Silent Lake

Nine summers ago I was invited to spend some time in the picturesque town of Gananoque in Canada. We rented a log cabin with access to a large lake where we would wake up to the song of birds and sleep to the rhythm of crickets.

Every morning, after coffee and cigarettes, we would walk down to the lake and get into a small boat to paddle our way around the lake. There were so many nooks to discover.

From the small pier outside the cabin you could see the other side of the bank. A majestic forest stood there, beyond the mirror-smooth lake.

One day, in a moment of nature-loving solitude, I decided to take the boat out by myself and spend some time alone in the serenity of the middle of the lake.

As soon as I got there, in the middle of the lake, and I was equidistant from all its banks, I experienced a new kind of quiet as the water absorbed whatever sound escaped from the thick shrubs.

It was early afternoon and nobody was at the river banks. I was alone.

Oh shit, I was alone.

Suddenly I remembered a scene from a movie I saw as a kid, and imagined a huge dark shadow passing under the boat. Then I imagined that some alien tentacles would come out of the water and pull me down into a watery grave. I imagined monsters coming out of the water and into the boat, then back into the water leaving behind some of my bones floating in a pool of my blood.

I quickly turned the boat around and rowed as fast as I could back to the pier. I ran up to the cabin and joined my friends. They wondered why I was back so soon, and I said it was too hot to be on the lake.

That day I learned my lesson:

No matter what beauty surrounds you, if the darkness is inside you, it will always wait for you to be alone.

My sons — A meditation

my sons, if i could
i would spin
the clouds into yarn
and make you
a sweater each
(but the clouds
are out of reach).
or maybe if i made
blankets instead,
then I could wrap
your dreams
in clear, bright skies,
where rain is just a rumor
to scare the butterflies.

Aztec Lava; a humiliation

On a beautiful spring day in 2012, I entered an authentic Mexican restaurant in Toronto and ordered a burrito. The waitress asked me what sauce I wanted on it.

There were three sauces, of increasing intensity. I don’t remember their names, but the spiciest one was called Aztec Lava. The name itself should have been a clue, honestly.

I asked for Aztec Lava on my burrito. The waitress calmly and matter-of-factly said, “Don’t take that. You’re a white boy.” My friends and I laughed.

“Don’t worry about me. I’m an Arab, we eat spicy food.” I said this while recalling eating fresh spicy peppers or the red “shatta” we have with falafel. “I’ll take the Aztec Lava.”

“No problem,” she replied. “Just to let you know, you will have to pay for it even if you don’t eat it.” That’s a second clue that I missed.

The burrito arrived covered in a light green sauce. I took a small bite of it and immediately felt the deepest pits of hell open up inside my mouth.

Sometimes, when you eat spicy food, your mouth becomes accustomed to it, and the next few bites become less aggressive, and eventually you just enjoy the heat.

Not the Aztec Lava on this burrito though.

It was so spicy that it was bitter. It was so spicy that it eliminated all taste buds in my mouth. I couldn’t pick up on anything from the burrito. And it wouldn’t calm down. No beer, no milk, no water could stop it. Oh, and the tears!!

I managed 1.125 bites of the burrito and then stopped. The waitress, upon picking up our plates later, gave me an I Told You So glance. I avoided eye contact.

I have not, since then, ever tasted anything as spicy. Nor tasted that level of humiliation.

The Married Man

In the winter of 2012, a group of us was walking back home one evening along a busy street in Montreal. We passed by a small pub where two men were standing outside having a cigarette with their beers. No smoking indoors there.

As we approached them, one of the two men shouted to us in excitement. “I got married!” He lifted his hand up to show us the ring on his finger. His drinking buddy gave out a semi-enthusiastic “woo-hoo!”

My group of friends returned the “woo-hoo” as we walked along, but I couldn’t do that.

Without a moment’s hesitation, I walked up to him and give him a big hug through our thick winter coats. He hugged me back nice and un-embarrassedly.

“Congratulations, man!” I said. “All the best to you both.”

I joined my group of friends and we continued on our way.

Not only was I the only married one in the group, and therefore understood his happiness at getting married.

But at that moment, watching a man stand with one single friend outside of a pub, in the cold, calling out to strangers that he got married… that made me realize something.

It isn’t only sadness that is heavy to carry on your own. Sometimes, even joy itself means nothing if you cannot share it with someone. Even if it’s only a stranger.

Fireflies — a meditation

Take these poems
and throw them
out of your window
if you wish.
Sprinkle them
in your garden,
or toss them
into the wind
if you wish,
there’s more of them.

You see, words float
in the air around you
like fireflies
and all I have to do
is sit still in your presence
until a few of them gather
in my open palms.

That’s how I catch the poetry
and give it back to you.
Take what pleases you
and throw the rest away
As far as I know
you are infinite.

Voice — a meditation

I learned
my name
on the first day
of creation,
before it all,
when every corner
of the universe
was quiet,
and the first
blades of grass
lifted their heads
from the soil
in whispered prayer
to the young sun.

From that holy silence
you emerged,
stood at the edge
of the cliff
and sang softly,
your voice meandered
over the calm
waters of the ocean
and found my ears.

I woke up
knowing that you
were calling me home,
and that your voice
was my name.