Tiger

Tiger Woods won The Masters golf tournament yesterday.  Tears filled my eyes.  And I asked myself “Why?”

For me, The Masters is the important tournament in men’s golf.  It has a such a long history (1934), and it’s always held at the same venue – the Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia.  The course is extremely difficult, especially on the undulating greens.  It’s a classic test of golf.

Tiger won his first Masters in 1997, at the age of 21.  I was at the age of 48, already immersed in love for the sport.  As a teenager, I hit balls towards the far fence of a field on my grandpa’s farm, and then searched through the stubble so I’d have more shots to hit.  At home, the Don Valley Golf Course in Toronto was where I grew in the game, often playing alone with my thoughts.

Tiger became my hero in 1997.  He hit the ball so far.  He had charisma, something that I wanted.  And he was black, showing excellence to my context of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.  The truth is that Tiger helped me become a fuller person.  He was there on my journey to have far more of Bruce expressed in the world.  And when he hugged his ill father after walking off the 18th green at Augusta, I melted.  Here was a loving human being as well as an elite athlete.

Twenty-two years later, he bounces away from the 18th once more, arms aloft.  This time, his young son Charlie is rushing towards him, and the tender embrace is offered to a new generation.  It was just as sweet.

Much has happened since Tiger’s last major win in 2007.  We’ve heard of his affairs, his car accident, his aching back.  The “comeback” theme is heavy in the media.  I appreciate the man’s effort to return to the top of his sport but my damp eyes come from another source, I believe.  Tiger’s win yesterday allows me to revisit a younger Bruce – hitting balls toward that fence, trying to get over the creek in two on the 18th at Don Valley, walking fairways at the edge of sunset in search of a little white thing.  I get to celebrate the journey I’ve travelled.  I get to honour a younger version of me.

Thanks, Tiger, for pointing to a goodness that’s been inside me for a long time.

Day Five: The Mind at Work

At the heart of the work of the Evolutionary Collective is the willingness to feel what’s true in the moment and to go into that deeply.  During this morning’s session, I felt myself being pressed in upon.  There was a heaviness, almost a collapse.  Emotionally I was a mess, buried in “I’m bad” and “I’m scared of people in this group.”  My goodness, where did that come from?

At the break, I sat outside with a woman who asked me “How are you?”  My answer?  “I’m happy.”  It was a lie.  The rest of the break was a swirl of woe and self-condemnation.  I was a jumble inside, being out of integrity with myself.  Sometime before lunch, I approached the woman and told her “I lied to you.”  We talked it out some (with her infinite support) but the prime moment was the first, offering me the relief of the truth.

Later in the day, we explored attachment, frustration and rejection.  The thinking is that each of us has one of these as a dominant theme.  I saw my fear of being rejected, especially in a group.  An image appeared: a bunch of people walking away from me, shaking their heads.  Being left alone.  If rejection is a two-way street – fear of it happening to me and actively saying no to others – then I have a jolt coming in how I experience me.  I’ve always thought of myself as a nice person – caring, compassionate.  Could it be that there’s also a part of me that has no use for others and wants them to go away?

Another today event was looking at past traumas.  Being pushed into the deep end by a swimming instructor when I was eight.  Dumped out of a canoe in rapids, and I still couldn’t swim.  Being hit by lightning.  Clinging to a sloped icefield for half an hour above a near-freezing lake.  Clinging to footholds on a cliff five hundred feet above another mountain lake.  Crossing an intersection on my bike with a speeding car coming through a few feet away.  Running across an intersection at a crosswalk while another car narrowly missed me.

What’s true is that I’ve never examined these incidents with a counsellor.  I saw today that I need to.

So … it was a day that rocked my world.  Am I willing to move towards the eruptions of self-image or will I retreat meekly back into a daily peace and love resting above a basement of fear?  I choose to look.

I Don’t Know Things

There was a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Captain Picard and friends came across a slow-talking, slow-moving group of humanoids.  They didn’t appear to be very intelligent as they kept saying “We know things.”  It turns out they were crafty beyond measure.  Today I felt the opposite.

“Jeremy”, the Grade 6 teacher, had the kids read about the history of St. Patrick’s Day, and then answer questions about the passage.  I was doing fine with all that.  Then he challenged them with word scrambles – decoding twenty terms from the reading.  Pairs of kids worked diligently to rearrange the letters.  Looking over many shoulders, I saw the lists gradually being filled in.  A few kids came over one by one, to ask if I’d figured out #11 yet, or #4.  I said no and suggested they look for the possibility of a silent “e” at the end of a word, or search for consonant blends such “ch” or “st”.  I sounded fairly intelligent, at least in my own hearing.

But what was true?

I didn’t have a clue.  Eleven-year-olds were proceeding merrily towards completion of the twenty but all I’d accomplished was “iswh” is “wish” and “camgi” is “magic”.  Sweat piled up on my brow as I realized I was unable to solve “Ieardnl”, “rogaen”, “evlorc” or “enrge”.

As they say, my whole life flashed before me … times when I clearly wasn’t good enough, times when everyone else seemed to be better.  Failing a French test, falling down continually in my version of skating, piddling around the shallow end while my classmates did laps in the pool.  It’s so powerful, this pull of assumed inferiority.  Today I didn’t have the eyes to see my many good points.  They simply didn’t exist when I couldn’t recognize “clover” within the jumble of my mind.

I was asleep to what’s real.  The challenge for me is to wake up ever more quickly rather than thinking I can eliminate the moments of ignorance, deficiency and angst.

Now, with the benefit of hours between there and here, I smile.  Actually I chuckle.  What a silly goose to be defining my self-worth on my ability to turn “rogaen” into … into … “orange”!

Ahh.  There’s hope for me yet.

Thirteen

The contrasting number is 69, which happens to be my age.  Tonight I’m going to see Eighth Grade, a film about a girl trying to figure out who she is, how to be herself in the face of friends and parents.  I volunteer with 11-year-olds, kids who are starting to experience similar angst.

I tell myself that I’m an empathetic adult who can sense what kids are feeling.  After all, I used to be one.  Well, maybe I’m wrong.  Maybe I forget the young wallows of self-esteem, the despair of loneliness, the pull towards conforming so you can have friends.

So tonight I learn.  There’s so much I don’t know.  And I want to know more so I can love more.  These kids need love.  They need to have people in their life who “get” them, who “see” them.  I can be one of those folks.

And now the movie …

Kayla has full-blown acne and there are many who can’t see beyond the texture of her skin to find the person.  She hardly says anything in school as fear usually rules her day.  As the school year winds down, she wins an award … as the quietest female student.  And she shrinks some more.

In band class, as her peers try on the trumpet and trombone, Kayla gets to clang the cymbals.  Sometimes even that is too much – she can’t quite get the rhythm right.  Her world continues to fall apart.

Throughout the film, despite the pressures on her mind, Kayla is remarkably brave.  She creates Internet videos, full of tips for kids her age.  Apparently hardly anybody watches them but she keeps going.  A stuck up girl in her class is forced by her mother to invite Kayla to her birthday party.  Kayla knows she’s disliked and still goes to the party.  She’s a little overweight but still puts on her bathing suit and heads to the pool … where everyone awaits.  Waydago, Kayla.

It was painful to see how most of the teens rejected her, since she was deemed not to be “cool”.  Kayla initiates conversation with two of the “in” girls in the school hallway and they barely respond, staring at their phones the whole time.  Kayla keeps talking.

It’s so hard for dad, a prince of a single parent, to feel Kayla distancing herself from him.  There’s really no dinnertime conversation, just the phone.  At one point, he’s driving her somewhere, not saying anything for the moment.  Her response?  “Don’t be weird and quiet.”  He’s baffled.  It teaches me that sometimes I just won’t understand what’s going on in the teen’s brain.  There’s nothing wise I can say.  Just love them from afar.

Kayla has a crush on a boy and tells him that she’s created nude photos of herself (which she hasn’t) – anything to get him to be her friend.  Another boy tries to initiate sexual activity in his car, and she’s sorely tempted, but courageously says no.

In the fifty-six years after being thirteen, I’ve forgotten so much about the horrors that kept popping up back then.  And I didn’t have to deal with social media.  I left the theatre with huge love and respect for the young people who are groping through the mists to answer the question …

Who am I?

Day Eight: Mission

Well, well, well. Here I am in Mission, B.C. I was by far the slowest human being but I got a cheer when I rolled down the driveway of the campground. I have such supportive companions. Today Mike, Ken and Paul specially made sure I was okay. To be cared for is so marvelous. I need to continue letting people do this, because it not only touches me but it’s a gift to them.

What would it take for me to cross Canada? I could do it very slowly, taking all the hours I need. I could walk any hills that are too much for me. In fact, that’s what I did today.

The day after tomorrow, we’re doing a long and steep ride. I have a front light on my bike. Maybe I could show up at 10:00 pm!

I wonder at the possibility that I could actually complete the tour. I’m slow on the bike, and unskilled. But there still could be a way.

I was so down during yesterday’s post. Many folks responded to me but I don’t have a good enough Internet connection to reply. In fact, I don’t know if this post will fly. Thank you all for caring so much about me.

I’m very tired and I’m heading to my tent. May I be strong enough to get to Hope, B.C. tomorrow.

Tentative

I knew I had to do it – unpack the tent I bought for the Tour du Canada and set it up.  I’d been avoiding the task.  But why?  Another flavour of fear, I suppose.  I’ve known that puppy for a long time.

“You won’t do it right.”  The voice has followed me all my days.  Supposedly clear instructions often turn into a mystery.  Oh well.  Today’s the day for tent erection, in my bedroom so to avoid nasty environmental hazards.

I thought a YouTube video would be a good companion.  “Mountain Equipment Co-op Camper 2 Tent”  sounded like a good search.  And it was.  Two happy young people, a man and a woman, joyfully and deftly did this and that, and tent plus fly were scraping the sky in no time.

I assembled the two main poles with the interior shock cords and the resulting beasts were about ten feet long.  I was supposed to bend them so that together they’d create a huge X across the top of the tent while imbedded in grommets at the four corners.  One loop zoomed off into the wall when pressured, and the old thoughts returned:  “You’re not very smart … A kid would have this up in no time … Why exactly are you going on this ride?”

Misadventures proceeded at a good pace.  I couldn’t figure out what was inside and what was outside about the fly.  I had an extra 3-foot length of tent pole that I didn’t know what to do with.  There were fabric loops and plastic clips that seemed to be hanging everywhere.  I couldn’t maneuver my body right to get the little Velcro strips on the fly to attach nicely on the poles.  I had too many tent pegs to match my inspection of the exterior.  Was the manufacturer kind enough to supply extras?  Video One said to do X but then I found Video Two, which heartily suggested Y.  What’s a confused man to do?

At one point, I sat on the bed and pouted.  But then I looked at my as yet unnamed sleeping accommodations, and realized something: The beast was standing and I had been the stander.  Then I looked more deeply.  This will be my rolling home for 72 days, and home is a very precious thing.  So I smiled.  I’m on the road to find out how to do a whole bunch of things this summer, both on and off the bike.  The journey has started and I’m along for the ride.

Adventure
The unknown
My companions
All is well

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

At the Bottom of the Heap or Standing Tall?

Yesterday was South Dorchester School’s track meet.  Kids from Grade 3 to 6 strutted their stuff.  Many athletes were on display, throwing, jumping and running to exquisite lengths.  I enjoyed their performance but was especially taken with other students.

I saw one girl far back from the field in the Grade 6 girls’ 800 metre run.  Another girl went back to run with her, to encourage her.  They crossed the finish line with their arms over each other’s shoulder.  Just awesome.  What sports should be about.

I watched as some kids jumped only half as far as others in the long jump.  And I saw lots of children get their footing all mixed up in the hop, step and jump.  Gobs of anguish on the field.  Many adults and students encouraged the kids who simply weren’t athletes.

Are the less physically accomplished less valuable as human beings?  Not for a second.

These lessons made perfect sense but they weren’t gut wrenching, since I wasn’t running, jumping and throwing.  They became up close and personal a few hours later, however.

Last night was the first yoga class of six offered at the Belmont Library.  I signed up for the series and headed down.  My classmates were nine women, with grey hair well represented.  I had tried a few classes without much success but now it was time to get back on the horse.

I hadn’t counted on a bucking bronco.

Sitting down with my legs out ahead, I could hardly bend forward.  My feet were a land too far.

Standing on one foot lasted approximately three seconds each time, before toppling behaviour ensued.

Lunging forward sent pain through various body parts, and I had to give myself relief before the sequence of poses was complete.

Throughout all this, my brain brought me back to the kids.  How they struggled.  How I tried to encourage them.  And now it was time to encourage me.  My skills and strength were far below my companions’.  So what?  To use a martial arts term, I was “on the mat”.  I had shown up in the yoga room and was doing my best.  The same as those kids.  They had walked out to the track, to the ball throwing field, to the long jump pit.  And they gave what they had.

I think we’re all fine people.  It’s one thing to be on public display when you’re good at something.  Quite something else when your skills are low and your strength ebbing.  Life seems to throw gain and loss at us, both in liberal portions.  With a little help from our friends, we can handle it.

On The Bike Again … Part One

It’s been months since I’ve ridden my bicycle.  And I get scared whenever I start up again.  I guess it makes no sense, but I have a history.

“How old were you, Bruce, when you learned to ride a bike?”

(Gulp)  “47.”

I was afraid of lots of things when I was a kid.  I knew I didn’t have the balance or confidence to ride.  My parents never asked me if I wanted a bicycle and I never pursued the matter.  Strangely, even though I guess all my friends had bikes, it never was an issue among us.  When I was around, we just walked everywhere.

My first job was flipping hamburgers at Hanlan’s Point on Toronto Island.  I was 17.  One day, my boss took me to the back of the snack bar, pointed to a bicycle, and told me to take a box of frozen patties to the stand on Centre Island, a few miles away.  And then he was gone.  It was just the offending bike and me, staring at each other.  Had I been wearing a heart rate monitor, it no doubt would have read 225 beats per minute.

I’d never even been astride a bike.  But now I was, with one arm wrapped around the frozen food.  Seems to me that there wasn’t a carrier to put the box in.  My feet found the pedals.  My right hand found the handlebar, and I set off.  Within a second or two, my body found the ground.  I remember lying there, thinking that I was the slimiest human being on the planet.  Oh teenage angst … how I know thee well.

I got up, glanced around to find that I was alone, and ran the bike towards some bushes.  In it went, nicely covered by the foliage.  And then … I ran to Centre.  That’s where the memories stop.  I have no idea how much humiliation I swallowed from my peers.  Maybe that’s a blessing.

Fast forward a few decades.  Jody knows about my bike trauma.  She’s taken me at night to a subdivision under construction in Lethbridge, Alberta.  Street lights, asphalt and bare lots.  She pushed, she ran beside, I pedalled.  And I stayed up for a hundred yards or so.  Was I exhilarated?  No.  I was terrified.  At the end of my trip, Jody rushed up to me, saying “You did it!  You rode a bike.”  My response?  “No, I didn’t.”  To this day, I don’t know what that was about.  How skewed is my brain when drowning in fear and embarrassment.

A few YEARS later, I finally agreed.  I could ride a bike.  Did I mention the 47?

Strength

I like myself a lot.  I think I’m kind and compassionate.  I’m working out on the elliptical in the gym and soon with the bike on the road.  So cardiovascular health is coming my way.  But there’s one aspect of life where I’ve always defined myself as “less”: strength.

In 1980 or so, I lost an arm wrestle to my 11-year-old niece Diana.  And yes, I was really trying.  Growing up, I related to that skinny kid on the beach who had sand kicked in his face.  I go the gym now and see the huge weights that some of the men and women are hoisting.  And the “less” starts to grow.

I’ve dabbled in strength training over the past few years, even hired a personal trainer, but I would always find reasons to fritter away my expressed commitment.  During some sessions I was fierce in my determination to do all the reps but then injury or illness always seemed to derail me and my progress returned to zero.

Today I began again.  Light weights but I did my full Day One program.  And oh, it felt good.  I see the opportunity right in front of my nose – to be strong, not with big, blocky muscles, but still, able to grunt my way up hills on the bike, climb stairs with ease twenty years from now, and have my body support my spirit.

One version of spirituality focuses on the sweetness beyond this physical round, on epiphanies of the soul, feeling the depth of the present moment.  Another emphasizes the glory of the senses – the body moving through space, the pleasures of a soft breeze or a fine meal.  But there’s more: the chance to embrace both.

I can be more than my heart and head.  I can include my biceps and quads.  No need for the V-shape but lots of room for a different type of meditation – the intensity of contracting muscles can be in partnership with stillness.

It’s possible that physical fitness can allow me to reach more people with my caring.  I’d like that.