balance.

Finally they crested the hill and turned down a side street. Gone from my eyes … not from my heart. I felt a sweep of marvel and a generous helping of “less than”. I thought of the unbalanced state on my bicycle ta-pocketa in downtown Vancouver, and the sadness came.

“Bruce, you’re so unskilled, so awkward, so obvious to others.” Then, magically, the arrows withdrew and the response was sure: “Yes, you’re right, and it’s all okay.”

Almost immediately, I was reminiscing about tendon transfer surgery in 2003 and my many weeks on crutches. Stairs were impossible, fatigue was constant, and self-esteem hung by a thread. Again and again … “I can’t do this.”

Another time, I was so weak after some physical debacle that on my return to the gym, when I went to wash my hands, I didn’t have the strength to push the lever on the soap dispenser. (Sigh)

Then there was the meeting at school about a certain visually impaired student. The topic was his computer hardware. As the discussion revved up, I realized I had no idea what my fellow staff members were talking about. Despair descended.

***

Not being able to do something
Feeling the pain of the deficiency
And yet …
Glimpsing the beauty of being undefended
Naked
Cracks opening to receive the light

Narrowed and Wide

I was riding the train in Toronto today – the UP Express. I love the train, with its big windows giving me a chance to look out at the world. I see into people’s backyards and wonder what lives are being led on the other side of their windows. I watch a long string of cars waiting at a red light for their left turn … and feel sad for the folks inside. Life passes me by.

Today was different. I grabbed the last remaining window seat but there was a partition right in front of me. All I had to see out from was a sliver of vertical glass. My eyes tensed up as images came by too fast. I couldn’t linger on anything, and lingering is truly one of life’s pleasures.

And I thought of other things:

What would it be like to have no peripheral vision, just a small circle in the middle for focusing on things?

What would it be like to have a moderate hearing loss, where you can only catch a few words from each sentence?

What would it be like to have the beginning of Alzheimer’s, and you just can’t remember the names of those near and dear?

What would it be like to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and be racked with terror in the middle of the night?

What would not be touched by a narrowed life? What essence of me would still be there? And could I find it?

In August, 2018, my life is expansive. In August, 2019, it may not be. It’s time to feel into what will always be there.

The Masters

I like watching my mind. And there are certain stimuli that make my head spin. The Masters golf tournament qualifies.

I’ve loved golf since I was 12 and I’ve watched the Masters on TV for nearly that long. It’s a love affair. But today it’s troubling my mind and I’m curious about that. I’m curious when the events of the world prompt me into a state of deficiency while I know a sweet sufficiency is always available to me.

Part of what I love is the beauty of the golf course – Augusta National. And I know the back nine of Augusta very well. The beauty of the fairways, the beds of azaleas, the severe slopes of the greens, the ever-menacing sweep of Rae’s Creek. The course tantalizes and frustrates the golfers. Usually I’m entranced with the land and there’s some appreciation today but I’m surprisingly flat about the sense of place.

And then there are the golfers. Why am I cheering for Tiger Woods, who despite possibly being recent history’s best golfer is also a blatant adulterer? I abhor that poorness of spirit but I also worship sports heroes. Plus Patrick Reed is leading the tournament right now. Actually he just sank a birdie putt while I was typing. And I was disappointed. Patrick has the reputation of being a grumpy guy and I watch myself not wanting him to win.

Then there’s how difficult the golf course is. I want the winds to blow hard and have par be the leading score after today’s round. Instead Patrick is 8 under par. I need the golf course to win, to be a supreme challenge, so that the players struggle … heroically. Apparently not to be. Update: the announcer just told us that gale force winds are predicted for Saturday and Sunday, and suddenly I’m happy.

How strange it all is. Maybe I’m upset because I haven’t exercised today and this summer’s bicycle ride across Canada is looming. Perhaps I’m “positively addicted” to the elliptical, so that I get antsy during a day of rest.

And my self-talk continues: “You’re lazy, Bruce – just a Masters couch potato. And why can’t you access the spacious consciousness that’s usually been with you recently? Haven’t you moved beyond being upset by the ripples of life?” Well, good luck on that.

Marc Leishman is in second place right now. The announcer just mentioned his wife’s illness but I didn’t catch the gist of it. So I Googled. Audrey Leishman was overcome by toxic shock syndrome a week before the 2015 Masters. Marc was at Augusta, practicing, and rushed home. Audrey was induced into a coma and was given a 5% chance of surviving. Marc saw his future as a single parent and resolved to quit golf to be a fulltime dad. One hundred hours later, Audrey awoke. She told Marc “I love you. I’m sorry about the Masters.” She continues to recover.

And so I cry
And so I’m back
And so I learn

Perspective

I decided to do two hours on the elliptical yesterday afternoon.  No sweat, I thought, since I’d done much more than that recently.  The first hour was smooth.  A good rhythm and I felt strong.

On we go to Part Two.  And I started well.  Somewhere around twenty minutes, though, something was wrong.  My arms slowed, my legs slowed, and I swear my brain slowed. My breath was no longer silent and the weight of the world pressed on me.  “How can this be?”  I’d eaten enough, had a good sleep, and felt happy.  But I continued to spiral down.  forty-five minutes, I stopped.

And then it was time to choose … an attitude.

A. You’re a weak and uncommitted and just plain bad person.

B. For some unknown reason, you don’t have it today.  This says nothing about you as a person.  Accept what is.

A smile came as I chose Option B.  Sure I was disappointed but life keeps showing me its yins and yangs.  O great imperfect one … celebrate it all.

***

Last night I watched eight short films at the Wolf Performance Hall in downtown London.  One lasted just ten minutes but will stay with me considerably longer than that. It was about a figure skater.  We saw her being interviewed and the woman’s face was vibrant.  As they say, “Her smile reached her eyes.”  And the skating!  In a glowing dress, our heroine spun and floated, radiant on the ice.

Then there was the matter of her age … 91.  She winked and said that she doesn’t fall much anymore.  Good thing, I thought.  Over the last few years, she’s won several medals in her age group – 50 and above.

After our skater had finished her comments for the film, words appeared on the screen: her date of birth … and her date of death.  Most of the two hundred of us present let out an audible “Aww.”  I so much wanted her to still be alive.  And then more words: “She died as she lived – on the ice.”

I thought of my earlier weakness.  I thought of her thoroughly alive face.  Definitely something to learn here.

Who am I to play small?  I know someone twenty-two years older who rocked the house every time she did a spin.

Ants Below

Construction started on Toronto’s CN Tower in 1973.  Until 2010, it was the tallest freestanding structure in the world.  I’d never been up it … till yesterday.

What does it mean that millions of people across the world have gazed out from the sky high observation deck, but not me?  How about “absolutely nothing”?  It’s becoming clearer to me that life is not about accumulating experiences but rather about living in accord with my highest values.  And those are love, compassion, kindness and peace.

But I still wanted to take an elevator to the heights.

My eyes widened as I approached the glass.  The world was so far down.  The sun was shining on Lake Ontario and the ice was breaking up, creating a jumble of geometric patterns.  Two channels of smaller floes showed the way to Ward’s Island and Hanlan’s Point on Toronto Island.  A ferry found its way through.

Directly below was another spot of ice – a skating rink bordered by tall condos.  But “tall” didn’t seem to fit from up here.  The penthouses were hundreds of feet below.  On the ice, little dots of colour circled.  And I got it … each speck was a human being.  Someone with joys and sorrows, health and illness, high and low self-esteem, leading lives so much like mine.  I just stared.

Then there was the Royal York Hotel, a classic Toronto landmark since 1929.  Way, way below me.  I thought of my dear wife Jody, and the time that we stayed there.  I smiled.  And I imagined all the human beings inside the building right then … showering, sitting in the lobby, enjoying a drink in the lounge.  All like me, those folks.  Some differences, sure, but just minor variations on the theme homo sapiens.

The Gardiner Expressway flowed beneath me, although that’s not the right word.  It was late afternoon rush hour in the big city, and the cars crawled.  The backup stretched way to my left and way to my right.  There’d be one or two people in each tin can, maybe tired after a day of stress, longing for home, longing for a “beam me up” machine that would transport them to their couch.  All with hopes and dreams, successes and failures, pleasure and pain.  I tried to place my soul in each car but immediately felt overwhelmed.  “They’ll find their way, Bruce.”

From on high, life didn’t seem so darned serious.  Just a whole bunch of people walking or riding from here to there, each on their path.  It’s okay.  There’ll be a few dead ends, a few traffic jams, but also moments of flowing free.  On we go, fellow travellers.

This Can’t Be True

What if nothing matters?  And I don’t mean some hopeless attitude, such as “Nothing I do, or nothing that happens, will make me happy.”  Instead, what if my happiness is there already, at a most deep level?  That the events of the world don’t impact that wellspring at all?

“Get a life, Bruce.  You’re being nutty again.”

Well … maybe.  But I wonder.  Let’s look at some things.  Here’s what I usually tell myself:

1.  I need to walk – from my condo, along Main Street, to the Diner; down the fairways of Tarandowah; and on the paths of the Archie Coulter Conservation Area.

Maybe not.  Perhaps I don’t even need to see my lovely golf course again.  After all, it’s in my mind.

2.  I need to meditate and go on silent retreats.

Actually, no.  What if my brain becomes a jumble and I never see Massachusetts again?  I sense that there’d still be a little smile on my face, that some current of energy would still be saying hello.

3.  I need to have a loving partner in life, to share the wonders.

Hmm.  I don’t know about that.  I could feel love for all the folks that come my way each day, even if they don’t go home with me.  When there’s love, can I really say that the version aimed at Deborah is more profound than the type flowing to Rob?

4.  I need to be with people.

On one level, yes.  But there are other levels.  It’s possible that the rest of my life could be a solitary retreat, where I hole up in my condo and just come out for essentials.  I could send love outwards, through walls and across the land, and never see the folks that it touches.

5.  I need to be pain free.

That’s a tough one.  How could I ever cope with a constant 8 on the scale of 10?  It might be, though, that I could be happy even within the press of chronic pain.  Maybe I could be present with the physical sensation without adding the “Ain’t it awful” emotion.

6.  I need to travel.

Gosh, I’ve been to lots of places, and the best part of those adventures was the people I met along the way.  Many of their life experiences were way different than mine but I can find folks like that at the Barking Cat Pub, less than half-an-hour’s walk from my front door.

7.  I need to dance.

I love dancing but all those rhythms have taken up permanent residence in my head.  Plus I play a mean set of thigh drums.

8.  I need to golf.

I love the game but I don’t have to walk those fairways.  I see the curling putts and the drives hit with a slight draw.  I am intimate with the undulating greens, the fescue rough and the deep pot bunkers.

9.  I need to have sex.

Sometimes I’m flooded with love, and what skin against skin can match that?  I like physical sensations as much as anyone but my mind cranks out some cool stuff too.  And the eyes are my favourite body part.

10.  I need to be revered.

Wait a minute.  If I have this reservoir of well-being inside me, then no other person’s words or actions can dampen that fullness.  Praise and blame could just be two sides of a lovely coin.

***

Well, well, well
This has been a strange turn of the brain
I wonder if more strangeness is just up ahead
I’d be okay with that

Sideways

The back of my new condo looks out on a farmer’s field.  I am blessed.  In the morning, I wake up, turn over on my left side and look out at the world.  No glasses, so it’s all a misty watercolour.  Everything is tilted.  To my left is down – the patio.  To my right is up – the sky.

Last night’s fresh snow lightened the land, and the sky decided to join in.  Soft cloud shapes moving down through my visual field.  And here comes a patch of blue.  See it transform to larger and then smaller and then disappear past the window view.

Little cars descended to my left way out there on Harrietsville Drive.  Going so sweetly slow in the silence.  But oh oh … here’s someone tailgating the one before – so out of place in my tender landscape.

I should get up  >  No you shouldn’t.  Just watch the passing parade

I should put on my glasses  >  No you shouldn’t.  Focusing is not required

Happily, I have eyes to see

Fun

It’s always been a word I enjoy.  Decades ago, I came up with a test for human beings.  Once I had talked to them a couple of times, I wondered whether I’d like them to be my friend.  The test was simple and totally unscientific.  Do they ever use the word “fun”?  It’s often proved to be accurate.

I’m in Ann Arbor, Michigan, watching Canada’s Brooke Henderson play in the LPGA tournament.  After so many years, we finally have a golf hero to cheer for.  Yay!  Brooke sits in tenth place right now, with two more rounds on the weekend.  I’m thrilled to be here.

I’m staying at the Red Roof Inn and get a free breakfast every morning at the nearby Big Boy restaurant.  Breakie out in the world means reading the sports section of the newspaper, in this case The Detroit News.  It’s so much fun.  (Hmm.  There’s that word.  Guess I’ll be friends with me.)

Happily, the Detroit paper has two articles about the tournament – the Volvik Championship being held at the Travis Pointe Country Club.  I was expecting to hear about players’ assessment of their golf games, and the challenge of the course (such as really fast greens).  There was some of that, but I was taken with quotes from three of the four golfers who were featured.

Ariya Jutanugarn (from Thailand):

“I’m really happy with it and I really enjoy playing golf right now.  So I’m not thinking about I’m going to win, I’m going to lose.  I just have fun and keep playing good.”

Marina Alex (from the USA):

“I’m just going to enjoy it and have fun.  Going to just work on all aspects of my game so I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing and see where that leaves me.”

Jennifer Song (from the USA):

“I just want to take one day at a time, one shot at a time and just see how things go.  I just want to have fun out here.”

Well, well.  Sounds pretty cool to me.  May we all have fun.

 

Beyond The North American Norm

I sat in a theatre this afternoon watching Michael Moore’s latest film Where To Invade Next.  It wasn’t about war and keeping the world safe for the American way of life.  Instead Michael visited Italy, France, Finland, Slovenia, Portugal, Iceland, Norway, Germany and Tunisia in search of best practices – things that those countries are doing well.

Often, when Michael was sitting with a business leader, government official, educator or just plain folks, he’s tell them how things are often done in the USA.  In those moments, the movie was a study in astonishment.  I very much enjoyed looking at the quizzical facial expressions.

Here are some highlights:

Italy – Employees get eight weeks of paid vacation plus generous wages, and work fewer hours than we do.  When the owners of a factory were asked why they don’t keep more of the money for themselves, one of them replied, “Why would we want to be richer?”  They were committed to the happiness, and thus productivity, of their workers, who typically go home at noon for a two-hour lunch.

France – Elementary students eat three-course meals in the cafeteria.  When Michael showed a few of them photos of a typical American school lunch, their pained expressions said it all.  Plus no Coca-Cola, thank you.  The kids were happy with their water.  Lunch takes an hour and is also an opportunity for teaching the value of balanced nutrition.

Finland – There’s virtually no homework in the schools, no standardized testing, and a commitment from staff members to teach the children how to be happy.  School days are relatively short, with the students encouraged to explore interests and socialize with their peers.

Slovenia – University is free, even for foreign students.

Portugal – Drugs have been decriminalized and the focus is on rehabilitation for the users.  Police officers talked about the importance of human dignity.

Norway – In one prison, inmates live in cottages and wear their own clothes.  In a maximum security facility, the culture promotes caring about each other.  Prisoners working in the kitchen have access to knives, and no one seems concerned.  Guards don’t wear guns.  “Talk is our weapon.”

Iceland – Women are well represented among government and business leaders.  In the aftermath of the country’s economic collapse in 2008, the bankers whose actions precipitated the crisis were convicted of crimes.  No bailouts.  Many jail terms.

Germany – The Holocaust is remembered, not swept under the rug.  Public art includes replicas of notice boards with anti-Jewish messages, such as requiring Jewish folks to sit only on the yellow public benches.  Discussions are held in classrooms, acknowledging inhumane Nazi actions.

And … in one of the countries, the young people receive sex education focused on relationship, giving and receiving pleasure, and on effective birth control.  Michael suggested the possibility of abstinence.  The female teacher didn’t see the value of that choice.

***

It was a jolt of a film, dissing various forms of ethnocentrism in favour of people-centrism.  A you and me world.  I like it.

 

 

Double Words

I like words.  Today I’m liking words which have two very different meanings, while keeping the same spelling and pronunciation.  Homonyms.  I find the contrast fascinating.

1.  Conviction … being found guilty or being committed

2.  Ball … a fancy dance or an object to throw

3.  Race … a person’s physical imprint or a competition among runners

4.  Pupil … a student or part of the eye

5.  Organ … a musical instrument or part of the body

6.  Volume … how big something is or how loud something is

7.  Date … a day of the year or a rendezvous with romantic potential

8.  Mass … how much something weighs or a religious ceremony

9.  Cataract … a waterfall or an eye problem

10.  Staff … people who work for an organization or a walking stick

***

The thing is … we human beings often look at an object, a person or an event in one particular way.  It means this.  But what if it could also mean that?  Something completely different from our usual perspective.  What if we were open to discovering the infinite amount of thats in life?  Would we not be enriched?