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.

Stan and Ollie

I was ten years old, in Grade 5 at Bedford Park Public School in Toronto.  The school had a fun night for us kids and I remember it felt very special to be showing up there in the evening.  There were all sorts of cool stations, such as standing in front of a projector while a mom traced my silhouette on black construction paper.  As I cut out the image, I was in wonder that this was me.  I’m real.

Further on in the evening, after oodles of popcorn and sweets, we sat in the gym and watched a movie.  It was Laurel and Hardy at their slapstick best.  Laurel, pencil-thin with the most flexible face I’d ever seen … and Hardy, so very fat and jolly, complete with a little Hitler moustache (although I’d never heard of that guy).

I was transfixed and exploding regularly with laughter.  Self-esteem wasn’t my best subject and what a blessing to be so very happy in the company of my friends.

Laurel and Hardy clearly sunk deep inside this insecure boy, and stayed there.  On Saturday, I was searching for a movie to see in London.  Stan and Ollie was playing at the Hyland Cinema and it was already speaking to me.  The story focused on their later years, well after the popularity of their one hundred films.  The end of the celebrity was coming and two very human beings presented themselves to me … at odds with each other and yet deeply loving each other.  Here’s a review:

Jeff Pope’s script gives us two men whose partnership needs an audience to thrive.  Alone they’re close but often businesslike, held back; with even a single pair of eyes on them they blossom into life, slipping into routines in the hope of raising a smile.  Every audience from one to a million gets the same amount of effort.

I’m here to perform.  I’m here to be around people and hopefully touch their lives.  Hopefully make them smile.

At one point late in their journey together, Stan looks at Ollie and says “You don’t love me.  You love Laurel and Hardy.”  Biting words, and Ollie chooses not to send the venom back.  As his health declines and he declares retirement, and thus the end of walking onstage, there’s a scene in bed.  Ollie is tired in his PJs and Stan crawls in beside him, fully clothed.  They sit there holding hands, and we the audience are moved.  Simple contact forged over decades of friendship and collegiality.

Here’s another reviewer:

After that delightful prologue, Stan & Ollie begins in earnest – sixteen years later, by which time Laurel and Hardy – now competing with television, their own reruns and a couple of imitators named Abbott and Costello – have been forced to tour second-tier theaters in Britain, staying in un-grand hotels and playing to half-empty houses.  They’re not happy about it, but they’re troupers above all else, playing their classic “bits” as if they’re discovering them for the first time.  Written with compassion and worshipful wit by Jeff Pope, Stan & Ollie pays tribute to a bygone era when a little song, a little dance, a dollop of slapstick and some clever stage patter counted as enormously successful pop entertainment.  By dint of sheer self-preservation and professionalism, Stan and Ollie manage to turn their final tour together into a triumph, not knowing that it’s a curtain call, not just for their nearly 30-year partnership but for an entire culture.

I see the history of Bruce as I sit in the Hyland.  A little boy, laughing and laughing at big men.  Now I’m a big man myself and happily I’ve not let the joy slip out of my life.  In the falling away of Laurel and Hardy, and of slapstick humour, I see my own future ending.  I expect lots of raucous silliness between now and then.  And I hope that some kids, when they’re in their forties, will look back on their childhood and remember me with fondness.  “Mr. Kerr – he was pretty strange … and nice.”

Where is Home for Me?

There was a time when playing golf simulations
on my laptop was supremely important

There was a time when me living in Vancouver
was the only thing that got my juices going

There was a time when I knew I would be an accountant …
and the riches would flow accordingly

Where did those people go? They are old versions of me, and I need to honour them as I say goodbye. Which leaves me with “Who is Bruce right now?” And who should I consult to figure that out?

These days, I gauge my Bruceness by seeing what “sings” to me. If I don’t feel my heart flutter, then I sweep the topic to the periphery of my life.

Just now, in the Landon Branch of the London Public Library, I picked up today’s issue of The Toronto Star, a well-respected newspaper. Perhaps in there I’ll find headlines (or commercials) that speak to me. Let’s see:

I’ll add a ♡ for “yes” and a ■ for “no”.

Province looks at ways to speed evictions ■

Beware health care “super-agencies”, experts say ■

No host for Oscars … but show will go on ■

Trump gives insult-free speech ■

OPP mulls probe into alleged bill leak ■

Hockey parents’ “brawl” just words ■

Toronto home prices likely to rise 4 per cent this year ■

How much is your diamond worth? ■

If they say it, they should be held accountable

North Pole isn’t where it’s supposed to be ■

Apartment fire kills 10 in Paris ■

Pope publicly acknowledges clergy’s sexual abuse of nuns

Election interference is top of mind for Canada ■

One day only! Midnight sale! ■

Costa Rican ex-president accused of assault ■

She speaks for the trees

One of top 3 best goal-scorers on Earth ■

Cannabis use another hot topic

Ottawa wrong to support opposition in Venezuela ■

Get your bonus upgrade ■

***

What’s true is that I don’t care about most of the stuff that shows up in the news. I do care about keeping your word, reversing injustices, and having loving relationships. But mass media isn’t looking like a wise place to find many life-affirming articles.

So stop reading the newspaper, Bruce
Turn off CNN
Go elsewhere for wisdom and love
Go home

Your health depends on it

Day Ten: Toubacouta Tour

I slept till noon and it could have been far more. The kids were lounging by the pool and there were no adults in sight. I had the thought that they were still sleeping but I found out they’d all gone over to Jo and Lydia’s house. After breakfast, they had decided to let me sleep. I got about five hours of shuteye – their total must have been two or three. And how exactly did they manage that?

I put my Speedo on (!) and sat by the pool a bit. My slow brain finally figured out that the kids needed to be with their friends – no adults please. By this time Jan, the father of another clan, had dropped by. He offered to walk me over to the house because I didn’t know where it was.

Outside of the B&B, I saw the real Toubacouta. Small cement homes, lots of folks walking, the occasional goat or chicken, dirt streets, a few stalls for selling things. Not at all what I experience on the other side of the world.

As Jan and I walked into the house, Lydia was there to greet us, dressed in a flowing African robe of many colours. We all had slept well. She had asked Iced Tea to drive me around the village on his motorbike. The smiling man was clearly happy to do so.

We visited some neighbours of his, often folks who were standing outside of a business. Everyone seemed to be happy. On one stop, we met his mother and a young woman peeling some vegetable. Instant smiles came my way. Mom-in-law especially glowed. After we set off again, me holding Iced Tea’s waist from the rear, he told me “I like you. I will do anything to have you be happy here.” And he absolutely meant it.

Iced Tea took me to see his house under construction. It was basically just a foundation. He stood in each room, proudly pointing to bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and living room. He held up a concrete brick as I snapped his picture, so proud of his future.

I told Iced Tea that the boy I tutor wanted to contribute to the village, and that I had decided to put the money into his home. His eyes widened and he surrounded me in a hug. Thank you never felt so good.

Later on the ride, Iced Tea stopped at a neighbour’s, and a 3-year-old girl bounced toward him. She settled in front of her dad with tiny hands on the handlebars. We were three for awhile. So sweet.

Iced Tea took me to the local hotel where several of our group were sitting at the bar, enjoying a drink. A few cheek kisses later, we were laughing. I paid for Iced Tea’s Coca -Cola when he wasn’t looking.

***

It’s now many hours later, almost midnight, and I’m writing this in bed. Out in the distance there’s the sound of drums. A soloist sings a line and then a chorus responds. It’s a goodnight that I’ve never experienced. May it come my way again, both on this trip and many times in the future.

Thank You

I was walking down Weston Road in Toronto an hour ago. On my left was a familiar funeral home, and here came an elderly gentleman through the parking lot, wearing a suit, tie and dress coat. Assuming he was an employee, I called out “Hope you don’t have to stand out here for long!” He looked at me funny … but came closer.

“I’m looking for 1273 Weston Road.” I glanced across the street and saw 2056. “You’re not really close. Here, I’ll look it up on my phone.”

Google Maps, I praise you. Within thirty seconds, I showed the screen to my new friend. He needed to drive past Lawrence, past Jane, and then watch for his destination five blocks later. How marvelous that technology helps me give.

The well-dressed gent put his hand on my shoulder, looked me way deep in the eyes, and said “Thank you.” I smiled in return. “You’re most welcome.”

***

I was walking down Bloor Street half an hour ago, on the way to my favourite library. A fellow wearing a turban was taking a box out of his truck. As he turned towards a store, the sheet perched atop the box fluttered away. I watched it zoom forwards on the sidewalk and then make a sharp right turn past a parked car. “Come back,” I muttered. On command, the paper exited traffic and renewed its relationship with the sidewalk, coming to rest at the base of a garbage can.

I pumped my legs purposefully and plucked the sheet from the cement. Yay! Truly an athletic move. I whirled around to find the delivery guy gone. “He’s in the cab.” I walked briskly to the passenger window to see that the truck was unoccupied. Another whirl left me with a row of businesses to choose from.

Hmm.

Seconds later, the guy emerged from a doorway just ahead, looking away from me towards the last known location of the sheet. I came up to him from the side, holding aloft the precious documentation. The fellow’s eyes widened, he burst into smile and accepted my gift. “Thank you.” We bowed to each other.

***

Two simple words, anointing us both

Day Three: Loving Strangers

Our Evolutionary Collective orientation started today. Thirty-two of us gathered in a hotel meeting room to feel our way into “unity consciousness”, the sense that “we” is so much more powerful than “I”.

I knew about half the people in the room. Many of them I love deeply. I expected that when we’d do spiritual practices together, I would experience big differences in the depth of connection I’d feel with loved ones compared to strangers. The actual result? Not so.

Our first experience centered on two concentric circles of human beings. Our leaders had figured out a way for us to spend twenty seconds with each person, looking way deep into their eyes. Silent communion. Melting. Being with. It was a stunning cycle of love.

Later a new configuration was presented to us. Four chairs made a cross shape. After each was occupied by a fine human, another four folks took their places behind each chair, with their hands resting on the seated one’s shoulders. The lower people each looked into the eyes of the person across the way, while those standing did the same. The seated folks took turns describing what they were experiencing while all these eyeballs up and down met their partners. A multi-level lattice of sweet energy amplified by a sequence of voices. Immense power flooded me, and I was in love with humanity, especially the unique versions in the room.

As the afternoon flowed along, I “saw” a broad ribbon twisting around the room, festooned with all those lines of energy crossing at right angles. At the centre of each intersecting line was a human being and there were many, many intersections. A glowing community of life … stretching worldwide.

After day one, we’ve already created a holy space together. More opening to come on the morrow. To love and to be loved is a blessing beyond compare.

You and Me

My favourite moments in life are when I’m sitting with one other person, talking about things that matter to us.  There’s a sense of connection, of communion.  The other is special to me, and a spiritual light encloses our being together.

I wonder if I can create that sense of intimacy in relationship to other things.  Let’s see.

1.  Life:  The ups and downs of human existence.  The joys and sorrows of the day, the triumphs and failures.  Yes, I can embrace it all, as I would hug a friend at a cozy restaurant.

2.  My Books:  My favourite one is The Grand Option by Beatrice Bruteau.  As I sit in my man chair caressing the pages, the words and I touch each other, quietly and sublimely.  Contact.

3.  The Younger Me:  So many years have drifted down the tunnel of time.  Earlier versions of Bruce scrambled up mountains, created a soulful batik and played cello with a passion.  Now they’re gone from the surface of life but somehow they still sit with me as I sip coffee at the diner.  To be revered.

4.  My Home:  My orange-brick sanctuary.  It’s where my soul has space to unfold.  Favourite chairs and my delicious bed cradle me as I sink into them.  I am being held, as I would by a lover.

5.  My Car:  Scarlet has been my companion on journeys to meditation retreats and to reunions with faraway friends.  She has led me to thrilling sports matches and harmonic concerts.  She knows where I want to go.

6.  My Clothes:  My favourite red shirt, my ancient red toque, the jeans that feel like home.  And don’t forget all those t-shirts with the funky sayings.  They’re part of me, expressions of me.

7.  The Songs I Love:  Where would I be without The Wings That Fly Us Home, Imagine and Dancing Queen?  Such longtime friends and tender reminders of what’s important in life.  I breathe into you and you hold me in return.

8.  The Land:  I am drawn to the fields and forests, the birds that fly high and the streams that roar or meander.  Time often stops in your presence.  We sit together in peace.

9.  My Ceramic Mugs:  I wrap my hands around you and enjoy the coffee you offer.  I am nourished.  I am comforted.  I am happy.

10.  My Body:  Parts that I like, parts that I don’t.  But behold the miracle when they all come together.  Even if some things don’t work perfectly, I celebrate the uniqueness of these muscles, bones and organs, all enclosed nicely in my skin.  I kiss my hand.  I wrap my arms around me as far as they stretch.  There’s a lot to love.

***

Things to be used?
I don’t think so
They’re all you’s to me

Skunks

It’s after sunset now and I just went outside to bring the Baltimore oriole and hummingbird feeders in.  If I don’t do that, chances are good that raccoons will climb the poles and go for the goodies, breaking some plastic stuff in the process.

It’s really dark at the side of my home and I was thinking about something as I rounded the corner to the backyard.  And … Zap!  Munching sunflower seeds below my other feeders were three skunks.  My heart pounding skyrocketed and I was rooted to the spot.  And then my mind took over:

They’re going to spray you.  Get out of there!

I consider myself somewhat evolved but there I was, back in cave man days.  Fight or flight.  It’s all about survival.  I could feel my body shaking and I was universes away from appreciating the grace of the animals.  The person I thought Bruce was had disappeared … in a flash.  I had no control over my consciousness, and I scurried back around the corner.

Back in the living room, I turned on the outside lights.  Two of my black and white friends were still chowing down.  The white stripe on their backs formed a Y shape and their tails were pointing to the sky.  And I realized that they are indeed very beautiful animals.  It was like they were models wearing tuxedos.

Skunks aren’t the only creatures that I react to with knee jerk responses.  Certain groups of humans bring automatic negative thoughts out of me.  I’m sad that this is the case.  My job is not to act on such explosions of judgment.  And when I turn on the light of living, I see that these beings are lovely to behold.  They need not reduce me to fear but instead can unfold me into brotherhood and sisterhood.

 

Emerging

A few weeks ago, I was leaving the Aeolian Hall in London after a concert when a young woman said hi. I knew Noelle fifteen years ago when she was a Grade 6 kid at the school where I worked with a blind student. I also remember her sister Renee and their friend Hillary. Noelle told me that the three of them have formed a music group called The Pairs, featuring homemade songs and strong vocals. She told me they were part of a concert on March 23 and invited me to come.

My brain went into compute mode. March 23 was smack dab in the middle of a five-day trip to Toronto although nothing was on my schedule for that evening. The commute time was about two hours.

I said yes.

I would drive to London, take in the show, and then drive back to Toronto, no doubt getting in at midnight or later. Some people would see such behaviour as weird but not me. Seize the day, as Robin Williams told us in Dead Poets Society.

I stood at the front, listening to the girls sing. Except they’re 28 now. Young women. Great harmonies, great songs and a lovely caring among them. I smiled and clapped a lot. The Pairs are finding their way in the world and who knows where their musical path will take them.

The concert was a fundraiser for the Canadian Mental Health Association. Noelle talked to the crowd about how important it is that we be good to each other. She spoke of “relentless kindness”, a sweet turn of the phrase I thought. It was clear to me that these three women were becoming full human beings, contributing to the world. And it became even clearer when I heard them sing “Woman”:

Oh I’m woman, hear me roar
Oh I may not fit where I’m supposed to be
But I do what I need to make my heart soar
Oh I’m woman, hear me roar
And I won’t let you make a man outta me

I talked to Hillary, Renee and Noelle after the music. They were all pleased I had come. Me too.

Reconnecting with folks who were once young students is rare for me. Last night was a privilege. Many kids who were in my life have now stretched their wings in ways I’ll never know about. Good for them. I like to think I’ve made a contribution to many 12-year-olds. Actually, I don’t have to think it. I have.

Jody and The Athletic

The Athletic is a very cool website that gives me fresh insights about sports teams, especially the Toronto Maple Leafs.  The ranks of sportswriters at some daily newspapers have been decimated lately, and The Athletic has scooped up some really fine journalists.

I don’t know if I’ve ever written a letter to the editor but now I can comment on stories online whenever I want.  Except for one thing: reader comments at The Athletic are linked to any existing Facebook accounts.  I deleted Jody’s account months ago but when I pressed “Send” my words appeared under the banner “Jody A” accompanied by a lovely photo of my dear wife.  I stared at the screen in shock.

So what’s happening here?  Do I want to eliminate all remembrances of Jody from my life?  Not at all.  Do I want to be my own person, with an identity separate from being half of a couple?  Yes.

It feels like there’s a time and place for everything.  And now is not the time to be perceived as “Jody A”.  There was a time when I’d laugh at such things but not now.  Way back when, during my first marriage, I got a chuckle one day when I was digging letters out of the mailbox.  “Mr. Rita Kerr” said the envelope.  It was strange, though, the same oddness women used to experience a lot, to the tune of “Mrs. Bruce Kerr”.

After that first jolt at The Athletic, I haven’t let myself make comments on stories with Jody’s face looking at me onscreen.  Silly, I guess, but powerful.  Staff at the website worked hard to get rid of her photo, and they did it, but I still let “Jody A” stop me.

I was awake this morning at 3:00 am.  Very unusual for me.  I wasn’t tense about anything.  I had worked out on the elliptical yesterday and was quite tired.  “Oh well, guess I’ll check e-mails.”  And there was Andrew’s message: “I’ve updated your account to remove the name.”  Oh, supreme joy!  I opened The Athletic and searched for an article, any article, to comment on.  Found one comparing the progress of the Leafs to the Buffalo Sabres.  That’ll do.  The accompanying photo was striking so I talked about it.  And then the magic “Send” moment.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear … but “Bruce A”!

I am not Jody
I am not half of Jody and Bruce
I am me