Day Forty: Canada

Here’s the view out my Toronto bedroom window. It’s been forty days since I’ve seen the white stuff. I’m home in Canada. Tomorrow I’ll be home in Belmont.

On my trip to Belgium, Senegal and San Francisco I encountered one Canadian – on yesterday’s flight. Pablo lives in Durham, Ontario and runs a furniture business. He was returning from Singapore, where many of the tables and chairs are made. I loved his stories about world cities. Only partway through our time together did I realize “He’s from Canada – like me.”

If you would have told me two years ago that someday I’d be absent from my country for five weeks, I’d have said you’re crazy. And yet here I am, having immersed myself in African life, enjoying the people whose languages I mostly didn’t speak. The geography was stunning but it’s the human beings I love.

And now I return to what I know. I come back to my local beloveds, to see what they have to say about life. There are so many Pablo’s to discover … and rediscover.

Especially there are the kids. I promised the Grade 5/6 children that I’d return to them on Monday, January 20 and spend the whole day at school. And I will do that, despite possible snow on the highway home.

I want to hear the ideas of 11-year-olds, and those of the regulars at the Belmont Diner. On Wednesday evening, I want to hear Ken Thorne sing his songs at the Acoustic Spotlight house concert in London. And if he does covers, I want to sing along!

I’m bringing faraway worlds back to Belmont. And the folks of my village and city are welcoming me home. The rhythms of life continue.

Day Twenty-Seven: Bus Load and a Ball

My phone is taking a rest today and happily I’ve been able to make my laptop work.  An unexpected solution, given the ups and downs of the Internet here. The dust of Senegal has found its way into my phone ports, and my friend Nano has taken it away for a hoped for cleaning.

Wow … here comes a smile. It doesn’t matter if my phone gets fixed in Senegal. It doesn’t matter if my phone gets fixed in San Francisco. And it doesn’t matter if my phone gets fixed! What kind of strange universe am I living in?

***

There’s a lovely story to tell, and the lovely pictures won’t be accompanying the words. They’re on my phone.  No problemo.

I wanted to tuck myself into the end of the tiny patio of Chez Boum.  Blessed by a Flag, I would read more from The White Giraffe, a marvelous book about the adventures of 12-year-old Martine in South Africa. The beer went down easily, as did the story.

And then the bus, a luxury one full to the brim with white-skinned tourists.  They seemed to skip off the vehicle for a first touch of Toubacouta earth.  I heard French and, I think, German. The tour guide came towards me as the folks were occupying two long tables. I asked him if he needed mine, and he nodded yes, without a smile.  I took my chair and rested it near the “Chex Boum” sign painted on a wall.  Shade was still mon ami.

I interspersed reading about Martine with glances over to the arrivals. They seemed to be a happy bunch. I made eye contact with a few of them.  My smiles were not returned. Oh well. I can live with that.

After the group had finished eating, some of them walked around.  They stayed together in pairs or little groups except for a woman with her camera. She knelt down and talked to three local kids. I’m glad someone did.

As Martine made eye contact with a young giraffe, I could feel a presence off to the side. Then those same three children moved right in front of me. They were each saying the same word, which I didn’t recognize. It came clear that they wanted me to give them something.

I arrived in Senegal with five deflated beach balls, the idea of a girl named Sophie back in Belmont.  Trying to blow up the first one, I ripped a tiny hole in the plastic. Tiny was plenty big enough because the ball would no longer hold air. The next three balls went to various gloms of Senegalese kids.  So there was one left, conveniently deposited in my backpack.  I took it out and started blowing.  The young ones stared.

So did many of the tourists. A few of them laughed at my lengthy efforts to make a flat thing spherical. I laughed back, feigning exhaustion.  After several minutes, I had a real ball, splashed with colours. (I think they were red, white and blue, but the evidence is in my newly departed phone.)

The deed being done, I lofted the ball over the girl facing me. She turned and watched it fall to the ground, and didn’t go to chase it. Eventually a boy picked it up and brought it back to me. I threw it over his head. Soon the ball was flying through the air among three kids, and I was forgotten. Many of the bus riders were watching the action closely.  We smiled together.

The kids disappeared down the street with their treasure. The bus filled and backed up. As it pulled away, there were many waves between the riding Germans and French and the standing Canadian.

Day Twenty-Four: Longing

The Evolutionary Collective welcomed 125 people from near and far to its New Year’s Day Internet call. Patricia Albere, the founder of the organization, led us in exploring the topic of “longing”. Part of our time together was in groups of two and three. We looked at what aspects of society we’d like to say goodbye to. Later, what were our visions for the world we’d love to inhabit?

I felt into the questions and stayed open to the images that wanted to emerge. There was no “figuring it out”.

Here’s what I’m saying no to:

1. So rarely do we physically touch each other.

2. Kids respond rather than initiate. Their ideas are not as important as those of adults.

3. We are afraid of each other. Our tendency is to move away rather than go towards.

4. I’m right and you’re wrong.

5. “Home” is our own needs and wants.

And then there’s the vision of what is yet to be:

1. We laugh together at how silly life is.

2. We look deeply into each other’s eyes. We linger there … and feel the beauty.

3. We value ideas from whomever they spring, regardless of age, gender, status or what your peers think.

4. We go slow, seeing the moments of the world unfold before us, and we smile at what is revealed.

5. We hug, easily and often, including all in our positive regard.

It was a lovely two hours together. With Zoom technology, we could see 25 folks at once on our laptop screens. A simple click and there were 25 more faces. The infinite variety and grace of human beings was on full display. It was a privilege to come together like this.

***

Earlier, I sat in a comfy chair near Keur Saloum’s pool. To my left was a black family: mom, dad, son and yappy little dog. They were talking in English, and clearly enjoying each other’s presence. I decided to let them be. My vision for the future revolves around reaching out to new humans but it didn’t seem right to be intruding into their joy. The power of contact, however, was initiated by an unexpected being – the little doglet came close and really turned up the barking.

Mom apologized for “Simba”. I smiled and said it was fine. And then it came to me: tell Simba that my name was Mufasa (Simba’s father in The Lion King). So I did. Mom and dad laughed … and we were off to the races.

Where do you live? > For the next year – in Dakar [the capital of Senegal]. After that, back in the United States.

Where in the States > In California

Where in California? > Near San Francisco

Where? > Berkeley

In eight days, I’ll arrive in Berkeley. I’ll be staying for a week > (!)

Oh my. What can be created, what can emerge, when we simply move closer to each other? I think it’s called magic.

I told Penda and Solomon that I volunteer in a Grade 5/6 class in Canada, and that months ago three girls asked me if I would bring them something back from San Francisco. I said yes, in the spirit of rewarding kids who speak up. It turns out that they all wanted a necklace. Actually the very same design: the tree of life.

Do.you know where I could find “tree of life” pendants in Berkeley? > Yes. Your conference site [The David Brower Center] is only a few blocks away from a bunch of street vendors who carry stuff like this. Walk east on Allston Way to Oxford Street. South on Oxford to Bancroft Way. Three blocks east to Telegraph Avenue … et voilà.

So there!
From Toubacouta, Senegal
across the world to Berkeley, California
There is really no distance between us

Day Eighteen: Newcomers Welcoming

New to me. The couple sat on the patio of Keur Saloum, one table away. We Belgians, Senegalese and Canadian crammed together nearby, laughing in three languages. I said several silly things, such as one comment aimed at Marie-paule, Lydia’s mom. We were both taking up residence for a few days at Eddy’s bed-and-breakfast. “Marie-paule est dans la chambre cinq. Je suis dans la chambre … cinq.” (Marie-paule will be in room 5. I’ll be in room … 5.”) Much laughter erupted, and as I glanced over to the next table, the woman was smiling.

As our conversation continued, the couple talked together – in French I believe. Once in awhile, she’d look over to us as our words spilled out. Smiling again.

Lydia brings people together. As our group got up to leave, she bubbled over to our neighbours en français. The conversation among us all sped up and I was left in the dust. Fast French means no French for me. After awhile I walked over to the flowering bushes to watch the sunset on the river. As the disc fell behind the trees, leaving its pink glow, I returned to our tables. All the Lydiaists were standing and inching towards the exit ramp.

It felt like the woman next door was looking straight at me but she may have been taking us all in: “Would you like to stay for a drink?” I looked at the barely receding feet around me and responded “No, I want to get to dinner.” The woman across seemed to lower her head. Then somehow words kept falling out of people’s mouths. I stood there, passive on the outside and churning on the inside.

The movie Dead Poets Society came through – the one where Robin Williams teaches a bunch of high school students about life. “Carpe diem” he would say … seize the day. “And Bruce, isn’t this a perfectly good day to seize?”

As feet really did move one after the other in farewell, I reached down to the nearest chair and pulled it over to the couple. Yes, let’s talk.

We did so for three hours. In another seizing moment, I said yes to having dinner with Julie and Luc. Happily we talked about our lives – rehabilitating elephants, working in the Belgian embassy in Dakar, seeing big white birds land on an island at sunset so they could be together overnight, living with cancer loss, volunteering with 11-year-olds, eating a delcious meal in Keur Saloum … just everything.

There was communion at our evening table … three discovering friends savouring the flavours of relationship. It was all so cozy.

We hugged and shook hands goodbye. Will this be the end of it or will there be a friendship which endures? Using Lydia and Jo as an example, there may be many more dinners to come.

Day Eleven: Yesterday and Tomorrow

The Keur Saloum Hotel is a fifteen-minute walk along the dirt streets of Toubacouta from Jo and Lydia’s place. I walk through the entrance, greeted with a “Ça va?” (How are you?) from the security guard. I proceed unimpeded because I’m a white tourist with money to spend. The black residents of the village would not be allowed in, and that makes me sad. In the words of Werner Erhard, this is meant be “a world that works for everyone”.

Now I sit by the pool, writing these words. I see many pink blossoms floating on the blue of the water. Pink and blue … the colours of young children. I want the beauty of the world’s moments to endure but alas those flowers might block the water intake, or perhaps the pink ones might disturb swimmers. Whatever the reason, an employee is soon out there with a big net, and in minutes the blue is pure. I get the likely practicality but I’m sad once more.

What life of beauty and inclusion is available to us all? What richness of spirit can stroll through it all, reaching towards the future? Even if I don’t have the words to describe such a reality, I know it’s real.

***

For twenty years, Jo played guitar throughout Europe with a band. His life has been permeated with and enriched by music. Over the past few days, he’s spoken glowingly about a wide variety of luminaries – Hoagy Carmichael, Leonard Bernstein, Aretha Franklin, The Who, José Carreras … Back at the house, the little speaker often tells me about The Beatles. They’re really the only musicians from Jo’s heart that are in mine as well.

I remember the Ed Sullivan TV show in 1964 when the mop heads were introduced to North America. Fifteen-year-old girls in the audience were going crazy, leaping in the air and professing their love. I was that age as well, and although I kept my butt on the couch, I realized that there was something new here … and exciting.

I know many of The Beatles’ songs by heart. They’ve been absorbed through my skin, become part of me. However, I’ve never paid much attention to the words. Until yesterday, and Yesterday. The words came onto me as I sat innocently on the patio. Was I really hearing what I thought I was hearing? If so, have I allowed myself to be hypnotized over all these years? Have I become a different person than the oh so receptive teenager of the 1960s? The answer is “Yes”.

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay
Oh, I believe in yesterday

Oh no, I disagree. I face the future, not the past. I look back, sometimes fondly and sometimes shaking my head, but that’s not where my action is. I still have challenges, of course, but they are outshined by possibility, togetherness, smiles.

Suddenly, I’m not half the man I used to be
There’s a shadow hanging over me
Oh, yesterday came suddenly

I don’t think in terms of fractions, and whoever “me” is lies both within and far beyond the boundary of the skin. There is no weight coming down, except so very briefly. There is open sky, with room to roam to the stars.

Why she had to go I don’t know
She wouldn’t say
I said something wrong
Now I long for yesterday

There is companionship of the heart. It surrounds me. Jody has died and yet there is love on all sides. Some people some close, some back away. All is well. I say wise things. I say dumb things. And I keep saying …

Yesterday love was such an easy game to play
Now I need a place to hide away
Oh, I believe in yesterday

No games. Open arms welcoming the world. Yes, I give myself time alone to renew but my home is in the marketplace of life, being with people.

Rather than “On I go” it’s very much “On we go”
Happiness is here

Hello Ruby

Last night, lying in bed

Car rental expires in a few days
Used?  New?
Lease?
Will I be driving fifteen years from now?
Honda?  Toyota?
Red?
Doesn’t matter

***

This morning, lying in bed

RED!
Has to be red
Red is my favourite colour
Go home
… Ruby …

***

I’ve named every car I’ve owned.  At 7:00 am today, I did it again, and I didn’t even own anything.  “Her name is Ruby.  And she’s a Honda.”

Since 1988, Jody and I had bought Hondas.  When we moved to London in 1990, we fell into the arms of Westgate Honda.  Our mechanic Roy was a marvel. In 2012, we bought a second car – Scarlet, who happens to be a Toyota Corolla.  The Toyota dealership has treated me fine but lying under the covers this morning I knew it was time to go home.

I met with a Westgate salesman today – Tim.  He told me that Roy was still chugging along in the back, in his 38th year of service.  But he wasn’t in today.  No worries, Roy.  We’ll have a reunion soon.

My choices were a new Honda Civic LX or a 2017 Civic EX, both fire-engine red.  My mind roamed and rambled about 47,000 kilometres, new car depreciation, the relative drains on my pocketbook and cool EX features, but my main message to Tim was … red!  I’m such a discriminating consumer.

Part of me knew even before I laid eyes on the 2017 model: she was mine.  I was hers.  We walked out the door for a test drive and I was stopped by the Civic shape.  I simply wasn’t used to it.  Ten seconds later, as I took in her beauty, the words came easily … “Hello, Ruby.”  I do believe my new friend smiled in return.

Now inside the black interior, with Tim showing me this and that.

Now flowing down the street with a passenger view, hearing about more features.

And now behind the wheel, pulling out into Riverside Drive traffic.  So smooth.  So comfy.  So in sync with me.  Half a kilometre later, the words spilled out: “You have a sale.”

I take possession Wednesday or Thursday as a friendship emerges.  “Ruby, we’re going places together.”

Tomorrow, in the spirit of new love, I’ll drive into London, park at Westgate, and mosey up to Ruby in the parking lot.  It seems like a profoundly rational thing to do.

Ahh … beginnings

 

Go To Life

I was home this morning and feeling emotionally flat. The world was lying heavy on my head. As in the poem Casey at the Bat, “there was no joy in Mudville.” How strange, I thought. I’m not usually like this.

I could feel myself slumping, both physically and spiritually. And the pull was strong … to bed. It was 11:00 am. An Internet call with members of Evolutionary Collective Global was on tap for noon. Those calls are such an opportunity to be with other human beings in a very deep way but I was already saying no.

Clothes off, covers pulled back and soon the comforter was tucked under my chin. A day of rest and isolation beckoned. Sometime in the afternoon I’d meditate for awhile, just me and my soul. Maybe there’ll be a hockey game on TV tonight … I could veg to the skating artistry of Mitch Marner. Eyelids fell towards sleep.

And then …

Go to life.

What? What did you say? (You heard me) And indeed I had. The voice within jolted me awake.

There are times to hunker down and rest. This is not one of them. Go to people. Give them all you have. Start with the ECG call. There might be twenty men and women from all over, folks to contribute to. Then go volunteer in the Grade 6 class – twenty-four kids and one teacher need your presence, your words, your kindness. And then, get to the gym. One hour on the elliptical would do just fine. After that, have supper somewhere and then go to the folk music concert at Acoustic Spotlight. Once all that’s done, go home and go to bed.

Well, aren’t you a pushy fellow.

You need it.

No, I don’t.

Yes, you do. Get out there and live your life.

(Sigh)

***

I did. I’m in Wimpy’s Diner as I write this. And then it’s off to hear the music of Larry Smith and Tara Dunphy.

Sometimes you have to heed the call.

Have I Left Tarandowah Behind?

1.  I moved to Belmont three years ago because I wanted to be closer to the Tarandowah Golfers Club.

2.  I haven’t played a round of golf in two years.

Put those two statements together and the answer to the question would appear to be yes.

Tarandowah is a links-style course that was created from Ontario farmland.  The British Isles are home to many courses carved from “links” land – tracts of wild grasses and sand dunes that separate farmland from the sea.  No ocean resides anywhere near Tarandowah but there are magnificent mounds of fescue grass gracing the rough, along with rolling fairways and over a hundred pot bunkers.  You see very few trees, similar to famous courses such as St. Andrews in Scotland.

I’ve long considered Tarandowah to be a home for me.  A place to walk and feel the land far more than a place to hit a little white ball, obsess over the details of my swing, and judge my self-worth by the number on the scorecard.

I’ve talked to members of the beauty I see, and very few folks seem interested.  “Aren’t the mounds behind the eighth green amazing?”  And then there’s the sublime island of fescue in the the middle of the sixth fairway.  Plus the long dogleg sweep of the par five dogleg left fourteenth.

I keep the fourteenth close to my heart.  An entire wall of my bedroom hosts a mural of the hole, viewed from behind the green.  From that spot, I can see the approach to the sixth, the faraway thirteenth at the very end of the world, and the cavalcade of mounds reaching from the fourteenth tee.  On my better days, I wake up with “Good morning, Tarandowah” on my lips.

Back problems stopped my golfing but those ills are now in the past.  Still I don’t feel pulled to play.  I don’t hit the ball very far off the tee (180 yards) and I’ve never broken 100 at my friend who disguises herself as a golf course.  But I can feel the love affair.  Walking the quiet fairways near sunset is a caress on the soles of my feet.  I love the sweep of the greens – so many dips and dives of a gentle kind.  The curves suggest a woman’s body to me.  I am often in awe.

There’s usually a breeze and it feels good as it permeates my body.  The stroll is slow as the sun declines.  The birds have things to say.  And very occasionally … there is the red fox.  Standing on the thirteenth green, I am alone in the world, far from the clubhouse.  On the mound behind the sixth tee, I turn to see ten holes spread before me.  To be on the high point of land seems right.  It’s home.

Tomorrow is a holiday in Canada – Victoria Day.  She was the Queen of England way back when.  Thank you, Victoria.  I will use your gift to walk the fairways of Tarandowah again, as the day begins its farewell.  Lovers should be together.

***

So the answer is … no.

Day Four: Giving and Receiving

As the Evolutionary Collective met this morning at Asilomar, I looked around the room at the beauty there. More than eighty of us sat as a coat of many colours, fine examples of both unity and uniqueness. I love the image of an ice cream cooler full of different tubs. I’d grab a spoon and dip into Rocky Road, then Pistachio, and how about some Pralines and Cream? All delicious.

Just before lunch, Patricia announced that we’d be receiving a gift. One member had created “bracelets for the women and key chains for the guys”, each emblazoned with the words “Awakened Love”. I smiled and then frowned. My heart wanted the bracelet. I don’t care about key chains. In January, Ali, a young Senegalese boy, had tied a glass bead bracelet around my wrist, a gesture so clearly of love. The first two nights I took it off to shower but then it hit me: this symbol will stay next to my skin till the day I die.

Today I approached the giver of jewelry and asked if I could have a bracelet instead of the key chain. She thought she had an extra one in her room so the future looked bright. Minutes later, a woman showed up with just what I wanted. Turns out that one of the female participants wanted a key chain! Later, at lunch, Cindy rushed up to celebrate. She had her treasure and I had mine. Both of us had been brave in asking for a change … and the universe smiled on our intentions.

Other moments of grace:

1. I had a big sunburn from yesterday, and no sunscreen. Denise noticed my dilemma. Seeing that I was about to head to the beach after lunch, she pointed to the goop that she had kindly brought to the meeting room.

2. On an evening walk, Lara played us a phone call she just received from her young daughter back east. “Goodnight, mommy. Please come home soon.” It’s a keeper.

3. I’ve been seeing a counsellor to deal with past traumas. She’s at the conference. When I was feeling so very small this afternoon, I reached out to her for five minute of coaching. I left her with compassion for myself that I sometimes get triggered and immediately go into a knee jerk collapse. I celebrated that I brought myself back within a couple of hours.

4. About thirty of us went down to the beach this evening to see the sunset. The big ball popped below the cloud cover just before diving beneath the horizon. It wasn’t a grand show. The grandness was in our eyes, which often turned from the sun to each other. We were together. That was enough.

***

Simple moments, full of grace. Enough to fill a day with quiet satisfaction.

Daddy!

I ventured into YouTube this afternoon, intending to feed my addiction to the song “Shallow”, sung by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.  I went in search of a clip showing their singing embrace at the Academy Awards.  I melted when she rested her head against his at the end.  Today, I never got there.

I was waylaid by a video showing a US serviceman’s greeting to his family on the big screen at a football game.  There was his wife, teenaged son and maybe 10-year-old daughter, all decked out in their finery.  As they stared longingly at the screen, and as his message completed, the announcer asked them to turn around.  Walking across the field, wearing his uniform, was their husband and father.  The little girl’s eyed exploded and hands came to her face.  “Daddy!”  Then she sprinted to her dad, throwing her body up against his.  Arms holding tight around his neck, tears falling.  I cried too.

I kept watching homecoming videos – reunions with parents, spouses, kids and friends.  At graduation ceremonies, jumping out of boxes in living rooms, a special visitor coming into the kindergarten class.  Some soldiers talked a lot.  Some just silently held their loved ones.  Love wrapped itself around all of them.

I did this for my mom and dad once, flying back to Ontario from Alberta for a surprise.  I was hiding away in a little space off the living room of the farm where mom grew up.  Mom, dad, Aunt Gertrude and Uncle Orville had just come into the driveway.  And now they were sitting down.  Through the door, I heard the voices of the people I loved.  And then the door opened.  Hugs, tears, holding each other in all the ways possible.

I just spent an hour or more immersed in this depth of love.  I don’t have any kids.  My dear wife Jody has died.  But this love, given and received, is available to me.  In those moments of contact, there is nothing but the beloved.  It’s beyond happy.  It’s so beyond the usual rhythms of the day.  May we embrace it.