Dare boldly

a blog by Louise Gallagher


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If you wrote your own eulogy, what would you say?

A page will turn on the calendar tomorrow and the number in my age will turn one year more.

For as long as I can remember, my birthday has been my time to celebrate.

And I’m not shy about it.

I love birthdays.

A birthday reminds us all to celebrate our own lives. To acknowledge the gifts we’ve received, and the gifts we bring to the world.

Long ago, I took a course where one of the exercises was to write an eulogy for yourself.

I struggled with it.

What did I want people to say about me at my funeral?

As I’ve become my older self, the closeness of an eulogy becomes more clear. So does its purpose.

When in that course, I recall focussing on the things I’d done in the world. My accomplishments. My deeds. As I was taking the course in my early 40s and I expected to live well into my 80s, there were lots of things I thought I’d have done by the time I died.

Some of the things I’d imagined I never even began. Like getting a Ph.D. Hasn’t happened. Yet.

Like being a NYT’s best-selling author. Hasn’t happened. Yet.

Writing my eulogy today is much easier. Whether or not I’ve done all those things yet, it’s up to me to decide how important they are to me. And choose my next steps accordingly. Whatever I choose to do, it’s not about ‘the what’. It’s about who and how I am in the world today.

It’s about how I treat people. How I make them feel. Who I am in good and not so good times.

I want people to remember me as Caring. Passionate. Compassionate. Creative. Kind. I want them to feel a warm fissure of joy when they think of me. To feel like they mattered to me. That I celebrated their human magnificence, their beauty, their heart.

“As we mature, we must engage with what our own mortality means for us, knowing that we one day enter what I call the Great Unknowing. The season of winter helps us to practice for this.”
.— Christine Valters Paintner, PhD

In this deep winter chill that has settled on our city, I step with loving heart and open mind into the limitless awe of the Great Unknowing. In our intricate dance of life and death, I expose my fears and tears, my joys and laughter. In that liminal space where light shines endless into the deepness of the mystery of the dark, I become the woman I have always been. In that space, my eulogy is not a monument to my life, it is a living reflection of the woman I am today when I live my life in the fires of creativity, fearlessly expressing the best of me so that instead of fearing the worst of me being exposed, I rest in peace every day, knowing that whatever happens next, I have nothing to fear.

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There are all sorts of resources on google to help you write your own eulogy — no matter your age. In fact, writing your eulogy in every decade is a powerful exercise. It can serve as a wake-up call, a reminder of time passing, a poke to ‘get at ‘er’. It’s not about beating yourself up — it’s about reflecting on how you want to live your life, what you want to fill your precious time with, and how you celebrate the best of you, everyday.

Some of the questions asked to ignite thinking around your eulogy are,

“How do you want people to remember you?” Not ‘what for’. ‘How.’

“How do you want people to feel about you when they are celebrating your life after the ceremony?”

 

An interesting article I found through Google with the search term “writing your own eulogy” is here.


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Listen to this!

Awhile ago, my team and I at the Foundation where I work, developed a short video about ending homelessness.

Our purpose was very clear — we wanted to inspire people, motivate them and engage them to think about homelessness not as the story of an individual who has made ‘bad’ choices, but as a societal issue that we have the capacity and power to change — when we work together.

When I was meeting with the production company to discuss talent for the video, as in– who should be ‘the voice’, I suggested a young man I’d met at a concert produced by the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre.

Jordan Williams is a talented, compassionate and passionate young musician. He infuses everything he does with the stories and experiences he’s gathered as a young Aboriginal man who has faced homelessness, discrimination and other hard times and allowed the circumstances of his life to forge  him into a kinder, more caring and thoughtful human being.

 

Jordan Williams shared his voice with us so we could create a video that awoke people to the possibility that they can play a role in ending homelessness.

Thank you Jordan for your heartfelt and enthusiastic commitment to making this project into a reality.

Thanks also to the crew at Foundry Communications for guiding this project into reality. To Paul Long for writing an awesome script and to the team at Six Degrees Music & Production for the awesome sound work — and for creating a space for everyone to feel right at home in the studio!

Want to play a part in ending homelessness?  Here are some ideas on how to get involved.

Volunteer. Emergency shelters are always looking for people to serve meals, sort donations, help clean. Check out Propellus (Volunteer Calgary)– or a similar organization in your area, to find out ways to volunteer, or, contact an agency directly.

Donate. Canada Helps is a great site to find charitable organizations in your area to help you match your passions to your giving.

Create — it’s easy to create/host an event that will raise funds for an organization. At the Calgary Homeless Foundation we have the Dinner Party — invite a group of friends for dinner and make a difference. We provide an entire toolkit on how to get the dinner on the table while inspiring your friends to dig into good companionship, conversation, great food and the art of making a difference.

Be a Social Media magnet — like the FB page of an agency you’re committed to helping. Share their posts on your social media so your network can connect with their network and… make magic (aka change) happen.

Heed the call–visit the Calgary Homeless Foundation FB page, watch the short video Homelessness Doesn’t Stand a Chance, click on Like, and SHARE! (you’ll have to scroll down three or four posts to find the video — it’s pinned so will always be near the top)

There’s a whole lot of gratitude and thankfulness coming your way!

Thank you!

 


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Breathe | 52 Acts of Grace | Week 35

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It is cold here. Frigid cold. Sub-zero, why aren’t I on a beach in Mexico? kind of cold.

It’s easy to forget to breathe when every breath feels like ice particles entering your body.

And driving?

Intersections are icy. Roads are slick.

Paying attention is essential.

So is Breathing.

Sometimes, in the middle of the day, I’ll catch myself forgetting to breathe.

Sure, I take the shallow, automatic response, let’s get ‘er done kind of breaths constantly.

But the deep, sustaining of my equilibrium, peace and calm kind of breathing?

Too often I forget.

For today, remember to breathe. Deeply.

Make it a habit to practice the mindfulness breathing below.

In through the nose to the count of four
(draw each breath deep into your lungs. no shallow breathing here)

Hold to the count of 7

Out through the mouth to the count of 8

Repeat 3 x 3 times a day.
or more if you’re so inclined!

❤❤❤

For a handy guide with links to all Acts of Grace posted to date, please visit this page.

Namaste.

 

 

 


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The Great ButterTart Bake-off

buttertartWe have entered the second week of Advent. A time of waiting, anticipation, contemplation.

The nights grow ever longer, the cold ever stronger.

And we wait.

When I was a child, I always knew Christmas was drawing near when both my parents disappeared into the kitchen and the pots and pans started clanking and the smells started wafting throughout our home.

Cinnamon. Nutmeg. Allspice. Cloves.

These are the smells of Christmas.

Flaky crusted tourtiere. Mince tarts and lemon squares.

Christmas cakes soaking in a bath of rum.

Buttertarts and sugar cookies. Lemon loaves and fresh baked bread.

These are the tastes.

Both my parents loved to cook, and at Christmas they always outdid themselves.

Sometimes, they even competed.

One Christmas, when I was in my twenties, I flew from my home in Alberta to my parent’s home in Germany.  I arrived at Frankfurt airport to be greeted by both  my parents. Before the hugs and kisses were barely finished my father and mother handed me a plate with two buttertarts. Looking at them, they seemed identical. Light flaky pastry cooked to golden brown. Edges perfectly crimped.

“What’s this?” I asked. I had no idea the hellstorm I was about to unleash.

“We want you to decide,” my mother told me. “Which one is better? Your dad doesn’t put walnuts in. I do.”

I still don’t know what caused that year to become, The Great ButterTart Bake-off, but no matter how vehemently I insisted I thought they both looked perfect, and with or without walnuts was always a personal preference, they were adamant that I make a judgement.

I copped out.

I don’t like buttertarts I told them.

Yes you do my mother insisted.

And the war was on.

Me insisting I didn’t.

She insisting I did.

My father, quickly recognizing the state of affairs was close to bubbling over into a boiling mess of angry words and hurt feelings, bundled us up into the car for the 2 hour drive home. As we sped south on the Autobahn, my mother kept asking me to try the buttertarts.  I kept refusing with a petulant, I don’t like them.

No matter the distance nor time between us,  my mother and I still knew how to engage in our most dysfunctional patterns without even taking a bite out of the possibility of something different.

It was our way. From childhood to adulthood, my mother would ask me to do something ‘her way’. I would insist on doing it mine, regardless of where I was or whether I thought her way was a good idea, or not.

Neither my father nor my mother make buttertarts anymore. My father passed away 20 years ago and my mother no longer has a kitchen. She lives in a lodge where meals are served and cooking by residents is not on the menu. Plus, at 94, her arthritic fingers cannot hold a rolling pin nor take the pain of cutting out the little pastry shells for the tarts.

 

I miss the smells of Christmas that permeated our home when I was growing up. The busyness in the kitchen. My father rattling pans, my mother cleaning up after him. I miss the lemon loaves and cherry cakes, the gingerbread men and shortbread cookies. And most of all, I miss my mother’s buttertarts. Because, even though my father’s were good, I prefer my buttertarts with walnuts.

Namaste.


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The Gift Project

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“I’ve been sober 18 months!” 

It is the first thing she says to me when I see her. I haven’t seen her in at least 4 years. Not since I worked at the emergency shelter.

I barely recognize her. I am thrilled to see she is alive.

We share a big hug.

Her eyes are clear. She’s grounded. Smiling.

She’s living independently in her own apartment with support from Keys to Recovery. Keys provides housing and supports to individuals leaving addictions treatment who would otherwise end up back in homelessness. It’s hard enough to maintain sobriety after treatment. Living in homelessness multiplies the risks of lapsing.

We are in the apartment of another man in the building. He has offered up his delightful, homey space to our video crew so that other tenants, all clients of Keys, can come in and film Christmas wishes on film. We’ll be putting the wishes up on a website (thegiftproject.ca) which will be live in the next couple of weeks.

Everyone on the film crew is a volunteer.

Corkscrew Media, has volunteered time and energy to be part of The Gift Project.

“It’s been meaningful for all of us,” he says as filming wraps up. “Life-changing even.”

Along with the tenants who have agreed to go on camera, and a staff member from Keys, there are five of us present. Brent Kawchuck, Corskscrew’s Executive Producer, Mike the camera man, Blake the director, Paul Long a Calgary-based writer/creative director and myself. About a month ago I had mentioned my idea for The Gift Project to Paul and asked if he would be willing to help out.

He didn’t hesitate.

He immediately checked in with Brent and suddenly, an idea went from ‘conceptual’ to being ‘in action’. Paul’s also connected with Six Degrees Studios and they agreed to do the sound editing.

All pro bono. All because they want to make a difference by being part of a project that aims to connect people to what lies at the heart of Christmas.

It was a question Blake asked each of the participants yesterday.

“What does Christmas mean to you?”

The answers were heartfelt. Poignant.

Belonging. Love. Hope. Being together. Sharing with family and friends. Childrens’ laughter.

“When I was a kid it was all about gifts, the receiving,” said one of the interviewees. “Now, it’s all about gratitude and what I can give others.”

Sobriety is the gift that keeps on giving. And giving.

For some of the individuals interviewed, this Christmas will be the first time in years, they’ve been sober during the holidays.

It is a gift they all treasure. Value. Cherish.

Sobriety.

It is the gift they all said they wanted to share with others.

As one woman so beautiful described it, “I wish I could bottle some of the good things I’ve found in recovery so they could have a sip of it too.”

‘They’ are the people still struggling on the street. Sill searching for a way out, for the courage, the hope that this life, this life of hopelessness and fear, feeling lost and alone, could end.

For the thirteen people we interviewed yesterday, there is life beyond addiction.

It is a miracle kind of place to be.

I sat amidst miracles yesterday. Listened to people tell their stories of struggle, pain, addiction and their journeys into hope, possibility, sobriety.

I felt blessed.

I felt humbled.

I felt grateful.

Thank you Crystal, Gwen, Doug, Tracey, Randy, Kim, Michelle, Jayme, Vivek, Cheryl, Kelly, Brittney.

Your words and courage touched my heart. Your courage is beautiful. Your journeys’ inspiring.

Thank you Keys to Recovery for being part of The Gift Project.

Thank you Paul, Brent, Blake, Mike and Six Degrees.

Your generosity gives me hope. The compassion and care you have brought into this project makes a world of difference.

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As The Gift Project comes online, I shall keep you posted.

Namaste.


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Waking up is easy. Awakening is a lifelong journey.

Yesterday, Balroop commented in response to the post about the photo of my mother, “we tend to remember certain moments more vividly and then keep them in our heart. I am glad you looked at this picture. That is how perceptions change.”

Integral Theory teaches that to truly understand something, we must view it from four main quadrants, or realities, made up from our understanding of the Singular, Plural, Interior and Exterior quadrants.

In that photo of my mother, from my singular perspective of, ‘this is my mother’, I have my understanding of our relationship and where I fit in that dynamic. From the Plural, there is ‘our relationship’ and my understanding of it. On an Interior level, there are my feelings, memories, emotions, thoughts and ideas about my mother and our relationship. And the exterior brings in my perspective of seeing that relationship, and that photo, from the outside looking in.

Which all goes to say, as Balroop suggests, perceptions change when we change our position of how we look at something.

I see this a great deal in the homeless-serving sector where I work.

People join our team, coming from an organization outside the sector. People enter this work believing in the possibility of making a difference. Wanting to ‘do good’. Wanting to make their contribution to society count. They carry with them thoughts and ideas, understandings and perceptions of homelessness.

One of the most common forms people use for addressing someone experiencing homelessness, especially if they come into the sector from another field of work, is to use the phrase, The Homeless.

To shift from calling a group, The Homeless, to using the phrase,’ individuals experiencing homelessness’, requires being able to see ‘the label’ as just that. A label.

It is not the person. It is not the group of individuals sharing the common condition of homelessness.

To be able to let go of ‘the label’ requires being able to stand in each quadrant and ask, “Where do I stand in this thought? What preconceived ideas, notions, thoughts, feelings do I bring with me?”

And then, to go through the exercise from the position of the other two main pronouns. “We.” “It.”

For example,

  • “Where do ‘we’ stand in this thought. What preconceived ideas, notions, thoughts, feelings do I carry from the ‘we’? The perspective of my learned understandings through societal messages? How does ‘group think’ inform my thinking of it this way?” (societal consciousness, morals, values)
  • Where does ‘it’ (the label ‘the homeless’) stand in this thought. What preconceived ideas, notions, thoughts, feelings have I/We instilled into the label that inform my thinking of people experiencing homelessness this way?” (societal consciousness, morals, values)

I am not an Integral Theory master. I do love the science behind it and how it challenges me to not see in black and white or one-dimension but to pull myself out of direct line of sight thinking to seeing the many facets, and dimensions of situations.

In looking at my mother’s photo, I am reminded of the power of memory to hold my thinking in place and limit my being present in my life today. And in the power of that awareness, to expand and deepen my understanding of the limitations of what I am holding onto and its affect on my life today.

Waking up is easy. Awakening to our own power to create lives of meaning, substance, value… that’s a lifelong journey.

 


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The memory of my mother

In the photo my mother is laughing. Head thrown back, neck arched.

I don’t remember her laughing. I don’t remember her ever being so light of being.

The photo doesn’t lie.

Memory can.

Years ago, I met a woman against whom I’d carried a grudge for many years. My last memory of her was when I was around 16. She was walking down a lane, holding hands with the boy I thought was still my boyfriend.

When I met her again, we were both in our forties. It was at a school reunion and she was sitting with the boy, now a man, as well as another woman who’d been in our class.

The four of us chatted and I told her how I’d carried the memory of the two of them walking hand-in-hand and how it had hurt to know she’d stolen him from me.

“I never dated him,” she said.

The other woman who was chatting with us (she happened to have the same name) jumped into the conversation. “I dated him after you!” she said. “But I never stole him. You’d already broken up.”

Turns out. We had broken up. He just hadn’t told me.

 

The man in question, sitting between the two women, said nothing. Just shrugged a shoulder, smiled sheepishly and gave his little grin that seemed to say then, as it had said long ago to my teenage heart, “I’m so dang cute, you just gotta luv me.”

At the time, I laughed. Wow. All those years of holding a grudge and I’d had it wrong all along. How fickle and unreliable memory can be!

Looking at the photo of my mother, I wonder how true my memory is of her. Perhaps she was happier than I remember. Perhaps laughter came to her more naturally than the tears I remember.

I hope so. Because, no matter the details, just as the wound of a long ago betrayal weighed heavy in my heart,mom the image of my mother as being sad and fearful does not sit well in my heart. I’d like to carry the memory of my mother as a woman of light heart. A woman who laughed from the depths of her soul. Who danced long into the night, drinking champagne and flirting with men and spinning circles around the room as she sang some outrageous diddy she made up as she spun, her voice enchanting everyone in the room.

That woman was powerful. That woman never stepped back from her fears. She headed heart first into any storm, fighting for what was right, fighting against what was holding her back from being free. A fierce protector. A bold defender of the one’s she loved.

I saw a photo of my mother. She is the woman I remember. Laughing. Light of heart. Fierce and strong. Free