The Truth

My doorbell rang half-an-hour ago.  I love my doorbell.  It sounds like a classical pianist floating his fingers over the keys in a series of descending runs.  Sometimes I ring my own doorbell … just for fun.

A boy of about 11 stood before me.  I’ll call him Trevor.  I know him a bit.  He’s in the Grade 6 class that I miss volunteering in.  And he was selling pepperette sausages.  I opted for 25 hot ones and 25 honey-garlic.  He was pleased.

The moment was also in front of me.  Trevor mentioned that all the kids missed me.  I was glad and sad.  The opportunity was to tell him the entire truth about why I’m not at school right now.  Or … just part of the truth.  I decided on the whole enchilada.

The first reason is that the school board isn’t allowing any volunteers onsite – just paid staff.  Strangely, it wasn’t even tempting to rely on that reason alone.  It would have been a convenient out: some officials made the decision.  Nothing I can do about it.

No thanks.  “Partial” leaves a sour taste in my mouth.  So I sprung for reason number two.  “I don’t feel safe about being in the classroom.  I’m 71, at higher risk for contracting Covid.  And there’s no way that 26 kids can stay six feet away from each other in a classroom.”

I love those kids.  And taking care of my health comes first.  As soon as I told Trevor the truth, I sighed.  The truth simply works.  Nothing left out.  Clean.

I look forward to a future WordPress post about my return to the young ones.

Coronacuts

Well, well, well … here it is two days later, not two weeks.  I wonder if my fingers will re-emerge longterm or just sporadically.

***

Delight seems to be in short supply recently, but I experienced some on the CBC News Network telecast yesterday morning.  The topic among the three hosts was hair.  It seems to be growing longer, and beauty salons are out of bounds.

We saw photos of Canadians taking matters into their own hands.  There were poised scissors, bowls atop heads, smiles and a few grimaces.  Heather Hiscox, the anchor, was joined by John Northcott, a commentator, and by Chris Somebody, the weather guy.  John happens to be bald.

Heather: Don’t we all want to be John Northcott right now?  John, share some expert tips with us.

John smiled big time and showed us an old photo from the 80’s of him with a full shock of blond hair.

Chris:  You look better now!

John was looking pretty nostalgic.  In the moment, he was a beaming older fellow nattily dressed in a suit and bow tie.

John:  Certainly an appreciation for those who have cut our hair for all these years.  Sitting in the chair and letting someone do what they know how to do is going to be a welcome return at some point.

Heather:  Chris is lamenting the ski jump on his head.  [He shows us a profile and sweeps his hand through the hairy mass.]  Maybe you want to go and do the Northcott, Chris.

John:  It’s a slippery slope, Chris.  Next it’ll be bow ties.

Huge smiles, giggles and guffaws.  We the audience laughed along with the folks on our screens.  It was therapeutic.  It was what human beings are meant to do.

The Gentle Bend

I’m drawn to curves. I retreat from straight lines. There’s a flow outwards, a going out and seeking, and then a graceful turning back. It’s something like driving on a twisty country road. You can feel the force from the side.

***

I love it when a curve rises or falls. There’s the grunt of effort and then the “Whee!” of descent. I remember very well a roller coaster road in Alberta where new hotel employees would be initiated into the lay of the land … also discovering the fitness of their stomachs.

Then there’s there’s the curving that reaches out and touches another … a nestling together, an embrace, a merging. We come close. We spoon. We cuddle.

And sometimes we spiral, flowing upwards together around some centre, seeing each other anew at each turn. The moving is up and ever out – including more, visiting new lands, opening.

We journey on these curves, eyes open to the mystery.

Loved

I pulled into the school’s parking lot this afternoon just before the bell rang to end lunch recess.  There’s a metal gate that separates cars from children.  Gathering my stuff, I slid out of Ruby and started for the office.

And then I looked to my right.  Six or seven Grade 5 and 6 kids were leaning over the gate towards me.  One girl yelled out something like “I know who you are!”  She meant that I was Bruce Kerr but in a deeper way these young ones do “get” me.  They know I love them. They know I challenge them to be full human beings.  They know I make them laugh.

I walked up to the throng and tried to absorb all the words that were flying my way.  Apparently a professional wrestler had been speaking at this morning’s assembly and the general consensus was that he was totally cool.  As the collective babbling reached a crescendo, I understood: They wanted to hang out with me.  They wanted me to know what they were thinking and feeling.  The lean was real.

After signing in at the office, I headed to the classroom.  Silent reading held sway for the first fifteen minutes.  I sat in a chair at the edge of the carpet and pulled up The Last Leopard on my phone, the closest kids only a few inches away.  Jeremy remarked that I had quite a crew around me.  He was right.  Children often come close.

Towards the end of the day, I put on my coat and told the students that I was heading to Toronto for a few days, especially to hear a marvelous choir from Los Angeles on Saturday evening.  One boy asked me whom I was going with.  “Me.”  A girl said “Take me.”  And then a young guy said the same.  Somehow I don’t think parents would be too interested in that prospect.

***

So what do I make of all this?  Humbly, I know that I impact many children.  I wish I had grandkids of my own.  But I don’t.  What’s left for me are the hours at school, in which there are minutes of connection between 11-year-olds and a 71-year-old.

What a blessing to reach young souls
What a blessing to contribute to the lives of others
What a blessing to walk the paths of the planet … with you

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