Friday, August 19, 2011
The Twelve Epistles (A Gift Box)
1) Purgatory Revisited. (Sunday, July 31, 2011)
The road is lo-o-ong. The song resonates. And my regular road (dubbed “Purgatory Bridge” by a friend whose surname is, of all names, “Neway”) lies across a trestle bridge about the length of a city block, spanning the Victoria Gorge. On most occasions small boats glide to and fro through the central causeway beneath the wooden rattling of the road-wide bridge. There are the ubiquitous sea-kayakers, bright blue and red and yellow; there occasionally goes a small green pickle-shaped taxi-boat; there sometimes is a squat inboard-engine vessel, or a sleek small yacht, their tippy masts not quite tall enough to scrape the undersides of the causeway. But on the surface of the trestles, whether you are beside me in my power-chair or if on a bicycle or if running or walking or merely standing to one side to gaze down into the water you will be disturbed by the rattle of planks, the unevenness of gaps, the knots that give rise to tripping, the nail-heads that stick up for want of another pounding, and the commotion of the traffic of life. Being on it is enough to shake the fillings out of one’s teeth, to rattle at one’s rib cage, to compact one’s vertebrae, to dislocate one’s neck. And for each its very passage lies in one’s choice of going from one side to the other; we but take on the consequences of our expeditions.
Familiarity disassociates. Used to the racket one can assume to be inured to the contagion of sound and bumping. Fortified by experience, one can choose the mystic pathway amongst the loom of evident contraventions, stiffen the core muscles and take comfort in the belief of the temporal nature of the enterprise. Fortified by experience, one can accommodate the taxation, the toil, the tithe, the pith and momentum of the passage, for in experience lies endurance, acceptance, integration, patience, and even success. One does reach an end.
But in the meantime is the passage always to be reconnoitered with such severity of inspection that one tip-toes amongst the hobgoblins and groans and grunts at every bruited bump, or can one knowingly steer course for the other side, look up and around, and acknowledge the sunset, the reflection on the water, the wave of the kayaker, the smile of a passerby, the wag of a dog’s tail? Having chosen to go to the other side, to journey, to progress, to passage in the way of living, where is there not a contrivance to hinder us? What might we not accomplish or comprehend should we stay immured by caution or even by cowardice ensconced in the seeming safety of our room for a womb? Independence is greatly realized in our mobility, if not physically, then at least mentally. It is our willingness daily to tackle the ruts and bumps and nail-heads and knots and rattling at our cage that determines the smoothness of our acceptance, the grace of our evolution.
We progress from now to now. Mindfulness of each moment is not about the ooh and ouch or wow and how of existence as much as it is about the way. And having chosen a path, as we know, way indeed leads on to way. Yet again and again, let me then not be a-feared of any such purgatory bridge; it too is a causeway unto yet more. And is not the striving to be born, the very call of life, not a reaching out of the dark into the light of yet more?
We need heed the things that go bump in the night, yes, but to cross the bridge of fear rather than bury oneself under the blanket is to find, more often than not, that the sound was only in the life-force of the wind. One breath at a time. One bridge at a time. Now for now.
2) Hamlet, Meetings, Mitch, Meanings, and Morrie: (Thursday, August 4, 2011)
We humans are fundamentally ontological. We discern meaning from our being. We take chance and circumstance and coincidence and weave and wrap and unravel and postulate, sure that somehow there is meaning in the measure of things.
Hamlet believed the ghost. Hamlet took conscience and made out of consciousness a trap by which to catch a king. Hamlet risked truth for concealment, and in such guise of madness did so o’erthrow his Love that she, being the quintessential Ophelia of classical and o’erwraught disposition, did drown drown drown down by the river. So too for our meanings; we succumb to the truths we give them rather than face them squarely for what they are: circumstance made co-incidental with but a hint of humor.
Re-visited during my summer break in Victoria by each of the three persons playing ‘Mitch’ to ‘Morrie’ in ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’ (a play by Mitch Albom based on the truth of visiting his old professor now stricken with A.L.S.), I am struck by the coincidence of time, chance and circumstance. We meet in reverse order of chronology, Perry, Donovan, and Jay Newman. Perry Burton, marvelously adroit as the evil King Claudius in Hamlet, diabolical on the outdoor lawns in the gloriously setting sun amongst the red and gold Arbutus trees on the grounds of Camosun College, wades in amongst the audience at the end of the play and comes directly to me, propped up in my wheelchair, to ascertain my readiness to re-assume the role of Morrie, and to re-assure me of his interest in playing Mitch. Within the week Donovan Deschner, a former student of mine who in the mid 90’s played Juliet’s father Capulet, and then played Mitch to my Morrie in 2009, arrives as a house-guest; life imitating art. But the real con-incidence arises in the same day arrival on Vancouver Island of Jay Neman, who as an actor had previously performed in several shows under my directorship, but first approached me in 2004 with the script of Morrie, and so began the saga of some 35 Tuesdays with Morrie, in many various venues, and subsequently some eight or so shows with Donovan, at the Centre for Performing Arts; life imitating art. Coincidence? Perry, Donovan, Jay, all within a week. Saw Perry on Friday. Donovan leaves Thursday after lunch; Jay arrives that same Thursday for dinner. What meaning be there in all of this?
The cornflowers by the walkway just after the Selkirk Trestle (dubbed Purgatory Bridge) are in bloom in August. They too are a part of Morrie Swartz, of Vic Peters, of Hank Gerlhoff. Each, had succumbed to ALS, amneo-trophic lateral sclerosis, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and the ALS symbol of the perseverance of hope and the triumph of care over the inevitability of the disease is worn on the lapel, flutters down down down into the graves. Vic, whom I met soon after I assumed the role of Morrie, became my friend. He was a multitalented man who ran marathons, hiked, played guitar, crocheted rugs, carved wood, made wine, and wrestled with his disease to the end. I loved him. Hank, met through Vic, became my friend too. He was a man taken on a journey by his faith. The voyages of his past are documented in photo after photo that he submitted to Google Earth. The voyage of his future lies in his belief that he will meet his wife in heaven.
We give meaning to life. We watch it unfold and in the crossroads, the interstices, the warp and weave of the straight lines and the clutch on the curves we find significance. Or is it all coincidence? Perry, Donovan, Jay, and their Mitch to my Morrie, all met in August, 2011; what of that? Now, then, now?
3) A Hand for Humor! (Monday, August 8, 2011)
Humor has its drawbacks. The first comedian presenting at ‘Hecklers’, the basement bar of Victoria’s Radisson Inn would make much of that first line for openers. He persisted in the lewd, crude and the rude. And despite ladies present, his imagery was that of the uninhibited, the exhibitioner, the perverse shocker, the assault on the senses. Yet he had more hands clapping than I could count. And I realized (ladies and gentlemen), that on this Friday night, well after dark, with drinks, women, men, and the spotlight given to the exposition of comedy, that I was in for a tasseling and titillating test of integration.
Yet the Master of Ceremonies soon enough advanced the action. And while he was speaking it struck me that though genre specific, though differentiated, potentially divisive, dislocating and downright dirty, it is in each and every moment that we are tested for readiness to be aware, absorptive, assimilative, compassionate, and inclusive. What part of Integrative is not? What part of Whole is not? What part of Everything is not? Preference is all. And so prudishness and perversity lie together abed in the sea of allusion, illusion, and inference. We are but mankind adrift; flotsam and jetsam in The Universal Energy.
The hand is a great reference point. The thumb is thick and versatile, a symbol of the sexual/sensual basis of life. The forefinger is the action/adventure; it points and leads and instigates. The middle finger is the romance/sentiment; it clutches and clings and signifies. The ring-finger is the knowledge/esoteric symbol. On my own hand it is longer than my index finger, connoting more thought than action? The little finger is the spiritual/wisdom finger; it has the least leadership of the hand, the last we usually think of. And in the center of the hand are the palm-lines of the smiles and frowns; the downs and ups of our emotions. Great literature is like that; it has all of these elements combined. Shakespeare’s plays find their classical appeal in their ability to reach all levels of the populace; so too for the art of the Mona Lisa; so too for any effort at ontological insight that is not anemic; so too for epistemological attempts at evolving the psyche. Integration, consciously evoked, intellectually apprehended, emotively galvanized, meta-cognitively realized, or not, seeps into the interstices between the myriad fingers fiddle-fuddling amongst the five-finger discounts practiced by misdirected mankind, and raises the bar.
Donovan Deschner did that. He raised the bar. In the guest spot as the visiting comedian he brought the audience to insights of our ego-mania, insights of our being judgmental, insights of own inertia, insights of our attachment, insights of our predilections for positions of power, insights of our inability easily to transcend the paradigm. His was no set based on epistemological anemia, it was an enema designed to purge the up-tight, the morally pretentious, the ontologically challenged. And as his guest, as his former teacher, he even deigned to apologize to ‘Richard’ in the crowd, who presumably would not appreciate his reference to the splurge of spermatozoa pinning down the pin-hole in the date circumscribing one’s conception. No apology needed! Or am I too abstruse? Too obtuse? Ha! Too buttoned up?
We eschew and judge and condemn at our peril. Life is full and resplendent and funny and goes on whether we approve or not. Preference is not meant to be preclusive; it is meant to regulate the amount of times we engage in a specific activity; monitor the choice of purposefully encountering a specific proximity. And laughter, that great gift of real release, is the sound of the soul cracking out of its pent up shell, ready for NOW!
4) Gifts that Keep on Giving: (Friday, August 12, 2011)
We’ve all received them. There are trinkets we put on a shelf and eventually forget who gave them to us. There are mementoes one hoards that bear significance in their weight and feel, the story of receiving them a gift in itself. And then there are those mercurial gifts that resonate in the soul, ephemeral as a Buddhist’s meticulous sand pebble picture, made up of the moment and meant to be momentary, yet that keep surfacing in the mind and heart with feelings of gratitude.
Sometimes a word or two suffices. What clear eyes you have. What beautiful skin. What a nice person you are! Children, especially, formulate their concept of themselves by such gifts. We so easily can build or detract with a word, a gesture, a look, a seeming lie. Teenagers, especially, can be rendered fickle by such phrases. Years of their loyalty and appreciation can be withdrawn in an instant when the words appear unsupportive, intentional or not. And adults are no less dependent on the perception of intention behind the gifts of mankind; we are so formulated by advertising formulae as to believe there’s nothing better than whatever. Much of those sorts of gifts can be forgotten, even forgiven, over time.
Yet some gifts last through the years to be continual reminders of the person, the event, the era. Individual to each of us, mine are items like a glass-bubble paper-weight, a wire-horse, a poster for Romeo and Juliet, a bronze llama. They would mean little to anyone else. The stories behind each are fascinating ~ to me. Yet even more significant are the memories of other gifts seemingly lost in the proverbial sands of time: the car-load of care that arrived one seminal day in my youth; the phone-call made by a friend to influence my being hired; the radio brought by a stranger to introduce himself at my hospital bed; the buckle-your-seat-belt message as a magic-carpet was prepared to surprise me with opportunity for a new destination.
Michael Moore’s gift of a book has that momentum of a present that keeps on giving. Back in November of 1970, forty-one years ago, he inscribed it to me, then his student, with: “To Richard, Thank you for your friendship. May we continue the good thing here begun.” Reverend Michael Moore, that is. In a time when I took advantage of father figures, when I imposed myself on kindness and compassion, Rev Moore, our Religious Studies teacher, had been there for me. As I recall, he never proselytized. His three small children, about ten to fifteen years my junior, became used to my presence in their lives. But from the reception of that book, until now, even as I write, I did not see Michael Moore again. Way leads on to way.
Gifts can cement us. That book haunted me. It travelled with me across continents and displayed its spine in my many bookshelves over time, and I very often felt guilty about my neglect of what potential had been promised. The first words of its title are ‘Letters to....’ I never wrote.
And now, as circumstance and chance and generosity of spirit culminate to bring about a new accord, just before I head cross-country from Victoria to Montreal to meet the man, me in my 60th year, he at 77, I think of the gift of that book, and of the gifts we give each other in general, and I realize that gifts, far from being isolated in time, indeed keep on giving. Go give!
5) Far Flung Friends and Near (Saturday, August 13, 2011)
The immediacy of friendship is all. There can be years and months and days separating us, and we hear a voice or see a soul and know accord, or not. It is the distinctions in the moments that define the true proximity of friends. With some I have sat in a room and yet they may as well have been in another country. Others have been silent beside me for a protracted time, yet whether by a fire or not, we conspire. There is an aliveness of feeling, of mutuality, of concomitance, of acceptance that ensconces friends, whether in physical proximity or geographical dislocation; we are creatures given to gregarious cohabitation, even if we indeed can impose on another's hospitality.
Perhaps it is the feeling of unconditional acceptance that most makes us comfortable with another. We are discomforted by conditions. My friend may well have asked me to remember to turn off the tap, but if I am feeling that he dislikes me for my error then my state of uncertainty prevails throughout ensuing contacts. And although all reaction is up to me, all non-attachment and acceptance and realizations are up to me, for I truly cannot control the conditions within another, although I might influence such conditions, there is a distinction between humans that appears chemical, magical, spiritual. Tremendous differences of physical types, of likes and dislikes may still not be dissociative; I have friends whom I deeply love irrespective of our differences. What is it then that creates between some of us this state of tension that disallows for ease, for perpetual accord, acceptance, integration?
Power struggles can be deceptive. Power may wear a cloak that smiles and bows and scrapes in obsequious fashion, disguising itself even from itself, but in its insecurity will not allow another person just to be without feeling some degree of envy, lust, greed, or deception. Authenticity is a difficult thing to come by. We are so uncertain who we are. We are unsure who we should be. We have this hoard of masks and roles and scripts that we've gathered and gleaned and practiced and we think the one is more suited to an occasion than is another, so we tread upon the stages of life in the guise of costumes and make-up and artifice. We are dismayed when there is a lack of applause, a sense of dislocation from our audience, a disconnect with our fellow actor. Power will have one of us the lead! But we are unsure upon whom the focus should be, and in that moment hinges our very insecurity. Is that why friendship has so many variables, so many varieties; we are but actors on a stage?
I go soon to meet a friend from forty years ago. Are you nervous, my wife asks. What if you have no real connection after all these years, other friends asked when I told them the story. I check into myself and recall that the cloak I should wear is authenticity, the words I should share should be truth, the interest i should practice should be consummate, and the acceptance I should have should be total. That's a lot of 'shoulds'! Indeed, should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? What part of being whole is not? What role other than the self is best?
When I meet my old friend I'd like him to be real, as I'm sure he'd like me to be. Friendship, true friendship, lasting friendship, is based on the premise of no less. Come then, friends, and let's just be.
6) But for the Grace (Sunday, August 14, 2011)
"Back up, stupid!" the eleven year old yelled, his slurpee holding hand waving indignantly at the driver of the black Ford Escape. Still on his bicycle, the child had just crossed behind the vehicle directly in front of me, since it'd screeched to a stop astride the pedestrian intersection. The boy's tone had all the authority of the Entitled.
No! I thought. But the reverse lights of the black Ford Escape in front of my vehicle came on and the car, seemingly angrily, growled into reverse and catapulted backwards, straight into the much smaller brother of the boy, also on a small bicycle, also sucking on a big slurpee, also now making way behind the errant vehicle. No!
In my mind's eye the cold-drink hurtled in a pink spray from the stricken boy to splash all over my bonnet. In my mind's eye the child smashed up against my grill and the sound of his crunched bicycle stopped the Escape in its tracks. And the man gets out of his car and runs back to inspect between our vehicles and then angrily turns to the older brother, still straddled on his stilled bike and shocked into silence, and the man shouts, "It's your fault! Yours! You should not have told me to back up!"
In my mind's eye I see the older brother, years and years hence, a silent shell of a man, reduced by that awful moment of his own arrogance to a psychosis of insecurities. We take on such responsibility when we move, when we instigate, when we assume an action for ourselves or others. Such heightened state of awareness is to live in a state of paranoia, John Lennon is reputed to have said. That boy might've made the assumption many times over that he could tell others what to do, where to go, how to do it, when they were at fault. And his self-righteous presumptions might indeed have compounded the mistake, might indeed have led from one assumption to the next, until in his arrogant handling of a given moment, such as that specific moment, the result would have found its origins in all the times his peremptory ordering, barking at, entitled judging, hollering, assuming, presuming, and controlling of another might have led directly to that horrid crunch. Such was the impact of circumstance, chance, collision, and discord I now envisioned before me. No!
But the vehicle in front did not move. Its back-up lights did not go on. The little brother passed by unscathed, and the older brother, his righteous indignation satiated, with a single backwards glance pedalled on blissfully unaware of what was in my mind's eye.
We are creatures of the moment. Choice is appropriated according to our whim and want. We build up a collection of cautions based on experience. We build up a badge of authority based on precedence. And circumstance, that God who watches over us, or sometimes seemingly not, finds our lives woven into and around and about each other in the singularities of pith and moment. Given the circumstances of brother to brother, vehicle to vehicle, and mistake for mistake, there but for the Grace go I. You too?
7) Where Ego, i Go! (Tuesday, August 16, 2011)
We take ourselves with us. Shame, worthiness, bravado, pretentiousness, and me. In the moment I am everything. It is choice that might distinguish me; I am consciousness and unconsciousness at once. The balance between the positive and the negative (in terms of my own apprehensions that is) determines my disposition, my actions, my moods, my thoughts, my peace of mind. Even here, I give but a piece of it. We are indeed everything, and we disown any one part of ourselves at our folly. After all, what part of being whole is not?
It is in the daily dictum of life that we face a series of challenges, habitual or not. Our very domesticity requires a myriad decisions, our interactions with others necessitates reactions, and we each struggle with the constant choices between that which we feel we ought to do, ought to be, and that which our instinct is provoking us to do, or to be. And which of our sometimes disparate selves, Ego or All of Me, predominates? After all, we implicitly can conjure a problem of good ego and bad ego, a good me and a bad me. Good as in motivating me to be better, bad as in wanting me to show others that I am better than them; balanced as in producing in me a fulfilling of my potentiality, despite where another may be in doing and being. Breath for breath, what fools we mortals be!
Anxiety is the giveaway. That moment of being gripped by such concern that the me of all my involvement in life maintains its unsettling momentum since I am the one around whom all events revolve. Ego grips me. Ego guides me. I am responsible, accountable, attached to the outcome, dependent, involved, and crucial. It is all about me. After all, what part of everything is not? Ergo, says Ego, am I thereby not a part of everything?
Non-attachment for me is not lack of involvement, feeling dispassion, or appearing non-caring. Non-attachment for me is not detachment. It is acceptance. Non-attachment is the paradoxical sense of being totally in the moment. It is me being involved in the situation while utterly responsible for my reaction since the only thing for which I can be responsible is my reaction, even to my own instigations, plans, orders, projects, and passions. Ego within my peaceful moments of non-attachment is the living realization that my being affects others, and that such affect ideally contributes toward the health of the whole (as much as I am inclined within the context of my daily awareness.) Yet selfishness, as I reflect with honesty, dominates. Isn't my life, after all, really about me?
Me. It's such a small word. Me. It's such a limited subject. And yet all I have is the perceptions of my viewpoints, the apprehensions of my emotions, the instincts of my learnings, and the immediacy of my physicality. Me. In fact, I often do not relate to you as another me; I see me first and you second, or even last, for inasmuch as I relate to people around me I instinctually am more of an accord with the one than with the other.
Naturally I am self-involved, self-inclined, and self-absorbed. Well, if not totally then quite a lot. It is my process that I work out the kinks of being me, ergo, to loose my Ego. Loose that is, not lose, for to lose my ego would be to have negated an essential part of me. The same for thee? Or is this treatise indeed all about me?
8) Process, Progress, and Product (Tuesday, August 16, 2011)
This journey to my old mentor is now underway. As I write the sunlit clouds are below the aircraft window of my early morning world, and the packed people on the plane are but fellow travellers in a drama that begins and ends with me. Or does it? Are we not all participants in each other's journeys, myself but an unwitting component of someone else's saga in this moment?
The beginnings of some of our stories sometimes find their moment in subtleties simply unknown to us. We see or hear or meet or think something that only finds impetus in our awareness very much later, after the seemingly innocuous incident, sometimes so far-flung down the progress of our lives that we no longer can recall just where the journey began. Often, after the fact, when we see the junctions of way that led to way and perceive circumstance and chance colliding with coincidence, we realize the origins of our stories, and we can relate them to others, collusion for collaboration for calumny, if necessary, in order to create a world of sense and meaning to our existence. Such is our ontology. Such is our epistemology. Such is our want. How else do I make the sudden turbulence assailing me in this rickety sounding craft of any significance to my story? It is in the singularity of its effect on me that I am caught; is life not indeed also about all the others on our journey?
Yet in this special journey of mine to the here and now, bumpy as it actually now is, fraught as in reality it historically was with dangers and adventures and mishaps, and yet also really well rewarded as it was and is with successes, there has been such a series of remarkable coincidences it begs the full telling. All in due course. Ha! Still, given the difficulty at this moment of producing this script in the tossing and heaving of this east-bound plane, I am about to reduce the present story to its elemental simplicity.
My old South African high school teacher, Rev Michael Moore, mentored me in the last years before graduation. He and his wife Myra, and their three much younger than me children had me around for dinners and teas and games on the lawn. At a time when I needed a father figure, and a sense of unconditional acceptance, the man was there for me. In 1970, at my leaving he gave me a book. The inscription spoke of our friendship, and of "continuing the good thing here begun". But I never wrote. And now, forty years later, with me in my 60th year and he at 77, given very many concomitant and generous circumstances, we've arranged again to meet. He happens to be visiting Montreal.
The Buddhist monks pick up a single selected pebble at a time, and with mindfulness place it in the order of incorporating it into the whole sand-pebble picture, giving each moment and action and thing its full accord. As I fly now to meet my mentor, with the regular and almost alarming tossing and heaving of my conveyance, with the mixed emotions of intrigue and interest and excitement and concern that this journey not be about me bragging my way back to validating my youth, and that it not be about me having expectations that this man meet my interests so much as that I may meet his, I take up this typing, letter for letter, word for word, thought for thought, aware of process, progress, and our collective heading toward some sort of product. Now, for now.
9) Mentorship and Moore (Wednesday, August 17, 2011)
Michael Moore and Frances await me at the arrivals gate. His daughter is no longer blonde, no longer eight years old. Now looking as though in her youthful 40's, she's the beautiful image of her beloved mother, Myra, who died in January of 2010. Michael has the look of a brother of mine. We joke that he would be taken for the younger. He is taller than I remember him, yet the handsome smooth face and sparkling eyes and humble demeanour are still there, and though grief still has him wrapped in a dark cloak he is immediately affectionate, concerned for me, retrieves my dropped neck cushion, and enquires after my flight. Frances drives us to her downtown Montreal apartment, and we enter spacious comfort and elegance, and are treated to a lunch of cold cuts and tea. That afternoon, while awaiting her husband Joe's return from his I.T. responsibilities as personnel leader at the bank, we walk the old Saint Lawrence river path, Michael and Frances taking turns pushing me in my chair, and we take photographs with our cameras, with the magnificence of Montreal as a backdrop.
Beside me on the bed as I write are two books. One of them Michael wrote, entitled, Grief Revisited: Myra, Shining ever Brighter. The frontispiece has a pencil drawing he did of Myra in 2009. On the back cover is a water-colour he did of her in 1954. The love between these two created not only a canvas for their community of friends and congregations, but also bolstered their three children, Frances, Elizabeth, and young Michael. Michael junior lives in Vancouver. Beth is in Johannesburg. Frances is in Montreal and Rev Michael is in Krugersdorp, South Africa. They are a family each of whom has been free to go their own way. But the foundation of their Presbyterian faith and their strong love for and lack of shame of their past has been so open ended that they have seen no reason to reject each other, to disassociate from each other, to not maintain contact. In fact, at Michael's news that he had reconnected with me, each of the children expressed fond memories of our moments together. They all three had come to my Danville house for a meal. They all three had played games with me. Frances even recalled the red jacket I wore on stage in the role of Judas, back in 1970.
Reverend Doctor Michael Moore, Phd, retains the vitality of those interested in others. He goes for a run every morning (and was up doing so shortly after seven.) He sustains several projects in South Africa, one of which is taking on full responsibility for a house of dependent adult mentally-handicapped people. He was one of two South African white men invited in 1976 to Zimbabwe conference for racial integration, where he discussed issues with the renown Desmond Tutu and Thabu Mbeki. He instigated integrative thought and awareness and compassion and care for others way back in the late 60's amongst many of us, the boys of Pretoria Boys High, and he was my mentor back then; a gentle man of kindness and good will whom I saw as someone to emulate, someone to become. Seventeen years my senior, Michael Moore is still that man.
The second book, Letters to Malcolm, was inscribed to me back in 1970: "Thank you for your friendship. May we continue the good thing here begun." It is now 2011, and having had a chance once again to have that same book in hand, Michael Moore wrote: "Our friendship moved to another level. With warm affection, Michael." Seventeen years my senior, Michael Moore, my friend, is still my mentor.
10) Running the Race (Thursday, August 18, 2011)
As I write in the 6:00 a.m. womb of my Montreal room I hear Michael Moore, at 77, getting ready for his 7 o'clock run. The human race is like that, running to or running from something. For Michael it was to escape his smoking addiction, years ago; the replacement clears his head for the day, a kind of meditation itself. Then, it was running from smoking; now, it is running toward clarity.
We hurtle along in our lives. The retrospect, from the advantage of those having run the race for decades, is a marathon that indeed gets more blurred with time. The milestones we passed or ran along with for a time (with names and outstanding people, like Neway, Jablonski, Butow, Edmunds, Zikmann, and Barnes) are esoteric to oneself and them, and not always alphabetical. They drift up into the rhythms of our lives to give colour and meaning to the miles or moments we've passed. Sometimes we even recall the bystanders, those with whom we did not so much run as notice that they too were concomitant to our event.
There is an inevitable sense of pace to running this race; the quickening and slowing and returning in the mind to where we've been and the noticing of the now and the wondering at where we're going. To make it mundane, or to make it marvellous, there's the rub. Blisters and pain and endurance are mixed with rhythm and rhyme and the matters of the mind and mind over matter as we move. Movement is all; stasis is an anathema to the soul. Moment by moment the clock ticks. Pace for pace, we draw toward some line that we do not necessarily see in the race of humanity. Some are desolate with dire predictions for the direction we're taking; some are resolute that we will succeed due to our innate humanity to care for the whole race. Some just want to win.
Michael Moore, out there running his race, runs on behalf of us all. It is that we be participating that is important, that we be cheering on or in the background providing the means by which others may run or facilitating the route by lessening the impact of detractions or aware that others are out there, running too, or picnicking alongside in moments of simple pleasure at our leisure that we too are participating in the human race, giving grace to the future, giving space to those beside, ahead, and even behind us, evolving as we collectively and individually do.
By the time I finish this missive, roughly an hour, Michael will have returned from his run. I shall be breakfasting with him, then preparing go on my way. Way leads on to way in this run of ours at living the life we've been given. We are but momentarily in the sweep and flow of the grand marathon of humanity, running however subliminally in the human race. It is not that one wins (for theoretically only one can come first), it is that one realizes the privilege of attending the event at all that matters for Michael. And therein we have the measure of a man; not that he be actually running, but that he be aware of participating. How else may one say that one has indeed had time within the human race? As for Michael, he runs at his own pace.
11) Peace, Prayer, and The Montreal Ducks (Thursday, August 18, 2011)
The seat belt signs have just been turned off and the aircraft is at 3600 feet, jetting its way away from you, Michael and Frances. Already, I miss you deeply. Yet in that missing (since we spoke on the way to the airport of attachment and non-attachment in the same breath as an essentially God-like concept of unconditional love) the sense of integration we experienced and the love we came so easily to feel and to share imbues my spirit with a deep sense of richness, of a lightness of being, rather like the present breakthrough of the sun as this aircraft has just surfaced above the dark of the clouds.
It rains in Montreal. While taking me from the airport to your downtown apartment there was a sudden afternoon storm of the "Tsho!" variety. It deserved an essentially African exclamation! It ensconced us in that interior-huddle-down and appreciate the safety and comfort feeling that I so love about storms. I glanced beyond the three of us in the new-smelling silver Honda, piloting us toward home, and the building-backed streets were grey and drenched and battered by rain. A lone cyclist, unprepared, pedalled her way resolutely. Proverbial duck weather, for sure, I thought. And the significance of the surrounding fluid and the rebirthing of our relationship struck me as a washing away of the old, despite its re-examination, piece for peace, unravelling in enlightenment. Even up here, as this creaky craft now glides in sunshine, I pray that such light pours on you.
Prayer at our luncheon was a moment in which we might have felt awkward had I not cared for participation; or more, perhaps declared myself (as we later discussed) an avowed Dawkins-son, that scientific purveyor of outright atheism. We human-beings are generally discomforted by those who are other-than ourselves, as much as we try to integrate and host and live with and even converse with such others. After all, do you like competition, one might venture. No, the other might curtly respond. And so might continue a contracted relationship. But when we are open and accepting and interested in everything (and everyone) we have a recipe for a true smorgasbord of conversation and sharing and swapping of ideas and thoughts and contentions and re-directions and lessons and insights and, indeed, the much-more-easier giving and receiving of unconditional love. Reception of love is as important as giving; we become a conduit to the process of love. Prayer in process is like love in action, an affirmation that we are connected and blessed; a declaration of our intentions and an articulation of what is in our hearts. Why should one eschew prayer? Why should one negate an act that in its essence is gratitude and grace for the past and present; a piece of peace for the future.
As i fly on, that peace lives within me, moment for moment. Such peace imbued our actions, our considerations, our hearts. We cried and laughed, joked and postulated, shared and questioned, and ventured forth. What a marvellously open-ended passage of time ensued. What a marvellously gracious gift of living prayer we experienced. Such too was the value of our watching for ducks on our peaceful perambulations; the worth of watching over one's soul in the waters of life. Such moments of peace continued over the deeper ruts and the rough-shod of our pathways; the simple watching of a duck while realizing the worthiness of just being there; a symbol so unconventionally carried in prayerfulness and peace into the busyness of all life. Peace. Amen. So let us pray.
12) The Code of Silence (Friday, August 19, 2011)
Pecoste Trugg taught me a valuable thing or two. His real name was Neil Anderson and he shared my Solomon House prefect study at Pretoria Boy's High back in 1970. He liked that exotic name, Pecoste. Perhaps his avowal one day to adopt it is why I have never found him, or why at our October 40 year reunion he could not be contacted. In many ways, I owe him a thing or two.
Neil taught me the value of words. "That's a powerful word," he would say, and I would immediately weigh in, and revise my options. He taught me the value of body language and the value of the smile; he advocated Dale Carnegie. He taught me the value of accepting an other's and others' values. He was casual to my formality, precise to my carelessness, and laconic to my intensity. And Neil showed me the value of hard work, for he was almost always at his desk, intending to study to become a brain surgeon. He taught me chords on the guitar, Dylan's 'lay lady lay, lay across my big brass bed,' and Cohen's 'bird on the wire'. Though I still do not feel comfortable with the former, I cannot help but think of my long-lost friend whenever I play and sing the latter. But of all the lessons Pecoste taught me, the most valuable would be The Code of Silence.
No, it was not that rather debilitating boyhood code of don't fess up or squeal on another; it was that experientially empowering practice of seeing to it that 'what the right hand does the left should not necessarily know'. It involved doing works of good, of leading from behind, of living in the grace of an inner power thanks to the self knowing it'd rescued the fallen bird, given to charity, helped another, or instigated a productive project without overt or known reward for the self. In fact, without either of us able then to articulate it, Pecoste was advocating the highest of mans' virtues in each of several epistemological models: the selflessness of action on behalf of others without the need to be acclaimed.
Well, there have been times in my life when I've been the recipient of such actions by others. The essential lesson of leading from behind was affirmed for me during my undergraduate studies in the late 70's in Canada by Dr. Mary Richardson, who pulled me aside and first introduced me to the concept of gifted education. "True giftedness," she intoned, "is in the art of giving of the self to others; it is at the top of every hierarchical model. Begin with Kohlberg." Well, Kohlberg began in me the acquisition of an upwards spiral of evolutionary paradigms, such as Maslow, Johari, Gregoric, Dillinger, Dabrowski, and Clare Graves. They each empowered me with articulation, yet paradoxically, in the very esoteric mention of their models, they perhaps now leave you feeling lost in these words, disassociated by my ramble. "Knowledge is just a tool," I can hear Pecoste Trugg intonate, "never presume someone without it doesn't have the potential." But more importantly than having knowledge, Professor Mary Richardson would remind us, would be inculcating in your students "a sense of enduring interest in and generosity toward others."
As the continuing recipient of such generosity, I am humbled, grateful, and indebted. The code of silence? Pay it forward.
What Judas would not say, Amen!