Loss

The Buddha said it well 2600 years ago: life is both gain and loss. You can be the smartest, richest, kindest, most emotionally stable human being … and your life won’t be an unbroken surging of happiness. Jolts will come.

There are so many big losses, and a myriad of smaller ones. But even if it’s a paper cut, there’s a slumping of the soul. The reaction could be soft and slow or it might be a burst of “Why me?” “This isn’t fair” or “Life sucks!”

One of my conclusions is that every person I meet on the street or on Zoom is dealing with some painful issue. And our list of defeats, burdens and sorrows can so easily pile up. We get to choose how we respond.

***

In the realm of “biggies”, let’s start with death. Our loved ones die. With respect to Covid, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently spoke anguished poetry:

The smile that will now only be a memory, the seat forever empty at the dinner table
the room that echoes with the silence of a loved one

And then there’s one’s own death … my death. All the Bruce accumulations, whether physical or spiritual, will be gone. My writings will remain but who knows if anyone will read them. I feel sad when I think of me ending.

Dying may be long and agonizing or a closing of the eyes at night. The approaching end may be vivid or just some vague thought of the future.

Physical pain cuts like a knife or pulses in the background. It may be in spurts or a lingering throughout the day.

Emotional pain may be full-blown terror or sorrow. It may be a vague feeling that I can’t find my home. Or I’m not much of a human being. Or you don’t like me.

Financial demise may mean not being able to feed your family and keep a roof over their heads. Bankruptcy perhaps. Or it may mean no Christmas presents under the tree, no hope for future family travel, or even not being able to afford the magazine you want to read.

There are many other diminishments that may come our way:

Someone breaks their word with you

Late for an appointment, you run into a string of red lights

At a friend’s home, dinner includes a vegetable that you can’t stand

You love snow, and it seems like this winter we’re hardly getting any

Your Internet connection magically disappears. It comes back hours later

Nobody sends you a Christmas card

You’re scammed for $600 while you thought you were helping a friend

The ache in your shoulder just won’t go away

The last time you looked, you were 25

Covid is keeping you physically away from the ones you love

You can’t speak much French to the folks you care about in Senegal

You were born female but you really think you’re a man

You’re still feeling the PTSD years after the incident

You wish Monday was Friday

You know the work you’re doing doesn’t make a difference

The U.S. Capitol was attacked

***

There are so many woes
There’s no clear winner in the land of joys and sorrows
So let’s stay close to each other

Crying

For the first 64 years of my life, I hardly cried at all.  Then my beloved wife Jody was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer.  A year later she died.  And the tears flowed every day for months.  Now I cry sometimes … for my dear one and for other human beings who are suffering.

I love watching The Mandalorian on Disney Plus.  It’s a Star Wars story about a bounty hunter and the infant that he’s trying to return to his own people.  On Friday night’s season finale, Din Djarin keeps his promise, handing Grogu to a Jedi who will train him further in the ways of The Force.  Seeing Din and Grogu joined at the eyes on parting brought the tears once more.  I cried.  We folks are touched when people come together in love, and when they say goodbye in love.

The website What’s On Disney Plus  was full of reactions to the human connection.  Here’s a sample of the world’s responses, with my comments attached:

Okay, I full blown cried
I cried and so did my husband
Cried like a baby
My 6-year-old son and I both cried
I just started crying out of nowhere

Yes, hopefully that’s what human beings do
There’s no planning … just an explosion of being undone

***

I cried and my husband laughed at me
I had tears falling down my face with my husband laughing at me
I was tearing up and my daughter was laughing
and informed the rest of my family watching
that mommy was crying
My husband said “there’s no crying in
Star Wars!”

I guess your sadness was too scary for them

***

No tears … all cheers

There was a glorious reunion at the end for Star Wars fans
I guess it overwhelmed the despair of loss

***

I fought back my tears with a huge smile

Let’s just be happy and forget the rest

***

I had the feels
I got a little teary-eyed
Very heartbreaking at the end
It touched the hearts of millions

Ahh … euphemisms that dampen the pain
And having the sorrow reduced to the adjective “heartbreaking”
Or it being out in the world rather than in me

***

Touching, but not that touching
I get people are having emotional responses

and I have those too, but not being a Star Wars fan
I am failing to understand why

Neither here nor there on the spectrum of feeling things

:::

Sometimes, dear friends, we just need to cry together
Some of life is sad

A Block Away

My neighbour has died from Covid.  He was a fine fellow in his 40’s, father to three great kids.

So now it’s very real to me.  Although a friend in Belgium has now recovered from the virus, right now is when it really hits home.  We are connected … locally and across this big wide world.  We live in different buildings, or different units in the same apartment building, but we are not separate.  In a physical, emotional and spiritual realm, the space between human beings is alive.  May we be awake to the flows of energy that unite us.

As we’re relatively apart from each other’s bodies in this time of the Coronavirus, we yearn for contact.  We phone, we e-mail, and we Zoom across the miles.  We see each other’s faces in little onscreen rectangles and our souls touch.

We need to keep influencing each other, letting folks know that they’re important, that their existence has contributed to our own.  Because in a flash they could be gone.

What can be created when A and B come together?  Far more than the sum of the parts.  What bonds could magically appear that have the power to make us all smile?  We don’t know … but our embracing the future together may show us.

We are not silos.  The pain in the home down the street is shared by all.  Not the thrusting knife of a father and husband taken from the Earth but still an immense sadness.

I heard a story about a meeting the Dalai Lama was hosting for spiritual teachers from around the world.  A friend of a friend went to that meeting, excited about the prospect of awake people gathering.  “What will be created?” he wondered.  The answer?  Not much.  The flow of spiritual wisdom and experiences from each speaker was immense.  Often the audience could feel the transmission of spirit.  But essentially there was no communion between the speakers.  (Sigh)

We are all connected.  And we need to live that way

From this day forward
For better, for worse
For richer, for poorer
In sickness and in health
To love and to cherish
Till death do us part

Dull

I told you a few days ago about my eyeglass adventures.  I need a new prescription but to keep my cool frame I had to send the glasses away for seven to ten days.  Since my only remaining pair is sunglasses, my visual life has two choices – dark and focused or light and blurry.

I’m on Zoom a lot with the Evolutionary Collective.  No sunglasses since with them I couldn’t see the screen and people wouldn’t be able to see my eyes.  Part of the time I’m in Gallery View, seeing anywhere from fifteen to forty-eight folks … fuzzy little rectangles.  When I’m doing a practice with a partner, that person is large in Speaker View, and also is fuzzy.  Not a real problem.

Watching tennis or a movie on TV, I need the focus, so on go the sunglasses.  My living room, day or night, is pretty dark.  Really only a minor inconvenience.

But something is happening to me over these days.  More and more, I’m vacant, faded, dull.  How very strange.  I’ve enjoyed working on my physical fitness over the past few Covid months but I’m a universe away from hopping onto the ski machine downstairs or my bicycle out on the roads.

I’m not tired.  I don’t have a headache.  No nausea.  No angst.  But I am slow, especially mentally.  There’s a floating feeling that’s not at all blissful.  And the slowness is not a graceful dance.  It’s a plodding.

There’s a sense of “Where am I?” without the wonder of spiritual mystery.  It takes me back many decades (1985), spending two weeks in a Vancouver hospital with a heart condition.  That time was far more urgent than what I’m experiencing now but there’s a parallel.  I remember being allowed out of bed, and my room, to sit in a wheelchair.  I was on morphine.  Spirits floated down the hallway, moaning.  Their feet never touched the ground.  Their gowns waved behind them as they passed by.  So slow the journey past my eyes.

Well, that sounds dramatic.  No painkillers in the here and now.  No see-through humans.  But the same vague distaste.  The same veil covering my aliveness.  The same feeling of not being home.

Costco … please hurry up

A Sad Decision

I love tennis.  The mano-a-mano or womano-a-womano back and forth of a match enthralls me.  One of my favourite books is The Inner Game of Tennis.  Its author, Timothy Gallwey, waxes poetic about the beauty of two evenly matched players.  Far beyond the winning and losing is the epic struggle, where the best in you brings out the best in me.

The French Open (also known as Roland Garros) is on TV for the next two weeks.  This morning I watched Kristina Mladenovic from France and Laura Siegemund from Germany give it their all.

I don’t know what you know about tennis.  Usually after a player serves, the ball bounces once before the opponent hits it back.  Sometimes they hit it out of the air before a bounce.  Two bounces and the point is over – you lose.

Near the end of the first set today, the score was 5 games to 1 for Mladenovic.  You need to win six games to win a set, and the match is the best two out of three sets.  Within a game, each serve results in a point being given.  Mladenovic was within one point of winning the game, and therefore the set.  She lofted a soft shot well in front of Siegemund, who raced forward.  But not fast enough – two bounces.

The umpire didn’t notice the two bounces.  The TV world did, especially after the video replay.  The set should have been over in favour of Mladenovic.  But it wasn’t.  Siegemund won that set, and later the match.

In that moment of two bounces, what did Siegemund do?

Nothing.

What did Siegemund say?

Nothing.

I had visions of her rushing up to the umpire to complain:  “It bounced twice.  Mladenovic won the set.”  Alas, no.  And the TV commentators said zero about Siegemund’s silence.

I felt myself slump.  A huge exhale of sadness.  I still feel it.

I read a few match reports on the Internet afterwards.  The official site of the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) wrote fourteen paragraphs about the match.  Not a word about two bounces.  Most reports did mention the umpire’s mistake, and some criticized her.  A sole Tweet gave the reader a whiff of “lack of sportsmanship” but didn’t mention Siegemund by name.

The world needs better than all this.

Days, Weeks, Months, Years

I remember March 12, and the school secretary telling me that her family had to make a decision about going south to Florida for the March Break.  I suggested that they go, especially because all the kids were looking forward to the sun and sand, but I also mentioned that they should stay away from Disney World.  Seems like ancient advice now.  I was thinking “It’s only nine days.  Not a problem.”

Over time, any thought of “days” has become irrelevant in this time of coronavirus.  The discussion soon blended into “weeks”.  The Ontario Premier announced that after March Break, the kids would be away from school for a further two weeks.  “That’s okay.  I’ll have lots of time for meditating, and reading books, and watching cool movies.  Plus I’ll see the kids again on April 6” … which happens to be today.  School now won’t return until at least May 4.  “Hey, that’s only four more weeks.  We’ll keep our physical distancing going for that time, and then I’ll be able to go out to Boston Pizza for a beer again.”

Or not.

There’s a newer word that’s crept into the conversations of politicians and health officials – “months”.  Perhaps the school year is over.  I volunteer in a Grade 5/6 class in a school where the 6’s graduate.  So maybe I’ll never see them as a group again.  Perhaps there won’t be any US Open tennis tournament for me to go to at the beginning of September.  I’ve been so looking forward to being in New York City and watching the best players in the world hit the ball back and forth!

A few days ago, Doug Ford, the Ontario Premier, gave us dire projections of coronavirus death in our province.  Hidden amid the 3,000 to 15,000 figures (if we maintain physical distancing and good hand-washing) was a smaller number – “2”.  Ontario health officials  think that the pandemic could be with us for another 18 months to 2 years.  Oh my.

So it could be that not only I won’t see the Grade 6 kids again, but also the Grade 5’s.  Oh … immense sadness at the prospect.

Will it be two years before I can go to a party again?
Before I can have breakie with other local folks at the Belmont Diner?
Before I can hug my friends?

The future draws us forward with its unseen arms

Day Twenty-One: Goodbye Senegal

Who would have thought it would be so hard? After all, it’s just another country, admittedly with astoundingly different landscapes, animals and architecture. I took lots of pictures of my surroundings so I’ll be able to remember the details of Senegal.

That’s all very fine but what of the people? They are the joy, with their smiles of welcome, their “Ça va?”s and their touches. When a child walks into a group situation, all but the youngest stroll around shaking hands. Women greet men and women with three kisses on the cheek – left right left or right left right. Take your pick. Be ready to immerse yourself in “I’m glad you’re here.” Have it be fine to touch and be touched, whether you’re with the young or old. Touching is a gift of communion. Only with your partner is it also about sex. I realize at home I can’t walk around the schoolyard holding hands with kids but it sure happens in Senegal.

This morning, as we prepared to get on the van for the four hour ride to Dakar, Ali, Aziz and Ansou – three brothers – were there to say goodbye. Ali and I took each other’s hands and looked into each other’s eyes for thirty seconds or so. Then we hugged, and I brushed the backs of my fingers against his cheek. “Je t’aime” were the words from me to him. His eyes said the same.

I had talked to a young woman named Nima over the last eleven days, and then this morning. She doesn’t know much English and I’m the same with French. Just before I took the step up into the van, we looked into each other … and waved. Time stood still.

On the surface of things, the Senegalese folks don’t have much. Everyone seems to own a cell phone but that’s one of their very few modern pleasures. But, oh, how rich the people are. You feel it.

Mother Teresa was speaking in the United States some years ago. Reporters were curious about the extent of poverty in India. She admitted that physical life was very hard for many residents. “But here in North America, you are truly impoverished.” Wanting in spirit, in “being with”, in caring.

I’m now on a plane from Lisbon, Portugal to Brussels, Belgium. The hot temperatures are long gone. Some of us are busy with our Smartphones, even though there is no internet connection. The meal, all nice and tidy in its plastic containers, was delicious. Something is missing, however. Perhaps it’s up to me to bring it to life.

On the previous leg, from Dakar to Lisbon, I sat beside a woman who was … “prickly”. She and her husband were returning from a group birdwatching tour in Senegal and Gambia. I asked her about the birds she most enjoyed but it soon became clear that she didn’t want to talk. It seemed that she wasn’t keen on talking to her husband either. As soon as the plane had come to a complete stop, she was out of her seat like a shot, getting her stuff from the overhead bin. No goodbye. And that’s okay. She has her life to lead.

But I miss Iced Tea, Fatou, Nano, Ja Ja, Bakary, Boundao and Mamadou. I’ve been spoiled.

Ahh … Senegal. What’s possible between you and me?

Parallel

I was sitting in the living room this morning with Ihor, my Toronto B&B host. We talked about life. He mentioned that his all-time favourite teacher was Mr. Whiteside in Grade 7. He helped the kids feel like human beings, like they mattered.

Years later, Ihor saw Mr. Whiteside on the subway one evening. He was snoozing. Ihor decided to leave him alone. He no doubt was exhausted from a day of teaching, marking and creating lesson plans. The intended message was simply “Thank you.” But there was no joyous giving and no likely joyous receiving. Ihor was sad in the years proceeding that he didn’t speak up.

I listened … and remembered the same. It was about 1970 and I was a student at the University of Toronto. As I approached an old stone arch on campus, I looked through to see “a little old man” coming towards me from the other side. Closer, I recognized the fellow: it was Lester Pearson, the recently retired Prime Minister of Canada. Pearson had been a leader in promoting peace in the world. He was a true Canadian hero. “Say something, Bruce!”

And now we were both entering the arch. I looked towards him with a dry mouth … and averted my gaze as we passed by. (Sigh) My sadness lingered for many years.

Ihor nodded.

Then he began again. “Many years later, I was walking on the Lake Huron sand near Wasaga Beach. A guy was walking towards me. It was David Crombie, known as ‘the tiny perfect mayor’ of Toronto. Visions of Mr. Whiteside. I walked right up to him and said ‘Hi.’ David smiled back and we had a good talk.”

I nodded.

Then I shared the story which took place in Bruno’s Fine Foods, a few decades after Mr. Pearson. I wheeled my shopping cart into the next aisle, and there at the far end was a little old man, pushing his. Closer. I knew him. It was King Clancy, a former player and coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Now he was 80 or 90. He reached for his shelf and I reached for mine. Soon we were cart to cart …

“Hello, Mr. Clancy.”

(Big smile) “Hello.”

“Thank you for your contributions to the Leafs and to hockey.”

“You’re most welcome.”

And we talked some more.

***

Lesson learned, eh, Ihor?
May we always remember

Day Eight: Everybody Gone

I’m sitting in the Basilica Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, an immense building with ceilings as high as the sky. The feeling is white, with rich blues and purples, as well as 12-foot-high stained glass windows. They’re domed, and feature many views of Jesus and his disciples. Not one that I see shows two people looking into each other’s eyes, and I feel the loss of such contact. It’s what I treasure.

I just sneezed, and despite my sleeve, the sound echoes upwards. There are only four or five folks here potentially to be disturbed. It’s a lonely place, and for me an emotionally flat one.

High on the walls, four statues of the apostles seem to stand guard. I wonder what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John think of this sanctuary. I want a simpler church, far less ornate, one that feels good for a face-to-face meeting. Just a few pews, please, and a simple cross at the front.

Yesterday’s circle of musicians and the sight of Paul’s family smiling at him drew my spiritual breath far more deeply. But I wonder what energy would issue forth if the Basilica was full with 2000 souls.

I’m now in the Duke of Duckworth pub but I remember what came next at church. A gentleman started playing the pipe organ high in the back of the sanctuary. The deep tones went right through me but still I was left wanting. I wanted to be singing a stirring hymn with those 2000 souls, to have our voices bouncing off the ornamented walls.

What’s true is that the Tour du Canada riders have all headed home and I miss them. I miss the conversation. Today it was “Goodbye Paul, Ruedi, Ken, Jin-si, Kathy, Jane and Al.” Back to their real lives, or at least to their usual ones. Feeling lonely, I sat in the hotel lobby and joked with the guests who were coming and going. But our time together was measured in seconds. I need more than that.

On the TV is tennis – the US Open. I sip and cheer for Milos Raonic, the sole remaining Canadian. Around me are groups of friends, enjoying life together. No, I’m not going to approach them, declaring “Isn’t tennis great?” It’s time to be alone with Milos.

***

Milos lost … but he gave ‘er. I finished sipping and headed home. I was tired after a day of St. John’s slopy streets. And so to bed.

Without Skill

I was walking on Bloor Street in Toronto yesterday. My ankle was sore and I was going slow. Just ahead was a woman in a flaming yellow dress, carrying a parasol on this most humid day. Beside her was a boy of 10 or so, on his bike. The sidewalk was heading up for an extended climb and it looked like the boy was matching his mom’s pace. She was taking her time.

The distance between us never narrowed or expanded. There they were, always thirty yards ahead of me. And I wondered: “How is this possible?” How is that young man staying upright? What an immense gift of balance.

Finally they crested the hill and turned down a side street. Gone from my eyes … not from my heart. I felt a sweep of marvel and a generous helping of “less than”. I thought of the unbalanced state on my bicycle ta-pocketa in downtown Vancouver, and the sadness came.

“Bruce, you’re so unskilled, so awkward, so obvious to others.” Then, magically, the arrows withdrew and the response was sure: “Yes, you’re right, and it’s all okay.”

Almost immediately, I was reminiscing about tendon transfer surgery in 2003 and my many weeks on crutches. Stairs were impossible, fatigue was constant, and self-esteem hung by a thread. Again and again … “I can’t do this.”

Another time, I was so weak after some physical debacle that on my return to the gym, when I went to wash my hands, I didn’t have the strength to push the lever on the soap dispenser. (Sigh)

Then there was the meeting at school about a certain visually impaired student. The topic was his computer hardware. As the discussion revved up, I realized I had no idea what my fellow staff members were talking about. Despair descended.

***

Not being able to do something
Feeling the pain of the deficiency
And yet …
Glimpsing the beauty of being undefended
Naked
Cracks opening to receive the light