Monday, December 22, 2014

I Want To Fly

“Sometimes you just have to smile.”

A look of contentment brightens my Mother’s face as she says this.  Outside the grey winter sky wraps around the town and offers up no particular encouragement for this unexpected remark.  Little about her life, virtually trapped in this small room on the second floor of the hospital in Goderich for more than 2 weeks and counting has been uplifting or hopeful. 

The inspiration that fueled this comment is unknown, its source mysterious and untraceable.  Perhaps to be found down one of the long dim corridors of her mind. One that has seen much of its brightness and clarity vanish.   But whatever its source the feeling of contentment is welcome here. An experience that has been all but absent from her life for such a long time.  It is a small victory considering all that she has endured of late. To be lifted up by even a fleeting moment of happiness is no small thing. 

She then follows this first utterance with one of the expressions that she has used so often in her life. 

“I think I can I think I can.  Do you remember the little train engine trying to climb the hill?”  It is a line taken from a classic children’s story.  One that she has recited to me so many times, particularly when I was a small boy and thought something I needed to do was just impossible.  

I reply by making the toot toot sound of a train whistle and answer back with the concluding line of the story, “I thought I could I thought I could.”  That is what the little engine exclaims when it at lasts reaches the summit after pulling the heavy train up the long steep hill.  All things considered she really has climbed a long hard hill over the past few weeks.  One, that none of her children, or even medical staff thought possible.  

Over the past 2 weeks some small sweet portions of her life have been gifted back to her.  Like a capricious tide some measure of strength has drifted back to her limbs.  Each morning now, if you place it in her hand, she can bite down on small bits of buttered toast.  Though she cannot open her eyes much or even really see.  Just days ago an IV dripped into her arm and she barely had strength enough to suck water up a straw. 

But more importantly her mind now seems able to gather up at least some small grasp of her current reality.  One that does not compare with the independence that she had just a few months earlier.  But definitely this version of her life is much superior to those anxious days just a few weeks off, when her life seemed on the verge of drifting out past the far flung frontiers of this world.  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Feeding Me

“You never thought you would be feeding me.”

My Mother says this.  Her eyes closed, sitting wrapped in a frayed white wooly blanket.  She is perched, just a little bent to one side in an upright chair.  The dull grey winter light touching the side of her face.  I have just tilted half a spoon’s worth of vegetable broth between her lips. 

She is right. 

Nothing about this scene would I have ever imagined in this well ordered life of mine spent for many years so far away from here.  But in this moment now there is no distance.  

Time has changed us both so much, and in so many ways.  I am no longer an anxious little boy clutching at her hand and crying out for her all comforting embrace. 

She is 96 and the flame of her life flickers dimly now.  The intimate connection between Mother and son transformed into a manner now new and unexplored to us both.

Yesterday her slender young Doctor, with dignified streaks of grey that swept across the temples of his dark brown hair said, “Mary, you are slowing down.”  

She nodded to this, even though she may not have heard it all or even seen his face.  Her eyes closed so often now.  Her scattered thoughts drifting across the deep sea of her precious memories.

Even a young Doctor has seen lots of little frail old ladies sitting awkwardly in hospital chairs and grasping at their fading lives.  Coming to terms with this new reality as great portions of their world start fraying and dissolving around and about them.

I dip the spoon into the bowl, navigate a circuitous course around soft lumps of carrot and potato.  Delivering then a clear warm spoon of broth to my mother’s lips is after all such a simple thing to do.

What is much more difficult is digesting the immensity of what this moment means.   To measure this small act against all that she has done and sacrificed for me is impossible. 

Her love for me cannot be contained.  Maybe all children catch a glimpse of this when they serve their mothers is some small way.

Winter has come

Yet the flower still grows

Waiting, patient

To scatter its seeds up into the wind

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Coming To Rest

It is my last night at the foot of the Sacred Mountain Arunachala.

The road is entirely closed to traffic and the pilgrims continue to make their barefoot circuit while the moon is full.

A man paints the face of Lord Shiva on the road.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Giri Pradaikshina

We are drawn sometimes to things that at first seem to make no sense.  Yet when we actually fulfill this act, the importance of doing so is only then revealed.

Walking the sacred pilgrimage trail around the Arunachala mountain was something I had wanted to do the moment I first read about it many years ago. The spiritual path of Ramana Marshi I knew was not mine but still something drew me too him and his advice that walking around the mountain was an important task to perform.   It is certainly not an easy thing, and it cannot be taken lightly.

The circumambulation of Arunachala is known as Giri Pradakshina in Sanskrit and Giri Valam in Tamil. Performing pradakshina of Arunachala is considered to be beneficial in all ways. Typically, pradakshina is done in bare feet, with the Hill on the right. Sri Ramana Maharshi once explained the meaning of the word pradakshina and how it should be done by a devotee: "The letter "Pra" stands for removal of all kinds of sins; "da" stands for fulfilling the desires; "kshi" stands for freedom from future births; "na" stands for giving deliverance through jnana. If by way of Pradakshina you walk one step it gives happiness in this world, two steps, it gives happiness in heaven, three steps, it gives bliss of Satyaloka which can be attained. One should go round either in mouna (silence) or dhyana (meditation) or japa (repetition of Lord's name) or sankeertana (bhajan) and thereby think of God all the time.  Wikipedia

It is a 14 km trek and I knew that it would take me most certainly at least 2 hours or more, and when the sun came up it would get hot.  When I left my little hotel it was pitch dark and cool.  The time was just before 6.  As soon as I stepped out the door I was greeted by a quiet dog, who came towards me with his tail wagging.  

When I spoke to him he turned and then trotted ahead of me up the road leading out of the compound.  A neighbor lady had just stepped out from her house and was using fine chalk powder to draw a simple mandala on her doorstep.  It all seemed auspicious.

As I neared the main junction I became aware of a continuous parade of people moving up the main road that circles the mountain.  Mostly silent and barefoot they moved at a gentle pace.  I could not help but think that I too could do this.  I just had to release my doubts and continue.

From time to time chants filled the air, coming from speakers beside the road.  Sadhus in great number sat beside it.  Some begging, some in trance, all adding to the exquisite atmosphere that permeated the air, the night, and the road in front of me. 

What I learned only after completing the pilgrimage was that because of the full moon today was particularly auspicious.  Until much later this evening the flow of humanity would not stop.  It would at times fill the road and when you think simply there could no be more travelers, still more would come.

After 2 and a half hours I made my way back down the road to my hotel.  The sun now up the atmosphere was more agitated but I was so incredibly grateful and peaceful within.  The importance of completing this task now clear to me.

Later in the day my friends and I made the trek up to one of Sri Ramana Maharshi's early meditation caves.  The path starts just behind the ashram.

There are little shrines along the way.

Thursday, February 13, 2014


It is this mountain that has brought us to the bustling little city of Tiruvannamalai

Of course that isn't entirely correct because it is more precisely the Indian Spiritual Master Sri Ramana Maharshi who created an Ashram at its base.

At the age of sixteen, Venkataraman lost his sense of individual selfhood, an awakening which he later recognised as enlightenment.A few weeks thereafter he travelled to the holy mountain Arunachala, at Tiruvannamalai, where he remained for the rest of his life.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Another Day

There are a tiny number of these rare photographs.  Ones that show Sri Chinmoy back visiting in this world from whence he came.  A place he lived for more than 20 years at least.

My challenge today was to try and retrace his steps back to the places where I knew the pictures were taken..January 1995

Magic mountain is in one corner of the little park.  The railing is long gone but when you walk your way to the top you can see just how much simple fun it is to do.

Matching the tree photo proves more difficult to place than I imagined.

There Are Places

There are places here in Pondicherry that carry a special meaning.

Time and weather may not have treated them well but they still remind us of when our teacher walked here many years ago.  This lady used to pour water into the pond but a storm took away her right arm. Yet she still smiles.

Perhaps remembering an encounter here so many years ago....January 1995

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

In Chennai India Begins

In Chennai our adventure in India begins.  I travel with 2 English friends and we move through the city at a gentle pace.

Our first stop is the Government Museum but this no ordinary museum

In the displays are sacred sculptures thousands of years old.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Are You Alone?

I didn’t pay much attention at first when the slender girl in blue stepped up close beside me and asked.   I was wearing my noise cancelling headphones and was temporarily adrift on the lightly rolling tide of spiritual music playing on my ipod.

For about 20 minutes I had been slowly moving through the long digestive track of airport check in Phuket.  Arriving with what I thought was plenty of time to kill, this ordeal had not bothered me much. 

It is just part of trying to move through hot crowded Asian airports.  The warm mass of sweating bodies, excited jumping kids, mountains of plastic wrapped luggage, and the orchestra of foreign languages.  You get accustomed to such scenes and try and prepare as best you can.  My antidote to the cacophony was the recent addition of noise canceling headphones securely clamped around my ears about the instant I was jettisoned from my taxi.

I looked more closely at the woman as she once more repeated her simple request.  “Are you alone.”


One learns quickly to ignore requests from slender ladies in Thailand but this young woman was not of that sort.  She was wearing a professional Bangkok airways uniform.  The name ‘Ming’ clearly printed on her badge, so I showed her my papers.   My index finger jabbing at the triangle of flights scheduled ahead of me on my travel papers.  Which I calculated, I was about two hours from stepping into the full frontal abyss of miserly travel connections.  The first being the 12:15 to Bangkok.

The great snake of people then lunged forward carrying me along with them and she disappeared.  Perhaps just a mirage, her with her official looking clip board, professional black glasses, and the obvious air of someone who could work a little airport magic.

I tried to keep my eye on her but she got lost somewhere behind the mob.  About 10 minutes lapsed before she once more caught up with me again and asked, to the point, if I would like to take the early flight to Bangkok.   One, that was leaving almost 2 hours before my own.  

This seemed like a really good idea, particularly after the white knuckle connection I had endured trying to get here.  I knew that my transit time in Bangkok was just 80 minutes.  It was clearly a nothing to lose situation. 

Following in her brisk wake we slalomed around the slowly writhing snake of humanity.   Ropes lowered comfortably before my hiking boots, together we confidently maneuvered in front of the sweating, much too blonde couple at the head of the queue.  Their mouths in unison puckered at the obvious challenge to their hard earned supreme position. 

 Then I found myself before another efficient young Bangkok airway employee who with a few strokes of a keyboard gave me a fresh boarding pass for Bangkok.  One, that was to leave at 10:20.  In Just 10 minutes.

With slivers of time remaining I dashed across the airport, slipped through security (well not exactly but it was quick)  Stomped to the gate and down the ramp to join the meager number of folk making the final entrance into the aircraft.

I was the last person to get on.  Made my way to the final seat, and also, which is another kind of miracle found a overhead luggage bin that was not full.

Once I had settled back in 25D a soothing sense of calm swept over me.  A sensation that I unequivocally identified as pure sweet grace.  Occasionally we can call such occurrences good luck or even magic.  But I saw and felt something more profound.

With this came the realization at the awful futility we go through when we fret and worry about things that we cannot change or an outcome we have no capacity to influence.  How really easy and difficult it is to accept the moment for all it has to offer.  Whether it be rewards or whether it be some form of suffering. 

Regardless of how we view long lines and short connections in the great scheme of things everything just works out.  The best we can do is button up our shirts and tie our shoes and observe our chaos and our joy correctly we will be o’kay.  For I know most certainly that I am not alone.

Made it to Bangkok

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Night Day Dawn

Putting labels on people is a task that rarely works.  To say someone is a night owl or another is an early bird for example is often convenient but not always correct. Sometimes we simply have to change our internal clocks or an opportunity arises that compels us to be different.

Patong beach at night, or for that matter many other places in Asia fulfills a certain stereotype of these places.  Phuket as well as at any beach town one can expect to see a certain kind of way of life. One which is dedicated almost completely to an endless stream of tourists from places much colder than this. 

Here in Patong beach the streets seem to be always crowded but the chaos is accentuated by the night itself, and the cocoon of darkness.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Day Out

My favorite thing to do on these kind of trips, has always been the early morning hours.  The precious time before the sun comes up and awakens the world that I am temporarily inhabiting.

Here I can go out on the smooth wet sands of the beach and have it all to myself, or nearly so.  Usually just a handful of late night partiers or a man digging in the sand for some kind of seafood.

Yesterday 2 of my Slovakian friends invited me out for a road trip, and since a full rich day is composed of more than a few solitary hours of the predawn, I joined them in their rental car.

Our first stop was the big Buddha, which probably has a more divine name but to the locals it is most often referred to  as such.  And it is big, spectacular, and still under construction.  Admission is surprisingly free but donations are requested and kindly suggested at almost every turn.

Of course the great Buddha is all curves and smoothness from a distance, but this is deceptive for it's surface is almost entirely composed of flat square pieces of marble.

There is a large hall at the base of the statue in which the monks bless tourists and also trinkets can be purchased.

You approach the monk across a series of foam mats.  Once you are before him you place your donation in a bucket at this side.  What this young Russian boy is about to soon learn is that besides removing your rubles you must also remove your hat.

85 Minutes

There are a lot of things that you can do in 85 minutes.  There was a time, not too terribly long ago when I could easily run13 miles with that amount of time.  Now I am not quite so ambitious in the sporting world but for sure you can play quite a few holes of golf.

On a more pedestrian level, when 85 minutes are lazily stretched out in front, most people can easily plow through great mounds of the NY times , even read a few op-ed pieces while having breakfast with a coffee. 

85 minutes is a remarkably generous amount of time in order to accomplish many things.  What I discovered today however is that those great big fat 85 minutes are though just not enough time to land in Bangkok, pick up your bags, clear immigration, and then check into a completely different airline.

I knew from the start thousands of miles earlier that this great crossroads of limited time and necessary motion were going to intersect in the crucial final stages of my journey.

Way back at JFK on Friday night I looked at my timetable and dark omens were already dancing with thudding steps somewhere in the back of my brain.  But back at the start in New York the journey was still young and I was clean shaven and had slept soundly the night before.

But then I headed out over the dark Atlantic. At some point my path intersected with day light, but since I was heading quickly east, the Spinning orbit of the earth quickly removed the sun out of view.  Then when I came back to earth, I found myself in a strange airline terminal in Doha in the Middle East.  It was night once again and I was puzzled at so what had happened to Saturday, for now it was nearly gone.

Knowing that the next stop was Bangkok I tried to put measures into motion that would at least give me some hope of chance of making the transition happen securely.  I talked to the airline, asked for guidance, said prayers, and generally began to see a scenario where I would be stuck in Bangkok with or without bags and trying to find a way to my final stop in Phuket.

Once more back in the air heading east.  Beneath me I crossed the gulf of Oman and saw the Himalayas just to the north.  The night was speeding past and the resolution or revealing of this dilemma was inevitably marching forward out of my imagination and into reality.

Because of strong tail winds we landed slightly earlier in Bangkok.  The door of the plane opened and thus I found myself bolting up the gateway towards the baggage area.  But what should I see at the top of the ramp was a small trim man with a bright red blazer and in his hand a large sign that said, “Mr. Marshall.”

Now it should be mentioned that I have a deep affection for Mr. Marshall signage wherever and whenever I come across it.  It has happened only a few times but it usually means that things are going to be okay or even better. 

The little Thai man holding this sign also had his own small name tag on his jacket.  It said ‘Sam.’  Now I didn’t ask him this, but I suspected as much that ‘Sam’ was short for a much longer Thai name that was nothing at all like Samuel.  But rather, one with lots of syllables and amusing combinations of vowels.

Once Sam had determined that I was Mr. Marshall he beckoned me to come with him immediately.  What I noticed straight away however what this his route  was in the complete opposite  direction of that of baggage claim. 

As I kept up to his pace of economic, but brisk skipping strides, he outlined all the dimensions of my dilemma.  Yes I could head over to the baggage area and retrieve my things but then I would be stuck in Bangkok, or, I could skip and puff the length of the vast terminal and get to the Thai airline counter and get my behind on my scheduled flight to Phuket.  He was much more polite and gracious in his description.

Since Sam had both, a large Mr. Marshall sign, and a Qatar name tag pinned to his chest I could see no other alternative than but to gamble along at his side.  Which, after some large chunk of those 85 minutes we cleared customs, was issued a new boarding pass,  and wiggled and stripped through another round of security clearance. 

His final words to me, as I drifted down another long que of exhausted travelers was, that eventually my bags and I would meet.  Though as I recall it now, the exact juncture of this meeting was still rather indefinite. 

So thus I found myself remarkably entering the Thai Airlines flight.  Which, quite frankly I really did not think I would make.  The successful flight to Phuket took something quite less than 85 minutes….in the air. 

However the stark reality, or perhaps the unenviable logistics of just how I and my bags would once again find ourselves in perfect harmony was brought to the fore the moment my behind landed.  I will not burden you with the details.  If you have read this far you have done well.

But I would note that the complicated chemistry of all this equation was thrown into even more disarray when I learned, that due to all my unpacking of documents and removing of shoes, and redistributing of personal paraphernalia that my luggage tags had gone missing. 

Now I am in a hot room in Phuket.  The air conditioner is valiantly attempting to knock some of the starch out of the humidity.  I have complete access to some key possessions.  Cash, keyboard, toiletries, and by just stupid good luck, a pair of shorts.

Some of the key required items of my holiday travel however are absent and are being missed greatly.  In particular my nike graphite 7 iron and all the little clubs that usually keep him company.

I have made, even now after a few hours on the ground, several trips to the front desk where excited phone calls have been made.  Promises though have been few and given reluctantly at that.  My feeling is that despite my own drama, and fretting, everything regarding my possessions will work themselves out in their own way. 

In addition I have now seen the limitations of just what can be accomplished in 85 minutes when trying to foray through the logistics and legalities of international travel.  But on the other hand, as I look up at my watch, I was able to tell this story, in all its rambling detail, in less than 85 minutes.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Luxury Car

Mr. Ton drove me to the airport today in his luxury car.  Which didn’t fit too closely with my own primitive standards of luxuriousness.  Still, it was a big black SUV, rode up high, was clean, spacious and comfortable. It was also neither new nor was it old.  Truth though, it was certainly several degrees of automotive quality above and beyond most of the other little taxis you find in Phuket.  


Mr. Ton was not the first person I had asked to drive me.  Coming out from the hotel I negotiated a long circuitous gauntlet of drivers.  All their cars were clean and ready to go, but each one, for a reason I cannot fathom was hideously overpriced for the distance I had asked them to travel.

 After several attempts of trying to come to some kind of sensible transaction with a scruffy scrum of cabbies, shielded behind dark glasses and puffing on cheap Thai cigarettes, I simply moved on to find a different thicket of hired cars accompanied by a different set of indifferent drivers, and try again. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

You Never Know Where You Will End Up

There is not always a simple plot line to all our life's little adventures.  A convenient beginning that then leads on to some clear and interesting story.  One that can be summarized, by just a few descriptive lines or paragraphs.

We all have memorable experiences.  Maybe just a few of which might interest others, if we can just find a way to breathe life into our memories.  Both the ones that happened minutes ago or ones that we have to dig deep from beneath our past.

Because I live in such a different sort of world, it is always a unique experience for me each and every time I take that long trip north to Goderich.  A pretty little town on the shore of Lake Huron.  A place, that for lack of a better description, I call home.

Going for a walk with my brother and his dog on my last day there.  It was one of those many cold snowy days that they seem to have a lot of.  Sometimes it takes a little extra push, just to get outside and get a little exercise.

You could say it is a place that not much happens, but if you had been here on August 21, 2011 you probably wouldn't think that way.   If you had been standing smack dab in the middle of town that afternoon most likely your life would have been dramatically changed.  You would have had an adventure that could not be explained or you could tell in just a few words.

This is a picture of the tornado that swept in off the lake that afternoon, and than knocked down nearly everything in its way, right up through the middle of town.  The weather service had predicted thunderstorms but certainly not this.  They knew only 10 minutes before it raged in off the lake that it was in fact an incredibly destructive storm.

I have heard a lot of the big and little stories that happened here that day.  Even now, all the bits and pieces have not yet all been conveniently put back together.  Recovery from something so huge as this is not ever a quick nor a simple thing. Some peoples lives will never be the same.

For now, in the short brisk days of January, the place is simply cold and quiet.  Or at least it seems so to me, especially when the snow squalls blow in off the lake almost for days on end.

There is always lots of snow shoveling, snow blowing, and quiet, and also probably not so quiet cursing going on because of that. I think that if I had to do this every day I would go just a little crazy.  But I suppose we all have to eventually get to used to, and accept where we are supposed to be, and then go on and do what we have to do.

Back out on the trail with my brother and his dog we managed to make it all the way across the Menesetung bridge.  Once, it was the only way in and out of Goderich for the CPR railway. Now it is just for hikers, and for those who want to get an incredible view of the surrounding countryside.

From the middle of its span there is a spectacular view of the Maitland river stretching out below.  Which somehow, whenever I try to take a picture in winter, simply doesn't come out.

I like this one better.  It is a picture I took while running early on a summer morning in July.  I ended up following the trail for a few miles, and then found my way back along the highway that leads into town.

 I am back at my other home now.  Far away from all the endless snowy Lake Huron days.  A little of that weather though seems to have followed me home to Queens.  The city has recently been caught up in a lengthy spell of severe cold.  Which looks like it won't release its grasp of the city for at least another day.

The main reason I make this trip to Canada is to visit with my Mom.  In less than a month she is going to be 96 years old.  She lives in a assisted living home in Goderich.   A place she could probably have never even imagined when she grew up on a small farm near the tiny village of Glassville New Brunswick. More than a thousand miles east of here.

She has had lots of adventures in her life.  Some that can be summed up nicely in just a few words and lines and others of course, that have no real story, but are simply the stuff that makes up who she is.  Before I left her the other day she surprised me though and told me a long story of how it once was.  When she and my dad once were living in a small rented room, just after the war.

I cannot recall just how or why her thoughts shifted back to this time and place.  What push or nudge took her so far back in her life.  Somehow a part of her mind simply shifted and she began to recall all the little details that made her words paint a picture in time that was real and vibrant. 

It was almost as though it had been just days instead of more than 60 years.  It was the moment in her life when she had been married just a few years, and not too long after my oldest sister Bette was born. 

She surprised me with just how much detail and with how much clarity she could remember.  I don't ever recall her ever telling me this story before.  Just how difficult things were when she first came back from serving as a nurse with the Canadian army in Europe.  How in those days it was nearly impossible to find a decent place to live. Or at least it was in Saint John New Brunswick.

As we left her apartment, so that I could take her downstairs for lunch, she carefully closed the door behind her, making sure that it was shut tight.  She said, "When you leave, you never know where you will end up."

Her hand paused for just a moment more upon the door and then came down and joined the other, firmly holding on to her walker.  Which she now pushed forward, as she made her way slowly down the long corridor.

Friday, January 3, 2014

A Morning At Rotary Beach

You can never quite predict just how the currents and winds that push and blow across, and deep beneath the Lake, will shape and form its frozen appearance.  Over the past week, with each new day it changes.  Almost like a turning kaleidoscope, each display differing from the previous.   Sometimes even reforming itself dramatically over the course of a few hours.  At one time the ice stacked up tight to shore in great formidable ridges and mounds, or, like this morning, spread itself white and wide, as far as the eye can see.

At this time of year with almost continuous sub zero temperatures, one cold week marching in after another, more and more ice is gradually accumulating.  Both in great bergs tumbled up on shore and the slushy mass, that cannot help but remind me of the crushed ice in a soda glass.

In not too many months the summer will return and melt and thaw all the cold memories of this beach which is locally called Rotary beach.  On hot summer days the beach, which looks now that it composed more of pebbles than of sand will be quite a different place. One which will draw people to itself for leisure and to spend long slow hours.  Kids and older folk worshiping the sun or cooling off in waters, that when you enter, will not make you shiver at all.  Not even a little.

This morning I seemed to be its only visitor.  A solitary figure, except for 2 silent crows that flickered from tree to tree in the sparse woods behind me.  Who, despite the appearance of very little food or warmth seemed to be content nonetheless. 

In some few months from now I will return here.  Dip toe and hopefully find contentment and relief from the weight of a heavy hot August day.  And perhaps remember the quiet loneliness of the beach on a January morning, as dawn was fast approaching.