Tame Me

A friend of mine recently reintroduced me to the book The Little Prince.  The narrator had crashlanded his plane in the desert and was approached by a young boy.  He told the narrator about meeting a fox, who had a lot to say:

“You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.

“What does that mean – ‘tame’?”

“It means to establish ties.”

If you tame me, then we shall need each other.  To me, you will be unique in all the world.  To you, I shall be unique in all the world.”

As I love in this life, it’s clear to me that a few people have tamed me, and I them.  Although I tell myself that I don’t need these precious folks to do or say any particular thing, I am tied to them with ribbons of grace.  One I know is at a great physical distance from me, but she is as close as my heart.  Even if we hardly ever talk, maybe never see each other again, the contact is there.  I can feel it.

“If you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life.  I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others.  Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground.  Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow.”

When I enter a room and see one who has tamed and is tamed, a hush falls down my body.  It may be a romantic impulse or perhaps not.  There is a surge of inbreath, an excitement and yet a stillness.  He or she is unique in my world.  I feel pulled towards the source of such peace.

“You have hair that is the color of gold.  Thank how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me!  The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you.  And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat.”

Jody and I tamed each other.  There are two trees in Belmont that I’ve christened “Jody’s tree”.  And when I’m in their presence I’m also in the presence of my beloved wife.  Although many tears have dripped down my face in the last three years, our taming often produces a little smile of remembrance.  For the good times.  For the laughing and the dancing and the cuddling.  Our trees remind me.

“One runs the risk of weeping a little, if one lets himself be tamed.”

And weeping I do.  For what more is there in this life than relationship, in loving another as oneself?  Weeping in sadness at the distance between us, measured either in miles or in lifetimes.  Weeping in joy for the privilege of being tied to great souls.  And smiling too.

 

Meeting Royalty

I still have two hours of the “What Now?” conference to watch on my laptop so my “Day Four B” will have to wait.

***

Johnny Bower died last week at age 93.  He was my boyhood hero, the ageless goalie for the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Tributes for this hockey player and humanitarian have been pouring in, and I got to thinking about another human being.  I wonder if they ever sat down for a coffee.

Johnny Bower

“Everyone had a story about the way the Hall-of-Famer treated every Leafs fan who asked for an autograph, who asked for time.  He smiled.  He laughed.  He cared.  He was kind.”

“Bower’s grandson … told stories that involved his grandpa laughing: laughing when he fell off the three-legged wooden ladder he had built; laughing when he spilled a can of paint on the carpet when trying to paint the living room when his wife was away; laughing when he would take out his dentures, put on his wife’s swimsuit and hat, and walk around the cottage trying to make other people laugh too … Grandpa could laugh at anything, especially himself.”

“Johnny considered it a privilege, and not a right, to be a Toronto Maple Leaf.  Gratitude drove him to be the best he could be.”

“Every Canadian team is a public trust, a repository of hope and obsession and love, and Johnny Bower never wanted to let anyone down.  So he spent a lifetime making the people he met feel like they mattered, because he thought they did.”

“Overwhelmed by how genuinely nice he was and just a beautiful human being.  He seemed so sincere when he talked to you, and always had such a great smile on his face.”

“I got a good 10 to 15 minutes to talk to him … and he spoke to me as if there was no one else in the room.”

“An honorary member of the Union of Ontario Indians with the name ‘Johnny With A Heart As Big As An Eagle’s Wingspan Bower'”

“Generous, soft-spoken, warm and welcoming.  I’m sure Johnny had an ego but he didn’t show it.  There was no entitlement in Johnny Bower.”

“He took time for every person, for every kid, every fan.  He made sure they got what they were looking for.”

“Not only had Johnny played Santa Claus for many years at the Toronto Maple Leafs family Christmas parties, every day felt like Christmas when you had a chance to chat with Johnny Bower.”

“I read an article a few years ago.  A park in Mississauga, Ontario had been renamed after Bower.  Then the story related how Bower took it upon himself to be the person who would go out on a daily basis and clean up the litter in the park that bore his name.  That was his credo.  Get the job done right.”

“He never had a bad day and he made a point of never having anything but a positive interaction with anyone.”

The Dalai Lama

“We spoke of universal consciousness … We spoke of current military actions and politics.  We laughed.  We mostly laughed in amazement at his bellowing belly laughs … I felt a complete sense of clean, sincere, awesomeness.  In my most humble estimation, this guy registered as The Real Thing.”

“In the West, you have education, and this is good.  And you have technology, and this is good.  But you do not educate your people in values.  Values of the heart.  Compassion.  This you must do.”

“And then the Dalai Lama did the most incredible thing.  When I thought he was about to exit left and hightail it out of there, he moved toward the doorway entrance and waited patiently for each of us to file out.  And then he hugged each one of us goodbye.  Slowly.  Firmly.  Like your favorite grandparent hugs you – with thankfulness and deep care, like they have all the time in the world.  And when he pulled back from our Most Holy Bear Hug, he looked me in the eyes, as he did with each of us, and he smiled wide and nodded.  And let me tell you, without an ounce of romanticism, being in his gaze was like having the Milky Way grinning down at me.  I have only rarely in this lifetime felt so clearly seen, and so clearly loved.  The simultaneity of recognition and acceptance was intoxicating.”

“I tried to contain my excitement but it exploded when we saw him arrive.  Everyone stood up and rushed to the walkway and security held us back.  He is already 81-years-old and had to be supported by people as he walked.  Still, he looked at us with a cheeky smile.  He didn’t just walk past.  He stopped to watch the crowd carefully and made sure he greeted all of us.”

“His infectious smile and laugh came suddenly and exuberantly, and rippled through the whole gathering each time.  He regularly made jokes, looking around to see if we were all paying attention.”

“I felt like I was meeting a small kid who cheers you up with a merry smile.”

“There is a real joy surrounding him.  When he looks at you, he looks into you.”

“Having met HHDL numerous times, I would say it’s like meeting yourself.”

“During the talk, the subject of Tibet came up.  You could tell this was a very painful subject for Tibetans because the Tibetans around us were either weeping or holding back tears, but he talked with such serenity, without a single trace of anger in his voice, and he repeatedly emphasized non-violence, mutual understanding and his appreciation for the Chinese people.”

“What a sweet soul he is.”

***

Well, ladies and gentlemen, it’s not just about two famous guys
It’s about you and me

Day Four A

I haven’t seen a single minute of the conference live.  I’m usually a day late in talking to you.  But it doesn’t matter.  Wisdom has a long shelf life.

Here are some juicy morsels from the first half of Day Four:

“Projection is the attribution of cause to someone else that makes me feel something.  As in ‘If you changed your behavior I’d feel better.’  Or … ‘You make me feel good.  Without you, I wouldn’t feel good.'”

Hmm.  I think I do this a lot, especially on the positive side.  If that cherished person wasn’t in my life, could I be happy?  The quiet answer is “Yes”.

“If you witness the location of the distress in your body and allow it to be there, you bring energy to the distress.  Instead you can focus on another part of your body that has no pain.  Where in my body am I feeling some energized flow?  I’ll go there.  I’ll leave the pain.”

Hmm again.  I’ve always been told to be with the pain.  What you resist will persist.  And now I’m invited to ignore the pain and go elsewhere.  Taking a new path seems to negate my history, and I don’t want to do that.  But really, shouldn’t my well-being be the main thing here?

“There are iron chains: attachment to money, power or sex.  But there are also golden chains: attachment to our aspirations and ideals … What’s needed is to act impeccably regarding our aspirations while simultaneously releasing any attachment to the outcome.”

I’m training to ride my bicycle across Canada this summer.  Can I visualize and accept being exhausted or injured in Ontario … and leaving the ride?  Yes.  Will I do all I can to prevent that from happening?  Yes.

“Three of the most powerful figures of the 20th century – Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela – had that spiritual, passionate non-attached kind of power that overpowered the power against them.”

Indeed.

“The invitation is towards this deeper integration, to see past surfaces.  Without the integration of our sexuality, you get all this intellectualization and pedophilia.  Or you get these people who can talk such a good line … and are raping women.  How does that work?  It’s because that human being does not have the whole system integrated.”

So I dedicate myself to balance – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  All make me Bruce and all assist in letting Bruceness go.

“I’m not sure if democracy is the last stage of the big game.  Will we be governed by a council of wise people?  Democracy is a mess.  It’s a beautiful mess, and better than anything before but there’s something beyond, something more civilized and intelligent.”

To what extent can I see outside of the box?  To honour what has solidly been the case in the past and present but also ask “What’s next?”

Day Four B tomorrow.

Close

I went to a concert at Koerner Hall last night.  Two violinists, two cellists and two violists.  The ticket said that I was in Row AA.  And was I ever!  At the very front, virtually in the middle.  About ten feet from the performers.

It was astonishing.  I saw fingers smash against the strings … and then caress them.  I saw glances between musicians, and smiles.  I heard the worlds of Brahms and Tchaikovsky in sound surround.  It was all so vivid, so immersing.

***

I thought back to the Three Tenors performing in Toronto’s Skydome.  Jody and I paid nearly $100 per ticket (unheard of!) and took our spots way up high on the far side of the stadium.  Mr. big Pavarotti was reduced to Mr. tiny ant.  Several times during the performance, I pulled my eyes away from the JumboTron.  No way was I going to watch TV at a hundred bucks a throw.

Decades later, I’m a regular at the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club in London, Ontario – capacity about 60.  To hear Jez Lowe sing his ballads right in front of me, with the passion of the songwriter, is transporting.

***

I have many hobbies.  One is wandering down residential streets, looking at the furniture on the porch.  If two chairs sit there, I hope that they’re right next to each other, so the unknown occupants can hold hands.  Alas, there’s usually a sturdy patio table in between, or maybe just a swath of blank space.  Hands can’t reach that far.

***

Speaking of hands, many couples stroll my way, and so very few of them are holding each other.  Oh, there might be a brush against the other’s thigh every so often, but no real contact.  The exceptions include young and old who swing their arms together gaily, or reach the other hand over to hold the back of their lover’s, or just gently press the soul into the flesh.  I like that.

***

On the subway, some folks will stand rather than take the empty seat beside me.  Others will sit down, and our bodies are in contact for the rest of the ride.  I’ll take option two.

***

Life erupts all around us, sometimes with joy, and sometimes sorrow.  Or it flows like honey.  May I always face the action, and move towards it, where the sweetness (or bittersweetness) lies.

 

Beloved

Craig Sager has been a courtside reporter for the NBA for 26 years.  He lived and breathed basketball.  And he died yesterday.

I was watching a video about him this morning.  He spoke to an audience, wearing a delightfully outrageous sports jacket full of flowers from the rainbow.

“I will live my life full of love and full of fun.  It’s the only way I know how.”

I stared at the screen. He was me.  I figured out a few years ago that my life was about two things: loving people and making them laugh.  Hi Craig.

Tributes have poured in:

“He was a way better person than he was a worker, even though he was amazing in that regard.  He loved all the people around him and everybody felt that.”

“If my dad was right and time really is how you live your life, then that son of a bitch outlived us all.”

“You could be on my team any day.”

“He gives everything realness.”

“Thank you for being you!  Brought the best out of everyone you met.”

“God bless you Craig Sager for your wit, the way you entertained us, made us smile and for your sheer will and courage, class and dignity.”

“Craig Sager may be the only man that could get away with those brightly colored suits and gators to match AND GET AWAY WITH AND OWN IT.”

“A life well lived.”

“When I think of him, I just think of joy, of smiling.  A dude you could have fun with, somebody that had pride but didn’t take himself too seriously.”

“Was able to take a joke, and able to give a joke, was able to understand what a good time was.  We love you Craig.”

***

I know that I’m loved by some people.  Many no doubt will say nice things about me when I die.  I’m not Craig Sager.  I’m Bruce Kerr.  We’re brothers.

Last words to you, dear man:

“Sports are supposed to be fun, and so I have fun with the way I dress”

“I try to get there three hours before the game, talk with the ushers and the security guards, the coaches and the fans”

“I laid in the hospital for months, hoping to do this again”

 

String Of Magic

It wasn’t a reasonable day, but rather a responsive one.  I didn’t do dishes or set up Christmas decorations.  I simply indulged, starting with breakfast at the Belmont Town Restaurant.  It’s only open on weekends and the buffet is immense.  Never in my life had I had baklava for breakie dessert.  Poppy kept plying me with coffee and the Toronto Sun sports section lured me in.  Plus Christal, the owner of the beloved Diner just down main street, was sitting at the next table with her hubby, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. Mid-baklava my friend came up to announce that she’d bought my breakfast.  “Christal – no!  Christal – thank you.”

What’s next?  Well, my friend Jane was hosting a booth at a gigantic Christmas craft fair in London.  What the heck?  Go up there and surprise her.  The event was at the Bellamere Winery, the same venue that welcomed Jody’s friends at her celebration of life two years ago.  I walked into a flurry of festive humans, some selling and some buying.  A band was playing.  A little girl stamped my hand.  And there was Jane.  Surprise!  We hugged and chatted.  After a bit, I wandered over to the front of the room, where a stone fireplace rose to a vaulted ceiling of reddish wood.  Lovely.  At the fireplace, I turned around and faced the throng.  All this colour and movement.  And I remembered.  The rows of chairs, the Kleenex boxes, the songs of love, the words spoken by so many.  My whole being stopped.  Two very different experiences, in the same space.  And both were perfect.

Now zooming back to Belmont to the United Church, for a 50s Christmas performance by Frankie and the Fairlanes.  Elvis songs, California songs, Hawaii songs, reindeer, Santa and “O Come All Ye Faithful” – mostly rockin’.  And we the audience boogied in our seats.  I flirted with the 80-something woman in front of me.  We both loved singing along.  Behind me, Sterling, a former compatriot of mine in the Port Stanley Community Choir, sent and received some good-natured barbs.  Great fun.  Plus some of my new condo neighbours showed up and snarfed banana bread with me during the post-concert festivity.

Two of those neighbours – Bill and Eileen – invited me in for a glass of wine.  We laughed at each other’s stories.  I recited “Twas The Night Before Christmas”.  All was calm.  All was bright.

Back to London to the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club, to hear Boreal.  They’re a trio of harmonizing women from Guelph.  Tannis Slimmon was one.  I approached her at the break and said “You are responsible for one of my finest musical memories.”  And that’s true.  Years ago, at the Home County Folk Festival, Tannis invited audience members to come up on stage and sing “There’s A Lift” with her.  Such an anthem.

There’s a lift that I get when I sing this little song
There’s a lift that I get dum dee dum
There’s a lift that I get when people sing along
That’s a lift I’m getting right now

Jude, Katherine and Tannis finished with “Silent Night”, offering us exquisite harmony.  And we fifty souls offered it right back.  No instruments, just the voice.

I’m so glad to be alive.

.

Haida Gwaii … The Best Ten Minutes

From June 12 to the 19th, I was a passenger on a 90-foot wooden ship which was built in 1904.  The Maple Leaf took us to wondrous spots amid the islands of Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands).  We were an hour-and-a-half north of Vancouver by plane.

There is much to say, so why don’t I start at the end?

The last evening on board, Captain Greg invited us into the wheelhouse for a slide show of our trip.  That’s why he and First Mate Ashley were taking all those photos!  We cozied up and watched our moments together .. so many smiles and cheers!

As the last slide showed its face, Greg asked us to think of our favourite ten minutes on board or on shore.  Someone next to me started.  I wasn’t a good human being right then.  Instead of listening, I prepared my oration.  I would talk about a time when we were in our Zodiac inflatable boat and Greg took us into a cave opening.  It was sublimely green and quiet.  And so were we (the quiet part, I mean).  Okay, I’m ready.

“Why don’t we go in this direction.  Bruce?”

Inside, the voice said “No”.  No to the cave.  Yes to … the log.  I protested to myself a bit.  “Nobody wants to hear that.”  >  “The log.”

And so I began.  “My favourite ten minutes was a time when I was terrified.  We were walking through the forest.  I was last in line.”  As we rounded a luxuriant corner, there sat a log across a creek.  It was a big log, with a one foot flat part shaved off the top for walking.  I gulped inconspicuously.  I’m afraid of heights.  Whether the drop is six feet or six hundred, my brain puts me in trouble.

“It’s okay, Bruce.  Just walk assertively.”  The journey was maybe thirty feet.  I was about ten feet on when our mother-daughter duo (Jenny and Miranda), made a joyful decision to sit down amidships for a photo op.  Trudy, our naturalist, was ready on the far shore with a camera.  The three of them were all giggly.  Such happiness in the face of disaster.

There I was, nowhere to go.  My muscles tightened.  I froze.  I couldn’t bring myself to turn around and walk off the way I came.  “Say something, Bruce.  You need help.”  >  “But what will they think of me?”  >  “Speak.”

“Trudy, I have big balance issues.”

In a shot, Trudy put down the camera and splashed across the creek.

In a shot, Miranda leapt up from the log and was walking towards me.

Miranda reached out for my right hand.  Trudy reached out for the left.  We held tight.  And there was the union I long for in life.  Timeless.  The three of us walked back to the safety of the trail.  And then we crossed the creek on a few stones.

Caves?  Eagles?  Humpback whales?  All marvelous.  But none of them was the best.

 

Home With The Kids

I went to a musical last week at the Palace Theatre in London. The stars were all 13- or 14-years-old.  For six years I taught at St. Mary Choir School and these kids were in Grade 5 during my last year there.  Now they’re in Grade 8, ready to graduate.

What I witnessed was the wonder of The Lion King Junior.  As the show opened, a shaman walked onto the stage, dressed in flaming red, adorned with fierce makeup, and holding a walking stick.  She sang “The Circle Of Life” with a deeply vibrant voice and amazing stage presence.  Fourteen became ageless.

I watched Simba and Mufasa and Zazu and all their friends.  I heard “Hakuna Matata” and “Can You Feel The Love Tonight?”.  All with my mouth slightly ajar.  How music and soul can reach us.

My best moments of the evening were not about what was happening on the stage.  In front of me sat a dad and his young daughter.  She found his lap more comfy than her seat.  There they sat, with the love between them so obvious.  At one point, she reached her arms back and clasped her hands at the back of his neck.  Truly lovely.

Before the show, I talked to one of my favourite students from my St. Mary’s days.  I’ll call her Holly.  She’s in Grade 10 now.  Such a glowing spirit from back then … and still.  Holly is looking at law as a career.  I told her that she speaks so well, and that it would be a good fit for her.  Actually, it didn’t matter what we talked about.  Our love for each other was in the air.

After the show, another former student, now in Grade 9, hugged me.  She’ll be Amanda in this story.  When she was in Grade 5, she gave me the DVD Elf as a Christmas present.  Such a cool thing to do.  Our few minutes of talking were timeless.  Caring for each other doesn’t stop just because we’re not in the same setting anymore.

All these wonders make me want to have kids but I guess that’ll have to wait for my next lifetime.  For the time being, I’ll revel in the moments.

Day Six: Saying Yes To It All

I slept for ten hours last night.  The body is not behaving nicely.  I look at yesterday with wonder, at all the ailments (real and imagined?) that came my way:

1.  Exhausted

2.  Dizzy in the heat, head achy

3.  Nose stuffed up here and there

4.  Coughing up yellow phlegm

5.  Constipated

6.  Sand flea bites on my feet and lower legs, itchy on and off

7.  Certain unmentionable body parts are now four times their original size

The lack of wind meant that flies were my frequent visitors.  I was open to a rarified air of consciousness but I guess it wasn’t open to me.  So I retreated to my air conditioning and my book.

I read about Birdie, a Canadian aboriginal woman who was sexually abused by her uncle but hadn’t lost her spirituality.  Her love for the women in her life was immense.  There was so much anguish in the book but Bernice poked her head above it all, time and again.  As I read about the violence and her depression, my body was doing its thing.  Her pain mixed with mine.

Her home wastwisted with heat”.  Physical and emotional, like me right now.

One night, Bernice slept in a dumpster, holding thrown away flowers to her breast.  I too cling to the symbols of hope, such as this blog, knowing that as for my current malaise, this too must pass.

As Bernice’s aunt said, “The Kid looks like she’s melting.  Dimming.  Half gone … But.  She also looks lovely.  Like her body fits her spirit.”  Yes, it feels like I’ve dimmed on this vacation but the essence of Bruce is here.  Untarnished.  Still shining.

[Interlude:  My waiter friend has just brought me a coffee.  Milk is foaming above the rim of the cup.  I realize that I need to stir very slowly to prevent it from slopping over.  And so I do.  I’m pretty slow right now.  It’s what’s needed.]

***

I walked behind two men this morning on the way to breakfast.  They were strolling.  I was strolling a bit slower.  They both had grey hair, blue shirts and grey shorts.  (We’re all the same.)  One fellow had brown legs, the other perfectly white.  (We’re all so different.)  I made no judgments … exterior or interior.  We share the path.

***

I’m alone here.  I’ve been friendly to folks I’ve met, those from Cuba and elsewhere.  Our conversations are brief and then they’re off to visit with their friends.  I wish there was a special someone to share experiences, thoughts and emotions with me.  It wasn’t to be this time.

Writing to you is essential, even if “you” only represents ten people.  I get a fair number of likes but hardly any comments.  That’s okay.  I know I’m reaching a few folks.  Another type of contact for me is to post on “Toronto Golf Nuts”, a website about the best sport in the world.  I love what Brooke Henderson from Canada is doing on the LPGA Tour, and here’s what I said on Wednesday:

“What I most enjoyed about Brooke at the ANA was her willingness to do an interview after her opening round 73.  She kept answering reporters’ questions, despite no doubt feeling down.  She didn’t make much eye contact with them but hung in there and gave honest answers.  It says so much about her as a person.  I respect her humanity as much as I respect her golf, more actually.”

Yesterday, some kind person responded with “Well said.”  I cried.  Just those two tiny words of appreciation and I was gone.  Good for me.  Good for us.

Waiting

In an hour, I’ll walk into a restaurant for my second date with a lovely woman.  We had great fun the first time and no doubt tonight’s conversation will be well punctuated with laughs and smiles.  That’s certainly what I want in life.

Here I sit, bathing in uncertainty.  That little smile comes back to my lips again.  Perhaps we’ll become a couple, perhaps not.  Both are fine.  It’s possible that she’ll come to Cuba with me in three weeks – possible but unlikely.  But hope springs eternal.  I’ll have a wonderful time down south whether I’m alone or walking beside a companion.

This feeling in the moment is sublime, actually quite sweet.  I’m just sitting with the unknown, open to whatever the universe will provide.  There’s big space inside me.  My taps on the keys are slow and gentle, sort of a caress.  I’m in the library, sitting across from a young couple who are speaking in a language I don’t know.  They’re tender with each other, in tone of voice and facial expression.  It fits well with my reverie.

How come I’m not nervous?  I don’t know but it works for me.  Whatever happens tonight, I’m back in the game of relationship.  I’m moving towards a future of being with, doing stuff together, holding hands.  It’s time.

Jody is right here, cheering for me.  Thank you, Jodiette.  Life truly goes on.