The best things in life are undercover, I think … peeking out, inviting to be unveiled.

Here’s the Burgstraat – a lovely street in Gent.  I wonder if it hides any secrets.  And will I have the eyes to see?

Hidden number one: the church

Actually it’s not really hidden.  Just turn your head way to the left or right, and voilà – the Church of the Carmelite Fathers.

“Another amazing Belgian church,” you say, as your mind proceeds towards the next stunning building.  Please don’t.  The photo doesn’t show it but the church door is open.  Come in.

Hidden number two: the sanctuary

First of all it’s dark inside but then you open the heavy door … and the world stretches to the light. All is silent.

So many faces, carved in wood or stone, beings of centuries ago reflecting on life just like you and I do.

Hidden number three: the park

Behind the church, awaiting those who meditate on nature’s loveliness, is a park. A kind volunteer leads me down corridors of the past and soon another door graces me – this time with green and blue and pink and white. I stumble a bit and let the majesty fall around me.

There are expanses of green grass and orange brick. Places to sit and love each other, places to see the mirror of you.

Hidden number four: the small

Easily missed if the brain rushes. So don’t rush. Here are the tiny things.

And so life beckons us onward …

Ordinary and Sublime

Being hungry is ordinary.  It happens every day to all of us.  Going to McDonalds for supper is also ordinary.  Hopefully it doesn’t happen every day for any of us!

We wash the dishes, brush our teeth, ride the bus or drive the car, talk to our family members.  I see a danger that our whole life be swallowed up by the “usual”.  The routines and the schedules take over … and we don’t notice the brightness of life anymore.

No thanks.

I was in a McDonalds mood a few nights ago.  I got my food and sat at a counter, looking out a window.  And this is what I saw:

My burger and fries were animated by the glow of St. Nicholas Church. I was sipping far more than Diet Coke. The air shook. My view transformed from 2D to 3D.

What are the textures that may be revealed right now? Who am I connected to as I gaze out at the life on the street? When will I wake up to the beauty that is always here? To the majesty of the moment?

I choose “Now”

Looking … Seeing

I enjoy the difference between those two words. We all look at things. Our eyes take in the colours and shapes before us. No big deal. The big deal is seeing … absorbing, making connections, feeling empathy with the people seen, going to the very centre of what is beheld and lingering there. I like seeing.

Take this street scene in Ghent. There is much to see and reflect upon. I’m tempted to not say a thing about the photo, and just let you discover. Hmm … good idea. You take a few minutes. I’ll get a coffee.


Okay, I’m back. I’ll tell you what I see. First of all, if you can enlarge this picture on your phone or laptop, that will be helpful. The discoveries will still be good if you can’t.

I love curves … also windows. So many of the windows in Ghent have a little curve on the top edge. Passageways as well. It’s also très cool to have brick walls, plus so many colours of brick. And how about windows that are set into the roof? Things that suggest an artistic flair.

When I think of buildings in Canada, everything seems horizontal meeting vertical. How amazing to have diamond shapes show up on a wall. And the roofline of that building isn’t straight. There’s an angle there.

Now for the cool semi-hidden stuff, which will be vivid if you can enlarge: Look near the right edge of the photo. One of the windows is stained glass – barely visible from the outside. But what must it be like to be sitting in there on a sunny day?! I say marvelous.

Finally (Now wait a minute – this isn’t final. Who knows what other mysteries may show up?)

Somewhat finally, gaze at the orange brick wall. Someone is happy to be seeing from above, perhaps blessing us who pass by. And I wonder what is hanging from her mouth.

Only a few homes on only one street in only one city

May we open our eyes wherever we are

Your Gift

There was a young man in a special ed class. He couldn’t write much. He couldn’t speak well. He couldn’t think clearly. And although he was cared for by the school staff, he wasn’t seen as emerging, as a work in progress. He was a static reality in the eyes of many. “Oh yeah, I know Trevor. He’s …” (Choose your label)

Trevor wasn’t seen. Nobody thought to look for what his gift might be.

What would his life be like if this curriculum was gift-based, if we were able to see the gift in each of our children, and taught them around their gifts?

I’m reading a novel to the Grade 6 kids. They sit there in rows of rectangles on my laptop screen. At least I get to see them. The novel is The Last Leopard, the third in a series that follows the adventures of two 11-year-olds in South Africa: Martine and Ben. Over the first three books, Martine has been approached by an elusive white giraffe, and allowed to ride him – a privilege no other human being has been offered. She healed a beached dolphin, who lay on the sand close to death. She was pinned down and cut by a leopard, who then looked at her with curiosity, let her up, and wandered off into the bush. Martine’s obvious gift is her communion with animals, but it’s not that simple. She’s also astonishingly brave in the face of danger.

I asked the kids to look inside and see what gift resided there. Few of them were willing to volunteer a response. Was it a question they had never heard? One fellow said he could move his mouth in a weird way. I asked him for more. I asked him for deeper, but he stopped there. Fair enough. Another boy said he was a really good cook, and I visualized his future creations making lots of people happy.

I’ll keep asking the question as we watch Martine weave her magic. The light will shine on each of these online children. I know that much will be revealed.

Look At That!

If I had influence with the good fairy
who’s supposed to preside over the birth of all children

I would ask that her gift to each child in the world
would be a sense of wonder so indestructible
it would last throughout life

Rachel Carlson

What would life be like if all of us gazed upon the simplest things with soft, open eyes?

Of course there are the “big” things:

1.  A man down on his knee, asking his beloved to marry him

2.  A violinist, centre stage, playing the sweetest melody with the passion of the gods

3.  A spider web in the early morning, suddenly revealed as laden with dew as the sun comes from behind a cloud

4.  You sitting by the bedside, holding your beloved’s hand, as she takes her last breath

5.  A sunrise painting the sky

Hopefully it’s not hard for each of us, young or old, to see the majesty of these moments.  But can the 10-year-old and the 40-year-old see the nuances of life, and are they willing to drink them in, with the mouth forming a little “o”?

1.  A flicker of the eyes in delight

2.  The play of light as it curves across the surface of an orange

3.  Watching as a friend does a kindness to someone else

4.  Birds frolicking in the grass, seeking the seeds that have fallen from the feeder

5.  Considering the span of life experience in an elder, perhaps a grandparent

There is much to see
There is much which can cause us to pause
We are better for the lingering

An Unbounded View

I’m sitting in my red man chair, looking across my living room and out into the world. The sun is preparing to say goodbye. The field of winter wheat beyond stretches to trees bordering the faraway creek. It’s home I see.

The tall panes of glass reveal a young tree in the foreground and a slope of newly-mown grass. It’s quiet out there.

Awhile ago, the windows showed me the soaring of a hawk … such lovely curves in the sky. I stared. Then my airborne friend flew to the left and out of my world. I was sad. “Come back, new companion!” I cried inside my head, but it was not my call to make. I know the hawk is somewhere nearby, and his path through the air is still etched in my mind. There is “hawkness” here, the remembrance of gracious flying. And that’s enough.

On the left edge of the photo, you’ll glimpse the dome covering my nyger seed feeder. Birdies come and go in search of the good stuff. The male goldfinches are so yellow! Sometimes the feeder (and its nearby sunflower seed cousin) are frantic with the wings of visitors. Sometimes the feeders hang limp and alone. Such rhythms.

Way to the north is the left and right expanse of Harrietsville Drive. Cars are so tiny from my living room. And they look so slow. I wonder who’s going where, who’s happy and who’s tormented … all brothers and sisters of mine.

See the glass on the window sill? It’s full of little pebbles of couscous. I see them as the citizens of Belmont, my village of 2800 souls. It’s convenient to wish them all well in one spot. The glass is dead centre in my view.

It’s nice being home.

Day Twenty: Discovering If Home Could Be Everywhere

The broom riders

The military base

The game: Baziel, a fellow from Soucouta, Mariama, another guy from Soucouta, Youssoupha and Ansou


I knew that Mamadou and Youssoupha had invited me to watch them play basketball at 5:00 pm in Soucouta. Far earlier than that, I set off from Eddy’s bed-and-breakfast to explore the village just north of here. I knew the route: walk five minutes west and then turn north on the red road (Main Street). But something happened on the way to the plan. A narrow dirt stretch beckoned me to the right. I stopped. I felt my body tighten. And I turned.

It seemed to be the moment I was letting go of the tourist label. I could saunter aimlessly on the highways and biways, at ease with the heat, the dry earth and the goats. There were a few twists and turns, a few cement walls with voices behind, a few pedestrians and motos. The newness was letting go into usualness. There was an ease to my step as the dirt rose into dust.

Onto the red road and looking for the site of the wrestling competition that ended a few days ago. It wasn’t there, except for the power pole around which the competitors ran in their warmups, flexing and shining. The arena had been only netting and poles shoved into the ground. How brief our stays in the events of our lives.

I continued on, and soon saw the basketball court near the entrance to the military centre. I noted that there were cement bleachers. and that there were swatches of shade up there.

There was a cart of watermelons ahead on the left. Sitting in the shade nearby were three elderly men, rolling cigarettes. They all smiled widely at me, showing a lot of gaps in the teeth. I told them (as best I could) that I was going to the basketball game at 5:00. They nodded approval. I then made dribbling and slam dunk motions, threatening to do a demo with a melon. When I tried to convince them that I was playing in the game, they rolled over laughing. Hrumph! Guess they were having trouble sensing a professional athlete when they see one.

Off on a side street, past more cement walls and a couple made out of vertical sticks, I saw the opening to a dirt yard. Adults were sitting around talking and kids were jumping together. Then five of the young ones came at me. They seemed to be tied to something. The kids roared to a halt right beside me, and I saw they were riding a broom. Making pretty good speed on it too!

I started creating some dicey French phrases, and even though they didn’t know what I was talking about, they were happy to smile and stroll along with me. We had fun. Four blocks later, they scurried back home, with waves held high.

Ahh … the sound of the imam, calling the Muslim faithful to prayer at the mosque. I followed the wailing … left here, right there. In a little clearing behind houses, there it was – a tiny white and turquoise place of worship. Even from a distance, I could see kneeling worshippers in the shadows inside. I lingered. I felt into another religion, another way of being.

On the main road again, I headed towards the basketball court. But first the military centre. I gave it a wide berth, perhaps because of the two soldiers in camouflage, guarding the front gate. They looked severe so I was not ready to tell them a Canadian joke. Let’s go to the game.

Turns out it wasn’t a game at all … just six guys who wanted to play 3 on 3. The crowd was spectacular; Mariama, Lydia, Jo, Marie-paule, Gnima and me. We cheered a lot, especially for the Belgium guy. Actually we roared at each person’s great shots. Everybody played hard.

Sport, religion, broom riding, cigarette rolling, shuffling in the sand. Alone, with five kids, with worshippers, and with eleven basketball fanatics. Such a recipe for living.