Joining the Past

I’m sitting in Coffee Culture in downtown London, amiably with the present moment. And then I glance upwards. There sits a brown metal ceiling, etched with curlicues and squares, shining amid the pot lights.

And I am gone … to the time of a little boy, and to the wonder of grandpa’s farm, worlds away from my bounded home in Toronto. For the farmhouse living room had such a ceiling.

I am returned to chairs spread around the huge dining room, occupied mostly by adults who loved to tell stories. I see the sweep of fields falling to the railway tracks miles away, and the steam locomotive that each day entered my world on the right and disappeared on the left.

I remember lying awake in my upstairs bedroom, listening for the kitchen clock loyally sharing the wee hours with me. I feel grandma’s narrow pantry, and the steaming oatmeal cookies set upon a plate. The secret rush for sweetness was a grand adventure. Only decades later did I realize that grandma had purposely created a scene perfectly suited for a hungry 10-year-old.

There was golf across the stubble of a shallow field. Maybe my drives were 100 yards long and I joyously retrieved each ball … again and again. And we built a hay rack one summer, dad and my uncles straining with the hammer blows. Can’t remember what the young man did to help.

Down the fields toward Emily Creek with Uncle Orville and Uncle Laverne. They taught me to avoid the thistles and made sure that our route passed by Uncle Bruce’s maple sugar shack. Bruce died in a car crash in 1937. Mom made sure that his name was not lost.

Walt Whitman said “We were together. I don’t remember the rest.” So true. I was embraced within family on that long ago farm. I belonged. I contributed.

Looking back, there’s a tiny smile as I sip my cappuccino under the metal sheen of time.

Permanent?

Tim Hortons is an outrageously successful chain of coffee shops in Canada.  The country’s caffeine needs are covered coast to coast with approximately 5000 outlets.  I can vaguely remember when there were no Tims but that was in the ancient era of teenage life.  If a town has four shops, it’s a good guess that a fifth is coming soon.

I was driving down Highbury Avenue in London this afternoon, approaching Hamilton Road.  As I slowed for a red light, I glanced to my left to see … a derelict Tims.  The familiar reddish brown brick was still there, and the high oval sign out front, but the “Tim Hortons” on the vinyl above the brick was a shadow of its former self, and the ovals were merely full of air.  Beige curtains fell down the many windows.  And weeds were taking over the parking lot.

I gaped for as long as the light was red.  This did not compute.  A Canadian icon had died a ghastly death, and my stomach churned.  Somehow our national identity felt wounded and a fear bubbled up that it could all come to an end.  “Because of a coffee shop?  Get a grip, Bruce!  Drive ten blocks and you’ll find a thriving Tims.”

As Scarlet slowly left the scene of the crime, I reflected on permanence, and how I dearly love to hold on.  The inner voice says I need safety, predictability and stationary happiness.  Hmm.  Not too likely.

1.  Bruce remembers names.  Bruce remembers everyone’s name.  Except now I don’t.  People I talked to three weeks ago are often a mystery when they reappear in my life.

2.  Bruce is a master of words.  He has such a wide vocabulary, don’t you know?  Except I now struggle mightily with the names of … containers.  I’ll look at an object sitting there on a shelf or on the floor and no descriptive label will enter my brain.  (Okay, now I’ve looked it up on Google!)  Is it a bowl, a basket, a can, a bottle, a tub, a bucket, a jar, a pail, a vat?  I don’t know!  In polite conversation, I retreat to “container”, unbeknownst to my companion of the moment.

3.   Bruce drives so well, including at night.  Ha!  Not a chance anymore after dark.  That’s when I have to concentrate so hard.  And during the day, the time is long gone when I can pass someone in moderate traffic.  I have trouble judging distance and speed.

4.  Bruce loves playing famous golf courses on the computer, creating works of art called batik, and running 10k races.  Okay, but those were much earlier versions of this man.  How did those passions float away?

All this brings me to the present moment.  What I love right now seems so solid: my work in the Evolutionary Collective; my travels to Belgium and Senegal, New York and San Francisco; my red-walled home in Belmont, Ontario; my Wednesday evenings at the Acoustic Spotlight folk music club.  Could it be that they too may crumble away into the past?

And then the ultimate:  Bruce Kerr was a boy and now is a man.  That too goes poof!  A world without me.  Maybe no me at all, anywhere.

As Bob Dylan sang …

As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

Watching All the World Go By

“Lighthouse is a Canadian rock band formed in 1968 in Toronto, Ontario. Their sound included horns, string instruments, and vibraphone; their music reflected elements of rock music, jazz, classical music, and swing.”

I have proof in my pocket that “included” is really “includes”. In an hour, I’ll be in the front row of Koerner Hall, listening to them rock the house.

I’m sitting on a bench on Philosopher’s Walk, a path I strolled, also in 1968, as a University of Toronto student. Such great memories of open windows at the Royal Conservatory of Music – the tones of violin or voice drifting down. I look up to a glass balcony where I will no doubt be standing at intermission, looking down to a bench once occupied.

People in all their human flavours are moving left to right and right to left before me.

***

Eight runners just zoomed past: young adults, mostly in blue shirts and black tights. Their mouths were little O’s and the heavy breathing sounded synchronized. They were giving ‘er, one of the best parts of life, I’d say.

Now a little boy dressed in yellow, and in a stroller, leading his mom up the path. I say “Hello”. He gives me a sweet smile while she turns away. There is such yinning and yanging in this life.

To the left, just off the path, a grey-haired man gazes at a small sign, in the presence of fourteen trees. It’s a memorial to the fourteen female engineering students who were murdered in Montreal in 1989. His female companion lingers back on the path, looking impatient.

As I type, I hear a woman’s voice coming in from the right. She’s crying. I looked up to see her passing in front of me, laughing with her boyfriend. It’s so easy to get it wrong in this life.

Here comes a portly fellow with three friends. He points to Varsity Arena. “I used to play hockey in there. Our music department team was called the Gustav Mahlers. We were terrible.” The friends smile. Mahler was a Czech composer at the beginning of the Twentieth Century.

I look up. Folks in fancy clothes are on “my” balcony, many of them drinking wine. I’ll share a room with them in a bit. They’re physically above me but we’re all charter members of the human family.

Time to go in. I’ll see you at the break.

***

As I walk to the front of the Royal Conservatory building, a trumpet sounds from above. Windows then and now.

***

I look down from the balcony, down to the twilight trees, down to an empty bench. The CN Tower shines blue in the distance. A couple walk the path hand in hand. All is well.

A Small Truck

I told the kids today that the oldest object I own has been around for 64 years.  It’s a small blue truck, a Dinky Toy.  As a five-year-old, I loved going to grandma and grandpa’s farm near Lindsay, Ontario.  So different from the speed of Toronto.  Every summer, we’d spend two weeks there.  I’d hang out with the cows and walk the fields with dad and Uncle Orville.  In the evenings, I played with my Dinky Toys under the big shade tree in the front yard.

One time, mom called me in after sunset.  “Time for bed, Bruce.”  >  “See you in the morning, cars and trucks.”

I rushed outside before breakfast and saw that my blue truck was … white.  “Someone’s painted my truck!” I screamed, in the general vicinity of the parent types.  I remember being furious.  It was my truck.

A year or two later, mom explained what had happened.  “A bird went to the bathroom on your truck.”  Huh?  No way.

Yes way.

I asked the kids to look back on their lives.  Did something happen at age five or so that was totally weird?  And you made up a story about it that turned out to be way off the mark?

We had a very cool discussion, ranging through the fears of children – snakes in the toilet, the dreaded disease TV (really TB), shadows on bedroom walls, the boogeyman lurking outside the door.

My favourite came from “Tessa”, who had been watching a TV program at a young age.  Somebody was hurting someone else, and the girl knew this had to stop.  She called 911.  She already knew her address.  The police arrived.  Parents sighed.  And then all was well again.  Who knew that television could be so real?

We ran out of time for me to ask this question, but I wonder:

Is there some idea in an 11-year-old mind today
that the passing of years will show to be ridiculous?
Or maybe in a 69-year-old mind?

I wouldn’t be surprised

Transom

This afternoon I sat in my meditation chair looking out the bedroom window, just as I’m doing now.  The window is composed of four five-foot-long panes of glass, three vertical and a horizontal one at the top.  I learned two years ago, as my condo was being built, that the top one was called a transom.

After an hour or so of meditation today, I opened my eyes.  A puffy cumulus cloud was drifting slowly across the transom window, left to right.  A bit of blue was on the left edge.  I decided to stare.  Mr. Cumulus was sure taking his time and I could feel its peace within me.  How about that?  No hurry at all.  “I hope you’re listening, Bruce.”

As I gazed at the sky, I thought of my life.  A couple of minutes later, the left edge of the cloud passed above the middle pane, and I reflected on my 30’s and 40’s.  They were good years.  Jody and I enjoyed each other.  I enjoyed my teaching.  I enjoyed the kids.  And the cloud keeps drifting.

Now it’s over the right panel and other kids paint my life, as I volunteer at the elementary school nearby.  I have a new home.  I’m in a worldwide community of folks who are exploring consciousness.  Life is good.  But now the transom is mostly blue, and the white travels on.  I try to hold onto it but it continues to float eastward, on a mission I guess.  “Don’t go.  Stay with me.”

And then … poof!  The cloud is gone and my world is brilliantly blue.  How peaceful are the endings.

I hope to live for many more years but “the future’s not ours to see.  Que sera, sera.”

What will be, will be

Impact From Long Ago

I was walking in downtown London yesterday and was passing a group of women.  They all had Tim Hortons coffee cups in their hands.  “I could use a coffee,” intoned the inner me.  I approached one of the women and asked where I could find a Tims store nearby.  As she opened her mouth, I heard a voice off to the side:

“Mr. Kerr!”

I whirled around to see a young woman who I’ll call “Monique”.  Long ago, I had worked with a blind child at an elementary school, and Monique was one of her sighted classmates.  She wore a huge smile, as did I.  We hugged.  Sure she’d changed in fifteen years but I recognized her.

It didn’t matter what we talked about.  There was a sense of contact between us.  She told me about her musical career and I mentioned my cross-Canada bicycle ride this summer.  We joyed in each other’s adventures.  Monique’s friends simply watched us, enjoying the reunion.

At one point, I told Monique that a few years ago I decided why I was on the planet: to love people and make them laugh.  Her reply?  “You accomplished that well before then.”  What a sweet thing to say.

Later she said “You were one of the adults who influenced me most.”  Oh my.  I thanked Monique for saying something that I hadn’t heard very often over the years.  We smiled a lot, hugged again and were off into our separate lives.  But we’ll remember each other and our chance reunion on King Street.

May I always tell people how deeply they’ve influenced me.  It’s an act of such kindness.  We all deserve to be on the receiving end.

Razzed Reunion

I was backing Scarlet out of the garage when my cell phone went off.  It was my old friend Cam.  He’s 68.  We’ve known each other for 52 years.  Cam has always been a jokester.  Actually, so have I.  “Hi Bruce.  I’m at the Belmont Library.”  (BS)  “I passed by the Diner just now.”  (BS)  “I drove around Robin Ridge Drive but I didn’t know how to find you.”  (Supreme BS)

“Cam, you’re in Richmond Hill [near Toronto, 200 kilometres away].”  “No, Bruce.  I’d never lie to you.”  (More of the same)  Back and forth we went, me almost believing he was here in my new village.  “Okay, I’m driving to the library.  I’ll see you in three minutes.”  (He won’t be there.  Sucked in again, Bruce)

Three minutes later, I turned left off Main Street into the library parking lot.  The only car was a souped up jobbie … definitely not Cam.  Darn, he got me one more time.  I whipped out my cell phone and started dialing his number, brow all furrowed.  When through the windshield, what to my wondering eyes should appear but the figure of said Cam Clark.  With a frizzled brain residing in my head, I leapt out of Scarlet and gave my friend a hug.  Gosh, I’m supposed to be the kidder, not the kiddee.

We had a great talk back at my red, blue, yellow, green, teal, purple, reddish brown and cream home.  Just like many, many old times.  I showed him around, including the developed basement.  I was first upstairs again and turned to notice Cam apparently struggling up the steps.  I felt sad.  His life has included tennis prowess, a love for skating and a golf swing almost as erratic as mine.  “Back problems.  No golf.  Still good for cycling, however.”

I’m heading to Toronto on Thursday and hopefully Cam and I will get together on Friday.  I’d love to go for a walk around a tree-shaded lake near his home.  We’ll meander and reminisce and make plans for future adventures.  Fifty-two years is a delightfully long time.