Thursday, January 26, 2017

At The Beach

There is something a visit to the beach teaches me
that I never grow tired of.

I am reminded,
that no matter what we try and create in this world
nothing is ever permanent.


I don't think of it as a such a bad thing at all.
Instead there is a certain reassurance for me
that we can at least leave some mark in the world at all.


It also requires me...... or inspires me
to see a beauty in the small and simple things.

That we can recognize how tiny
we really are in the great scheme of things.


That is not to say that we are insignificant.
No far from it.

For ultimately we have so much to offer
and perhaps more importantly
so much more to be revealed.


To revel in what we discover about ourselves
and our place in this very exquisite universe.


This body is impermanent,
But inside the body
The message of Eternity
And the love of Infinity abide,
And in time
They come to the fore.
.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Queens Giant

From the very first moment I heard about the Queens Giant I was intrigued.  I am not sure if it first started when I saw some article about it in the newspaper or whether my friend Chris from the Parks department mentioned to me that the oldest living thing in New York was not that far away.

Needless to say Chris, who worked exclusively with trees in Queens knew all about it.  An ancient Tulip tree that had been around for perhaps 400 plus years.  At the same time when he talked about it he was just a little cautious.  It felt some how a little mysterious.  It was though it was right there, not too far away but at the same time as well, not easily accessible.



The city had obviously adopted the rather practical philosophy of recognizing it while at the same time subtly discouraging only the most ardent and dedicated of admirers from coming and getting too close.  Knowing likely that a tiny segment of all those who went there would not have the best interests of the tree or its preservation as a major concern. 

Of course now anyone can locate it on google easily.  The omnipotent search engine where everything and anything is revealed and accessible instantly.  Whether any of it is accurate or appropriate is another matter, and currently part of popular discussion.    Nonetheless a little blue icon popped up showing that the tree was near the cross roads of 2 of Queens major thoroughfares.  Yet it was not clear from the map that there was an actual path that would take you right to it.

I had been out with my friends, the brothers Unmesh and Ranjit a number of times over the past few weeks for some aimless rambles in local parks.   These excursions where inspired most recently by the abundance of beautiful fall foliage.  On one occasion they used the opportunity to focus on photography.  Ranjit dragging a tripod and large format camera around with him.  I was not so ambitious.

True I carried a small pocket camera with me but what interested me most about these excursions was some nebulous combination of companionship and adventure.  Those intangibles that seem to mean so much to our lives and yet we are so often  misguided or ill equipped to be successful in our pursuit of.

On one trip we went to the Planting fields, a park not too far off on Long Island.  The day was delightful.  The air still and warm and of course the leaves perhaps resplendently perfect.  I took only 2 or 3 pictures.  My priority instead drifted towards nothing in particular. I had no plan.  Indulging instead in the spontaneity of just looking, listening, and endlessly joking with these 2 friends of more than 40 years.


It was a day devoid of awkwardness and any serious expectations.  A kind of ideal situation in which old friends can communicate and share without constraints or agenda.  Jokes and jibes flowing with sometimes more color than the fall foliage.  No important discussions of any kind really and yet each exchange had an internal value that somehow felt rich and priceless.

The 2 brothers are unique in both the generous expanse of their intelligence and their humor. I of course have to add that they seem at the same time to be explicitly devoid of any evidence of sentimentality.  A quality I recognize that I just may have too much of an abundance of.   Yet in the easy going chemistry of true friendship it is one that doesn't appear to get in the way of the 3 of us having a good time taking a long walk in a beautiful park.

These walks at their essence seem spontaneous and richly satisfying.  A result that can only come when expectation is set by the wayside and you move forward with your eyes and your heart wide open.

A few years ago when my friend Kalyan was very sick I went to visit him one last time in San Diego.  I was carrying with me at the time a small camera.  The day before I left for home we went for a brief stop at a local beach where I took this picture.

He had been a friend of mine for many years and we both knew that this would be the last time we would see each other. 


I can't tell you now if we ever spoke about 'important things.'  I do not recall our conversation ever veering towards the intangible mysteries of life.  We just basked, in the pleasure of each others company.

Finding the silly jokes and humor of our life experience.  Both of us aware and knowing full well that all of humanity  is attempting as best they can to trudge along. Trying to make some sense out of our world and find their purpose in it.

Tasks which stubbornly confront all of us and which none of us can seem seem to make much progress at.  That is at least the outer world anyways. Then again the inner world is even more vast and incomprehensible.

To this day Kalyan is still vibrant and present in some bright portion of my heart.  And despite all my best intentions of pushing him aside, his rather substantial presence within me stubbornly refuses to budge. Instead I am left with the indelible impression that he will always remain in my heart.  Which is an experience, my natural sentimentality seems to warmly embrace and accept.


Yesterday in Alleypond park Rangit, Unmesh, and I easily found the Queens Giant.  A task that ultimately was pretty simple and easy once we got to the Park.  There is a plaque after all on the fence next to the road near by.

Yet the path, which is a good one, only takes you close.  There is a large treacherous depression that keeps only the most adventurous of hikers from getting up near enough to touch it.  We took pictures as the afternoon light was fading, from quite a distance away.

You have to be very patient and work quite hard in order to be able to actually go over and stand beneath its sparse canopy.  But maybe appreciating its long full life does not require that.  A physical encounter secondary to acknowledging that what we all need to do is simply keep moving, keep finding joy, and keep revealing the sacred mysteries within ourselves.

Life is
A continuously
Sacred adventure
Towards Infinity.



Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Grandchildren



Melanie

One of my favorite memories was one of the times when I was going to University.  Every Christmas I would come up to Grammy and Grampys and I would put up their Christmas tree. 

Both Grammy and Grampy made a big event over it.  It would be an all day affair.  They would sit in each of their perspective chairs, and Grammy would make pop corn.

*This audio includes Michael and Tracey*

Their artificial tree was one of the first that they ever had.  I would put all the branches in.  Every ornament I took out of the box they would tell me a story about each one. 

The funniest would be putting the Christmas lights on the tree. Because most of them would be melting onto the plastic.  I would say that pretty much half the lights were melted. 

But we would always have a good chuckle.  It was probably one of the most special times.  I would spend the night.  Grammy would tell me some pretty good war time stories.  

It was a very special time for me.

It reminds me of how important traditions are.  I am trying to create that now that I have 2 little girls of my own.  I am trying to create traditions that we have each year.  So for us it is putting up the Christmas tree together.  

That is what we do even the first year when my child was just a baby.  We would sit around and put the ornaments up.  Most of it would be for me.  But it is a special time.

Michael

I am the eldest grandchild of Herbert and Mary Marshall.

I remember when Grammy used to give me back rubs.  She would use rubbing alcohol and tell me stories about the war. 


I remember her telling me that she went out partying one time while she was in France.  I guess it was near the front and she was out drinking with some of the other nurses.  They were being driven back by some of the soldiers there and because it was wartime, they weren’t allowed to drive with full headlights. 

They couldn’t see the road so well and so they went off the road and that is how she got a head injury.  I remember her telling me that story.

The back rubs she used to give to her patients in the hospital during the war.  I used to like them and my mom used to give them to me.

I used to always sleep in the room upstairs in the house in Toronto.  It was always in the room on the right.  It had a big tall bed and it wasn’t very comfortable.  And the room even had one of those pots that people used to pee in.  

I think my grandparents and your parents had a real sense of honor, and commitment to family and values.  These are the kinds of things that guide you, and give you direction in your own life and give you a moral grounding. 

I think that is very important for my mother.  Because that is obviously where she got her values.  And that is where I got mine.

The tradition I carry on I like to call the intensity of grounding that my grandparents had.

Coming here was something we had to do.  We had to come.  Family is important.  It is important to honor them.


We always did something with them every year.   There was some trip that was always the Bryants.  Either going on the house boat on Lake of the Woods, or going to Mexico

One of the last bits of advice that Grampy gave me in 2008 after the global recession.  He told me not to quit my job.

Unfortunately my grandparents couldn’t come up North for my wedding.  Which was in 2010.  Instead they watched it on skype.

*Click Below to See Rest of Report*

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Precious Surprise

Bill Anderson is not unfamiliar with surprises.  Nobody of course is immune or can ever be entirely removed from encounters with the unexpected.  But at 93 years of age he has had some experiences over his many years that are just plain remarkable and a few more that were simply precious.


Recently he was generous about sharing with me some of the great and challenging moments that have popped up in his life.  Bill immediately impressed me, as he probably does a whole lot of others, that he is a true gentleman.  But there is something even more appealing about him.   I can’t help feel that he is at heart a good person, and we had only just met. 

I suspect dapper would be another appropriate adjective that fits Bill well.  We sat in a quiet corner of the Park house.  He is tall and slim and on that day he was dressed in his full Canadian legion regalia.  A blue beret perched perfectly on his thick white hair.  His mustache trimmed so neatly and a well polished cane resting against the table, which he leans on only lightly when he walks.

What stood out most about Bill though were not his words but his eyes.  They danced with the kind of brightness earned only by those who have lived their lives to the fullest and not been beaten down by adversity.


As he elegantly strolls along erect and regal onwards towards his 94th year, his life has seen a lot of unexpected events.  The many assorted kind of things, which both did buffet and lift up his life as well.  Unanticipated moments that are probably on average, an equal blend of both the awful and the wonderful.

His life’s journey has taken him a long way from those now distant days as a young man growing up in Saint John New Brunswick.  He and his wife Betty are now retired and live in a snug little home that sits on the bluff overlooking Lake Huron in Goderich Ontario. 

Ending up there, when he started out life on the other side of the country is a curious, but not an incomprehensible journey.  One whose distance seems like a fairly routine thing today, but compared to the way of life from 90 years ago it would have been considered a radical change.  Back when 1700 km westward along the Trans Canada was a long long way.

You don’t have to talk long with Bill though to be impressed. He has a lot of interesting stories and he tells them well.  He is steadfastly polite and courteous.  His memory and judgment not too tarnished by 93 years of living.  You can tell that he is just the kind of person who did not have to struggle too much in order to find success, both in his professional career, and as a husband and father bringing up his 2 daughters in a loving Toronto home. 

When I ask him what kind of job he had he humbly jokes that he never really had to work.  He mentions something about working with wines and we leave it at that.  At the same time his smiling eyes suggesting that he feels as though his life has been blessed, in all the incomprehensible ways that life has a way of bestowing upon us its true richness.


But tragedy has a way of reaching out as well and tangling up the trajectory of even the kindest and gentlest souls.  Bill and his wife had thought they had settled down to a quiet retirement in Toronto when one of their daughters took sick and the 2 of them had to pick up everything and move to Goderich.  This little town tucked onto eastward edge of lake Huron. 

But surprises, the precious ones at least, come like a breath of fresh air.  Promises that recharge our hopes and ably remind us that life is not always about struggle and futility.  That often, just when we need it most, something wonderful comes along to demonstrate to us that life is sacred after all.

As Bill is talking to me he is wearing his full Canadian legion regalia.  A smart dark blue blazer, and on his chest he wears a serious and glittering cluster of war service medals. 

None more prominent, and or more recent for that matter, than a Legion of Honor medal. It is one of the greatest service honors and Bill received it a little more than a year ago from a representative of the French Government.   It was given in recognition of his distinguished service in the liberation of France in 1944.  The ceremony at the legion was well attended.  The Legion of Honour is a big deal and the French wanted to seriously honor those who had risked so much to liberate them 70 years earlier.  


To Bill it was the nicest kind of surprise and he really had no idea it was coming until just a few months before it happened.  Typically when asked about the medal he is modest and said, “the honor is not for me, but for those who did not come back.”  

Which of course when he does look back and remembers all those he witnessed perish in battle, is something that still manages to cause an ache in his heart.  His sincere wish during those turbulent days of war he says was that, “that every person I served with go home healthy.”  A pledge, no man would not wish for, but also one not even the highest prayers could keep safe.

Bill doesn’t talk a lot about the war with me at least.  He and his regiment landed at Normandy just 6 days after the first big wave of the invasion, which took place on June 6th.  His group saw combat quickly and also almost immediately his commander was killed in action.  At just 22 years of age Bill had to take over the command of his anti tank unit.  Eventually they would fight all the way into Germany, right up until the final days of conflict.

But I had not sat down with Bill to talk about his darkest days but instead to ask him to recall a special memory that involved my Mom, who had also been shipped over to France at about the same time.  She was a nursing sister and she was attached to a mobile hospital that was to have been set up after most of the heavy action had ceased on the Beaches of Normandy.

In a coincidence that just about defies any practical probability it turns out that both Bill and my Mom had sailed to England in early November of 1943 on the same ship, the SS Bayano.  A small-retired banana boat, which had been earlier, scheduled for retirement but instead, with the start of World War 2 had been called back into service.


Now the odd thing about this is that though both my Dad and Mom had taken part in legion activates in Goderich for a number of years, this startling coincidence had never come up.  It was only because of a simple fluke that it had even been brought to light at all. 

Bill had gone to my Moms residence to pick up a friend who was late and he noticed a number of veterans all with their medals on waiting for rides.  Bill said to my Mom, “Those are nice medals that you are wearing.” Her response simply was that she had served in the war as a nursing sister.  He then told my Mom that he had sailed on a ship with 10 nursing sisters.  


Once the facts were out it was only then that they both realized, to their mutual surprise that they had sailed to England together.  Though to be honest neither remembered the other.  Bill fondly adds that everyone treated the small group of nursing sisters like Queens.  “The men couldn’t do enough.”

“It took 19 days.  It was beautiful balmy weather.  It was a British ship, which normally had 70 passengers, but it had 75 this time.  It was all officers.  I was a lieutenant in the artillery”

Now if this were not already remarkable enough the surprises only continue.  On the way home from the Remembrance Day service they had a further conversation about where each other wass from. 

Mom: “Where are you from?”

Bill: “I said Saint John.”

There was a funny silence

Mom: “I graduated from Saint John High school.”

Bill: “I said so did I.”

Mom: “Where did you live?”

Bill: “I said King street east.”

Mom: “What number?”

Bill: “I said 203 and I was getting a little impatient.  I wondered why she would ask this.”

Mom: “My cousin lived 2 doors up the street from you.”

Bill tells me the revelation was spirit lifting.  “I was so overjoyed.”

Now there is just one small event that adds one last amazing layer to this great adventure.  Bill tells me that 35 years after the end of the war he went, quite by accident into an antique store off of Bloor St. in Toronto.  There to his amazement he found a silver cigarette box with the name SS Bayano engraved on it.  


“I asked him how much and they said $35.”

“I said that is too much, and they said, but it is Sterling silver.”

He told them that the price was too much and then they volunteered to rub the name off if he wished.   He suggested to the shopkeeper to simply leave the box as it was and left.  Never letting on just how significant a find the little object was to him. 

“Between the Friday when I saw it and the Tuesday when I bought it I talked to or had been with 3 of the people who had been with me on that ship.” To no ones surprise Bill bought the box and eventually was able to lend it to my Mom briefly before she passed away this past February. 

Earlier in the day we had my Mom’s internment service.  In another kind of remarkable coincidence it took place on June 11th.  Just about 72 years to the day that Bill came ashore on the beaches of Normandy.  


Also there was a group of 24 veterans were there to pay tribute as my Mom’s ashes were placed into the wall niche next to my Dad’s.  It was a moving ceremony, not just for her 4 children and 9 grand children but also for all the old service men and women who marched down the gravel drive and stood at attention.  The warm Spring sun blessing us all with its brilliance and doing its best to discourage all our tears. 

At the end of the service each old veteran took off their poppy that they were wearing and placed it inside the niche beside my Father’s and my Mother’s urn. 

As Bill and I are talking, just a few hours have passed since the ceremony.  He has spent an hour or so with his legion comrades at the Park House and is getting anxious about getting home to his Betty. Bill has graciously and patiently answered all my questions that I have asked about his life and how it so interestingly intersected in such a brief and profound way with my Mother.  


By this point we are both getting emotional.  Tears have come to our eyes and his hand trembles as it rests on the table so I hold it in my own.  Bill shares one last thing before he goes. “Today I have thought a whole lot about that box and your mom.  I love knowing your Mother.  She was just great.  We go a long way back.”

Click Below to Listen:

Thursday, February 4, 2016

We Will Take Action

This afternoon a couple of friends and I took the short taxi ride into the town of Port Dickson to do some light shopping and to have a coffee at the local Starbucks.....It is a small simple town and a big American coffee shop really stands out.  At the time we went in for coffee and snacks it wasn't very busy.

After spending several lazy hours discussing everything that was significantly unimportant, we left and then went to a local super market where one of my friends bought some bananas.

I was interested in the signs on some of the carts outside in the market.

In my eyes there was nothing to see, nor was I interested in holding any of the items.  Now I am not even sure if I even noticed what was on the cart.


The next sign had this very serious message. It started me thinking a little bit more about security and safety in what appears to be a very safe country.  

We took a taxi back to the hotel. As always, when you enter the grounds you are greeted by hotel security.  They, like all the staff, greet you by taking their right hands and touching their own hearts. Always a smile and a hello.

I hadn't real thought much about the vigilant guards up until then. Though you can't help but notice them as they wander about the grounds night and day in their rather smart uniforms.  
 
They are all Gurkha's which means they come from Nepal.  The Gurkha's are famous for being professional soldiers, starting with the early colonial days when they worked for the British army.  They were famous for their bravery and discipline.

 Out on the end of the pier I decided to talk to one of them who looked more than a little bored and lonely.  This man's name is Shyam.  He spells it very carefully because at first I cannot understand his thick accent.

At first we talk about the fish trap hanging off the end of the pier.  It is a simple wire basket, which by my best guess is used to catch crabs.  But there is no bait in it, and it is not clear who watches over it.

Shyam tells me that he has been working here at the hotel now for only 3 weeks.  This is just the beginning of a long stay.  He will not go home for 3 years, that is unless he pays his own way which is very very expensive. Whatever he earns it is not very much.  When I asked, he averted his eyes embarrassed. 

He tells me he works 12 hours a day from 7a.m. to 7 p.m.. This is 7 days a week.  He has short breaks for meals and using the bathroom.  Every month his schedule shifts from the day to night and so on.  By his side he carries a stick which he tells me he has never used.  He also wears a walkie talkie to call if he needs help. 

The only problems Shyam has had in the few weeks that he has worked is small boats coming too close to the hotel to fish.  He has to yell at them to go away.  Other than that he just keeps watch. 

Shyam tells me that when he came the security agency he works for spent 4 hours training him.  Though I might have it wrong.  Perhaps it is 4 days.   He lives in a compound close by.  Overall he seemed happy to talk to me as he doesn't have much real interaction with anyone all day during his shift.

Being from Nepal I asked him about the earthquake that happened there a few years ago.  He said his village is 3 hours from Katmandu and nearly everything in his village came tumbling down.  25 people from his small community were killed.  His wife and son survived.

When he talks about home his face grows dark.  I have made him sad.

 He says until the time of the earthquake he had been a school teacher of young children in his village.  

His life in the last few years has changed dramatically.  How it came to pass that he changed from being a school teacher in a small village to being a security guard in Port Dickson Malaysia cannot be learned in a short conversation on a clean bright pier. 

Each questions that I asked seemed to bring more sadness to his eyes.  I realized that I was being a little too curious about the life of a lonely man far from home.  


He calls his wife when he can which isn't often.  He must be luckier than most of those in his village who are still trying to rebuild even now after 3 years. 
 I could not help but feel how lucky I am.  I sleep in a fancy hotel room while Shyam and a lot of other lonely Nepalese men watches out for me and a hotel full of guests. 

Every day standing guard at the end of the pier, and all along the paths that lead to this hotel. Soon I will return home but they will not.

Out And Up

I kicked myself in the pants today and decided to go on a local photo safari.  Keeping in mind there is always something to see if you look hard enough
 This little food stand is just up the block and I stopped to take a picture because I was puzzled by the sign

Down the block is and almost abandoned building which I see every morning while running.

 In the darkness it is striking because there is hardly any light in any of the the windows. It is a big building and appears to been a nice place to live not too long ago.   Now it looks to be nearly abandoned.  
 I poke around a bit.   I wade through the tall grass and peak through some of the open windows.  A car pulls up to pick up some people then drives away... Not completely empty.  

 Clearly a busy place at one time, but maybe this was all long ago.
 

Now it just shows that it is falling apart.  Dark stains of mold cover it.  On the roof a tree is growing large and there are no cars or motorbikes parked in the yard, which looks more like a wild flower garden.
 Nearby is the beach which also may have seen better days and actual people who swam and spread themselves out on the sand.

You have to follow all the rules, though I am not sure anyone does that any more. 

 I come back to my hotel and go up to the 9th floor and look down at where I live.  At least for 13 days. 

A much different kind of world than what exists just steps away down the muddy path.

Day 3

It has been a kind of lazy day.  Though the morning started with a burst of athletics ( running, swimming) it felt like not much was happening.

Though come to think of it I snuck into the neighboring hotel and jumped in their pool to swim.  It is better and no one was around.   Of course I recognized a friend having breakfast there in the restaurant by the pool and helped myself too.......(best not incriminate)

In the afternoon I pulled myself up and decided to practice my golf swing on the beach near by.  The tide was low and as I was using wiffle balls they wouldn't go far

 The tide was coming in so the crabs were climbing into their holes and pulling the wet lumps up over the top. 

Not sure why they do that other than to be protected from the inrushing tide.

It is Sunday afternoon and there are lots of families about.  Kids and adults enjoying the busy activity about their feet.

 The derelict boat no longer moves at all.  But the wind makes a creaking sound to the loose bits of the cabin.

Some things that no longer move.

 Some boys, well perhaps somewhat elderly boys are playing ultimate frisbee on the beach.  They have marked a great rectangle in the flat wet sand.  It is hot and they get sweaty and tired quickly. 

One person has brought a water bottle that acts as the outer marker of their playing field.  Either tiredness or the tide will soon spoil their game.
 I go back to my room.  I have swung my club, and taken pictures.   A pretty good afternoon.  Tonight I will post them here and try and make a story about it all.

I take a selfie......something I don't usually do.  I am having a pretty good time.