Dare boldly

A blog by Louise Gallagher


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Stop Judging

I had coffee with a dear friend yesterday, one of my oldest here in this city. I needed his guidance on something and he gladly offered up his time.

As we sat and talked and laughed and shared our hopes and dreams and challenges I was struck by how much we have both been ‘made different’ through this friendship.

My friend is pragmatic. He can always serve up a dour perspective on life and the economy, on government’s and social movements that states, ‘we are all going to hell in a handbasket’. In his pragmatic approach I have learned to listen to and honour another perspective, to hear another’s voice with awe and gratitude. And in that hearing, I let go of criticism, and the need to change the other to my point of view and open up to learning and growing on the common ground of respect for one another.

I am less pragmatic, taking a more Pollyanna approach to life and living. I want him to see the goodness in all mankind, the possibility of ‘better’, the imperative of kindness and letting people be their experiences while ensuring no one dies on our streets. His response has generally been, “Then let them experience cleaning up, getting a job, getting on with life. It’s not a free-ride.”

When I worked at the homeless shelter, I struggled to convince him to see the world of homelessness through my eyes. And he resisted my insistence he was wrong to view the world his way. Go figure. Over time, I quit insisting he see it my way by admitting the errors of his way, and moved into a place where his way had equal voice. And in that shift, everything shifted. We were both made different. We both let go of our intransigent views and opened up to the possibilities of another way — another way that lead to the building of common ground for the mutual benefit of all. Where once the line was drawn and we could not cross the barriers of our convictions, the light has filtered in, creating softness in those places where once only hard rock theories abounded.

To make a difference in the world I must let go of my insistence that my way is the only way. Years ago, while healing from an abusive relationship that almost cost me my life, I asked my therapist, “If I’m an experiential learner, why is it I need such big experiences to get to where I want to be?”

And he replied, “There were a thousand paths you could have taken. This just happens to be the one you took. Accept where you’re at and stop judging the journey. Where you’re at is where you’re at. Period.”

To make a difference in the world I must stop judging where others are at and find the common ground of where we all live in a world where everyone has value and every point of view creates a world we can live in without fear.

 

 


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Made different

As I drove along a sideroad to the main thoroughfare on my way back from a meeting yesterday, a man and his dog stood at an unmarked intersection waiting for a break in traffic so that they could cross. I stopped. Motioned for the man to cross.  The man waved, smiled broadly and ran across the road, his dog, leaping and running on his four short legs beside the man, his face turned up to follow every move of his master. I smiled back as I watched and kept smiling as I drove away. They were a picture of joy and their joy entered my heart.

And in that brief interaction where the paths of two strangers intersected, gratitude descended and we were both ‘made different’.

It’s easy to be ‘made different’ in a day. Simply watch for moments where simple gestures that say, “I see you. I honour your presence.” open up, providing you an opportunity to acknowledge someone else’s presence.

Like in a coffee shop when you move to the counter to put a lid on your container and someone else approaches at the same time. Smile. Make eye-contact. Step back, make room for a stranger. Smile again.

Like when entering a revolving door and someone approaches at the same time. Smile. Make eye-contact.  Step back, make room for a stranger. Smile again.

Like when walking down the street and a stranger or a panhandler approaches. Smile. Make eye-contact — no matter your decision to give or not. Smile. Say “Hello.”

It is so easy to go through our day and not ‘see’, really see the people around us. Yet, in those moments of grace where we acknowledge their presence, when we say through a simple smile, “I see you. I honour your presence on my path.”, we too receive the gift of being present, being visible in someone else’s life. We too are ‘made different’ in that moment of connection.

I stopped to let a man and his dog cross the road yesterday and in that moment I was ‘made different’. My heart filled with joy and I carried my smile openly for the rest of my drive home.


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On living and dying

I had another blog planned for this morning, but then I read Diana Schwenk’s mention of Hazel Gillespie’s passing, and clicked on the link she shared to Staying in Touch with Hazel.

Before I worked at the homeless shelter, I had never been to a hospice. The first time I went, it was by accident. A long time client, a photographer who found his gift through participating in the art program I’d started, was being moved from the shelter-owned apartment he’d been living in as cancer eroded his body’s strength, to hospice one cold December day in 2009. That evening, I called the hospice to find out how he was doing and they informed me, ‘he won’t last the night’. I didn’t want him to be alone amongst strangers as he passed over and so I drove out to the country where the hospice was situated and held his hand while he let go of life. It was one of the most profound and moving moments of my life.

The next time, was just last year when Terry Pettigrew, a man I’d grown to know and love at the shelter, also moved into hospice for his final days. He lived two weeks after moving in, and this time, his brother held his hand, a brother he hadn’t seen in 34 years. It was a blessed moment. I spoke about Terry during a presentation I gave on Saturday for the This is My City Festival panel discussion, On Common Ground and wrote about my experience of remembering Terry on my blog at Recover Your Joy today.

Both experiences with hospice staff have left me feeling grateful for their amazing grace in our world — they make a world of difference. Their humility and compassion, their ability to shine a light on the ‘ending’ while holding space for life to slip away with grace, has inspired me and given me great comfort.

And then, this morning I clicked on the link to Staying in Touch with Hazel that Diana shared and I was moved again by Love. In the beauty and tragedy of our lives, it is Love that carries us through. And, it is the love of people who share our journey, who light our path, who surround us in care that makes the journey hard to let go of, even when we must. In Hazel’s last few weeks on earth she was surrounded by four women committed to holding her hand, to reading to her, laughing with her, being with her in Love. I read back through their stories at Staying in Touch with Hazel, and I am in awe of their beauty.

The world is in good hands when those hands are the loving hands of those who work and care for the dying in hospices, and those who care for the one’s they love as Vicky, Christine, Barb and Judy cared for Hazel.

What an amazing difference they make in our world. What amazing light and grace they bring to living and dying.

Blessed journey Hazel Gillespie. May Love hold you forever more.


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What if God was One of Us? (guest post by Shirley A.)

When I first met Shirley she was a client at the homeless shelter where I worked. A first nation’s woman who was adopted into a non-native family as an infant, she once told me she didn’t know where she fit in. Recently she wrote in an email to me, White God… or Native… what ever… Louise I am not of either… I am a child of God.. .and you can believe what you want… all I know is God is Love…. .all I know is and feel is love… and for me that is reading loving things, but so often I put that down as I don’t quite accept it…It has nothing to do with White, Native… all I know in my heart is there is a God…. Louise I have talked with those brothers on the street.. we have come to a conclusion…we are of God…you know why…it’s because God spends extra time with us…That Homeless man or women don’t you think they prayed… and felt and seen God…it’s more an inner feeling…I have always had this spirit in me…. I get so messed up…I am not Native nor white…but I do LOVE GOD… and you can’t take that from me…… sometimes that is all I had.. .yes when I walked the walk God was there.

Shirley is a gifted writer, story-teller, artist. She carries other labels too — recovering addict, formerly homeless. No matter the label, Shirley carries it in her very real, very human way. With dignity. Grace. Beauty. She laughs, jokes (she has a wicked sense of humour) And, she struggles. Just like you and me. Struggling in our human condition. We all have gifts. We struggle to find ourselves, express ourselves, be the selves we know, deep within our souls, we are born to be. We struggle to let go of self-defeating behaviours. To drop burdens and sorrows and tears. We struggle and in our struggle we sometimes fall. And in our falls, we discover the depth of our strength and courage.

I am grateful for Shirley’s light on my path.

Here’s a story on making a difference from Shirley which she has given me permission to share here. Thank you Shirley

What If God Was One of Us? 

By Shirley A.

Yesterday went to eat at McDonalds…While eating a group of Natives which I know you would know came in and ordered a meal for the 4 of them.  Something in my heart was tugging me telling me I was to buy them each a hamburger…..I thought I needed this money in case…but the tugging became stronger….It told me to buy them each a burger….

I thought then with what little they had was what they were to share….amongst themselves…I knew I had to do what my heart was telling me….so I bought 4 burgers…even with the thought of I don’t have enough money for me…….I walked up to them with burgers in hand and gave them the burgers….

You know….those smiles and thankfulness in their eyes does bring tears to one’s eyes…..but better yet I did what my heart told me to do….as hard as it was to let go of my own wants and worries of money.  Then I headed off to work……I work in a warehouse…so I had my backpack and hood on…..A man approached me and said to me….”could I offer to buy you a meal”  I said no thanks…

He said I looked like I needed a little uplifting…..He then asked if he could say a prayer for me….I said Yes…..His prayer was short and simple and of no attention grabber to the rest of the world.

You know I think God was tugging at my heart and then made it known to me through a prayer from a stranger….

So yes kind of out there as a homeless person….once again reminding me… miracles happen….God does hang also with the homeless out there….So my time as a homeless person has not been in vain…..but I now am able to see it clearer now…

At work I felt so alive, awake…and yes, able to breathe….which I haven’t felt for a very long time in my life…I am telling you this because those miracles happened on a daily basis as a homeless person.

I was reminded of what homelessness can be of….The sharing of what little one has….and that, one is taken care of….and that God does love each one of those out there…and He does hold them close……

The smallest miracle turns into a pure feeling of ………….within the heart…reminds me of the song…”What if God was one of us?” by ? Osborne…..makes one think…


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Heroes in our midst

It’s another Saturday celebration of those people who make a difference in my world, and the world around me.

Glynn Young is the author of Faith. Fiction. Friends where he blogs everyday on diverse and fascinating topics. One day you’ll be carried along for a 60 mile bike ride, witnessing every passing leaf, feeling every straining muscle and the next, you’ll be wandering the streets of a city from his youth, experiencing the sights and sounds and people of New Orleans. In his words I never fail to come away enlightened, excited and inspired. Glynn is also a huge supporter of other bloggers, constantly sending out tweets linking to their blogs and, every Saturday, presenting a list of interesting blogs to visit. From prose, to poetry, to photographs, Glynn’s Saturday Good Reads offer up an eclectic and rich sampling of offerings to explore. Thanks Glynn for all you do to support your fellow bloggers!

Glynn Young is a hero.

I first met Onalea Gilbertson three years ago when she waltzed into my office at the homeless shelter where I used to work and exclaimed, “I’m going to form a singing group with clients of the shelter and anyone else who wants to come  and join us.” Three years later, The DI Singers are singing strong and this summer, Onalea’s oratorio, “Two Bit Oper-Eh?- Shun?” will be mounted in NYC as part of the New York Musical Theatre Festival, July 9 – 19. Onalea is tireless in her efforts to create space for Calgarians from all walks of life to share their stories through theatre and song. She’s also a wicked awesome songstress and a wonderful friend!

Onalea Gilbertson is a hero.

As a twelve-year-old, Grade 7 student, Tamara was excited about a Pay It Forward project at school. She had a friend who had experienced homelessness when her parents marriage broke down and the mother and she ran for safety. Tamara’s idea was to make jewellery, sell it, and give all the proceeds to homeless shelters in the city. From her first time participating in the Calgary Drop-In & Rehab Centre’s, Art From the Heart art show and sale in December of 2007 to February this year, Tamara’s “Heartprints – Kids for a Cause” foundation has raised over $8,400.00 to support efforts to end homelessness in our city. Now a Grade 12 student, Tamara continues to devote time and energy to creating and selling jewellery, knitted scarves, hats and crocheted dish-rags so that she can continue to give back. Tamara is a young woman with amazing heart and beautiful soul reflecting the love and beauty of her mother Bev who has supported Tamara every step of the way.

Tamara is a hero.

I first heard Natalie Merchant‘s Ted Talk performance two years ago, and, every so often, whenever I want to be moved, inspired, or simply to enjoy the moment, I click on the link to her talk to listen to her sing old lullaby’s into life.  And, because this is the month of hearts and romance, I wanted to share something inspiring of the musical kind.  (Plus, I haven’t listened to her for awhile and I really wanted to hear her this morning!)

Natalie Merchant is a hero.

Who are your heroes?  Done any celebrating lately?


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The difference is a way of living

Okay. So it’s fess up time. I didn’t really think about holding the thought of my desire to ‘make a difference’ in my consciousness yesterday. Busy doing my thing, the thought of being conscious about making a difference fell away like snow falling to the ground, obscuring the path through the woods.

It was a busy day. A 7:30 meeting, final touches on a proposal to a potential client, a meeting with another potential client and work on a presentation I’m giving tomorrow along with my daily writing schedule, walking Ellie, my golden retriever and suddenly, the day was done. In the ebb and flow of moment’s passing, I forgot to check in with the Universe and see where I could be of service. Fortunately, the Universe is always in flow and accepts my being here as the difference I make more graciously than I do!

I am grateful for having this place to come to every morning to write, and for having my other blog, Recover Your Joy, where I write everyday. By turning up on the page (and screen) with my words of  hope, encouragement and inspiration my intent is always to make a difference, to add light and joy to the lives of those who share their time with me in the virtual and the 3-D world.

And so, I come full circle, back to that place where I embrace ‘the difference’ as a way of living, not just thinking. When I come from a state of being that knows, I am the difference I want to create in the world, I enter each moment in the flow of my words and actions rippling outwards creating gentle waves of Love.

 

And, one way I am making a difference tomorrow is by taking part in a panel discussion sponsored by This is My City Art Society and the This is My City Festival.

On Common Ground:

Conversations About Our City

 features

 A Matter of Trust

 February 25, 2012 at 1:30p.m.

Calgary Public Library, Central Library

Everyone is welcome. Admission is FREE.

 This conversation will explore the relationship between artists and their subjects and broader issues of privacy, voice and trust concerning at-risk and marginalized communities.

Panelists:

Louise Gallagher – writer, artist and former PR director of the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre

Max Cielsielski – Calgary Rehab and Drop-In Centre client and performing artist with This is My City

Rosemary Griebel – award-winning Calgary poet and librarian

George Webber – internationally renowned Canadian photographer

 Part of the This is My City Festival and presented by The City of Calgary Public Art Program,

On Common Ground is a series of conversations among artists, community builders, cultural thinkers, and you. Come explore the shifting ideas of home, the ethics of working with each other, and urban renewal as it relates to our sense of history, community and shared culture. Four conversations are taking place – January 28, February 25, March 31 and April 28, 2012.

 This is My City (TMC) Festival 2012 is a multi-disciplinary arts festival, linking together TMC’s core work with programs produced by other organizations, to bring attention to homelessness, the use of urban space and the issue of urban redevelopment.

For more information, visit www.thisismycitycalgary.ca.

 

Namaste.

May your ripple be a gentle flow of healing waters creating joy and love in your world today.


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Committing acts of service

Last month, Ted Osler, one of the partners at Six Degrees, an audio, music recording studio here in the city, offered to record the one page story I’ve written on Joanne, a young 17 year old girl who was murdered several years ago. Joanne was in the process of leaving street life behind when she made a decision that cost her life. We are telling Joanne’s, and other stories of women murdered on the streets in the project, and My Name is… which the planning committee is currently in the throes of defining, creating, organizing.

When I went to the studio for the recording session of the story, Andrea Wettstein, the composer and voice coach we were working with, became interested in the project enough that she asked to be involved. Yesterday, she came to the meeting with me and will continue to volunteer her energy and talents towards moving it forward. Six Degrees has offered to stay involved as well as we continue to prepare for the official launch of the project this fall.

It is the selfless giving of organizations like Six Degrees, city employees like Beth and Dawn, Jody, Rebecca, Quyen in the Arts & Culture Department who go beyond the call of duty to ensure Calgary’s cultural essence continues to thrive and individuals like Andrea and Helen and Sue and Bev and Jane and all the police working with us to create the substance behind each voice in and My Name is…, that great acts of service are committed in the world, everyday.

If you volunteer, whether it be your time, talents, treasures or the resources of your organization, I invite you to take a moment today and say, ‘You’re welcome world’. Acknowledging what you do as a volunteer, honouring your contributions is as important as honouring the contributions of others. Your willingness to contribute acts of service to the world, makes a difference.

Give yourself a pat on the back today — you deserve it and the universe deserves your gifts.

Namaste.