Day One: The Plane

So I’m off … to my country. Two big sports bags, one carry on, and a bike box full of a partially disassembled ta-pocketa. I sat this morning in the Ramada Inn waiting for the bus that would take me on the two-hour trip to Toronto, and just gazed upon all my stuff.

What will the journey be? And who will I be at its end? Will the twenty of us be a family? Will we be happy together?

As the bus floated over the 401, our local freeway, I got to watch the passing world and other drivers, something I don’t usually get to do. As we overtook semitrailer after semitrailer, I came to love seeing their hands on the wheel. I watched the knuckles and thought of how similar we all are … human beings wanting to have a happy life.

I often slipped into meditation as my eyes closed. The gentle rocking of the bus felt womb-like. I was safely on my way to Canada west and east.

I didn’t have a seatmate and so didn’t talk to anyone on the trip. This felt strange since I’m usually bending somebody’s ear. But a different way is fine too.

As we approached Toronto Airport, I wondered how I would haul around my heavy objects. Happily, a row of luggage carts appeared as we stopped. Even the bike box was well accommodated.

I lined up in the wrong place but a smiling woman pointed me towards the promised land. Stuff like that doesn’t phase me anymore – imperfect moi sometimes stumbles towards the finish line. And that’s okay.

After the normal stuff, it was time to deal with the bike box. It wouldn’t go through the scanner so the agent opened it up, removing the saddle and pannier for closer inspection. A big delay here but so what? Time proceeds according to its own agenda and my wishes for convenience don’t move it much. Finally the employee was finished and lent me some packing tape to reseal things. He became angry that I was using so much of his tape but I wanted to thoroughly secure my dear bike. I’d like to say that I stayed perfectly calm during his angst but that’s not true. No perfect person here. Oh well.

Going through security was a breeze until the officer came upon sunscreen and my chain oil. They should have been in my checked luggage. Oops. I was told that if I wanted the liquids, I’d have to check my carry on, at a probable cost of $100. Ouch. I pleaded my case to the supervisor and she magically checked my bag for free. O, great karma awaiteth you, dear lady.

All this is marvelous, of course, as life continues to unfold in its magical ways, but the best was yet to come. I’ve been taking a live online course on relationships, with people participating from around the world. There was a one-hour session scheduled for Noon today but I’d be in the departure lounge then. I told myself I wasn’t going to be holding my Samsung phone aloft, listening to folks through earbuds, and talking out loud to my international companions while surrounded by fellow travellers.

After passing through security, however, and walking down the long hall to Gate B4, the voice inside said “Just do it. You have more than an hour before boarding. Find a quiet spot and be with people on your screen.” So I did. The walls of restriction came tumbling down. The few folks near me didn’t seem bothered in the least. And we across the world shared a sweet presence together.

Now I’m on the plane, perhaps nearing Winnipeg, sitting beside two friendly women from Alabama who are jetting towards an Alaskan cruise. Good for them and good for me. May each of us dip ourselves deeply into adventure.

That’s enough for now. Happy landings to me.

Senegal

I was sitting on a bench on the Alberta prairie in July, 2017, admiring the mountains to the west.  I was alone, and very much looking forward to the sunset.  Along come four hikers.  We smile.  We say hi.  They sit down.  Turns out that they’re all from Belgium and are revelling in the grandeur of the Rockies.  One couple says nearly nothing.  The other one enjoy chatting with this Canadian guy.

After awhile, the folks head on up the trail, showering me with friendly goodbyes.  A half hour later, I set off too, having immersed myself in oranges and pinks.  The trail enters some trees.  Soon I’m back in the wide open spaces.  I look ahead and there’s another bench in the distance.  Two people are sitting there.  After a bit, I can make out my talkative new friends.  “They’re waiting for me.”  And indeed they were.

Lydia and Jo welcomed me to the new bench and we start talking about life in all its beauty and disappointment.  They tell me that they have about 20 foster children … in Senegal.  Lydia whips out her phone and shows me smiling photos and videos.  Those kids are so alive, so real.  I’m loving this.

Maybe an hour later, Lydia has something to say:

“Bruce, we go every Christmas to see our kids for two weeks.  Would you like to join us sometime?”

Oh my.  Did she just say that?  My small mind goes off into small thoughts.  “But we just met.”  “I can’t afford that.”  “I like being home for Christmas.”

Happily, my big mind held sway.  “Yes, I’ll go with you to Africa to meet your children … in December, 2018.”

Too soon, we were saying goodbye.  Lance’s family and I were heading off in the morning.  I hugged Lydia and Jo and it felt right.

Back home in Ontario, I had lots of thinking to do.  “I said yes.  I really did.”  Well, not knowing how many years I have left on the planet, isn’t it about time that I stretch my wings?  Yes it is.  I wondered if my Belgian friends thought I’d really follow through.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I’m here to tell you that Jo and Lydia and I and a few other fine people are flying from Brussels to Dakar on December 23, returning to Belgium on January 4.  Although I haven’t arranged my flight to Brussels yet, I intend to spend a week visiting my friends and seeing the sights before we fly to the kids.

This is real
I’ve never been to Europe
I’ve never been to Africa
This is real

Look at me now, a world traveller.  Also a lover of humankind in all its diversity.  Belmont is so cool.  I’m sure the rest of the world is too.  As Cat Stevens was fond of saying:

Well I left my happy home
To see what I could find out
I left my folk and friends
With the aim to clear my mind out
Well I hit the rowdy road
And many kinds I met there
And many stories told me on the way to get there
So on and on I go, the seconds tick the time out
So much left to know, and I’m on the road to find out

Thank you, Mr. Cat

Road Of Dreams

I was so excited Thursday morning.  I was going to ask 27 Grade 6 kids for help.  I had let my dream fade and maybe they could get me back on track.  I want to ride my bicycle across Canada in 2018.  It’ll be about twenty of us embracing the Tour du Canada – taking 70 days to pedal 7600 kilometres from Vancouver, B.C. to St. John’s, Newfoundland (a bit more if I start in Victoria).

I started by asking the kids if they have a goal which so far they hadn’t achieved.  After one young man responded, I told them about the Tour.  It seemed like there was a collective drawing in of breath as I launched into my story.  Tiffany, their teacher, said that here was an opportunity to bring school closer to real life.  Indeed.  She handed out huge pieces of paper and groups of students charted ideas for me.

As the kids hummed along in their work, one girl came up to me and asked “What colour are your eyes?”  (Huh?)  Turns out that she was drawing a picture of me on the paper and wanted to get my eyes right.

And then the presentations.  No more junk food.  Ride my bike every day.  Find someone to train with.  Write encouraging letters to myself between now and June, 2018, and open them on the ride when I’m having a hard day.  Write a blog as I cross the country so folks can find out how I’m doing.  Thanks, kids!  Tiffany will be marking their posters and then I get to take them home for inspiration.

After all was said and done, two girls came up to me (separately) and said that they want to do the ride with me.  Whoa!  I mentioned that a lot of thinking had to be done, parents had to be totally on board, and the training would be intense.  Inside, I was churning.

Have you ever read a book three times?  I have.  The title is Hey Mom, Can I Ride My Bike Across America?  A teacher and his wife rode with five 12- and 13-year-olds from Washington, D.C. to Santa Barbara, California.  It took four months.

Yes, I’ve dreamed of doing the Tour du Canada for many years.  Sitting right beside that dream was another: to include a couple of kids on the adventure.  I only have two regrets in life – that Jody died so young and we didn’t have children.  I think I would have been a good dad.  Wouldn’t it be cool if I could be a sort-of-dad for two months and share the wonders of Canada with fine young Canadians?

Now, a few days after speaking my heart, I try to put myself in the parent’s chair.  It’s not too likely that mom and dad would let their daughter or son travel with me for ten weeks.  It’s  a long ways.  Hills.  Bad weather.  Possible illness and injury.  Maybe a few unsavoury characters discovered along the way.  If it was my child, would I let them go?  Well … yes.  If I trusted the person to keep my dear one safe.  Roots and wings.

Here I sit, not knowing if some Grade 6 kids will accompany me.  Maybe there are parents out there who will say yes.  First of all, of course, maybe there are a couple of children in that class who truly want to do this and are willing to put in the work to make it happen.

Oh my
The weight of reason suggests that this part of my dream won’t happen
But you never know

Training

I’m zipping along beside fields and woodlots, on the train from London to Toronto.  I feel like doing a real time reflection on the sights flowing past my window.  So here goes:

1. Slowly pulling away from downtown London.  The backside of one business is tortured with coils of razor wire, reminding me of horrifying war movies and the real human beings who were imprisoned within such monstrosities.

2. Searching for St. David’s in Dorchester, a school that I loved visiting as an itinerant vision teacher.  I fear that I’m on the wrong side of the train and gaze over the heads of the folks to the right.  But there’s nothing.  I missed it.  I’m a wee bit sad since I love glimpsing familiar places, even if only for a second.

3. It’s a cloudy day and so the spectacular fall colours are muted.  I’m disappointed.  I yearn for the brilliance.  It reminds me of the guy who came to my home a couple of days ago to calibrate my new TV.  He said that manufacturers set up their TVs to really pop in showrooms – neon greens and whites full of blue.  It sells the product but creates an unreality, with precious little play of details.  I decide to take my trees as they come.

4. Orange traffic signs piled against a fence – One Way, Slow, Detour, and a whole bunch of arrows pointing every which way.  It’s such an image of the frantic life … “Go here.  Now go there.  Do this.  Don’t do that.”  No thanks.

5. Seeking interesting stuff.  Having an agenda to find the next stimulus.  “How about, Bruce, if you soften those eyes of yours and just let things appear?”  Okay.  Who cares if I write about six sights, or twenty-six?

6. Here comes a circular water tower – white at the top, then a pinched in blue section, followed by a white bottom.  Seems to be a uniform design throughout Southern Ontario.  I’m reminded of the Belmont water tower.  My new home sits nearby.  Whether I’m returning from the north, south, east or west, there’s a beacon above the trees.  “Welcome home.”

7. A street of houses facing the tracks.  What must that be like?  Would the people there really be able to tune out all the noise?  Please give me quiet.

8. Stopped at the Brantford station.  Rows of tracks.  Houses over there past the fence.  Part of me wants movement, change … but the bigger part just lets everything stay put.

9. A young woman in the seat in front of me is playing with her hair.  All I see is her left hand, with ever moving strands of hair passing between her fingers.  It’s very beautiful.

10. The field beside tilts and rolls.  Where corn used to be are now marvelous curves, sensuous like a woman’s body.  I’m aroused.

11. Towering cliffs with tiny people on the top ledge.  I want to be them, casting myself into a view full of reds, oranges and yellows.  Do they want to be me, on a journey to distant lands?

12. A station called Aldershot.  It appears to be in the middle of nowhere, no homes or businesses in sight.  Just a whole bunch of railway cars.  How strange – a place with no sense of place.

13. Piles of glittering silver junk, fronted by a green metal fence flooded with unknown graffiti.  I don’t know how to make sense of it all.

14. Poking above the fall trees are blocky hotels.  Such a contrast.  I like both, usually not at the same time.  I’ll take action, please.  And now serenity.

15. Twenty minutes from downtown Toronto.  Feeling the pull away from the here-and-now, towards completion of the task … proofreading, pressing Enter to launch my words into the universe, packing up, walking into my next world.

See you there

Hiatus Ending

It’s been so long, WordPressers … twenty days actually.  Some of my absence was out of my hands – there’s no Internet within the wilds of Haida Gwaii.  Still I’ve been home for almost a week and no digit has touched a key.  I’ve had so much to say and so little willingness to say it.  Strange.

Certainly, there are the seasons of a life.  In 2015, I was X.  In 2016, it’s more like X – Y + Z.  And that’s okay.

I went to B.C. with my tiny Nikon camera, knowing that I would chronicle my adventures.  On Day 2, I took a cool skyward shot of the ivy that covers the Sylvia Hotel in Vancouver.  And that was it.  Both before and during my tall ship trip, I kept seeing awesome photo ops but always the answer was “No”.  “Let go of the recording, Bruce.  Just be in this moment.  A year from now, you may forget most of the Haida Gwaii happenings, and that’s all right.  The conversations, the whales, the eagles may slip away from conscious thought, but they will have seeped inside in some mysterious manner.  And they will always be with you.”

I listened to that voice.  Over the next few days, I’ll share marvels with you.  I guess that having them show up in my blog means that in 2031 I can look back on my journey, but still there is a great big letting go.

See you tomorrow.

 

Not Writing

I haven’t put pen to paper (so to speak) for a week.  I’ve just been too tired.  I’ve hired an interior designer to prep my home for listing on June 25 and to help me create great spaces in my future condo in Belmont.  Jane and I have been working full speed ahead to declutter in a major way.  There have been loads for an auction company, one for a donation centre and two for the dump.  Wow.  Jody and I accumulated so much stuff in thirty years.  Objects that were important to her, me or us now don’t hold meaning … and so I let them go.  It’s a cleansing.  A new start.  But still infused with the spirit of my lovely wife.

I feel guilty for not writing, but I’ve always considered guilt to be a useless emotion.  So bye bye to that too.

Tomorrow I fly.  First to Vancouver for four days of exploring my old haunts.  And then another plane will take me to Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands).  I’ll get on a tall ship and sail amid the islands for eight days.  Oh my goodness, I’m really doing this.  Good for me.  Humpback whales, an infinity of birds and Haida elders.

I think I’ll be a different person by the end of my trip, or maybe just a deeper Bruce.

There’s no Internet on the ship and I’ve decided not to take my laptop to Vancouver.  So another period of not communicating spreads out before me.  I’ll resume my blog during the week of June 20.  I hope you’ll tune in.

Be well
Be happy
Be you

Day One: Letting It Be

1. I have pictures in my head of the way things should be … in Cuba, for instance.  I shouldn’t be sick (but my cold continues on its merry way).  I should be on the beach working on my tan and just hanging loose (but the heat is getting to me and so I’ve been showing up on the sand an hour or two before sunset).  I should be talking to all sorts of people (but mostly I want to be alone).  How come life has its own ideas about my life?

2. Friday night’s show at the theatre was so much fun.  Last night’s focused on the MC’s booming voice.  Too much amplified bluster for me.  But the night before was golden.  Even before the curtains parted, there were moments to behold.  A young girl, maybe 12, was kneeling in front of the stage, tossing a beach ball to a far younger girl, about 5.  The older child was so patient, hanging in with her partner for at least five minutes, smiling all the while.  I figured they were sisters but when the music started, they went their separate ways.

A fellow dressed in black came onto the stage, wearing a white clown face on the back of his head.  He turned away from us and began to dance.  His arms and legs flipped and flopped as his new face scanned the audience.  Those limbs bent opposite to us normal human beings.  It was an unearthly flow of life.  Very cool.

Michael Jackson put in an appearance, telling us all about Billie Jean and snarling out “Thriller”.  We erupted when his moon walk slipped him backwards.  Add it all up and it was a great evening.

3. I met a couple by the currency exchange office on Friday and we said we’d sit down together sometime soon and have a good talk.  It happened yesterday afternoon on the beach.  After twenty minutes, I was feeling overwhelmed by the husband’s dominance.  Not only did he spew forth an incredible volume of speech, but most of it was in lecture mode.  I mentioned that I’m a Buddhist and he came back with an analysis of several schools of Buddhism.  Ouch.  Should I just smile and accept what life is giving me in the moment or should I speak up?  I chose the latter:

“Please stop.  Too many words.  I can’t process what you’re saying.”  >  Silence

The two of them walked on shortly thereafter.  There were pleasant goodbyes but I don’t believe they’ll be seeking me out any time soon.  And I’m fine with what I did.  I had no antagonism towards them.  I just wanted the noise to stop.  It’s becoming clearer to me that I need to exit myself from noxious stimuli.  And I will continue to do so.

4.  I went to the gym yesterday.  After all, Bruce goes to the gym.  My cold was there with me but I decided that an hour of cardio in the air conditioning would be a good idea.  They didn’t have an elliptical so I started out on the stationary bicycle.  My rear end started complaining after half an hour.  “Why didn’t you pack your padded shorts, Bruce?”  How shortsighted of me … not about my packing prowess but being so critical.  I can’t expect myself to anticipate all the little details of a Caribbean vacation.  So I let my self-grousing go and moved to the StairMaster.  Not a machine I’ve used before but at least my bum would recover nicely.  I finished the hour on the vertical beast, going far slower than my brain said was okay.  Silly brain.

Then it was yoga time.  I spread my mat out on a nice blue floor and stretched assorted muscles of the back, arms and legs.  They smiled.  I was really tired but my nose was clear.  Yay!

5. As I was discovering how to connect to the Internet and send blog posts on their cyber journey, I also spent time seeing how Brooke Henderson was doing in the first major golf tournament of the year.  I’m obsessed with her.  Brooke is Canadian, pretty, young and highly skilled.  Plus she hits her drives about 270 yards.  She’s climbing rapidly in the world rankings and I’ve imagined an unbroken line of success stretching into an infinite future.  More silliness.  Life doesn’t work that way.  After yesterday’s third round, she was tied for 33rd, 8 strokes behind the leaders.  Not a great week so far.  I watched myself struggle with this fact.  I want to cheer on a hero.

Actually, I felt a sweet sadness as I thought of her.  All of us get a few life birdies along the way, mixed in with our fair share of double bogeys.  May I embrace it all.

***

This is fun.  I’m doing things my way while staying open to the unknown.  More please

Southerly Journey

I’m sitting in the lobby bar of the Memories Paraiso Azul Beach Resort, sipping a Spanish coffee and tapping away at my laptop.  I’m used to having trouble with my Internet connection in hotels and restaurants.  And that’s in Canada.  What about Cuba?  A friendly bartender has hung in with me, exploring how to get around all the security thingies.  And here I am … actually talking to you!

A little voice inside says that I should be on the beach right now, soaking up those intense rays.  But hey, it’s my vacation.  I plan to be on the beach every day but not right now, thank you.

Thursday seems like a long time ago but the memories are vivid.  I spent four hours in the morning – packing, organizing, thinking.  Weren’t you supposed to spread this stuff gently over the past week, my man?  Hey again … no supposed to’s.

I arrived at my Toronto hotel around supper time.  Then it was off to the nearest drugstore for some essential item that I had missed (and that now, inexplicably, I don’t remember).  I was so excited.  Even a saunter over to Shoppers Drug Mart was fun.  Back in my room, I messed around on the Internet for awhile and then took my sleeping pill.  Into bed and off to dreamland by 7:30!  Well … not quite.  I got under the sheets but sleep didn’t come.  As I tossed and sometimes turned, my 2:00 am wakeup call loomed large.  Gosh, I thought I was so smart, booking a hotel for my night before.  I’ll get 6, 7 hours sleep.  Actually, make that 1 or 2.  (Sigh)

I entered the Toronto airport at 3:30, perfectly stunned.  I travelled on the moving walkway for quite a spell and came to the conclusion that I was the only human being who stood still.  I clung to the right railing as a fair percentage of Canada’s population motored past.  I don’t know what it says about me or them.  I’m just different, I guess.

On the plane, I plunked down into my precious window seat.  Had a good chat with the fellow beside.  An hour into the journey, the movie was beginning.  Little screens popped out of the ceiling every four rows or so.  Then the announcement:  “So that your fellow passengers may enjoy the film without glare, please lower your shades if you’re sitting beside a window.”  Being a nice little Buddhist person, I half expected that I would go along.  After all, no one moment is better than any other.  However, I didn’t go along.  I wanted to see the world outside.  Either I’m a selfish so-and-so or someone who wants to embrace real moments, not just ones that show up in movies.  I prayed that glare wouldn’t be a problem for my companions.  I don’t think it was.

In the fullness of time, we were approaching Santa Clara, Cuba.  And then another troubling announcement:  “A disabled plane is sitting on the runway.  We need to land at the airport in Camanguey instead.  Once the runway at Santa Clara is cleared, we’ll fly back.  Sunwing Vacations is sorry for the inconvenience.”  Oh my and oh well.  “It’s really not important if I get to the hotel hours later than expected,” he said unconvincingly.

Half an hour later, we landed … in Santa Clara.  “April Fool’s!” announced a sunny flight attendant.  Have to admit, it was brilliant.  We laughed.

Going through customs was fine.  After that, we were supposed to pick up our luggage and proceed to one of ten shuttle buses.  But I couldn’t find my stuff.  I checked every “red and large” suitcase in the concourse.  None of them were mine.  Several staff members did their best to help.  Nothing.  Other flights were arriving and new belongings were speeding down the conveyor belt.  Not mine, however.  The inhabitants of my shuttle bus were waiting and waiting.  I was stewing and stewing but within that was a bit of my Buddhist peace.  Finally a gentleman in uniform came up to me to say that one of the bus passengers had picked up my suitcase by mistake.  All was right with the world.

And that’s true.  All is right.  The beach will appear in my life at the appropriate time … later this afternoon.  And my message to you here will no doubt go through.  I’ll talk to you again tomorrow.

Sniffing and Sharing

I’m sitting in the lobby of a hotel near Toronto airport, letting my newly emerging cold be there.  I have some saline stuff to spray into my nose and some intestinal fortitude to move way past “poor me”.  How strange life can be.

I want to talk to you in Cuba.  I’ve heard that the Internet at Memories Paraiso Azul Beach Resort is sporadic, and that it’s only available in the lobby.  So what?  My strength training has shown me that determination can go a long way.  So you’ll be hearing from me.  Is it unwise for me to promise?  Maybe. But I’ve been unwise before.  It could be fun to go down that road again.

I want to describe what I see on the outside and on the inside.  I want to tell you about cool people I meet.  About dancing in the disco and on the beach.  About Michael Jackson.  About waiters, maids and gardeners.

Time for bed.  Wake up call at 2:00.  Taxi at 3:00.  Fly at 6:15.  Oh my, I’m really doing this.  Tell you all about it tomorrow or Saturday.

 

 

Cuba Bound

On Friday morning at 6:15 am, I lift off.  Well, the plane does, but I’m going along for the ride.  There’s so much I’m looking forward to:

1.  Watching the clouds in their infinite display, plus the land of the Earth way down below

2.  Being on the bus from the airport in Santa Clara as we pass through towns and countryside, plus the 48 kilometre causeway leading to Cayo Santa Maria

3.  Leaning over my balcony at the Memories Paraiso Azul Beach Resort, saying “Ola” to the folks walking on the path below

4.  Reading Ken Wilber and Michael Murphy from the comfort of my lounger on the white sand beach

5.  Dancing down the shoreline at regular intervals

6.  Spending mornings being good to myself: meditation, strength training, cardio and yoga

7.  Spending late evenings at the disco, dancing by myself in an allegedly wild and crazy way

8.  Grooving to the shows at the theatre, especially Grease and the Michael Jackson tribute

9.  Talking to folks from around the world about life and love

10.  Hopefully finding Dorelys, the maid whom I enjoyed talking to last time

11.  Laughing with my servers, and with the woman who serves up delicious smoothies

12.  Going on my one and only excursion – an all day catamaran journey

13.  And most of all … being in a symphony of moments

***

Here comes the unknown, unbidden and unusual