Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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The magic of living life fearlessly.

photo by @brit_gill

photo by @brit_gill

From her first cry to her first smile to her first song, life with Alexis is always an adventure. Over the past 32 years, I have borne witness to the magic and miracle of her voice growing stronger. I have watched her move through toddler stage to little girl, to adolescent, teenager, young woman and now, a mother.

And always, she has enchanted and enthralled. She has been real and fierce and loving and brave.

Today is my eldest daughter’s birthday.

I remember this day 32 years ago. It was much like today promises to be. Bright and sunny. Blue sky soaring into infinity.

Life looked predictable. Like it would always be blue sky and sunny days.

And then Alexis came into this world. She arrived on her terms, on her schedule. We had been anticipating her arrival at the end of May. That day had passed. Alexis wasn’t ready to meet the world yet. Or perhaps, the world wasn’t ready to meet her?

In the end, Alexis Marie erupted onto life’s stage 23 days past her original due date. As I lay on an operating table and the doctor cut into my abdomen, I heard her cries from within my womb and my heart melted. I could feel it. That instantaneous giving way of the boundaries that held all known feeling in place. A letting go of all restraint, an abandoning of life as I knew it as this tiny, precious, perfect being was lifted from the safety of my womb and exposed to the world.

I wanted to keep her close. To keep her tied to the umbilical safety of my being the vessel that embraced her every breath.

And I had to let her go. I had to allow the cord to be cut to give her wings room to grow.

They have been growing ever since.

There is so much in this world I do not know. So much about life and living and loving fearlessly I have yet to explore.

Before I became a mother, I thought I knew it all. I thought I had life figured out and that once I did become a mother, it would be a pretty clearcut, straight forward journey of raising them and setting them on their path with the prerequisite education, tools and hope chest filled with all they needed to live adult lives in an adult world.

Being a mother has taught me how little I knew then about Love, and how much I don’t need to know now about anything else because, in Love’s light, everything else pales.

Alexis is a woman and a mother now. Beautiful. Talented. Creative. Kind. Caring. Loving. I watch her with her infant son and my heart melts all over again.

She sings to him, and I hear angels’ voices.

She dances with him and I see a fairy queen, ethereal, regal, magical.

She paints and writes and creates beauty and wonder in the world all around and I know her son’s life will be filled with magic and beauty, wonder and awe.

She is sensitive and gentle. Fiercely loyal. Fiercely proud. Sometimes, she doubts her own strength, questions her capacity to be courageous. No matter her self-doubts, always she finds her way through because of her heart’s capacity to beat to its own drum, march to its own beat, love in its own rhythm.

Always, she watches out for others. Sees the beauty in every soul, the wonder in every breath. She hears the words that are left unspoken, and feels the pain that is left unhealed and knows exactly how to reach out and soothe another’s fears, another’s tears, another’s sadness.

photo by @brit_gill

She is intuitive. She is whimsical. She is miraculous, just as she always has been. Just as she always will be.

She is a woman, a mother, a daughter, a grand-daughter, a step-daughter, a sister, a step-sister, a niece, a cousin, a friend. She is so many things and has so many ways of being amazing because she is Alexis.

Happy Birthday my darling daughter. Though the miles may lay between us, you are my heart. Forever and always.


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Kairos Blanket Exercise

I am standing on a blanket. This blanket is one of six spread out on the floor, each one touching the next. They represent Turtle Island, or North America as it’s called today.

I am standing on this blanket as a participant in the Kairos Blanket Exercise. I am excited to begin this learning journey. I am unaware of the power of the next two hours in front of me.

Take up all the space of the blankets the facilitator urges us. Claim your land.

There are about 30 of us standing on the blankets. We all work for Inn from the Cold, the family emergency shelter where I work.

Most of us are non-Indigenous. Some are immigrants. Others born on Canadian soil of ‘settler’ families.

And the story begins.

For the next two hours we become more and more cramped on the blankets as one blanket after another disappears as do some of the participants.

“You are a child who was sent to Residential School,” the facilitator tells one of my co-workers. And they move off the blanket to stand at the edge of the circle.

“Your child was taken from your arms,” a woman is told who is holding a doll. And the facilitator grabs the doll from the woman’s arms and puts it on the floor at the edge of the circle.

“You were swept up in the 60s scoop,” another participant is told and they too join the others standing outside the circle.

Smallpox. Other diseases. Poor nutrition. Suicide. Land appropriation. Adoption. Assimilation. Slowly people disappear from the constantly reducing area the blankets cover until only a handful of us remain on a tiny blanket in the middle of the room.

“You are the survivors,” we are told.

I do not want to cheer. I do not want to clap. I want only to cry.

So much carnage. So much loss. So much pain.

“We do not do this exercise to make people feel guilty, or to make them sad or angry. We do it to raise awareness. To educate. To share the story of Canada through an Indigenous lens,” the facilitator tells us.

It is a story not told in schools. Or text books. Or movies.

It is a story of a nation’s past where fairness, equity, freedom of all people was not for everyone, just the civilized. Indigenous Peoples were not considered civilized. They were deemed savages.

It is a story of the stealing away of an entire people’s lands, dignity, pride, way of life. Of forcing new culture over an existing one in order to make them more like us. To make them seem less different. Unique. Connected to one another.

It is told in a way that makes it possible to understand why, ‘getting over it’ is not so easy, not so possible.

This story.

I am familiar with it. I have read the Truth and Reconciliation recommendations. Participated in other Indigenous learning circles. I have worked in this sector for over 12 years. In this sector, unlike on Turtle Island, Indigenous Peoples are over-represented.

They carry the scars, the wounds, the trauma of a past where their way of life and who they were was deemed unfit by those who usurped power and claimed a land as their own, even though it was already claimed.

This is my country.

It is the land upon which I was born. On which I live today.

We call it Canada.

Once upon a time, it was called Turtle Island.

Our history is not a clean white page in a book unmarred by trauma or dark deeds. It is not a history of treating everyone with dignity, fairness, respect, even though that is the history we’d like to tell.

We have this shared story of our past which we must be willing to talk about, to understand so that we can move beyond the things we don’t want to see, to create a country we do want to have, together. As one people.

A country where the past is not a shadow marred by the darkness of what was done. It is a place where all people’s know, no matter their place in the past, today we are all of one land, one country, one humanity, and one shared story.

“Meegwetch” (Thank you in the language of the Haudensaunee, the Peoples of the traditional territory upon which I was born).

 

It is a statement often made in connection with humans experiencing homelessness. “It’s their choice.”

After twelve years of working in the homeless serving sector, I have yet to meet anyone, no matter their age, who stated, “I chose homelessness.”

It is a choice that is foisted upon someone. A choice that rears its ugly head when all other choices have lead to dead end alleys and closed doors.

It is a choice that was not made willingly, and in most cases, there’s no informed consent. It was made because there were no other choices and homelessness was the only door someone could walk through that wasn’t slammed in their face.

In child and family homelessness, I have never met a parent or parents who say, “We wanted this for our children. This is what they deserve/need/want.”

Homelessness is not a choice.

It’s a lack of choice. A lack of options. A lack of doors to open, roads to take, resources to fall back on to stave off the tragedy and trauma of getting to that place called Homeless.

It is not a choice.

At the family emergency shelter where I work, we are experiencing unprecedented numbers of families coming through our doors. Not one of these families say that the reason they came to the shelter is become they ‘chose’ to.

Their reasons are many. They are complex. They are numbing.

They were staying with friends and family, couch-surfing as its called.

They were evicted because they couldn’t pay the rent. Loss of job. An illness. Family upheaval.

They were fleeing family violence.

They moved from a reserve to the city only to find the city is not always a welcoming place. There is no “You are Welcome Here” doormat inviting them into the prosperity, stability and future they seek. There is mostly a “You’re here now. Good luck. You’re on your own,” mat that leaves them confused, frightened and feeling desperately alone as they struggle to figure out ways to keep their family together, fed and safe.

The choice leaves them, as the saying goes, between the devil you know and the devil you don’t. Go back to a reserve without clean water, with inadequate housing, where the suicide rates in youth are skyrocketing, where numbing through drugs and alcohol prevails, or… stay in the city where racism, discrimination and prejudice abound. Where high rents and landlords unwilling to rent to ‘those people’ turn you away before you even get to the door.

Where the colour of your skin shadows your every step forward, leaving you out in the cold, struggling to find safe shelter for your children so that they can grow up to be free. Strong. Successful.

Homeless is not a choice.

But we, the non-homeless, do make choices that leave homelessness as the only option for those struggling to get out of the raging waters of poverty and inter-generational traumas that colonialism has wrought upon families since settlers came to this land a few hundred years ago.

Our choices include immigration policies that do not link new Canadians to vital resources to get firmly planted in the vibrant network of their new homeland. Policies that leave young mothers and their children in homes where the one who sponsored them is also the one who is abusing them. They can’t/daren’t run away because he holds the papers that give them claim to their status and right to be in Canada.

Homeless is not a choice.

But we can make different choices. We can choose to be more tolerant, more understanding, compassionate even. We can choose to not tear down existing affordable housing to build new and costly places. Or when we do, we can choose also to replace what we tear down so that those who are being displaced have places to go that they can afford. Places that aren’t leaky or creaky or not big enough to hold a family, but are being used anyway because… there is no where else to go, except into homelessness.

I have choice.

I am privileged.

But the families who come to the shelter? They do not experience the privileges I do. They do not have the agency to make decisions about where to live, or go to school, or go on vacation.

Their lack of privilege has lead them to the one place they never wanted their children to be. Homeless.

So let’s cut out the myth about homelessness being a choice and get real with what’s really at issue.

The choices we’ve made as a society, choices designed to increase wealth and the standard of living for many, have also created an environment where poverty and homelessness flourish. These are the choices that have left those without privilege standing on the margins looking for a way to the other side of the street, stranded in poverty because our choices keep closing the door to vulnerable humans seeking to find their way to any place other than that place called Homeless.


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When you can’t trade your body in for a newer model…

Photo by Olia Gozha on Unsplash

Don’t you love how when you make a plan, life steps in and disrupts even the best laid plans?

Truthfully? I don’t!

But it all comes back to accepting what is, and working with what is in front of me, not what I wish was there.

I had planned on finishing up organizing our bedroom. On getting the bags for giveaway out to my car for giving away to a shelter downtown.

I had planned on moving the chair from our bedroom to the den downstairs.

I had planned a lot of things for this week to get done in the evenings. And then life stepped in.

Well, actually, a shoulder injury erupted and now I can’t move my left arm without a whole bunch of grunting and groaning.

My office is a 10 minute walk from where I park my car. Last year, in an effort to create more space for youth programming we moved several teams to office space provided by the Calgary Police Service. It’s part of a larger initiative to set up a ‘Family Hub’ in the downtown core that will provide vulnerable children and their families access to vital resources to help them navigate housing crisis and prevent homelessness.

It is a big idea that is starting to really take shape. It’s a big idea that could make a big difference in the lives of vulnerable children and their families. And I am grateful to be part of it.

I also love my new office space as does the team. It’s bright and airy, spacious. But, to keep costs down, we kept our parking at the location next to the family emergency shelter for which I work. It was a twofold decision. Parking is less expensive just out of the downtown core and, by parking at the shelter, I intentionally go through the shelter on my way to my office. Which means, I connect with the team at the shelter and stay better connected to ‘the cause’ — ending child and family homelessness.

Challenge is, some days my bag is too heavy.

Like yesterday.

I had a stack of folders I carried with me Friday when I left the office because my first three meetings were at the shelter yesterday morning.

And then, I picked up supplies at the shelter after my meeting and loaded up my bag. Throwing it over my left shoulder, I took the walk to my office.

When I had to go back for a meeting later in the day, I loaded up my bag with more folders I knew I’d need later.

Which wouldn’t be too bad if several dislocations in years gone by hadn’t created an unstable shoulder. Loading it up doesn’t work.

And so, my best laid plans went awry.

I had to deal with what is, not what I wished.

And yes, accountability-wise, I did overload my bag and I did put too much strain on my shoulder.

But dang, if only it was not so sensitive to the things I do that don’t support me. If only I hadn’t dislocated it so often skiing hard and fast in those days gone by when I thought skiing hard and fast was the only way to ski!

If only…

See, I know loading up my bag and throwing it over my shoulder doesn’t work.

I did it anyway because in that moment, my shoulder was fine.

And that is where accountability truly does matter.

To be accountable means working ‘with’ my body, not against it. It means honouring those places where old injuries have undermined joints and muscles. It means keeping joints and muscles strong today.

I loaded up my bag yesterday.

It wasn’t the smartest thing to do and now, I’m paying the price.

Note to self:  Take care of your body. It’s the only vehicle you’ve got to get around in this world. You can’t trade it in for a newer model so you’ve got to treat this one like it’s made to last!

_________________

Photo by Olia Gozha on Unsplash


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What is your accountability for not living your life on purpose?

It is an interesting question.

“What is my accountability for not living my life on purpose?”

Mary Davis, one of the facilitators of Choices Seminars asked it at a Choices Renewal session I attended yesterday afternoon.

“What is your accountability?”

Once you take away the excuses, your ‘buts’, your reasons why not, and are left with only the bare fact that whatever you just did or said did not take you closer to the more of what you want in your life, are you willing to get accountable?

Even answering that question takes a willingness to be 100% accountable. And for many of us, that’s a challenge.

It is so easy to blame others. To put the circumstances of our life today on another by laying blame at the feet of someone else like a supplicant laying a sacrificial lamb on the altar, praying for good fortune.

We don’t have to get accountable if we keep blaming another for our ill-fortune. We don’t have to take accountability for our mistakes if it’s never our fault.

And we definitely don’t have to be accountable with our words if we don’t hold our own voice as the perpetrator of the words that caused someone else pain.

Well it’s not my fault, you say. If they hadn’t said or done whatever they said or did, I wouldn’t be so angry.

One nice thing about not being accountable, you don’t have to change or do anything other than what you’ve always done to get to where you are today.

Yesterday, I got accountable.

One of the ‘Aha’ moments I had yesterday is that I am a ‘secret keeper’. No matter what is going on in my day, when I am distressed or chewing on an event and trying to think my way through it, I do not share what’s bothering me with my husband. I keep it secret.

Inevitably, the pressure inside will become so great it needs to be relieved.

And that’s when it will come out, misdirected.

He’ll do something I deem ‘fight-worthy’ and I’ll blow it up out of proportion.

This is my accountability factor.

I struggle to trust others. It has been a life-long journey for me to learn to trust, knowing I’ll be okay no matter what truth-telling I engage in.

Secrets for me are like lies. I’ll say, “I’m great,” when really, the secret is, I’m struggling.

I’ll smile, to keep secret the fact, tears are drowning my heart or that whatever you just did or said was not okay with me.

And I’ll laugh, when the secret is, I want to tell the truth about how I’m feeling but don’t trust enough to get real.

Over the course of my adulthood I have come a long way in ‘getting real’, but I still struggle to tell the truth about how I’m feeling inside about what is going on outside in my world.

My struggle does not serve me well.

Sure, keeping things tight inside means I don’t have to stretch beyond my comfort zone and ‘get real’. And that can feel like a relief when stretching causes the muscles of my heart to ache with fear at telling the truth of what’s going on for me!

But the relief is usually only momentary. And then the pressure builds again. Which means, I will inevitably want to find a way to blow things up when under pressure.

As I told my beloved last night after apologizing for my habit of keeping things secret, I commit to sharing instead of scaring you because I’m too scared to talk about what’s really going on.

In that way, I create more of what works in my life, more of what creates the kind of relationship/marriage that feeds my soul and holds me safe, loved, cherished.

What’s your accountability factor? Are you willing to live your life without blaming others for what’s going on?

Are you willing to get 100% accountable for, and in, your life?

 

 


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A Coyote Runs By

Journal Page. Mixed Media.

It is 10pm.  Beaumont and I are out for our late evening walk.

As we turn the corner from the cul de sac where we live to join the side street that runs up the hill to the escarpment above, a coyote goes racing by.

I stop.

Beau strains at the leash.

The coyote doesn’t see us. He keeps running, up the hill, towards the path that meanders through the forest linging the hillside as it makes its way back down towards the river’s edge, leading westward out of the city.

He is there one minute, gone the next, so fast, I wonder if I really did see him. Beaumont’s antics tell me I did.

I turn around and come home. I don’t really want to have an encounter with a coyote late at night. Or anytime of the day for that matter.

We live along the river’s edge in a community that was once the western limit of the city but has long been consumed by urban sprawl and annexation of a town on the other side of the river that once lay beyond the city limits.

The river is nature’s highway. A broad sweeping ribbon of water that flows down out of the mountains, through the city, inexorably drawn by nature’s pull towards Hudson’s Bay far to the east.

Every evening, as we sit on our deck, we watch rafters drifting by and a few brave souls navigating paddle boards.

And wildlife.

Like the coyote who raced by chasing some unseen prey, or perhaps heeding a primitive call to head to the hills, take cover in the forests that edge the water’s northern rim.

There are no houses on the northern edge of the river where the Bow turns a broad sweeping curve as it flows in from the West. High above, along the ridge of the escarpment, houses stand, their windows gleaming in the evening sun. They keep watch over the parkland area that runs along the river’s edge. Trees. Vegetation and a long extinct gravel pit that has been turned back to the land to become a flood water diversion project.

It is beautiful along the river’s edge.

And a refuge to the wild things that used to roam freely.

It’s easy to forget about the wild things when surrounded by urban sprawl and concrete.

It’s easy to forget we are not alone on this land.

A coyote ran by last night.

Fast and fleet of foot, he swept in from the south, headed north and then disappeared from view.

And still, his footprints run through my memory, reminding me, we do not own this land we claim as ours. There were others here before us. Others who once ran free. Who did not need concrete roads and traffic signs to tell them how to get from one place to the next.

Long ago, they followed the rivers and the streams. The seasons and the wild things.

In their footsteps we must tread lightly upon this land upon which we walk.

In their footsteps we must honour the land that gives us our home.

 

 

 


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What will happen to the unborn child?

They come because they are scared.

They come because they have nowhere else to go.

They come because if they don’t, what will happen to their unborn child?

At Inn from the Cold right now, there are nine pregnant women staying under the shelter’s roof.

Nine.

I can’t imagine what the soon-to-be-moms are feeling. Thinking. Experiencing.

Becoming a mom is fraught with questions. Fears. Insecurities. Uncertainties.

Being homeless and becoming a mom?

I can’t imagine.

But I can imagine why they’re there. I can imagine that whatever the circumstances of their lives, they want their child to have a better chance at life. And having a safe place to stay is a good beginning.

Recently, the Inn changed the parameters around who can stay at the family emergency shelter. In the past, (based mostly on the fact that space is limited and the shelter is constantly full) only adults accompanied by children were invited in.

But what about all the unborn children someone asked? What about the first time, soon-to-be mom without children accompanying her?

It was the grim reality that her unborn child was at risk if we did not provide the mother shelter, sanctuary and healing, regardless of who is accompanying her, that opened the doors to all pregnant women at the Inn, regardless of how at or over capacity we are.

It is an important decision.

A life-giving decision.

In homelessness, self-care is not high on the agenda. The trauma, stress, turmoil, angst and all the other factors that pull someone into the despair and hopelessness associated with homelessness, take a significant toll on an individual’s ability to make good self-care choices.

For women who are homeless and pregnant, homelessness impacts not only their life, but the life of their unborn child; that innocent, precious life that is forming within, unaware of the condition of life outside the womb.

Ensuring the mother receives prenatal care, that risks are minimized, that some stability is instilled into her life is critical to the development of her unborn child.

And so, the Inn opened its doors to pregnant women unaccompanied by children.

It is the right thing to do. The best thing to do to provide these unborn infants the best chance at life.

There is no special funding for supporting pregnant women. No pot of money waiting to be dipped into just for this.

It doesn’t matter.

We will find a way.

Because, if we don’t, what will happen to the unborn children? How will they make their way into this world? How will they know life?

______________________________________________________

Yesterday, the Inn announced the total raised during its 6th Annual Claire’s Campaign. The goal of $900,000 was surpassed with $1,072,708,25 raised by over 750 donors.

Thank you Calgary!

That means, along with being able to provide vital programming for children and their parents, we’ll also be able to provide pre and post-natal care to mothers, like the one I wrote about on Monday.

I am grateful.

And still I am haunted by the question, what will happen to the unborn child?

Being able to access emergency shelter is vital. Receiving prenatal care is critical. But a home is essential.

We need to do better. All of us. Everyone. To ensure we create a community where no child or family is homeless.

Namaste.

 

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