The Gentle Bend

I’m drawn to curves. I retreat from straight lines. There’s a flow outwards, a going out and seeking, and then a graceful turning back. It’s something like driving on a twisty country road. You can feel the force from the side.

***

I love it when a curve rises or falls. There’s the grunt of effort and then the “Whee!” of descent. I remember very well a roller coaster road in Alberta where new hotel employees would be initiated into the lay of the land … also discovering the fitness of their stomachs.

Then there’s there’s the curving that reaches out and touches another … a nestling together, an embrace, a merging. We come close. We spoon. We cuddle.

And sometimes we spiral, flowing upwards together around some centre, seeing each other anew at each turn. The moving is up and ever out – including more, visiting new lands, opening.

We journey on these curves, eyes open to the mystery.

Day Forty: Canada

Here’s the view out my Toronto bedroom window. It’s been forty days since I’ve seen the white stuff. I’m home in Canada. Tomorrow I’ll be home in Belmont.

On my trip to Belgium, Senegal and San Francisco I encountered one Canadian – on yesterday’s flight. Pablo lives in Durham, Ontario and runs a furniture business. He was returning from Singapore, where many of the tables and chairs are made. I loved his stories about world cities. Only partway through our time together did I realize “He’s from Canada – like me.”

If you would have told me two years ago that someday I’d be absent from my country for five weeks, I’d have said you’re crazy. And yet here I am, having immersed myself in African life, enjoying the people whose languages I mostly didn’t speak. The geography was stunning but it’s the human beings I love.

And now I return to what I know. I come back to my local beloveds, to see what they have to say about life. There are so many Pablo’s to discover … and rediscover.

Especially there are the kids. I promised the Grade 5/6 children that I’d return to them on Monday, January 20 and spend the whole day at school. And I will do that, despite possible snow on the highway home.

I want to hear the ideas of 11-year-olds, and those of the regulars at the Belmont Diner. On Wednesday evening, I want to hear Ken Thorne sing his songs at the Acoustic Spotlight house concert in London. And if he does covers, I want to sing along!

I’m bringing faraway worlds back to Belmont. And the folks of my village and city are welcoming me home. The rhythms of life continue.

Day Sixteen: Rambles

Wild goats seem to be everywhere

Mariama on the edge of Soucouta

Laundry day

Home

***

Soucouta is a small village only a kilometre away from Toubacouta. Mamadou, Youssoupha and Mariama wanted me to see it. Since it was during the biggest heat of the day, they insisted I ride on the back of a moto, rather than walking.

The people don’t speak any English. French, Warlof and Serai are the words I hear. (I don’t know how to spell the last two.)

Mamadou took me into his home and I met his grandmother. She was old and pretty in her flowered blue dress and head wrap. She smiled softly and extended her hand.

Folks young and old called out greetings to my friends as we walked the land and the streets. Kids ran and jumped in the 37 degree Celsius sun (98 Fahrenheit). I slogged with the young ones to the edge of the sea, which felt like a narrow river. Mud lay exposed in the low tide and we walked the less gooey parts. Ahead of us hundreds of crabs scurried away to their wetter holes in the sand. Sadly, I forgot to take a picture of this migration.

I stood on the moist earth and talked to the water in puddles to my left: “De l’eau … vient ici tout de suite! Je t’attends.” (Water … come here right away! I’m waiting for you.) I stood still with my arms crossed. The young Senegalese gaped at me, then burst out laughing. Dumb white guy, expecting the tide to come in since he told it to. It was great fun.

How incredibly dry Senegal is. The wind blows the sand. The sun bakes the earth. But at least there’s the river and the sea. And through it all the folks of Soucouta and Toubacouta adorn themselves with smiles and splashes of colour.

Before the wrestling competition – drummers on the left and the two female singers on the right

Wrestlers warming up and showing off their bods before the fights begin

Youssoupha, Mamadou, Mariama and Bruce

***

And then there’s the night, when I can breathe easy again and lounge around in t-shirt and shorts. The Senegalese, however, need longsleeved shirts and jeans to ward off the chill. I’ve even seen a down jacket or two.

It turns out that last night was the final session of the Soucouta wrestling competition. I’d thought it would continue to New Year’s Eve. Singing and drumming were scheduled to happen pretty much uninterrupted from 10:00 pm until 2:00 am. Towards midnight, the wrestling would start.

I wanted to go. The four of us walked to Soucouta in the dark, drawn by two female voices beaming from the sound system. They alternated lines of music … seemingly forever. The drums smashed out their beat as we approached the glare of the stadium lights. It was actually a very small space. Only about two hundred of us went inside to witness the spectacle, one white guy included.

Hypnotic … the rise and fall of the singing and the frenzied rhythms of the drumming. The spotlights shone into the darkness, and all around eyes in dark bodies turned towards me. There was no feeling of animosity, merely curiosity.

I sat in a chair at the edge of the wrestling ground. In a flash, Mamadou was at my side, telling me I couldn’t sit there because I hadn’t paid an extra fee. At least that’s what I thought he said, as the music blared and I tried to pick out French words from his quiet sentences. I moved to another side of the arena and sat down in the dirt. Worked for me.

Wrestlers were strutting their stuff in the middle of the open space. Some would pour water over their torsos – naked or clothed – and keep running (dancing?) in a circle. One fellow tossed dirt over himself. All this while the two female singers kept up the drone of the song, while the drummers pounded the skins. The event flowed out from loudspeakers to the world of Toubacouta and I suspect far beyond.

Around 11:30, the first two wrestlers stripped down to loincloths and came to the centre of the field. Judges gave instructions. They crouched towards each other as the drums started up again. Soft touches on each other, reaches to the ground to get dust on their hands, feet moving left and right … then the fierce grabbing, the hips engaged in a supreme effort to throw the other, feet pounding into the sand as the dance moved twenty feet from the centre point. One fellow flipped backwards and fell to the earth, his opponent pressing down. Somewhere a whistle sounded and the match was over. The victor stood above the vanquished, who clutched his knee in agony.

Woh … intense or what. Now I wanted my bed … 2:00 am was a bridge too far. The four of us returned on the black roads towards Toubacouta, with vague human shapes passing us by. Mariama and I walked. Youssoupha and Mamadou shared the moto. I wanted them to stay and enjoy more matches but they would have none of it. Jo had made it very clear to them beforehand: take care of Bruce.

Yes, indeed, I am being cared for in this country, and in this life. I’m in the middle of something big.

Day Six: From Dakar to Toubacouta

It was six hours on the plane from Belgium to Senegal and then the journey really began. Goodbye to the world of winter coats and mittens. Lingering were long-sleeved shirts and jeans. Another world said hello. Ousmane picked Jo and me up at Dakar Airport (Lydia and the kids would be flying on Christmas Day). The sun was declining but the heat still made its way to my bones.

Like so many cities eastward across the pond, I never got to know Dakar. The airport was far away from downtown. The highway taking us four hours to the east was the only paved road I saw.

Minutes from our beginning, I saw my first wild donkey of the journey. Soon a few goats came meandering by. Later a pig or two emerged from the darkness to say hello. I remembered: this is normal here. And I remembered something else: people are everywhere, hanging with friends, some strolling casually about a metre from speeding traffic. I saw piles of huge green melons accompanied by a lone host, simple shops crammed inside and out with black folks, and huge tractor trailer trucks parked almost everywhere. A reddish dirt covered the land, broken up by scrubby bushes and strange-to-me overarching trees.

Jo announced that we were going to buy groceries in the next town – Mbour. I was expecting the tiny rooms and roadside stalls that I had seen last time in Senegal. But we pulled into the parking lot of what looked like a mini-Costco. “Woh. This does not compute.” Shopping carts. Rows of cans and packages. Counters labelled above within “Mon Boucher” (my butcher), “Mon Poissonnier” (my fishmonger) and “Ma Boulanger” (my baker). Checkout counters with conveyor belts and scanners. I was almost back in London, Ontario, Canada.

What snapped me awake were the folks walking the aisles. Women in startling colourful dresses with matching hair wraps. Some men (the unwesterned ones) flowing in their floor-length robes of white, grey and even turquoise. Babies snuggled low on their mommas’ backs. One stared long at some fellow from Canada.

Jo asked me to contribute to our carts. Bissap are bushes plumb with berries which Senegalese women harvest so that Africa can taste bissap juice and jam. Alas I couldn’t find any bissap jars. What was there was baobab jelly, made from the iconic baobab tree. I couldn’t resist. At this moment, I still don’t know what it tastes like. Soon I will.

Our carts were mostly full as we walked to the checkout. A young girl with purple hair was scanning the purchases of the previous customer. When the belt was clear, I started piling our items. I soon realized that the belt was not moving, so I began moving our stuff closer to her as she scanned. And I kept it up till we were done. At the end, she gazed at me sweetly and said “Merci”. I returned the sweetness.

Back on the road, the darkness illuminated all the moving human beings. Gas stations, storefronts, the front doors of homes were all places to gather. Wispy shapes blended with the chairs and trees.

Ahead, from my vantage point in the second row of the van, the rear ends of huge trucks loomed above. Time and again, the lorries crawled along at maybe thirty miles an hour. I breathed in their gas fumes and coughed. This went on for at least two hours and my lungs were sad. The rest of me was just plain tired. Toubacouta, dear friend, where are you?

We rolled in to Jo and Lydia’s home after midnight. In pretty much collapse mode, I sat down with our welcoming companions Ice Tea and Fatou, devouring a long loaf of bread lathered with a chocolate peanut butter spread.

And so to the closing of the eyes.

Day One: Up, Up and Away

Oh yes … another roaming of the world. Who will I meet? What moments will I cherish? Will I let myself be undone on the other end of the continent?

Since my flight zooms away at 6:30 pm, I had time to go to school. It was March Break last week so I hadn’t been surrounded by 12-year-olds for ten days.

On the road through farmland, I spied a V way high in the sky. I slowed and wondered as at least 80 tundra swans flew over Scarlet. These huge white birds come through Southern Ontario every spring on their way to the Arctic. They flowed out both ways from the leader, their wings appearing to be in unison with their friends. The power … the grace … the sense of a group direction. Wow.

And now in the classroom. As I opened the door, I heard a few cries of welcome, even with the Math lesson in full swing. I decided to sit back and see if any hands went up for help. There was only one, and I helped the guy, at least a bit. I wanted to have conversations, to hear about the kids’ vacation adventures, but the task at hand was long division. Inside, I felt a loosening, a relaxing into the possibility that today won’t be about 1-1 moments. I smiled, sat off to the side and waited for the approach of any kid who wanted to talk.

As the morning twirled away, a few young ones came over, curious about San Francisco. One girl told me about Los Angeles, and all the cool tourist stuff to do there. Another one talked about her sister waking up screaming one night, in great pain. She’s fine now. It was clear to me that it doesn’t matter what kids and I talk about. The moments of being together are all that I need, even if there are few of them.

Now I’m deep in the concourse of the Toronto Airport, enjoying an arugula and feta cheese salad. I’m so pleased with myself for not choosing some high-fat alternative.

I’m thinking about “Jeff”, the fellow I lined up with in front of US Customs. We were in long looping lines with probably 200 other folks. And we got talking. It doesn’t matter who went first … I’m pretty sure that both of us were open to conversation. Jeff lives in New York City and we’re both in love with the place. I got to revisit my favourite moments from two months ago, much to his delight. Central Park! The MET! The 911 Museum! The noise and hurry! How astonishing to launch right into life’s joys with a so-called stranger. Jeff even knew the San Francisco area and recommended a ferry ride to the cutesy village of Tiburon. After visiting the customs guy, we bid each other farewell with “Have a good life.”

Now I’m beside my friend “Philippe” on a big Boeing plane, 298 of us zipping along at 900 kilometres an hour. We’re heading to the Evolutionary Collective meeting on the weekend, sharing plane seats and a hotel room. We’ve talked for two hours about falling in love, living freely and uniting with the people around us. We’ve shared joys and foibles. We’ve leaned into the future and found mystery there.

Tomorrow morning, we go in search of a healthy restaurant and emerging miracles. What will San Francisco and Berkeley share with us? If we listen very, very carefully, all will be revealed.

San Francisco

I get aboard the big bird tomorrow.  Here I come.  The main reason I’m going is to gather with members of the Evolutionary Collective Base Camp group.  Our contact so far has been online, where we do the Mutual Awakening Practice and delve into the worlds of integrity, trust and giving.  Now we get to see that each of us really has legs!  The EC is a marvelous vehicle for exploring consciousness.  We aim to spread love across the world, irrespective of religion, culture, race, gender or any other variable you can think of.  Who knows what we can create during the upcoming three-day weekend?

Before the meeting, I have two days to explore San Francisco, and then two more afterwards.  Jody and I were in the city thirty years ago.  We loved sitting in a sidewalk café on Lombard Street, which was very steep.  I remember seeing a gentleman push a woman in a wheelchair … from two blocks down, to us, and disappearing two blocks up.  It was astonishing.  Then there was Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, the basking sea lions, the sun on the ocean, the long loaf of sourdough bread.

What will beckon me on Wednesday?  Right now it’s a mystery, like much of my life.  Will I repeat the itinerary or branch out to parts unknown?  Plan B sounds more exciting but I know I’d be fine with the Lombard viewing and biting through soft sourdough.  Still .. a tour of Alacatraz at night?  A stroll through Haight-Ashbury, the former hippie heaven?  Why not?

Perhaps I’ll set off in the morning with my active brain decommissioned, wondering what’s around the next corner, and having no need to see a top ten tourist attraction.  Maybe I’ll spot an old guy on a bench and talk to him for an hour or two.  After all, that’s how I met Lydia and Jo – on an Alberta hiking trail, and look where I ended up (in Belgium and Senegal with them).

On my recent trips, I’ve enjoyed blogging every day, from Day One to Day End.  There’s a rhythm there that I love.  It’s not appropriate to share the specific practices we do in the EC but I can give you a general flavour of us being together.  As for the world of San Francisco, the sky’s the limit for my words.

Come with me on the journey.  I promise you surprises, laughter and a bit of communion.

 

Twenty Flights

Perhaps I’m crazy.  Over the years, several people have volunteered that opinion.  I seem to be throwing myself into life in an unprecedented way.  I’m going here, I’m going there.  And mostly I’m flying through the air (with the greatest of ease).

Between now and early January, I’m stepping aboard twenty airplanes.  This will involve a major dip into savings.  It’s not that I haven’t considered the financial fallout … but I’m doing it anyway!

It’s all about love.  And the physical distance between my loved ones and me will decline to zero, again and again.  I will be looking into the eyes of Canadians, Americans, Belgians and Senegalese, and I will see beauty there.  I will truly be a world traveller, something that has not been true in the past.

Here’s my itinerary.  The dates are approximate but you’ll get the idea:

1.  March 19 – Toronto to San Francisco for the Evolutionary Collective Base Camp three-day weekend

2.  March 27 – San Francisco to Toronto

3.  April 30 – Toronto to San Jose, California for the EC five-day event “All Together Now”

4.  May 9 – San Jose to Toronto

5.  June 5 – London, Ontario to Calgary, Alberta for my nephew Jaxon’s high school graduation

6.  June 13 – Calgary to London

7.  June 28 – Toronto to Edmonton, Alberta to visit my friend Sharyn in Mannville, Alberta and my brother-in-law Lance and his family in Longview, near Calgary

8.  July 12 – Calgary to Toronto

(What?  One day between!  You’re nuts.)

9.  July 14 – Toronto to Amsterdam, the Netherlands

10.  July 15 – Amsterdam to Brussels, Belgium to visit Lydia, Jo, Lore and Baziel

11.  July 20 – Brussels to Rome, Italy to go ‘splorin’ with Lydia, Jo, Anja and Curd

12.  July 30 – Rome to Brussels

13.  August 4 – Brussels to Amsterdam

14.  August 4 – Amsterdam to Toronto with Baziel (Lydia and Jo’s son – age 14) and Olivia (Anja and Curd’s daughter – age 14)  to explore Toronto, Niagara Falls and Belmont for two weeks

15.  December 15 – Toronto to Amsterdam

16.  December 16 – Amsterdam to Brussels to visit Lydia and her family

17.  December 22 – Brussels to Dakar, Senegal with Lydia and ten other Belgian folks to visit the kids we sponsor in Toubacouta, Senegal

18.  January 4, 2020 – Dakar to Brussels

19.  January 8 – Brussels to Amsterdam

20.  January 8 – Amsterdam to Toronto

***

Why did I tell you all this stuff?  So you’ll think I’m super cool?  So you’ll think I’m absolutely full of myself?  Well, no. These trips are an expression of my need for contact, true communion, “being with” across the miles.  There’s some power surging up in me, demanding I pay attention.  My beingness has been deep for years, and that will continue.  Now it’s time  to get out there far more and do things – Bruce actions that make a difference in Belmont, San Francisco, Nukerke, Pompeii and Toubacouta.

Whatever happened to that recent fellow who wanted to hang out in rural Massachusetts for three months … in silence?  He’s still here.  It’s just that he’s been transcended and included.

On I go

Day Nine: Homeward

What I hadn’t yet experienced was a real New York bagel.  One local guy suggested Tompkins Square Bagels, about six blocks from my room.  So I went, on my last morning.  There were laughing guys behind the counter, smiling patrons in front of it.  Just a wee place but it felt like I was entering the hall of gastronomic fame.

Sourdough looked good and so did blueberry cream cheese.  I guarantee you that the taste was far better.  How can bagels be this soft and yummy?  I sat at my little table, watching people and savouring my breakie.  Even the coffee was good.

I thought ahead to the Newark Liberty International Airport, waiting for my flight to be called, hungry.  How about a bagel to go?  In an instant the choice was clear … pumpernickel with bacon cream cheese.  Decadence of the delayed gratification genre.

Back on the street, I talked to myself.  “You’re tired.  You have this big suitcase.  Subway stations don’t have elevators from the surface to the bowels > > > Get a cab!”  My adventurous spirit was fading away as I raised my arm, beckoning to a whizzing yellow object passing by on the opposite side of the street.  “He’ll turn around for me.”  He didn’t.  So I waited for maybe ten minutes, arm at the ready.  No cabs.

I glanced over to the familiar bus stop and my insides shifted.  “No cab indeed.”  Three minutes later, I was hauling my local world onto the public beast.  “One more time … I can do this.  It’ll just take a transfer or two.”  Later, as I soared through the air en route to Toronto, I added up the vehicles of my day – it came to eleven.  M14A bus > 4 subway > 7 subway > 2 subway > New Jersey Transit train to the Newark Airport > Skytrain to Terminal B > Porter Flight PD 130 to Toronto > Billy Bishop Airport shuttle bus to Union Station > UP Express to Pearson Airport > Skyway Park shuttle van to Scarlet > two hour drive home.  Piece of cake.  I handled the luggaged stairs, I found elevators, I balanced on escalators, I had fun.  Dear taxi, you’re just not needed today.

Even though I was in airplane mode above New York State, I could still compose a blog post about Thursday.  I wrote and wrote about the 911 Museum.  It was difficult writing, since my heart had entered my fingers.  Upon arrival in Toronto, I sat in the airport lounge, did some editing, and prepared to click “Post”.  Click.  Then I copied my message to Facebook.  I also use that platform to post some photos.  I came to the one which showed Bruce’s name, one of the 911 victims, carved into a long metal plate.  I looked more closely.  Above “Bruce Douglas Boehm” was another, and my breath ceased.  It was “Brooke Alexandra Jackman”, the woman whose “missing” poster I had spied the day before, the woman whom I had adopted in love.  The metal plates encircled the two reflecting pools which were the locations of the twin towers.  The number of names inscribed was 2977.  And still, it was Bruce and Brooke.

Love lives

Day Five: Out and About in NYC

There’s an Evolutionary Collective internet gathering at 2:00 pm. Terry and I have just said goodbye, as he catches his bus to New Hampshire, and me the subway to Central Park. At the corner of Love and Power, we looked way deep into each other’s eyes and said what was inevitable. We are together, him and me, in the service of life evolving on this planet. Distance means nothing.

Speaking of power, consider the express train northward. It hurtles through space, blasting past local stops, rocking and rolling and surging. I feel the power within as the subway shakes in the power without.

Speaking of love, consider the black woman standing in front of me. She wears a shining black heart-shaped backpack, with a gold zipper. The whole thing vibrates. And she has no idea how moved I am.

I need to be on time. Being more than a minute or two late means not being on the call. Out of the subway staircase, it looks like three blocks to the park. Turns out to be four. I need to be away from the street noise and onto a bench. At 1:57 they are missions accomplished.

As the call begins, it’s time for my toque, hood and mittens. Joggers are flowing past. “Deb”, my partner in the mutual awakening practice that makes up half of our time, is sitting in her home in California. She loves seeing the cold and the runners and the bare trees. It’s clear to both of us that these moments are far beyond her and me. The folks passing by are part of us. We include them in our caring.

A young girl and her dad, both bundled up against the weather, come strolling along. She moves right up to me and points my way. I shift gaze from my Californian friend to my new one. Smiles both ways. “Hi” from me. “Squirrel!” from her. She was pointing to the bundle of fur that was scampering behind me. Yes, let’s include everybody. A minute later, she and dad are waving goodbye. Me too.

(Tuesday) Later it’s a beer and nachos in Dylan Murphy’s, an Irish pub on Third Street. Cozy. Gemma, the bartender, has a lilting accent and a soft smile. We talk about life. She asks me why I’m in New York. I tell her about the work of the EC. I sum it all up with the word “eyes”, as I look into hers.

I’m an evangelist but naturally people don’t like to be cornered, compressed, told they should do something. So I simply say, “If you want to know more, Google ‘Evolutionary Collective.'” Absolutely enough said.

Today I’m heading to the MET – the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ll let you know all about it in a few hours.