Dare boldly

a blog by Louise Gallagher


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Let us share compassion.

I want to write of something else, I want to find ‘the normal’, but I don’t know how.

I don’t know when it’s okay to move on, to change the subject. Because, no matter what I do, nothing will change what has happened. Nothing will bring back the lost. Nothing will change the course of the future for the accused.

And so, I write as tears run down my face.

I have a friend who lives on the street where it happened. Her husband just had surgery. She is at home with him for the next few days as he recovers.

The house at the corner is visible through her front window. As she sits in her living room, as she looks out over her yard, as she stands at the kitchen and pours herself a cup of coffee, she can see the house at the corner. The house where it all happened. The house where police tape still separates the yard from the neighbourhood. The house where a steady stream of cars and people pass by, some stopping to leave flowers and cards and candles at a makeshift memorial in front of the house. Some just simply driving slowly by.

Her neighbourhood is consumed by the tragedy and my heart is heavy for her.

My friend has a son who died in a motor-cycle accident. He was the same age as some of the five youth killed in this tragedy, as the suspect too.

How will she avoid seeing the pain and grief on her street? How will she be able to sleep soundly in her bed knowing that just a few houses down and just across the street this happened and that other parents and families, just like hers, have suffered an incomprehensible loss?

How will anyone on that street be able to get back to ‘normal’ when that house, that address will always be known as the ‘place where it happened’. The place where Calgary’s worst mass murder transpired?

How do they find peace amidst the sorrow and pain flowing all around and the reminders lying on the sidewalk at a makeshift memorial?

How will the parents of other young people who have been concerned about their son or daughter’s mental health rest easily tonight? How will they feel confidence in their son or daughter’s ability to make good choices?

It does not seem right nor just to simply move on today.

According to a news report, the father of the accused was out on the streets looking for his son that evening. He was concerned for his well-being, fearing his son might harm himself. Not others. Himself.

And then, the worst happened. He did, harm himself in a way that is incomprehensible. In taking five lives, he forever changed the course of his life. Forever shattered hopes and dreams and possibility.

I don’t know how to move on at the moment. I feel the need to simply stay in this space, to feel the sadness and sorrow. To let the pain wash over and through me. To let the tears flow so that they can cleanse my heavy heart.

Perhaps it is the only way I can honour those who are gone, those who are living with the pain of their missing children. Those who are lost. And those who must face the reality of the situation every moment of every day as they see the evidence on their street, or as they sift through the evidence searching for answers, or as they sit at the Easter dinner table and feel the silence in the empty seat that will never be filled by their loved one again.

It is in this way that I can be present to what others are feeling so that I can share my light, not my fear, my compassion, not my sadness.

And as I write, I remember to once again surrender all fear and fall in Love.

We cannot undo what is done. We cannot change what happened. We can only love one another, support each other and take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others.

And in our taking care of others, we will find hope in the pain, light in the darkness, and compassion for one-another in the sorrow as Love embraces our tears and opens our hearts to beat freely again.

.


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In winter’s icy grip

It is snowing today. Spring has slipped back into the shadows of winter’s icy grip.

A tragic event in our city yesterday left me, along with everyone in our city, reeling.

C.C. picked me up from the C-train and drove off to spend some time with his daughter. Two of the victims were close friends.

I talked to my eldest daughter on the phone as I walked up the street towards the house. She and her sister both knew the suspect’s sister. They are reeling.

I know the suspect’s father. Admire him. Respect him.

My heart aches for all the families.

I came home and did what I like to do when I do not have answers, when I can not make sense of what has happened.

I moved all the furniture in the living room around.

And then, I went to meet my youngest daughter for dinner and we avoided conversation of the day’s events until we could no longer avoid it.

It is too real. Too raw. Too incomprehensible.

There is pain. There is sorrow. There is heartbreak.

And there are many lives affected.

Many lives lost.

Many more broken.

And nothing can undo what was done.

Nothing can bring these five young people back.

And nothing can heal the space where once they laughed and sang and lived their lives with such promise for a future they will never see.

And nothing can undo the future for this man and his family whose son did this. Nothing can undo the pain he caused. Nothing can erase his deeds.

There is no sense to made. No words of comfort big enough to ease the pain.

There is only this moment right now where we must breathe. We must continue to take one step forward.

Just like time. Time moves forward, it cannot flow backwards.

Time.

It is all there is in this moment.

And I am saddened for everyone. For all the young people whose lives were taken and all their family and friends who are trying to come to grips with such a devastating loss. And their fellow students at UofC who collectively must mourn what no young person should ever have to mourn.

It is snowing today. Spring has slipped back into the shadows of winter’s icy grip.

There is no sunshining. No birds singing.

But, there is Love. Always, in the sadness and the grief, the sorrow and the pain, there is Love.

It is all we can hold onto.

 


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Why in my backyard?

The foundation I work for held an Open House last night in a community where we are proposing to build a 25 unit apartment building for formerly homeless individuals.

It can be scary to a community to learn that a ‘homeless building’ is going to be built near them – even when that building is not a shelter but an apartment building with permanent supportive housing. Fear of the unknown. Fear of a lifestyle and a way of being in the world they don’t understand, fear of what it means to their safety, their property values, the people who will possibly be drawn to their community all cause people to push back against the unknown and hold onto what they’ve got — even when what they’ve got is what they don’t want, homeless individuals on the streets and in the parks.

We humans are funny beings. Even though our lives have been changing from the moment of our birth (even before) we will passionately resist change and argue our limitations.

Last night a lot of people came to learn about our project and to voice their concerns, along with their support. Some came to argue the limitations of what they believe to be true — that homelessness is having an impact on their community.

I agree. Homelessness does have an impact on every community. That’s why it’s so important we provide a path for people to follow to move away from it.

One of the most common concerns last night was about the number of visibly homeless individuals in the parks and along the river pathway that winds throughout the neighbourhood. This is a neighbourhood of beautiful green spaces, filled with flowers and trees and benches to relax on in the shade or the sun. And often, especially in the summer months, the parks are home to many homeless individuals looking for respite from one of the emergency shelters or simply looking to enjoy a bit of sun. Unfortunately, due to the homeless condition and its many pressures, many of these individuals are under the influence of drugs and alcohol. They can appear scary, frightening, unruly.

People fear for what they imagine to be true — in this case, we have a collective fear that every visibly homeless individual we meet is looking to take from us what we’ve got. We can’t imagine that someone who has nothing doesn’t want to attack us and steal away our belongings, and our peace of mind. What we don’t realize is that it is our limited understanding of the homeless condition that is causing our fears to rise, not the people experiencing it.

That’s why it’s important we provide housing and supports, I told the people I spoke with. By ensuring people get the support they need to sustain housing, we create safer communities by providing people the thing they want most, the thing we all want, a place to belong.

There is no perfect solution for ending homelessness. Emergency shelter isn’t ideal, but it does provide a necessary stopgap to help people who find themselves suddenly homeless. Emergency shelter is not designed to keep people in homelessness and the vast majority of those who enter a shelter’s doors leave without needing too much intervention. But there are those who get stuck, who fall onto a mat and lose their belief in their ability to get up again and walk away from the life that is killing them.

In their disbelief that another way is possible, they become the ones we fear when we see them walking our streets. It is not that they are out to harm us, it is that we do not understand what has happened to their lives and feel helpless, overwhelmed, angry, a whole host of emotions that we cannot describe about their human condition.

“Why in my backyard?” one man asked.

It is a good question.

Why in my backyard?

In this city of over 1.1 million people, there are approximately 3500 people living in homelessness today.

I think that’s tragic.

That so many people have fallen into despair, lost everything to wander our streets, to crowd the shelters and live in the chaos of not having a place to call home, is to me a reflection of where we as a community have fallen down.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

And that’s why an apartment such as we’re proposing belongs in our neighbourhoods.

Homelessness is in our backyards. It’s on our streets, roaming our alleyways and hiding out in the nooks and crannies of our parks and pathway systems.

It doesn’t belong in our human existence and the only way to change how and where it appears in our communities is to provide those experiencing it the safety and stability of a place to call home.

It’s not about giving them everything. It’s not about rewarding them for making a mess of their lives, as one person suggested on an online forum I was recently reading, It’s about providing the care and support needed for people who have stumbled and fallen so far through the cracks they’ve lost all sense of direction, the opportunity to find themselves without fear of being stuck in the darkness of homelessness forever.

And like all of us, when we find ourselves at home, whatever our condition, we discover our humanity wasn’t lost after all, it was just hiding behind the fear that we would never again find a place to belong.


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Always there is Love.

There were tears. There was laughter. There were fears. There was hope.

And always, there was love.

After 5 days of being in the Choices seminar room, I am full. I am complete. I am peaceful.

My heart is brimming over with the joy of having spent my days immersed in the human journey. My heart is resonating with the Love that embraced us all and carried us across the threshold of fear into that place where it is not the pain of our human condition that connects us but the promise of all that is possible when we let go of the past and step freely into today fearlessly embracing the magic and wonder and miracle of who we are — magnificent human beings of limitless possibility.

I believe that when we are born, our unwritten lives hold the untold promises of our unique possibility.

And then, life happens and the promise of our potential becomes lost in the limits of our reality. We experience life in ways that we cannot imagine and, looking out through the eyes of a child, simply do not make sense. Ill-equipped to handle the sometimes harsh and bitter winds of life, we harden our hearts, build up walls, shut off feeling to cope with what we don’t understand and have no tools to cope with.

It isn’t that life set out to hurt us, it is that we were unprotected for far too long and learned to do anything that worked to keep from feeling the pain of whatever happened to us. In our need to protect ourselves from pain we don’t understand, we end up hurting ourselves with the very limitations and beliefs we adopted to keep ourselves safe.

We tell ourselves, it is best this way. Best to keep our hearts locked up, our feelings stuffed down, our senses shut off, if only because it feels less scary, less frightening, less everything to stay locked within than to risk letting our hearts run wild.

We grow up and fight to hold onto the limitations that we created to keep us from feeling the pain of being lost in a world that doesn’t make sense and end up living in a box so small we are suffocating within its restrictions. We can’t breathe. We can’t move. We can’t feel.

But we don’t dare look at the walls of our box. We don’t dare attempt to break free because, we tell ourselves, it’s not safe. Remember? The last time you tried to break free your heart was broken, your hopes dashed, your dreams ridiculed. Remember? And our minds embrace the idea that keeping ourselves safe means locking our hearts and dreams behind the walls of our self-defenses so that nobody can touch us in a way that will hurt us ever again.

And life goes on and we become accepting of the idea, this is the only way it can be. This is the way I am and I am safer when I play the part I know.

But we wish…

We yearn for…

We want…

Freedom.

From the pain of living life one short breath at a time.

We wish…

We yearn for…

We want…

Freedom.

From the pain of walking on broken glass with every step we take.

We wish…

We yearn for…

We want…

Freedom.

From the pain of believing we are worthless, useless, unwanted, unloveable, un-everything we tell ourselves is true if only because, believing in the lie of our limitations is familiar. It’s safer. No one can hurt us if we don’t let them see into our hearts, we tell ourselves. And we shut down.

I have just spent the past five days seeing into people’s hearts as they opened up to the beauty and magnificence of their truth.

I am in awe.

I am humbled.

I am filled with joy.

Because in their hearts breaking open, my heart is full.

In their dreams awakening, my dreams take flight.

And in their love flowing over, my Love flows freely.

I have just spent the past five days in the Choices seminar room.

And I am grateful.

Lives were changed, dreams awakened and breaking hearts found their own special beat to announce to all the world, I am here. I am alive. I am willing to begin this journey of living my life on the outside of my comfort zone.

I am willing to go for the gusto. I am willing to break free of the past so that today, in this moment right now I can breathe freely and soar higher than I ever imagined. Because, it doesn’t matter whether I take one baby step or one giant leap, it is my journey, my flight into freedom and no matter how I take it, always there is Love.

 


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It is Love that holds us up.

I am off today to that place where hearts awaken to hear the beat of their dreams calling them to break free.

I am off to be present to miracles shimmering on every breath as eyes open wide to the wonder and awe of their human condition.

I am off to be part of human beings digging deep into their story of what doesn’t work in their life so that they can discover the things that do work if they only let go of playing small and dive into living large.

I am off to coach at Choices and, as always happens when I prepare to walk into the room and stand in Love, I am excited.

It is such a privilege and a gift to be able to be in the room as much as I am. Being there fills my heart, it feeds my soul and inspires my living.

Being there is my joy.

As a coach, there is one rule I must follow at all times. To Love the people when they walk through the doors, and to keep loving them no matter what they do, what they say or how they respond. No matter how hard they fight back or struggle to make sense, to understand, to let go my one job is to love them through it all.

And I love it!

It isn’t easy work to be a trainee going through the program. It is foreign terrain. Unfamiliar territory. Uncommon ground. And, because it is sometimes scary, we baulk, we stall, we hold back. We act defiant, belligerent, scared. We try to run and hide. We try to talk loud, talk back, talk down.

We do a lot of things as trainees that we believe will get us more of what we want in our lives even when in the doing of them, we hurt, we tremble, we feel shame. It is so very human of us, to want to hold onto what doesn’t work if only because, we know it, we’ve worn the shame a long time, we’ve carried the guilt forever or felt the pain always.

And, because the things that hurt us, limit us and keep us small are so familiar, we push back and pull away from the beauty of our truth awakening. We want to believe it’s true, that we are these incredible, miraculous, amazing beings and still we hesitate.

What if everyone else is, and I’m the one who’s not? Who am I when I quit telling myself untruths about what I am capable of or who I am in the world?

It doesn’t really matter what we do to avoid the truth of our magnificence. By Sunday, through the tears and fears and all the things we do to deny our truth, it is Love that holds us up, embraces us and keeps us safe enough to discover — we truly are amazing in every way of our being human. We truly are worthy of Love.

I am off to coach at Choices. I won’t have time to post as I immerse myself in the awe I always feel in that room.

and that’s okay. Because everytime I’m in the room, I learn something new, I discover something else, experience an AHA! moment that sheds light on shadows that lurk in the corners of my mind, waiting to trip me up.

I won’t be posting over the next four days. I will be growing. Learning. Sharing. Loving.

And I’ll see you all again on Monday.

Namaste.


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When war falls all around, dreams are forgotten

He could never imagine doing anything else. It was all he ever wanted. To be a nurse. To be of service. To help people.

And then, the war kept falling all around.

And then, his brother was killed.

And then, his family sent him away. To safety, they said. It was best. For him and his new wife and their yet to be born children.

His daughters were born in India. In Delhi, as it was called then.

You could live like a king for $200 a week, he told me as we drove in the yet to be born morning light to the airport.

His brother-in-law sent it to him. The money. He couldn’t work, his nursing certificate wasn’t accepted. And anyway, India was just a stopping off point between Persia, as he called it, and Canada. He was there 6 years until finally, he and his wife and their 2-year-old daughter and newborn, had the paperwork they needed to come to Canada where her family waited for them.

Once I was here, I couldn’t take my brother-in-law’s money, he said. It wasn’t right.

He found a job. The graveyard shift at a Mac’s. He found another and worked both, struggling to make ends meet at $7 an hour.

He learned English. Kept working. And working to make ends meet.

Three years ago, he finally sat for the exams to get his nursing qualifications here. It wasn’t quite what he wanted, but he couldn’t afford to go back to school full-time so he settled for a certificate program.

I haven’t been able to find work, he told me. Only casual labour.

He pauses, the hissing of the wet road beneath the car tires the only sound as we drive in the early morning towards the airport.

I can’t raise a family on casual labour.

He has three children now. All teenagers, the son is 15.

They like their labels, he says. You can’t blame them. They only want to fit it, to be like the other kids. I blame the advertising.

He shakes his head from where he sits in the front seat. A dim, morning  light is beginning to seep through the clouds that cover the Vancouver sky. We cross over the bridge towards the airport. Traffic is still light.

It won’t pick up until 7:30 he tells me.

I will be boarding my flight then, getting ready to fly east, across the Rockies back to Calgary where the snow has almost melted but the trees remain nude of buds and leaves.

It is beautiful here, he says. Very green. But the rain gets to me.

Was it worth it? I ask. Coming to Canada? Was it all that you imagined?

His answer is immediate. Yes. It is best for my children. Here they are safe from war. Here I know they will have a better life. It is my dream.

He doubts he’ll keep his nursing certificate current. It costs $279 a year to keep it active.

That’s a lot of money, he says. I can’t quit driving a cab in the hopes of picking up hours. I have a family to support.

It happens he says. We leave our dreams behind to support our families. It is best. It is right because there is no greater dream than ensuring your children have a better future.

I had many friends at the hospital in Persia, he says. He pauses, presses a button on the console of his cab as we pull over to the curb at the departure gate at the airport.

Many of them are dead, he tells me just before he gets out of the car to retrieve my suitcase from the back.

Safe journey, he says, placing my suitcase on the sidewalk.

You too, I tell him.

And he smiles, looks into my eyes and whispers, “God willing.”

I smile, nod my head and thank him.

I turn to enter the terminal. He climbs back into the car. He has done his job. His passenger has safely arrived at  their destination. Now, he will get in line with the other drivers waiting for fares to take downtown from the airport.

Like so many in that lineup, he has made this foreign land his home. Like so many, he left behind a life he loved to escape the reality of war falling all around. Safe now, he is content for his greatest dream has come true, his children are safe and the future is theirs.

 

 

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