Day Twenty-Two: The Tree

We went riding on motos yesterday – onto the dirt roads, out into the country. Women carrying loads on their heads, kids running after us, a few individual men strolling along – many of them waved. So did we. Through the dryness of it all, under the beaming sun, we rode beside fields spotted with African trees and goats. Past a couple of turquoise mosques surrounded by walls … and finally to the edge of Missirah.

We pulled over in the centre of downtown. In a shop, I lusted over a green, yellow and red Senegalese soccer jersey. Sadly the only sizes in stock started at XXL and went up from there.

A smiling old fellow was to be our guide this morning. He was a fishmonger who recognized me from a week ago. I felt badly that I didn’t recognize him. It makes me pause to realize that I have far more distinctions about the facial structure of white people than I do about black folks.

The gentleman led us to the fish farm he tends – three rectangular pools covered with netting. As he continued along, I moved away from the group to linger with several cows on a large expanse of dusty land. Then there were mangrove trees to visit, with their exposed roots reaching down under the water. A quiet time, as I renewed my wondering about whether I could live in Senegal.

It felt like time again to be with my friends. The glom of us returned to village streets. A twist here and a turn there began to reveal a hugeness ahead.

I stopped. I stared. Before me was a gigantic tree … in height, in the circumference of its trunk, in the massive biceps of its main branches. Our leader said don’t go close: the bees will attack you. So I kept the distance in my body. My soul, however, was reaching towards the immense one.

The group was moving on and I was standing still. I was in the presence of vibrant life, a wooden symbol of transcendence, of gathering in, of coming together.

We returned soon to the other side of the tree, where apparently there were no bees, since we were invited to come close. The tree is a fromager, so named because its soft wood made perfect boxes for the transport of cheese. Facing me was the largest fromager in West Africa, approximately 1000 years old. Its bark folded in marvelous ways. One exposed root many metres from the trunk was named Croco by the residents, due to it resembling a crocodile.

As our guide spoke in French, the reverence in his voice was clear. Lydia sidled over to me and began translating. This fromager is the mother of Missirah. Its leaves speak of the turning of the seasons. Crops are planted when the fromager says yes. When there’s a problem in the village, the women dress up as men, and the men as women. Sacred milk is poured on the roots and the fromager receives the supplication, offering its wisdom in turn. Infertile women visit the trunk, asking for a child. Lovers are married within the folds of the sacred one. Anyone and perhaps everyone touches the wood and feels the communion.

I take the dear fromager with me, not only in photos but also in my travelling being. Perhaps the next person I meet will have an inner fromager … to be honoured, to be loved, and to receive love from.

Soul Singers

What type of person would watch the video of a song performance ten times in an evening?  Well … a me type of person.

I loved the movie A Star Is Born, starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.  It’s the story of a wearing-out singer befriending and loving a young up-and-comer.  With her voice and songwriting, she comes to displace him in the affections of the musical public.

Lady Gaga’s character wrote a stunning song called Shallow, and performed it brilliantly in the film to a rapturous audience of thousands.  The song was nominated for an Academy Award and during the ceremony Bradley and Lady Gaga, both dressed to the nines, rose from their seats in the audience, took each other’s hand, and walked onstage to the grand piano.

Words paint pictures but you need to watch the YouTube video.  It’s the one that begins with a red curtain rising and several men in tuxedos moving the piano into position.  What was present on that stage was love, eyes locked to each other’s, voices climbing together.  As in the film, there’s a moment when Lady Gaga blasts out the words as she pounds the piano keys and  gives her eyes to Bradley:

I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now

I cried each time as she soared.  The voice was resonant, incredibly powerful.  A glowing bridge of spirit flowed between the two.  Its what love is meant to be … all encompassing.

What if I lived my life this way?  Full speed ahead towards the human beings of this planet.  High decibel joy.  Unfettered.  Undone.

I want the whole world to see this video, especially the ending, where their heads lean together and their eyes meet.  Please go find it.  You will be changed.

Australian Folk

I’m sitting in the main room of the London Music Club with about 40 other folkies, awaiting the songs of Daniel Champagne.  He’s from Australia, and clearly well thought of:

“Daniel Champagne exudes a natural ease onstage, as he sings poignant lyrics and beautifully crafted melodies that invariably whisk the heart up with grand romanticism.  Coupled with an exhilarating guitar talent that transcends mere acoustic playing to replicate a whole band, Champagne is just magical.”

Wow.  I want to meet this guy.  And now five folks have joined me at our table for six.  I don’t know them.  They’re all friends.  Plus they’re all friendly.  The way life should be.

Daniel smiles his way to the microphone and starts hitting his guitar with a whirl of hands – one sound on the wooden back, another on the neck, and an atonal strumming of strings way up by the tuning pegs.  And it’s all amplified!  Almost like gunshots.  I’ve never heard anything like it.

Often Daniel jumps up and down as he plays, and stomps his feet.  Then he’ll hoist the guitar skyward, the strings vertical.  He’ll look way up and still crank out the melodies.  My jaw dropped, again and again.

Daniel wrote a song called Nightingale.  One time he was playing it at a venue in Australia.  A woman who was at the concert wrote him later that the chorus of that song inspired her to go home and tell her boyfriend for the first time that she loved him.  Years later, Daniel sang the song as she walked up the aisle on her wedding day.  Lovely.

Sometimes when he played for us, Daniel would twist a tuning peg to gradually change the note of a string, and then start singing in that new key.  Often I couldn’t hear the words but his whole body seemed to exude joy – the voice forced itself into my mind while his head and body jerked here and there.  Getting the lyrics wasn’t important.

Daniel’s grandmother liked drinking and partying.  His friends loved partying with her.  And she loved Don McLean, the American songwriter who penned American Pie.  Daniel sang us another of Don’s songs – Vincent, an ode to the painter Vincent van Gogh.  When he sang “This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you,” I melted.  Lost in the moment.

Mr. Champagne was just so darned alive, and all six of us felt it.  As did the rest of the audience, judging by the standing ovation that he received.  Often the music was quirky, the guitar playing outrageous, and the words unknown, but Daniel truly entertained us.  We were in the presence of a full human being.

You Shine in a Very Lovely Way

Another day, another concert for me.  Hugh’s Room, an iconic folk music venue in Toronto, has reopened after financial trouble.  Saturday night was a gala fundraiser, featuring fourteen excellent musicians.  Being in the small hall was like coming home.

There were gentle songs and raucous songs, and everything in between.  I was happy.  Then Laura Smith stepped up to the microphone.  I’d say she’s in her sixties.  And here’s what she has to say in “The Blues and I”:

Everything is moving
So why am I standing still
Looking for a star?
Let there be a star …
Guiding me

The words are lovely but Laura onstage is inexpressible.  Her face has the hollows of an older person.  The eyes reach out, warm and wet.  The mouth holds the words gently.  The voice soothes.  But the whole is infinitely greater than the sum of the parts.

When Laura began, all of me stopped.  Only one other time in my life has a person filled the room like this.  She was a teacher at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts.  And Laura was right there with her.

I said hi to Laura after the concert.  She smiled.

***

Wow.  There’s nothing to say.  The written word doesn’t get the job done.  You’d have to be there and listen.

Only twice in my life.  Has a human being of such transcendence ever come your way?  I think you’d remember if they had.  In fact, I know you’d remember.  Inside your head, you would have heard …

Oh my God!

Waiting For The Light

One more time I couldn’t think of anything to write today on my blog.  So what did I need?  Some sort of stimulus that I can then reflect on.  Okay, where do I find that?  “Get in Scarlet, drive to the nearest convenience store, buy a copy of The Toronto Star or The Globe and Mail, head to Wimpy’s Diner in St. Thomas for an early supper, find an article that moves you, and write about that.”

So who am I to argue with a voice like that?

I had just started my pursuit on the front page of The Star, perusing an article about two teens who died on the Olympic bobsled track in Calgary.  They snuck in overnight and launched their toboggan.  So sad.  I was sitting here in this booth half an hour ago, wondering if this was “the one”, when I glanced up at the TV.  There sat Barack and Michelle Obama, being interviewed in what looked to be the Oval Office.

I watched transfixed, leaving Calgary far behind.  Barack and Michelle sat on a love seat, facing the female interviewer.  Their arms were touching.  What a couple is supposed to do.  When each of them smiled, often at each other, their faces were genuine, thoroughly so.  No beauty contest winner show of teeth.  No brief raising of the mouth that disappears in the next second.  Instead … lingering love.  So sweet to see.

Did I mention that the sound was off?  I didn’t know the topic, but since it was a pre-game show for the Super Bowl, I had my guess.  In fact, though, I didn’t care what they were talking about.  The visuals said all I needed to know.

One might expect the President of the United States to do most of the talking but not so.  The three of them shared the floor pretty equally.  Mr. President often reached over and took Mrs. President’s hand in his.  Just folks … really caring folks.

***

Time to go.  No wi-fi here so I’ll go home to publish my post.  I’ll take my copy of The Star.  Didn’t really need it.

Day Nineteen … People Whose Eyes Shine

I stayed overnight Friday in Delta with Rhonda, Jody’s cousin.  We had never met … and we talked for six hours.  How lovely.  And it was big talk.  The journeys each of us had taken in life.  Memories of Jody.  How her husband Todd is “the bomb”.  What the heck does that mean, I thought.  Well, Rhonda was smiling so much that I figured it had to be something darn good.  We were old friends who were in each other’s presence for the first time.

Rhonda and I had trouble connecting with each other before my visit.  She never responded to any of my e-mails.  I was sad about that.  I just didn’t know what that meant.  Why wouldn’t she want to see me?  I had never done anything bad to her.  And then I heard from her that all my messages had ended up in her Spam folder.  Oh, Bruce.  Don’t assume stuff about people.  Silly goose.  Rhonda and I will definitely meet again and continue the conversation.

Next in my pilgrimage towards great souls was my old friend Joel.  We hadn’t seen each other for 29 years.  Joel was (and still is) a personal development seminar leader and I was one of his associates.  I led some seminars too, with the benefit of Joel’s coaching.  We were also friends who loved each other very much.  And still do.  One more time on my westward journey picking up with someone from where we left off decades ago.

Joel showed me around his community – White Rock – as we floated over the land in his convertible.  Then we sat on a bench by the ocean, for an hour or more.  Over the water were islands.  I saw people sleeping.  He saw turtles.  No right or wrong.  Joel told me of leading seminars on A Course In Miracles, spiritual books written by an unknown author.  I remember reading most of the Course.  My favourite quote from it?  “Is it an evil to be punished or a mistake to be corrected?”  For others and for me, I vote for the latter.  Joel sat on the bench being happy.  His work touches his fellow man.  He and his wife Marim love each other unconditionally.  And he lives in paradise.

In the evening, I was off to see Jake again.  Have I ever mentioned to you how much I want to act?  If not, let me spell it out.  I want to be Jake!   I was back in Bellingham, Washington again.  Sitting in the front row again, this time for the closing performance of Jake’s Women.  The actors hit it hard this time.  The energy onstage was huge!  Nobody talked louder or moved more dramatically than last time.  The whole cast was just “there”.  Present.  Living the moment.  So many 1-1 interactions were spot on … eye contact, touching, real.  The actor who played Jake just glowed.  As the actors left the stage after their bows, the actress who played Molly at age 12 smiled at me.  Thank you, young lady.

Wow.  So many humans … and I’m one of them.  It’s a good planet to hang out on.  A good journey that Scarlet and I are feeling.  A good life.

Johanna

All I wanted to do was buy some sheets and pillows.  Sleep Country delivered my new bed today but I hadn’t acted on accessory purchases.  Actually, the bed’s not for me.  It’s for my guests Renato and Geraldine, who are coming to live in my home while I roam the continent on various adventures.

I had been thinking Walmart for the extras.  Gotta save a few bucks here and there.  But as I drove into London today, I realized that I wanted my visitors from England to have the good stuff.  So I opened the Sleep Country door and walked in.

From a distance, a woman in her 60’s said hello.  A real hello.  As we talked about bedding, I felt a great peace wash over me.  This wasn’t about sheets.  Johanna was just sitting there … being.  We talked about Vancouver, where she’s from, and where I’m heading to in August.  But this wasn’t about walking in Stanley Park or strolling down Robson St.  My goodness, what was happening here?  Her stillness became mine.  Lovely.

Johanna said that there’s nothing she wants to achieve.  She’s done that.  Her daughter urges her to get out into the community and attend events, meet people.  But Johanna feels no need to do that.  She wants to be with her family, loving them.

Johanna told me that many angry people walk into her store.  They want service, they want product, they want to pay and go.  I saw sadness in her eyes as she shared this with me.  After awhile, when we had discussed the different qualities of duvets and the merits of bamboo sheets, we didn’t have much to say to each other.  Words were necessary for the transaction but we didn’t need many to be with each other.  I asked her if she would like a copy of the book I wrote about Jody.  No, she didn’t want one.  And her choice to not receive our story was so very peaceful for me.  Johanna has written her own story in the many moments of her life.

I came
I bought
I melted

Ella

I went to see a fine movie last night.  Cinderella was beautiful, which is nice, but far more importantly, she was courageous and kind.  She was asked to be that way by her dying mother, and she did as she was asked.

When Ella came to the young king’s ball in a stunning blue dress, and started down the grand staircase with all eyes on her, I thought of Jodiette.  Especially one time at a bed-and-breakfast in Nova Scotia.  I was sitting at the breakfast table with other guests when my darling walked slowly down the stairs.  “It’s my lovely wife,” I said.  I was in love, and still am.  I cried when Ella came walking down, with her friend the king smiling up at her.

Later the two of them danced, swirling around in a flurry of blue, loving each other’s touch, eyes shining.  Oh, how Jody and I loved to dance!  The joy in her eyes.  The moving and the grooving.  I miss my girl.

Ella was so kind, to the mice who were her friends, and even to the people who oppressed her.  Near the end of the film, as she and the king were leaving her home, hand-in-hand, Ella looked  up at her stepmother, slumped halfway up the stairs.  With great presence, Ella simply said, “I forgive you.”  And I knew she had.

May we all have the love that Ella and the king share, that Jody and I share, and may we all be kind.  The world needs us.

Just Folks

Two guys, one Canadian and one Tibetan.  Both well known in their fields.  Both just like you and me.  Both kind.

I read in the London Free Press this morning about George Canyon, a country singer from High River, Alberta.  London has one of its big annual events on right now – the Western Fair.  George was supposed to sing outdoors last night but the heavens opened up and the show was cancelled.  Many fans had been waiting in the rain for George to begin.

Fair organizers then set up a session for George and his fans at a comedy club in one of the fair buildings.  He would shake hands with a few people, for a few minutes.  And then bye bye.  Except the officials didn’t really get what type of person George was.

Mr. Canyon picked up his guitar and started playing for the wet but drying out faithful.  He took requests.  He chatted at length with the crowd.  “After about 20 songs, Canyon put the guitar down and stayed until he met everyone who wanted to have their picture taken with him, or an autograph.”

***

Years ago, the Dalai Lama was staying at a San Francisco hotel while he participated in a conference.  On the day he was leaving, he asked the manager to have all the on-duty employees gather in the hotel parking lot.

“The Dalai Lama walked down the line, greeting each person, smiling, looking in their eyes, thanking them for their service.  Many people wept.  Many looked at him completely enraptured.  At no time did I get the impression that his attention was wandering or that he would rather have been somewhere else.  Without exception, he was fully attentive to each person as he met them.  The effect of this wholehearted presence was remarkable.”

 ***

There’s nothing I can think of to add
Our actions say it all

 

The Arc of Life

It was June, 1962.  I was in Grade 8.  We were playing a game of softball at lunch recess (the version that’s now called fastball).  The diamond was in a corner of the property, with the three-storey school at an angle, so that its left end was closer to us than the right.  Beyond the outfield grass was a wide cement strip that butted up against the building.

And so the stage was set for Roger Mount.  He scared me – all musclely, loud and aggressive.  I was a timid little kid, of the striking out variety.  Thankfully, Roger and I were on the same team, so I was standing near him when the moment cracked open my reality.  Roger was at the plate, waiting.  The pitcher was ready.  He zoomed a fastball over the plate, and Roger met the pitch with the sweet spot.  The ball took off, climbing and climbing towards left field.  My mouth dropped open.  The ball kept going up, impossibly high and far.  Left field was but a memory, as was the cement.  As was the three storeys of elementary education.  Finally the sphere started falling, and then it …

disappeared.

Onto the roof.  Roger had done something that most likely had never been accomplished in the history of Bedford Park Public School.  On the field there was silence as he rounded the bases.  We were in the presence of God.  Fifty-two years later, I’m still there.  Roger is right now.  Eternally.

***

Sometime in the 70s, I went to watch Jack Nicklaus play a practice round at a golf course near Toronto.  One of the best golfers in the history of the game.  And I got to be within ten feet of him, in the first row of spectators behind the tee of a par four hole.  A creek crossed the fairway left to right about 200 yards off the tee.  There was a wide stretch of fairway beyond, but then it turned sharp right and paralleled the creek till it reached the green, far to the right as we viewed it from the tee.  The kicker was that there was a row of tall deciduous trees on the far bank  of the creek, starting from the open fairway straight ahead of us and continuing all the way to the green, protecting the hole against any insane golfer who wanted to try a short cut.

Nicklaus took one look at the situation and said to his caddie, “Why not?”  He teed up a ball and pointed his body towards the green.  I gasped (very quietly – golf is a polite game).  My fellow spectators froze as well.  Jack waggled his driver, stared down the trees, tilted his head to the ball that was about to go for a wild ride, and swung.  The thwack of a real wooden club crushing a dimpled white sphere.  A climb through space as if seeking the Godhead.  Up and up and up and up and …

over the trees.

Jack’s ball came to rest on the fringe of the green.  He turned around, smiled at us, and said, “Don’t think I’ll try that again.”  His words were the only sound on the tee.  Maybe two hundred of us had witnessed the power of a deity.

***

I love the flight
I love the reaching up to God
I love the going up and the coming down