Follow by Email

Monday, July 16, 2018

When All of You Have Passed

When all of you have passed, you’ll be sitting around, or floating around, or whatever it is one does after one passes, and someone will ask, “Hey, where’s Nagler?”  And you’ll say, “He didn’t pass.”

“What, he failed?”

No, he just didn’t pass.  He… I’ll spell it.  He D-I-E-D.”


“He didn’t pass.  He doesn’t exist anymore.”

“Are you kidding?  Can you do that?”


 “Well why the hell did he do that?”

“Nagler didn’t believe in passing.  He believed in … you know … the “D” word.”

“He believed in dea…?”

“SHUSH!!  Don’t say that word.  I’m told if you say the… you know… the “D” word enough times it will happen to you.”

“Really?  Come on.”

“Just like Nagler.  He… he didn’t pass.”
“That’s friggin stupid.  Why would you want to… you know… when you could pass like everyone else?”

“I’ll miss him.”

“Me too.  What is he, just like atoms in the Universe now?”

“I guess.”

“I don’t want to think about it.  Hey, what do you want to do tonight?”


“Night… day… whatever it is here in this place of transition.  It’s just an expression.  What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know.  What do you want to do?”

“We could go down to the Tomato Ballroom.”

“You wanna?”

“I don’t know.  You wanna?”

When I was young they didn't used to say 'cancer'. They said 'C'. It was a way to hold off the fear. I've been taking workshops that suggest it's OK to welcome fear. "Hello fear". And when the fear goes to say goodbye to it. Some of that fear is just energy, like the fear at the top of a roller coaster. Some of it can be transformed to Feel Everything And Rejoice. And some can be F**K Everything And Run. But whichever, it's a real emotion and I'd rather feel it than 'pass' on it. My two cents. As I come closer to it I become less often afraid to die.

Summer Storm

A brilliant lightning strike just across the river made me scrunch up my face at the impending clap which exploded a second and a half later.  I started to breathe again, marveling from the dry safety of the porch at the torrent which descended upon the yard, the trees bending against sheets of water and wind like soldiers forbidden to abandon their posts in a storm.

Earlier today in the muggy morning warmth I’d slipped out of bed and strolled naked to the shower in the woods – a portable hot-water-on-demand affair Ishwar had created some years before among the cedars south of the house.  If you walk at a certain pace the deer flies can keep up but have trouble landing.  And then I’m protected within the force-field of the warm spray.  Afterward I alternate drying off with whipping the towel about like a horse’s tail, imagining I’m a ninja holding the insects at bay.

Now I’m at the kitchen table listening to the receding thunder and peering out at the now more civilized downpour which creates a curtain descending from the roof, reminding me of that tunnel where you can witness The Falls from the inside.   

It is Summer, and the green surrounding the house has lost the fresh brilliance of Spring, still lush but beginning its slow progression to dullness until the burst of fall colour like a firework whose flash heralds the barren sleep of snowy winter.

I muse that perhaps it is witnessing the perennial rebirth of nature that leads to the foolish belief the same will happen to us.  But I, with only one life to lead, feel conflicted.  Part of me wants to break out, explore, find new adventures in other realms.  But I am seduced and tethered by this beauty; and fear that none who leave Shangri La can ever find their way back.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Hummingbird

The Hummingbird.

The wire that hangs the hummingbird feeder broke. I found some string to hang it back up. Tied one end to the feeder and as I am tying the other to the hook, I hear the loud humming and freeze. He eyes me, flies from my left side to the right, and then around to my back. I feel him staring at my back with wings buzzing and tiny little, singular chirps. Peeps really. Then he floats to the feeder and decides to do it. Drinks and peeps, 10 inches from my face as I stand frozen, my arms above my head.  I see a brilliant green back and a ruby red throat. I see the grass below him, shaded by the blur of his wings. I see dark brows that make his eyes look menacing. He takes his time.  After 30 seconds of drinking he's done and whirs away. I finish tying the feeder.

I remember one hot afternoon several decades ago living in a primitive log house in the Ottawa Valley. I stepped out the back and headed to the outhouse. Along the fifty foot path, bordered with plum blossoms, there were bees and wasps and mosquitoes and black flies. But then I heard a buzzing so loud it had to be the father of all bees, speeding right for me. I fell to the ground fearing the sting to end all stings. The hummingbird passed me by, ignoring my curled body as he swooped to the plum blossoms. I picked myself up and dusted myself off, grateful there was no one to witness my embarrassment.


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Orange Cat

I'm proselytizing.  You don't have to listen.

When a train stops at a station we don't usually say it has passed from motion to motionless.  We don't tend to think of stopping as a transition.

What things stop?  A song.  I might say the song stopped, or the song was over, but I don't generally say the song passed.

A bullet entering a cat's skull eventually stops.  We don't say the bullet passed.  When the beating of the cat's heart stops… it stops.  It doesn't pass because there's nothing for it to pass to.  Actions don't pass into inaction, they simply stop acting.

And so when the cat's heart stopped, when his consciousness stopped, his consideration for his sister, his insistent desire to be petted, his creature presence as a member of this family stopped, I don't say he passed.  I say he died.  He stopped being.

What did pass?  My dread passed to grief.  The dread of what I was about to do, the dread of how his life would stop passed to a state I can only describe as 'out of heart' -- when I picked up the rifle like an automaton and told myself, "Do it."  The one shot was enough but as I'd planned I fired a second time according to a script, that, once set in motion, I couldn't stop.  But with that, the script ended and my feelings flooded back in overwhelming shock.  The shock at having so suddenly lost a dear friend, a brother.  I sat and put my head in my hands.  And the shock passed into sobs of grief.

I returned to the cat's body.  My knowledge that this cat had died, had not passed but stopped, did not keep me from resting my hand on his stomach and saying goodbye as if there was a cat to say goodbye to, as if it was the same cat who, every time I let him in would mrrow with closed mouth and I would say, "You're welcome."

Yes that cat.  That cat is dead.  

When will my grief pass into a wistful regret, a poignant memory?  Or perhaps it will transform into a cold resentment at the finality of death.  Or perhaps there will always be a touch of grief until I stop.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The New Room

Today Di and her mother went to see the room she's going to. Now they're packing and unpacking, discussing chairs and bureaus, what to do with the window etc. Rather Diana is asking the questions and answering them as well. I don't hear Shirley. What I kind of know but can't really get hold of is that this move is as ... if not traumatic... monumental for Diana as it is for Shirley. It is astounding her connection to her mother, the love and caring... sometimes exasperation but never resentment. Even though it's meant driving her to her day program every day, bringing her to the store, giving her 'jobs' to do, keeping her entertained in the evenings... and on and on. Attention and love. Attention and love.

I have to say she is frequently exasperated with Shirley's inability to remember things from moment to moment, or when Shirley hides her soiled underwear in the closet, producing a stench Shirley is unaware of and totally denies, as if Shirley were to her daughter still a 'real' mother who should be expected to accomplish the normal day to day activities we all do without thinking. It's hard for me to grok that Diana still sees her mother as a mother, even as she herself has become the mother.

For years in Florida, and then in Smithville where Shirley and Gord lived, there was a crockery dog who stood sentinel on the front lawn, its leg now broken. In my world we would throw it away. In theirs, I spend a half hour finding the epoxy, the clamps, the counter space, the newspaper, to cobble the thing back together so Shirley can take it to her new place, put it at her apartment door, maintain the tradition, the memories to help her feel at home.

They will spend the evening together checking out this and that, packing, arranging, thinking about decor, until Shirley needs to sleep.

When I'm ready to go, my children won't do this and I'm glad. Oh... they'll drive me and make sure I'm comfortable. But I don't have the tradition in my bones. Who am I? Where did I come from? It's not all that important. Should I bring a banjo, a fiddle? Will I still be able to play? What pictures should go on the wall? Will the room be done in blue? It won't matter.

What will matter, I think as I age I would like to see a familiar face from time to time ... coming to my room... wherever I am... as long as I can recognize a familiar face.

I'm 74 years old. There are people my age living in those homes. And I'm still making love to beautiful women. I still coach people,. I still run a workshop program. I'm still living in this world, not that one. Although there are words I can't find when my mind goes blank. But I still muddle through. I still stand on stage and bring people to tears. I still find succor in the exquisite nest of human connection.

The new year is coming. Where will I be in a year?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016


A bull fighter died last weekend... gored to death by the bull.  Scenes of a bull being killed by a matador would not have interested me, but there was something about a primitive desire for revenge that motivated me to google the videos.

The first ones were of the running of the bulls in Pamplona... a three minute stampede of 6 bulls where people measure their defiance of death by how close they come to the ten tons of angry beast hurtling by.  Some get a vicarious thrill standing on balconies above the street.  Others run into alleyways or press against the doorways.  There were 15 injuries.  The worst: two who were upended unceremoniously and landed on their heads.  One bull turned into an alleyway and gored the few who, I guess, thought they'd be safe.

The way I see it, dashing across the 12 lanes of the 401 in Pickering at noon would be just about as death-defying and dumb.  Only the centuries-old tradition would be lacking.

The bull fight was much more sinister. First the bull was taunted and teased.  The matador, with chest puffed and shoulders back, stood like a peacock in heat behind his magenta cape.  He egged the bull into a charge, and got the beast to whiz by as close as possible while avoiding being stabbed.  He did this a few times and then lowered the cape which confuses the bull, turned his back and strutted away as if fearless of a charge from behind.  Then he got on his knees and repeated the ritual, making a fool of the noble beast and of himself: little more than a schoolyard bully.

Then came the real torturing of the bull, with picadors to weaken his haunches with lances so he couldn't raise his head, and banderilleros who snuck up on his blind side, pierced him with spears, and pranced away.

Then the matador returned for a few more passes before the applying the sword which would come from above, between the horns, slice alongside the backbone and pierce to the heart.  Except this time the wrong character in this lurid drama was killed.  I watched it from several angles.  Instead of standing straight and tall as the bull circled him, he bent his knee and it got caught in the bull's horn.  Down he went and the bull stabbed him in the heart.

In seconds they were there to distract away the bull and surround the dying man.  After that there were no pictures of the victor in this medieval debacle.  The bull was killed off camera.  Maybe shot, maybe stabbed, we don't know.  But what we know is the bull is doomed... doomed from the day it is born... doomed from the moment it is pushed out onto the street to the moment the fight is over.  Victim or victor, it is doomed to die.  My desire for revenge was hollow.


Monday, June 13, 2016

Mini Workshops Save My Life

Mini workshops save my life.

Diana and I are going through very difficult times.  Family members have been spitting hateful venom, attacking us since Diana’s father died over a year ago.  Our darling Ava has moved out. Then on Saturday I had a terrible morning that involved a car crash and some very painful strife with someone I love.  With everything weighing on me, I broke down in tears.

A half hour later I was to drive to the city to lead a Mini workshop.  A voice in my head said, “If you call and cancel, people will understand.”  The idea of retreating to my bedroom was seductive.  But I realized that putting myself in the room of love for two hours was where I’d rather be to contrast the hatred and judgement we’re receiving daily, compounded by the present emergency.

The workshop is about being intimate, and how could I be, sitting with this lump of pain in my heart?  When people ask me, “How are you?” I often don’t answer, because “Fine” is not an answer for me and if I express my pain they’ll usually want to hear more, which is not good for me.  Or they’ll look upon me with pity, or need to suggest fixes for the situation, or any number of responses that don’t serve me. 

But to be authentic this afternoon I knew I needed to express the pain in my heart.  So I decided I would also tell people I didn’t want to be fixed and didn’t need them to hear the story.  Then I remembered we’re taught in HAI simply to ask, “Is there anything you need?”  So I decided to share that little tool with the group, and let them now I needed hugs, caring and love… and that’s exactly what I got.

A HAI Mini workshop is a two-hour blossoming of compassion among people, many of whom have never met before.  We create a room of love where people can let go of issues, guilt and judgement, and just notice who they are as human beings.  The workshop ends with a very touching exercise where folks stroke each other’s face and share the connection of being human without agenda, where the event simply equals the event, and all there is is love. 
As I led the exercise, surrounded by that compassion and intimacy, it was as if warm waves of love were washing over the icy pain in my heart, melting it away.  I was left with a sadness that the folks who strike out in fear and hatred don’t get connected to the love I do.  And I felt gratitude to HAI for offering the opportunity to do the work I do to witness the beauty of people’s humanity.

Do HAI Mini workshops save my life?  Yes that’s an exaggeration.  But it is certainly one of the many ways I hold myself in love in this world.